The Birds of the Wenyu, Beijing’s Mother River

Beijing is one of the few major inland capital cities not built on a major river.  In fact, the choice of site for China’s capital was taken partly because it wasn’t coastal or on a major river, thus reducing the risk of invasion via water.

However, to think that Beijing doesn’t have ANY rivers would be a mistake.  The Yongding, Chaobai and Juma originate in the highlands of neighbouring provinces, Hebei and Shanxi, and meander through the mountains west and north of the city.  And there is a fourth river – the Wenyu – that runs from Shahe Reservoir, between the 5th and 6th ring roads in the north of the city, to Tongzhou in the southeast.  All four rivers are tributaries of the Hai river that eventually empties into the Bohai on China’s east coast.

Running along the border of Chaoyang (urban Beijing) and Shunyi (Suburban) Districts, the Wenyu River is a flyway for migratory birds that has attracted Beijing ‘firsts’ such as Greater Flamingo, Grey-tailed Tattler and Buff-throated Warbler.  The Wenyu has also been the local patch for one of the most active of Beijing’s patch watchers – Steve Bale (Shi Jin).

There is something magical about birding a local patch.  Over time, the patch-birder develops an intimate knowledge of the resident species and the migratory birds likely to turn up, including when they are likely to appear.  The joy of finding a “patch first”, even if it’s a relatively common species in the region, is hard to beat… and the more effort invested, the more rewarding the results.

Of course, some locations are better than others and Steve’s choice of a relatively unknown river in the most populated capital city in the world perhaps doesn’t sound the most promising of local patches.  However, the reality is very different.  As you will see from the free-to-enjoy PDF of Steve’s book, The Birds of the Wenyu ..Beijing’s Mother River, this is a place that all birders living in or passing through China’s capital should be visiting time and time again.  As I am sure your will agree, this is a mightily impressive and wonderfully written work, which documents the 280 species recorded by (on, and over) the Wenyu River.

We perhaps should not be surprised that the Wenyu River is so productive.  After all, it’s part of Beijing, an under-birded city located on one of the world’s most impressive flyways.  And, as Steve says in his introduction, the potential for discovery is huge and it must only be a matter of time before the 300th species is recorded there.

Steve should be congratulated on a brilliant and comprehensive piece of work.  Not only is his the first book of its kind for China’s capital city, adding significantly to our understanding of the avifauna of Beijing, but with plans to translate and distribute it free of charge to schools and community groups, it will certainly inspire a whole new generation of birders in the capital.

Thank you, Steve!

 

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What Have Birds Ever Done For Us?

Most people of a certain age will chuckle at the mention of the famous “What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?” clip from Monty Python’s “The Life Of Brian”.  I was reminded of that scene when I began to read an excellent paper about the value of birds by 

As the introduction of the paper says, some birders and conservationists will feel offended when asked to explain why we should care about wild birds.  This community already values them highly for the pleasure they obtain from seeing and hearing them and simply being around them.  However, this value is felt only by those already steeped in birds and their environments.  The vast majority of decision-makers, politicians and policymakers aren’t convinced by this view and, in this age of growing pressure on our environment, decisions are increasingly being made based on a judgement about the impact on the economy.  This means that it is vital for conservationists to communicate the value of birds, and other wildlife, in terms that are recognised, and respected, by people that make important decisions about development.

This paper examines three areas where birds make significant contributions to the economy – seed dispersal and pollination, pest control, and scavenging and sanitary services.

Here are just a few examples from the paper:

According to Diana Tomback, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Colorado at Denver, the estimated cost of replacing CLARK’S NUTCRACKERS’ seed dispersal of white-bark pine is USD 1,980 to USD 2,405 per hectare and USD 11.4 to USD 13.9 billion across the range of whitebark pines in the U.S.

Birds such as Nutcrackers and Jays are highly valuable for seed dispersal.

In Malaysia, oil palm farmers put up BARN OWL nest boxes when local rodents developed resistance to the rodenticide warfarin. The switch to owls had the added benefit of population increases of other species that were being poisoned by warfarin, including mammalian predators, such as common palm civets and leopard cats.

Owls, such as this Northern Hawk Owl, are important for controlling rodent populations.

And in India, the crash in the population of vultures in the 1990s, caused by the administering of the veterinary drug diclofenac (which causes kidney failure in vultures when they feed on the carcasses), has been devastating.  The paper explains that, as vultures disappeared, there were increases in rotting animal carcasses which resulted in a 20-fold increase in the number of feral dogs at just one Indian rubbish dump.  Economist Anil Markandya and colleagues calculated that from 1992 to 2006 alone, the disappearance of vultures led to approximately 48,000 additional human deaths from rabies and cost USD 34 billion to the Indian economy.

Vultures provide a huge economic benefit by cleaning up rotten carcasses, sadly often valued only when they have disappeared.

As researchers focus on this issue, I am certain there will be many more examples of “hidden benefits” of wild birds from across the world.  As Cagan says in the paper:

“Only a small fraction of bird ecosystem services have been evaluated economically, but even these few examples show how birds are critical for the healthy functioning of ecosystems and contribute billions of dollars to the world’s GDP.”

As much as some in the conservation community may find it offensive to need to set out the economic value of wildlife, this type of analysis will be an essential, and increasingly necessary, part of the argument to protect and conserve wild birds and their habitats and one that is written in language that policymakers, politicians, the public and even hard-nosed economists will understand.  The paper is recommended reading for all politicians in all countries!

After reading, as in the Monty Python film, some sceptics might well say “Ok, APART from the seed dispersal, pollination, pest control AND the sanitary services, what have birds ever done for us?” but it might just convince some that wild birds and their habitats are worth saving and, for that reason, it’s a hugely important paper that deserves wide dissemination.

Huge credit to Cagan for setting out the economic value of birds so clearly and succinctly. The full paper can be accessed here.  A Chinese version is available here.  And more on this subject can be found in Cagan’s book entitled “Why Birds Matter“.

Thank you to Professor Per Alström for flagging up the paper to Birding Beijing and to Li Siqi for the excellent Chinese translation.

 

Schools For Swifts: Harrow Beijing to Make and Erect Swift Boxes

Two years ago, after an agonising 12 months wait, the Beijing Swift Project proved, for the first time, that the capital’s Swifts migrate to southern Africa for the northern winter.  The astonishing journey, which sees them fly more than 26,000km per year (and, by the way, many of them probably don’t land at all!), has inspired not only scientists but also everyday Beijingers.  As well as the national mainstream media coverage reaching millions of Chinese, the story of the Beijing Swift has been the subject of science lessons by forward-thinking teachers and features in magazines.  One of the most important aspects of the coverage has been to shine a spotlight on the population decline of the Beijing Swift.  Although hard data is sketchy, it is clear from speaking with local ornithologists that the number of Swifts circling in the skies over Beijing has fallen dramatically.  The main culprit is the loss of nest sites caused by the destruction of traditional buildings, complete with lots of nooks and crannies, which have been replaced by modern, high-rise developments with their straight lines and smooth surfaces – not so good for the Beijing Swift.

I’ve lost count of the number of schools I’ve visited to tell the story of the Beijing Swift and, almost without exception, the schoolchildren are very concerned when they hear about the decline and want to do something about it.  One group is planning to write to the CEO of China Soho, the largest real estate developer in Beijing, to ask that they will consider designing in Swift boxes to their new buildings to provide replacement nest sites.  And now, one school is going a step further!

A few weeks ago I met with Paul Shelley, Head of Design and Technology at Harrow Beijing, one of the capital’s international schools.  Paul is keen for students to link their woodwork classes to conservation and, after sharing designs of Swift boxes, the woodwork students at Harrow will, this autumn, build and then erect swift boxes to the campus in Beijing with the hope of attracting Swifts to begin a new colony on site.

The campus of Harrow Beijing. Thanks to the teachers and students, there could soon be the sound of screaming Swifts on summer evenings!

Of course, there is no guarantee that they can attract Swifts and it will take some time, and some encouragement by way of playing Swift calls at the right time of year, to maximise the chances of success…  but what a brilliant initiative!

It’s something I think could catch on…  school campuses offer perfect sites for Swift colonies – often they are large buildings with eaves and with large open spaces to the front, providing Swifts with plenty of access.  It’s certainly something that I’ll include in my briefings on the project in the hope that other schools follow suit.  Who knows – this could be the start of a new initiative – “Schools For Swifts”..!?

Kudos to Harrow, and Paul in particular, for making this happen and I wish Paul and his students the best of luck when the autumn term begins in September.  Watch this space for updates!

 

Title image: Swifts at the Summer Palace

The 3rd China International Birding Festival, 20-22 October 2017 – Call For Teams!

The China Birdwatching Society has just announced that the 3rd China International Birding Festival will take place around Laotieshan in Lushun District, Dalian, from 20-22 October 2017.  Sponsored by the State Forestry Administration and Dalian Municipal People’s Government, the festival aims to promote birding and wildlife conservation as well as celebrating the world-class migration hosted by Lushun every spring and autumn along the East Asian Flyway.  The centrepiece will be a 24-hr “bird race” involving teams of up to four people.

The opening ceremony of the 1st festival was interrupted by low-flying Oriental Honey Buzzards!

It’s a fabulous way to promote birding.  The local government, especially the local governor, Mr Yi, deserves great credit for supporting the establishment of what has become the premier annual birding event in China.  You can read about the 1st and 2nd festivals here and here.  This year’s event will be covered by local and national media and it promises to be the biggest yet..

Lushun governor, Mr Yi, toasting “The Foreign Flappers” at the opening dinner in 2016.
Laotieshan is situated at the southern tip of the Liaodong peninsula in Liaoning Province. Just one look at the geographical position will tell any birder it must be a brilliant place for autumn migration. And it is!

With a mouth-watering array of species possible, including Baikal Teal, Oriental Stork, Streaked Shearwater, Japanese Sparrowhawk, White’s Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher and Yellow-breasted Bunting, the festival will produce some top quality birding.  For those interested in participating, the local government will cover transfers to and from the airport in Dalian, the accommodation cost and most meals.  Participants must pay their own travel costs to Dalian.

Teams from outside China are welcome to participate and registration is now open.  There are a limited number of spaces so, if you are interested, please contact Rita on email: h12@wbag.org or on telephone +86 18600686862 before the deadline of 12 August.

To register, simply provide the following information: Organisation (if any), Team Name and then, for each participant, the full name, gender, age, WeChat ID (if any), Telephone number, ID or passport number and flight/train arrival/departure times.

Laotieshan is famous for its passage of Oriental Honey Buzzards. Peak passage will have passed by the time of the festival but it’s a species that should be recorded by most teams.

Good luck to everyone participating and see you there!

 

 

Citizen Science on the Tibetan Plateau

Every once in a while in life, something happens to make us feel good, that reinforces our faith in human nature and gives us a renewed sense of purpose.  Whether it’s meeting someone who inspires, gaining a privileged glimpse into the natural world or simply reading wise words, these are important moments that can encourage and inspire for years.

Having been back in Beijing for 24 hours, I know that the 2017 Nangqen International Wildlife Watch Festival was one of these special moments.

The Festival, arranged by the local government in Nangqen and the brilliant NGO, 山水(ShanShui), was designed to celebrate the biodiversity of this unique part of China.  Seventeen teams from across China and overseas competed to photograph as many birds, mammals and plants as possible over three days.   I was invited to be on the judging panel alongside Professors Lu Zhi (Peking University, Beijing) and Liu Yang (Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou), Lama Tashi Sangpo and wildlife photgrapher Xi Zhinong.

Base camp at Nangqen, Qinghai Province.
Four of the judges with local community leaders. Judges from left to right: Terry, Xi Xhinong, Professor Lu Zhi and Lama Tashi Sangpo.

Members of the local community were hired as drivers, guides and to run the campsite at which all the participants stayed during the festival.  We ‘enjoyed’ (yes, really!) 5 days without a phone signal or wi-fi.

Nangqen is a stunningly beautiful place.  Located 3-4 hrs from Yushu in Qinghai Province, the habitat is a mixture of grassland, wooded hillsides and high, desolate mountains.  The elevation spanned from 3,800m at the camp up to in excess of 5,000m.  It’s home to some unique plants, mammals and birds, including the endemic Tibetan Bunting and Tibetan Babax, as well as some of the highest densities of large predators in China, including Asian Brown Bear, Lynx, Wolf, Leopard and, of course, the King of the Mountains, the magnificent 雪豹 (XueBao), the elusive Snow Leopard.

A typical mountain scene at Nangqen at 4,500m elevation

Overall, the teams recorded 17 species of mammal, 94 species of bird and 230 species of plant, providing a wonderful snapshot of the biodiversity at this special site – citizen science at its best.

Highlights included 2 separate sightings of SNOW LEOPARD (possibly the same individual), 2 sightings of EURASIAN LYNX (one of which was photographed), 1 sighting each of PALLAS’S CAT (at the campsite at night!) and WOLF, as well as the sought-after endemic birds, TIBETAN BUNTING and TIBETAN BABAX plus some scarce and local plants including the wonderful Lamiophlomis rotata (see below) a plant used as a painkiller by local communities.

Lamiophlomis rotata is used as a painkiller.
Meconopsis racemosa, a beautiful poppy-like flower found at high elevations.
The closest I got to Pallas’s Cat was seeing Yaya’s tattoo!

There were so many things that inspired me about this festival.  The involvement of the local Tibetan communities and their relationship with, and respect for, the wildlife.  The spirit among the teams of sharing information and helping each other to see as much as possible.  The enthusiasm and stamina of the participants – often starting before dawn, returning after dark and climbing steep mountains and walking kilometres through the forests to seek out special plants and animals.  The energy and passion of the ShanShui team, led by Professor Lu Zhi and including Zhao Xiang, Shi Xiangying, Li Yuhan, Gao Xiangyu and Yu Lu, ably assisted by the girls from Wild Xinjiang, Yaya (Huang Yahui) and Da Xiang.  The enlightening talks by Lama Tashi Sangpo, Xi Zhinong, Shi Xiangying and Prof Lu Zhi about the wildlife and conservation of the Tibetan Plateau.  I could go on.  Put simply, it was the best wildlife watching event in which I have participated.

These local guys helped free our stuck vehicle after a thunderstorm at 4,500m.

There are many great stories from the event but I’d like to tell just one involving 12-year old Wujing Dingzen, son of one of the Chinese Communist Party leaders in Xining.  Armed with a small pair of binoculars and a SLR camera, he told me at the beginning of the festival that he wanted to see a Snow Leopard.  Not wanting to discourage him by saying how tough they are to see, I told him there was a chance but that it would require a lot of luck and he’d need to spend a lot of time looking in the right places.  On the afternoon of day three, I had just sat down in my tent to relax after a long day in the field.  I opened my sketchbook and attempted to (poorly) sketch a Lammergeier, several of which we had seen that day.  A few minutes later, Dingzen appeared at the entrance to my tent with a local Tibetan guide.  He asked if I was going out that evening and, if so, could he join.  The local guide offered to drive us anywhere we wanted.  A few minutes later, together with Da Xiang, we were on our way up the mountain at 4,700m to search for Snow Leopard in the early evening sun.  Despite scanning the mountainsides for more than two hours, we drew a blank, but enjoyed wonderful views of more than 100 Blue Sheep and singing Tibetan Buntings.  As we returned to camp, Dingzen asked if I could join him the next day at 0500 to search again.  I told him that I couldn’t as I had judging duties but Da Xiang said she would join.

Given the high standard, choosing the best 20 photographs from the festival was extremely difficult..

The next morning as the judges were going through the photographs submitted by the teams, Da Xiang came running into the tent exclaiming that she had seen a Snow Leopard at the place we had visited the evening before..  the sighting was brief, and she didn’t have a photograph, but nevertheless she was, as one might expect, deliriously happy at seeing her first Snow Leopard!

Yaya holding up Da Xiang’s hurried sketch of the Snow Leopard and the location of her sighting.

Da Xiang explained that she was the only one to see it but that Dingzen had climbed up the mountainside to try to get a glimpse.  As he walked over the ridge, he was not seen again for more than three hours.  What happened between then and arriving on the back of a motorbike with a local yak herder, is something he will never forget.  On his return, Dingzen explained that he had walked up the mountain and had climbed over two or three ridges and, as he emerged over the final ridge, he came face to face with a Snow Leopard.  The animal, just 5 metres away, was looking at him, growling.  He was petrified and simply froze.  After a few seconds, the Snow Leopard ran into a small cave, still growling.  Dingzen grabbed his camera, quickly took a photo of the cave and then ran for 2-3 minutes until he was so out of breath he had to stop.  By this time he wasn’t sure exactly where he was, so he headed down and found the nearest track, from where he hitched a lift with a local motorbike rider.  On arrival at the camp, his heart was still pounding and he was visibly exhilarated as he recounted his story.  He must be one of very few people in the world to have been growled at by a Snow Leopard in the wild..!

Wujing Dingzen (right) explaining to Professor Lu Zhi where he encountered the Snow Leopard.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Dingzen was given the “Young Citizen Scientist With Most Potential” award at the last evening’s ceremony.

Among the many well-deserved awards, the biggest congratulations must go to Yinjiang Oriental Hobby, the team from Yunnan Province, made up of Zeng Xiangle, Ban Dingying and He Haiyan, who came top overall.  Their all-round knowledge of the biodiversity of this region was hugely impressive (by the way, Zeng is an excellent Yunnan-based bird guide and can be contacted on email at: 463621792@qq.com).

A special mention to the superb young artists – Saoba and Xigua – who painted this cool ‘field guide’ to the birds of the area.

Other countries were represented, including Australia, France, the UK (me) and the US.  Among the foreign participants, American photographer Kyle Obermann, on a photographic tour through China’s western mountains, took some stunning images of the area.

Tom Stidham, a Beijing-based paleontologist was part of team “T & Y” with his wife, Wang Ying.

Tom and Ying (front) with other participants looking for Tibetan Bunting on the evening of day three.

Sacha Dench from the UK’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, who was in China after visiting relatives in Australia, took the opportunity to participate.  Sacha is best known for the “Flight of the Swans” during which she flew a paramotor from Russia to the UK to follow the migration of Bewick’s Swans and to highlight the risks they face.

Sacha trying her first ever chicken foot at Yushu airport.

But best of all, it was brilliant to see so many young Chinese, from all over the country, participating with such great spirit.  With amazing wildlife, and talented young naturalists, the future of China’s conservation movement is bright.

I’d like to put on record my huge thanks to the Yushu and Nangqen governments, the local community, ShanShui and to everyone who participated for making the festival such an inspiring and fun event.  Can’t wait for the third festival in 2018!

Here is a compilation of video clips, set to the background of local Tibetan group ENU’s “Fly”.  I hope it gives a sense of the location and its wildlife.

 

For more information about the ShanShui Conservation Centre, see:

http://www.shanshui.org/

WeChat Subscription Channel: SSbaohu

About ShanShui:

Founded in 2007, ShanShui Conservation Centre is a Chinese NGO dedicated to conservation practices.  Together with their partners – communities, academic institutions, governments, companies and media – they support local initiatives to defend the land we depend on.  They focus on the most biodiverse areas: Sanjiangyuan, the Southwestern Mountain Areas and the Lancang Mekong River Basin.  They launched the Nature Watch Programme in 2014 with the following goals: examine local biodiversity data and evaluate conservation outcomes to build a conservation database (http://chinanaturewatch.org), interpret and propose conservation policies, and promote public participation in observing and preserving nature.

Who Wants To Be A Champion?

Did you know that one in eight of the world’s 10,000 bird species are threatened with extinction, of which more than 200 are classified as Critically Endangered, the highest category of threat of extinction?  Anyone interested in conservation will be getting used to hearing statistics like these and, although many people feel sad, even angry, that this is happening, it’s often hard to know what can be done to help.

Fortunately, there are practical things we can do right now that can make a difference.   One of them is to become a Species Champion under BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme.

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, working with local partners in more than 120 countries.  Since 2007 they have been running the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme (PEP), specifically designed to target conservation efforts where they are most needed.  The PEP creates two ‘communities’ – BirdLife Species Guardians, experts who take the lead in conserving globally threatened species in their country, and BirdLife Species Champions, individuals or organisations who raise awareness, and funding, for the vital conservation that is so urgently required.  And it works.  There are many examples of how conservation, driven by the Species Champions and Guardians, is making a difference.  But instead of listing them (you can see some examples here on the BirdLife website), I want to convey my personal experience of being a Species Champion.

Shortly after I moved to China in 2010, I realised that several species were in real trouble.  Some, such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Black-faced Spoonbill, were well-known and major conservation actions were already underway.  However, when I spoke with Chinese scientists and birders, they all told me that the species in most imminent danger of extinction was the Jankowski’s Bunting, a little-known small brown bird whose tiny remaining range was in a remote part of Inner Mongolia.

I researched the status of Jankowski’s Bunting and, the more I found out, the more I became concerned for its future.  I knew I wanted to do something.  But what could an ordinary birder like me really do?  After speaking to a few friends, I heard about BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme and I was soon having a conversation with Jim Lawrence, the Director of the programme, about what was required to become a Species Champion and what it would involve.  I was quickly convinced that this was the best way I could help Jankowski’s Bunting and, within days, I had donated a modest amount of money (less than the cost of a foreign holiday), pledged to raise a little more, and became a Species Champion.

Jim had explained to me what BirdLife could do to help Jankowski’s Bunting with the funding.  Given there was no BirdLife partner in Mainland China, work on species there was coordinated through the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society (HKBWS).  I was soon in touch with BirdLife’s China Programme Manager, Vivian Fu (now a good friend and a real hero of conservation in Asia), and we discussed plans for a survey of Jankowski’s Bunting in partnership with the Beijing Birdwatching Society (BBWS).  The next thing I knew, I was walking slowly through the grasslands of Inner Mongolia alongside Vivian and volunteers from the BBWS looking for populations of this small brown bird.  The surveys reinforced the anecdotal evidence that historic populations of Jankowski’s Bunting were declining fast and, in some cases, disappearing altogether.

On my side, I wrote articles about the Jankowski’s Bunting on both Birding Beijing and Birding Frontiers, and set up a crowdfunding page on behalf of BirdLife International to receive donations from the public.

After the survey, the next step was to begin a conversation with the local government and local people to see what could be done.  At the invitation of the HKBWS and BBWS, I was soon participating in a workshop with local government officials and representatives of the local community to raise awareness of the plight of this small brown bird and to try to encourage some simple actions to try to support the remaining population.  That first meeting was hugely important in terms of simply putting Jankowski’s Bunting into the consciousness of the local government.  Subsequent meetings involved local scientists, one of whom had been studying Jankowski’s Bunting for several years.  His funding was increased, enabling him to recruit a small team dedicated to surveying and studying the bunting and they’ve been working tirelessly to survey this vast area and discover the main reasons for the bunting’s decline.  Without stealing the thunder of his work, there will be a paper published very soon with some welcome good news.  Another major highlight for me was meeting with the Chairman of the Environment Protection Committee in the National Peoples Congress in Beijing and securing a commitment to include Jankowski’s Bunting in the updated list of “Species with Special Protection” under the Wildlife Protection Act.

Baroness Worthington presents Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee with a copy of the BirdLife International special edition newsletter about Jankowski’s Bunting.

In short, my experience as a BirdLife Species Champion has been overwhelmingly positive.  I moved from a sense of alarm and helplessness about the status of the Jankowski’s Bunting to understanding that something could be done…  I grew a sense of ownership and, with that, a responsibility to do something.  Although the heavy lifting has been done by BirdLife, the HKBWS, BBWS and local scientists, I have been been able to contribute, albeit in a small way, to practical conservation efforts, engage with the local government and local people and gain an understanding of the local dynamics and politics.

Of course, I have been fortunate to live relatively close to the range of Jankowski’s Bunting and I’ve been able to manage my time so that I can participate in the surveys and workshops.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  However, that is the beauty of being a Species Champion – you can be involved as little or as much as you want.  Becoming a Species Champion isn’t just about donating some funds with a couple of clicks and feeling good for a few days.. it’s about developing partnerships with organisations that are best-placed to help, gaining a better understanding of the factors determining the future of your chosen species and, best of all, developing a real bond with the species.  For me, being involved in the conservation efforts so far has been hugely rewarding and, with a long way to go to ensure the survival of Jankowski’s Bunting, I am looking forward to playing my part in the months and years to come.

Given the hugely positive experience of being a Species Champion, I am surprised that there are still many threatened species out there without a Champion.  Wouldn’t it be cool to be Species Champion for Nordmann’s Greenshank?  Or how about Chinese Crested Tern, a bird with which BirdLife is working hard with some recent success?  Most of us donate to, and/or raise funding for, causes important to us but how many donate AND are involved in putting that donation to work?

Chinese Crested Tern is still without a BirdLife Species Champion!

For more details of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, please see the dedicated pages on the BirdLife website and, if you would like more information or if you’ve already made up your mind to become a Species Champion, please contact Jim Lawrence on email: Jim.Lawrence@birdlife.org or via Facebook.

Cover image: Sir David Attenborough shows his support for the Jankowski’s Bunting conservation effort.

More Good News For Yellow Sea Conservation And How You Can Help!

Protecting the Yellow Sea is the highest conservation priority in East Asia.  Coastal wetlands in China are facing massive pressure from economic development and, over the past 50 years, the country has lost more than 60 percent of its natural coastal wetlands.

As readers of this website will know from articles here, here and here, there has been a huge national and international effort to try to conserve what remains of the incredibly rich intertidal mudflats on which millions of shorebirds, including the charismatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper, depend.

Earlier this year, there was a big, and symbolic, step forward when the Chinese government announced that a total of fourteen sites had been added to the “tentative list” for UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination.  I reported at the time that, although the tentative nomination, in itself, does nothing to protect these sites on the ground, it signals intent from the Chinese government.  And, should these sites make it onto the formal World Heritage Site list, that listing comes with a hard commitment to protect and effectively manage them.

Just a few months later, in mid-June, came another step forward.  The Hebei Provincial Forestry Department, Hebei Luannan County Government, the Paulson Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the aim of protecting one of the most important sites along the East Asian Australasian Flyway – Nanpu coastal wetland, near Tangshan in Hebei Province.  Nanpu is a site Beijing-based birders know well.  The spectacular concentrations of shorebirds, not to mention the world-class visible migration of passerines, makes it one of the best birding sites within easy reach of the capital.

Red Knot is one of the species for which Nanpu is a vital stopover site.

Under the terms of the MoU, the four parties will work closely to conserve and manage the site, and will establish a provincial nature reserve (PNR) at Nanpu wetland within the 12 months.

Located in Luannan County of Hebei Province, Nanpu wetland consists of natural intertidal mudflats, aquaculture ponds, and salt pans. Its unique geographic location and wetland resources make Nanpu Wetland one of the most important stopover sites for migratory water birds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), including rare and endangered species such as Red Knot, Great Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, and Nordmann’s Greenshank.  Each year, as many as 350,000 water birds stage and refuel here.  Among the water birds at the Nanpu wetland, the population of 22 species exceeds one percent of their global population sizes or their population sizes along the EAAF, making it a wetland of international importance according to criteria determined by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation of wetlands and their resources.

Nanpu wetland is facing many threats, such as reclamation, over-fishing and invasion of spartina, a rapidly spreading grass that suffocates intertidal ecosystems.  Studies show that there has been a steady decrease in population of some migratory water birds that depend highly on Nanpu wetland for refueling. For instance, over the past decade, the population of Red Knots that overwinter in New Zealand and Australia along the EAAF has been declining at an annual rate of nine percent. IUCN claims that if no further conservation measures are taken, few Red Knots might remain ten years from now.

According to the MoU, The Paulson Institute and WWF will provide best domestic and international nature reserve construction and management practices in the process of planning, approving, building, and managing Nanpu Wetland Nature Reserve, so as to build, protect and manage it in an effective and efficient manner.

Let’s hope this initiative is the first of many and that more Provincial and local governments along the Yellow Sea coast will follow this example and work to protect the remaining intertidal mudflats in their regions.  There is no doubt that the Yellow Sea is a jewel in the crown of China’s environmental and ecological heritage and it has the potential to attract thousands of visitors each year, as well as endearing a sense of pride for local people and, indeed, the whole country.

Finally, if you would like to experience the astonishing Yellow Sea migration for yourself, contribute to the conservation effort and you’re free this November, you’re in luck! One of the most hard-working and impressive domestic organisations working to protect the Yellow Sea intertidal mudflats – local NGO, Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBS in China) – is running the second of its special birding tours to the Yellow Sea coast this autumn.  Showcasing the global importance of this coastline, the tour will focus on some of the most endangered and unique birds of the region, including Spoonie.  It will be led by some of China’s finest young conservationists and bird guides and 10 per cent of the participation fee will go directly to support local conservation NGOs in China.  Background about the first trip, this spring, can be found here.  And here’s a summary of the November trip:

Dates: November 2 to November 17 (16 days)

Sites: Shanghai, Jiangsu coast, Zhejiang and Fujian Provinces, Poyang Lake Nature Reserve, Dongzhai Nature Reserve, Yancheng Nature Reserve.

Highlights:

Yellow Sea coast: Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Saunders’s Gull, Relict Gull, Black- faced Spoonbill, Reed Parrotbill and over 200 migratory shorebirds and forest birds.

Wuyuan: Scaly-sided Merganser, Scimitar Babblers, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Dusky Fulvetta, Chinese Bamboo Partridge, and other forest birds including Pied Falconet, Red-billed Leiothrix, Red-billed Starling, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Chestnut Bulbul, Grey-headed Parrotbill etc.

Poyang Lake NR: Siberian Crane, Baer’s Pochard and Geese of all kinds

Dongzhai NR: Reeves’s Pheasant and the reintroduced Crested Ibis.

Yancheng NR: Red-crowned Crane, Japanese Reed Bunting and Baikal Teal

The tour will be led by China Coastal Waterbird Census Team surveyors who have been working as volunteers for over 10 years.

For more details on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there is a downloadable PDF and, for further questions, you can contact Li Jing, leader of SBS in China, on info@sbsinchina.com.

I wish I could join!

 

Cover photo of Spoon-billed Sandpiper by Chen Tengyi, one of the guides for the November Yellow Sea tour.