Po Yang in Jiangxi Province is a huge lake surrounded by a number of smaller lakes. In the summer the lakes are filled by the flooding of the Jangzi River, however in the autumn as the waters subside vast areas of shallow water and extensive muddy banks are created producing ideal habitat for cranes ducks and geese. The area is the main wintering ground for 95% of the worlds Siberian Crane population as well as a major wintering ground for White-naped and Hooded Cranes.
Only a fraction of the area is designated a reserve, which is centred around the village of Wu Cheng where the reserve Head Quarters is located, and basically incorporates the smaller lakes of Dahu Chi, Sha Hu, and Bang Hu. Surrounding these lakes are extensive areas of low lying grass which are idea feeding areas for geese and ducks with the longer grass being the wintering areas of Great Bustard and Japanese Marsh warbler.
The village of Wu Cheng is located on higher ground at the confluence of the river Xiu and the river Gan and is surrounded by large areas of cultivated fields, paddies and small areas of woodland. Access to the village from Nanchang is by either a rough dirt track or by a twice-daily riverboat.
As with many places in the remoter parts of China, access is not easy mainly due to the language barrier. Because of this and due the short duration of our visit we made all the arrangements through a travel company recommended to us by some Hong Kong birders. This was not cheap but we encountered no problems, and we had a guide who spoke English throughout the trip, and at the reserve the warden took us out the two days we were there. If time were no problem then it would be possible to find your own way to the reserve.
We stayed at the Head Quarters which was basic and had obviously seen better days. There was no heating, and the only hot water was the provision of a large jug for washing each day. All food was provided by the reserve HQ. It was typical Chinese fare with a strong emphasis on fish.
During our stay the weather proved our greatest enemy. On the drive into the reserve on the first day the sun was shining, and it was perfect conditions for birdwatching. At night a frost appeared, and to our dismay in the morning we woke to thick fog which only cleared for about 4hours in the late afternoon. This was repeated on the second day, and fog was still present as we left on the last day. Although mist often occurs first thing apparently the presence of fog for the majority of the day is unusual. I think we were just unlucky
Crossed the boarder from Hong Kong into China at Lo Wu and took a taxi to Shenzhen airport where we caught the late morning flight to Nanchang arriving one hour latter. As we had already cleared immigration at Lo Wu we collected our bags and were met by a Mr He and his niece Mary. Both of them spoke very good English and although not birdwatchers had in the past acted as guides for other birdwatching groups.
A mini bus was waiting to take us to the reserve HQ along the dirt road, which passes close to Dahu Lake. En route we stopped a number of times and saw Oriental White Stork, Black-shouldered Kite and Ring-necked Pheasant. About half way along the track the condition deteriorated to such an extent that it was not possible to go any further. Luckily a mini bus with much higher ground clearance approached us from Wu Chen, and after a heated debate between the two drivers a deal was struck, and we transferred to the other mini bus, which turned around and took us to Wu Chen.
Woke up to thick fog with visibility down to about 30m. Hoping that it would clear as soon as the sun rose we set off in a barge along the river Xiu. However very soon it became obvious that the captain of the barge was unhappy at having to travel in the fog and was not quite sure where we were. We landed on the riverbank and discovered a large area of reeds, which quickly produced Japanese Marsh Warbler. Although many birds could be heard calling as they flew overhead the thick fog prevailed. Returned to the barge and travelled back towards Wu Chen stopping on the opposite bank to the village. We walked for about 4km along a raised embankment which overlooked a small section of Bang Hu, and as the fog slowly cleared we could see across large areas of grassland and shallow pools. Still there was no sign of any cranes so we returned to the barge and headed up the Xiu river for about an hour to the lake of Sha Hu. By now it was about 15.00; the fog had cleared and eventually we found a party of 15 Siberian Cranes and about 450 White-naped Cranes as well as a large selection of other water birds. Left the area at dusk after a quick look at Dahu Chi where more water birds were seen.
Woke again to even thicker fog and decided it was pointless taking the barge out to the lakes so spent the morning birding the fields, paddies and small woods around Wu Chen. By about 13.00 the fog started to clear so we took a barge to the large lake of Bang Hu but again no sign of the large flocks of cranes, although we managed to find Pallas's Reed Bunting in the surrounding grassland. Had a brief look at Mei Xi on the way back but by now dusk was approaching so we returned to Wu Chen disappointed.
Awoke to thick fog yet again, and due to the fog the river ferry back to Nanchang was not operating. As there were no buses leaving the village that morning it was decided following a heated debate between our guide and the captain of the barge that the only way out was by barge, and so we headed upriver towards Nanchang in thick fog. I was not quite sure if the captain really knew where he was going, however after two hours we eventually arrived at a small village much to the Captain's and our relief. Our mini bus was waiting for us, and as we left the village three Brown Crakes were seen feeding on the road.
Arrived at Nanchang airport only to find our flight was delayed due to the fog. Eventually left late afternoon arriving at Shenzhen an hour latter from where we got a taxi to the boarder crossing back into Hong Kong early evening.
All in all a disappointing trip. Although we saw most of the key birds, we were unable to take advantage of the full potential of the area due to the weather.
Return to trip reports.