Rare Chinese merganser makes first appearance on West Lake

Wu Huixin
A Chinese merganser, or scaly-sided merganser, was spotted on the West Lake on January 10, the first sighting of the species, causing a sensation among bird lovers in Hangzhou.
Wu Huixin

A Chinese merganser, or scaly-sided merganser, was spotted on the West Lake on January 10, causing a sensation among local bird lovers in Hangzhou. It is believed this was the first discovery of the species on the West Lake.

The Chinese merganser is considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The biggest challenge they face is the result of the loss and fragmentation of their habitat. At present, this species mainly lives in northeast China and southeastern Russian Far East, breeding in the north and wintering in the south.

Compared with common mergansers, Chinese mergansers have a crest of wispy elongated feathers, reaching almost to the shoulders in adult males and being fairly short in females and immatures.

The adult male has a black head and neck, white breast and underpart, and blackish mantle and wings. The scaling is also black, while the tail is medium gray.

The female has a buffish head and otherwise replaces the males' black with gray color. The legs are orange-red and the irides dark brown in both sexes.

Rare Chinese merganser makes first appearance on West Lake
Ti Gong

A Chinese merganser is seen paddling quickly ahead of a tourist boat at the No. 1 Park of the West Lake.

A top-flight national endangered animal, Chinese merganser has been dubbed "the panda of birds" due to its rarity. Ecologists use them as an ecological indicator since they are sensitive to environment changes.

The sight of the bird is considered a testimony to the improvement of the lake's water quality. According to the water quality supervision report on that day, the water clarity in the No. 1 Park of the West Lake was 150 centimeters in depth, reaching the second-level water standard.

Chinese mergansers are shy and easily startled. They are not very social during the breeding period and gather in small groups in winter. Even on the wintering grounds, groups of more than a dozen are very rare. That's why only one Chinese merganser was spotted on the West Lake.

During the last decades, sand mining, fishing, riparian vegetation destruction, habitat fragmentation and water pollution threatened the water birds.

In 1992, Chinese government launched the National Bird Protection Week to encourage people to protect birds across the country. The Hangzhou government has since implemented myriad policies and activities to care for local birds.

Nowadays, the lush vegetation and islets have make the West Lake a paradise for water birds.

Tranquil nesting spots, fresh air, serene water and enriched aquatic animals attract mandarin ducks, grebes, cormorants, egrets and herring gulls.

The season for water birds to incubate eggs on the West Lake is approaching. The abundance of aquatic plants in the lake's lotus area often attracts them to lay eggs there.

Rare Chinese merganser makes first appearance on West Lake
Ti Gong

A Chinese merganser catches a piece of fish from the water.

For years, the local government has fenced the lotus area on the West Lake to protect plants from fish biting under water. Organizers have also created exits from the fence and laid panels to provide chicks with bridges between the lotus area and the outside world. The panels are made of bamboo tubes. Alongside, a platform has been set up to offer birds an area for relaxation.

A couple of nationally protected birds live in the lake. To keep birds away from tourists, the panels are set at least 10 meters away from the land, and organizers always remind people not to feed them.

Apart from the West Lake, mudflats around the Qiantang River and Xixi Wetland have also been teeming with migratory birds traveling south for winter to warmer climates.

According to China's bird migrant map, mudflat areas around the Qiantang River are an important transit stop for birds from the northeast. The dozens of hectares of mudflats, with wetlands, weeds, shrimps and fish, create a wonderful sheltered area for the birds to hunker down for the night.

A number of rare species have appeared in Hangzhou in recent years, including black storks, swans, Eurasian spoonbills, black-faced spoonbills and the greater white-fronted goose.

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