Wintering birds return to China’s largest recovering freshwater lake
Published: Dec 03, 2022 12:24 AM
Looking over Poyang Lake, Zeng Qingfa thinks much about the once drought-hit lake, which had depleted water levels to the lowest, but he was soon brought back to reality by the snow-white view dotted with returning migratory storks.

Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake in the eastern province of Jiangxi, has recorded over 3,700 oriental white storks recently during the wintering season in its Nanji wetland reserve section alone.

The rare bird species under first-class national protection is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

About three months ago, the ­encouraging scene was beyond Zeng's imagination, as the lake's water level plummeted to its lowest since record-keeping began in 1951. The lowest record was broken twice during the past months.

Due to continuous high temperatures and low precipitation this summer and relatively less water flowing in from the Yangtze River, the lake saw its water nearing the bottom even before its usual dry season.

Lack of water sources weighed on many people, especially staff in Nanji wetland national nature reserve: If Poyang Lake, also a major wetland system and shelter for several hundred thousand migratory birds during their annual wintering, dried up in the worst case, where else could the birds go?

In the following months, the protection staff in the surrounding reserves raced against time to search for water for the sake of the coming birds.

"This year, we stored water in ­subordinate lakes during the peak season ahead of schedule to create a suitable habitat for the migratory birds," said Hu Binhua, head of Nanji wetland reserve's administration bureau.

Fortunately, Jiangxi ushered in ­several rain precipitations in late November, helping to fill the lake little by little. As of 8 am Friday, the lake's landmark Xingzi hydrological station has seen the water level recover to 7.86 meters compared to the current lowest record of 6.46 meters.

In November, the staff in Nanji wetland reserve monitored 53 varieties of birds, 71 percent of which were migratory visitors to the lake, a significant increase in number compared to October. The statistics indicate that the wintering birds are returning to the reserve stably.

The Duchang protection monitoring station in Poyang Lake national nature reserve also spotted a Barnacle goose, a rare visitor unseen in three years. The lake's wetland protection center in Yugan County saw the wintering black storks back in the lake after their appearance in 2016 and 2021.

"To retain the picturesque scenery, we guys have to hurry up our protection efforts," Zeng said as he continued his regular reserve patrol.