Big bird race and wetland survey in Gochang, the newest Flyway Network Site on the East Asian Australasian Flyway

Dr. Bernhard Seliger, Dr. Hyun-Ah Choi (both Birds Korea and Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea) with Jeongmin Khil and Sabine Leykam (HSF Korea)

Gochang in Jeollabukdo, a county at the Yellow Sea, still has vast tidal flats and beautiful rice-field areas. As part of the initiative to protect remaining wetlands and tidal flats, many of which have disappeared in the period of rapid economic development since the 1960s, South Korea last year registered parts of their tidal flats, among them those in Gochang, as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Also, they prepared a submission of the site to the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) as one of the many hundred important waterbird sites and on August 28, Doug Watkins, Chief executive of the EAAFP, could hand over the Flyway Network Site certificate. The mayor of Gochang was at the ceremony, but also many representatives of NGO and many families from all over the country, since to celebrate the importance of Gochang for birds, the “Gochang big bird race” took place. Almost 40 teams tried to photograph birds for a whole day. All results had to be submitted to “getbol keepers” (https://www.getbolkeepers.org/o/map), a South Korean website developed by the NGO Eco Horizon to encourage data sharing and citizen´s science. In South Korea, this was a great development (though it is hard for foreigners to use the app due to language problem; therefore most foreigners rather use e-bird). Among the amazing finds by various teams was, for example, a juvenile Pheasant-tailed Jacana. Also, big numbers of waterbirds, including Blackfaced Spoonbills and Chinese Egrets, were found.

Hanns-Seidel-Foundation is very interested in supporting the better protection of wetlands along the Yellow Sea. This is a joint challenge for South and North Korea as well as China. To support the promotion of eco-tourism in Gochang, HSF also participated with a team. It was wonderful to see not only the tidal flats and waterbirds roosting on them, but also rice fields which looked naturally and were almost unaffected by those problems often seen near Seoul, like overuse by hot houses and small-scale industries, concrete pipes and trenches, and never-ending building of additional roads. d

So, in a leisurely afternoon exploration and next day the bird “race” a number of birds could be well observed. Among them were:

Tidal flats, wetlands, islands like Daechukdo in the picture and rice fields are characteristic for the landscape of Gochang. © Bernhard Seliger
Red-necked Stint Calidris Ruficollis © Bernhard Seliger
Among the most frequent waders were Terek Sandpipers Xenus cinereus, quirky birds with characteristic upswing bills © Bernhard Seliger

Two elegant waders – a Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus (left) and a Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (right) © Bernhard Seliger

It´s feeding time – Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia © Bernhard Seliger

Eurasian hobby Falco Subbuteo © Bernhard Seliger

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis © Bernhard Seliger

A young Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus at one of the small islands in the West Sea © Bernhard Seliger

Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica © Bernhard Seliger

The team of Hanns-Seidel-Foundation on the small island Daechukdo © Bernhard Seliger

A full list of the observations of the first day can be seen at: https://ebird.org/checklist/S117838251

The bird race was a long day full of pleasant surprises. But the greatest thing was to see all the dedicated people and families, often with small children, being interested in nature, nature and habitat protection. Sometimes working on nature conservation seems to be difficult in Korea, given the fast-paced development and hard-nosed developers. But, I am convinced that these people with a genuine interest in their heritage and the future of it will make a positive difference for the future of Korea.

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