Another rather dismal month for South Korean bird conservation, with another oil spill (this time on March 12th off Yeosu, Jeollanam Province, when “only” 50 kiloliters of oil were discharged into the sea, see:http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200803/200803120018.html); another outbreak of H5 Avian Influenza at the end of the month in Gimje, Jeollabuk Province (within the same area affected by the last major outbreak in poultry farms in late 2006, see: http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article /view.asp?aid=2888201); more threats to internationally important wetlands, apparently in preparation for the upcoming Ramsar Convention conference, with the start of construction of new trails and viewing platforms and buildings at the Joonam reservoirs in Changwon City (see: http://www.birdskorea.or.kr/bbs/ view.php?id=news&...&no=87); and an all too-familiar, “national debate” - this time about the Korean Grand Canal project, with proponents remaining intent on convincing opponents (now in the majority according to national polls) of the project’s merits.
Based on now extensive media coverage and explanation, The Korean Grand Canal project has several phases, the first of which entails linking the Han River in the north-west to the Nakdong River in the south-east. Later phases, as proposed, will then require the canalization of several other rivers, ultimately allowing a ship to sail up the Nakdong Estuary in Busan, through Seoul, up through the DMZ and the river systems of the northern provinces, to exit the Korean peninsula down the Yalu/Anmok River (that forms the border between DPRK and China) into the Yellow Sea.
The Grand Canal project would in this way require the canalization (i.e. dredging and river widening) of 3,100 km of river, in order to create major shipping routes through rivers and estuaries that contain eight or more BirdLife International defined Important Bird Areas in South Korea (ten if the now reclaimed estuaries of the Mangyeung and Dongjin Rivers of Saemangeum are included), even impacting the Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve in China. Yalu Jiang is the estuarine reserve made world famous in 2007 by the non-stop migration of Bar-tailed Godwits: a 10,300 km flight that linked the internationally important Miranda Wetland (http://www.birdskorea.org/Habitats/Wetlands/BK-HA-Miranda-Shorebird-Center.) in New Zealand directly to this internationally important wetland reserve in China.
On a much more positive note, this year again sees an intensive effort to track Bar-tailed Godwit migration, with researchers in New Zealand focusing on the eastern baueri subspecies, and researchers in Australia collaborating with others along the Flyway to also track the more western menzbieri. For more on this fantastic project, please visit: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/shorebirds/barg_updates.html
As might be expected, the month was another busy one! Much of the time was spent on preparing for Year Three of the Birds Korea-Australasian Wader Studies Group Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program or SSMP 2008 (this year again with 25 or so international participants confirmed, and we hope a significant contingent of domestic participants: if you can please join us, or support us!). Preparations included introducing the SSMP schedule at a meeting of the Tidal-flat Conservation Forum in Seoul, chaired by Professor Koh Chul-Hwan, on 24th, as well as emailing and posting information on our websites throughout the month.
Main SSMP counts this year will be concentrated between April 4th and 11th; April 18th and 26th; May 3rd and 11th; and May 21st and 25th. In addition to shorebird counts at Saemangeum, Gomso Bay and the Geum Estuary, we will also conduct a supplementary survey of west and south coast shorebird sites, allowing us to compare national shorebird numbers in 2008 with those in 1988 and 1998 – two earlier years with intensive shorebird survey work. As always, the SSMP has depended entirely on the participants, all of whom are donating their time (and in the case of overseas participants paying their own airfares to come to Korea), the very generous donations of our members and supporters (listed on our Donations page), and on essential funding support, most especially from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation: our sincerest thanks to all. For more on the SSMP 2008, please check our websites for regular updates.
A significant amount of “Birds Korean time” in March was also spent in relation to the Korean Grand Canal project. As stated clearly on our websites and in media interviews, Birds Korea has no public opinion on the economic or political aspects of this project. Our growing concern is based entirely on what we understand to be the major threats of this massive infrastructure project on the avian biodiversity of Korea’s rivers (see: Massive Threat to Korea's Wetlands and Waterbirds: The Grand Canal Proposal).
Work during the month has included: a research visit to the lower stretches of the Nakdong River with Mr. Lee In-Sik of the Nakdong River office of the Korean Wetlands Project, and others on March 20th (and soon after posted at: From the Sea to Upo: 75 Kilometers along The Nakdong River [we are appealing to our members’ help in taking photographs of other stretches of rivers threatened by this project]); we have mailed with numerous overseas organizations and wetland specialists about the project; we have supported the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements national office in their international petition campaign, promoting their Friends of the Earth email petition and contacting (with the help of Dr. Martin Williams in Hong Kong) with Dr. Glen Barry of the global lobbying network, Ecological Internet (a campaign already generating thousands of protest emails, at: http://www.ecoearth.info/alerts/send.asp?id=south_korea_grand_canal); and we have written our own formal letter of concern (at: Birds Korea Formal Letter of Concern) which will be handed over to officials in April, along with personal letters written by members and a petition targeting especially non-members.
On a much lighter note, the month happily also provided several opportunities for our members to get together, with a birdwatching weekend at Hwajin Po on 8th and 9th; a meeting of 30 members in Busan on 13th; a birdwatching day with members at Joonam on 16th; and a small meeting to discuss the pending Korean-language website overhaul and to make preparations for the SSMP in Iksan, on March 29th and 30th. We also enjoyed further discussions/meetings in Mokpo and Shinan County: two adjacent areas of great conservation potential in the coming months!
Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis V3
A male labeled ‘March/Incheon’ and posted on the Birddb website on March 12th, is the second individual recorded this year.
Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis V1
One probable female was seen offshore from Daejin, Gangwon Province on March 9th (Nial Moores), followed by a female (posted March 14th) and a male photographed the same day on the Birddb website.
Hooded Crane Grus monacha VU, P3 W4
Research on the return migration of this species through Korea (from Japan), conducted between March 21st and 25th, coordinated by Dr. Lee Ki-Sup (and posted by Jang Yong-Chang of the Jeju Wildlife Centre), produced several sightings, including one group of 2,920 over-flying Jeju Island, on March 21st, 2008. This major movement occurred on the same day that 4,221 Hooded Crane were counted departing from Izumi, Kyushu (data provided to Jang Yong-Chang by Kazunori Nara of the Izumi Crane Park Museum . At the end of the month, on 31st, 83+ were also recorded at Gomso Bay : a new high count for this site (Ju Yong-Ki).
Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii V2
One photographed off Daejin, Gangwon Province , on March 9th (Shim Kyu Sik, Kim Shin-Hwan. Robin Newlin) is perhaps the first record since February 2006. This was followed by another seen from Igidae, Busan, on March 17th (Nial Moores).
Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia V3 (So)
Two more records from Gangwon Province : One seen from Jeongdongjin-Ri, Okgye,on March 8th (Nial Moores); and one breeding-plumaged individual photographed off Daejin on March (Robin Newlin , Nial Moores, Shim Kyu-Sik, Kim Shin Hwan, Barry Heinrich, Tim Edelsten, Ju Yong-Gi).
Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo DEC, R (m)5
1 breeding-plumaged individual was photographed at Yangyang on March 1st (Jeong Jin-Mun) and posted on the KWBS website. Another was off Daejin, Gangwon Province , on March 8th (Nial Moores), with two more seen there on March 9th (Nial Moores, Robin Newlin and Barry Heinrich).
Least Auklet Aethia pusilla V3 (So)
One was seen flying south off Jeongdongjin-Ri, Okgye, Gangwon Province, on March 8th (Nial Moores).
Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica NT, P4 W4
A group of up to 40 were photographed at Hannam, Seoul from at least March 23rd (Kim Tae-Kyun) to March 31st (Kim Kwang-Wan).
Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus V3 (So)
A breeding-plumaged male was photographed (Matthew Poll) on Dokjeok Island, Gyeonggi Province, on March 30th, accompanying a flock of 100+ Great Tit Parus (major) minor. This is the sixth record for South Korea (since the first in October 2005), and the second this year.
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis INC, SV1 RV3 (So)
Four were photographed on Dokjeok Island, Gyeonggi Province, on March 30th (Matthew Poll).
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta vilosa R(m)2
One photographed at Ilsan on March 15th (Matthew Poll) is the first definite record for this year.
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti
A belated record of a first-winter male at Pohang, photographed on January 26th (and credited to Yeonhap news) is the first record of this species for the Korean peninsula, and will be added to Category One of the Birds Korea Checklist during the next Checklist Update (in June/July).
And for even older records, these dating back to 2006, please see the newly-posted Birds Korea Annual Review for 2006 at: The Birds Korea Bird Review: 2006
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, April 4th, 2008.