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The Babbler March 2003 Volume 2, Issue 1

BirdLife International in Indochina




Regional news

newsletter of Birdlife International in Indochina. The Babbler is now into its second year, and this issue, the biggest ever, is packed full of articles about conservation issues in the region.


Spotlight organisation

In this issue we hear from Richard Grimmet, Head of BirdLife's Asia Division, who looks at the crisis facing the forests of Sumatra created by the world's insatiable appetite for timber, palm oil and paper.


Rarest of the rare


Project updates




Book reviews


Recently published


From the archives

Welcome to the new edition of the Babbler, the quarterly

BirdLife International in Indochina #11, Lane 167, Tay Son Hanoi, Vietnam Tel/Fax: + 84 4 851 7217 E-mail:

We hear about a birdwatching expedition to Hponkan Razi Wildlife Sanctuary, Myanmar, led by Tony Htin Hla. There are also a number of new discoveries to report, including a new species for Vietnam: Mekong Wagtail. There is good news from Cambodia, with records of large flocks of Sarus Crane and White-shouldered Ibis but bad news from Taiwan, where a tragic outbreak of botulism has led to the loss of 7% of the global population of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. This month’s Spotlight organisation is The Harrison Institute, who are actively involved in promoting wildlife conservation in Myanmar. The section includes details on some of their proposed activities for 2003. In Rarest of the rare we learn about the Chinese Crested-tern, one of the rarest and most enegmatic species in Asia, and one that is believed to be threatened due to the destruction of its coastal habitats. There are also reviews of two books; Wild Wings: A Portfolio of Birds in Thailand by Smith Sutibut – a display of true passion in the world of birdlife photography, and Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand by L. Bruce Kekule – a wealth of wonderful images of that country’s natural riches. This volume was edited and compiled by Vu Thi Minh Phuong and Matt Tordoff. If you have any contributions or suggestions, please contact The Babbler is also available on the BirdLife website.

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Regional News

Last chance for Sumatra’s forests Sumatra's forests are fast disappearing, a victim of the world's insatiable appetite for timber, palm oil and paper. Richard Grimmett, Head of BirdLife's Asia Division, based in Tokyo, Japan, examines the crisis facing Sumatra's forests. Photo: Morten Strange Sumatra's lowland tropical forests are amongst the most biologically diverse on earth. But from 1985 to 1997, over 6 million ha (60,000 sq km) of Sumatra's forest were cleared and forest cover decreased from 49% to 35%. 1997 and 1998 were particularly bad years. Dry conditions, resulting from a strong El Niùo, meant that fires were lit to clear forest, often by plantation companies, blanketing the whole region in thick smoke. Since 1997 forest loss has, if anything, accelerated. Another El Niùo is brewing in the Pacific, another extended dry spell is likely, and forest fires will once again become a major international environmental concern.

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It is mainly the lowland forests (non-swampy forest below the hillfoot boundary) that have been lost. These forests, occupying around 16 million ha in 1900, were reduced from 5.6 million ha to 2.2 million ha between 1985 and 1997. Without immediate and fundamental changes in policies and management, the World Bank has predicted that virtually all lowland forest will have been cleared in Sumatra by 2005. Birds' value as indicators of the state of the environment bear this out too. Research for Threatened Birds of Asia (the BirdLife Red Data Book) reveals that 70% of Asia's threatened forest birds are endangered because of moist tropical lowland forest loss. Nowhere is this more acute than in Sumatra where 21 species of forest birds are considered threatened (up from 17 in 1994) and, alarmingly, 85 as Near Threatened (compared to just 27 in 1994). Mammals are suffering too. The Sumatran Rhinoceros numbers possibly fewer than 100 individuals. The Orangutan population in Sumatra has declined by around 85% during the 20th Century, and, on current trends, will become ecologically extinct by 2010. How can we humans justify our own existence on this planet if we drive this great ape to extinction? The causes of forest loss are complex and interlinked. But we are all involved, although generally do not realise it. Forest clearance is being driven by a global demand for commodities. Coffee, rubber and cinnamon are products from Sumatra grown at the cost of natural forest. The timber industry has been a major driving force in opening up forest areas and degrading forest resources. Illegal logging is now providing as much wood in the market place as legal logging concessions. Weaknesses in governance and management contribute both directly and indirectly. However, two commodities, palm oil and paper,

stand out as playing a major role in forest clearance in Sumatra over the past decade.

and UK (0.4). In 1997, the EU bought 37% of total Indonesian palm oil exports.

Palm oil

In Europe, palm oil is widely used in the food manufacturing industry to make biscuits, crisps, chocolates, ice cream, cooking oil, margarine and frying fat. Nonfood uses include soaps, lubricants, and cosmetics (lipstick, hand creams, and sun cream). Next time you eat a packet of crisps, or wash your hands, think about what vegetable oil you might be using.

Palm oil, financially Indonesia's most important agricultural commodity, has become the main agent in accelerating deforestation in Sumatra during the 1990s. Produced from the fruit of the oil palm, a tree growing up to 15 m tall and originating from West Africa, it is the world's highest yielding vegetable oil crop. Between 1984 and 1998 the area under oil palm increased from 0.4 million to 2.2 million ha in Sumatra. Of the 6.7 million ha of forest lost in Sumatra between

Big corporate names are major users of palm oil. Household names include Unilever, ColgatePalmolive and Procter & Gamble.

The world’s two largest pulp mills are in Sumatra. They are also two of Sumatra’s largest corporate debtors, owing between them a combined total of US$15 billion. The APRIL mill, shown here, is capable of consuming 10 million m3 of roundwood per year. Photo: Marco Lambertini 1984 and 1987, it is estimated that 1.7 million was replaced by oil palm estates with up to a further 2 million ha cleared and destined for this use. Expansion is continuing. Indonesia is aiming to overtake Malaysia to become the world's leading producer. The world's largest palm oil importers are China (1.8 million tonnes in 1997), India (1.4) and Pakistan (1.2), where palm oil is primarily used as cooking oil. Next are the Netherlands (0.6), Germany (0.4)

Some companies, particularly in the food industry know where their palm oil comes from (Walkers, a major UK crisp manufacturer, reportedly sources its palm oil from nominated and inspected plantations in Papua New Guinea). A major supermarket chain in Switzerland, Migros, has recently committed to source palm oil from suppliers that do not contribute to forest loss. Other corporate users need to do the same, otherwise, along with the general public, they

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may unwittingly be supporting forest clearance in Sumatra and elsewhere. Financial institutions continue to fund the expansion of the oil palm sector and often the most costly phase of plantation establishment land clearance. Few institutions seem to guard against financing tropical deforestation, even though their customers and shareholders might reasonably expect them to do so. However, there are some encouraging signs. Three of the top four banks in the Netherlands ABN AMRO Bank, Rabobank and Fortis Bank - are to stop, or substantially restrict, the financing of oil palm development involving forest clearance. In Sumatra, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has recently taken over management of a large plantation, appears to be committed to conserving areas of natural forest within its concession and supporting conservation efforts in adjacent natural forests. Could the tide be turning?

capacities. The Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) group's Indah Kiat mill and the APRIL group's Riau Andalan mill (PHOTO) have production capacities of 1.8 and 2.0 million tonnes, and are capable of consuming 9.0 and 10 million m3 of wood per year, respectively. Together they account for 70% of Indonesia's pulp processing capacity. In 2000 Indah Kiat sourced approximately 75% of its logs from clear-cutting natural forests, and their operations have accounted for 287,000 ha of deforestation over the last 10 years.

Pulp and paper Many of Indonesia's palm oil corporate groups are also active in the timber and pulp and paper industries. Following selective logging, such groups apply for land-use to be changed to conversion forest, for plantation development, with the residual timber being used as pulp-fibre. Over the last 10 years, more than US$15 billion has been invested internationally in the Indonesian pulp and paper industry. But this industry is responsible for seriously damaging Sumatran forests, through clearance for pulpwood and the establishment of pulpwood plantations. It is also accused of being linked to high levels of illegal logging. Currently, most of the wood consumed by the pulp industry comes from natural forests. The world's two largest pulp mills are sited in Riau Province, Sumatra. Both have recently expanded their production

The world’s largest flower, Rafflesia hasselti, is indigenous to Sumatra’s rainforests. Photo: Jeremy Holden / FFI Recently, APP and APRIL announced plans to source all of their raw materials from sustainably managed pulpwood plantations, by 2007 and 2009, respectively. To meet these targets, the two producers intend to clear a combined area of 440,000 ha of natural forest above and beyond the large areas that each has already cleared at its existing pulpwood plantation sites. This threatens to undermine the Indonesian Government's 1998 moratorium on natural forest conversion. Furthermore, APP and

APRIL are two of Indonesia's largest corporate debtors, owing a combined total of US$15 billion, and these debts may restrict further investments in sustainably managed plantations. The only option, other than continuing massive forest loss, is a major scaling back of the industry until plantations come on line or importing wood at substantially higher costs than they have paid thus far. APP has recently been accused of flooding the UK market with unbranded and re-branded paper products, and of covering up the environmental impacts of its operations. Major UK stationary suppliers, such as Robert Horne, Spicers, Kingsfield Heath and Thomas Potts have all been accused of distributing APP paper. Many of us may have, unwittingly, been party to writing off great swathes of tropical forest. Major financial institutions heavily involved in financing the pulp industry over the last 10 years include Barclays Bank, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Credit SuisseFirst Boston, GoldmanSachs, Franklin Templeton, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, National Westminster Bank, Legal and General, Royal Bank of Scotland, and ABN Amro. I have banked with one of these since my childhood, and have modest savings with another. My heart sank when I recently learnt of my personal investment in forest destruction. Continued forest clearance for oil palm and paper cannot be allowed to continue. In the rush to exploit forests, and establish land holdings, huge areas of land have been cleared but not replanted. The World Bank has estimated that around 3.8 million ha of Sumatra, cleared between 1985 and 1997, is either under arable (mainly subsistence) farming or else is lying idle. It is this land that should be utilised for any

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expansion of plantations. But, of course, investors double their money if they can cut forest as well as establish plantations. With the recent change of government in Indonesia came the appointment of more conservationminded officials to senior positions in the Ministry of Forestry. This, combined with continued pressure from the NGO and donor community, gives cause for some optimism. The government has signalled several important intentions. These are: to tackle illegal logging, especially those loggers operating in national parks, and close illegal saw mills; to place a moratorium on all natural forest conversion until a National Forest Programme is agreed; and to downsize and restructure the wood-based industry. The Ministry has passed a decree establishing a moratorium on any new allocation of forest land for conversion, and has said that from 2003 onwards it will not allow any new clearance, even if land conversion has previously been approved. Significantly, the Ministry appears unwilling to grant any new forest land for supplying pulp fibre or land for plantations for APP's pulp mill in Riau. But politics and pressure from vested interests could overrule these good intentions. The plantation industry, with advice from the conservation community, should develop 'best practice' guidelines for the establishment and management of plantations as a step towards environmental responsibility. These should include commitments not to clear natural forest; careful management and safeguarding of remnant forest patches - including those along watercourses - within existing concessions; adherence to ASEAN's policy against landclearance through burning; and the prohibition of hunting within concessions. Owners of plantations adjacent to protected or important areas of natural forest should be

expected to assist with any strategy to protect those areas. Financial institutions with interests in the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia should adopt policies so they are not funding illegal or unsustainable practices. They should ensure that processing capacity is reduced and that timber from natural forests is replaced with sustainably harvested pulpwood from independently certified sources. Paper buyers should likewise ensure that they only purchase from suppliers that do not depend on natural forests for their pulp fibre. These measures may lead to an increase in world paper prices, but surely this is a price that is worth paying?

BirdLife's work

paper. Ask them what precautions they take to ensure that they are not helping to destroy rainforest. The producers of coffee, rubber, cinnamon, and many other products, are all implicated in global deforestation too, but that will have to be the subject of another campaign! Richard Grimmett, International Asia Tokyo, Japan.

BirdLife Division,

Acknowledgement The author acknowledges the important work on the pulp and paper industry in Sumatra by Christopher Barr, Forest Policy Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia.

BirdLife is addressing the issue of forest loss in Sumatra through two major initiatives. BirdLife is a key member of an NGO consortium that is raising awareness about the loss of tropical forest and biodiversity in Indonesia. The project, funded by the GEF, will focus on journalists and the media, and local government and decision-makers, to build broader and deeper national support for forest conservation efforts. Secondly, the Important Bird Areas (IBA) project is assessing, and has already identified, many important lowland forest areas in Sumatra. Partnerships are being developed with local NGOs to establish Site Support Groups (SSGs) around priority forest areas. These SSGs will review current land-use, and develop and implement conservation plans. The 2002 British Birdwatching Fair will support this work and the Fair itself will be a key arena for raising awareness amongst the birdwatching public.

Deforestation spreading like cancer. Photo: Marco Lambertini

Finally, every concerned individual should be telling their bank, pension fund holder, supermarket, stationery supplier, and biscuit and cosmetics manufactures about the problems related to oil palm and pulp and

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EXPEDITION TO HPONKAN RAZI WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, MYANMAR During late November and the first half of December Dr Htin Hla (a.k.a. Tony) of the Bird Enthusiasts and Nature Conservation Association, and President of Wild Birds and Adventure Travels and Tours lead a birdwatching expedition to the Hponkan Razi Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kachin State of northern Myanmar. Participants included Jonathan C. Eames from BirdLife, Dinh Thi Hoa, Managing Director of Galaxy Co. Ltd, Richard Craik, Director of Marketing at Exotissimo, and his wife Lan, Nicolas Cornet and Frank Momberg, Vietnam Programme Manager for Fauna and Flora International. The trip originated in the northern town of Putao at 400 m and reached 3,500 m on the Indian frontier. The trek traversed outstanding mountain scenery and passed through pristine forests. The lower montane forests were of oaks and chestnuts, becoming mossy above 2,500 m

spectacled Parrotbills, Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Streak-throated Barwing, and Beautiful Sibia. Ornithological highlights included Sclater’s Monal, White-bellied Heron, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ibisbill, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Wedgebilled Wren-baller and Brown-headed Fulvetta. A total of 12 species of laughingthrushes were seen, including Blue-winged, Spot-breasted, Chestnut-backed, Rufouschinned, Rufous-necked, and Black-faced. Other interesting species included Speckled Wood-Pigeon, Pintailed Pigeon, Blyth's Kingfisher, Hodgson's Redstart, Little and Spotted Forktails, Black-breasted, Chestnut, Dusky and Black-throated Thrushes, Cutia, Blackheaded and Green Shrike-Babblers, lots of Yellowthroated Fulvettas, Rufous-throated and Streak-throated Fulvettas, Grey-headed and Black-throated Parrotbills. The team were surprised by the good condition of the forest and relatively low levels of human pressure. The tribal villages were small and primary forest could be found only a short walk from most. Rufous-necked Hornbills were a common sight flying over villages and Hoolok Gibbons were often heard at the edge of cultivation. One of the most astonishing features of the trip were the large numbers of Wreathed Hornbills observed. Seen daily and frequently in flocks of up to 50 birds, it seemed strange to see so many of these birds in the montane forests.

View of Hponkan Razi. Photo: J.C.Eames

with rhododendrons and dwarf bamboos, above which firs and larches dominated, before reaching the snowline at 3,200 m. Common birds included Beautiful Nuthatch, Collared Treepie, Rufous-headed and Blue-

Hponkan Razi Wildlife Sanctuary is a newly notified protected area and forms part of a protected area complex with the contiguous Hkakabo Razi National Park to the north, Hukaung Valley and Bumhpabum Wildlife Sanctuaries to the south. In addition there are several contiguous protected areas on the Indian side of the border. During the trip the group was able to meet with Mr. U Thein Aung, Park Warden of the Hkakabo Razi National Park and learn of some of the challenges and issues facing conservation in the area.

MEKONG WAGTAIL Motacilla samveasnae, A NEW SPECIES FOR VIETNAM A BirdLife team comprising Le Trong trai and Nguyen Duc Tu have discovered the newly described Mekong Wagtail Motacilla samveasnae during a survey of the Srepok River in Yok Don National Park, Vietnam. This was the main finding of a short survey organized and lead by BirdLife as part of the Creating Protected Areas

for Resource Conservation using Landscape Ecology (PARC) Project at Yok Don National Park, which is being implemented by the Forest Protection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in association with Scott Wilson Asia Pacific Ltd, and

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with final support from the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme. The short survey was undertaken to collect baseline biodiversity data along the western section of the Srepok River in The Mekong Wagtail Motacilla samveasnae. Photo: P.Davidson

Yok Don National Park from 26 November to 1 December 2002. At least three pairs of Mekong Wagtails were observed over a distance of 10 km along the river. The species was found along fast flowing sections of the river up to 200 m wide, where scattered bushes and snagged logs were encountered. The species was recorded almost daily during the survey on 27, 28 and 30 November, and 1 December 2002. This discovery marks a significant addition to the birds of Vietnam and again demonstrates the conservation importance of the last undisturbed stretch of the Srepok River in Vietnam.

NEW SPECIES OF PINE DISCOVERED DURING BIRDLIFE SURVEY IN NA HANG NATURE RESERVE, VIETNAM. During a survey conducted in October and November 2003, as part of the Creating Protected Areas for Resource Conservation using Landscape Ecology (PARC) Project at Ba Be National Park and Na Hang Nature Reserve, scientists from BirdLife International discovered what may be a new, unrecorded species of pine. Whilst surveying the final survey location in the Nam Trang area of Ban Bung sector, Na Hang Nature Reserve, Dr Andrei Kuznetsov of the Russian-Vietnam Tropical Centre found a Pinus sp. with two leaves and a small cone which was not readily identifiable. The diagnosis of material from this species is currently being undertaken in the United States. Limestone forest overlooking Ba Be lake, Ba Be National Park. Photo: J.C.Eames

WHITE-SHOULDERED IBIS – BIGGEST FLOCK IN RECORDED HISTORY SEEN IN SIEM PANG, CAMBODIA A record 23 White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisonii were recently recorded in western Siem Pang district, Stung Treng province, Cambodia. This was during a short survey conducted by the

Flock of Whiteshouldered Ibises. Photo: J.C.Eames

Department of Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Stung Treng Provincial Forestry Office, Takeo Provincial Forestry Office, Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International, as part of the Danida-funded project Improved conservation planning through institutional strengthening in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. On 23 January the survey team made a short visit to Trapaeng Na Nhang, a short distance from Siem Pang township, where a single Whiteshouldered Ibis was observed feeding at the muddy margin of the trapeang together with a Woolly-

necked Stork Ciconia episcopus, one Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus, and 15 Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis. This bird flushed and then flew off over the trees to the east at least 1 km. After a few minutes a second bird, considered to be a different individual, was located at the eastern end of the trapeang. On 24 January at Trapaeng Boeung c. 5 birds were found either alone or in small groups, often mixed with Cattle Egrets and domestic buffalo. The birds fed throughout the morning, and were observed to take small frogs by probing into the deep dried impressions made by domestic buffalo. It was

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interesting to observe the opportunistic Cattle Egrets that waited for an ibis to catch a frog in this manner and then chase the ibis to try and make it give-up its prey. Later that morning a lone fisherman flushed the flock. In total 21 birds were seen together and 19 were photographed in a single flock. During the visit, the team observed a minimum of 23 White-shouldered Ibis. This discovery confirms the importance of the Siem Pang area for this Critically Endangered species. . It is not possible to explain at this stage, why Trapeang Na Nhang and Trapeang Boeung appear so attractive to this species, since thousands of similar trapeangs

White-shouldered Ibis at Trapaeng Boeung. Photo: J.C.Eames exist across the Cambodian landscape. It may be noteworthy however, that domestic cattle and buffalo were present at both trapeangs, and that White-

shouldered Ibis were seen to actively feed in the deep depressions left by the feet and forelegs of stock. Perhaps the decline of the White-shouldered Ibis in Cambodia is linked with the decline of wild ungulate populations across the country during the 20th Century? Continued watering of domestic bovids at trapeangs, could therefore make these wetlands particularly attractive to Whiteshouldered Ibis, especially during the dry season. Stocking density, beyond a certain level, could, because of trampling, equally reduce their suitability in providing “pitfall traps” for small vertebrates such as frogs.

EASTERN SARUS CRANES RETURN TO BOEUNG PREK LAPOUV, CAMBODIA A short visit made to Boeung Prek Lapouv by Seng Kim Hout and Nhan Bunthorn of the Wildlife Protection Office, together with Jonathan Eames from BirdLife revealed that significant number of Eastern Sarus Cranes Grus antigone sharpii had returned. On 30 January the team recorded a total of 121 Sarus Cranes, whilst on 31 January 94 were counted. At least two family groups were noted as the cranes fed, often in quite deep water amongst lotus flowers. On one occasion two approaching fishermen disturbed a flock of feeding

cranes. Worryingly, most of the fishermen encountered at the site were Vietnamese, who had strayed across the international frontier. They reported that up to 200 cranes were present. The team received reports that cranes are now live-trapped at this site. In February and March, project officer Seng Kim Hout will lead a team to undertake a socio-economic evaluation of the site as part of the preparation for the protected area notification process.

TEAK PLANTATION THREATENS WHITE-SHOULDERED IBIS REFUGE IN CAMBODIA? An important refuge for the White-shouldered Ibis in western Siem Pang District may be threatened by plans to grant a 100,852 ha land concession for the conversion of dry dipterocarp forest to a teak plantation by Green Sea Industries Co. Ltd.. However results from a recent survey suggest that the area within which Trapeang Na Nhang and Trapeang Boeung lie is within the 80,000 ha area that has now been excised from the concession following objections from villagers. Human disturbance

at trapeangs, especially by fishermen during the dry season, is likely to adversely affect feeding success of White-shouldered (and Giant) Ibis and could effect their dry season mortality, or breeding success. Active management of trapeangs to reconcile human-use with the needs of key biodiversity attributes is feasible and the focus of a new project recently developed by BirdLife.

ENDANGERED PARTRIDGE DISCOVERED IN CAMBODIA One of Asia’s most enigmatic birds, the Orange-necked Partridge Arborophila davidi, has been discovered in Cambodia.

A single bird was photographed on 18 February 2002 by a remote camera-trap deployed in southern Mondulkiri Province, close to the

border with Vietnam, as part of a major new conservation initiative by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Royal

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Government of Cambodia’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife. The Orange-necked Partridge was previously considered to be endemic to a tiny area in southern Vietnam, where it was known from just three locations (but only two in recent years), including Cat Tien National Park, where it is

The Mondulkiri record came from a bamboo-dominated slope in degraded semi-evergreen forest at about 150 m in a similar area to the species’s preferred habitat in Vietnam. In Cambodia, the Orange-necked Partridge is probably restricted to a small area of suitable habitat in southern Mondulkiri, within which it may be rare and localised.

Fortunately, however, the Orange-necked Partridge stands to benefit from a unique conservation project. Samling, an international forestry company that manages the area, has been working for the past two years with WCS and the Cambodian Government Captive Orange-necked Partridge to promote biodiversity Arborophila davidi at Cat Tien National conservation, primarily Park, Vietnam. Photo: Ina Becker by controlling illegal said to be locally common. It is hunting within the concession. In classified as Endangered because August 2002, the Cambodian of its small population and tiny Government formally adopted this range, both of which are declining pioneering initiative and now the because of habitat loss. Orange-necked Partridge and

several other globally threatened species found there have a better chance of long-term survival. The Orange-necked Partridge site is included within Snoul-Keo Sema-Phnom Nam Lyr Important Bird Area (IBA), one of around 40 IBAs in Cambodia recently identified as part of a joint project between BirdLife International in Indochina, WCS, the Department of Forestry and Wildlife and the Department of Nature Conservation and Protection, with financial support from Danida.

Contact Pete Davidson (, Joe Walston ( and Colin Poole ( Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Programme, P.O. Box 1620, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

BOTULISM KILLS 7% OF WORLD'S BLACK-FACED SPOONBILLS AFTER WARM WEATHER On 10th January 2003, an outbreak of avian botulism has killed 71 Endangered Black-faced Spoonbills Platalea minor in the Tseng-wen Estuary in Taiwan over the past month after unusually high winter temperatures. This is more than seven per cent of the world population of 969 individual birds, according to the Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan (WBFT) and BirdLife International [1,2,3,4,5,6].

WBFT and its local chapter, Wild Bird Society Tainan, immediately helped to set up an emergency care rescue

An analysis of dead birds conducted by the Tainan Hsien Livestock Disease Control Center and Professor S.S. Tai of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology identified the disease as avian botulism. The first dead birds were reported by WBFT, the BirdLife International Partner organisation in Taiwan, on 9 December 2002 following unusually high winter temperatures at the Tseng-wen Estuary, the most important wintering site in the world for the species and holding more than 70 per cent of the global population.

Two of the Black-faced Spoonbills that have recovered. Photo: Dr. Fang-tse Chan team to assist the authorities. This team has since managed to help 17 of the infected birds recover.

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Despite the efforts of the Taiwanese Council of Agriculture (CoA), Endemic Research and Conservation Center, Tainan Hsien Livestock Disease Control Center of Tainan County Government and WBFT to research the sickness and treat sick birds, a total of 71 birds had died by 4 January 2003. Subsequently, five of the sick birds taken to the rescue centre have recovered following the use of type-C botulism antiserum. "This outbreak of avian botulism has killed more than 7% of the world population and is a significant blow to this already Endangered species", said Professor Chienchung Cheng, President of WBFT. "It is only thanks to the swift collaborative efforts of the government agencies and NGOs involved, including WBFT, that the number of bird deaths has been minimised and 17 infected birds saved". The higher than usual winter temperatures that appear to have triggered the outbreak seem to be consistent with anticipated climate change patterns and BirdLife fears more incidents of this nature may be expected to occur in future.

Ironically the outlook for the Black-faced Spoonbill had been improving following the establishment of a protected "Important Wildlife Area" at the Tseng-wen Estuary in November 2002, a move greatly welcomed by WBFT and BirdLife. In 2001 the species was listed as Endangered having previously been listed as Critically Endangered in 1994 by BirdLife International, the listing authority for birds for the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Globally Threatened Species [7,8]. The Taiwanese authorities and WBFT now plan to take preventative measures at Tseng-wen Estuary to minimise the risk of a recurrence of an outbreak of the disease by changing how organic pollution is controlled. As a first step type-C botulism antiserum is being stockpiled.

Contact For further information please contact Michael Szabo at BirdLife International in the UK on + 44 (0)1223 277 318 (office) or Professor Chien-chung Cheng, President of WBFT, in Taiwan on +886 (2) 2930 3649 or Fax +886 (2) 2930 3595

UPDATES FROM OBC BULLETIN ON MYANMAR Environmental awareness programme for primary level pupils in state high schools, Yangon City, Myanmar. Nyein Chan and team have been awarded a Small Grant to undertake a conservation awareness programme covering 158 schools in Yangon City, Myanmar. They will distribute posters and colouring books and will be offering a 30-minute lesson on 'Birds and the Environment' to each school. It is hoped that the programme will encourage an enthusiasm and respect for birds, which will in turn reduce the killing and persecution of wild birds.

Bird Survey of Leshe Volcano Tank, Myanmar A Small Grant has been awarded to Myint Shwe to undertake a bird survey of the Leshe Volcano Tank in Myanmar to ascertain whether any important species occur there. It is thought that the site may be important for Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis and the surrounding area certainly supports some of the species endemic to Myanmar.

A study of White-browed Nuthatch, Myanmar Thet Zaw Naing studied the ecology of White-browed Nuthatch Sitta victoriae, a globally Endangered species known only from Mount Victoria (Natmatuang) in Myanmar. The site was visited in November, March, April, and July and up to 17 nuthatches were found in each month. The birds were recorded from 2,450-3,005 m in pine forest with oak, rhododendron and a few other hardwood trees. Oaks and rhododendrons were favoured by the birds, with pines accounting for only 5% of sightings. The birds usually fed in the outer branches of the middle canopy of the trees, where their favoured feeding method was gleaning insects from epiphytic plants and lichens.

Three nests were found, and this appears to be the first time that they have been documented. They were at 4m, 6m, and 10m, in natural holes in the inner branches or trunks of living trees. Two were in oaks, and one was in a rhododendron. The holes were not plastered with mud. Three assumed family groups, each with two juveniles, were subsequently seen in April. Another 178 bird species were recorded, including four globally Vulnerable species, seven Near-threatened species, and seven new to West Myanmar. These included a male Mrs Hume's Pheasant Syrmaticus humiae, at least three Blyth's Tragopans Tragopan blythii, flocks of up to 15 Grey-sided Thrushes Turdus

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feae, nine Black-breasted Thrushes T. dissimilis, several Red-tailed Laughing thrushes Garrulax milnei, and five Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers Xiphirhynchus superciliaris. The main threats to the nuthatch and other birds come from hunting and burning in the National Park. The study recommends raising awareness of the effects of these activities and greater control of tree removal and illegal trapping.

Contact Thet Zaw Naing Myanmar Bird and Nature Society 69 Myaynigone Zay Street, Sanchuang T/S, Yangon 11111, Myanmar

'Eastern' Sarus Cranes in Rakhine, Myanmar Tin New Latt investigated the distribution and population structure of the 'eastern' Sarus Crane Grus antigone sharpii in the Ayeyarwady Delta of Myanmar. She estimated the population here to be about 300 individuals. These were mostly encountered as pairs, but 12 family parties were found. Larger groups, of up to 67 birds, appeared at roost sites during the summer season, and in the day during the rainy season. The daytime congregations appeared to be social groupings, not feeding flocks, and they engaged in displays and courtship. Much of the area is under agriculture with rice being the main crop. The paddy-fields and wet grasslands are

important areas for the cranes, but the larger gatherings seemed to be focused on more natural wetlands. The distribution and social structure was determined by the availability of water and food, and by human disturbance, and by the weather. For example, the cranes moved to natural shallow wetlands following storms in mid-May. This study suggests that agricultural areas are important for the Sarus Crane in this region of Myanmar, and that the farmers will need to be involved in any conservation programmes for the species. Tin New Latt

Spotlight Organization: THE HARRISON INSTITUTE The Harrison Institute is actively involved in promoting wildlife conservation in Myanmar. With the support of a range of naturalists from around the world and with the financial support of four generous sponsors (Orient Express, Air Mandalay, Premier Oil and Hotel Equatorial), the Harrison Institute has recently compiled and published a 40 page colour booklet highlighting a range of topics on the wildlife, landscapes, climate,

people and environmental history of Myanmar. Recent developments include promoting bird research in conjunction with Yangon University in the Ayeyarwady delta region and in the limestone karst hills and forests of South-East Myanmar. Support has just been given by the Darwin Initiative, for a three year study of bats of the limestone karst areas of Myanmar.

Bat workshop and field study: Myanmar. 23 October - 12 December, 2002 The Harrison Institute and the University of Yangon recently co-organised an international bat workshop in Yangon (23-27 October). The workshop, which included delegates from Australia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Portugal and UK, looked at a range of issues relating to the study and conservation of Myanmar's 92 bat species.

Bats of Mandalay and the caves of Bhamo: Myanmar. 3 March - 3 April, 2003 Following its preliminary survey in March, 2002, the Harrison Institute will be conducting more detailed field studies for bats in Mandalay Division and in the cave systems of the limestone gorges (defiles) north and south of Bhamo in Kachin State. A number of international team members from a range of institutions, will work with both Yangon University and

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Mandalay University staff and students. The area has a considerable scientific interest and wonderful scenery. There is much scope for further studies in a range of zoological disciplines, but future ornithological studies would be particularly pertinent.

Mount Victoria expedition, including the temples of Bagan and Mrauk-U and the forests and beaches of Rakhine State. February-March , 2003 Once again, the Harrison Institute and Yangon University are mounting a reconnaissance expedition to locate areas of particular interest for more detailed follow up research field surveys. This expedition will be of particular interest to those who wish to study bats, birds or have a general curiosity with travelling and experiencing different aspects of wildlife. Our particular interest will be to determine the effect of temple restoration on bat populations and their diversity. This will complement the work undertaken by our team in 1999, when we first surveyed the bats of this ancient metropolis. From here, we will proceed to Mount Victoria (Natma Taung National Park), where we will have a 3 day study visit trekking through the rhododendron and wild cherry forests observing wildlife. Mount Victoria is home to the endangered and endemic white-browed nuthatch and many other spectacular bird species.

Research team Dr David Harrison (Chairman of Trustees), Dr Paul Bates (Director), Malcolm Pearch (Asia Programme Co-ordinator and Administrator) and Karen Bates (Collections Manager).

Trustees Dr David Harrison (Chairman of Trustees), Hon. Sarah Balcon, Dr Elizabeth Barratt, Dr Nichola Hammond, Dr Nigel Pyke, Professor Paul Racey and James Stephen.

International Sponsors [2000-2002] Research and training projects have been sponsored by the Foreign Commonwealth Office (through the British Embassy in Rangoon); British Council, Rangoon; 100% Fund of Fauna and Flora International (FFI); Systematics Association; The Side Bonhote, Omer-Cooper and Westwood Fund of the Linnean Society; Systematics Association; Chester Zoo; OrientExpress Trains and Cruises and the Kent Bat Group. Recent grants include the Darwin Initiative; BP Conservation; Premier Oil; TotalFinaElf; Premier Oil and Systematis Association For further information on the Harrison Institute RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS and EXPEDITIONS see our website .

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Rarest of the Rare CHINESE CRESTED-TERN, Sterna bernsteini This poorly known species qualifies as Critical because it is inferred to have a tiny population. No specific threats have been identified, but it is likely to be affected by the loss of coastal wetlands.

IDENTIFICATION: 43cm. Largish, slender, crested tern with black-tipped yellow bill. In flight shows sharp contrast between pale grey upperwing and blackish outer primaries. Similar spp. Great Crested Tern S. bergii is larger, lacks prominent black tip to bill and has darker grey upperside.

RANGE AND POPULATION: Sterna bernsteini is an exceptionally poorly-known species, recorded only on the eastern coast of China, in Hebei, Shandong, Fujian and Guangdong and, outside the breeding season, on Halmahera, Indonesia, in Sarawak, Malaysia, and in Thailand and the Philippines. In June-July 1937, a total of 21 specimens were collected on islets off the coast of Shandong, where it was presumably breeding, indicating that it was locally not uncommon in the past. The only recent records were from China, in Hebei in 1978 and Shandong in 1991, with a possible record from a peninsular Thailand in 1980. However, in summer 2000 six adults and six chicks were found amongst a colony of other tern species on an island off Taiwan. Its current population is unknown, but it is presumably very small given the paucity of recent records.

ECOLOGY: Records indicate that it is exclusively coastal and pelagic in distribution. In China, it has been found on offshore islets, where is was presumably nesting, and tidal mudflats.

THREATS: No specific threats are known, although many coastal wetlands in its presumed breeding range in eastern China are affected by large-scale development projects and, in China, seabirds are exploited for food.

CONSERVATION: The most recent sighting in China was from Huanghe Sanjiaozhou Nature Reserve in Shandong and there are several other protected areas along the Chinese coast where is could potentially occur, at least on passage. In Thailand, it is nationally protected, and the locality where it was historically recorded is protected as the Laem Talumphuk Non-Hunting Area.

TARGETS: o o o

Conduct surveys at its former localities, both in the presumed breeding and non-breeding ranges, and at other potentially suitable breeding sites in China. Take immediate conservation measures to safeguard any sites found, especially nesting colonies. Upgrade Huanghe Sanjiaozhou Nature Reserve to national reserve status and strengthen protection there.

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Project Updates NEW PROJECT FOR MYANMAR BirdLife, together with the local Burmese NGO the Bird Enthusiasts and Nature Conservation Association (BENCA), have recently jointly developed a major new project for Myanmar for which BirdLife is now seeking donor support. The main objectives of the project are to strengthen the institutional capacity of BENCA to prioritise, plan and undertake high quality applied research and use the results to achieve greatest benefits for conservation; and to develop Site Support Groups (SSGs) at four sites of global conservation importance, empowering communities to manage natural resources and improve their quality of life. This project will identify a network of IBAs within the Eastern Himalayas and Sundaic Lowlands EBAs of Myanmar, two remote natural landscapes about which little is currently known. The IBAs will be identified through biological surveys and strategically assessed to identify those sites where the probability of conservation success is highest. The project will facilitate the establishment of SSGs at a minimum of four IBAs. These initiatives will produce a significant amount of original scientific data (including newsworthy discoveries), strengthen the capacity of Burmese nationals to develop community-based conservation activities, and provide a low-cost and sustainable model for site-based conservation planning and management in Myanmar. Training and development of Burmese nationals is a major focus of this project, targeting seven staff of BENCA and over 50 stakeholders that together will undertake conservation at four sites in Myanmar. This includes field-based training in bird survey techniques; hands-on training in biological assessment and conservation planning; training-of-trainers in SSG facilitation techniques, community-based monitoring and environmental education/awareness; conservation extension; and project management, including project budgets/financial reporting, proposal formulation and adaptive management. Training recipients will be responsible for directly developing project outputs, which include conservation assessments, establishment of SSGs to effectively undertake conservation, implementation of environmental education/awareness activities, and preparation of follow-on proposals. Therefore it will be possible to assess the effectiveness of the project's training and development by the quality of the outputs produced. Training needs assessments will be conducted at the beginning of the project and annually thereafter. Trainee outcomes will be evaluated at the end of project by measuring the progress based on these annual assessments, which will be incorporated

into subsequent annual BENCA staff reviews. The project was formulated following a 3-week mission to Myanmar in early 2002 comprising a week of meetings in Yangon with representatives of INGOs, local NGOs, donor community, and Government, including the Head of Branch for the National Committee for Environmental Affairs and Director of the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division; a week visiting Moyingyi Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary and Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuary in the Irrawaddy Plains EBA; and a third week exploring Mount Victoria and Natmataung National Park in the Eastern Himalayas EBA, which included consultations with the national park warden and village leaders. In late 2002, a second 3-week expedition to the Eastern Himalayas EBA was undertaken which gave further insight into the problems and issues faced by that EBA. A second expedition to the Sundaic Lowlands EBA is scheduled for 2003. The project uses a holistic approach that integrates the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking account of social, cultural and economic considerations. By establishing SSGs at a minimum of four IBAs, the project will create an enabling environment to inform citizens of the uniqueness of flora and fauna in their village, obtain crucial information about the human ecology of these biological resources, facilitate open and participatory discussions among local stakeholders (including families, business people, monks, officials, etc.), and empower communities to manage their natural resources in balance with their traditional values and future needs. Hence, the project facilitates a foundation for dialogue, trust and cooperation between these groups, resulting in increased participation and power over decisions, plans and policies that affect their livelihoods. Impacts of the work will include that BENCA becomes a leading advocate for the protection of wild birds and their habitats, participatory approaches to natural resources management, and a reasoned voice of community concerns to ensure environmental quality in Myanmar; biodiversity at four sites of global conservation importance is better managed and conserved in the long term; the SSG approach is replicated in other important areas for conservation, thereby creating a nationwide network of effectively protected, managed and monitored IBAs; the scientifically rigorous process of identifying IBAs and the participatory process of establishing SSGs are incorporated into national conservation plans, strategies

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BirdLife International in Indochina

and programmes. These impacts will be achieved through advocacy and the development of follow-on proposals to scale-up project initiatives and ensure financial sustainability beyond the project term. Published outputs will be disseminated by hard copy to government agencies and NGOs and will be posted on the BirdLife International Indochina Programme website for international audiences.

This will be the first initiative whereby an international NGO seeks to directly develop the capacity of a local NGO to undertake biological assessments and facilitate community-based conservation in Myanmar. A primary focus of the project is to empower this local NGO to independently undertake the work in the future. This is also the first time BirdLife International’s IBA SSG approach has been applied in the Burmese context.

MAJOR NEW DANIDA-FUNDED INITIATIVE FOR CAMBODIA BirdLife is delighted to announce a major new Danida-funded initiative for Cambodia. This new project will build on and consolidates the significant investment already made by Danida in BirdLife’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) Programme in Indochina. The Community participation for conservation in Cambodia project aims to establish a foundation of stakeholder support for and management of Important Bird Areas, enabling communities to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the management of natural resources and thereby contributing to a reduction in poverty and improved quality of life. As proposed, the project will generate support among local stakeholders (i.e. communities, key decision makers, government agencies, private sector, scientific community and donors) at a minimum of 6 priority IBAs and increase the awareness amongst government and civil society of the environmental values of ecologically significant habitats, particularly wetlands, and promote the long-term conservation of all 38 Important Bird Areas in Cambodia. This will be achieved through the development and strengthening of IBA Site Support Groups (SSGs). This approach is innovative to Cambodia because it promotes local stakeholder empowerment and accountability, thereby contributing to improved governance. BirdLife International in Indochina’s current Danida-funded project entitled Improved conservation planning through institutional strengthening in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam will finish on 31 March 2003. This two-year project has aimed to strengthen the capacity of governmental agencies to undertake biological assessments, evaluations and conservation planning and develop a Directory of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The project, based on a global conservation strategy pioneered by BirdLife International, has successfully identified sites of international conservation importance in Indochina, developed models for generating local stakeholder support for conservation at pilot IBA sites in Cambodia and Vietnam, assisted the countries to fulfil their international obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity by generating government support for the designation of new protected areas in Cambodia and Vietnam, and strengthened the conservation planning capacity of participating agencies.

DUTCH FUNDING FOR CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM In 2003 BirdLife International in Indochina plans to initiate several small-scale projects at selected Important Bird Areas in Cambodia and Vietnam, with a focus on Site Support Group development. These projects will form a component of a collaborative project between BirdLife International and the Government of the Netherlands, specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries (LNV). The projects will aim to secure the conservation of small seasonal wetlands in western Siem Pang district, the seasonally inundated grasslands at Boeung Prek Lapouv in Cambodia, and at Ha Nam Island in Vietnam.

LAO PDR TO GET A LOCAL LANGUAGE BIRD BOOK Thanks to grants from the Asean Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation and the World Bank, BirdLife will produce a local language bird field guide for Laos. BirdLife, together with its local partners the Wildlife Conservation Society, and with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Forestry, the new book, which will be in full colour, will be produced during 2003.

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Profile DR. HTIN HLA Known to his many friends and colleagues simply as “Tony,” Htin Hla has rapidly established a reputation for himself as president of the premier birdwatching tour company in Myanmar and as a dominant force in Burmese ornithology. Born in 1954, Tony studied for both Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Medicine degrees at the Institute of Medicine II, Yangon. After several years of practicing medicine and later as a representative of a pharmacutical company, Tony then made the switch to a new career in tourism. Today Tony is president of Wildlife Adventure Travels and Tours Tours (WATT), which he runs from his home in Yangon. Tony has unparalleled experience and expertise in organizing and managing ornithological expeditions to the far reaches of Myanmar: Tony regularly leads trips to Natmataung National Park in Chin State, Kachin State in Myanmar's far north, and recently drove the Ledo road where he saw White-winged Ducks from the comfort of his landcruiser!

Tony Htin Hla (left), with Ms Khin Ma Ma Thwin and Ms Dinh Thi Hoa, visiting Natmataung National Park. Photo: J.C.Eames

Tony’s other great interests (apart from good food!) are ornithology and conservation. He is currently chairman of the Bird Enthusiasts and Nature Conservation Association (BENCA) Sub-committee for Research and Field Operations. He and his BENCA colleagues, together with BirdLife, attempted a survey of Gurney’s Pitta last year, which had to be postponed at the last minute. Tony is currently working on a guide to the birds of Myanmar. Tony is Myanmar Country Representative of the Oriental Bird Club and a member of FREDA (Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association. Tony is married and has two children.

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Book Reviews Wild Wings: A Portfolio of Birds in Thailand by Smith Sutibut (ISBN: 974-228-028-2) In the author's own words, Wild Wings is not just a picture book, it is his dream. This book is the culmination of years of patience and persistence by Smith Sutibut, one of Thailand's leading bird photographers, and represents a spectacular visual tribute to the rich and varied avian diversity of the country. Whilst many of the photographs included in the book are undeniably beautiful in their own right, what impresses most of all is the diversity of species included, as well as the number of rarities seldom captured on film, such as Green Cochoa, Masked Finfoot and Spoon-billed Sandpiper. When the reader considers the effort that must have gone in to taking just one of these photos, the scale of the whole undertaking is brought into perspective. The written introductions to each chapter are quite short and aimed at the general reader but the section on birdwatching sites at the end of the book is informative and of interest to birdwatchers. In summary, the book is a wonderful introduction to the bird life of Thailand and mainland South-East Asia in general. (Review - Andrew W. Tordoff)

Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand by L. Bruce Kekule (ISBN: 974-87099-8-1) At the end of the Second World War, Thailand's forests covered an estimated 75% of the country. Now, perhaps only 20% remains. Many of the species of plants and animals that once inhabited the country are now extinct, while others are reduced to tiny pockets of their former ranges. L. Bruce Kekule, an American living in Thailand since 1964, devoted four years to cataloguing the wildlife and wild places that remain, in order to build awareness and understanding of the beauty of the natural world. Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand, which is now in its second printing, is the result of this work. The book contains a wealth of wonderful images. As well as the showcase species, such as Tiger, Asian Elephant and Gaur, the book beautifully illustrates a number of lesser-known creatures, including Himalayan Newt, Threestriped Palm Civet and a cave-dwelling snake. Let us hope that this book becomes a source of inspiration to a generation of conservationists, not a last glimpse at a disappearing wilderness. (Review - Andrew W. Tordoff)

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BirdLife International in Indochina

Recently Published • Le Trong Trai, Eames, J. C., Furey, N.M, Kuznetsov, A. N., Monastyrskii, A. L., Dang Ngoc Can, Nguyen Truong Son and Bui Xuan Phuong (2003) A biodiversity survey and assessment of selected sites within Na Hang Nature Reserve and Ba Be National Park, Tuyen Quang and Bac Kan provinces, Vietnam. Hanoi: PARC Project, Na Hang/Ba Be Component. • Bird Expedition Survey Techniques (in Vietnamese) 2003 translated by Nguyen Duc Tu • Parry, S. J. Clark, W. S. and Prakash, V. (2002) On the taxonomic status of the Indian Spotted Eagle Aquila hastate. Ibis 144: 665-675. In this recent paper the authors review the status if the two currently recognized subspecies of Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila p. pomarina (western Eurasia) and A. p. hastate (Indian subcontinent) on the basis of museum diagnosis and field observations. They present differences between these two allopatric taxa which demonstrate that they should be treated as distinct species. Specifically they present evidence of differences in plumage (for both adults and juveniles), external morphology, osteology, clutch size and behaviour. Particular emphasis is placed on differences in gape size and general cranial structure.

From the Archives This photograph was taken during the only ever ornithological exploration made of the Paracel Islands, which lie in the South China Sea off the east coast of Vietnam. In 1926 Jean Delacour visited the archipelago together with M. A. Krempf, and possibly also in the company of Pierre Jabouille. They arrived at Triton Island on 29 June 1926 to collect specimens as part of their survey. The photograph, taken by M. A. Krempf, shows a collector at work. In the background are a flock of terns of indeterminate species. This illustration is reproduced from Oiseaux des Iles Paracels by Delacour and Jabouille and published by the General Government of Indochina in 1930. One wonders if terns still nest there today.

The Babbler - March, 2003

The Babbler 5  

Quarterly newsletter of BirdLife International in Indochina (January - March 2003)

The Babbler 5  

Quarterly newsletter of BirdLife International in Indochina (January - March 2003)