No major new conservation news this month with reclamation continuing at Song Do and Saemangeum, bridge-building across the Nakdong and between Song Do and Yeongjong, and continued outbreaks of H5N1 Poultry Flu at several poultry farms. More worrisome is an unconfirmed report (by All Headline News) that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry claimed on January 23rd that the virus had finally been found in fecal samples of wild birds at two locations on December 21st.
One of the alleged sites was near the latest outbreak farm in Cheonan, a town in the wider Seosan-Cheonan-Asan triangle, remarkable for various claims and denials of outbreaks of Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (AI), High Pathogenic AI and even Newcastle’s Disease, since late November 2006. That H5N1 is now also infecting poultry in neighboring Japan is, according to media here and elsewhere, further evidence of spread by wild birds: this despite timing of outbreaks again not matching migration well (most migrant waterbirds have already arrived in Japan for the winter in October and November: why no outbreaks there until January?); despite continued trade and movement of poultry and poultry products throughout the region; despite all outbreaks so far coming from either very bio-secure or at least rather secure poultry farms (with no outbreaks on free-range farms, where poultry are most likely to come into contact with wild birds); and despite the complete absence of any outbreaks in wild birds.
The so-called Qinghai strain, which has been identified in these outbreaks, was the virus strain responsible for the mass die-off in wild waterbirds in Qinghai, China, in spring 2005, and further outbreaks in wild birds would seem very likely if this virus had again leaked out of the poultry trade into the wild. Meanwhile, the FAO report on their mission to South Korea in December is still awaited. An unofficial eye-witness report on this mission, providing examples of ways in which Birds Korea believe that the virus was likely being transmitted between outbreak sites (not by wild birds!), is being held offline at present following a request from the FAO, and will be posted at the appropriate time.
January has remained a rather busy month, with a revision of membership fees for Korean residents (including the introduction of a life-member fee and a family fee), an upturn in mailing to potential participants and fund-raising efforts for the April and May 2007 Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (including a 1000 USD donation for the same from Rockjumper Birding Tours (http://www.rockjumper.co.za), and planning for an English Camp at Upo Ramsar site, in late February 2007.
Preparation for this camp, initiated by the Nakdong River Basin UNDP-GEF Korea Wetland Project (part of a major Ministry of Environment initiative), includes the development of appropriate educational materials for a two-day camp for up to 30 middle-school students. The Camp will run on February 24th and 25th, and will be conducted in English (a very much-in-demand skill) to introduce the students into the world of birds and wetland conservation.
A preliminary meeting was held on January 28th at Upo Wetlands Centre, and was attended by the director Nial Moores (a former teacher) and a significant percentage of Birds Korea ex-pat members, including Mr. Geoff and Ms Emily Styles from Iksan, Mr. Barry Heinrich from Yanggu and Ms. Connie Arnold from near Seoul, all practicing English teachers, and all very kindly giving their time and skill to support the program’s aims. During February we will be posting images and various educational materials relating to this Program (from vocabulary lists to bird descriptions) on our Korean-language website. It is our hope that similar camps can be repeated, not only at Upo Ramsar site, but also as part of our SSMP-related Public Awareness work in Iksan or Gunsan.
January has remained mild, with only short periods of colder weather and snow, most notably on January 6th and 7th, with a further cold snap at the very end of the month. Probably as a result of the atypically mild weather, several of late December’s most notable species remained through into January, and there were further multiple unseasonable records.
Species with less than 10 previous records in Korea reported in January included a Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis near Jinju at least between 6th and 8th (almost certainly the returning individual first found here in late 2005), the Eastern Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca at the Nakdong estuary still, until at least the 6th (Nial Moores, Ryoji Seto, Sugiyama Tokio, Senzaki Hiraku and Ishii Teruaki), which while remaining unidentified to subspecies might appear best to match halimodendrie (Andrew Grieve, in lit., Jan. 2007), one Plumbeous Water Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosa (a female) still on the SE River until at least 12th (Nial Moores and Ornifolks Tour Tour), and the overwintering Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis at Seosan (at least until 20th: e.g. Kwak Ho-Kyong: KWBS), where the Long-tailed Shrike Lanius scach also remained throughout the month.
Other very scarcely reported species (also with probably ten or less national records) which have nonetheless proven to be annual or near-annual in recent years, included December’s Gyeonggi Province Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca until at least January 7th (when photographed by Kim Shin-Hwan: KWBS), a male Red-crested Pochard Rhodonessa rufina at Song Do on January 1st (Tim Edelsten, Phil Hansbro and Dave Sargeant), a single Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii at Joonam reservoir at least until 13th when there was also an American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus at the Nakdong Estuary (NM and Ornifolks Tour), and an adult Pallas’s Gull Larus ichthyaetus on the Han River in Seoul (found on December 31st by Park Geon-Sok, and photographed on January 10th by Kwak Ho-Kyong: KWBS). In addition, there were single (near-pure) atrogularis Dark-throated Thrush Turdus ruficollis at Cheorwon on 16th (NM and Ornifolks Tour) and in Seoul on January 21st (Kim Dong-Won: KWBS), a Grey-capped Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus photographed at Koyang City (Kwak Ho-Kyong: KWBS) and a Little Owl Athene noctua photographed in Chungju (Jo Seong-Sik: KWBS), both on 28th.
Exceptional mid-winter records included 2 Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus in Gunsan from at least January 3rd to 21st (Peter Nebel and Jake Maclennan), one or two Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus at Gomso Bay on 11th and a Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus at Suncheon Bay on 12th (Nial Moores and Ornifolks Tour), and a Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus inland at Upo Ramsar site on 27th (Geoff and Emily Styles).
Notable records of Species of Special Conservation Concern also included up to 10 Oriental White Stork Ciconia boyciana at Gomso Bay on or about 10th January (via Ju Yong-Gi), with four also at Seosan much of the month, and one on Jeju Island on 29th January (via Jang Yong-Chang), at least six Relict Gull Larus relictus on what remains of the mudflat at Song Do on 16th (Nial Moores and Ornifolks Tour), and a wing-tagged Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus photographed at Jinju on 7th January (Shim Kyu-Shik). Information received confirms that this bird was wing-tagged at Ikh Nart Nature Reserve, Dornogobi , Mongolia, on 21st July, 2006, by a joint US-Mongolian expedition – traveling over 2000 km to reach southern Korea.
With sincere thanks for the support of our most generous volunteers and donors, and of our members,
Birds Korea, January 30th, 2007.