Like an exquisite emerald ringed with diamonds, the verdant Bayanbulak Grassland lies in the midst of the snowcapped Tianshan Mountains. A river meanders through this vast pastoral paradise, branching into many tributaries and giving it a name that means "abundant spring water" in Mongolian.
The virgin lowland in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is as close to a utopia as one can get and is now China's only nature reserve for swans. Between mid-March and April every year, these graceful waterfowl flock to the Bayanbulak National Nature Reserve for nesting. By the end of September, they take their young and leave for warmer climes.
Ornithologist and former director of the Bayanbulak ecological station Ma Ming first arrived in the grassland during the early 1980s. "I have seen these elegant birds migrate for nesting umpteen times and yet I can never have enough of it. Our bond only continues to grow," he says.