Daily Archives: 02/04/2024

Paju and Yeoncheon: cranes and trucks, April 1st, 2024

Dr. Bernhard Seliger (Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea, Birds Korea)

This post is mostly about cranes – though, unfortunately, not those cranes now flying off to Northern breedings grounds, though I managed yesterday to see five late White-naped cranes as well as one single late Cinereous vulture on my trip to Paju and Yeoncheon. The cranes I talk about are those of construction, and, unfortunately, it is going on everywhere. I visited four spots: the small wetland near Paju Book City (Chulbandanji Yoosooji), Gongneungcheong estuary in Paju, Imjin river near the K-water building and finally Horogoru fortress in Western Yeoncheon area. All four are undergoing major change, and all change unfortunately bodes not well for birds and, more general, biodiversity.

The small wetland near Paju book city is a nice start in the morning, provided one arrives early enough. This time, I guess I was too late at around 6.20: some Ruddy shelducks, teals, and a single Tundra Bean Goose and Greater White Fronted Goose were still lingering. Eight Common snipes made for great views, additionally there were Common sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers and White Wagtails obviously on migration. A lone Eastern buzzard was harassed by three Brown-eared Bulbuls. In a former empty spot on the East side of the Wetland huge cranes tower now, preparing for a new factory or outlet and adding to the disturbance, which is already huge from the nearby “Freedom road” (Jayuro).

The complete list of the visit to the wetland near Paju book city can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166890051.

Common Snipes Gallinago gallinago feeding © Bernhard Seliger

Cranes over the wetland …© Bernhard Seliger

Gongneungcheong in the past was a really interesting place to be, with large reedbeds and rice fields on both sides, among others a good spot to observe the watercock, once a common inhabitant of Korea´s rice fields in the summer. Alas, bridge after bridge, road after road was built and finally now along the Northern bank of the river a major construction of connecting road is going on. Ironically, just now the movement to make Gongneungcheon the first Gyeonggi Provincial Park, an issue brought forward by NGOs since a long time involved in monitoring the area (“citizens´science), gained some momentum, after Gyeonggi governor Kim Dong-Yeon promised to look into the issue. Maybe it is still worth it, to protect the remaining reed areas, where in the summer bitterns fly and harriers hunt. But the fact is that on both sides of the river major construction is going on and that the connection to the rice fields, the great asset of the area, is practically gone. Also, formerly there were bushes and trees allowing for migration of passerines and raptors. These are also mostly gone. So, not surprisingly, not much was to see, with a single Black-faced Spoonbill being the highlight.

The complete list of the visit to Gongneungcheon can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166890703.

The Northern bank of Gongneungcheon … once an attractive habitat…© Bernhard Seliger

The stretch of Imjin river in Paju is much less interesting than that in Yeoncheon, but easier to access, and still interesting. Given that the Northern bank of Imjin is already in the CCZ mostly, the best habitat can be found there, though even there the construction of hothouses and other structures goes on in places until very recently used by cranes as wintering areas. A group of five White-naped cranes in the Imjin estuary at Munsan and an overflying Cinerous vulture a little further were two surprises. Besides, the river was almost empty, with the winter birds mostly gone: a few Dusky thrushes, Goldcrests, and tits were left. Further East, a major new park construction is going on, transforming just another stretch of the river, which already has a number of “eco-parks”, into a mostly paved system of walkways, with high observation towers (of what?) and trees among the concrete instead of the former natural bushes and trees along the river, where many small birds lived.

The complete list of the surroundings of K-Water building at Imjin river can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166891255.

Dusky thrush Turdus eunomus © Bernhard Seliger

The last part of the outing brought me to Horogoru fortress, a 6th-7th century fortress of Goguryeo, one of the former kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula. For a long time this place had been somewhat neglected, but it offers an excellent view over an interesting stretch of the Imjin river with some small islands, where in the winter regularly cranes can be seen roosting, and during migration Scaly-sided merganers. Also, on the small islands in the river Long-billed plovers are at home. While the river itself is reasonably safe from construction for now (though already, on the Northern side, probably the military built a huge concrete ramp), the fortress´s environment changed over the last ten years: first, a management and visitor center was built. I am not sure, why it had to be two-storey, but okay. Then, a tent village with local products (including “Korean vodka” – still wonder, what that is) was built. This was basically probably okay as a temporary installation, for times with many visitors, but in fact it is year-round there, around 10-12 tents, though I never saw more than one or two actually used. When I was there, all were closed. Now, another large building is being built, and a parking lot fit for 50 buses and hundreds of cars. Left and right of the fortress, golf-course like grass fields are planted on bulldozed ground, with extensive watering possibilities, and along the trees formerly used by raptors to sit and prey on the ducks in the river, another walk way has been built. More bulldozing was going on in a reservoir which formerly was overgrown and a good place for small birds, and now is visible in its ugliness.  When I was there, I was the only visitor. I do not know, how many visitors they expect, once this is finished, but the historic interest in this building is rather limited (it is essentially a big hill with some rebuild stone fortification), and the natural beauty of the landscape is gone was the area looks like a golf course without holes. And this is not a cheap solution; certainly a lot of money is spent on this. Additionally, all throughout the former rice-field area other forms of construction is going on: proto-industrialization with small-scale agro-industries, ginseng fields, hot houses, pensions. For biodiversity, this is really not good news. Certainly, the burden of preserving biodiversity cannot be laid on landowners or farmers in this area alone. But new forms of support, like contractual environment protection paid by the government, could help to preserve biodiversity in the few places, like along the inner-Korean border, where it still can be saved.

The complete bird list of Horogoru fortress can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S166891979.

Spring is here! White-cheeked starling Spodiopsar cineraceus among the first flowers. © Bernhard Seliger

Horogoru fortress offers a great view over Imjin river… © Bernhard Seliger

…but the “development” surrounding it gets worse and worse © Bernhard Seliger