INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Good Luck in Jiuquan!


Rebecca Safran

Yesterday, we traveled by high speed train to another city within the Gansu Province – our last stop along the Hexi Corridor where tags were placed on birds last summer. Without saying too much, Juiquan was a tricky place last year. Sheela ended up placing ten tags on birds in a small group of buildings deep within the city. To ensure maximal success we registered ourselves with the local police and the Forestry Service in the city – to make sure they knew what our doings would be for the next 48 hours. We’re heading to a highly-populated part of the city where we want to be sure that we are a known entity. Everyone was fine with our work so we headed out to the site. Liu Yu and Liz had caught birds there in 2015, Sheela and her crew were there last summer. People immediately recognized us as they chatted with Liu Yu. One of the few words in Chinese that I can recognize during these discussions is the word for barn swallow which sounds like ‘yentzah’. When they say this, I nod and smile and point to my binoculars. Really, we are just a bunch of nerdy scientists but we of course have to convince others that creeping around the entry of their homes quietly with headlamps and our banding gear is fine.

The streets were lively last night in Juiquan. It’s the Dragon Boat Festival here, which calls for firework displays and specialty foods. Many people were out, playing cards, doing their group dances, selling food and other wares. None of this is unusual. Compared to the quiet nights in the villages, the night life of Chinese cities is vibrant and a bit chaotic at times. It had been an extremely hot day and finally, it cooled off.

The last village we will sample in is tucked into a cluster of new high rise buildings and is bordered by a huge market – vendors have everything imaginable for sale. We did our usual door to door checks, trying the places where Sheela had placed tags the year before. Within an hour of setting foot in this area, we had about 11 birds in hand, one with a tag!

The next morning we did a quick walk-through of the study site, re-checking nests that we had looked at the night before and lining up our banding plan for the evening. It’s hard to miss us, even without all of our field gear. A few kind people wanted to see what we were looking at and walked us over to the barn swallows breeding near their apartments. This was hugely lucky for us as this is how we located and were granted access to the last two tagged birds! We returned around 8 pm and quickly caught these tagged males and their mates. Done! As usual, we downloaded the data from the tags and celebrated the successful end of our work in the Hexi Corridor! Three sites, 14 tags in our hands with two more sighted, complete data on close to 90 birds.

A sand storm from the Gobi desert has blown in and a fog has settled in the city. The view from our hotel has changed dramatically since we arrived. We stayed in our rooms this morning, completed the data entry and packed up our bags. I even got to skype chat with the kids and Sam – something I have been able to do nearly every day of this journey! And today, I was lucky enough to see many friends at our house celebrating Sam’s birthday with him! I miss my family and being home – I knew that being away from Sam and the kids would be the most difficult part of this trip.

In about an hour, we will take a taxi to the train station and head west to Dunhuang. The five-hour trip will be our last journey by rail. We will catch a flight from Dunhuang to Beijing on 1 June and then and fly back home on 3 June.

Thanks for sharing this adventure with us! Becca