The Start (2015-2018)
I began birding in 2015 as a 12-year-old student in Fuzhou, China. My story with birds began when I met an experienced bird watcher through serendipity. At first I was skeptical about the whole idea of bird watching, but it eventually turned out that birding was the perfect hobby for me: there was just something so unique about birds that I couldn’t let go of.
I only have the vague memory of my very first birding trip at Fuzhou National Forest Park, but I do remember that I was utterly confused at the beginning. I heard people pointing out birds left and right, but I couldn’t see a thing as I looked through the binoculars. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to finally see my spark bird — it was an Eurasian Kingfisher perching on the branch at the center of a pond. It was the first time that I was struck by the clarity of the image and the stunning details of a bird.
Everything changed when I started birding. It’s like entering a new world that you have never paid attention to. It gave me a meaningful purpose in life as I started to interact with nature more often: a sense of transcendence, to be exact.
I was determined to share this hobby with more people. As a result, I started my little experiment at the end of 2016 as I cofounded the bird watching club in my middle school with three other founders. That year, more than 20 students joined the club and we conducted our first bird species survey at school, finding 31 species of birds in the campus. The club nurtured a new group of young bird watchers, some of them still being active as birders and environmentalists after several years.
A major by-product of the club is its own publication. As the main editor, I founded and edited the magazine 鸟瞰. It is complete self-made and we ended up printing two issues in a year. The second issue had 500 copies, with some copies made their way to cities like Beijing and Hong Kong.
It was difficult for me to manage both the club and the magazine, so I ended up birding much less frequently in that period. With only roughly a year of exposure, I found myself in a situation where I was not growing as a bird watcher. On one hand, I wish that I would have devoted more time to polish my skills. On the other hand, I did get a sense of what it means to be a writer and a leader. Nevertheless, a clear thought lies beneath my personal ambivalence: I knew that I would never be a good advocate for birding if I didn’t have a more profound knowledge about birds. I needed to take some time and focus on the actual birding for a while.
I was further distanced from bird watching at the end of 2017. The pressure of preparing for high school entrance exam in China rendered it almost impossible for me to go out. Although I still managed to go to different locations at times, I was to a great extent following others’ directions. It was not a bad thing, but I felt that I was merely adding new species to my life list instead of learning about them.
A Period of Growth (2018-2020)
The year 2018 was a turning point for me. In July, I embarked on a 30-hour plane ride and came to Buenos Aires, Argentina to attend an international high school. Without knowing a word of Spanish, I started a whole new chapter in my birding career.
I vowed to improve as a bird watcher, so I dedicated myself to learning in a totally new environment. It was rough at first, and I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. But with the help of digital tools like eBird, I spent a lot of time in a reserve called Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur. I went there about 30 times in 2019, and I recorded about 130 species of birds in that reserve. Although there are still a lot of things left to explore in that location, I was surprised at my progress. For the first time I could find all of these birds without the help of others. For the first time I could listen to the sound of a bird and correctly identify it. For the first time I have the knowledge to guide experienced birders in that reserve.
In 2019, I also met one of the most important person to my birding career – Horacio Matarasso. As an ornithologist and the leader of South American bird watchers, he is surprisingly humble and down to earth. Through him, I got to know professional guides and ornithologists in the field, which completely changed my perception about birds. I was very privileged, and felt incredibly grateful, to travel to the Iguazú Fall, the Peninsula Valdés, Ushuaia, and so on. From these interactions, I gained a more profound understanding of the environment around me.
The theme of sustainability and conservation permeated my experiences in these years. In the January of 2019, I traveled to the rainforest in Southeastern China in search of several endangered species in the country, the hornbills. By then, I have read that they are endangered very much due to human hunting and habitat loss. In the January of 2020, I went to Antarctica to find out more about penguins, before scientists recorded the unprecedented high temperature in the region. I learnt, first hand, about the imminent environmental threats that we all face.
Along with the pessimism and cynicism that invariably arised, I held on to the conviction that science and appropriate policy would work. I gained a strong interest in researching the effects of climate change on birds, as well as macroscopic policies that have the potential to transform our world in a sustainable way.