It was thirty years ago, with cold fog covering the mountains, unlocking the secrets of the moment’s feeling. In the spring of 1984 I was fortunate enough to be an assistant accompanying China’s famous ornithologist Professor Zheng Guangmei to southern Zhejiang Wuyanling Reserve. We had only one goal: to find Chinese endemic species, the Tragopan.
Like legends, like the myth, Tragopan was already highly endangered. The fellows of Zhejiang knew about it by word of mouth, but almost no one actually witnessed its true capacity; we hoped to understand its ecological habits et least, and even more if impossible. Our purpose was to observe the breeding ecology of their wild environment in an attempt to reveal a biological mystery the world had never known. As a Chinese, the Chinese Academy of endangered pheasants is an important research project that is host to Professor Zheng Guangmei of Beijing Normal University.
At the end of March, we took the Beijing-Hangzhou train straight to Hangzhou, and immediately took the bus to Wuyanling Taishun County Nature Reserve. It was a long time ago, so some details are difficult to remember clearly. We do remember how we carried a 14 tin trunk (each metal box within 50 pounds of control), full fitted a variety of field observation tools, equipment and field supplies. Zhejiang year coach, inside manned, roof luggage stacked, all luggage was loaded into a large network of cord. Each piece of luggage was standing by the driver, the passengers of the car along the baggage conveyor iron ladder to the driver, as long as the driver does not move a single hand, lest he slip. The transfer at the long-distance bus station was so long! And I, like a warrior, like Mr. Zheng, seized the 14 long-haul trucks loaded onto a metal box, all the way bustling.
Next we traveled from Wuyanling Reserve to nearly Qingming. I did not expect snow to fall in the mountains. Many cryptomeria were overwhelmed thick snow or crushed. I was secretly happy about the surprise snow, because in the snow season Tragopan do not enter reproductive status (we thought we might get to observe the complete process of Tragopan pheasant breeding). We hurry as to not be late, excited at the potential opportunity to learn more about this little-known species’ wild breeding ecology.
The next day we hiked uphill for ten hours trying to find Tragopan. We climbed all over, covering each peak at Wuyanling with catching a peak of the Tragopan. They really have to live in the mountain, too? As the search rode on for 15 days, the snowy mountains gave way to fog. Air always seemed to have something falling, like snow, like rain, sticky cotton wet and cold, our faces always felt damp. Even worse, in such weather conditions, visibility is less than one meter – which is undoubtedly worse for our field observations, presenting enormous difficulties. Boundless mountains, misty rain and fog, what method to use to be able to find the rare and secretive Tragopan?
Mr. Zheng was a strict and firm scholar, no matter what the weather he always required us to be looking up the mountain. By this point we had been investigating in Wuyanling for nearly a month without the slightest trace of the Tragopan. We were anxious, eager to find the target. We knew that if we didn’t find one soon that it would take at least a year’s wait for the opportunity to come again, and were afraid that their numbers would be scarcer.
One day, I walked into the valley with Mr. Zheng, braving the fog, trying to clear the valley in case we get lost. Suddenly, a „quack, quack, quack, quack,“ came the cry from the depths of the valley, I was excited! I concluded that it was the Tragopan cry! Looking at the fog I, while anxious, knew this precious opportunity was a fleeting moment. A quick flash of excitement and anxiety from the heart, an idea suddenly came to mind. Feeling the same excitement and anxiety, I asked Mr. Zheng, “Can you let me call the Tragopan?” Zheng looked at the fog, though he had never tried to imitate the Tragopan, but otherwise there was no other way. Mr. Zheng decisively agreed with me to get to a hill side quickly – so not only to reduce the tall humanoid outline which was sure to deter the Tragopan, but also to give us a sound position approach angle to the pheasant. Creeping, I placed a rope in front of the mouth, imagining Tragopan modality and attempting to imitate, issued a „wow – wow – wow, yapping yapping wow.“ After, I had to hold my breath and Zheng nervously looked forward to the other corner for a response from the pheasant. After a little while, when I repeated the calls, we only heard compact and powerful footsteps. It was a male Tragopan’s upright body, like a warrior, heading straight to me and Zheng. It really thought of me as a regular Tragopan, as its rival even! Straight to less than one meter away from us, it suddenly stopped, seems stunned. Due to the fog it wouldn’t be until this distance that it and we would be able to see each other, which ended up helping us since it wouldn’t see us from a distance and get scared off. Now we could see that it is really a bright cobalt blue, erect and twitching – this is the male courtship Tragopan Battle „swagger“ which is really rare to see! After less than five seconds of taking these photos suddenly, as if by revelation, the Tragopan immediately turned around and ran back to the fog. When we relaxed a little we suddenly felt a surge of joy. We found the Tragopan!
We used Tragopan the voice language and field behavior of the Tragopan pheasant breeding male, and through the fog were able to summon him to our side. We had met our research objectives! Oh magical changing natural climate! Most of the time, for our field survey work, it has brought us enormous difficulties. This time it helped us in a wonderful way. Let us honor this unique wildlife the way to meet it. Three decades later, that foggy day in the snowy mountains with the Tragopan is still vivid in my mind.
Read the article in Chinese here.