Sunday, November 28, 2010

Flights of fancy for winter travelers

Baikal Teal fly over Gunsan, North Jeolla, in their annual winter migration. Bird-watchers flock to this part of the country to catch sight of this bird, which is a small duck approximately the size of a human fist, “dancing” at sunrise and sunset. By Cho Yong-chul

Every year in late October, just as winter approaches, bird watchers start packing their camera equipment and head to various spots around the country to get a glimpse of the birds that migrate every year at this time. These birds journey from the far away plains of Siberia to Korea for survival, in pursuit of warmth and life.

Bird watchers say the tenacious life of the migratory birds overwhelms them with a sense of awe.

Birds may not be vigorous beasts like lions but they are like wild animals, as free as they can be. Even the smallest birds are like wild animals when they are flying miles above the ground, bound by nothing but their wings.

With the cold weather and the flightiness of the migration, bird watching can prove to be quite challenging, with birth watchers often having to endure bitter cold and silencing themselves so as not to frighten the birds away.

The most common migratory bird found in Korea is the wild goose. Wild geese appear almost everywhere throughout the country. Experts can distinguish between bean goose and white-fronted goose, but most people just recognize them by the well organized V shape they form when they are flying.

Mallards also like to spend their winter in Korea as well. Among the variety of ducks living in Korea, the Baikal teal is one of the most popular ducks for bird watchers. Baikal teals are recognized by the bright yellow feathers on their head.

Baikal teals’ group dance around the time of the sun rise or sunset is one of the typical Korean winter scenes. Bird watchers say the scene is almost impossible to visualize in your head unless they see the scene with own eyes.

Below are some famous sites for bird watchers travel around each year to welcome the returning birds.

Cheonsu Bay, Seosan, South Chungcheong

Seosan Cheonsu Bay is the biggest wintering site for migratory birds in Korea.

327 species of migratory birds has been found so far at the bay and once around 600,000 birds was spotted in a single day at the bay.

Especially when it comes to spectacled teal, Cheonsu bay is world famous. Around 300,000 spectacled teal, which makes about 90 percent of the total existing spectacled teal, has been spotted on the site in at a single time.

Spectacled teal habits at Siberia until mid October and then moves downwards to south for the winter. The spectacled teals first arrive at Cheonsu bay around mid October and stays there until early November.

Every year around the time the spectacled teals come to winter at Cheonsu bay, photographers around the world visits Cheonsu bay for spectacled teals. This small duck, size of a human fist made Cheonsu bay world class ecology tour site.

The city of Seosan hosts the annual Seosan Cheonsuman International Bird-watching Fair around late October to late November.

This year, the fair was canceled because of damage caused by the recent typhoon Kompasu.

However Cheonsu bay is still bustling with around 200,000 migratory birds like any other years. Cheonsu bay still offers shuttle buses for bird watching. The bus charge is 5,000 won per person. The shuttle bus is available three to six times a day.

Seosan Cheonsuman International Bird-watching Fair: (041) 669-7744,

Geum River Estuary, Gunsan, North Jeolla

The spectacled teals appear around the Geum River banks by the time they disappear from Cheonsu bay from late October to mid Novermber.

So the spectacled teals sought at Gunsan would be the spectacled teals spotted at Cheonsu bay two weeks ago.

Gunsan city set up migratory bird watching facilities in 2003 and holds annual Gunsan International Migratory Bird Festival. This year, the festival was held from Nov. 10 to 14 around the migratory bird viewing towers at the estuary bank of the Geum River.

Gunsan Migratory Bird Festival: (063) 453-9972,

Suncheon Bay in South Jeolla is one of the stops on the migratory path of the hooded crane, a rare and threatened species. It is a popular site with bird-watchers and photographers alike.

Suncheon Bay, South Jeolla

Suncheon Bay is Korea’s number one ecology tourist site.

The vast field of reeds taller than human, neatly opened path across the reed field and the sun set view over the waterway at Suncheon Bay became the representative natural beauty of Korea.

The combnation of the narual environment of the coastal wetland, Suncheon Bay, and the environment proection from the reckless developments created the masterpiece.

Since the environments are being protected, birds come to settle at Suncheon Bay during the winter.

Suncheon Bay is one of the few habitats for the rare species, hooded cranes.

Photographers and ornithologist from all around the country endures the harsh cold weather at the reed field at Suncheon Bay solely for hooded cranes, which comes to Suncheon Bay at mid winter. Hooded cranes are most often found during January.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park (061) 749-4007,

Cheorwon Plains, Gangwon

Different species have different habitats. Storks are found from Cheonsu Bay, white-naped cranes and whooper swans are found from Junam Wetland Park.

At Cherwon plains, the demilitarized zone Japanese cranes and eagles are the most often spotted species.

If you ever saw an image of Japanese crane and eagle sitting together on white snow field, that image would be from the Cherwon plains.

Since Cherwon plains is placed inside the Civilian Control Line, it is one of the toughest place to visit for bird watching.

Requests to the near military camp are required in advance. But the procedure is complicated and it is almost impossible to be admitted into unless it is for research or reporting purpose.

However from December to February, Cherwon runs bird watching bus. The bus fare is not decided at the moment. Last year’s fare was 7,000 won.

Cherwon city county office: (033) 450-5365,

Junam Wetland Park, Changwon, South Gyungsang

Junam Wetland is the recently rising habitat for migratory birds. The place has been inhabited by migratory birds since the mid 1980s.

There is a rather tragic story behind the abrupt change of habitat.

The birds used to spend their winter at Eulsuk Island at the estuary of the Nakdong River used to be the biggest migratory bird habitat in Asia but the birds lost their winter habitat as the island went through developments.

Eulsuk Island found their new habitat at Junam Wetland, fifty kilometers away from Eulsuk Island.

Spectacled teals are also found at Junam Wetland. Spectacled teals move from Cheonsu Bay to Geum River to junam Wetland.

But only a small portion of spectacled teals are spotted at Junam Wetland Park since spectacled teals watched from Cheonsu Bay or Geum River will split to different habitats such as Junam Wetland Park or Youngam Lake at Haenam, South Jeolla.

Bird-watching Festival is held at the Junam Wetlands annually. This year, the festival is held from Nov. 26 to 28.

Junam Wetland Park: (055) 225-2798,

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