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Since May, Zhu Hongmei"s homestay, also known as the "egret photo studio" among locals, has entered the busiest period of the year, as the graceful birds start their breeding season.
Thousands of shutterbugs from across the country flock to the small town of Xiangshan in East China"s Jiangxi province, where Zhu"s homestay is located, to capture shots of the rare birds.
Zhu said the number of tourists has surged in recent years with the increasing egret population in the Xiangshan Forest Park thanks to stronger nature protection. This has also led the local homestay business to grow.
Xiangshan, which once suffered from environmental damage, has seen forests and wetlands expanding in recent years. It is now dubbed as the "egret kingdom", a paradise where some 300,000 birds of the kind migrate to nest and breed each year.
"Only 30,000 egrets migrated here 30 years ago, as wetlands and forests, which are their main habitats, were damaged," said Xiong Xinming, director of the forest management station.
Xiangshan now boasts 533 hectares of forest, which is doubled as compared with 30 years ago. The bird paradise has also become home to some rare egret species.
Many tourists and photographers have been attracted to visit Xiangshan. Seven local homestays like Zhu"s receive an average of 100 tourists each day from early March to late July each year.
The booming businesses have helped villagers in Xiangshan to increase their income by over a million yuan ($145,500) each year.
Luo Haoquan, a tourist, was among Zhu"s earliest guests when she started her homestay 15 years ago.
A retiree from South China"s Guangdong province, Luo has been to the town eight times over the years. This year, he invited over 20 fellow photographers to come with him.
"The biggest change in the park is the egret population," Luo said. "We used to take pictures of them from a distance, but now we can have closer shots (as there are more birds)."
Zhu said that these photography enthusiasts are not only bird lovers, but also bird guardians.
The local forest management station has set up patrol teams to watch the forest round the clock, and some photographers have also offered to join the night patrol, helping chicks that fall from the trees back to their nests.
"Each year before the egrets arrive, we also share knowledge about bird protection with the locals," said Xiong, head of the management station.
The egrets would nest in the first month they come to the park and breed nestlings the following month. They would then destroy their homes before they leave.
Xiong added that locals know these details of the migratory bird and would know when to bring them some food and when to leave them undisturbed.
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