a) The Geum Estuary
The outstanding highlight in May came with the mid-month announcement by the head of Seocheon Gun/County (where much of the Geum Estuary is located) that the county is now also opposed to the reclamation of the Geum Estuary. This follows on from a similar announcement made by the national Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries last September (2006). The opposition to this reclamation by a leading ministry (key in the process of selecting sites fit for reclamation) as well as by local government suggests that the threat of imminent reclamation of the Geum Estuary has now passed.
This is especially important news for conservation of Korea’s biodiversity. As can be seen in the updates and reports from the Birds Korea-Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) joint Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP) 2006 and 2007, the Geum Estuary has now become South Korea’s premier remaining shorebird site, following the rapid demise of Saemangeum since sea wall closure in April 2006.
It is now essential that the conservation community continues to push for the sea-gates at Saemangeum to stay open; continues to oppose the Special Law for Saemangeum (which if passed will allow land created by the reclamation to be made available for non-agricultural use and accelerated purchase by private investors); and works to support the conservation ministries in getting the extremely important Geum Estuary designated a nationally protected area and a Ramsar site.
It is also worth noting that this very welcome announcement opposing reclamation of the Geum Estuary followed within days of international media coverage of the SSMP, and then national coverage of the international coverage!
b) New Korean Wave? The Gulf of Cambay, Gujarat, India.
The Geum Estuary announcement also coincided exactly with the visit of a government and industrialists’ delegation from India to Korea. Following meetings with various reclamation proponents here (including, the Ministry of Agriculture), an announcement was made in both countries that South Korean reclaimers now aim to help bring to life a project in India lying dormant since 2004, the reclamation of the Gulf of Cambay (Khambhat). This massive project in the state of Gujarat is said to entail the construction of a 64 km long seawall, blocking no less than 12 rivers (see: http://www.indiatogether.org/2004/mar/env-kalpsar.htm).
Following on from all of the waste and failed promises of the Shiwa and Saemangeum reclamations, the popular mood in Korea seems to be shifting (finally), away from reclamation and more towards conservation of tidal-flats as an essential national and international resource. It seems an especially cynical move therefore for the Saemangeum reclamation’s top proponents to now to target other nations as fit for their expertise…with the Gulf of Cambay high on their list.
Birds Korea is already providing information on the impacts of large-scale coastal reclamation in Korea to concerned colleagues in India. We believe that such a massive reclamation project, with a seawall almost twice the length of that at Saemangeum (itself presently the longest in the world) would likely cause impacts in serious breach of international conservation agreements (including the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity). We have therefore requested more information on this project, and will support all legal efforts to oppose what could over time become the world’s biggest coastal reclamation project.
a) The SSMP
Thanks to our partnership with the AWSG and the wonderful contributions of time, energy and skill by over 50 people (of probably 11 nationalities in total!), formal fieldwork of Year Two of the SSMP continued through May, right to month’s end, and will likely continue at a very much-reduced scale through much of the rest of the year. The main finding this year was of course the decline through the spring of birds using Saemangeum, with only 4% of the number of Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris supported by Saemangeum in May when compared to 2006. While there was likely some relocation of shorebirds from Saemangeum to the Geum Estuary and Gomso Bay during the spring, neither site was able to maintain the number of birds that had been supported by the system up until 2006. We believe that most birds will have tried to stage at suboptimal or emergency sites elsewhere in the Yellow Sea, and we anticipate that breeding success for many species will be greatly reduced as a result. As adult mortality of shorebirds will likely increase too, the total populations of several already threatened species of shorebird look set to decrease. Increased survey effort in Australia by the AWSG (including the program, “Monitoring of Yellow Sea Migrants in Australia” or MYSMA, and a doctoral study in Roebuck Bay) as well as in New Zealand should help us to detect major changes in numbers of certain key species that formerly depended on Saemangeum during migration: powerful evidence of the negative impacts of large-scale reclamation on biodiversity.
Related SSMP fieldwork in May also included some sampling of benthos within the SSMP study area (led by leading expert Professor Hong Jae-Sang of Inha University), and weekly shorebird counts at the threatened Song Do tidal-flats, Incheon (by ex-pat members Dr. Robin Newlin and Mr. Tim Edelsten).
Preparations for report-writing and for next year’s SSMP and benthos fieldwork are already underway, made much easier by confirmation in late May of two major funds for our work, the first largely for SSMP field-work by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (administered by our partners, the AWSG), and the second (of approximately 6.5 million won) largely for report-publication and awareness-raising work, awarded to Birds Korea by the Takagi Fund for Citizen Science (http://www.takagifund.org/e/obj.html). This comes on top of the almost 2 million won grant already provided to Birds Korea by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK), which allowed us to benefit more fully from the involvement of conservation and shorebird specialists from Bangladesh and Thailand this year – two range states of the Endangered/Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, one of Saemangeum’s main Flagship species.
Many of the month’s related activities are already listed in SSMP updates, including our round-up summary (found on the home-page of the English-language website). Events included meetings at both the British and Australian embassies on May 1; an informal photo exhibition at Wonkwang University (May 1-7), greatly assisted by the kind support of the Korean Wild Bird Society (http://kwbs.or.kr/); an open day at the Geum Estuary looking at shorebirds (May 5); a meeting with fisherfolk and decision-makers at Gomso Bay (May 16); and extensive media work, led by a press release written with the RSPB to mark World Migratory Bird Day (May 12-13) and picked up by many media, in the UK, Europe and here in Korea (see: www.globalresponse.org).
b) Other work
Away from Saemangeum, Gomso and the Geum, Birds Korea also continued discussions with Mokpo KFEM and have sent a positive follow-up letter at month’s end to Mokpo City and the Regional Office of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries about conservation of a potentially key site there (see http://www.birdskorea.or.kr; and our Late April update). During the same period, local member Mr. Andreas Kim has remained extremely active, participating in three educational birdwatching field-trips with local elementary school students, organized with Dr. Kim Seok-Yee of the Mokpo Natural History Museum.
Birds Korea’s National Coordinator Ms. Park Meena also held several small welcoming meetings for members in our new office space in Busan, which has benefited by generous donations of furniture and funds. In addition, following our own symposium at Wonkwang University in Iksan (May 4), member Mr. Kim Rakhyun and Formal Advisor for Saemangeum, Mr. Ju Yong-Gi represented Birds Korea at an international symposium in Suncheon (May 29-30), organized by the national Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Rather surprisingly, neither Birds Korea nor the AWSG were invited to present on the SSMP at this symposium, despite the symposium’s aim of working to improve international cooperation for conservation of coastal wetlands in Korea.
Finally, the domestic membership of Birds Korea continues to grow (a warm welcome to all our members, old and new!). Please help us increase our membership further - by re-signing and by encouraging friends and family to join us. As always we depend on the support of our members. Donations of all kinds (advice, time, expertise, money), help keep us independent and effective for bird and habitat conservation. We would therefore like to thank again a well-known environmental journalist from Busan who this month very kindly made a two million won donation to Birds Korea. Very many thanks!
The period remained warm (with temperatures reaching a well-above average 32 C in Daegu, late month) with several significant spells of thunderstorms and rain (including on May 08, 12, 14, 16-17 and 24).
An exceptional period, with apparently three or even four new breeding species records, two multiple-observer first records for the Korean peninsula, one or more single-observer claims, and a large number of species recorded ten times or fewer in South Korea, with the majority of exceptional records from Socheong and Eocheong Islands.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
One, May 12, Socheong (NM). Exceptional date.
Cinammon Bittern Ixobrychus cinammomeus
May 27, One male, Socheong (NM). Less than ten previous records. Birds Korea knows of no records in recent years, and Park J-Y (2002) lists only three previous records, one on Jeju (collected, May 20, 1983); one on Hong island (sight record: May 31-June 2, 1999); and one in Jinhae, Gyeongsangnam Province (sight record, September 11, 1989).
Black Bittern Dupetor flavicollis
May 25, Two, Eocheong (DR) and one Socheong (RN). First multiple arrival, and probably about the 8th and 9th national records.
Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykulli
Near-threatened. Two or three records on Socheong Island. One probable (NM, ST, KK) on May 18; one adult, seen well by multiple observers, May 20 (KK, ST et al.); another adult seen well in flight, May 22 (NM). These constitute probably the 9th and 10th records for South Korea, after the last in 2004.
American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica
One breeding-plumaged adult, Okgu, Saemangeum (May 17), seen by a very experienced shorebird specialist (DR). No photographs, and description still awaited. This species has not previously been claimed in Korea before.
Semi-palmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
One calling in flight, seen poorly, May 16, Yeongjong Island, Incheon (NM). Not sufficient for submission to a national checklist, but included here for completeness)
Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer
Endangered. At least 5 were photographed at Hwaseong, Gyeonggi on May 5 (S K-S); at least nine were within the Saemangeum reclamation during May (SSMP), and a further 51 were counted at Yubu Island, Geum Estuary, during the mid-May count cycle (SSMP).
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
While considered an uncommon migrant, at least three displaying birds in salt-marsh in Mid-May suggest the possibility of local breeding. Location and observers name withheld.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus
Endangered/Critically Endangered. The SSMP found a minimum 8 on Yubu Island in mid-late May, and a peak of at least 31 at Simpo on May 26 (GS), within the Saemangeum reclamation area. No records away from the SSMP were reported to Birds Korea or on other leading websites.
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans cachinnans/“ponticus”
One adult, based on structure and bare parts considered to be of this taxon seen in the Mangyeung estuary, Saemangeum, on May 1st (NM).
Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi
Vulnerable. The breeding colony at Yeong Jong, Incheon, contained between 84 and 95 birds on May 16, with many birds sitting. The same area was used in 2006 at least, but is threatened by extensive building work now surrounding the salt-marsh used by the birds (NM et al.)
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
One seen in flight at Gomso Bay, May 1 (AR, NM, KW, JYK) is probably only the sixth national record.
Red Collared Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
One photographed on Eocheong Island on May 8th or 9th (TL) probably represents the 10th or 11th Korean record of the species, with all but one of these records since 2001.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
One seen well in flight (NM) and poorly in flight by 3 other observers. Heard by at least 8 observers, and sound-recorded by TL. First record for the Korean peninsula known to Birds Korea. Added to Category 1 of the Birds Korea checklist.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Adult with chick apparently photographed at nest in Mid-May (http://birddb.com/). Location withheld. While expected, as the species is locally widespread in parts of the DPRK and also in neighboring Japan, this record, if confirmed, becomes the first breeding record for South Korea.
Little Owl Athene noctua
Two young (one or both apparently taken into care) Song Do, Incheon May 25 (K D-H). This very probably constitutes the first breeding record of this species in South Korea. Note: Little Owl has been recorded with increasing regularity in South Korea in recent years (most especially in the north-west); has historically been proven to breed in DPRK (Will Duckworth in lit., 2006); and has been recorded in summer close the DPRK side- of the DMZ (see Moores and Moores, 2005).
Coracina melaschistos. One male, May 22, Socheong Island, seen perched then in flight (JL, J R-K) No images. Probably about the 5th national record, with no less than three of the previous sight records/claims also from Socheong (see: Moores and Moores, 2005).
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
One, Socheong, seen briefly in flight, May 18 (KK, TS, NM). There are still possibly less than 10 previous records.
Spangled Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus
One, Socheong, May 21. Found by RN and NM and photographed by KK. This is approximately the tenth national record.
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
One pair seen nest-building in a regular area (TE. Date and location withheld). Recorded increasingly regularly on migration, with at least one on Beka island, Incheon between April 28 and May 1, and a peak of five or six on Socheong Island on May 21.
Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus (collybita) tristis
One, well-photographed and seen by multiple observers on Eocheong Island, between at least May 8 (Y D-H) and May 14 (P J-H). This is perhaps the sixth national record.
Yellow-streaked Warbler Phylloscopus armandii
One, on May 18, Socheong Island, watched clearly though briefly as it called (NM, ST), and heard shortly after also by KK and HK. This constitutes the first record for Korea, and as not a single-observer record, has been added to Category 1 of the Birds Korea checklist.
Chestnut-flanked White-eye Zosterops erythopleurus
A conservative estimate of 800 were on Socheong Island on May 19th, with flocks watched moving east across the island throughout the morning. This is a new national high count of the species in South Korea.
Japanese Robin Luscinia akahige
Away from the South and South-west, records of single birds on Beka-Do, Incheon (sometime between April 28 and May 1: S H-S) and on Socheong (one in song heard on May 12: NM) are considered exceptional.
Eastern Black Redstart Pheonicurus ochuros
One well-photographed adult male was present from at least April 28 to May 4, Eocheong Island. Multiple observers (finder’s name not known).
Plumbeous Water Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosa
A pair was found at one site this spring. The male was watched carrying food to an inaccessible nesting hole repeatedly on one visit. No young were found. This is the first attempted breeding record of this species in Korea. Note: the species was only first recorded in South Korea on January 22, 2006, but there have been several subsequent records. Site, date and observer name withheld.
Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala
One male found and photographed from April 28 (K J-H) until at least May 5 (RN) on Eocheong, followed by a female (sight record only) also on Eocheong Island on May 12 (TE, GS). With six records through to the end of 2005, these constitute possibly the seventh and eighth records for Korea, all but two of which have been on Eocheong.
Red-headed Bunting Emberiza bruniceps
One or possibly two males were photographed on Hong Island between May 13 and 15 (L W-M; S H-S), see e.g. http://npmbc.or.kr/bbs/zboard.php~no=259. There have been only three or four previous records.
Named Observers above include: AR, Adrian Riegen; DR, Danny Rogers; GS, Geoff Styles; HK, Heiko Kraetzel; JL, Joerg Langenberg; J R-K, Johanna Rathgeber-Knan; J Y-G Ju Yong-Gi; K D-H, Kim Dae-Hwan; K J-H, Kim Ju-Heon; KK Kirsten Kraetzel; KW, Keith Woodley; L W-M, Lee Woo-Man; NM, Nial Moores; NMI, Nigel Millius; RN, Robin Newlin; S K-S, Shim Kyu-Sik; S H-S, Seo Han-Su; ST, Soenke Tautz; TE, Tim Edelsten; TL, Thomas Langenberg; Y D-H, Yu Dae-ho.
Finally, a gentle reminder to all of our members, past and present, living in Korea. Birds Korea depends entirely on the support of our members and volunteers. Donations and domestic membership fees are vital to us! Please renew your membership (annual membership fee is only 30.000 Korean won; and life-time membership only 150.000 Korean won at this time), and help us to help the birds!
Birds Korea, June 3rd, 2007.