Birding Beijing: The Next Generation

I love this quote from one of the most progressive Senators in the US Congress, Ed Markey – “Although children are only 24% of the population, they’re 100% of our future”.  In China, a country that is growing fast in terms of economic power and global influence, the children here will perhaps have a disproportionate influence on the world this century.  And with the environment relatively absent in the Chinese curriculum, it’s of utmost importance to engage with young people if China’s wildlife is to prosper in this rapidly urbanising and developing country.

Luo Peng, a young Chinese environmentalist and entrepreneur, has set up a company called Eco Action Now to promote environmental education and sustainable tourism, focusing on benefiting local communities and working with scientists, nature reserves and ordinary people.

One aspect of their work is to develop educational programmes for schoolchildren in Beijing.  It’s a great initiative that aims to connect urban children to their environment.  I was honoured to be invited to help lead a birding trip for Beijing’s 13th Middle School to the Botanical Gardens this weekend and what fun we had!

On a beautiful, crisp and pollution-free Saturday morning we arrived at the entrance gate at 0730 and, after a short briefing to hand out the binoculars, the tailor-made birdwatching guide and the election of ‘scribes’, we split into four groups and began to explore…   The first birds we saw were Magpies (Common and Azure-winged) and they were soon followed by Tree Sparrow, Naumann’s Thrush, Japanese and Marsh Tits, Spotted Dove (“they look fat!“) and Chinese Nuthatch….  and later we were to enjoy stunning views of Plain Laughingthrushes (“they really do laugh!“) and Siberian Accentors, the headmistress’s favourite bird!  It was great to see these young people so enthused during their first ever birdwatching trip and enjoying the sight and sound of their local birds.   Inevitably, as the groups met up periodically to compare notes, a little competitiveness crept in and we even had a mini ‘twitch’ at the end to ensure all of the groups saw the Little Grebes on the main lake..

It was fantastic to meet the students of Beijing’s 13th Middle School and I can’t wait to do more…  Even if none of them become birders, their appreciation and understanding of wild birds has been increased and, in a country home to around 1/6th of the world’s bird species, that’s a wonderful reward in itself.  Big thanks to Luo Peng for making the arrangements and for inviting me along…

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The class, and the group leaders, from Beijing’s 13th Middle School outside the gate to the Botanical Gardens.
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Me with one of the groups and the headmistress (far right).
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The Botanical Gardens were looking good in the early winter sunshine.
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Showing the headmistress the plate of Siberian Accentor in Mark Brazil’s “Birds of East Asia” just after enjoying 4 of these beautiful birds in the scrub…
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Taking notes about a sighting of Great Spotted Woodpecker, one of the birds we enjoyed during our Saturday at the Botanical Gardens
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One of the groups focusing on a Dusky Thrush.
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For some reason, I was asked to sign some bird postcards at the end.. Here is me feeling uncomfortable…

All photos by Luo Peng.

10 thoughts on “Birding Beijing: The Next Generation”

  1. Great opportunity and lots of fun. I take for granted all the chances I had to enjoy nature as a kid, but it’s not so easy for city kids in China. It’s great too for them to see adults who think this is a priority and to talk with people who can clue them in so they see more. It’s also cool that they could do this within the city – showing you don’t have to travel far to find an interesting diversity of birds (ignoring that Beijing is huge and you might travel more than 2 hours to cross it!). Glad you had time to go.

  2. Thanks Gretchen. Many parents I meet lament the fact that they had no connection with nature when they were growing up, and crave it for their children so they don’t miss out. This particular school has enlightened teachers.. so they were very keen to do this.. let’s hope others follow suit when they hear how much fun it is for the children!

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