The 6th Xishuangbanna Birding Festival

As birding becomes more popular in China, birding festivals are springing up all over this vast country. There are now annual festivals in Dalian (Liaoning), Beidagang (Hebei), Beihai (Guangxi) and Shangri-La (Yunnan) to name just a few… and they are providing a focus for both experienced and young birders to celebrate their hobby, learn from like-minded people, recruit new members and engage the public.  It’s always a privilege to be able to participate in these celebrations and I was delighted to accept an invitation to speak at the 6th birding festival of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (XTBG), nestled in a wonderful part of southwest Yunnan Province, close to the borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Founded in 1959 and covering an area of 1125 hectares, the Botanical Gardens employ more than 300 staff.  Wang Ximin leads an enthusiastic team responsible for engaging schools and the local community about wildlife and habitats.  His work is particularly important given the significant problem with illegal hunting that still blights the area (during the festival, several of the participants heard gunshots in the forest close to the gardens).  Influencing the local communities is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but working with children must surely be the most effective way to tackle the issue over the medium- to long-term.

One of the species Wang Ximin and his colleagues focus on is the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus), now classified as “Endangered” given the spectacular decline in the population over the last two decades.  Closely related to the more familiar Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), Green Peafowl is a stunningly beautiful bird, once ranging from SW China and Myanmar through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to as far south as Java, but which has suffered from hunting pressure and habitat loss meaning that it’s range now consists of ever-shrinking isolated pockets of suitable habitat.  Thankfully, according to the locals, it doesn’t taste good.. so at least it’s not popular to eat!

A Green Peafowl made from leaves by birders from YuXi Birdwatching Society.  Photo by Gu Bojian.

We were treated to an informative talk about the Green Peafowl by Gu Bojian, attended by students, teachers and parents from local schools.

As well as lectures and a bird race involving teams from all over China, from Beijing to Shanghai to Guangzhou to Yunnan, there were stalls operated by birding organisations, optics companies and nature-related publications such as China Bird Watch.

Maybe it’s because I am getting older but I am always struck by just how many young people participate in these events..  It’s heartening to see the youth of China enjoying and celebrating wild birds and their habitats.   And this energy is being channelled into developing resources that help to engage the wider community.  During my brief visit, Wang Ximin and his colleagues launched a new book about the birds of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens and handed out leaflets about the butterflies, insects and plants that can be found there.  All of this is wonderful to see.

Terry and Wang Ximin tell the story of the Beijing Cuckoos (which pass through Yunnan Province) to local schoolchildren.

More than 100 species of bird were recorded during the festival with highlights being Asian Openbill, Brown-throated Sunbird, Orange-breasted Trogon, Limestone Babbler and Pied Falconet.  And there were some sightings of some other cool wildlife including this Tokay Gecko, scientific name “Gekko gecko”.

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko). Photo by Zhao Jiangbo.

With a good quality hotel (Royal Waterlily) in the gardens and beautiful surroundings, XTBG is a wonderful place to spend a few days to escape the cold northern winter and by buying the new book or hiring a local guide you’ll be supporting the brilliant conservation work ongoing in this beautiful part of the world.  Go now!


Title image: birders distracted by an overflying raptor during the festival.  Photo by Zhu Lei.

Beijing Cuckoos Continue To Inspire

At the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), I have just spent three wonderful days at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (XTBG) in southern Yunnan Province.  Although I have visited Yunnan several times, it was my first visit to this particular oasis of subtropical forest, said to be one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and located close to the borders with Laos and Myanmar.  The reason for my visit was to brief the Director, Dr Chen Jin, his staff and students about the Beijing Cuckoo Project.

Xishuangbanna Prefecture boasts rich biodiversity.  In addition to an abundance of plants, “Banna” as it is known, is home to the last few Asian Elephants in China.  And the Botanical Gardens alone have recorded more than 300 species of bird.  The area, home to the Dai minority, suffers from relentless hunting pressure and deforestation which has seen much of the original forest replaced by rubber plantations.  The remaining forest, home to such stunning species as Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue-naped Pitta, Crimson Sunbird, not to mention the range-restricted Limestone Wren-babbler, has thus become a conservation priority.

As with many conservation issues around the world, there is a desperate need for public engagement, especially with the local villages, to try to engender a greater appreciation for the unique natural heritage of the region.

That is why Dr Chen was so interested to hear about the Beijing Cuckoos and how the project has helped bring scientific discovery to the general public, helping to raise awareness of migratory birds beyond the usual scientific community.  After meeting Dr Chen I met with his officials for more detailed conversations about the potential to work together to develop public engagement projects for Xishuangbanna.  I am excited to say that we’ll be developing proposals over the next few weeks and months.  There are parallels with the Amur Falcon story in Nagaland and, just as tagging technology has been part of that conservation success story, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use similar technology to help engage and enthuse a new generation in this remote part of southwest China.  Watch this space!  Big thanks to Alice Hughes and Wang Sidi for facilitating the invitation and for making the arrangements.

Of course, given it was my first visit to XTBG, I was delighted to accept the offer of guided birding with three talented local birders – Wang Ximin, Gu Bojian and Zhao Jiangbo.  Highlights were a single ASIAN OPENBILL, only recently added to the avifauna of China, a flock of at least 15 LONG-TAILED BROADBILLS and, for me as a cuckoo-fan, the best of all – a pair of stunning VIOLET CUCKOOS.  Thank you so much guys!

A male VIOLET CUCKOO at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens
ASIAN OPENBILL STORK, a recent addition to China’s avifauna but now regular at Xishuangbanna Botanical Gardens.

Title image: (from left to right) Wang Ximin, Zhao Jiangbo and Gu Bojian, three brilliant young birders based at XTBG.