Hi all! My name is Wayne, and I’m an Australian currently working for Shaanxi Changqing National Nature Reserve in Huayang Village, about 5 hours south-west of Xi’an. My series of posts, as well as my work assisting Changqing staff manage the impacts of tourism on the reserve, follows on from Heather Graham, who was here in 2009.
Changqing was established as a nature reserve in 1995, with an upgrade to ‘national’ status in 1997 for the purposes of conserving the habitat of the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), of which there are 100 or so that call Changqing home. Not surprisingly then, the panda is what the reserve is best known for, with many tourists heading to these parts for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these special animals in the wild. The best chances of this, I have been informed, is in the winter months when pandas descend to the valleys to escape the cold. Tracking and spotting pandas is also easier with the abundance of snow and lack of foliage.
However, if you happen to time your visit to China and/or Shaanxi Province during autumn, I have discovered that it’s still a fantastic time to visit Changqing, offering the opportunity to hike among the beautiful fall colours of the Qinling region. Having only arrived in early November, I have just managed to catch the tail end of autumn. While the majority of my time so far has been spent settling into life in Huayang, I was fortunate enough to tag along on a couple of guided tours of Changqing conducted by our reserve staff as part of my orientation.
The main road into Changqing follows the river valley and so we make stops along the way to view a few waterfalls. For me, it’s an opportunity to test out the settings of my new camera, something I made sure I had before I arrived.
At the lower elevations, the mountains are awash with the yellows, oranges and reds of China’s own species of oaks, maples and aspens. There are also larch trees displaying a vibrant yellow, but after being informed that it is an introduced species (a remnant of Changqing’s past as a forestry reserve) I don’t allow myself to be impressed by their show.
One of the days we spend hiking high up in the mountains in the core summer habitat of the panda, where short thickets of bamboo grow underneath towering pines. There are no pandas to see on this day, but I’m amazed by the number of scats (animal poo) along the track, indicating healthy populations of golden takin (Budorcas taxicolor bedfordi) and himalayan goral (Naemorhedus goral caudatus) are present in the area. We even see a few scats of a carnivore, possibly from a leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)!!
While we left the fall colours a few hundred metres below, there are plenty of leafless birch trees which I find beautiful, particularly when the peeling bark is backlit by the sun, giving it striking red glow.
There are also some breathtaking views during the hike, in more ways than one. At over 2700m, it is not high by Chinese standards, but coming from Australia where I live by the ocean, I struggle a little bit for breath. I’ll use it as an excuse, anyway, as it’s better than giving off the impression that I’m simply unfit (I do notice, though, that my water bottle compresses on the descent down).
For one of the groups, wildlife is more their passion, and so we spend the majority of our time on the lookout for anything that moves. These guys really know their stuff, and they certainly looked the part as well, with large DSLR cameras and telescopes being carried from place to place. The group isn’t disappointed as we spot golden takin, Himalayan goral and wild boar (Sus scrofa moupinensis). I learn a little trick in wildlife photography along the way, placing the lens of my compact digital up to the telescope to capture this close-up of our takin.
So, that’s about it for my first post. From what I’ve already seen, Changqing has lots to offer, not just pandas. If you’ve got time, I think it’s well worth making the effort to call in for a few days on your way between Xi’an and Chengdu, if only for some fresh mountain air and as respite from the hustle and bustle of China’s cities.
Over the following 11 months, I hope to provide a few more of the happenings here in Huayang and Changqing and also include some stories of my travels around this vast country of China. Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions on what you may want me to cover.