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Education Sustainability Travel

Bye Bye Birdie: Winter Nature Camp Wraps Up

January 7, 2019

Starry Night Sky

Walking among the four hundred-year old trees in the forests of Gaoligong mountain, it can be difficult to remember why we spend so much time holed up in cities, removed from natural spaces and fresh air. This past week, the Linden Centre inaugurated its first bio-diversity winter camp and brought eight young students from Kunming and Shanghai to the alpine valley of Dali and the lush forests of Baihualing. Over the course of the camp, our students took part in outdoor activities, team bonding and reflection, and English-language lectures on ecology and field biology.

The camp was led by two American instructors, Alex and Ben N., both who have explored the remote corners of Yunnan province in pursuit of its many unique and biodiverse ecosystems. After graduating from Duke University, Alex moved to Kunming and has designed and led various educational programs focused on culture and nature in Yunnan in collaboration with a variety of institutions including Middlebury College and CET Academic Programs. Ben holds a B.S. in Ecology and organismal biology and an M.S in biology with ornithological field expertise. On behalf of the Linden Centre, two Princeton in Asia fellows will be accompanying the instructors and students throughout the camp. May B. and Veronica D. are both living and working in Xizhou as bilingual staff members.

Group Observing

The week began with our students coming together at the Linden Centre in Xizhou – a small village in the Dali region flanked by the Cang mountains on one side and Erhai lake on the other. It was in this dramatic landscape that they began their first lessons in bird-watching and field note-taking. These essential skills served the students throughout the week, whether it was in spotting, identifying and then sketching a woodpecker, or remaining quiet for five minutes deep in the Gaoligong forest and taking note of the sounds that emerged in their silence.


In Xizhou, the students were introduced to the concept of interdependence when they set out for the morning market to make observations about animal and plant diversity. They were asked to interact with the vendors, people whose livelihoods depend entirely on the land. Our instructors took the students on nighttime walks to secluded agricultural paths and asked them to gaze at stars unobstructed by light pollution. One morning the students set out to a protected wetland and caught a glimpse of over 30 birds that fly south to escape the cold winters of northern China. A unanimous favorite of the group was the pancakes and syrup dinner enjoyed after a full day of hiking atop Cang mountain.

After four days in Xizhou, the group embarked on a journey to Baihualing, a bird-spotting haven deep in Western Yunnan. The last three days of camp were spent hiking in old-growth forests, dipping our feet in a natural hot spring, and spending our evenings together around a campfire. We rang in the New Year on December 31st with roasted marshmallows and chocolate, singing and dancing, and shared hopes for the year to come. It was a bittersweet goodbye. Sad to see new friends go, but happy to have lived the last days of 2018 together.


The Linden Centre will be holding a second session of our bio-diversity camp between January 28th and February 4th, and we only have three spots left available! If you have any questions or would like to enroll, please contact


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