21 Dec 2009

Po Yang 1989 - Part I

Peter Kennerley's paper in the 1984/5 Hong Kong Bird Report is an account of a survey of Po Yang Lake, on the Yangtze River in the north of Jiangxi Province. He described the place as "..the avian spectacle of China".

I flew to Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province with Nigel Croft and Mike Turnbull. We had no official contacts and no reservations but we had spoken to some other Hong Kong Birders, including Mike Chalmers, who had just got back.

From the CAAC Airport Bus we noted Northern Lapwings in the cold dry paddyfields on the way into town. We were assigned a room in the Nanchang Hotel which seemed to be part of an illegal extension to the roof, but we shrugged it off as we had no intention of dallying there.

It was still dark when we boarded the public ferry to Wucheng. My yellowing notebook records that we paid RMB 5 each. By the time it got light we were moving through a mainly featureless, flat landscape. Strong winds blew across the open plains and the temperature hovered just above freezing. Fortified by large bowls of spicy noodles we shivered on wooden benches as the boat went aground several times, and people got off and on at unidentifiable spots on the bare river banks.We were impressed at the sight of a very hardy dog swimming across the river.

MT in front of the Wucheng Pagoda

We knew that Wu Cheng, at the confluence of two of the Yangtze tributaries, could be recognised by a large pagoda and a white "Crane Viewing" tower. We planned to seek rooms at the Nature Reserve HQs, but if these were too expensive we'd find rooms in the town and hope to see some birds before we got kicked out.

After seven hours on the boat we were relieved to strike a deal with the Nature Reserve people. Someone was even assigned to us to make sure we didn't get lost.

Wucheng lay at the eastern end of a long ridge (an island when summer rains made the lake higher). It had been a prosperous town at the edge of Po Yang Lake but seemed never to have recovered from bombing by the Japanese in the late 1930s.

Birding around the edges of town we picked up familiar species such as Grey Heron, Little Grebe and Black-headed Gull, but several hundred Greater White-fronted Geese on the distant grassland and some overflying Bewick's Swans were new.

Dec. 24th
Overnight at Reserve HQs we had beds with warm quilts with cranes embroidered on them, rusty bathroom fittings and sleep interrupted by crackling sounds which turned out to be mice scampering up behind the sofa to nibble our plastic-wrapped snacks. Wherever we tried to hide the food, the mice could always find it: - they had played this game before !

Daybreak found us wandering along the shore of Da Hu Chi, encountering large flocks of Swan Geese in the lakeside mud.

This was only a prelude to what awaited us. After a morning's walk, we rounded a corner and beheld this sight -

The "Avian Spectacle of China" ....

There were hundreds of Siberian and White-naped Cranes on the lakeside mud, with Swan Geese in front and Dalmatian Pelicans overhead.

This was what we had come for.

to be continued.....

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