Birds Korea Update for Members: February 2008

This Update covers February 1st - February 29th 2008. It is in three parts:

1. Conservation News

2. Birds Korea News

3. Exceptional Bird Records

1. Conservation News

Despite the enormous economic and social progress of recent decades, made possible only by people’s enormous hard work and personal sacrifice, the nation appears set to stray ever further away from any path toward sustainable development. Following the closure of the Saemangeum sea-wall in 2006, the recent highly retrogressive Special Laws (for development of Saemangeum, and of the Coastal Zone: see Rakhyun-Kim_South-Koreas-Special-Development-Laws-on-Saemangeum-and-The-Coastal-Zone.pdf.) in late 2007, and the nation’s largest oil-spill in December 2007 (with several badly oiled birds found in February even on Jeju Island, 400 Km south of the spill-centre), news this month includes the ongoing demise of the pro-conservation Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, now being relocated within the development-driven Ministries of Construction and Transport and of Agriculture and Forestry. The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has played an enormously valuable role over the past decade in conserving South Korea’s sea-based and coastal resources, and was the Ministry (under the Wetlands Conservation Act of 1999) that, in line with national needs and international obligations, opposed any further large-scale tidal-flat reclamation in Korea, including stating clear opposition to the reclamation of the Geum Estuary in 2007. Now, departments of this same Ministry will (according to the Ministry of Transport and Construction’s web-pages) become part of a new Land and Sea Development body.

In turn, one of the first tasks of this greatly expanded Land and Sea Development Ministry will probably be to help promote the Grand Canal scheme. This Grand Canal scheme would, according to a petition produced and distributed by Korea’s largest environmental group, the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM):

Connect the four largest rivers in South Korea by constructing three large canals. The largest canal, the Gyeongbu Canal Project, would cut the length of South Korea, connecting Seoul in the northwest to Busan at the southeast tip of the peninsula…(One of these,) The Gyeongbu Canal would be one of the largest infrastructure projects in Korea’s history, and would create a 540km scar on the Korean landscape as it connects the Han and Nakdong River systems. This project would require the excavation and constant dredging of these rivers to maintain a depth of 6.1 meters, and would widen the rivers to as much as 300meters in order to accommodate the planned 5,000 ton cargo ships. The Great Korea Canal Project is further complicated by the fact that a mountain range runs down the peninsula, separating the two river systems.

The Project plans call for the construction of 26km long underground tunnel and a 17 km long artificial, concrete waterway… Linking two major river ecosystems that have been separated by mountain ranges would cause irreparable damage to these ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. These rivers and wetlands provide vitally important habitats for various species endemic to their respective river. Indeed, the Ministry of Environment reports that these rivers support 58 wildlife species specifically protected by Korea’s own environmental legislation because of their rarity and importance to the Korean nation. The Han River estuary, the Nakdong River estuary and Upo Wetland, a Ramsar Site, would be especially affected along with the globally threatened and endangered species that depend on them.” (KFEM Petition, February 2008).

As a bird and habitat conservation organization, Birds Korea has no public position on the economic or political aspects of this project. We believe, however, that as stated by KFEM and numerous experts, the Grand Canal scheme will prove enormously devastating to the ecological character of South Korea’s major rivers, from their estuaries all the way to their mountain source, and also to at least one existing Ramsar site, that at Upo.

The Upo Ramsar site, south of Daegu City is a seasonally inundated floodplain wetland, linked hydrologically to the natural flood cycles of the Nakdong River, a river that runs deep with monsoon rain in summer, and shallow in winter, when rainfall is at a minimum. Clearly, the dredging, canalization and damming of the whole Nakdong River as proposed would have significant impacts on the ecological character of Upo Ramsar site.

Further, many of the bird species that depend on Upo wetland also move between Upo and the Nakdong River and other sites along the river, including the Joonam reservoirs and the Nakdong Estuary.

Article 3.2 of the Ramsar Convention (for full text, see: outlines the need for a government to inform the Ramsar Bureau when the “ecological character of any wetland in its territory and included in the List has changed, is changing or is likely to change as the result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.” Communication of such likely threats to the ecological character of Ramsar sites within national territory is a clear obligation held by Contracting Parties.

Birds Korea would therefore like to respectfully encourage the national Ministry of Environment (as the national focal point for the Ramsar Convention in South Korea) to communicate directly and urgently with the Ramsar Secretariat about the “likely” threats to Upo Ramsar site inherent in the canalization of the Nakdong River.

We also fully offer support, as much as our limited capacity allows, to efforts (both government and non-government) to invite independent wetland specialists and members of the Ramsar Bureau to visit South Korea, to make (as appropriate) a formal assessment of potential threats posed by the Grand Canal scheme, and to help assess this project at a larger scale. Any formal visit by international experts would obviously best be made before construction starts, and before South Korea hosts the next Ramsar Convention conference (between October 28th and November 4th, 2008).

It is of course extraordinarily ironic that even as Gyeonsangnam Province prepares to host delegates to this prestigious Ramsar conference, that the two internationally important wetlands within the province that most delegates are supposed to visit (Joonam and Upo Ramsar site) are two of the very same wetlands that will be most impacted by the canal project.

Considering too the enormous anticipated impact on endemic fish species, on declining mammals like the River Otter Lutra lutra, and on river-dependent bird species such as the globally Endangered Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus and nationally protected Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata, as well as on the globally Vulnerable Hooded Crane Grus monacha, many of which roost on sand banks in the Nakdong River at Gumi during migration, we would also welcome advice from specialists on how this Grand Canal project and its potential impacts relate to obligations held by the nation under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), another major convention to which South Korea is a signatory.

See also: Massive Threat to Korea's Wetlands and Waterbirds: The Grand Canal Proposal

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata Photo © Tim Edelsten

2. Birds Korea News

Despite (or perhaps in part even because of?) this extremely negative background, Birds Korea continues to grow steadily in depth and strength, with several new volunteers visiting our office in Busan this winter, many members becoming more active and involved, and 90% of domestic members who rejoined so far this year doing so for already the third or fourth year running (many thanks for doing so!). Work on overhauling our Korean-language website by expert website specialists Mr. Andreas Kim in Mokpo and Mr. Kim Hyun-tae in Seosan has now also started in earnest. The revised English-language website managed by Mr. Andreas Kim reopened in January. Statistics reveal that it received almost 8500 unique site visitors in February, from over 100 countries. It is clear that our message and information is reaching many people both in Korea and around the world.

Further selected highlights for Birds Korea in February included collaborating with Masan-Changwon KFEM on starting to asses the threats to Joonam reservoir by a rather poorly-advised infrastructure project (which includes cutting down trees and building boardwalks and viewing platforms in presently-quiet parts of the wetland), and a presentation to schoolchildren at Yeonghueng High school on shorebirds and the Mokpo wetland on February 28th.

Work in March will include birdwatching days with members (on March 8th and 9th at Hwajin Po, Gangwon Province; and on March 16th at the Nakdong River); meetings with members in Busan on March 12th and on the Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP) on March 29th and 30th in Iksan/Gunsan, and a study visit to the Nakdong River mid-month. Further meetings, as intended, will be with the national Tidal-flat Conservation Forum and with other domestic NGOs, to discuss joint strategies and to introduce more information on the third year of the SSMP, a joint project of Birds Korea and the Australasian Wader Studies Group.

The SSMP in 2008 will again focus on counting shorebirds and assessing habitats at Saemangeum and the adjacent Geum Estuary and Gomso Bay through April and May. Already 20 overseas researchers have confirmed their attendance (with perhaps another 10 or more confirmations pending), while meetings will be held in March to increase domestic participation further. The main SSMP research this year will be supplemented (as proposed) by shorebird counts conducted by a team traveling along the entire west and south coast of South Korea in the first half of May, replicating where possible counts conducted at the same sites in both 1988 and 1998, and providing some comparative overview of shorebird numbers and the status of tidal-flats.

Birds Korea-published reports on the SSMP in 2006 and 2007 are available as pdfs on the site, and notes to potential overseas and English-speaking participants can be found We would like to very warmly welcome all volunteers and interested members to the SSMP, and thank everyone in advance for any help or support (with advice, participation or donation) with the last full year of this extremely important program.

In June, Birds Korea’s work will include a two-day English-language Environmental camp on June 21st and 22nd, organized by the Korean Wetlands Project. We are now looking for four or five experienced and practicing English teachers based in the southeast with a special interest in environment to help teach this camp. Please contact Birds Korea if you would like to participate.

Further, we are now also starting work on an environment education book, also on behalf of the Korean Wetlands Project and Changwon City (to be completed in July) and on a “Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea” book (led by expert wildlife photographer, and Birds Korea international member, Jan van de Kam, to be completed by October).

Donations (vital to supporting our work) during the month have included 1.4 million won presented by the Swedish birdwatching company, Avifauna; over 1 million won donated by Charlie Moores and the Peter Mowday Fund; and almost 100, 000 won by an anonymous international member living in the UK. Many thanks to all concerned.

Finally, media-type work in February included filming at the Nakdong estuary with a local documentary team headed by PD Yang Chan Seok for the Gyeongnam 2008 Water and Earth Expo on 4th and 19th, and interviews with e.g. SBS TV at Joonam Reservoir (on 26th), with an environmental reporter for a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates (more on this next month), and with the Busan Ilbo, about Ramsar and the Grand Canal project, on 28th.

3. Exceptional Bird Records

Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensisV3
1 male photographed at Sangju, Gyeongsangbuk Province on February 23rd by Park Hyun-Woo, and again on the 24th by Joh Seong-Sik, is perhaps only the 2nd record for the Republic of Korea, after the first in January 1979. In the DPRK there have been two records, from the Taedong River in January 2003 and again in February 2004.

Baer's Pochard Aythya baeri VU, V2
Two males were found at the Junam Reservoirs by the Avifauna group on February 18th, and were seen again the following day by Tim Edelsten. This is perhaps the first record since a male on Noviber 13th 2004. Baer's Pochard is now one of Asia's most threatened waterbirds, having undergone an alarming decline in recent years. (see:

Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca V3
A male found and photographed at Paldang, Seoul on January 29th, was still present on February 10th (multiple observers). A second male was present at Seongsan reservoir, Gunsan, from February 10th to 24th at least (Jake McLennan and Peter Nebel).

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyialis V1
Two were seen off Hwajin Po by the Avifauna group on February 14th. Less than 10 records are cited in Park (2002), and there have been only c 6 individuals recorded in the Republic of Korea since, the most recent in 2006.

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus W4
A fairly scarce and local winter visitor. 104+ seen at the Geum Estuary on February 3rd by Peter Nebel is the highest single count known to Birds Korea.

Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus P3 WV3
One photographed and posted on the website on February 18th is probably only Korea's 3rd midwinter record.

Timinck's Stint Calidris timinckii P5
One on February 1st at the Nakdong estuary (Adam Timpf) is an exceptional record. This was followed by one photographed and posted on the website (location unknown) on February 18th.

Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia V3 (So)
From Daejin on the East coast, one probable individual on February 17th and a further two probable individuals on February 18th were seen by Robin & Hee-Sun Newlin, and Peter & Angela Nebel. There are now 7 or 8 previous records, all since early 2006.

Common Murre Uria aalge DEC. V1

Two or three were at Hwajinpo on February 14th (Avifauna), followed by possibly up to seven at nearby Daejin on February 18th (Robin & Hee-Sun Newlin, Peter & Angela Nebel).

(Pigeon Guilliot Cepphus columba V3 (So)
A presumed breeding-plumaged individual, showing white wing patches and all-black body, was seen from Daejin, Gangwon Province, on February 18th by Robin Newlin and Peter Nebel. This species is still listed on Category 2, due to lack of adequate documentation. The most recent previous claim was of three off Guryongpo on Deciber 1st 2002.)

Spectacled Guilliot Cepphus carbo DEC, R(m)5
In February, nine or ten were counted off Hwajinpo/Gojin on the 14th by the Avifauna group, followed by three there on the 18th (Robin & Hee-Sun Newlin, Peter & Angela Nebel.)

Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix NT, V1
Increased coverage of the East coast this winter has produced multiple records. In February, seven were off Hwajinpo on the 14th with three presumably different birds also seen on the 15th (Avifauna). One was at Yangyang on February 16th and another at Daejin on the 18th (Robin & Hee-Sun Newlin, Peter & Angela Nebel). One more was photographed at Guryongpo on February 18th (Tim Edelsten).

Least Auklet Aethia pusilla V3 (So)
Two were present at Hwajinpo on February 14th (Avifauna).

Black Woodpigeon Columba janthina
Twenty were recorded by Park Jong-Gil on Tokkeo Island, Jeollanam Province on February 22nd.

Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus V3 (So)
1 photographed by Park Jong-Gil on February 22nd at Tokkeo Island, Jindo-Gun (Jeollanam Province) is the fifth record for South Korea, since the first in October 2005.

Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus Photo © Park Jong-Gil

Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis INC, SV1 RV3 (So)
One photographed on Gangwha Island Gyeonggi Province, apparently on February 3rd by Kim Gyon-Ho and posted on the KWBS website appears to be the first record for this site and a notable midwinter record.

Korean/Northern Bush Warbler Cettia (canturians) borealis S2/WV3
1 heard and seen at Jeju Island on February 21st by the Avifauna Tour.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca V3
One photographed at Gimpo, near Seoul, on February 6th by Joh Seong-Sik and still present on the 25th ( is apparently South Korea's fourth record, and fifth for the Korean peninsula. Known dates for all previous records are from midwinter.

Plumbeous Water Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosa V3 (So)
One male in the Seogwipo area of Jeju since January 6th, was photographed again on February 3rd by Kang Hee-man. In addition, the male and female remain at their regular stretch along the SE river, where seen by the Avifauna group on February 18th.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla Tschutschensis P2
Three (including one 1st W taivana) were on Jeju Island on February 20th with two in another area on 21st (Avifauna). There is perhaps only one previous midwinter record (from Jeju in February 2007).

Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi P3
One at Seongsan Po, Jeju Island, on February 21st (Avifauna) is perhaps the first overwintering record for Korea.

Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens
One, perhaps of the nominate subspecies, was photographed and posted on February 19th by Park Hung-Sik at an unknown location, and posted on the Birddb website. While apparently long-billed and clearly worn in plumage, tentative identification of this individual as a non-japonicus, is suggested by e.g. the very fine, brown-toned breast streaking, the brownish tones to the covert bars, and the rather dark-looking legs. More details are being sought.

Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta V2
One photographed at Anyang stream by Shim Kyu-Sik from 13th-16th February. There have been only ca 12 previous records involving at least 15 individuals - 13 in winter and two in April.

Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea DEC, V1
One photographed at Seosan on February 10th by Lee Koang-Goo is the first properly documented recent record for Korea.

Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata P5 WV3
21 at Halla Arboretum, Jeju on February 20th (Avifauna Tour) is a significant record.

Tristrams Bunting iberiza tristrami P2 S3 WV2
1 at Hwaum Sa on February 18th (Nial Moores & Lars Ceder ) is perhaps only the 8th midwinter record, continuing the trend of over-wintering in the southern provinces.

Note: This month’s bird news update was written by Tim Edelsten and edited by Nial Moores. The Avifauna Tour comprised: Anders Blomdahl, Lars Ceder, Soren Strandberg, Inger Christiansson, Morgan Hangren, Per-Ole Syvertsen, Ann Charlotte Strand, Goran Hansson and Nial Moores, with Chai Seung-Yeol).

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, March 2nd, 2008.