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Chinese birdwatchers flock to festival to spot new species

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-02-27 17:18

NANNING -- A nature reserve along the China-Vietnam border, where a new bird species was spotted about a decade ago, has attracted a growing number of birdwatchers and conservationists.

Longzhou county in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous eegion hosted its first international birdwatching festival last week. Over 80 birdwatching enthusiasts from Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Germany and Malaysia participated in the festival.

In 2008, Chinese ornithologist Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu announced the discovery of a new bird species -- the Nonggang babbler, or Stachyris nonggangensis. The bird was named for the region where it was discovered.

The fist-sized babbler is a dark brown bird with white specks on its chest. There are about 1,300 Nonggang babblers in the reserve, Zhou told Xinhua.

The Nonggang Nature Reserve stretches about 34 kilometers from west to east with dense forests, karst caves and abundant bird species.

A growing interest in birdwatching has benefited the area and helped local people realize the value of local birds, Zhou said.

Few people hunt the birds now and farmers have built ponds to store water for them, he said.

Lu Yun, a middle-aged member of a birdwatching club, travelled from Tianjin, a northern port city, down to Guangxi for the festival.

"With my camera, I have captured many birds we never see in the north. It was quite a 'harvest' for me," he said.

With the help of a guide, Lu spotted several Nonggang babblers. "I was lucky to see the bird for myself," he said.

"In our circle, if one gets a rare bird, it makes you a big star," Lu said.

There are five villages near the reserve. Many villagers have profited from the growing interest in birding. Huang Zhiqiang, 33, was a sugarcane farmer before he started a new career as a guide for birdwatchers.

"The Nonggang babbler is the star bird, but tourists have a hard time finding one unless they hire a local guide," said Huang.

"I know how to mimic the chirping sound of the bird and where they typically gather. They are easily frightened, and we should be careful not to disturb them," he said.

"The villagers have realized that the birds are closely connected to their livelihood, and if they can protect them, they can keep the tourists," said Liu Shengyuan, who works in the reserve.

There are about 20 spots to watch birds in and around the reserve, Liu said.

"With a growing number of people adopting birding as a hobby, we think that it is a good chance to develop tourism. But the most important thing is to protect them first," said Zhong Lei, head of the Longzhou county government.

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