Birds from Paju to Yeoncheon, and the Korean misunderstanding of landscape remodelling

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

Whenever birds return to Korea in the winter (or summer) season, they frequently find their habitat shrunken or gone away. This is one factor (not the only one, fortunately) behind the success of places like Cheolwon plain, where every year more and more winter birds concentrate. I am not aware of any thorough register of these habitat losses, but from my own observation in a rather small area, along the inner-Korean border, it must be significant. So, surveying the stretch between Paju and Yeoncheon yesterday (14.11.) left me with some ambiguous feelings.

First, a short trip to the wetland at Paju Book City (Paju Book City Ecological Park파주출판단지 생태공원) at dawn: 35 Eurasian Spoonbills (my personal highest count there) together with around 600 Tundra Bean Geese and 300 Greater White-Fronted Geese.

Afterwards, I started at the K-Water station along Imjin-River. On the opposite site, five White-naped cranes, but not much more. One reason certainly was the large, ongoing building of yet another “eco-“park along the river: build out of old (former military?) iron plates, it has the usual ingredients of Korean landscape planning: large concrete way, tall trees not belonging to the riverside brought at high cost from elsewhere, one or two huge wooden towers to guarantee maximum disturbance of wildlife…until last year, there had been one or two small fields (with corn or other plants, not rice, in my recollection) and then the rather broad hedge leading down to the steep river bank, a perfect place for buntings, thrushes, finches etc. I feel always depressed seeing these parks, but partly the blame goes to the (mostly Western) professors who trained these landscape planners. My theory: probably these gardens and parks are nice, when they substitute some old, degraded areas, like old industrial estates, large factory places etc., which had to be converted. In the cities, and with such a background, such parks can indeed be a great improvement. A place coming into my German mind is the former Wismut Uranium Mine in East Germany, and ecological disaster area, which after 1990 was completely rehabilitated and in 2007 opened for the German federal garden show. But in South Korea, with so dense population and so few place to spare, to convert valuable ecological habitat by creating parks used by very few people (there are already many such areas along the Imjn river, and they are mostly empty), is sad.

From that place, I went into what I think of as a magic valley, along the river: difficult to reach, in the end partly a dirt track, there is really very few people going there. A military installation, a few farmers and wonderful, terraced rice fields… after seeing not a single raptor before, in 15 minutes there I saw an Eastern Buzzard, a Cinereous Vulture, a Eurasian Sparrowhaw, a Hen Harrier and a Kestrel. Plus lots of buntings (Rustic Bunting and really many Yellow-throated Buntings), a Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, more White-naped Cranes… a beautiful place, though also there a rather large area in mid of the valley just got bulldozed. With some water from the last rain inside, it made a good place for three Common Sandpipers, but I fear next year it will be another lost habitat…

You can see the complete list for Paju Book City Wetland at:

You can see the complete list for Imjingang at:

Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia in Paju Book City wetland. 35 Eurasian Spoonbills were a personal high count for this place. (© Bernhard Seliger)

White-naped Cranes Antigone vipio along the Imjin riverside. Whenever (© Bernhard Seliger)

A young male Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus on Imjin River (© Bernhard Seliger)

A new riverside park being prepared at Imjin River. Where formerly a mixture of small fields and hedges made a great habitat for passerines, now a sterile park is in the making. (© Bernhard Seliger)

Magic valley – a great habitat, but unfortunately less and less of such places can be found. (© Bernhard Seliger)

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