01 June 2009

Advocacy Continues for Bird Reserve at Beidaihe

A recent speech by Dr. Martin Williams continues his advocacy for a bird reserve at Beidaihe, a vital habitat for avifauna on the coast of Hebei province, east China. He was a featured speaker at the Beidaihe 2009 International Bird Watching Race and Photography Contest to close out a "bird race" which coincided with the start of a photographic competition. He was invited as he led the first migration survey at Beidaihe since 1945, and has since done much to popularize birding and promote conservation there.

Dr. Martin Williams at the Beidaihe 2009 International Bird Watching Race and Photography Contest. Images courtesy of Dr. Williams.

"This spring, there was a newly built, fancy Qinhuangdao Bird Museum complete with a walloping great dinosaur and pterosaur replicas, right by a wetland yet with planted trees blocking views to it," Dr. Williams said. "It was evident money is no longer such an issue as when the Beidaihe government established a basic bird reserve in 1990. Maybe it is still worth still trying for reserve."

The audience seemed supportive, and included some other leaders, others involved in conservation related decisions, he said in a posting to the Oriental Birding forum. A vice mayor of Qinhuangdao was among people present during bird race/photo ceremony. "She told me that conservation as I suggested is important; I was later told she'd been excited by my speech."

"Beidaihe is a seaside resort town on the coast of China, around 280 kilometers east of Beijing. The town is on a roughly triangular headland, with smaller headlands, hills rising to 153 meters; it lies on an otherwise flat coastline, along a narrow coastal plain that helps funnel migrants breeding in northeast Asia. It has a good mix of habitats, including woodland, rice paddies, a freshwater reservoir and three small estuaries. Yet like much of China, the town has developed rapidly in recent years. Developments have been most intense just south of Beidaihe, where a brash new town – Nandaihe - has sprung up on land that until the 1990s was just fields with small villages." — Dr. Martin Williams

Dr. Williams, a freelance writer and photographer, specializing in conservation and the environment, has lived in Hong Kong since early 1987.

"I first visited Beidaihe in spring 1985, as leader of an eight-member expedition studying bird migration. At the time, Beidaihe was almost unknown as a place for birdwatching: we were mainly relying on information from a Danish scientist, Axel Hemmingsen, who had studied birds at the town from 1942-1945," Dr. Williams says in the leading statement on his website.

The site was an obvious attraction, as Dr. Williams continued to visit "most years since, mostly as leader or co-leader of migration surveys and birding tours, a couple of times for a holiday. In all, I have spent well over a year at the town, garnering a Beidaihe list with around 350 Asian migrants, and experiencing superb spells of birding."

His records from 1986 included 2729 Oriental White Storks migrating south, which was more than double the previous estimate for the entire world population (900-1000), clearly showing the importance of Beidaihe for studying migratory birds.

In 1990, the local government did establish a bird reserve, Dr. Williams noted; but with no money forthcoming, and - although it was spared from major construction thanks to some efforts to protect birds - trees were planted, and a quirky water park for people was created.

Dr. Williams kept returning to the area because he believes "Beidaihe can be a great place for conservation. There are many birds; plus there are many people – both residents and visitors, who can be given opportunities to enjoy seeing and learn about wild, migratory birds."

His home town of Scarborough in Yorkshire, England is, like Beidaihe, a seaside resort – and it was here that he first became fascinated by migration. "I love days when there are many birds passing by, or days when birds arrive during inclement weather," he says. "Plus at Beidaihe, I’ve been lucky enough to make significant observations of globally rare birds, as well as discover previously unknown birding hotspots near Beidaihe."

The diversity of bird species which occur in the area was defined in an article Dr. Williams wrote for Birding, the magazine of the American Birding Association, in the mid-1990s.

"Megaticks such as Oriental White Stork (Ciconia boyciana), which is virtually restricted to eastern Russia and China; most of the world population of perhaps 3000 migrates over Beidaihe in autumn. Megaticks like three endangered cranes that are unique to the Far East — Red-crowned (Grus japonensis), Hooded (Grus monacha) and White-naped (Grus vipio) — as well as Siberian Crane (G. leucogeranus), which hangs by a thread in Iran, yet numbers close to 3000 in the Far East, and passes Beidaihe in the hundreds. And Saunders's Gull (Larus saundersi), world population perhaps 2000, Relict Gull (L. relictus) (4000-5000), and Nordmann's Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) (1000), which have all graced the small estuaries at the town — Relict Gull is regularly seen on migration only at Beidaihe.
"Beidaihe now ranks as the place to see east Asian migrants. Pick any of the Asian vagrants to North America and, chances are, it occurs at Beidaihe. Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)?, Siberian Blue Robin (Erithacus cyane)?, Siberian Rubythroat (E. calliope)?, Eyebrowed Thrush (Turdus obscurus)?, Lanceolated Warbler (Locustella lanceolata)? All are common. Fork-tailed Swifts (Apus pacificus) pass over in thousands. The estuaries are visited by flocks of Mongolian Plovers (Charadrius mongolus). Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola) and Long-toed Stints (Calidris subminuta) prefer damp paddyfields, which in late spring are the places to search for Pechora Pipits (Anthus gustavi)."

Other highlights of the local avifauna are presented in the article, provided in entirety at Dr. Williams’ website.

Martin Williams birding.

Dr. Williams realizes there is a need for conservation in this part of the world, as to the south of Beidaihe, especially east of east of the Happy Island area, a great industrial complex springing up on the coast and has petrochemical refineries and factories, etc. in a place that was once wild and rural. Happy Island, he notes, is evidently being developed for tourism, even though it's just a scrubby, sandy island surrounded by mudflats — brilliant for birds, although not for regular human tourists.

"The proportion of endangered species on the Beidaihe list shows the birds need our help," Dr. Williams said.

In 2005, he drafted a conservation plan for the Beidaihe regional government which covered much of the Beidaihe and Nandaihe area, and mentioned mentioning sites such as the Lotus Hills (Liangfen Shan), Dr. Williams explains on his website.

"The conservation plan remains just a collection of ideas; the reserve is still a dream. At times, I have felt disheartened, felt efforts to encourage conservation by myself and others have been unsuccessful, wondered if efforts have been wasted.

"I have long been impressed by the Chinese Taoism philosophy, with its emphasis on balancing yin and yang. Balance at Beidaihe would mean recognising the importance of wetlands. Just look at the rare species that help make the town famous for birds: many of them are wetland birds, ranging from huge Oriental White Storks, through Red-crowned Cranes that are interwoven throughout Chinese culture, beautiful Mandarin Ducks and Baikal Teal, as well as Relict Gull, Saunders’ Gull, shorebirds such as Nordmann’s Greenshank, and the small, poorly known Streaked Reed-Warbler.

"I believe that at Beidaihe, we have the chance to create the world’s most exiting reserve for migratory birds."

Dr Williams believes the time is right for the local government to work with conservationists on a plan for a reserve combining an estuary with nearby freshwater marshes and secondary woodland. Ideally, he believes this should include at least one artificially created, landscaped lagoon – akin to the Scrape at Minsmere reserve in the United Kingdom. Then, the reserve should be created.

"A reserve like this will attract impressive densities of birds, coupled with very high species diversity," says Dr. Williams. "Plus, it will be an extra visitor attraction for Beidaihe, helping protect the town’s environment. A successful reserve can serve as a role model for China, where the natural environment faces extreme pressures, yet people are increasingly interested in conservation."

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