Swan lake on the Loess Plateau
As most places on China's Loess Plateau face the fierce cold of winter, Pinglu County in Shanxi Province is instead rather warm.
Every November, thousands of wild swans arrive here from remote Siberia to escape the cold weather.
Pinglu residents have taken care of these elegant guests for years.
At seven o'clock in the morning when the first glimmer of dawn spreads across the sky, wetland ranger He Jianxi has already left home to visit the swans that come for the winter.
Seeing him near the lake, a few curious swans swam closer. They are not shy at all.
White swans swim in a lake in Pinglu County in Shanxi Province on Nov 2, 2017. [Photo: VCG]
A swan with a blue tag around its neck draws He's attention.
Checking the numbers on the tag, he finds it's a swan he has been looking after every winter for the past five years.
This year He discovered this old friend has set up a family of his own.
"It's 0F50. He comes every year. Look, he is calling his children. Male swans have thicker necks while female ones have thinner necks," He said.
Sixty-one-year-old He became a wetland ranger six years ago.
He said in the past villagers didn't treat swans this nicely.
He recalls swans would fly over and eat the crops. People hit and sometimes even killed these rare large birds.
He said some impoverished families also caught and sold wild swans and were later punished for committing the crime.
This photo shows the swans walk on lake shores in Pinglu County, Shanxi Province on Dec 16, 2017. Swans are the secondary national protected animal specie in China. [Photo: VCG]
However that has begun to change as people gradually aware of protecting the swans.
The government has built two ranger stations and protection fences to guarantee a safe habitat for the swans.
Some fiscal revenue is also allocated to purchasing food for them.
One of He Jianxi's duties is to feed the 10,000 swans with the government-provided fodder, four times a day.
"One bag contains 60 kilograms of food. These swans can eat up to 75,000 kilograms over the winter," He said.
What came along with the protection measures was an increase in income for local villagers.
To provide a habitat for the swans, the government rented the lake mudflats from local households through the rural land transfer scheme.
In return, each family who had their land requisitioned now gets paid more than 10,000 yuan a year.
Visitors watch and take photos of the swans in the lake of Pinglu County in Shanxi Province on Dec 16, 2017. [Photo: VCG]
In addition, as increasing numbers of visitors come to see wild swans, villagers have developed rural tourism, opening homestyle restaurants.
"Some restaurants of our village can earn 30,000 to 40,000 yuan during the four-month winter period. Some even gain up to 80,000. I myself get paid a salary of 5,000 yuan for the winter. When the swans leave, I can find another job and earn an extra 8,000 or 9,000 yuan," He added.
He said as winter passes, and the weather becomes warmer, the swans fly back to Siberia.
"They all leave during the night. Once they leave, my mission here is accomplished."