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January 1, 2010

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Bird watchers flock to Chongming

DONGTAN Wetlands on Chongming Island are one of China's most important nationally protected avian nature reserves and stopovers for migratory birds.

The 242-square-kilometer alluvial area is a place where visitors can get close to nature in this special spot in the mouth of the Yangtze River. Eco tours are offered.

Go soon, because beautiful Chongming Island is now connected with Shanghai by a tunnel-bridge and freeway - most people won't take the slow and charming ferry. And Shanghai plans to build an eco city near the wetlands, with a 3.5-kilometer buffer between bird land and the city.

The Dongtan Nature Reserve is in the far east of the 1,200-square-kilometer island, the world's largest alluvial island.

More than 3 million migratory birds from 290 species, some endangered, rest in Chongming Island during their migration, according to recent estimates from the Dongtan administration.

They are on their way from Australia and New Zealand to Siberia in the East Asian-Australian migratory bird flyway. They include swans, geese, cranes, hooded cranes, white spoonbills, black-faced spoonbills, tufted ducks and shorebirds of many kinds.

Ecologists call wetlands transitional areas between terrestrial ecosystems and aquatic systems; the two systems are inherently different, yet dependent on each other. They meet in the wetlands that are places of great biodiversity. Many water birds only reproduce in wetlands.

Wetlands, forest and ocean are the three great ecosystems.

Wetlands not only provide a friendly habitat for many creatures but also protect water resources on the land. Polluting substances in water will naturally precipitate when a river or stream flows slowly through a wetland; toxins will break down while nutrients will nourish plants.

Wetlands can help prevent drought and flood through its exchange between underground water and surface runoff. They also can prevent seawater from invading the land and freshwater.

Dongtan Nature Reserve is on the authoritative Ramsar (after a small town in Iran where a convention was signed) List of Wetlands of International Importance.

China joined the International Convention on Wetlands in 1992 and started its work on wetland protection. Around 30 wetlands in China are on the list.

In addition to birds, Chongming Island has interesting geology, tidal flats, creeks and marshland.

The hooded crane, with a gray body and white head, is one of the most common birds in winter.

Generally it's easier to spot birds when the tide goes out and birds are forced to stay on land, but cranes move with the tides, so it's easy to spot them at high tide.

As Dongtan's reputation grows, tourists from around the world are flocking to see the birds.

Information about the wetlands and best times of year and place to bird-watch are posted on the Website of the Chongming Dongtan Nature Reserve ( - but to date it's all in Chinese.

The park provides telescopes.

Reservations for wetland tours can be made by calling the park at 5947-2291.


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