EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

What do birdwatchers watch?

Writer: Wang Haolan  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2021-10-25

A couple of juvenile blue-throated bee-eaters have been staying in Huanggang Park in Futian District since Sept. 22, attracting many citizens to appreciate their beauty at the park.

It seems that the bee-eaters don't care about the presence of humans at all. On some trees in spite of being surrounded by a troop of photographers with their telephoto cameras, they showed off their enchanting emerald-green, maroon and turquoise plumages, adeptly grabbed unlucky insects passing by, and practiced some courtship rituals even though they were too young to do so, which was somehow weird for a wild species and made me start to doubt that whether they are wild or not.

However, it was obvious that many people did not care to question the birds' behavior at all. They started to expect more from taking photos of the bee-eaters, like photos with a clean background, ones with a butterfly in the bird's mouth and even ones depicting the close relationship between humans and the birds.

So, they abruptly erected a wooden stick on the ground for the birds to perch on, applied syrup to the stick to attract their prey and even attempted to attract the birds to rest on their bags or even arms through whistling or playing all kinds of recorded birdsongs (including the songs of cuckoos).

I am not going to criticize or blame their behavior here, for at least we cannot assume that they have any intention of hurting the birds. Maybe they were only showing their affection towards them but in a way that was not doing any good for the birds’ well-being. What really provokes my thoughts is the difference between those photographers and the birdwatchers.

This raises the question: what do the birdwatchers watch?

They watch the local biodiversity. As we delve deeper into the world of those beautiful, feathered creatures, we spontaneously understand better about the role they play in the food chain and in the local ecosystem.

As the first flock of eight black-faced spoonbills, which migrated from their breeding grounds in Northeast China and the Korean Peninsula, were spotted at the Neilingding Futian Mangrove Nature Reserve on Oct. 16, it indicated that the long-expected peak of this autumn migratory season was around the corner. The beautiful endangered spoonbill plays the role of an umbrella species at Shenzhen Bay, so protecting them also indirectly protects many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat, such as the mangroves, crabs, mudskippers as well as other species of birds.

The birdwatchers watch the cycle of life. As one of the major wintering grounds for migratory birds on the East Asia-Australia flyway, Shenzhen has long been witnessing the biannual seasonal movement which is seen as a very important part of the life cycle of migratory birds.

A member from the Shenzhen Birdwatching Society spotted a rare bar-tailed godwit in Shenzhen Bay on Oct. 12. The bird came from its breeding grounds in Siberia, Kamchatka or Alaska and is estimated to set out for its wintering grounds in Australia after taking a short break in Shenzhen.

This spotting record reminded me of a true story told by a veteran birdwatcher from the society. On Oct. 11, 2020, some local birdwatchers spotted a bar-tailed godwit wearing the foot tag "W8" at Shenzhen Bay. "W8" was last spotted in the city around Oct. 20 and appeared near the Ashmore Reef area in Northwest Australia on Nov. 6, which is about 4,000 km away from its stopover in Shenzhen.

Traveling from the far north of the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere seems to be an mission impossible for a bird that is only 40 cm in length and about 300 grams in weight, yet the over 13,000-km journey of migration is an indispensable part of the life cycle of bar-tailed godwits. Thanks to bird ringing (the foot tags), our birdwatchers can better understand and appreciate the great journey of those long-distance migratory birds.

They watch the change of our Earth. It is interesting and sometimes alerting to see how the change of climate and weather influences the behavior of birds.

Due to global warming and the La Niña phenomenon, the northern part of China is expecting more rains and a colder winter this year. As a result, several species of shorebirds, including greater and lesser sand plovers, Eurasian whimbrels, Pacific golden plovers and grey-tailed tattlers, have been spotted arriving in Shenzhen since early August, which is a little bit earlier than last year.

Extreme climate incidents such as typhoons will also bring some oceanic bird species to Shenzhen, such as a juvenile red-footed booby that was spotted this August in the Dameisha area in Yantian District and a long-tailed jaeger visiting Xiangmi Lake in Futian District in 2018.

(The author is a Shenzhen Daily reporter.)