'Bird-love' team's conservation efforts raise awareness in Hainan

Source:China Daily

During Xue Meili's patrol of Haiwei National Wetland Park in Changjiang Li autonomous county, Hainan province, on Sept 20 last year, she stumbled across a teal feeding in the wetland waters. At first glance, she thought it was a common teal, but on closer inspection she realized it was a species she had never observed in the area before. After taking pictures, it dawned on her that it must be a new species in the park and so she turned to bird professionals for answers.

"It's a cotton pygmy goose!" exclaimed Li Fei, head of Hainan Bird-Watching Record Committee, upon seeing Xue's photos. "The last time it was spotted and recorded in Hainan was 117 years ago."

The cotton pygmy goose, a species of wild bird under second-class State protection, had disappeared in China for nearly 50 years. According to Hainan Bird-Watching Society, the cotton pygmy goose has only been observed three times on the tropical island, with the last one recorded in 1904. Xue's finding in 2021 was the third time the species had been observed in Hainan.

From September this year, Xue has anticipated the cotton pygmy goose's return. In early October, she was thrilled to discover the birds in Haiwei National Wetland Park again.

The Changjiang Bird-love Team, established on June 18, 2021, consists of nine enthusiasts and volunteers. Their occupations range from civil servants, teachers and forest rangers to corporate employees, architects and retirees. The team has a clear division of labor. Xue is the team leader, responsible for organizing bird-watching activities and publicity. Others take charge of photography, bird watching, information collection and distribution, and calculation of bird numbers.

The team conducts a bird-monitoring activity once a month, each spanning two days.

The team members follow a tight schedule. They usually start at dawn to conduct monitoring in Haiwei National Wetland Park and the surrounding seaside. At noon, they have a quick lunch and short break, and then continue the monitoring under the scorching sun for hours till dusk. Sometimes they'll also hold bird observations at night.

Every time they go bird watching, they bring equipment like binoculars, cameras, scissors, medical kits, rain gear and boots, and of course, water and food.

Apart from monthly bird monitoring activities, the Changjiang Bird-love Team often visits the wetland park, seaside and other places in the county to watch and photograph birds on weekends and also to fight bird poaching.

"If we encounter any illegal trapping of birds, we'll take photos as proof and remove the bird nets," Xue said. "If we face a particularly severe situation, we will call the police and wait for them to deal with it."

The original intention of the team conducting "bird-love" activities, Xue said, is to "observe, love and protect birds, and improve the local environment".

"Birds are close friends of human beings, and they play an essential role in the functioning of the world's ecosystems. Protecting bird diversity will help to maintain ecological balance," she added.

The team is dedicated to raising public awareness of protecting the beautiful winged creatures.

"The power of us nine people is limited, but through our efforts and actions, more and more people are aware of protecting birds and other wildlife. They are learning about conserving local environments," Xue said. "We also use our cameras to record the ecological changes and showcase the beauty of the places we visit."

Since 2019, the forestry department of Changjiang has entrusted Haikou Duo Tan Wetland Research Institute to conduct bird research in Haiwei National Wetland Park.

The researchers from the institute later became the tutors for the Changjiang Bird-love Team and helped them join China Wildlife Conservation Association in July this year.

Xue's team has received a lot of support from the local government and residents. They've also received professional training from the association, and have more chances to communicate and share their experiences with other volunteering organizations across the country.

"Hopefully, with more pictures, articles, videos of wetland birds and our continuous monitoring work and sharing of knowledge, we're helping more people understand bird species and the importance of protecting our flying friends," Xue said.

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