It was while working on the 2006 and 2007 Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP) that I met many international bird specialists from Australia and New Zealand. Coupled with my introduction to many Korean nationals such as Mr. Ju Yong-gi and Mr. Kim Rakhyun, I was able to make personal connections to people from many different countries. So when my wife and I left Korea to travel through Australia and New Zealand this past winter, we were excited to continue building the relationships that we had created when living in Iksan and helping the team to count birds for the SSMP. It was while in New Zealand, however, that we encountered a surprise which made us feel much closer to South Korea than we were on the map.
Mr. Adrian Riegen, a council member of the Miranda Shorebird Center (www.miranda-shorebird.org.nz), invited us into his home for our stay in Auckland. He had been to Korea a few times, most recently for the 2006 and 2007 SSMP, when we had counted birds together. He has also worked closely with bird specialists at Yalu Jiang in northern China, furthering the partnership those two sites have built. Luckily for us, we happened to be in New Zealand when the Miranda Shorebird Center, located on the Firth of Thames on the North Island of New Zealand, was holding their 10th Anniversary of Field Courses.
Run by council members and local volunteers, these Field Courses introduce new bird-watchers to the world of shorebirds and ecology through a 5-day course. These courses have been running successfully since 1998, and on this special day, all graduates were invited back to Miranda to re-connect with their old teammates and leaders. It was wonderful for us to see such a strong community of people who all cared for the shorebirds just as we and many other people on this flyway do.
The center itself is situated on the edge of an 8500 ha area of intertidal mudflat, shellbank and saltmarsh, which is used by thousands of shorebirds each year as their non-breeding grounds. Miranda has been a Ramsar site since 1990, and an East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Network Site since 1996, demarking the area as extremely important to shorebirds. Many of the same species that are found down at Miranda are also seen passing through South Korea on their Spring and Fall migrations. Part of the day's activities was heading out to the tidal flats to see these birds, and this is where we met with a surprise.
We were quietly watching a flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and Red Knot when we turned to see a Birds Korea T-shirt. Who was it but Mr. Kim Rakhyun! He was there with fellow Korean Mr. Stanley Park and a small group of Koreans who were being introduced to shorebirds. It was wonderful to see him again, and we were all quite surprised to meet at a location so far from the tidal flats of the Geum Estuary. Mr. Adrian Riegen and his peer, Mr. Keith Woodley, who had also taken part in the 2006 and 2007 SSMP, were also delighted to see him again.
After Mr. Kim Rakhyun's article in Korea Town, it seemed as though many people knew about the Saemageum reclamation and the ongoing SSMP, and a few people at Miranda that day had already been to Korea to help with the shorebird counts. For us, it brought home the importance of the connections between people of different countries along this EastAsian-Australasian Flyway. Every year, shorebirds arrive in South Korea that have come from New Zealand, and as they leave that country, the people who watch them go hope the birds will make it back safely the next year. To do that, each step along the way must be made a safe place for the birds to stop and eat enough food to continue their journey to Siberia and Alaska to breed. We must work together if these wonderful creatures are to continue their amazing migration that they have been doing for thousands of years.
We are thoroughly looking forward to getting back to Korea in April to begin this year's SSMP, and to continue these connections we have built while working with shorebirds. We hope that enough of these connections are made that meeting a Korean on a New Zealand tidal flat or a Candian on a Korean tidal-flat is no longer surprising! To learn a little more about the extremely successful Miranda Shorebird Center, please follow this link: The Miranda Shorbird Centre.