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Biodiversity Diary a trip to Lalu Wetlands — David Yang Aijun, Suonum Pengcuo



Cranes in surrounding fields

Black-necked crane family

Black-headed gull

Ruddy Shelduck and Pallass’s Gull


Lalu and shelducks in autumn



Passing graylag geese flock



A lake at Lhasa The air is thin and cool. The tourists from the plane throng to see the Potala Palace, temples and shopping bazaars of Lhasa. But we make our way down behind the old town to the open lake of Lalu.


Biodiversity Diary ECBP Newsletter Supplements June 22-27 2009

In the late summer this wetland looks placid. The grass is green and lush, a few cows wander aimlessly. A single dog chases small birds and the marshland plants glow in the carpet of grass and reeds attracting bees and butterflies. But this is just a snapshot of Lalu lake. This is a changing scene. Every season brings new colours and new visitors, especially the migrating waders

and waterfowl, for which this oasis in an otherwise rather arid landscape is habitat of great importance.

Floating Polygonum


Pied Wagtail

Each spring and autumn the whooping of cranes echoes over the meadows as the flocks of endangered black-necked cranes spend a few days or weeks stocking up before continuing on their migrations between their breeding grounds on the Tibetan plateau and their wintering areas in Yunnan and Bhutan. Thousands of ducks spend time here— mallard, ruddy sheldduck, common merganser and spotbill. Flocks of geese pass through the wetlands and with the waterfowl, gulls and waders are the raptors—upland buzzard, hovering kestrels, spotted eagles and passing ospreys.



Sorting the silt from the cows Smaller passerines use the meadows also. Wagtails parade the waters edge. Flocks of Russet sparrows and rosefinches feed on the grass heads and the crested Hoopoe bobs hither and thither probing the wet soil with its long bill or flashing its colourful crest at any alarm. Lalu lake forms a major part of the ECBP Lhasa wetlands protection project and my friend Suonum Pengcuo explains the project whilst also helping me take film and

Marsh vetches in bloom

Nyima shows the way

photos for our own awareness purposes. He himself is a Tibetan journalist who joined the project a year ago. He is also a keen and excellent photographer with a liking for birds. Whist I can only photograph what we find that week, he has a library of great shots from all seasons. I had joined a monitoring mission of the field project component COSU in an effort to collect background stories and photo-document the project. It was first visit to Lhasa so the thin air, summer chill, altitude and local habits were all strange and fascinating to me.

Potala over Lalu



Lalu has always been important for wildlife and also helps maintain high water table for local agriculture but has become increasingly threatened in recent years by the tremendous pace



Flock of female rosefinches

Many small birds feed among the seed heads Yellow WhitePedicularis Peduncularis Dog explores the meadows

of development around the capital. The water depth and quality is affected by grazing pressure, construction of dykes and drains, use of water for irrigation and household uses and the increased disturbance by dogs, motor bikes and human traffic. Another concern is increasing siltation. As the vegetation on the surrounding hills has degraded so the quantities of silt flowing into the wetland and indeed filling it up have continued to increase. In nature some silt is probably necessary to refresh the ecosystem and bring

Bordering dyke

nutrients into the lake but how much is enough and how much is too much? One of the activities of the project has been to set up a demonstration in Lalu of the practical measures that can be taken to manage such wetlands appropriately. This has involved building a series of silt traps and canals that regulate how much water and how much silt flow into the wetland. The extra silt is collected in large trucks


Migrants’ motel


and used in construction works elsewhere.

Sreaked Rosefinch

Pied Wagtail

Other aspects of the project involve making an action plan to help conserve all 15 lakes in the Lhasa municipality, train staff for their planning and protective management and set up local community stewardship groups to help monitor and protect the different sites. The project also is setting up an Ecological Conservation Centre in Lhasa itself. For instance Black-necked in Lalu the cranes project has Spot-billed

persuaded local villagers to reduce the overgrazing by accepting a limit of two cows per household. I watched a lady guiding her three cows along a dyke and wondered if the two calves count as only half each. A dog was barking at some creature hiding in the reeds. I rushed about trying to film a shy upland buzzard that had settled on the river bank. Larks sang and dragonflies darted about. Yes it was wildlife and it was lovely but I still yearn to get out into the great deserts and grasslands of this huge high altitude plateau and I still would love to see Lalu in winter when it is white and crisp, or in the autumn light when the flocks of black-necked cranes stand in the fields so tamely. ducks

Black-headed Gull










Nature on the capital’s doorstep

Drake common merganser flying

White-browed Tit-warbler

Pallas’s Gull in full breeding plumage Orientasl turtle dove


EU-China Biodiversity Programme Add: Rm. 503, FECO Plaza, Huoyingfang Hutong, Xicheng District, Beijing. 100035, P.R. China Fax: (+8610) 8220 5421 Email:

ECBP Diary-A Trip to Lalu  

ECBP Diary-A Trip to Lalu

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