Do you want to build a snowman?

Allmänt / 2015-01-28 / 06:14:27

I guess it really is winter after all! I thought it was hard enough to live in a house without heating from the start, but oh, I had no idea... I'm sitting in bed with all my clothes on, including winter jacket and hat, under the cover, and I'm still freezing.

Yesterday we went to the town market to by some food, and this is what it looked like then:

Rain. Lots of it.
Had it not been for that I think that we would have at least two decimeters of snow by now, it took several hours of constant snowing before the snowflakes didn't melt as soon as they touched the ground. We'll see how it looks in a few days, the snowing is not about to stop anytime soon...

In the mean time, all we can do is watch videos of the birds, read and watch movies. I found out that Yu Jin has a whole hard drive full with literature on birds, so at least I'm not going to run out of things to read :)

And watching these little things is not all bad either. I would just like some coffee or some other hot drink, then maybe this could be quite nice even.

I miss normal food

Allmänt / 2015-01-23 / 12:39:34
Today I've analyzed videos of the Black-throated Tits at their nests, from previous years. Some of them were filmed during incubation and others when the birds had chicks. It was nice to do something different and I find it quite interesting to watch the birds during the breeding, especially since I won't be here when this season finally kicks off. 
One small problem though. I bought a new computer before coming here, for just this reason, so that I would be able to watch the videos. So far so good. But  I had completely forgotten about the fact that the Office package isn't included in a new computer (to my defense it's been over five years since last time). So we've had to print out all the excel sheets and I feel quite sorry for the poor student who someday will have to input everything into the proper file!

Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus) bringing food to it's nestlings.

Today's dinner included a stew full of surprises. I wish I could have seen my own face when a whole chickenfoot followed in the big spoon of stew Mr Chen put in my bowl! I didn't even understand how to eat it at first (nor why since there's no meat on them!) but followed the others when they put the feet in their mouths and started spitting out the little bones one after one. It tasted a lot better than the pig liver we've been having for the last few days, but still... Chicken feet!?!?


Allmänt / 2015-01-21 / 10:26:15
The days go by without much to report. I have to confess that the fieldwork is not at all as fun as I thought it would be and I'm starting to get a little bit bored. We catch only a few of the tits every day and the team leader is the only one who bands, measures and takes blood samples from them. And since he doesn't speak any English I can't even help with the writing part!
I've been allowed to "practice" these things on a few Great Tits, which only fuels my frustration since these are skills that I already posses, which I thought was one if the reasons why they chose me in the first place.

The Eastern Great Tit (Parus minor) looks quite different from our Northern one back home, and still it's colorful compared to the species that is found further south!

We spend the entire afternoons walking around searching for nests and most of the time I walk alone. It has therefore started to bother me that we're not in the Dongzhai Natural Nature Reserve, like I was told that we would be. Instead of wandering around in a forest I'm walking between farms, fields and properties. It makes me more than a little bit uncomfortable to be sneaking around someone's house without being able to explain to them what the hell it is that I'm doing there. That every house has at least one, but more likely three, loose guard dogs does not make it better...

I'm starting to run out of clean clothes so today I tried to clean some of the dirty ones. In the cold pond... 

What's for dinner?

Allmänt / 2015-01-20 / 10:15:23
Today they killed the pig and the two bunnies, so I have a hunch what's for dinner!


We always eat together with the family that we live with. Everyone gets their own bowl of rice and then there are several plates with different food and sometimes a stew on the table. Most of the food is really tasty :)

For breakfast there's either noodlesoup or porridge (I'm not sure of what), and some leftovers from the previous day's dinner. 

Yep, even that is eaten with chopsticks! 
Mrs Chen is always trying to get me to eat more, but I don't think I've ever eaten this much in my entire life!

Some of the birds so far

Allmänt / 2015-01-15 / 11:46:09
Since it's still winter the birds haven't started breeding yet, only very few pairs have started to build their nests. So what we do in the meantime is try to catch as many of the tits as possible and give them a unique combination of colored plastic rings. By doing this we can identify each bird from a distance when they finally start breeding in a month or two. We spend quite a lot of time walking around trying to find the tits, and when we do we put up mist nets in the area and play up the calls of the two species. 
All other species that are caught in the net are simply let go immediately, though I try to take photos of them first. 
Here's a selection:

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus ruficollis)

Yellow-bellied Tit (Periparus venustulus), I believe this is a female, but I don't know how a young bird would look at this time of year.

Plain Prinia (Prinia inornata)

Red-flanked Bluetail (Luscinia cyanura), this is also either a female or a young bird, it is possible to tell from looking at the feathers but when I caught this one I didn't have time to do so. All the ones caught since have been young birds and I have yet to see an adult male bird which is beautifully blue, I hope I will before I go home. I have seen this bird once in Sweden and I was euforic afterwards, it's a bit weird to find it in every other bush here.

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler (Cettia fortipes)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxornis webbianus), this little bird quickly became one of my favorites here. They move around in flocks of 30-40 birds, foraging together. They are not very shy and sometimes a flock flies over the path right in front of you. At first there's just one bird, then tree, then five and suddenly the rest of the flock comes all in one go. It looks quite amazing.  What's not amazing is when the whole flock flies straight into the net, which happened this afternoon. Their temperament when picking them out of net is similar to that of the Blue Tit back home, in other words horrible, and they have the same talent of getting badly tangled.

It might look sweet but my bleeding fingers say otherwise...

Last night we drove to the village (we have two mopeds) and we overtook a very slow moving car. It turned out that this car was driving behind marching militaries, hundreds and hundreds of them! I got a bit nervous before realizing that they were new recruits doing some sort of training exercise. The line of men went on for over a kilometer!
In town we found a place where we can take a hot shower for only 10 yens each, definitely worth it! 

Frozen and Filthy

Allmänt / 2015-01-14 / 13:34:40
Before going on all of my previous trips and projects I've had a lot of time to prepare everything. I decided to go to Ecuador more than a year before actually doing so, and Mexico was at least 6 months. This trip however was completely different. I found out about the project in the end of November and applied on impulse. When I got the message a few weeks later that my application had been accepted, I had less than a month to plan and prepare before I was off. With everything happening so fast I didn't really realize what I was getting myself into, until I was here, in the rural part of the poorest province in China. I'm not saying that more time would have made me change my mind about going, nor that now that I'm here I regret it. Only that I could have been more mentally prepared for the change of lifestyle that I just threw myself into. For example going from showering every day to now living in a house with no running water. Or living in similar weather conditions but without heating in the house. The toilet just being a hole in the cement floor.
It might sound as if I'm complaining or not enjoying this, but it's the opposite. I'm freezing and I'm dirty, but I'm also high on life! This is one of the reasons why I love traveling the way I do, I get to experience firsthand how other people live their lives. It forces me to realize how privileged I am and how grateful I should be of what I have and where I'm from. 

Here's a picture of the house. We live here with the Chen family, none of them speak any English but they are all very nice. Mrs Chen cooks for us and I have to say that the food is the one thing that is way better than I expected it to be! A lot of the vegetables are grown in the big garden next to the house. 

This is our super fierce guard dog!

Bunnies that I think one day might become food. Not really Swedish cage standards...

Pig that I know will become the New Years dinner in February. For now he's the one who eats all of our leftovers.
There are also a group of freeroaming chickens, the only animals here that actually have it better than most chickens in Sweden. The rooster starts calling at 03:00 every night, waking me up every time.. I almost hope he will be food soon to...

First glimpse

Allmänt / 2015-01-11 / 12:03:16
I don't even know where to start this blogpost, there is so much I want to tell you but I'm too tired to write much sense.

When I finally arrived here at 7:00 yesterday morning it was freezing cold and I couldn't get my base-layers and field clothes on fast enough. It was just like I had expected - winter. But then the sun came up and by 11:00 I felt like I was having a heat stroke! Apparently this winter is unusually hot and to me the days feel more like late spring in Swedish measurents. 
I was quite confused when I got a look at the surroundings; rice fields, ponds and farmland, not really what I expected the reserve to look like. After a few hours I got the answer to that - we're apparently not in the reserve! This year they decided to do the research on the tits in the area around the house instead of in the reserve that lies a few kilometers from here. 

As soon as we had settled in yesterday we put up some mist nets and started catching birds. We use playback to lure the tits to the nets, which means that we don't catch too many other birds. But I take pictures of all of them and will post them some other day.
Thanks to the warm winter some of the tits are already starting to build their nests, so we spend a few hours of the day walking around the area looking for the birds, and the nests if they are carrying building material.

This is the Silver-throated Tit (Aegithalos glaucogularis). It was previously considered a subspecies of the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus).

This is the Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus).

This is all I can muster today. It's 19:01 and I'm ready for bed! Goodnight :)

Good Morning Beijing!

Allmänt / 2015-01-09 / 07:50:53
I have arrived in China, safe and sound!
I was welcomed by a beautiful sunrise over Beijing and several different biology students taking turns in taking care of me. Soon I'm about to get on a 12 hour train ride to Xinyang, fortunately with company. 
First birds in China: Common Magpie and Eurasian Tree Sparrow, whoop!

I've had my first bowl of noodles-and-everything-else-you-can-think-of-soup in one of the universities cafeteria.

I've noticed that whatsapp is working over here, a lot easier to use for chatting than Skype, just a tip :)

Next up China!

Allmänt / 2015-01-07 / 16:58:06
Tomorrow I'm going on my next big adventure! It will be my first time in East Asia and I'm super excited about all the new things I will experince over there. Especially all the new bird species I will see.
I'm going to work with chinese researchers from Beijing Forestry University as a field assistant. We're going to study the breeding behavior of two species related to our Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus); Silver-throated Tit (Aegithalos glaucogularis) and Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus). The project is very similar to the El Oro Parakeet project that I worked on in Ecuador two years ago. 
The reserve that I'll be working in is called Dongzhai National Nature Reserve and is located near Xinyang in the Henan Province. The reserve was created for the Reeve's Pheasant which is decreasing due to habitat loss and therefore in need of protected areas. More than 300 bird species have been sighted in the reserve and I can't wait to explore it!
I'm hoping to have internet access on a regular basis so that I can keep you all posted on what's going on!

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