Water Rail Tragedy

On Saturday morning I decided to check on the Western Water Rail in the Olympic Forest Park.  When I arrived on site, my heart sank.  All of the small areas of reeds that had been left uncut at the beginning of the winter had disappeared, including the section favoured by the Water Rail and its Moorhen companions.  There has clearly been some ‘management work’ over the last few days and, for some reason, these reedbeds – which were also a haven for other species, including Chinese (Light-vented Bulbul) and Black-faced Bunting – were given the chop.  Needless to say, there was no sign of these birds today and, with a brisk northerly blowing, I recorded very few birds at all.  A couple of Red-flanked Bluetails and a male Daurian Redstart were as good as it got.

The reedbed at the Olympic Forest Park in February. The closest clump, on the left, was the favoured haunt of the Western Water Rail.


The reedbed today. Everything has been cut. Consequence: no Water Rail.

9 thoughts on “Water Rail Tragedy”

  1. Terry, I know that feeling! This happens annually in a lot of places. It would be interesting to find out what the thinking is from some local friends in the know about horticulture. Hopefully the rail found another good home… (was glad not to see any corpses at least – feared the worst with the headline).

    1. Yes, I will try to find out the reason for the cutting of the reeds. I was very impressed when the park management left several sections of reeds for the winter, and they were being well-used by the birds. There is very little other suitable habitat for a rail in the park but at least, if it has moved on, the weather is much less cold and there will be areas of unfrozen water, in the city at least.

  2. A pity… like park keepers in a lot of places, it seems they’d rather have the place look pretty and aren’t thinking about wildlife habitat.

  3. Terry,

    I know just how you feel/felt. I guess all us fellow birders do – the sound of power saws as you near a wooded spot you felt nobody else knew about, the park planting petunias or pansies were there used to be some non-showy wild orchids, or, as now …. the reeds at a water margin offending the official eye.

    I think you are on the right track, however. There will be other winters and perhaps other water rails ( or maybe even the same one). It could be that the powers that be might be quite receptive to new insights ( yours ). And I think your case would be helped immeasurably if you could recruit some of your Chinese birding friends or people from the birding organization whose function you attended earlier this winter to go in with you ( and convey the nuance that this is not just an outsider’s idea.)

    I look forward to good news on this.


    1. Hi Norm. Thanks. Following your comment, I have contacted my colleagues at the Beijing Birdwatching Society to see whether they can help raise this with the park authorities. The good thing is that many local bird photographers enjoyed photographing the rail and its companions. Many of these are wealthy and well-connected people. If they can be mobilised to approach the authorities, the chances of them taking notice must be improved. I’ll let you know if we make any progress! T

      1. So far, so good. Wealthy, well-connected, Chinese-speaking locals sounds like the way to go. Hope it bears fruit ( and water rails next year!


  4. As Gretchen said, this happens everywhere. Shanghai is not an exception. My favorite Bittern left the century park after the reed beds were cut. In Binjiang forest park, the habitat for bramblings and oriental green finches were destroyed. We often forget the fact that parks in China are tourist friendly rather than nature friendly.

    1. Thanks Dev. It’s frustrating! With a little more consideration, these parks could be much better for wildlife at no expense to the aesthetic ‘beauty’ of the site. I think it’s worth approaching the authorities, ideally through local enthusiasts, as we have nothing to lose. I’ll report back if I hear about any progress with this particular case.

      1. Hi Terry,
        I’ve chatted with Li Ming on this topic and he said that there were changes in some of the Beijing parks in terms of considering the wildlife AND the tourists. Of course, until you educate tourists, they may well think that if the park doesn’t look like a well manicured lawn, that their ticket money is being wasted. It’s a matter of changing people’s aesthetics, which isn’t all that easy. But it might be helpful to notice places that are doing it well and working from there into other parks….

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