The Rural Zhejiang Bird-Watching Club: Finding Unlikely Avian Wonders in My Husband’s Village

Years ago, when my husband Jun and I spent some transitional months living in his family’s home in rural Zhejiang province, I once joked that we had inadvertently formed a bird-watching club in the process.

We hadn’t intended to turn a gaze to our avian friends in the vicinity during our transition. But every day when we ventured out for a late afternoon walk through the fields and woodlands in the village, sightings of birds became one of the most delightful surprises during that time, one that introduced me to biodiversity I had never noticed before in previous visits.

A walk beside the meandering stream that cut through the village yielded a most magnificent sighting – the dipper. My heart leapt with excitement the moment I fixed upon that bird, because I knew exactly how special it was. Dippers, which live among fast-moving streams, can “fly” underwater, but are also equally adept when winging through the air. In the US, I had only encountered this bird a few precious times during hikes in national parks out west, cherishing every glimpse like a rare stone on the trail. But here we were, only a 10-minute walk from the door of Jun’s family home, watching a dipper flit along the stream. I felt as if I had just won some kind of bird-watching lottery. Even better, we had the opportunity to see it bobbing up and down while perched on rocks, as if performing a brief but amusing dance for anyone who cared to look.

As I began to turn my eyes toward the avian life around us, I found myself continually rewarded with incredible views, including those of bird varieties I rarely had the opportunity to spot back in Ohio, USA, where I had grown up. I soon became accustomed to noticing owls, from the tiny, doll-like ones that perched on electric lines criss-crossing the agricultural fields, to the nearly four-foot wingspan of a large owl that catapulted out of the bushes before us and passed majestically above our astonished faces.  I savored the shimmering little jewels of kingfishers, whose rainbow-like plumage offered a more beautiful spectacle than the drab navy-blue, white and brown of the belted kingfishers I had known in Ohio. While rustling through the overgrown weeds in abandoned terraced fields on a nearby hill, we spooked a female and later a male pheasant from their roosts.

I doubt serious birders would ever crown my husband’s hometown a bird-watching mecca, arranging busloads of binocular-toting fans of the animals to come just for those dippers or pheasants or even owls. As it turns out, all of the birds we’ve seen are relatively common, not like those rare or endangered species that drive bird-watchers to far-flung destinations. But that’s just fine by me. We didn’t build our “bird-watching club” to tick more species off our life list – we did it as a homage to the joy that comes from connecting with these awe-inspiring animals.

And believe me, no matter how many times I’ve seen a dipper bobbing up and down, it still never fails to bring a smile to my face.

P.S.: The bird in the featured image is a dipper!

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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