NANNING, June 29 (Xinhua) -- It was the first time Su Guomin had photographed birds in Nonggang, a birdwatching site in south China. However, he was confident he could get some good shots of the skittish creatures during his 3-day trip, thanks to help from the locals.
Villagers of Nonggang offered him a ride from the airport, as well as room and board. More importantly, they showed him secret spots to see the birds, hidden deep in Longzhou County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
"Nonggang is popular in our circle, not only for rare birds, but also for the birdwatching services the village offers," said Su, a new retiree from Guangxi's neighboring Guangdong Province.
Next to the Nonggang national nature reserve on the China-Vietnam border, Nonggang village is home to hundreds of bird species and has attracted a growing number of bird lovers.
Birdwatching became popular in the village after Chinese ornithologist Zhou Fang and his student Jiang Aiwu announced the discovery of a new bird species in Nonggang -- the Nonggang babbler, or Stachyris nonggangensis, in 2008.
The fist-sized babbler is a dark brown bird with white specks on its chest. The species, with a population of less than 2,000 in the reserve, is classified as 'vulnerable' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The influx of birdwatchers across the country has changed the lives of many local farmers, who used to grow sugarcane for a meager income.
Since 2014, villager Nong Weihong earns over 100,000 yuan (15,113 U.S. dollars) a year renting rooms in his home to birdwatchers. Before then, his family made around 20,000 yuan a year from farming.
Each morning and afternoon, Nong and his mother place worms on a big rock in the woods near his home. "Tons of different birds come here to find food and clean themselves," said Nong, also a ranger in the Nonggang nature reserve.
The roof of Nong's home is an ideal spot to watch the sultan tit, a yellow and black songbird, attracting numerous photographers each day.
Nong's fellow villager Meng Zhenhai has worked as a full-time birdwatching guide for three years. He's found three ideal watching spots for birds, such as the white-winged magpie.
Guides like Meng master the skill to attract birds with unique whistles, which can save watchers a lot of time.
On May 1 last year, during the country's Labour Day holiday, Meng earned more than 4,000 yuan from sharing his spots with tourists.
Nonggang Village has more than 20 birdwatching spots, 18 full-time guides, and 10 inns. Fifty-seven families that live under the poverty line engage in the birdwatching business.
In 2017, over 8,000 bird lovers visited the village, which quadrupled the number recorded in 2016.
While birds are now seen as a valuable asset by villagers, decades ago they used to be killed and eaten as a snack, or were captured and traded.
"At that time, we were all poor, and ate whatever we could find," said villager Huang Yuancheng. "Eating birds is no different than eating a chicken."
Burgeoning birdwatching has transformed villagers' attitude towards birds. "Now we know the forests and the birds are our treasure. We should protect every tree and bird for generations to come," Nong said.