The EcoAction Young Birders

Over the last two years I’ve worked with Luo Peng to develop EcoAction’s Youth Birding Club, helping to lead birding trips to some of Beijing’s best birding spots and supporting the development of the children’s birding skills.  It’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time in Beijing.

The Club was set up to help young people to connect with nature through birding and so far more than 30 children, often accompanied by their parents, have participated, most of them joining several trips.  With thanks to Swarovski Optik, we provide binoculars and encourage the young birders to observe closely, write notes about what they have seen and learn about the lifestyles of the species and the habitats they need.  Some have set up their own microblogs to share their experiences.

Through this post I wanted to introduce readers to three of the young birders.  Each has answered some questions about themselves and birds.  I hope you enjoy reading their answers as much as I enjoyed going birding with them.  These brilliant young people are the future of conservation in China.

Young Birder 1 – Chen Yanzhi, 12 years old

陈雁之 (Chen Yanzhi),  12 years old

How long have you been interested in birding?

I have loved wildlife and nature observation since I was little, including birding. I started birding regularly when I went to Borneo last year. Since then I have participated in several birding activities, including birding in Africa and Borneo again.

Which bird is your favourite?

I love all birds except ducks, but the pochard is OK.  At the beginning of my birding, I liked White-crowned Hornbills, when I saw them in Borneo.  The most lovely and graceful bird as far as I see is the Marabou Stork (秃鹳) and, among all the birds I saw in Beijing, I like the Pied Harrier (鹊鹞) and Black Stork (黑鹳) the most.  The most peculiar bird is the Great Barbet (大拟啄木鸟), which I saw in Borneo. It is very funny that I saw Great Barbet for the first time during the evening, just beside the insect lamp-trap.  Now Chestnut-breasted Malkoha is my favourite bird. I was so excited when I first saw such a big bird jumping on a small tree just one metre from me in Borneo. Its beautiful feathers were shining in the sunshine. I was happy for a long time.

Why do you feel it is important to protect birds and their habitats?

Birds live in their specific habitats and they only perform naturally when they are at home, which is quite different from those living in the zoo. So the birding is more interesting.

What do you want to say to other children with no birding experience?

What I would like to tell other youth in China is, there are many bird species which only live in China, and birding can be very easy.  We can easily see 30 to 40 different birds on the outskirts of Beijing.  Birds are everywhere, on the lakes, on the beach, in the forests, on the mountains and everywhere else. They are all very beautiful. Come birding with me!

 

Young Birder 2 – Gao Zijun, 6 years old

高子隽 (Gao Zijun), 6 years old

How long have you been interested in birding?

I started birding when I was 5 years old, for more than 1 year now.

Which bird is your favourite?

My favourite bird is the Common Kingfisher.

Why do you feel it is important to protect birds and their habitats?

I love nature and want to protect it.  If we only seek money, have lots of money, buy many toys, and throw them in the ocean when they are broken, there will be tons of rubbish.  Birds may eat these small pieces at food, and that is harmful for them.  And batteries, even only one, can pollute important water sources and wild plants.  Without a healthy environment, plants will die, and birds will have no place to nest, animals will lose their food, and we cannot live either.

What do you want to say to other children with no birding experience?

I want my little friends to love the nature as I do. We can play with our family in nature and can make friends with animals and birds. I love and enjoy this kind of life, which has taught me a lot.  If we only play with iPad, our eyes will be damaged and the money we earn in games is fake, means nothing. Birding is good for the eyes.

 

Young Birder 3 – Li Haoming, 12 years old

李浩铭 (Li Haoming) 12 years old

How long have you been interested in birding?

I have been birding for more than one year, since February 2016.

Which bird is your favourite?

I have seen over 400 different birds since I started, but I don’t favour any particular bird species. Each of them is special.

Why do you feel it is important to protect birds and their habitats?

The most important part of bird protection is habitat. They can only breed well in suitable habitat, so that the population can increase and we can carry out better study of them, introduce them to many more people.  This is the most important thing to protect biodiversity.

What do you want to say to other children with no birding experience?

I would like to tell my friends who do not go birding that birds are our closest friends; we can hear them sing everywhere –  in our yard, in the street and in nature.  As long as you look carefully, you will find them. They not only have colourful feathers, but also perform interesting behaviours, the same as us.  For example, many birds will dance during courtship, and many bird parents will sacrifice themselves to protect their babies, just as human beings do. They are also awesome architects. It is so interesting to observe and understand them.

 

About the EcoAction Youth Birding Club

The EcoAction Youth Birding Club was set up to introduce children and their families to nature through birding.  Led by experienced birders and conservationists, the trips visit a variety of birding hotspots around Beijing and encourage children to learn about the species they see, the habitats they need and the importance of conservation.  The next trip will take place on 14th May to Yeyahu Wetland Reserve, when we will be participating in the Global Big Day, a project set up by eBird to record as many species as possible across the world on a single day.  For more information about the club, the forward programme and for reports about previous trips, please add “EcoAction” on WeChat or contact Luo Peng on peng.luo@ecoactionnow.com.

 

Thank you so much to Chen Yanzhi, Gao Zijun and Li Haoming for being great company on the birding trips and for taking the time to answer these questions.  Thanks also to Luo Peng and Wu Qian for their help with this post.

The Birding Baroness

After accompanying the Conservative Minister, Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP, on a birding trip during his visit to Beijing last winter, it seemed only right to balance Birding Beijing’s political affiliation!  And so, on Sunday, I took visiting (Labour) Baroness Bryony Worthington on a trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve as part of her visit to China.

Bryony is Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change and, if the elections go Labour’s way in May 2015, she could be part of the ministerial team in charge of the UK’s energy and climate change policies.

Among her many talents, Bryony is an expert in emissions trading and the main purpose of her visit was to engage with officials from the seven pilot emissions trading schemes in China to help develop advice to the Chinese government about the design of their national emissions trading scheme, due to be implemented sometime before 2020 and a key pillar of China’s climate change policy.

Her busy programme involved meetings in Beijing and Shanghai and, with just one ‘free’ day on Sunday and knowing I was a keen birder, she asked if I would take her birding… Of course, I was only too happy to say yes!  The obvious choice of location was Yeyahu Nature Reserve – one of my favourite Beijing birding sites and, in Spring, host to a diverse range of China’s birds.  In the company of friend and colleague Wu Qian and her husband, Calvin, we set off at 0600 from central Beijing and arrived at a sunny, warm and clear Yeyahu just before 0800.

Baroness Worthington 'scoping a pair of Chinese Spot-billed Duck
Baroness Worthington ‘scoping a pair of Chinese Spot-billed Duck

To add a bit of extra fun to the day we had a sweepstake on the number of species we would see..  Guesses ranged from a conservative 40 (Wu Qian) to an over-optimistic 65 (Terry) with Bryony guessing 49 and Calvin 60.

On a beautiful spring morning we started off well with several Chinese Penduline Tits, Pallas’s Reed Buntings and displaying Eastern Marsh Harriers.  A booming Bittern and a flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills provided more entertainment as we made our way around the reserve….  After the 3,000 (!) visitors present the last time I was there (during Qing Ming Festival), the reserve seemed strangely quiet for a sunday but that was no bad thing!

We made our way to the new watchtower and, as the day warmed up, we enjoyed more raptors including 2 Greater Spotted Eagles, a single Short-toed Eagle, Eastern Buzzard, Goshawk and several Black Kites before we tucked into our picnic..

Enjoying a picnic in the watchtower at Yeyahu NR.
Enjoying a picnic in the watchtower at Yeyahu NR. From left to right: Wu Qian, Calvin and the Baroness.

Bryony was impressed with the reserve and the number of birds it was possible to see in the capital.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was time to count up the species seen.  The final total was 54 so, rather embarrassingly for me, the Baroness as a first-time China birder, won the sweepstake..!

On Tuesday morning I accompanied the Baroness to a meeting with Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee in the National Peoples Congress..  This is the committee responsible for drafting and passing China’s environmental legislation. It’s a busy time for the committee, with much environmental legislation under development.  See here for analysis of the strengthening of China’s Environment Protection Law just last week.  Included in their legislative programme for this year is a review of the protected species list.. The current list is more than 20 years old and woefully out of date.  For example, it doesn’t include Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Jankowski’s Bunting or Baer’s Pochard, species that are in desperate trouble and at risk of extinction.

I took the opportunity to brief Lu Hao on the work being carried out by BirdLife, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and local groups to try to save Jankowski’s Bunting and presented him with the BirdLife special edition newsletter.  He confirmed that Jankowski’s Bunting would be added to the revised list and invited me to submit views on which other species should be on the list.

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.
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.

Extra legal protection by itself will not save Jankowski’s Bunting from extinction.  However, it’s an important step and, as China works to strengthen enforcement of its environmental legislation (the amendments last week to China’s environmental law made huge progress in that regard), ensuring that the legal protection of China’s birds is as strong and unambiguous as possible will help to create the foundation for a stronger conservation movement in China.

Many thanks to Baroness Worthington for her support for the Jankowski’s Bunting campaign and also to Chairman Lu Hao for his work to strengthen China’s environmental laws and their enforcement.  He is a very important man!