The 1st China International Birding Festival: A Major Success

After a whirlwind 48 hours, and the participation of almost 200 birders from all over China and overseas, the 1st China International Birding Festival has officially closed.  And what a success it was.

The centrepiece was a 24-hour “bird race” during which 49 teams of 4 (age range 10 to 71) competed to record as many species of bird as possible by visiting 5 pre-determined sites in the Laotieshan area.  Each team was allocated a volunteer student from the Dalian University of Foreign Languages, a local State Forestry Fire Prevention officer and provided with a car and driver.  And, after the opening ceremony in which the Vice Mayor of Dalian and other senior government officials participated, the race began at 4pm on Friday.

The formal opening ceremony of the 1st China International Birding Festival. A grand affair!
However, some were briefly distracted from the speeches when an ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARD drifted overhead..
map of birding locations
The map of the birding locations for the 24-hour “bird race”. The birding sites are marked in red, A to E. The accommodation and event sites marked in green, F to H.

With China birding guru, Paul Holt, honourably serving as one of the team of judges, suddenly everyone else was in with a chance of victory!

Our team, including Marie Louise and two fabulous and enthusiastic young birders, Zhao Tianhao and Cheng Xi, decided to spend the first two hours of the race, and the last two hours of daylight, visiting the “Tiger Tail mudflats” where we connected with, among others, Chinese Egret, Osprey, Black-tailed and Black-headed Gull as well as Red-throated Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler and a stunning adult male Yellow-breasted Bunting in the scrub.

The “Ibisbill” team (from left to right): Zhao Tianhao, our forestry minder, TT, Marie Louise and Cheng Xi)

After the formal dinner in the evening, we arranged to meet at 0500 (half an our before dawn and the earliest the driver and forestry officer could start) to continue the race..

We first visited the saltpans from where we hoped to be lucky with Streaked Shearwater (possible, with luck, from the sea wall).  We did not see one but we did connect with some shorebirds, including Red-necked and Temminck’s Stints, Dunlin, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Pacific Golden Plover.  It was shortly after sifting through the waders that we finally saw something ‘streaked’, only it was not ‘shearing’ over the sea but hiding in a small reedbed.  Astonishingly, we connected with a STREAKED REED WARBLER, an almost mythical and now almost certainly extremely rare bird.  See here for some background about this species and the story of this observation.

After the excitement of the Streaked Reed Warbler sighting, we continued to increase our species list as we visited the other sites, including a wooded mountainside and a tidal estuary.  An encounter with two NORTHERN HOUSE MARTINS (scarce in NE China) was a nice bonus during our last hour.

IMG_5875 2
Zhao Tianhao suffered from an allergic reaction to the local scrub and took an emergency soaking to calm the itchiness!

As time wore on, our ‘guide’ slowly increased the pressure on us to get back to base – any team that was late, even by a minute, would be disqualified.  So, at 1520 we left the last site and headed back for the 20 minute journey to hand in our scoresheet.  In the car we made a final count – 71 species.  Not bad.  At the beginning of the race I had thought that 70 species would be a good score, so we were pretty pleased, even though we had, alarmingly, missed some common birds; we had seen no woodpeckers, no owls, no harriers, no Little Bunting (how did that happen?), no pheasant or quail and ‘Japanese’ was the only Tit species!

After handing in the entries the judges got to work and, following a late evening, the results were ready to be announced at the closing ceremony the following morning.

On arrival, we were ushered to a row of seats close to the front so we knew we had won an award.  We were delighted to receive two – “The Black-faced Spoonbill Award” for the rarest bird seen (the Streaked Reed Warbler was always going to be a shoe-in for that) and also the 3rd place team award (our 71 species was just 3 behind the winners – Tong Menxiu’s “China Wild Tour” team.

The “Ibisbills” team receiving the 3rd place award.
The China Wild Tour team receiving their award for 1st place.
The China Wild Tour team receiving their award for 1st place.

In addition, I was humbled and honoured to receive the judges’ “Birding Master” award…

It was a big surprise, and a huge honour, to be presented with the
It was a big surprise, and a huge honour, to be presented with the “Birding Master” award.

It was hugely encouraging to see big numbers of young Chinese birders participating and, during the 24-hour race we met with teams from as far afield as Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian, as well as several teams from host province, Liaoning and the capital, Beijing.  Even better was the gender balance – there were just as many young women as men (it was never like that in the UK when I was a young birder!).

Huge thanks to the organisers, including the China Birdwatching Society, the Dalian local government, the Dalian University of Foreign Languages and all of the other volunteers… And a special thanks to my team mates – Marie Louise, Zhao Tianhao and Cheng Xi.

With participation from the highest levels of the Dalian government, including generous financial support for the event, I sensed a genuine enthusiasm for birding and an appreciation for wild birds, the scale of which I have never before witnessed in China. All around were banners stating “Protect our birds” and “Dalian – honoured to be hosting the 1st China International Birding Festival”.  During the race, many of the 49 teams took the time to explain to interested passers-by what they were doing and to show them wild birds..  And the bird race was covered by national and local TV as well as print media, including the most popular Chinese language newspaper, the People’s Daily.  So the event has helped to raise awareness among the general public, as well as enthusing a new generation of Chinese birders.  I was heartened when one young Chinese student volunteer approached me at the closing ceremony and said “This event has made me want to be a birder”.

Forget all the trophies handed out, the most important winner of all was Birding in China.

6 thoughts on “The 1st China International Birding Festival: A Major Success”

  1. This is so exciting. I’m sure the event represented so many people’s work at many levels. Glad to hear everything came off so well! Having both a local and national impact is wonderful.

  2. Thank you so much for posting about this, and warm congratulations too on finding a Streaked Reed Warbler too (what a moment that must have been).

    Living in Korea, where many of us recognise that birding is yet to take-off properly, where there is still a trust deficit between some researchers and most birders, and where the support of various levels of officialdom to civil society for conservation continues to decline (yes, decline), this rising tide of awareness and activism for bird conservation and the level of organisation within China’s birding community is… just inspirational.

    Overlapping with this festival, at the end of September, as you might know there was an EAAFP Task Force meeting for the Scaly-sided Merganser in Vladivostok. And there too was the wonderful Jing Li (of SBS in China and the China Birdwatching Association), presenting on last winter’s merganser survey in China conducted by 300+ birders in 80+ teams. Jing Li was working closely at the meeting with a young academic who is specialising on this species, with one of China’s (and the world’s) foremost experts on wetland conservation (Prof. Lei Guangchun), and with four staff from several national parks. Together, within a few short years, they have been able to do much of the necessary baseline research; use GIS modelling to create a population estimate and to help identify information gaps; and are also starting to take some of the actions needed to help conserve this species and the rivers it depends on: good for biodiversity, water quality and all the people that depend on the same rivers.

    With the exception of the science officer from the EAAFP office, I was the only person there from Korea. Birds Korea has surveyed many of the most promising rivers for the species (ten or so of us, in three teams), but we have still had no feedback whatsoever on our research and recommendations from those who have been sent our report.

    And now, to read on your blog about this well-supported and well-organised international birding festival, where people actually go birding and enjoy it and then allow their species total for the day to be properly assessed by other top field birders including the likes of PH.


    And also to read that many of the same birders, either there or elsewhere, also work with local agencies and the police to remove illegal nets?

    Again, fantastic!

    Possible for you please to write a blog post or two on your thoughts (and those of others) on what you consider to be some of the whys and hows of this rapid growth in birding and bird conservation in China? It is a story that needs to be shared much more widely: so some of us can learn from it.

    Thanks again for the good news, and all power to all involved.

    1. Thank you, Nial, for your positive and supportive comment. There is no question that the scale of the organisation, government support and participation of birders during the 1st China International Birding Festival was hugely impressive and has created a strong platform to take birding to the next level here in China. The priority now is to build on that foundation to ensure the birding festival becomes a fixture in the calendar and is further developed so it becomes THE annual celebration of birding in China. I am confident that will happen. The energy and enthusiasm of the organisers is outstanding and I have already arranged to meet with them to discuss how I can help as they begin planning for 2016. As to the factors behind this surge in the popularity of birding in China, I can only provide some personal thoughts based on my contacts and experience. When I have some more time I will jot down some of those thoughts and publicise them here… Hopefully there will be a rise in the popularity of birding across all of East Asia – as we all know, birding is a gateway to conservation and successful conservation of migratory birds, as well as needing a large birding community lobbying to protect wild birds, also depends on cooperation across national boundaries, as illustrated by species such as Scaly-sided Merganser. Thanks again and wishing you and Birds Korea the very best in continuing to promote wild birds and their conservation. Terry

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