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Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri) is a critically endangered species that breeds from the Amur and Ussuri basins in Russia southwards to the central and lower Yangtze floodplain in central-eastern China. It mainly winters in central-eastern China. Chonghu National Wetland Park, which contains land recently recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, has the species’ largest breeding population known in China. The species is experiencing an extremely rapid population decline, with population estimates as low as 500-1,000. The principal threats are thought to be habitat loss and degradation, but a growing threat is an increase in the severity and frequency of flooding.
Baer’s pochard breeds around lakes and other freshwater habitats (including artificial habitats such as fishponds) with rich aquatic vegetation, typically, but not exclusively, in dense grass or flooded tussock/shrubby meadows. As the wetlands are shallow and connected to adjacent waterbodies, the water levels can rise very quickly. To improve the habitat in the park and stabilize the population of Baer’s pochard, this project created a more resilient habitat, providing more areas for the birds to breed. The northern area of the park was selected for this project because of the abundance of native aquatic plant species and the ideal habitat they provide the Baer’s pochard. Habitat restoration included modifying the terrain and creating higher areas for nesting by forming 14 seasonal lake-centered islands measuring no more than 2.4 yards in height and 17.5 yards in diameter. Creating seasonal islands has given Baer’s pochard more suitable breeding habitats. The project also included the planting of preferred plants for the birds, including irises, sedges, and bulrushes. In order to reduce disturbance by visitors, deep ditches were dug surrounding the habitat, making it less accessible for people. Common reeds were also planted to create a barrier.
By the end of the project, the largest group of Baer’s pochard observed in the wetland was 38, all found in the restored habitat. Baer’s pochard isn’t the only species that is taking to the restored habitat; more than 3,000 sandpipers and 15 Oriental white storks (a national first-class protected species in China) were newly observed in the wetland. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation will continue to assess the efficacy of habitat restoration for Baer’s pochard and similar species in Chonghu National Wetland Park.