2022: Another Busy Year Ahead for Bird Korea and our Members!

Dr. Nial Moores, Director, Birds Korea. January 14th 2022

Another year of COVID-19 meant almost no birdwatching meetings or formal events could be organised in 2021; and as the workload continued to grow throughout the year there really was also insufficient time to provide work updates to members – or even to post much on the blog or on our Facebook page. For this, sorry!

In 2022, we hope to post more about our work more frequently; to hear more members’ suggestions on the kinds of meetings and events you would like us to help with; and to learn more about the activities you are doing or want to do to support bird conservation. Please contact us!

We are a small NGO. We have very limited capacity.  We really do need and appreciate everyone’s help in continuing to build up membership, and in communicating with our members in both Korean and English; with organizing materials and events to encourage more people, young and old alike, to get into birds and conservation.  As some members have said, there is “Strength in Numbers!”

In recent years, much of our work has been focused on identifying and conserving key areas for biodiversity, and some of the flagship species these habitats support (including the globally Endangered Scaly-sided Merganser and Far Eastern Curlew).  Even during the ongoing pandemic, we conducted formal surveys along the forested Bijarim Ro and in parts of Jeju Island in early 2020; and in 2021, these surveys have continued on Baekryeong / Baengnyeong Island in Incheon; along rivers and in rice-fields and forest near the inner border and along the coast and in the marine waters of Goseong County, together with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office); and in Gyeonggi Province, at the Hwaseong Wetlands and in Yeoncheon County as part of local government funded research,

Some of the survey site habitats in 2020 and 2021: Top left, Forested habitat along Bijarim Ro (Jeju); fallow dry grassland habitat within the Hwaseong Wetlands(top right); Intertidal Wetlands and associated waterbirds in the Hwaseong Wetlands (centre); the Imjin River, an internationally important Freshwater Wetland in Yeoncheon County (bottom left); and Marine Habitat off Jeju (bottom right). All images © Nial Moores.

This research has allowed us to improve our understanding of the birds and conservation issues affecting all five major bird habitats and all 370 or so regularly occurring bird species recorded in the ROK (see: 2014 Status of Birds Report).  For each of these key sites, we have also produced data-rich reports that propose practical solutions to help reduce threats to biodiversity. This work will continue in 2022.

Many of our members, have also been counting birds, either as part of their own surveys or monitoring (e.g., cranes in Yeoncheon, and all birds in Gimpo) or as part of more recreational birding, generously logging their observations on eBird, and helping to build up an already valuable database of bird records in the ROK.

As an organization, Birds Korea is also increasingly active in support of eBird. Two of us are voluntary eBird reviewers, setting filters and recommending to the Cornell team which species to list as sensitive, to help reduce disturbance. One has also taken the lead role in making the whole platform more accessible to native Korean speakers. Excellent!

In preparation for our work in 2022, a few stand-outs for Birds Korea from 2021 include:

  • Our domestic membership reached the 300-mark (thank you!)
  • Several Birds Koreans worked on developing materials for a Korean language version of the eBird Merlin App.  This app should help to encourage many more people to take the next step on from seeing or hearing birds and wondering what they might be – to identifying and learning much more about them.
  • In Busan, we started research at the proposed Gadeok Do Airport site, conducting six days of raptor counts to date, as part of a collaboration with other NGOs (most especially the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements).   So far, we have recorded 14 migratory species of raptor crossing the proposed site of the runway, with a high count of more than 2,000 Chinese Sparrowhawk (a Birds Korea Red-Listed species) on September 18th.  More counts will be conducted there in 2022, to try to assess the likely negative impacts on biodiversity if the airport is constructed; the level of risk to birds and people of bird strike; and to suggest possible mitigation measures. In 2022, work will also continue on building the knowledge base on other proposed airport sites, including on the migration hotspot of Baekryeong / Baengnyeong Island
Looking out for raptors (left) and the proposed runway of the international Gadeok Airport in Busan © Nial Moores
  • Two more national firsts for Korea were recorded on Baegnyeong Island in 2021, both found on the same day in May. Between 2013 and the end of 2021, an impressive 377 bird species have been recorded on this island, now including ten national firsts. We have also made national high counts there of several migratory landbird species, including e.g., the Critically Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting.
Two recent national Firsts on Baengnyeong Island: Buff-throated Warbler in October 2020 and Grey-backed Shrike in May 2021 © Nial Moores
  • An additional concern to ongoing rapid habitat degradation on Baengnyeong Island itself (and at many sites nationwide) is whether or not some of the world’s largest offshore wind farms will be built as proposed in marine waters of the ROK, without genuinely appropriate environmental impact assessments. At a meeting in November 2021 set up by KFEM Secretary General Kim Choony, senior officials in the Ministry of Environment presented their defence of using satellite tracks of 200 or so individual waterbirds (almost all of which were Black-tailed Gull and Black-faced Spoonbill) to identify areas where windfarms should not be built. At least at that time, there appeared to be little or no consideration of the potential impacts of windfarms on e.g., foraging storm petrels, shearwaters and terns, on migrating seaduck and loons, or on migratory landbirds, all of which are known to be concentrated by geographical features. On behalf of Birds Korea, I presented an alternative approach to assessing the suitability / unsuitability of sites. In 2022, we will continue to promote this alternative approach and will try to learn more about the experiences of professionals with experience of assessing offshore windfarms in other regions.
Composite image of the meeting in Seoul on offshore windfarms, on November 4th, organised by KFEM General Secretary Kim Choony (on far left) © Nial Moores
Powerpoint slide indicating migration corridors and areas of likely highest impact of offshore windfarms if poorly located.
  • In Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, in 2021 we continued our role in the wetlands project led by the EAAFP Secretariat and Hwaseong City. We completed (more than) a year of bird counts and two full reports on waterbirds and habitats of the Hwaseong Wetlands Flyway Network Site. The first of these reports is available in both Korean and English through the EAAFP website. The second report will be formally published in 2022 and is available to our members on request.  We also conducted two training workshops for potential wardens (in August and November) ; and were also contracted by Hwaseong City to write a preparatory report for filling in the Ramsar Information Sheet for the Hwaseong-Maehyangri Tidal Flat.

Participants in the training workshop for potential wardens, Hwaseong Wetlands © Nial Moores
  • As part of the same project, several Birds Korea members also participated in a coordinated survey of the globally Endangered Far Eastern Curlew at multiple sites in Incheon, Gyeonggi and in the Geum Estuary in late July.  This very successful collaborative survey between several NGOs and individuals found approximately one-third of the world population of the globally Endangered Far Eastern Curlew; identified one new internationally important site for the species; and greatly improved on our understanding of migration timing of this species through the ROK part of the Yellow Sea. The aim is to expand this “Korean Peninsula Far Eastern Curlew Network” in 2022.
  • Three Birds Koreans together with three government researchers also coauthored a paper (currently under review) presenting optimal boundaries for a Ramsar site and / or World Heritage listing for the Hwaseong Wetlands. In 2021, four areas of tidal flat in the ROK were designated within the serial World Heritage Property, “Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats”.  According to the IUCN in 2020, in their formal role of assessing the appropriateness of natural heritage sites, the “Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats” World Heritage Property does not fulfill World Heritage guidelines. In large part, this is because Paragraph 101 of the UNESCO World Heritage Guidelines states clearly that, “boundaries should reflect the spatial requirements of habitats, species, processes or phenomena that provide the basis for their inscription on the World Heritage List’’ (UNESCO 2021). In at least three of the four sites, the boundaries of the core areas currently exclude most of or all of the main shorebird roost sites.
  • The ROK is now expected to expand the boundaries of these four existing sites and to identify potential new sites for inclusion in Phase 2 (with listing likely in 2023, submission in 2024, and designation in 2025). Both the Hwaseong Wetlands and Asan Bay are included in the nine sites currently being proposed by the national World Heritage Committee as part of Phase 2.
“Getbol, Korean Tidal Flat” World Heritage serial property: designated sites and potential candidate sites for the second phase in 2025 © Nial Moores / Birds Korea. The three sites marked with red stars (labelled in pink) are designated sites within the Yellow Sea; the white star indicates a designated site within the same serial property outside of the Yellow Sea.  Sites currently being considered for the second phase are marked with Green Stars (sites of high international importance to tidal flat obligate waterbirds within the Yellow Sea); sites with white circles and white labelling are proposed sites that either are of less importance (e.g., Muan) or have little or no tidal flat and little biodiversity value (e.g., Yeosu). Sites marked with yellow stars indicate tidal sites with Outstanding Universal Value identified by Birds Korea on the basis of their bird-life, and because addition of such sites would add substantially to the completeness of the property in terms of ecology.
  • Outside of the project led by the EAAFP Secretariat and Hwaseong City, Birds Korea also helped coordinate an expert response to an 18-storey hotel complex currently being proposed immediately adjacent to the now-protected Hwaseong-Maehyangri Tidal Flat.  In early 2022, we aim to work together again with our colleagues in SAVE International and with young planners to develop win-win alternative proposals for consideration by decision-makers.
Composite image by Nial Moores of high tide at Hwaseong Maehyangri Tidal Flat main roost in 2020 and the hotel outline, based on hotel promotional materials
  • In addition, under contract from Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi Province, we also conducted further surveys and completed one report on waterbirds in the Yeoncheon-Imjin River Biosphere Reserve.  This research clearly confirms the international importance of some core parts of the Biosphere Reserve to waterbirds. This report will be released formally in early 2022 and work for this beautiful and vital area will continue through 2022.
Yeoncheon County: Birdwatching with members in November 2021 (left) © Nial Moores; and meeting with Yeoncheon County Mayor Kim Kwang Cheol, December 24th 2021 © Baek Seung-Kwang

And finally for this brief review, the Scaly-sided Merganser will be one of the key species for our work in 2022. We are the only active ROK member of the EAAFP Task Force for Scaly-sided Merganser. Our 2010 report which anticipated some of the impacts of the ecologically disastrous Four Rivers Project included the Scaly-sided Merganser as a key species of concern; and Birds Korea conducted national surveys of the species in both 2012 and 2014. Although these surveys did not cover all known or suspected sites, they allowed us to revise the estimate of the wintering population from below 50 each winter to at least 150-200 individuals. In February 2022 (between 10th and 20th) we aim to survey many of the same rivers, to assess whether or not there is a discernible population trend in the ROK; and to support ongoing proposals for screening of sensitive stretches of river to reduce disturbance. Will you be able to help us with this research?

Scaly-sided Merganser © Robin Newlin

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