Wild at Heart: Creatures of Dongguan in Their Habitats

How much do you know about the wildlife in Dongguan? There is a lot to see, you just have to explore to find it. Binoculars, comfortable shoes, location and patience is all you need.

David Attenborough’s voice is internationally recognized as the voice of wildlife documentaries. Morgan Freeman does a similar thing for penguins and their waddling kind. For Dongguan’s wildlife, you’re unlucky enough to get, erm, me. Some would argue that the only wildlife here occupies the gardens surrounding Dynacity and Dongcheng Walking Street, but I’m not going to go there. Not today.

The climate here is moist. Extremely wet and humid throughout summer. The abundance of liquid in the air allows for diversified plant growth and often the animals that go with it. The varieties of butterfly species and coloration seen throughout the year is impressive. Bat-shaped moths and large dark wingspans casting shadows from bright lights give an impressive ambience.

The land is diverse and can support many species. Huge broad-leaved evergreens, alongside coniferous trees provide great canopies for shrubs and shorter vegetation. Bamboo groves, and protected forestry surround cultivated fields, among the plains of our beloved Dongguan. The highlands rise suddenly and offer varied ecosystems. Once upon a time, wolves, tigers and bears could be found in the foothills of Dongguan and the surrounding province. Unfortunately, the days of the rhinoceros and leopard have gone. Throughout all of Guangdong they are classed as likely extinct. That isn’t to say they aren’t here.

Things will change. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife [中华人民共和国动物保护法/反虐待动物法] has been under draft since 2009. With a rapid change to animal welfare and conservation sweeping over our city, Dongguan has invested heavily in parkland and making this industrious city greener and greener each year. There is of course, always room for improvement. Dongguan is a huge city reaching up for a feel of Guangzhou and sitting on Shenzhen. Towards the east lies Huizhou and out west a huge river system in the Pearl River Delta. Flanked by the Opium War museum and other relics, Humen Park offers views of the Pearl River. On its shores, expect to see flocks of birds and the odd horseshoe crab. Please don’t pick them up as they are critically endangered. In the north, insectivores make the riverbanks their home.

The city of Dongguan is blessed with parkland, forests and lowland mountainous parks. Between the larger green spaces, stepping stones in the forms of riverbanks, tree-lined avenues, squares with gardens and derelict land give pathways to various species. As the city tidies up decades of heavy to medium industry and moves forwards with innovation and increased prosperity, changes can be seen year after year. In my hometown of Manchester, twenty years ago the Manchester Ship Canal was one of the worst water bodies in Europe. Now it thrives with octopus, freshwater fish and a whole host of birdlife. In Manchester we do things differently, and it now feels that Dongguan has a similar attitude. It can only be positive from here.

Indian muntjac

Land Mammals
Songshan Lake is a surprising place. With construction and development beating down on the lakeside parkland areas, I never expected to encounter deer. The Indian muntjac and Chinese water deer can be found scuttling around in the quietest areas. I recommend an early morning sit-down with a flask of green tea, a pair of binoculars and good calm weather. Arrive just before sunrise. Bring a bucket of patience.

Shuilianshan

Shuilianshan’s park in Nancheng is in close proximity to Dalingshan, meaning that on a morning cycle ride around the park, you can see the odd furry flash. Yellow-throated martens are easily spotted preying on almost anything with legs and poaching the odd bird’s nest. They like to pop out during both day hours and night hours. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, stand still, glance slowly around it and keep your camera shutter noise to zero. They are as shy as a teenage girl meeting the latest world-famous heartthrob.

Yinping may be home to the Chinese ferret-badger. The sweeping views, grasses and forestry make for lengthy dawdling games of hide and seek. Qifeng Park, in Dongcheng, as voted number one for parks and nature areas on Tripadvisor, features black giant squirrels and a species of Himalayan striped squirrel. Flying squirrels are timid but can be found through persistence. Fushengang Park in Houjie has these same tree-living species too.

Dalingshan is certainly home to weasels. The questions of their origins or species-type are wide open. Used for hunting, and the fur trade, it is easy to mix a domesticated weasel with a stripe-backed weasel. Their distinct bushy tail adds to their beautiful chocolate fur coloration. The critically endangered plate-armored Chinese pangolin may be present too. Local villagers and townsfolk speculate over alleged sightings. If you see one, keep it quiet—let’s not put pressure on one of China’s most-protected species.

Oriental garden lizard

Reptiles
Pit vipers live here. They do prefer the higher lands. Some of them are blooming enormous—and deadly. But, like the great white shark of Jaws fame, encounters with humans are rare. The hemotoxin does support the local name of a “100 pacer”—meaning you should get a century of steps before you fall asleep forever. Chinese vipers, bamboo vipers, and those alike live among kraits, and some nonvenomous pythons. The latter possibly hitting the length of a car. Oh, and the Qichun snake, or Japanese pit viper may be present. Avoid the rat snakes too.

Tokay gecko

The liar’s dice game may be annoying but our local species of dice snake is nonvenomous and kind of charming. It has a belly that is yellowy-orange with dice-like shapes over it. The main body is grey-black-brown with a green portrait. Up to just over a meter long, it favors animals that hop and fish. If you see this snake dead by a lake or pond, don’t be fooled.

Songshan Lake’s pathways and the buttresses of Humen Fort are where lizards can be found, such as the punk-looking Oriental garden lizard, and geckos. The grey with red spots of the Tokay gecko are very distinctive. It barks too. There are geckos at BBQ Factory’s football field in Wanjiang that jump from the walls, catching mosquitoes while they do so. I’m sure we’ve all shared a room with one or two at some point. They are extremely effective at pest control. Lizards are out there—and they can hold a pose longer than we care to look for them.

TIP: Look up. Most diurnal wildlife in Dongguan avoids the floor. The trees and rockfaces within parks hold a surprising amount of cover.

Black Cormorant

In the Water
Qifeng Park offers the ideal spot to check out the scenery and feed the gigantic koi carp and other fish. You can actually purchase fish food from the stalls within the park. Although to be fair, perhaps we wouldn’t really consider this as wildlife. Dongguan is flush with freshwater rivers, lakes and ponds. If it hasn’t been fished yet, it is probably feeding the wider ecosystem—and many restaurants. Fish are animals that live in water. They’re everywhere. All kinds of them.
Tongsha, in Dongcheng, may be home to the elusive Oriental small-clawed otter. I have read many books and spent many days trying to spot this vulnerable species. They are the smallest otter species globally—like finding a needle in a haystack. The reservoirs’ mollusks, crabs and other tiny animals are certainly on the Chinese dinner plate.

Amphibians
I once encountered a flying Chinese frog jump onto my bicycle helmet in Changping. True story. The thud was so loud that I had to stop to investigate. As I peered at it, it jumped away faster than lightning. Some encounters stay with you—and make you wish for the same again. Every summer there are people sharing WeChat posts about noisy toads and frogs. Sadly, the newts and salamanders get no mention. Yet where water is, that which is reasonably clean, there are amphibians. Widely regarded as nature’s pH indicator, amphibian abundance actually means that the ground water isn’t so bad. You can come across frogs, toads, newts and salamanders in ponds throughout the city of Dongguan.

Birds of Water & Waoders
Dongguan’s Botanical Gardens features several large water bodies, and on the surface, it isn’t unusual to see grebes. Like all the wetlands around Dongguan, herons and egrets can be found. They’re all like the stars at the Guangdong Southern Tigers, long in the legs and fast to move. The maroon upper neck of the Chinese pond heron, alongside its grey body give an impressive sight. There are jacanas with plumage ranked up there with rainbows.

Spoonbill

My favorite park area in Dongguan is definitely Tongsha. Spoonbills, coots, rare ibises, storks, ducks, geese, swans, teals, brants and gulls can all be appreciated here for their aquatic habits, flight and glory.

The south of Humen to the bordering regions of Guangzhou is where cormorants can be found. These large fishing birds have been found assisting fishermen in Daojiao and Wangniudun over the years. Follow the bird for the feast. Near them in Humen you can see oystercatchers. The familiar black and white coloration with an orange beak makes them contenders for an art project. Sandpipers, lapwings and plovers can be found around the vicinity of the Humen Bridges. These three bird groups have wonderful sounds and sitting eating a plate of dumplings on the Humen promenade makes for a good Sunday breakfast. Look out for the snipe—a bold looking long-legged bird with a long, slender bill.

TIP: Hire a bicycle to cover more distance.

Asian butterfly

Flying Insects
Guanyin National Forest Park allows for sightings of plentiful butterflies, dragonflies, cicadas and beetles, which make up just a small population of the hugely insect rich region. Aside from mosquitoes and other biting insects, the remote corners of the picturesque Guanyin forest offers the ideal spot for discovering all kinds of creepy crawlies with wings and the more visually stunning kinds. The Asian swallowtail butterfly is a remarkably striking picture, with black and white markings. The small grass yellow, the black-veined white and the spectacular “Chinese windmill” are just some of the butterfly species you may encounter.

Bats
Huying Park in Dongcheng often see bats flying around, including the large mouse-eared (myotis) bat, Horsfield’s bat and the long-footed myotis. Common pipistrelles, Chinese noctules, horseshoe bats, house bats and a large list of mosquito-swooping species join a diverse list of Dongguan bat species. Don’t worry, there are no vampire-like blood sucking bats here.

Peregrine falcon

Birds
Back in the U.K., bitterns are a rare sighting. It takes time and effort to photograph or sight these birds. Meanwhile at Tongsha, I have clocked up sightings of the Von Schrenck’s bittern, little bittern, Eurasian bittern and possibly a black bittern (although it moved too fast to be confirmed). With a take away meal and the sound of cuckoos nearby, there are worse ways to spend an evening’s bird-spotting than to play peek-a-boo.

Tongsha reveals black kites throughout the reserves. Their flight is buoyant and the bird glides with ease, changing directions easily. Groups of jays can be quite entertaining to observe for a while—like a bickering family.

In my 4.5 years here, I haven’t seen too many birds of prey, eagles or vultures. I could probably count them on one hand. However, this year I have seen a goshawk, sparrowhawk, and several harriers. Coupled with multiple kestrel sightings and what appeared to be the familiar dive flash of a peregrine falcon, I am further filled with hope for my twitching hobby.

TIP: For Guanyin National Forest Park, go in the early morning for tranquility. Head away from the entrance footpaths and explore the green forestry.

TIP: Wherever you go, avoid noisy areas—and enjoy time slipping away.

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