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Dr Nial Moores, Director, Birds Korea

On July 5th, the Phase 1 Proposal to list multiple key wetlands as the “Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China” World Heritage Site was formally accepted by the World Heritage Commission.

A series of Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Chinese coast are now publicly recognized as having Outstanding Universal Value. And they are going to be protected as such.

Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Rudong, Jiangsu, October 2014 © Nial Moores. While many threats and challenges remain, long-term survival of this charismatic species now seems rather more likely thanks to recent progress in PR China.

This decision marks a public long-term commitment by PR China and the global community to conserve some of the most threatened habitats and migratory species on our Flyway.  It is therefore not only great for PR China and those waterbirds that depend on the Chinese coast, of course. It is also great for the Yellow Sea and for our Flyway as a whole.

On behalf of Birds Korea, long dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in Korea and the Yellow Sea Ecoregion, our sincerest thanks therefore go out to all those who were most deeply involved in this nomination process. In addition to the Chinese authorities – including of course the hugely-inspirational Professor Lei Guangchun – we would also like to thank the RSPB’s Nicola Crockford (who recently circulated two letters encouraging the nomination process to proceed, which we feel honored to have been able to sign onto), Professor Rich Fuller and the Australian delegation.  And of course, we also want to express our deepest thanks to the many thousands of people inside and outside of the Yellow Sea Ecoregion who over the years have helped create the conditions for real progress in PR China that underpin this decision – a genuine shift away from countless destructive reclamation proposals to World Heritage Site listing of bird important areas.

It is time for celebration along the Flyway, and also for some much-needed reflection here in Korea.  From our side of the Yellow Sea, should we not now ask ourselves how PR China has managed to progress so rapidly in improving conservation opportunities for birds and their habitats  – when many of our internationally important tidal wetlands, like Song Do and Yeongjong Do, are still being reclaimed?

Remarkably, the ROK used to be ahead of the PR China in both research on and progress towards the conservation of internationally important wetlands.  The first comprehensive shorebird counts of the Nakdong Estuary were made back in the early 1980s, and the public call to conserve tidal flats at Ganghwa Island, Yeongjong, Namyang and Asan Bays was made as long ago as 1988 in recognition of their Ramsar-defined international importance for shorebirds (Long et al. 1988). A decade later, the Wetland Conservation Act had been passed, and by the end of the 1990s, all of the ROK coast had been surveyed, allowing for the development of a national shadow list of wetlands that met Ramsar waterbird criteria (Moores 1999a, 1999b).  By 2001, these sites – still almost all unprotected – had even been fitted into a Yellow Sea framework as part of a WWF Yellow Sea Ecoregion project (Moores et al. 2001).  In subsequent years, some of these key tidal flats have been designated as Ramsar sites (including part of the Geum Estuary, Song Do, Gomso, Muan and Suncheon Bay); and the ROK also led the way in proposing some of the nation’s tidal flats for World Heritage Listing. The initial submission was rejected, however; and the process to resubmit currently remains under way.

By way of comparison, the importance of the Chinese Yellow Sea and Bohai coast to waterbirds was first revealed (at least internationally) only in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to surveys by some pioneering Chinese researchers and the Australasian Wader Studies’ Group (AWSG). It was then the AWSG’s Mark Barter who in 2002 published the hugely-influential monograph on Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea, incorporating both Chinese and Korean count data, helping to raise profound concerns in Australia and along the Flyway about the impacts that large-scale reclamation in the Yellow Sea was likely having on our shorebirds.

There were still numerous information gaps about much of the Chinese coast, however, all the way through the 2000s – the period during which we “lost” Namyang Bay and Saemangeum here in Korea. Much of the Jiangsu coast, some of which is now inscribed as World Heritage Site, was only first identified as especially important for migratory birds less than a decade ago – this because of exploratory surveys conducted by our wonderful colleagues, SBS in China.  Since that discovery – and in no small part because of it – regular waterbird surveys were then initiated in more and more areas, soon allowing for priority waterbird conservation to be identified along the whole Chinese coast.

Even as the knowledge base was improving, and even as numerous local Chinese bird conservation organisations were starting to grow, the conservation challenge still seemed enormous: unwinnable to some. It was only back in 2012 that the IUCN Situation Analysis concluded that,

“Fisheries and vital ecological services are collapsing and ecological disasters increasing, with concomitant implications for human livelihoods…Although all sectors of the EAAF face a variety of threats, the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea) emerges as the focus of greatest concern…Here, the fast pace of coastal land reclamation is the most pressing threat…Losses of such magnitude are likely the key drivers of declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services” (Mackinnon et al. 2012).

In 2013, following research in Jiangsu, we helped write an international press release with SBS in China and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force – in which we highlighted the massive importance of the Rudong coast of Jiangsu Province to migratory shorebirds.  This was still news at that time. And we congratulated local authorities in designating a small protected area for Spoon-billed Sandpipers, while fully conscious of the threat to a much larger area a little to the north: Tiaozini.

In 2014, we returned to Jiangsu, and together shifted the focus more toward conservation of what remained at Tiaozini, the offshore Dongsha and Gaoni Sandbanks. This is a vast area used by foraging shorebirds at low tide. Loss of that site to reclamation, which was imminent at the time, would very likely have resulted in the global extinction of both the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the Nordmann’s Greenshank.

How the future looked back then: bleak. Rudong, October 2014 © Nial Moores

Since that time, happily many more people in PR China and along the Flyway have become deeply involved in wetland and bird conservation in the Chinese part of the Yellow Sea, and all the way along the coast to Hong Kong.  A deep collaboration within PR China has evolved between world-class researchers and conservation scientists, NGOs (some funded properly for the first time by a growing donor culture there) and decision-makers.  Progress has also been assisted greatly by the open involvement of  outside bodies like the Paulson Institute (thanks initially, as I remember it, to some amazing persuasion by then EAAFP Chief Spike Millington!), international bodies like the IUCN and key figures like David Melville. In combination, this has all ensured that decision-makers – including those at the very highest level – have easy access to high-quality data and information with which to make the most-informed decisions for the benefit of their nation and of the world. And they have done so. Since the beginning of last year , PR China has been cancelling reclamation projects and initiating massive wetland restoration projects instead.

And this is the very solid foundation on which PR China could propose, and have accepted, World Heritage Site listing of 188,643 ha of coastal and tidal wetlands (with an additional buffer zone of 80,056 ha), including it seems all of the key habitat in Tiaozini .

So where are we now, here in the ROK?

The vast desert of Saemangeum continues to degrade (without any serious discussion of restoration); and many of the tidal flats at Song Do and Yeongjong Do continue to be reclaimed, even while developers bicker about who is responsible for their resultant financial problems.  There are still reclamation proposals for large parts of the Geum Estuary; and efforts to buy and manage an area used by roosting shorebirds on Yubu Island have fallen through. Sites like Gomso Bay (part of the ROK World Heritage Site proposal) are still suffering from piecemeal reclamation projects and road construction plans; and even the prized Suncheon Bay is becoming increasingly built-up, to enable ever greater numbers of tourists to visit – while numbers of some tidal flat species continue their decline.  Indeed, there are still no managed bird reserves anywhere (unless you count a couple of remote islands used by seabirds), and even more remarkably, apparently due to lack of funds, there is not even any coordinated national-level shorebird monitoring program – despite the many tens of billions of won that continue to be spent on the construction and maintenance of national research institutes.    

Is it not reasonable and proper to ask, therefore, whether it is actually appropriate to push on with proposing World Heritage Listing of tidal flats in the ROK, when some of them are still threatened?  And when substantial political support is still being given to proposals for reclamation and for construction of new airports, including within the Saemangeum reclamation area and in the outermost part of the Nakdong Estuary (as well as on Jeju Island and even on Heuksan, Ulleung and Baekryeong islands!)?  

Would it not be more appropriate for the nation’s decision-makers to first rethink the development model instead?  Should they not first call for the restoration of Saemangeum and a permanent end to further reclamation, in order to slow the loss of avian biodiversity, to preserve marine life and fisheries, and to help with efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions?  

Would it not be more appropriate too for business and both local and national government first to invest properly in nature reserve creation and management, instead of only in construction (either of ecoparks or wetland centres)?  And for those with money to provide much greater support for habitat management and in helping to build up the capacity of the NGO conservation sector?   

Before thinking about World Heritage Listing, is it not time too for many more academics here in the ROK to become much more vocal and transparent in their support of conservation, and in the sharing of their data? 

And should not more effort also be spent too on strengthening the Environmental Impact Assessment process and on increasing accountability, including that of decision-makers – so that the ecologically-devastating mistakes of the past 20 years (like Saemangeum and the Four Rivers project) are not repeated?

World Heritage Listing of the ROK’s tidal flats will be a wonderful, great step forward – a time for everyone here to celebrate too.  But Listing should not be approached like some annoying administrative hurdle.  

Instead, it first requires a sincere national commitment to conserve and to manage well all those tidal wetlands and bird-rich areas which are truly understood to be of Outstanding Universal Value.  

To our great regret, this kind of sincere commitment still seems a very long way off.

But it is no longer unimaginable. To see how much brighter the future of wetland and bird conservation could be here in the ROK, we now only need to look a short distance across the Yellow Sea, to China.

References

  • Barter, M. 2002. Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea: Importance, threats and conservation status. Wetlands International Global Series 9, International Wader Studies 12, Canberra, Australia
  • Long, A., Poole, C., Eldridge, M., Won P-O & Lee K-S.  1988. A Survey of Coastal wetlands and Shorebirds in South Korea, Spring 1988. Asian Wetland Bureau, Kuala Lumpur.
  • MacKinnon, J., Verkuil, Y.I. & Murray, N. 2012. IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea). Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 47. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ii + 70 pp.
  • Moores, N. 1999a. A Survey of the Distribution and Abundance of Shorebirds in South Korea during 1998-1999: Interim Summary. Stilt 34: 18-29.
  • Moores N., Kim S-K, Park S-B and T. Sadayoshi (Eds). 2001. Yellow Sea Ecoregion: Reconnaissance Report on Identification of Important Wetland and Marine Areas for Biodiversity. Volume 2: South Korea. Published by WBK and WWF-Japan, Busan. 142 pages (published in Korean and English-language versions).

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팔색조 Pitta nympha, 비자림로, 2019년 6월 18일 © 나일 무어스

환경영향평가는 “환경친화적인 개발을 위해 필수적이다” (유엔 2018).

능력 있는 사람들이 정직하게 진행한 환경영향평가는 위정자들이 현명한 결정을 내리도록 돕고 지역과 국가의 장기적인 이익을 도모하는 가장 값싼 방법입니다.

능력 없는 사람들이 불성실하게 진행한 환경영향평가는 시간과 돈을 낭비할뿐 아니라 위정자들이 현명한 결정을 내리는 것을 방해하여 장기적인 이익을 저해합니다.

지난 포스트에서 알려드린대로 6월 10일 제주도 동쪽에 위치한 비자림로에서는 대한민국 남서부를 관할하는 지역환경청의 요청으로 계획된 환경영향평가 시작하기 위한 10번재 회의가 열렸습니다. 과거 2014년과 2015년에 진행된 환경영향평가에서 다수의 국내외 멸종위기종이 누락되었으므로 이번 재평가에서는 2.94km 길이의 도로 양쪽 500m 구간이 조사지역으로 설정되었습니다. 실제로 과거 환경영향평가의 조류상 조사는 매우 부실하여 16종 만을 기록하는데 그쳤으며, (1) 해당 지역에서 멸종위기종이 발견되지 않았고 (2) 새들은 언제든지 주변 지역으로 날아갈 수 있으므로 공사의 영향이 없을 것이라고 결론내렸습니다.

6월 10일 회의는 제주도청의 주관으로 진행되었으며 다음 합의안을 도출하였습니다.

  1. 6월 10일부터 20일까지 하루 최소 3시간을 기준으로 8일간 조류상 조사를 진행한다. 그외 식생과 양서류, 파충류, 곤충 및 서식지 생태 또한 제주도와 외부 전문가가 모두 참여하여 동일한 시기에 진행한다.
  2. 6월 24일까지 제주도청에 발견한 것들을 보고서 형식으로 제출한다.
  3. 6월 24일 제주시에 다시 모여서 조사 결과를 살펴보고 계획된 도로확장공사의 영향을 줄이고 핵심종을 보호할 수 있는 방안에 대해 논의한다.

6월 10일 회의에서 도출된 합의안에 따라 다음과 같이 조사를 진행하였으며 결과를 밝힙니다.

  1. 6월 10일부터 19일 간에 총 8일에 걸쳐 비자림로 양쪽 500m 구간에서 조사를 진행했습니다.. 또한 핵심종의 서식 유무를 판별하기 위한 기준점을 마련하고자 조사구역 이외의 인접한 산림에서도 수 시간 동안 조사하였습니다. 본 지역에서 처음으로 팔색조를 발견한 김키미 선생님이 거의 모든 조사에서 함께 해주셨습니다. 그외에도 새와 생명의 터 전 고문이셨던 주용기 선생님, 새와 생명의 터 회원이자 박사 수료생인 하정문 님, 지역 학생이자 조류 보전가로 활동중이신 김예원 님께서 몇 차례 동행하셨습니다. 모든 분들께서 조사를 도와주셨으며 감사의 말씀을 전합니다.
  2. 조사 결과는 국영문 보고서로 작성하여 6월 24일 제주 도청에 전달했습니다.
  3. 제주 도청에 전달한 보고서는 비자림로 500m 구역 내의 재평가로 46종의 조류 종이 발견되었으며 6종은 국내멸종위기종이거나 천연기념물로 지정된 종이라는 내용을 담고 있습니다. 특히 조사 구역에서 붉은해오라기가 최소 2개체, 팔색조 영역 24개, 긴꼬리딱새 영역 23개가 확인되었습니다. 이와 동일한 종 구성의 영역들이 조사구역과 바로 인접한 산림에서도 확인되었으며 일부는 조사구역과 겹칠 가능성도 있었습니다. 조사에서 드러난 모든 영역들은 지도에 표기해서 제주도청에 제출한 보고서에 수록하였습니다. 핵심종에 가해질 교란을 최소화하기 위해 좌표와 영역 위치 자료를 제외한 편집본을 작성하여 아래에 배포합니다.
Report-of-the-Independent-Bird-Survey_KL

6월 26일 공식 회의에 참여하기 위해 제주도를 다시 방문했습니다. 회의 시작과 함께 진행순서를 알리고 제주도청에서 조사 결과를 공유했습니다. 회의에서는 30분간 결과를 공유하고 30-90분 정도 공사 영향을 줄일 방안을 논의할 예정이었습니다.

6월 26일 제주도정에서 준비한 공식 회의 진행순서. 5분간의 서론 이후에 30분 동안 조사자 전원의 조사결과를 살펴보고 마지막 30분-90분은 전문가 토론 순서가 배정되어 있다. © 나일 무어스

하지만 조사자 전원의 결과 발표에 할애할 시간이 있었음에도 공사영향 감소 방안에 대해서는 전혀 논의가 이뤄지지 않았습니다. 논의를 진행하는 대신에 의장을 맡으신 분이 일방적으로 회의를 중단하였으며 배포 자료를 모두 거둬갔습니다.

이런 이유로 27일 기자회견에서 “비자림로를 지키기 위해 뭐라도 하려는 시민모임” 은 모든 독립 결과보고서를 지역환경청과 비정부기구 단체에 직접 전달하였습니다.

새와 생명의 터에서는 지금도 다음의 몇 가지 사안이 미해결 상태인 것으로 보고 있습니다.

1. 비자림로가 국내외 조류 다양성의 보존에 매우 중요하다는 것이 밝혀진 지금, 이 지역의 종들과 서식지를 보존하기 위해서는 어떻게 해야 할까?

2. 환경영향평가 회사 측은 왜 비자림로의 과거 평가에서 농업학자에게 식생조사를 맡겼으며 동물상 조사에 “식물 보전 전문가”와 생명과학 석사학위자를 고용했는가?

6월 26일 제주도정에서 배포한 문서에는 과거 환경영향평가를 진행한 회사와 조사자 이름이 명시되어 있다. © 나일 무어스

3. 제주뿐만 아니라 국내에서 2014년 이후로 이뤄진 수많은 환경영향평가도 이처럼 비전문가 집단에 의해 이뤄져왔는가? 그 이유는 무엇인가? 재평가는 가능한가?

다음은 마지막 질문입니다.

4. 대한민국에서 환경영향평가가 가지는 의의는 무엇인가? 환경영향평가는 국내의 생물다양성과 문화를 지키는 값진 도구인가, 아니면 누군가 걸려 넘어지라고 놓아둔 하나의 귀찮은 행정과정일 뿐인가?

앞으로 길어도 몇 주, 몇 달 안에 그 해답을 알 수 있을 것입니다.

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Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha, Bijarim Ro, June 18th 2019 © Nial Moores

Environmental Impact Assessments are “crucial in advancing environmentally friendly development” (United Nations 2018).

Environmental Impact Assessments, if conducted honestly by people with appropriate skill-sets, are the most cost-effective tools for helping decision-makers to make decisions wisely, in the long-term interests of the local area and of the nation.

Environmental Impact Assessments, if conducted dishonestly or by people without appropriate skill-sets, waste both time and money, and prevent decision-makers from making decisions wisely, against the long-term interests of the local area and the nation.

As previously reported, on June 10th a meeting was called near to the Bijarim Ro in eastern Jeju to start an environmental reassessment of the area, as requested by the Regional Environmental Office (covering the southwest of the Republic of Korea). This reassessment, to cover an area up to 500m either side of a 2.94km stretch of road, was demanded because the original Environmental Impact Assessment, conducted in 2014 and 2015 as part of permitting construction to widen the road, had completely failed to identify the presence of several nationally (and globally) threatened species. Indeed, the part of this original Environmental Impact Assessment on birds was especially poor, finding only 16 species in total and claiming that there would be no real impact because, (1) No Endangered species are found in the area; and (2) Birds would simply flee to nearby areas.

At this formal June 10th meeting, hosted by the Jeju Provincial government (Jeju Docheong), the following was therefore agreed:

  1. I was to conduct eight days of bird survey (minimum three hours per day) between June 10th and 20th, while additional simultaneous surveys of vegetation, amphibians, reptiles, insects and site ecology etc were to be conducted both by experts from Jeju and independent experts from outside of Jeju.
  2. We were all to submit a report of our findings to Jeju Docheong by June 24th;
  3. On June 26th we would meet again in Jeju City to discuss the results and possible measures to reduce the impacts of the proposed road-widening and to help conserve key species. We understood this to mean that Jeju Docheong wished to act in accordance with national laws and commitments e.g. to national conservation laws and to obligations of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In accordance with this agreement reached on June 10th,

  1. I therefore conducted eight days of survey between June 10th and 19th – spending 46 hours in the field along and within 500m of the Bijarim Ro. I also conducted several hours of survey of an adjacent forest area to help us establish a better baseline of expected presence and abundance of key species. For almost all field work, research was conducted together with Ms. Kim Kimi, the local conservationist who was the first to confirm the presence of the nationally Endangered Fairy Pitta in this area; and for two or more blocks of survey work also with former Formal Birds Korea Advisor Mr. Ju Yung-Ki; PhD Candidate and Birds Korean, Ha Jungmoon; and/ or with Ms Kim Yei-Won, a local student and active bird conservationist.  All participants contributed to the research and are thanked warmly.
  2. We produced a report of the survey and submitted English and Korean language versions of this report to Jeju Docheong on June 24th. 
  3. The report clarified that of 46 bird species recorded during the reassessment within 500m of the Bijarim Ro, six were either nationally Endangered species or were National Monuments.  Of particular note, the reassessment identified at least two Japanese Night Heron territories, 13 Fairy Pitta territories and 23 Black Paradise Flycatcher territories within 500m of the road. Some of these territories included habitat within 50m of the road. Additional territories of the same three nationally Endangered species were also found in immediately adjacent habitat (and others might also reach to within 500m of the road). The location of all of these territories were mapped and included in the report submitted to Jeju Docheong. An edited version, minus coordinates and territory locations (in order to keep disturbance to key species to a minimum), is here:
Shortened_Report-of-the-Independent-Bird-Survey_June-24-2019__English-converted

I travelled back to Jeju City on 26th to attend the second formal meeting. At the start of the meeting, the meeting outline and everyone’s survey results were shared by Jeju Docheong.  According to the outline, there were to be 30 minutes allocated to sharing results; and a further 30-90 minutes to discuss mitigation results.

June 26th Meeting Outline as prepared by Jeju Provincial Government © Nial Moores. After a five minute introduction, 30 minutes in total were allocated to review everyone’s survey results; and then 30 minutes to 90 minutes to an expert discussion.

However, although we were permitted time to present our own survey results (in my case, for about 3 minutes), there was no discussion of any possible mitigation measures. Instead, the chair of the meeting unilaterally stopped the meeting and took back the meeting documents.

Following a press briefing on June 27th, the “Citizen’s Alliance Taking All Measures to Oppose the Road” led by Ms Kim Sunae and colleagues therefore submitted all of the independent reports directly to the Regional Environmental office and to some national NGOs and media.

From the perspective of Birds Korea, several key questions remain unanswered. These include:

  1. Now that the Bijarim Ro has been confirmed as nationally or even internationally important for avian biodiversity (as well as supporting multiple “other” threatened and important plant and animal species), what measures will now be taken to conserve the habitat and the species found in the area?
  2. Why did the company hired to do the original Environmental Impact Assessment contract an Agricultural Scientist to do the research on Vegetation, and a “Plant Protection Specialist” and someone with a Master’s Degree in “Life Science” to do the research on animals along the Bijarim Ro?
In documents shared by Jeju Docheong at the June 26th meeting, the names and specialties of the consultants involved in the original Environmental Impact Assessment are listed clearly © Nial Moores .

3. How many other Environmental Impact Assessments conducted on Jeju since 2014 – and elsewhere in the ROK – have been conducted by non-specialists like these?  Why? Will these also be re-done?

And finally,

4. What value the Environmental Impact Assessment process in the Republic of Korea? Is EIA a tool to be cherished and used here in order to help conserve the nation’s biodiversity and culture, or is it instead some annoying administrative hurdle, to be stumbled over no matter what?

The next few weeks and months should provide many of the answers.

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While the ever-increasing amount of infrastructure destroys habitats almost everywhere in Korea and also does not stop in the border area, it is still a good place to go year-round to see species rare elsewhere in the country. In the latest short visit to Goseong County in Gangwon-do, at the Northeastern end of South Korea, a divided county in divided Gangwon province, the highlights were three kinds of shrikes (Bull-headed shrike, Brown shrike, Tiger shrike) and three kinds of kingfishers (Common kingfisher, Ruddy kingfisher, Black-capped kingfisher). In preparation of a trip with students of German School Seoul International to the border area, a short survey was carried out on June 25 and the early morning of June 26 along the Seongjongri eco-trail as well as along the wetlands of Hwajinpo and Ganseong Namcheon in Goseong county.

Notable were:

Ruddy Kingfishers were heard in five different locations in and around Hwajinpo and Seongjongri eco-trail.

A black-capped Kingfisher was seen in Hwajinpo, and Common Kingfishers could be spotted there as well as in various other locations.

Tiger shrikes were seen near the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ) as well as the Seongjongri eco-trail.

Brown shrikes were seen at the Seongjong-ri eco-trail as well as around Hwajinpo.

A Yellow bittern was nicely perched on reeds at Namcheon of Ganseong, which, sadly enough, is more and more surrounded by heavy buildings projects – apartments from the Ganseong side, and the new over-sized road and bridge towards the sea.

A Chinese Pond Heron was another surprise at Hwajinpo lagoon.

Also, two Brown Dippers were seen in the small stream near Seongjong-Ri eco-trail. 

Finally, a Chestnut-cheeked Starling – a rather interesting record (either suggesting an early southward migrating failed breeder; or indicating local breeding; thanks to NM for this identification!)

A juvenile Bull-headed Shrike Lanius Bucephalus © Bernhard Seliger Hobby Falco Subbuteo © Bernhard Seliger Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata © Bernhard Seliger Striated Heron Butorides striata © Bernhard Seliger Yellow Bittern Ixobryches sinensis © Bernhard Seliger Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum © Bernhard Seliger
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Birds Korea, June 2019

Japanese Night Heron Gorsachius goisagi , Socheong Island, Incheon, 2010 © Nial Moores / Birds Korea
  1. During our recent bird surveys of Bijarim Ro requested by Jeju Doseong we heard three Japanese Night Herons and made sound recordings on June 11th, June 14th, 15th and 17th. We also saw one additional Japanese Night Heron poorly on June 15th and heard probably two more c. 2km from the Bijarim Ro.
  2. The Japanese Night Heron is assessed as globally Endangered (IUCN 2019) and is listed by the Ministry of Environment as a Second Class Endangered species.
  3. The Japanese Night Heron is a very rare and very shy red-brown forest bird, with a total world population estimated at between only 600 and 1700 individuals (IUCN 2019).  This means that the Japanese Night Heron is rarer globally than the Giant Panda.
  4. Most of the population of the Japanese Night Heron is assumed to breed in high-quality forest in Japan (in months May to August) and to spend the winter in the Philippines.
  5. There are very few records of the Japanese Night Heron in summer outside of Japan. However, one pair of Japanese Night Heron was found breeding in Ara Dong, Jeju City in June 2009 (Oh et al. 2010). This was the first Korean breeding record of this species.
  6. There have been at least two (?) other records of Japanese Night Heron on Jeju Island in summer. We are currently trying to trace additional records. The only summer record in Korea away from Jeju Island was in Busan (a breeding record).
  7. In order not to disturb the birds of Bijarim Ro during our surveys, we did not look for nests. However, based on the time of year, the behaviour (including calling repeatedly each day from the same area) and the habitat, we assume that the Japanese Night Heron is breeding close to the Bijarim Ro.
  8. It appears that there are two or three territories of Japanese Night Heron close to the Bijarim Ro: one or two within 100m of the Bijarim Ro; the other staring about 550m from the Bijarim Ro.
  9. The presence of Japanese Night Heron, in addition to several other nationally Endangered bird species (including Fairy Pitta and Black Paradise Flycatcher) is an indication that the forest habitats of Bijarim Ro are very diverse and productive. The forest is very high quality and of national and global conservation value.
  10. Conservation of the Japanese Night Heron requires the conservation of the forest. Conservation of the forest of Bijarim Ro will provide many benefits to the people of Jeju: some of these benefits are scientific (contribution to biodiversity conservation, climate change amelioration, reduction of micro-dust); others are cultural and scenic, and part of the special quality of life enjoyed by Jeju citizens and tourists visiting the island.

Recording of Japanese Night Heron, close to the Bijarim Ro, June 17th 2019 © Birds Korea

Notes

  1. The IUCN is responsible for organising information on the world’s species. Their information sheet on the Japanese Night Heron is here 1
  2. The main call of the Japanese Night Heron we heard is a repeated “pwi-Homm” given at both dawn and dusk. This is the territorial call of the species and is most often given by birds when they are starting to nest.
  3. Oh Hongshik, Kim Youngho and Kim Namkyu. 2010. First Breeding Record of Japanese Night Heron Gorsachius goisagi in Korea. Ornithol Sci 9: 131–134 (2010).
Japanese Night Heron, Socheong Island, 2004 © Kirsten KRAETZEL / Birds Korea

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제주도정의 의뢰로 진행 중인 비자림로 조류상 조사에서 붉은해오라기 3개체가 관찰되었습니다. 6월 11일에 처음 기록된 이후 14일부터 17일에 걸쳐서 소리가 들렸으며 15일에는 먼 거리에서나마 육안으로 관찰할 수 있었습니다.

붉은해오라기는 IUCN에서 위기종(EN)으로 지정한 국제적 멸종위기종입니다. 국내에서도 환경부에서 멸종위기야생동식물 2급으로 등록하여 보호하고 있습니다. 매우 희귀하게 도래하는 이 새는 몸이 적갈색이며 산림에 서식하지만 좀처럼 그 모습을 볼 수가 없습니다. IUCN에서 추산하기로 전세계 개체군이 600 – 1700개체 밖에 되지 않는데 이는 전세계에 존재하는 팬더보다도 더 적은 숫자입니다. 대부분의 개체군이 5월부터 8월까지 일본의 서식지 환경이 좋은 산림지역에서 번식하며 필리핀에서 월동합니다. 일본 외의 지역에서 여름철에 관찰되는 경우는 매우 드뭅니다. 제주도에서는 2009년 6월 아라동에서 국내 최초로 번식이 확인되었으며 이외에도 두 건의 관찰기록이 있습니다. 제주도를 제외한 여름철 기록은 부산에서 기록된 1건이 유일합니다.

조사가 진행되는 동안 붉은해오라기를 방해하지 않기 위해서 둥지를 찾지 않았습니다. 하지만 관찰된 시기나 서식지 내 행동으로 미뤄볼 때 비자림로 인근의 숲에서 번식하는 것으로 추정됩니다. 총 3개의 영역이 확인되었으며 길에서 100m ~ 550m 정도 떨어져 있습니다. 붉은해오라기가 기록된 지역에서는 이외에도 팔색조와 긴꼬리딱새 같은 멸종위기종들이 지속적으로 관찰되고 있으며, 이는 비자림로를 둘러싸고 있는 숲의 서식지가 매우 다양하고 생산성이 높다는 것을 의미합니다. 이곳의 숲은 서식지 환경뿐만 아니라 국제적인 보전 가치 또한 매우 높습니다.

붉은해오라기를 보호하기 위해서는 숲을 보존해야 합니다. 비단 훌륭한 경치뿐만 아니라 문화적, 학술적 가치가 높은 비자림로의 숲을 그대로 두는 것은 관광객 및 시민들의 삶에 있어서 특별한 명소로 자리잡아 수 많은 혜택을 안겨줄 것입니다.

붉은해오라기, 2016년 6월 17일 제주도 비자림로
붉은해오라기, 2004년 4월 소청도
붉은해오라기, 2010년 5월 소청도
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May 2nd – We reached the island at about midday and, after a brief meeting with Matt Poll who was leaving on the same boat, we got straight into the birds.  Skies were clear with a light northerly breeze and there were lots about.  We found the single Little Curlew and a Curlew Sandpiper with three Whimbrel and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits in the ‘flower-beds’ above the harbour.  Also, a Purple Heron on the ‘mossy slab’. 

Little Curlew Numenius minutus © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

We continued via the roadside scrub and gardens between the recycling plant and the school, then back to the seafront, along to the quarry and up the clifftop path and back down to the school.  This first seven or eight hours produced 72 species.  Most abundant were Black-faced Buntings: we considered at least 350 in the area we covered.  Other buntings included 20 Tristram’s, several Little, two Yellow, two Yellow-browed, and single Yellow-throated and Pallas’s Reed.  A Bluethroat showed nicely while other species included two Japanese Quail, a group of six Grey-faced Buzzards, Moorhen, Wryneck, Brown Shrike and four Common Rosefinches. We rounded off with a Grey Nightjar singing above the workers camp and a Kentish Plover on the slab as dusk fell.  A snipe flying along the seafront in the gloom was thought on call to be Swinhoe’s Snipe.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim
Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

May 3rd Out at dawn, still clear with a light northerly, and a look around the harbour and gardens produced most of yesterday’s birds plus two Common Kingfishers chasing each other in the harbour.  From the school we continued up the hill, numbers of thrushes, minivets, pipits and other species coming in from the south-west.  Our route took us towards the south-east of the island and then north along the ridge before returning via the steep path back down to the village. Of the thrushes, Eyebrowed seemed by far the most numerous but small numbers of Grey-backed, a few Pale and a couple each of White’s and Dusky were also seen.  At one point a flock of 350+ was in the air seeming to be mostly Eyebrowed Thrushes

Spectrogram of Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus calls from grounded birds Gageo Do, May 3rd 2019 © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

Other species included Oriental Scops Owl, three Oriental Cuckoos, Dollarbird, Chestnut-cheeked and five White-shouldered Starlings, seven flycatcher species, 100+ Olive-backed Pipits, a few Japanese and 20+ Chinese Grosbeaks while buntings included 10 Yellow-browed, 35+ Tristram’s, Chestnut-eared, four Rustic, 15 Little and 250+ Black-faced.  The species total for the day was 89.

White-shouldered Starling Sturnus sinensis © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

May 4th   The dawn walk turned up a Long-toed Stint on the mossy slab and a Black-capped Kingfisher in the quarry where Chinese Penduline Tit was heard. 

Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

Up the hill we had the, or another, Black-capped Kingfisher and Chinese Sparrowhawk near the 2-Gu junction then followed the upper road towards the mountain top, taking a detour at the radio mast along the ridge footpath where a Richard’s Pipit catching and eating a sizeable lizard was interesting.  Highlights here were Black Woodpigeon and a starling flock by the radar mast junction which, as well as White-cheeked Starlings also held single White-shouldered, Red-billed and Chestnut-cheeked Starlings

Walking back, it was clear that an afternoon arrival of Dollarbirds had occurred with at least 20 present.  Back at 1-Gu three Chinese Penduline Tits were present.  A total of 84 species was recorded including 60+ Yellow-browed Warblers, 350+ Black-faced and 50+ Tristram’s Buntings

Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi with lizard sp © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim
Oriental Dollarbirds Eurystomus orientalis © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

May 5th – The skies remained clear although it was a little warmer, the wind briefly becoming variable east to southeast before backing north again.  A walk to 2-Gu and back took up most of the day and produced numbers of warblers including 50 Yellow-browed, 30 Eastern Crowned and 15+ Asian Stubtails with an apparent late influx of Brown Flycatchers: 60+ on the walk back.  Other flycatchers were few though, just single Dark-sided and Grey-streaked, Blue-and-white, Yellow-rumped and Mugimaki and five Narcissus.  Just five Dollarbirds today. A Purple Heron was at 2-Gu and several Black Woodpigeons were also seen and heard.  77 species for the day.

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

May 6th – Again northerly winds and clear skies and diversity continued to lessen although new arrivals continued to appear.  The early walk produced an Oriental Pratincole and two Wood Sandpipers on the quayside and a Black Drongo above the quarry.  Two Japanese Sparrowhawk were also new and there was an increase in hirundines with 50 Barn and 150 Red-rumped Swallows, five Asian House Martins and a single Sand Martin.  Also 30+ Pacific Swifts.  There was a general drop in numbers of most other migrants with just 15 Yellow-browed, five Dusky and two Eastern Crowned Warblers, two Pale and three Eyebrowed Thrushes, 25 Olive-backed Pipits and 80 Black-faced Buntings. The 61 species total was the lowest for a full day of the week but it was still very good birding!

Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

May 7th – Winds in the southwest but still clear skies and there was little obvious change in numbers of anything. Green Sandpiper was new for the week and an Amur Wagtail was also the first, all other Alba wagtails having been ocularis types. A Black Woodpigeon was singing near the Buddhist temple and a Black Drongo, perhaps yesterday’s bird, was near the recycling centre.  Another Sand Martin was feeding around the quayside.  We walked up to the Japanese bunker area above 1-Gu, finally finding singing Radde’s Warbler, and then down to the 2-Gu junction and spent the rest of the day along the road.  More Radde’s here so perhaps new in.  Other birds here included a smart Northern Hawk Cuckoo while Oriental Cuckoo was calling nearby.  A dozen White-eyes that moved quickly through included at least two Chestnut-flanked and may all have been.

Northern Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

May 8th– The winds remained in the southwest and there was 50% cloud cover this morning.  With just six hours before we were due to leave we worked the area around 1-Gu, the quarry area and hillside above.  It was generally rather quiet and gave a fair idea of how quiet it could be and how good a week we had had.  It’s hard to judge when you’ve not visited a place before.  However, a brief Taiga Flycatcher was the first live one of the week and five more Radde’s Warblers were appreciated.  Just 53 species today but we finished with 122 for the week and a keen desire to get back as soon as possible!

Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla © Martin Sutherland & Sona Kim

Daily species record. 

  2 3 4 5 6 7 8
               
Japanese Quail 2            
Striated Heron 1         1  
Black-crowned
Night Heron
3   3 1 2    
Chinese Pond
Heron
1 1 2 2   2 1
Eastern Cattle
Egret
1 1 2 4   2  
Grey Heron 5 5 5 5 5 3 3
Purple Heron 1     1      
Great White Egret 2 1          
Intermediate
Egret
5 5 6 8 10 6 4
Little Egret   2   1      
Temminck’s
Cormorant
  1   1 1    
Peregrine   1 2   1   1
Chinese
Sparrowhawk
    1 1     1
Japanese Lesser
Sparrowhawk
        2 1  
Eurasian
Sparrowhawk
    1 1 1    
Grey-faced
Buzzard
6 2 1 1      
Common
Moorhen
1            
Oriental
Pratincole
        1    
Kentish Plover 1            
Curlew Sandpiper 1 1 1 1      
Long-toed Stint     1 1 1 1  
Black-tailed
Godwit
1 3 2 2 1    
Common Snipe   1          
(Swinhoe’s Snipe) 1?            
Little Curlew 1 1          
Whimbrel 3 2 ..
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Nial Moores, Birds Korea, June 13th 2019

View north from the top of the Oreum (or volcanic hill) next to the Bijarim Ro, June 11th © Nial Moores

Birds Korea strives to avoid disturbance to birds. We therefore have, since our foundation in 2004, refused to post images of birds at the nest; and purposefully made vague the location of sites supporting threatened bird species – unless considered absolutely necessary to their conservation.

This note includes sensitive information. This is because the research in full will be made public anyway; the issue is a high-profile issue on Jeju Island, and increasingly nationally, being covered extensively by media; and because local activists are present in the area all day and night, and will take immediate action to prevent any unnecessary disturbance being caused to local wildlife.

Background

Jeju Island in the far southwest of the Republic of Korea is the nation’s largest island.  With a mild climate and a landscape comprised of extinct volcanic cones (or oreum), forests, beaches of white sand and black lava-reefs, the island is one of the nation’s top tourist destinations – initially for honeymooners, then also for weekend trippers and recently for an increasing number of overseas visitors too.  Tourism on such a large scale needs good infrastructure. There has therefore been a decades-long development boom, with many new hotels and restaurants being built and an ever-expanding road network. Some roads are new; many are being widened to accommodate the increasing number of tour buses and cars. And one of the roads targeted for widening is a 2.94 km long stretch called “Bijarim Ro”: a potential test site for recent revisions to the national environmental assessment process.

Part of the Bijarim Ro, June 10th 2019: note the wedding party in the field on the left © Nial Moores

Mindful of Jeju’s image as an island of beautiful nature, the two-lane, single carriageway Bijarim Ro was formally designated a “Beautiful Road” in 2003. Nonetheless, in 2014, or thereabouts, a decision was taken to widen this road, to make it two lanes in each direction; to add a wide central divide; and to link it to other stretches of road that were also being widened. In this way, there would be an additional wider highway (22m in some parts, 32m wide in other stetches of the Bijarim Ro) for traffic from the northwest to access the southeast of the island, where a proposed second airport is also being planned. As part of this widening, an environmental assessment was undertaken.

The area targeted for road-widening: detail taken from information provided at the June 10th meeting

In accordance with existing statutes at that time, the bird part of the assessment was confined to 50m either side of the road. And although said to be year-long, the research on birds was – according to the published report – undertaken in just two days: June 18th and 19th 2016.  Without providing any supporting details of time spent in the field, or of areas that were assessed, the bird expert(s) found only 16 species of bird, none of which were listed in the report. Based on this very limited input, the report therefore concluded that,

“Most of the birds using this area are resident species which are widely distributed throughout Jeju. As they will flee nearby, any impact (of the road-widening) would be insignificant.”

Some environmental groups and the Jeju Green Party opposed the road-widening, raising their concerns through media, and petitioning authorities.  In 2019, work started on the widening with several thousand trees cut along the road. 

Some of the felled forest along the Bijarim Ro, June 10th © Nial Moores

On April 8th, the “Citizen’s Alliance Taking All Measures to Oppose the Road” communicated their opposition to the road-widening project, citing environmental damage and excessive costs, and calling for the fuller acceptance of diverse needs of citizens. On April 18th, the Jeju Docheong (responsible for the project) defended the project, stating that, “We are planning to carry out expansion work as planned while minimizing damage to the surrounding environment”.

A few weeks later, on May 21st, local nature-lover Kim Kimi found a nationally Endangered Fairy Pitta in the area.

Kim Kimi, in forest adjacent to the Bijarim Ro, June 10th 2019 © Nial Moores

A week later, a nationally Endangered species of Dung Beetle was also found close to the road.  Both species are Nationally-listed as species of special concern – either being Endangered, Protected or listed as National Natural Monuments. National authorities responsible for preserving Natural Monuments therefore stated on May 30th that more research was needed, and the southwest regional office in charge of overseeing aspects of the project called a temporary stop to construction.

Citing important recent legal changes to the process of environmental impact assessment (made in 2017 or 2018), this regional office also expanded the scope of the assessment to two bands: one out to150m and the other out to 500m either side of the road. They also set the end of June as the deadline for receiving more information on the project. This has been taken by most parties to mean that research and discussion on mitigation, plan modification or cancellation based on this research needs to be concluded within this month.

Expanded survey area: a new national approach to reviewing potential impacts of roads

It was also decided that the reassessment of the project should be performed by eight independent experts to look at vegetation, insects, birds and ecological aspects of the area, four of which were to be selected by Jeju authorities and four from outside of Jeju to be selected by those opposed to the road-widening.  All would be paid a minimal per diem for research and expenses by Jeju authorities. 

Our Role

On June 3rd, I was invited by Ahn Jae Hong of the Jeju Green Party to join the research team to survey birds along the Bijarim Ro.  After a few days of discussion between various parties, including with representative Kim Sunae of the “Citizen’s Alliance Taking All Measures to Oppose the Road”, I flew to Jeju to take part in a planning meeting on June 10th.

En Route to the meeting, we met up with former Formal Advisor to Birds Korea Ju Yong-Ki together with Kim Kimi and a local bird researcher. Within 30 minutes of in-the-field discussion, I logged 18 bird species within 50m or so of the road– more than reported during the two full days of survey for the 2016 assessment.

At the meeting, the four Jeju experts (including Jeju’s Kang Chang-Wan, widely respected as one of Korea’s top field birders) and two from outside of Jeju (myself and Dr Kim Dae-Ho of the Ecoist Institute in Suweon) met to hear more details of the process to date and to agree research protocols.

Standing room only for some… © Nial Moores
Jeju experts, including Mr Kang Chang Wan (centre) © Nial Moores
The proposed Bijarim Ro road-widening area © Nial Moores
Recently widened-road heading toward the southeast as seen from atop of the Oreum above the Bijarim Ro © Nial Moores

Based on a review of the literature (which suggests that impacts from roads can extend out to 500m for some species, and disproportionately affect ground-nesters) and extremely helpful advice received from Martin Sutherland, a professional environmental consultant in the UK and an international Birds Korea member, I proposed eight days of bird survey. 

This was based on a coarse division of the target area into 32 blocks of 200m x 500m, with two hours allocated to each block; and enough time to revisit bird-important blocks if any were found.  In mid-summer, birds tend to be most active close to dawn; and briefly again in the evening.  Research on each date would therefore be largely conducted between 4AM and 10AM each morning; and from 4PM to 8PM in the evening. This proposal was accepted.

Preliminary Research: June 10th & 11th

In order to get a better feel of the area, we chose two areas to visit during the afternoon of June 10th:  a patch of promising-looking forest; and part of a stream. We found 30 bird species within 500m of the road, including 8-11 Fairy Pitta (five of which were seen) and eight singing Black Paradise Flycatcher. Kang Chang Wan even found and photographed an active Paradise Flycatcher nest, visible from the road.

Local conservationists meet with staff of the Jeju Do Cheong on the side of the Bijarim Ro, June 10th © Nial Moores
Inside the forest, within 100m of the Bijarim Ro © Nial Moores

On June 11th, we reached the survey area at 04:10. Walking along the road in darkness, I heard a rhythmic booming: Japanese Night Heron. This globally Endangered species is also listed as a Second Level Endangered species in the ROK, with only two ROK breeding records: once on Jeju Island (perhaps in Jeju City?) in 2009, and once in Busan. One or two booming individuals were located here, with the first bird estimated to be only 100m from the road. The same patch of forest – different from that visited the previous day – also supported several more Fairy Pitta, Black Paradise Flycatcher and Lesser Cuckoo (another Nationally-Listed species). Forest on the other side of the road held more Fairy Pitta and Black Paradise Flycatcher and two Tiger Shrike territories – one outside and one inside of the 500m research boundary.

Table. Minimum numbers of birds counted / estimated within 500m of the Bijarim Ro on June 10th and 11th , including only once those birds suspected to have been counted / estimated on both dates.

      June
10th
June
11th
Min.
Num
1 *Mandarin Duck 원앙 1 0 1
2 Eastern Spot-billed
Duck
흰뺨검둥오리 2 3 5
3 Common Pheasant 4 6+ 10
4 Japanese
Night Heron
붉은해오라기 0 1+ 1
5 Oriental Turtle Dove 멧비둘기 7 13 20
6 Lesser Cuckoo 두견이 5+ 9+ 12
7 Common Cuckoo 뻐꾸기 3+ 7 8
8 Grey Nightjar 쏙독새 0 1 1
9 Oriental Dollarbird 파랑새 1 0 1
10 Common Kingfisher 물총새 1 0 1
11 White-backed
Woodpecker
제주큰오색
딱다구리
3 3 6
12 Fairy Pitta 팔색조 8+ 6 14
13 Tiger Shrike 칡때까치 0 1 1
14 Bull-headed Shrike 때까치 0 1 1
15 Black Paradise
Flycatcher
긴꼬리딱새 9 5 13
16 Eurasian Jay 어치 1 1 2
17 Oriental Magpie 까치 7 5+ 12
18 Large-billed Crow 큰부리까마귀 6 3 9
19 Varied Tit 곤줄박이 4 2 6
20 Eastern Great Tit 박새 7+ 4+ 11
21 Brown-eared Bulbul 직박구리 70+ 45+ 115
22 Barn Swallow 제비 5 0 5
23 Japanese Bush
Warbler
섬휘파람새 22 8+ 30
24 Far Eastern Cisticola 개개비사촌 1 0 1
25 Japanese White-eye 동박새 60+ 23+ 83
26 White-cheeked
Starling
찌르레기 1 0 1
27 White’s Thrush 호랑지빠귀 3+ 5 8
28 Grey-backed Thrush 되지빠귀 10+ 3 12
29 Pale Thrush 흰배지빠귀 20+ 5+ 25
30 Yellow-rumped
Flycatcher
흰눈썹황금새 1 0 1
31 Eurasian Tree
Sparrow
참새 10 3 13
32 Grey-capped
Greenfinch
방울새 13+ 7 20
33 Meadow Bunting 멧새 3 5 8
34 Yellow-throated
Bunting
노랑턱멧새 10+ 9 19
  • *Seen and photographed shortly before my arrival
  • The 34 species logged on June 10th and 11th (many of which were poorly sound-recorded – only one of which was photographed!) is more than twice the number of species recorded during two days of survey in June 2016 conducted as part of the process of permitting the road-widening;
  • Probably half of these 34 species are likely to be summer visitors to the site (not residents), with perhaps eight of these only locally distributed on Jeju in summer (Mandarin Duck, Japanese Night Heron, White-backed Woodpecker, Fairy Pitta, Tiger Shrike, Black Paradise Flycatcher, Far Eastern Cisticola and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher);
  • Five of the species (Mandarin Duck, Japanese Night Heron, Lesser Cuckoo, Fairy Pitta and Black Paradise Flycatcher) are Nationally-listed as species of conservation and cultural concern.

Moreover, correspondence with leading Fairy Pitta expert Dr Lin Ruey-Shing in Taiwan included his opinion that:

” ‘14+ vocalizing Fairy Pittas within 500m of 1.5km of the road’ indicate the density there is extremely high, and it means the habitat is extremely good for Fairy Pittas.”  

(Lin Ruey-Shing, June 12th 2019).

Further intensive survey will be conducted from June 14th to 20th.  And a summary report will be shared with all interested parties by June 24th, in time for the second meeting, as proposed on June 26th.

It will then be up to decision-makers to decide. This for Birds Korea is the crux of this issue – one that is hugely relevant to the nation as a whole as the world struggles to meet the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and to combat climate change :

Is the presence of an exceptional number of threatened species sufficient to maintain the road as it is now, with additional safety measures put in place?

Or,

Having spent tax payers’ money to conduct research that proves beyond doubt the importance of this area, will the decision still be taken to continue on with road-widening as already proposed?

We will see.

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Bird News from Nial Moores

On June 5th, headed out to Junam Reservoir in the evening to look for a Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus, a national first record reported somewhat belatedly in the Seoul Ilbo on the 4th, with this news then passed on by Birds Korean Ha Jungmoon (one of the authors of our 2018 Checklist and now like myself, also a volunteer e-Bird reviewer).  

Cotton Pygmy Goose is a southern-distributed species which nonetheless has reached northern China several times in early summer (likely in response to the rapidly warming climate), so was a long-awaited addition to the national list.

On arrival, the main reservoir was near-devoid of birds and completely devoid of birders, with a scattering of Grey Heron, only one Eastern Spot-billed Duck, and best for the day, three Whiskered Tern and a lone and disappointingly distant Pheasant-tailed Jacana – a species that was first recorded in Korea in 1993 and which has bred at Junam more or less annually since at least 2007.

The adjacent Dongpan was rather birdier.  Out in the lotus were two Mandarin Duck and two Mallard, a single Eurasian Teal, a dozen or so  Eastern Spot-billed Duck (several with their own accompanying flotilla of ducklings), and along the edges, at least four singing Yellow-rumped Flycatcher.

A birder there drove past, stopped, reversed and explained in somewhat depressed tones that the bird was still present, seen and photographed in the morning by a birder from Busan.  Apparently the bird was very shy and was first seen more than a week ago – on May 26th – found it seems by local birders (does anybody know by who?).  This birder had invested most of the day searching without success.  He left.  As dusk deepened, there was still no sign of the Cotton Pygmy Goose – with the highlight instead three Northern Boobook, including one that spectacularly dive-bombed a flying Spotbill!  

On 6th, a national holiday, a large number of birders headed out to Junam, and the bird was seen at least three times – each time only very briefly. One of these birders was Dr Shim Kyu-Sik, who took a series of distant images before the bird disappeared into a forest of lotus again.

Korea’s first Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus, Junam, June 6th
© Shim Kyu-Sik

On 7th, after heavy overnight rain, a last minute decision was made to head out to the reservoir again at dawn. In light rain and mist, first bird of the day was a spectacular “singing” Pheasant-tailed Jacana, with yellow nape flared, starting wheezy and Lapwing-like and ending like a Lesser Coucal: “Nii-hope, Nii-hope”.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus © Nial Moores

After an hour or so of waiting, the male Cotton Pygmy Goose flew in calling, and dropped into the lotus only 100m away, near a half-open patch of water.  Remarkably, though, the bird seemed to disappear on landing – and the rain and demands of work required me to head back to Busan.

This Cotton Pygmy Goose is just one of three species so far publicly reported in Korea for the first time between May 25th and 28th (the others being Chinese Bush Warbler and Black Bulbul, both on Baekryeong Island). Oddly, news of national firsts found by government-related bodies can take months to be released, with the “only” other first national record made at all public so far this year a White-throated Redstart on Mara Do, off from Jeju, perhaps sometime in April.

It seems likely that this latest trio were displaced by an unusual pair of low pressure systems, with – as of May 26th – one of these twins over southern China, the other centred near to Beijing – with heavy rain preceded by strong southerlies and followed by very strong westerlies across parts of the Yellow Sea.

Pressure systems as of May 26th © KMA (http://www.weather.go.kr/weather/main.jsp)

Looking at this map, have to wonder what other interesting species will have crossed the Yellow Sea between May 24th and 28th during the passing of this unusual weather system.

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Dr. Bernhard Seliger with Dr. Choi Hyun-Ah (Hanns-Seidel-Foundation and Birds Korea)

The latest of the surveys in a series of surveys carried out for Gimpo City brought again a nice mix of species. In particular, the following observations were of interest:

Black-Faced Spoonbills: Seven, including two sitting on nests breeding on Yudo Islet, together with a mix of Great Egrets, Intermediate Egrets and Grey Herons, and immediately adjacent to a large colony of Great Cormorants.

The colony of cormorants was still very active, with around 890 Great cormorants counted on the Island and large groups roaming around for food, with additionally  135 birds counted.

Chinese Pond Herons: Four solitary birds as well on the Siam Wetland site (Eastern part of the survey area) as in the Yudo site.

Mandarin Duck: Two drakes on the Siam Wetland site and a couple on the Yudo (Western) site. Probably birds are nesting in the adjacent small mountains.

Shorebirds, which had been regular in March and April, have mostly left the area, besides a group of ten Dunlin and two Common Greenshanks.

In the large and mostly undisturbed rice field areas we counted 203 Great egrets, 77 Intermediate egrets, 43 Little egrets, 129 Cattle egrets, 65 Grey Herons and one Night heron, with two more breeding on Yudo Islet. Other birds included Common and Black-capped Kingfisher (thanks for Dr. Nial Moores for identifying the latter from a call), Black-naped oriole, Broad-billed roller, Korean Bush warblers, Blue-and-white flycatcher, and Oriental Reed Warblers.

Given the extensive area of rice fields and adjacent villages and houses, there were very few swallows, with only one Barn swallow and a group of ten Red-rumped swallows counted.

Two Mandarin Drakes (Aix galericulata) © Bernhard Seliger Common Greenshanks (Tringa nebularia) © Bernhard Seliger Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus) © Bernhard Seliger Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) and a Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha) © Bernhard Seliger

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