Across China: Border county thrives on spring birding tours
KUNMING, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Bird guide He Zhengzhong made it very clear to his son and daughter that they should not use a slingshot to hit birds, though that was his favorite childhood past-time.
"Absolutely not now," he said, "especially when the kids have summer or winter breaks. No one can play with a slingshot. The birds are too precious."
"If you hit one bird in the spring, you will lose a whole nest of them when autumn comes," he said, citing an old saying.
The 30-year-old father makes a living as a guide for bird watchers who flock to his hometown, Shiti Village, which borders Myanmar in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Statistics provided by the Yingjiang County bird watchers' association said the village is home to over 400 types of birds including several rare ones such as the grey peacock-pheasant, spot-bellied eagle-owl, and hornbills.
He Zhengzhong knows about the features and habitats of these endemic birds, and he has emerged as a much-sought-after guide for professional nature photographers and bird watchers.
"The other day, I spotted several grey peacock-pheasants. I shared a video on my WeChat moment and afterward, many people contacted me. I've been so busy lately," he said.
He receives an average of 10 clients every day. He manages the No. 2 "bird pond" near the village and arranges his clients in camouflaged positions to watch birds and take photos. He uses worms and corn flour to attract the birds to the pond. Each client pays 60 yuan for a spot every day.
One of He's clients, Sun Xiaohong, is an avid nature photographer from Beijing. He comes to Shiti village once a month. "It is the mating season now. The birds are in full plumage and are rather active. Now is a great time to take photos," he said.
The spots and bird ponds are planned out by the village and the county bird watchers' association. Shiti has 40 spots for watching birds.
"We keep a certain distance between the spots. We try not to change them too much because conservation is the most important thing for us. The bird-watching activities are carefully managed so as not to disturb the avian population," said Ban Dingying, head of the association.
If guides find birds are building nests, they usually won't disturb them until the nest is built, he said.
Birding has brought in an increasing number of visitors to Shiti. Over 20,000 people visited the village last year, with the average visitor spending around a week there. Per capita annual income in the village grew from 2,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan (about 1,190 U.S. dollars).
Situated at the southwestern tip of the Hengduan Mountains and the southern extension of the Gaoligongshan Mountains, Yingjiang County is home to a wide range of biodiversity. Forest coverage is over 73.9 percent, with more than 559 types of birds.
Since 2015, Yingjiang has hosted three bird-watching festivals. Rural tourism generated over 20 million yuan in earnings for the people, county statistics show.
The county government said environmental protection is a top priority.
Pai Zhonghua, head of the village, said the village has a special rangers team to fight illegal logging, poaching, and electric shock fishing.
Those who report activities that are damaging to the environment are awarded 200 to 2,000 yuan (about 29 to 290 dollars).
He Zhengzhong and his wife rest during the rainy season from June to September when few visitors come, but the couple insists on feeding the birds every day.
"I need to make sure they have enough to eat. They give me a living. I should not treat them unfairly," he said.