2012 was my second full year living in China’s capital. Thanks to Libby, my understanding wife, I have been fortunate enough to make regular visits to some of the capital’s most productive birding sites and to see some stunning birds. It is a joy to spend time in the outdoors observing familiar, and some not so familiar, species whilst at the same time adding a little to the knowledge, and status, of Beijing’s avifauna. Through the growing network of Beijing-based birders, both Chinese and ex-pats, and my expanding contacts among Chinese birdwatchers, many of whom I now consider good friends, I have learned a great deal over the last 12 months.
The end of the year is traditionally a time to take stock and look forward to the opportunities ahead. As in most parts of the world, it would be easy to feel depressed about the state of wild birds in China. Jankowski’s Bunting is in desperate trouble. The prospects are also grim for Baer’s Pochard. More well-known is the Chinese Crested Tern, which is in a precarious situation but hanging on, and of course Spoon-billed Sandpiper. In total there are 9 species classified as “Critically Endangered” in China. And, although only officially classified as “Vulnerable”, there is another species that I am very concerned about, a species whose song has never been recorded. Hands up if you have seen a Streaked Reed Warbler anywhere in the world in the last few years. The status of these species, almost certainly all moving in the wrong direction primarily due to habitat destruction, together with the ongoing battle against illegal poaching and bird-trapping, make it easy to paint a grim picture.
However, as we welcome 2013 and despite the growing pressures faced by the natural world, I am more optimistic about the future of China’s birds. Why? Who had expected the inspirational efforts by birders, volunteers and local authorities to take down over 2km of illegal mist nets and, later, save the poisoned Oriental Storks at Beidagang? Or the brave journalist, Li Feng, who secretly recorded and exposed the illegal shooting of migratory birds in Hunan Province? These events and many others like them, publicised through social media, sparked a huge response from ordinary Chinese people, demonstrating that there is a deep and widespread concern for the welfare of wild birds in China. This, in turn, has resulted in a new government initiative to strengthen the enforcement of laws relating to illegal poaching. On 29th November, shortly after the crackdown was announced, it was reported that in October and November the local authorities in Guangdong had seized 51,622 wild animals and 9,497 bird nets, following investigations spanning 584 markets and 1,320 restaurants. According to the report, 102 people have been sentenced as a result of the crackdown.
As one Chinese friend told me, the events in Hunan and at Beidagang could mark a turning point in the future of wild birds in China.
So, as we enter a new year with optimism and a renewed belief that, collectively, we can make a difference, it is an appropriate time to say a big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment and contribute through this blog, via the associated Birding Beijing Facebook page, the Twitter feed or directly to me via email. Birding Beijing would be a shadow of itself, and less fun to write, without all of you joining in!
And I am sure that I speak for all readers as I pay tribute to the hundreds of volunteers across China who have bravely taken a stand to protect their wild birds. I wish them every success in 2013 as they seek to consign to history wild bird persecution.
I wish everyone a happy, healthy and bird-filled 2013.