October 12, 2015: Emei, China — Late this afternoon, Sid navigated us to a birding spot outside the city of Jiangyou, where we planned to look for buntings. When we arrived, the place had radically changed since Sid last saw it. A former two-lane road had suddenly been paved into a six-lane highway despite the fact that we were practically the only people out there. It was hard to find the birding spot among the acres of fresh pavement, and we eventually went away without seeing any buntings.
This kind of thing is common in China, which is undergoing a massive construction boom. Everywhere this week I’ve seen new tunnels, bridges, highways, railways, buildings, and other large-scale projects in progress. They say more concrete has been poured in China in the past three years than the US used during the entire 20th century; a new Chinese skyscraper goes up, on average, every five days; and, earlier this year, a 57-story building was completed in just 19 working days by a company that claims to be the fastest skyscraper-builder in the world. Supply has far outstripped demand, and huge developments (like the world’s largest shopping mall and immense blocks of residential buildings) now sit vacant. Experts talk about Chinese “ghost cities.”
We passed through one such ghost town this afternoon. From a distance, dozens of gleaming apartment towers crowded together, but when we got closer, virtually nobody was around—no cars, no noise, no people. It was like stepping into an end-of-the-world movie where humans have been vaporized—but, in this case, the people were never there to begin with. The towers were built without residents. Sid and I stopped at a park to see Spot-billed Ducks and got out of there.
The Chinese housing boom is an unfortunate bust for many birds, who find themselves out of space, but a few have adapted to urban environments. After dipping on the buntings, we stopped at a new, empty hotel along the new, empty six-lane highway to order some fried rice. As we stepped out, Sid looked up and exclaimed, “Hey, look at these birds!” Above us, about 20 Red-billed Starlings went to roost on an elaborate street light. We’d looked for the starlings everywhere for the past couple of days to no avail, only to find the flock in a parking lot.
New birds today: 24
Year list: 4797