Bird enthusiasts set their eyes on the skies

10:35, January 13, 2010      

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Members of the Beijing Bird Watching Society out on location in Beidaihe. Zhang Chaohui

In less than one week, hundreds of bird watching enthusiasts will flock to Beijing Normal University for the 4th annual Beijing Bird Watching Society Conference.

The meeting, which will take place on Jan 17, is expected to attract more than 200 Chinese and expat birdwatchers from around Beijing, according to Zhao Xinru, consultant for the Beijing Bird Watching Society and professor of Zoology at Beijing Normal University.

The bird watching hobbyists will gather to listen as bird watching experts, like 35-year-old veteran Zhao, talk about strategies and share trade secrets on how to get the golden glimpse of a rare species. There will also be a bird-calling competition for the more vocal bird viewers.

Though the annual conference usually attracts big numbers, the Beijing Bird Watching Society got its roots during the smaller meetings it has held every Wednesday for the past 14 years.

These meetings, Zhao said, have become quite famous.

"Even many expert birdwatchers from other countries know about and visit this event," he said, adding that many experts have come and spoke at the meetings.

The Beijing Bird Watching Society now has more than 1,000 members, most of which are Chinese, and a solid group of 300 active members. Zhao said they are constantly expanding.

"The society is open to anyone and everyone, as long as they are passionate about bird watching," he said.

2010 will be a big year for Beijing birdwatchers as plans to publish a quarterly magazine finally hatch.

This will also be the first year the society begins charging a membership fee. Zhao said he would prefer it to be free for everyone, but research costs and material costs have soared.

The choice to charge comes as the society pushes to publish eight years' worth of local wildlife research, titled Investigation and Research of the Birds in the Wetland in Beijing.

"We have a responsibility to improve the public understanding of environmental awareness and protection of birds," he said. "What I'm doing now is trying to make this situation better."

Zhao said his research is going to be given to the Chinese Center for Disease Control to help prevent the spread of illnesses, such as bird flu.

In addition to providing information about the bird watching scene in Beijing, the group also organizes excursion for touring birdwatchers.

"The best place to go is to parks in the city or to the outskirts of the city, where chances at seeing a rare bird are much higher," said Fu Jianping, president of the Beijing Bird Watching Society.

The excursions, usually consisting of groups of around 10 to 15 people, explore different areas of Beijing, sometimes hiking as many as 3 or 4 kilometers to find the perfect perch to observe.

"Birdwatchers must be devoted to nature; they must be able to observe quietly without disturbing their surroundings, and they must always want to learn more about their environment," Fu said.

"They must also love to share their observations with others," Zhao said, noting that observations can only be useful if they are shared with the collective group.

Fu, who has been bird watching for almost two decades, said one of her favorite locations is Yuanmingyuan because it has many rare birds and the surrounding scenery is amongst some of the most beautiful in Beijing. She visits this particular site at least 30 times a year.

Reservoirs are also a great place to watch birds, especially during the autumn and spring, she said.

The Beijing Bird Watching Society's Wednesday meetings take place on Beijing Normal University's campus in building 2 room 312.

Source: China Daily
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