On a day dedicated to celebrating the wonders of our avian friends, the Belgian Residence in Beijing served as the perfect backdrop for a seminar titled “Out of Africa – Celebrating the Beijing Swifts.” Timed impeccably with the World Migratory Bird Day, the gathering was more than just a ceremonial nod; it was a clarion call to accentuate the conservation of migratory birds and the ecosystems that sustain them.
The event saw a confluence of dignitaries, environmentalists, and ornithologists. Among them were H.E. Bruno Angelet, the Ambassador of Belgium to China; Wang Xiaoping from the Beijing Municipal Forestry and Parks Bureau; Ji Jianwei of the Wildlife and Wetland Protection Division; and academic luminaries like Professor Zhao Xinru of Beijing Normal University and Professor Liu Yang of the Sun Yat-sen University. Terry Townshend, a renowned Beijing-based wildlife conservationist, was also in attendance, as were several other ambassadors representing diverse nations.
Ambassador Angelet, playing the dual role of both host and bird enthusiast, waxed eloquent about his passion for birds. His fondness for the Swifts was particularly evident. He described these magnificent creatures as intelligent, sociable, gentle, and embodiments of freedom. Angelet reminisced about his days as a birdwatcher in Belgium and shared his delightful surprise at witnessing a diverse array of birds in Beijing upon his arrival in August. He made a poignant remark about the ubiquity of sparrows in Beijing, a bird that is becoming increasingly scarce in Belgium.
A significant revelation during his speech was the intercontinental journey of the Beijing Swifts. These birds, which nest in Beijing, embark on a yearly migration from African nations, primarily from Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. This knowledge, he shared, was gleaned from collaborative studies conducted by European and Chinese scientists. Ambassador Angelet’s words underscored the importance of global cooperation, expressing his aspiration for stronger ties between embassies and Chinese agencies to enhance international scientific collaboration.
The scientific torch was then passed to Professors Zhao and Liu. These eminent ornithologists shared insights derived from citizen science surveys. These surveys, conducted with the intent to count the Beijing Swifts in the city, provide invaluable data on the bird’s population trends. Their findings help in understanding the dynamics of this species and formulating strategies for their conservation.
Professor Zhao, in particular, emphasized the iconic stature of the Beijing Swift. This bird, which lends its name to China’s capital, has intertwined its fate with the city. The swifts, symbolic of Beijing’s ecological identity, spend a quarter of the year in Beijing for breeding. Come mid-July, they set forth on a remarkable journey to the southern reaches of Africa, fleeing the northern hemisphere’s winter.
Through events like these, awareness is created, knowledge is shared, and most importantly, the collective conscience is stirred. It’s a reminder that nature’s wonders, like the Beijing Swifts, need both admiration and protection.