Sunday, May 10, 2009

China – la vie en rose

I had the bright idea to try a photo essay about rosefinches in China although it turns out I don’t have so many great shots, so I cheated by adding other splashes or pink and red. Nearly all of the world’s 27 or so rosefinches fall in the genus Carpodacus, but there are two monotypic genera: Uragus and Kozlowia. If the number 27 sounds high to you that’s because there has been a lot of splitting among the rosefinches recently. About 85% of the rosefinches occur in Asia and the distribution centers are the high altitudes of the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau. From their lofty birth place the rosefinches have spread across the temperate Palearctic Realm, even conquering other high mountains like the Caucasus, and even reaching North America, presumably via Berringia, where there are now three extant species: House Finch, Purple Finch and Cassin’s Finch. Though these three Nearctic species have many congenitors in Eurasia, they never got the common name “rosefinch” and so North American are not always aware of their affinities. As the name implies, the majority of rosefinches are clad in beautiful pink hues (well, at least the males are, the females being cryptically patterned in browns) but some, especially in more moist areas have donned darker hues closer to burgundy and red.

We start with the Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, first a male then a female. This species was split off from the Tibetan White-browed Rosefinch recently. This species is fairly typically patterned among Carpodacus rosefinches with bright pink on the face, underparts and rump and the female with brown and white streaking and subtle pink hues.

The similar Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch. This species was split off from the Tibetan Beautiful Rosefinch recently (can you see a pattern?). Though I saw this stunning bird often I never managed to get a photo that would come close to doing them justice.

The Vinaceous Rosefinch is also in the genus Carpodacus but their stunningly deep colour makes them quite unique and hence easier to identify than many of the other rosefinches in their area.

The Red-fronted Rosefinch is somewhat different in colour than other Carpodacus species and lives high on the rocky slopes – this photo taken above 4500m. In the second shot you can see the bright red rump that shows in flight.

I’m afraid my other rosefinch shots don’t really make the cut but we’ll stick with the rosy theme with this beautiful Rosy Pipit in breeding plumage high up in the Sichuan mountains.

The White-browed Tit-warbler is one of two members of the peculiar Leptopoecile genus of the Aegithalidae family (Long-tailed Tits). These beautiful little birds are denizens of the scrubby high elevations of the Tibetan and Chinese mountains.

Ok, so the next species is much more red than pink but I couldn’t resist showing off the magnificent Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. The only unfortunate thing is this bird’s name — betrays one of those nasty old ornithological traditions of supposedly naming a beautiful bird in honour of a lady, except by using her married name the honour really falls on the man himself (very convenient). There are quite a few “Mrs so-&-so’s such-&-such” in Asia. As for the bird themselves, wow, what a magnificent creature!

Asia is blessed with some truly woodpeckers too. These Darjeeling Woodpeckers show of their red highlights...
and the Rufous-bellied Woodpecker is not to be outdone for colour.

Transition to orange, a Grey-headed Bullfinch hops around on the ground near my feet as I stood very still outside the Wuyipeng Research Centre. I snapped this image as he looked up at me.

Last but not least, a beautiful Rufous-breasted Accentor — one of several stunning accentors in the high elevations in the Chinese mountains.

More photos from China at:

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