Friday, July 02, 2010

China / Wetlands

Hangzhou 26 June

It has been a rather gruelling week with 2 days in Jakarta and flying visits to Singapore and Hong Kong – living in air-conditioning hotel/taxi/meetings/taxi/airport. Have ended the week in Hangzhou and took a day off on Saturday.

The local leaflet tells me Hangzhou is 'the tea capital of China', whose West Lake Longjing Tea tops the 'Top Ten Renowned Teas in China'. This tea comes in 4 grades of which the top is Shifeng, whose 'Afore Tomb-Sweeping Day Tea' is the most renowned. Probably needed a good cuppa before sweeping the tombs.

A bit of preparatory googling had drawn my attention to the XiXi wetlands as being the obvious birding destination – China’s first wetland reserve.

I got up reasonably early and was relieved to see that the monsoon rains had abated as forecast, though the pollution kept everything murky. Pleased to see Chinese Bulbul as well as Tree Sparrow and Swallows outside the window. So I put some of my breakfast buns in a SanPro bag for lunch, donned some Rohans and went out to find an ATM and then a taxi out to XiXi. I thought my pronunciation of this was pretty good, but the taxi driver had to ring round various friends to find someone who could understand my intonation of XiXi – memo to self, get the hotel to write it down next time.

It is about 5km from city centre, but fare was only RMB 30 (=£3), When I got there I bought a ticket but have no idea what the ticket was for and it didn’t give me access to one of the areas. There were loads of visitors, but I was the only non-chinese I saw all day, and also the only birdwatcher which seems to me to be highly disturbing – surely a critical part of building environmental/conservation awareness is to encourage interest in the flora and fauna? Look how influential the RSPB is in the UK. Even the wetland museum when I went there (see below) had no coverage of birds!!!

The wetland is 11.5 hectares of pools, bamboo, reeds and mixed trees. It is a historically significant and famous site, with various temples and dwellings of Song and Ming dynasty figures in the process of being re-established, presumably having been razed in the latter part of 20th century. This is only partially completed and feels like work has stalled with only some complete – there is one temple with Buddhist monks and a couple of luxurious dwellings with significant stones. One thing which is finished is a network of hidden loud speakers playing traditional Chinese music, which does help with the atmosphere when trying to associate some muddy pond with a past poetic existence in the style of ‘pool of shimmering lotus and reflected cloud’.

There are many plaques with noble thoughts and exhortations such as ‘Water for Wetland and Wetland for Water’, ‘Wetlands connect Upstream and Downstream’, ‘Flowers are better for your cherishment’.

I spent about 5 hours in total pootling round – about 10k according to Garmin.

The birding started well with a Collared Finchbill proudly showing off a big dragonfly, then a Southern Great Tit (no Yellow on it), and Long Tailed Shrikes (pictured) right at the top of a couple of trees.

There were lots of Magpies but behaving differently from ours – sitting Goshawk-like in the top of trees looking round. Highlight I think was spotting and identifying a couple of Vinous Throated Parrotbills. They sound very exciting, but in fact are little russety birds with pronounced dark eyes and a parroty bill. I do enjoy a new Passerine though.

Also Chinese Pond Herons (pictured), Purple Heron, Moorhen and Little Grebe.

I kept hearing a very loud call which sounded like the whistle at the opening of Skippy. Tried numerous times but couldn’t see who was making it. Then I finally got a glimpse of a tiny warbler, and rooting thru Mark Brazil’s guide it was soon clear that this was a Brown-Flanked Bush Warbler. Lots of dragonflies, butterflies and a few scary monster-insects.

I must put on record that bulbuls must surely be the most annoying birds when one is spotting – there is something about their shape, the way they fly and the sound they make that gets one all excited time and again thinking that it is something new. I have had this repeatedly with Vented Bulbuls in SE Asia and Africa and these chaps, with their dramatic white cap, are just as bad

Great to get some new birds, but the number of species is rather depressing.

It was a bit hard to find a taxi back so walked in the direction of town and saw came across the astonishing USS Enterprise-style building pictured.

I went round to it and found that in fact the observation tower bit of a brand new National Wetland Centre. This is part of a 6-hotel resort being built by Westbrook, so maybe the Wetland Centre is in return for them getting to build on some of the land. If so, I hope their funding extends to long term development of the Wetlands, not just this rather white elephant.
I needed a lolly to perk me up and thought I was getting one filled with strawberry, but in fact it was Bamboo and Red Bean, which is a taste I haven’t yet acquired..

Whilst walking to the bus station to get a taxi, I saw a water tanker coming past, spraying the streets (presumably to keep the dust down?) to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday to you’. Actually its my birthday on Tuesday.

My conservation mood was somewhat diminished when I saw from the taxi a Shark restaurant with a 4ft shark swimming round in a small glass tank as an enticement.

On Sunday, I was up early and went for a 9.2km run in the drizzle
round West Lake. It was really wonderful, early enough to avoid the crowds and it is a truly great beauty spot. The lake’s limpid waters have just a few ripples, and with the weather there was no visible horizon so some of the picturesque boats appeared to be floating in the sky. All around the lake are pagoda structures, variously temples and tea-houses, some of which are built out into the lake and look fantastic. Also some superb statues – a huge Water Buffalo in the lake, a giant Samurai-type warrior emerging from the trees.

Over the course of a busy few days in Shanghai and Beijing, the only addition was 2 sightings of Azure Winged Magpies from taxis!

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