© Styan’s Bulbul Foraging Chinaberry in Hengchun Taiwan

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“Styan’s Bulbul (Pycnonotus taivanus) was named after Frederic William Styan (1858-1934) – a mid-19th century British tea merchant-cum-naturalist who lived and traded during the Qing Dynasty period. He spent 27years (1877-1904) in duel roles or more in China. Together with other numerous British naturalists/professional hunters etc. in historical Qing China, one simply to imagine, with his established business connections, how easy it must be then, besides exporting China tea, included sea cargos of fauna/bird skins’ species.

“His activities contributed to keeping European museums well stocked and expedited the plumed feather, haberdashery industry in embellishing exotic headgears/hats of aristocrats in the west. Well… needless to say, everyone went home happy.

“My October visit to Taiwan 2016 was had for the main purpose… a Mecca trip down south, to bear witness the renowned arrival and departures of Grey-faced Buzzards (Butastur indicus), during the autumn raptor migration.

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“I based my visit in the historical, ancient town of Hengchun. Once surrounded by walls, half remain to this day and together with four gates stand intact (above).

“Between critical hours of viewing raptors in different locations, within Hengchun peninsula and scouting for bird rarities with host friends in 4WD I had ample time to explore varieties of interest on foot – all within distance from my accommodation.

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“In historical and peaceful town of Hengchun, also known as ‘Everlasting Spring,’ I came across long rows of light-shady, fruit (Chinaberry) and nut bearing trees (Triadica sebifera) planted alongside residential walk paths, running parallel to the ancient walls (above).

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“It was October and the invasive Chinaberry trees (Melia azedarach) were in full, fruiting swing to welcome the avian frugivores for a town party. Hanging green, unripe berries in abundance awaited the arrival of local bird species – the sub-endemic Black Bulbuls (Hypsipetes madagascariensis) and the endemic Styan’s Bulbuls. Upon their arrival, they took turns to feast on the berries (above).

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“Drupe berries – some turned olive colour, dislocated by rains the night before, added to the profusion of fallen brown and wrinkled ones, which carpeted sporadically on the sidewalks (above).

“I had the opportunity to observe these birds indulged breakfast and dinner at dusk for several days.

“Several views of Styan’s Bulbul posted here to differentiate head plumage from its quite similar cousin – Light-vented Bulbul (Pyconontus sinensis formosae).

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“The endemic bird’s head is black and wears a prominent, matching black sub-moustachial stripe. Presence of orangey-red, beauty spot is noted on base of lower mandible (above).

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“Another front view of mature bird with ectoparasitic infestation shows a prominent broad and brown chest band (above).

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“A comparative side view is shown here in different lighting conditions (above).

“Small flocks of Styan’s Bulbul systematically demolished selected Chinaberry fruits off trees and those scattered on the walkway.

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“Let’s enjoy this one time only visit of Styan’s Bulbul in foraging action, in Hengchun, Pingtung County, ROC Taiwan. Succulent olive-green berries appeared to be the favourites (above).

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“One was observed chasing a rolling drupe berry. Pecked off ground, it was given repeated crushing rolls and throws with its bill (above, below).
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“Having loosened up and reduced in size, the fruit was swallowed. Four sequential shots extracted from video shown here (below).

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“I found DGscope and myself the only soul bird surveyor walking the streets of Hengchun town. I wondered why no birders/photographers bothered to do the same; instead, made a beeline for the raptor sites, only to return for meals and lodgings in Hengchun.

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“The reason… Hengchun is also a dog town (above).

“Dog ownership and stray population (black especially) is high in this ancient town. Everywhere I walked or turned a corner, a canine or two never far away. I soon learnt to avoid territorial barkings and prepared well for any unleashed canine, who fancied a much needed exercise of defensive sprint on unsuspecting passer-by strangers.

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“Well… I survived. Where else but in ancient Hengchun, would I have this opportunity to best observe one of Taiwan’s ubiquitous endemic – Styan’s Bulbul so close and for armchair readers to share my experience from the comforts of their chairs? (above).
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Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
20th April 2017

Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund

Reference: “British Naturalist in Qing China’ by Fa-Ti Fan

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