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January 29, 2012

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Birdwatchers flock to Chongming

To migratory birds in the frozen wastes of Siberia, the chilly Chongming wetlands look pretty good at this time of year and flocks of bird watchers are making the short trip to the scenic island to appreciate their feathered friends. Fei Lai lifts her binoculars.

This is the prime season for watching migratory birds on Chongming Island and the first Dongtan Wetland Bird Watching Festival is in full feather through the end of February.

Around 3 million birds of 265 species spend the winter on scenic Chongming, stopping on their way from Siberia to the Southern Hemisphere. So far, around 150 species have been spotted. They include cranes, hooded cranes, swans, geese, white spoonbills, black-faced spoonbills, tufted ducks and shorebirds of many kinds. Quite a few are endangered.

Bird watching begins in late October and lasts through early April.

The Dongtan Nature Reserve is in the far east of island and 10 years ago it was reclaimed from a patchwork of farms, ditches and ponds, highly vulnerable to pollution and unattractive to birds. The result has become an avian magnet.

The theme of the festival is "Caring for Wetlands, Protecting Birds" and the event is an opportunity for people to appreciate birds and the natural environment as they walk on planks through the marshes or stand at viewing stations with telescopes and binoculars.

The wetland on the estuary is considered a "kidney" of the environment, purifying water, conserving water resources and improving the environment.

Dongtan wetlands cover 24 square kilometers and include Dongtan Wetland Park covering around 2 square kilometers. Nearby is the Chongming Dongtan Nature Reserve, which is mainly for research in conservation, bird habitat and biodiversity.

In 1998 the local government began to rescue the area from commercial and agricultural use and prevented drainage of the wetland.

To ensure an undisturbed natural space for migratory birds, routes for walking and boat tours have been redesigned.

There are strict rules: No bright-colored clothes, no noise, no flash photography and no feeding the birds.

Each visitor is given a bird watching manual so they can go off on their own. Or they can follow professional guides on a walking tour.

The wetlands center holds lectures on bird watching and sells books on birds and wetlands. Visitors can make bookmarks and collages with bird patterns.

Prizes are awarded to those who take excellent pictures of birds on site.

There are quizzes on birds and their habits; those with correct answers can win prizes,

"Amateurs don't have to worry about lacking professional equipment - we have set up several observation points with telescopes," Shen Jiajun, a marketer for the festival, says.

A winding plank walkway takes visitors through marshes and across the water, where they can see wetlands on both sides. There are man-made hills, lawns, waterfalls, streams and gardens, including more than 186 types of trees and plants.

Shen suggests visitors bring a notebook and jot down their observations.

"Bird watching is fascinating. Although many visitors are amateurs with little knowledge of migratory birds, their observations and records are as important as those of scientists who are observing environmental deterioration," Shen says.

Records include descriptions of birds' appearance, habitat, feeding and other activities.

Tips for winter bird watching

As birds migrate southward, they stop in the Dongtan wetlands where visitors can watch them in marshes, soaring in the sky, singing, feeding and paddling in the water.

Dongtan at sunrise and sunset is spectacular.

Here are a few tips for bird watching:

Take binoculars or a spyglass. Birds can be difficult to spot and a magnifier helps. Telescopes are set up at observation points.

Don't wear bright clothes. Birds have sharp eyes and can be frightened by vivid color and motion. Wear something plain and drab to blend in.

Be quiet. Birds' hearing is also acute and noise frightens them away.

No flash photography; it frightens birds, especially chicks. Use natural daylight for photos.

Protect birds. Don't collect eggs or try to capture birds.

Don't feed the birds.

Keep your distance - no closer than 50 meters. At first the distance should be around 200 meters, then you can slowly move closer, but the closer you get, the more likely they are to fly away.


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