A previously unknown species of babbler has been discovered in China’s Guangxi province near the border with Vietnam, reports Birdlife International.
The species — described in a recent edition of the ornithological journal, The Auk — is named the Nonggang Babbler (Stachyris nonggangensis) for the region where it was found. Its habitat is karst seasonal forest, an ecosystem characterized by limestone caves and outcroppings. The dark brown bird with white markings on its chest is notable for its preference for running rather than flying. It typically forages for insects between rocks and in forest leaf litter.
Chinese ornithologists say the find raises hope of further discoveries in China, which could boost the country’s nascent interest in bird-watching and conservation.
“The discovery shows that there are still some birds that haven’t been (identified) yet in China, such a vast territory that is rich in biodiversity,” said Zhou Fang, the Guangxi University orinthologist who first sighted the bird in 2005 with colleague Jiang Aiwu.
After decades of nearly institutionalized persecution at the hands of Chinese authorities and citizenry, interest in bird life in growing in China.
Nonggang Babbler Stachyris nonggangensis is found only in southwestern Guangxi province, part of the south-east Chinese Mountains Endemic Bird Area. Photo by James Eaton of Birdtour Asia
According to the Economist which ran a feature on “twitching” in China, the number of bird-watchers in China “has exploded in the past few years, with a few thousand members in two dozen clubs.”
The report mentioned noted that the region where the Nonggang Babbler was discovered is “nearly virgin territory for ornithologists”.
Dr. Nigel Collar, an ornithologist at BirdLife International, agrees.
“This is exciting evidence that there could be many more interesting discoveries awaiting ornithologists in China”, he said.
Already under threat?
Though the Nonggang Babbler was discovered in forest reserve, Zhou cautioned that the bird may face threats to its habitat outside the park’s boundaries.
“Their habitat in the reserve is protected but as they could also exist in the karst rainforest outside the reserve, logging and burning wood to make charcoal pose a threat to their wider habitat.”
“The limestone area in south-western Guangxi is part of the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspot and the south-east Chinese Mountains Endemic Bird Area, and is one of the most typical tropical karst regions in the world”, Zhou continued. “The fragility of the karst ecosystem and its destruction by people pose great threats to the bird’s existence. Therefore, research and conservation of the birds in this habitat is very urgent.”