This aerial photo taken on Dec. 25, 2021 shows birds flying at the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve in east China’s Shandong Province. (Photo by Yang Bin/Xinhua)
JINAN, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) — The Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve has spent years improving its wetland ecosystem, providing better shelter for its original bird inhabitants while attracting new species.
When the nature reserve, located at the Yellow River’s estuary in east China’s Shandong Province, was first established in 1992, it registered only 187 species of birds, according to Shan Kai, senior engineer with the reserve.
Today, the number swells to 372 bird species, including oriental white storks and Saunders’s gulls, both of which are under first-class national protection in China.
In the early 1990s, the total number of Saunders’s gulls spotted worldwide merely surpassed 2,000. “Today, they have become regulars at the reserve,” said Xin Hongquan at Yiqian’er Station, one of the reserve’s management stations.
“This year, nearly 10,000 Saunders’s gulls have been spotted across and around the nature reserve. In the area of Yiqian’er alone, 3,522 nests of the species have been detected,” said Xin, vice-head of the station.
For veteran staff like Xin, who has worked at the station for 28 years, changes in the reserve have been tremendous.
In 1997, he recalled, a storm surge swept Yiqian’er, leaving the area treeless and birds there shelterless.
“The storm surge resulted in soil salinization and then vegetation degradation,” Shan said.
The reserve has subsequently launched water replenishment projects, infiltrating groundwater into wetlands. Vegetation has gradually recovered, and biodiversity increased, Shan added.
This aerial photo taken on Oct. 18, 2022 shows scenery at the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve in Dongying, east China’s Shandong Province. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)
In recent years, the reserve has invested 1.37 billion yuan (about 196.52 million U.S. dollars) in 17 wetland restoration projects to protect the habitats of key species, conserve native plants, restore marine ecosystems, and improve biodiversity.
Since 2019, it has replenished 533 million cubic meters of water and restored 188 square km of wetland and 52,000 mu (3,466.67 hectares) of Suaeda salsa and sea-grass beds.
The reserve has also built fish habitats and artificial islands for birds to meet their foraging and breeding needs. For oriental white storks, in particular, it has put up 115 artificial nests and surveillance cameras at 50 locations.
Now the reserve has taken on a new look, verdant with shrubs, reeds, and Chinese tamarisk.
Every year, millions of birds flock to the reserve for wintering and breeding. The reserve has also seen migratory birds choose to stay and become “resident birds.”
This photo taken on May 13, 2021 shows oriental white storks at the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve in east China’s Shandong Province. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)
This year, 470 oriental white storks were born at the reserve. More than 330 red-crowned cranes were spotted, compared with less than 100 seen in previous years. The number of Baikal teals spotted surged to 45,000 this year from around 22,000 the year before, according to the reserve.
Also, in 2022, the Chinese nuthatch was spotted in the reserve for the very first time.
To better protect its inhabitants and track their activity, the reserve has been upgrading its monitoring toolkit.
“We have stepped up smart monitoring, set up the Yellow River Delta ecological monitoring center, taken advantage of big data, remote sensing, and other technologies, and developed a comprehensive monitoring and management system,” said Liu Jing, director of the monitoring center, which was established by the reserve in 2021.
In 2022, the reserve has carried out a year-long bird survey in the wetlands at the Yellow River’s estuary, collecting data for purposes of scientific research, monitoring, and protection, according to Liu. ■