Shorebirding at Nanpu and more illegal trapping

At the Beijing birders meet-up we arranged for a group trip to Nanpu, near Tangshan in Hebei Province.  In total, 15 of us – both ex-pats and locals – spent the weekend at this world-class site and it was a superb trip – great fun with lots of birds!

2013-08-21 Birds
The backdrop may not be pretty but the birding is spectacular at Nanpu.

Perhaps the best single bird in terms of rarity was an ORIENTAL STORK that came in off the sea.  And amongst the other highlights were impressive numbers of shorebirds with 4,700 SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS and 2,325 DUNLIN, a single RUFF (rare here), five juvenile RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, at least six first-year SAUNDERS’S and up to 80 RELICT GULLS and decent numbers of passerines moving down the coast.  High counts included 54 BLACK-NAPED ORIOLES (including a single flock of 23 birds!), 100 DUSKY WARBLERS, 300 SIBERIAN STONECHATS, up to 150 RICHARD’S PIPITS, two BLYTH’S PIPITS, two PECHORA PIPITS and six YELLOW-BROWED BUNTINGS.

A typically thorough full report by Paul Holt can be downloaded here: Birding coastal Tangshan, Hebei 7 & 8 September 2013

Per shorebirding at Nanpu.
Per checking out the waders on a roadside pond at Nanpu.
This is "EVA" the Bar-tailed Godwit.  Colour-flagging of migratory shorebirds helps researchers to better understand the routes these birds take and the stopover sites they use which, in turn informs conservation measures.  You can read about EVA's history in the trip report.
This is “EVA” the Bar-tailed Godwit. Colour-flagging of migratory shorebirds helps researchers to better understand the routes these birds take and the stopover sites they use which, in turn informs conservation measures. You can read about EVA’s history in the trip report.
Juvenile Red-necked Stint.  Beautiful birds!
Juvenile Red-necked Stint. Beautiful birds!
Gull-billed Tern.
Gull-billed Tern.

It was hot at Nanpu and, fortunately, there is a small village where one can purchase ice creams!  I can thoroughly recommend the ‘traditional flavour’ ice lollies..  delicious (even though I am not sure of what exactly they taste!).  The locals here make their living from the mudflats, where they harvest the shellfish and shrimps.  Here are a few maintaining their nets.

Local ladies maintaining the shrimp nets
Local ladies maintaining the shrimp nets

And in the early mornings, our 0500 starts were made (slightly) easier by the delicious bao zi (steamed dumplings) that were on sale for the equivalent of 5p each…

Jan-Erik and Andrew browsing the local bao zi stall.
Jan-Erik and Andrew browsing the local bao zi stall.

At the coast, where passerine migration was most impressive, we unfortunately encountered more illegal bird trapping activity.  From the car, Paul heard a Yellow-breasted Bunting singing and we stopped to investigate.  We very quickly saw a line of mist nets in the grass close by.  The poacher had set up an elaborate line of nets accompanied by caged songbirds, clearly designed to lure in wild birds.  The caged birds included Common Rosefinch, Yellow-breasted and Yellow-browed Buntings – three species that were clearly moving at this time of year.

2013-09-07 YBBunting and mist nets

A male Common Rosefinch strategically placed to lure in wild birds.
A male Common Rosefinch strategically placed to lure in wild birds.
A distressed-looking male Yellow-breasted Bunting, now officially an endangered species after years of persecution.
A distressed-looking male Yellow-breasted Bunting, now officially an endangered species after years of persecution.

In the nets we found alive 2 Common Rosefinches plus Yellow-browed, Arctic and Dusky Warblers, which we promptly released. But it was too late for 4 Brown Shrikes which had fallen victim to this cruel practice.

The poacher soon arrived (claiming that the nets were his friend’s and not his – yeah right).  We told him firmly that this was illegal and that we would be taking photos and reporting him to the Hebei Forestry Administration.  He did not protest and actually helped us to dismantle and destroy the nets, snap the poles, release the caged birds and destroy the cages.  On return to Beijing I posted the photos on Sina Weibo (Chinese “Twitter”) asking for help in reporting this illegal activity.  Within 10 minutes, users on the microblogging service had translated my report into mandarin and submitted it to the Hebei Forestry Administration…  wow!  The power of social media.  Thanks guys!

Ironically, the next day we were ejected from this area by local security guards from the nearby oil terminal and police who claimed that it was a “nature reserve”.  So it’s ok to drill for oil and trap wild birds in a nature reserve but birding is a step too far…!  A big thank you to Lei Ming and friends for following up on my behalf with the Hebei Forestry Administration.

The trapper was surprisingly cooperative as we dismantled the nets and freed the trapped birds.
The trapper was surprisingly cooperative as we dismantled the nets and freed the trapped birds.  Here he frees a first year/ female Common Rosefinch

Action Against Illegal Mist Nets in China

I recently wrote a short blog post about illegal mist nets in China.  In that post I expressed optimism that the practice of trapping and killing birds might be slowly dying out in China.

Shortly after I wrote that post, a Swedish birding colleague based in Tianjin discovered up to 2km (!) of illegal nets in a large reedbed at Beidagang Reservoir, supposedly a nature reserve.  This sparked an outcry from local birders and, with the help of Chinese birding friends in Beijing and Tianjin, these nets have now been photographed, the details reported to the local authorities and those nets that were reachable have been destroyed.

Birders with experience of ringing birds in similar habitats in China have provided a rough estimate of the number of birds that might be killed in nets of this scale.  One explained that, in a typical 3-hour morning period, you would expect to catch and ring 50 to 60 birds in three lines of mist nets with a total length of 250 meters.

If we use these figures, and simple math, to estimate the impact of the illegal mist nets at Beidagang Reservoir, we reach a total of 400 birds per day.  However, this is clearly a minimum as the ringing data is based on only 3 hours of peak activities in the early morning.  The real number could easily be 600 or more per day for 2 kms of mist nets that are in place 24 hrs a day.  Going further, if we consider a migration period of 3 months, this gives a total of 55,000 birds that could be killed every year in this single line of mist nets.  If there are 20 places like this along the chinese coast (which is undoubtedly a conservative estimate), the total quickly multiplies to 1 million birds killed every year during autumn migration.  This is simply unacceptable.

Shi Jin, a Beijing-based birder, has had enough and has started a new initiative to publicise this illegal activity. A dedicated web page has been set up, in Chinese and English, with the purpose of highlighting and shaming those involved.  Readers are encouraged to send in photographs and short texts about their experiences.  Already several contributors have uploaded some shocking images.

At the same time, there has been outcry on Chinese social media networks this week after a video was published by undercover journalist Li Feng from Changsha Evening News showing how hunters in Hunan Province are using lights to lure in migrants at night before blasting them with (illegal) guns.  You can view the (disturbing) video here.

It is encouraging that this illegal activity is now receiving public attention and the reaction of ordinary netizens has been overwhelmingly hostile towards the perpetrators.  By building public awareness and increasing the pressure on the police and local authorities to put a stop to this practice, there is a chance that this disgusting and illegal activity can be eradicated.

If you have any examples of illegal bird trapping in China, or would simply like to offer your support to this campaign, please visit the site and either upload your experiences or leave a comment.  Let’s keep up the pressure to help save these wild birds.

Finding birds in illegal mist nets is distressing. This image was taken near Dalian, Liaoning Province. Photo copyright Tom Beeke.

Illegal Mist Nets in China

Sadly, it is still relatively common to find illegal mist nets in China.  Most appear to be erected by poor people who will likely either eat the birds caught or sell them as cagebirds, if they are popular species.  For me, it is always with a heavy heart that I try to render the nets unusable, knowing on the one hand that they are illegal under Chinese law but, at the same time, that for some people, bird trapping may form an important part of their income.

Encouragingly, the practice of trapping birds seems to be declining, with the market for cagebirds predominantly being driven by a slowly shrinking older generation, so hopefully in the not too distant future illegal mist nets will be a thing of the past in China.

Whilst at Laotieshan for several days last week we bumped into a few members of the Panjin Birdwatching Society (from northern Liaoning).  The group, led by the famous Mr Zhang Ming (a very talented photographer) was predominantly interested in bird photography and were visiting to take advantage of the raptor migration at Laotieshan.  Mr Zhang told us about the sighting of a Band-bellied Crake on a very small pool near to Dalian city..  Having never seen this species, Mr Zhang and his friends offered to take us there..  so off we went in a small convoy of 4x4s for the short journey to the site.  After stopping for a delicious lunch, during which Mr Zhang showed us some stunning images of rare and difficult to see Chinese birds, including Jankowski’s Bunting, we arrived at the site and began to look for the specific pond.  It wasn’t long before we found it but, despite observing the weedy fringes for close on 2 hours, there were no signs of any crakes and we were forced to assume that the bird had moved on.  Whilst exploring the site we came across several illegal mist nets, some of which held live birds.  It was pleasing to see the Panjin Birdwatching Society members rescue the birds, take down the nets and destroy them.  And much better that they were taken down by Chinese birders and not ‘interfering foreigners’..!

Members of the Panjin Birdwatching Society proudly displaying their society’s flag, alongside Paul Holt and Wang Qingyu, Dalian, Liaoning Province.
Mr Zhang, who must be one of China’s most talented bird photographers (and a very nice guy).
Mr Zhang junior saved this Common Kingfisher from one of the illegal mist nets
This Brown Shrike was also released from the illegal mist nets.
This Yellow-browed Warbler, although released, was very poorly and, sadly, probably didn’t make it.