One For the Birds

Timing your travel dates is an essential skill for many experienced travelers.

So far, our track record includes us being in Munich for the Oktoberfest one week AFTER the festivities; leaving Berlin on the evening when the entire city of Berlin (and pretty much Germany) was in town celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and going to Vashist one week AFTER the Rohtang Pass was closed.

In other words, we are hardly the experts to go to when it comes to tips on timing your travel.

One thing we are apparently good at is blindly stumbling into flocks of migrating birds.

Kunming (昆明) is the capital and the transport hub for Yunnan, not just for humans but for Siberian seagulls (Kunming Red Beak Seagulls 昆明红嘴鸥) as well. The official story goes that the seagulls started appearing in Kunming in 1985. Wu Qingheng (吴庆恒), a local worker, would use a big portion of his meager salary to pay for food for these seagulls. The predatory leeches have been going back to Kunming every year since.

Every winter, the “City of Eternal Spring” would celebrate the return of the seagulls with festivities… it’s a good idea to let the birds know that the people of the city love them as much as the tonnes of tourists they bring along with them.

Wu eventually passed away in 1995, with (really!) six eggs to his name. The city honored his dedication (and his contributions to local tourism) with a bronze statue at Cui Hu Gardens (翠湖公园) for “Old Man Seagull” (海鸥老人) with the inscription “His spirit sets a model for man and nature living together in harmony”.

Enterprising locals honored his spirit by setting up stores selling overpriced bird feed.

At the fervent insistence of our hostel receptionist, we took a walk around Cui Hu to take a look at the birds. We are hardly bird lovers, so you can’t really blame our lack of enthusiasm. We just don’t understand the joy of looking at what is, essentially, a few rats with wings.

We saw the first of the birds as we were approaching the park, and they looked… nice…

A preview of things to come…

And more came…

And then it just got plain bat shit scary…

To be fair, it was a pretty spectacular sight watching them fly in formation, dipping down and swooping up as the numerous onlookers tossed pieces of bread in the air…

But I don’t think it speaks very much for my character, as I was humming this tune as we watched the birds fly by in front of us…


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