Guìzhōu’s largest highland lake and southwest China’s most significant wetland, Cǎohǎi Lake draws some 180 or so protected bird species, including black-necked cranes, black and white storks, golden and imperial eagles, white-tailed sea eagles, Eurasian cranes and white spoonbills. The prime time to see them is from November to March. Avoid the height of summer when the lake turns to mush.
The lake has a fragile history, having been drained during both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in hopes of producing farmland. It didn’t work and the lake was refilled in 1980. Government tinkering with water levels in ensuing years impacted on the local environment and villagers’ livelihoods; officials have since enlisted locals to help with the lake’s protection in an effort to remedy both problems. The 20-sq-km freshwater wetland has been a national nature reserve since 1992, but many environmental problems remain, including excessive fishing by local villagers who rely on the region for their livelihoods.
Lovely trails explore much of the lake, but the best way to get a close-up view of the birds is to cruise around the lake on a punt. Buy tickets at the ticket office at the end of the path leading to the lake, rather than from the touts lurking nearby. A popular lunch stop is at Lóngjiā (龙家), but be mindful that the local fish are being threatened.
To get to the lake it’s a 45-minute walk southwest of central Wēiníng, or else a 10-minute taxi ride (¥6).