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‘Jeju is heaven for birds and birdwatchers’The island is one of the important sites along the East Asia-Australia Flyway
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승인 2010.11.27  13:03:06
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn
▲ From top left, a Grey Heron, a Common Snipe. Photos by Matthew Poll. From bottom left, a Black Paradise Flycatcher, a White-backed Woodpecker Photos by Kim Young Ho

It’s a chilly November morning at the Hado-ri Migratory Bird Reserve. Sounds of what seem like familiar calls are heard through the low lying fog, making the hundreds of birds around the water difficult to see — especially for an amateur, like myself.

At the shore, off in the distance are Coots, Egrets, Ducks, Temminck’s Cormorants, Gray Herons and possibly the endangered Black Faced Spoonbill. I’m not 100 percent sure, really, what I saw, but there are pictures of these and several other supposedly visiting species posted at a viewing station off the road, adjacent to the man-made pond.

Birdwatching for me is kind of like “Where is Waldo,” only Waldo is every ethnicity in the world and you replace that red and white striped figure with an interchangeable bird. It’s going to take some time before they come into focus.

“Though not widely known, Jeju is heaven for birds and birdwatchers. In winter, Ojori Lake and Hadori Lake near Ilchulbong Peak is used by several thousands of ducks and geese,” said Jang Yong Chang, a member of the Jeju Wildlife Research Center and avid birdwatcher, in an email interview with The Jeju Weekly. “In spring and autumn, many migratory waterbirds take a rest in the seashore and in the nearby small islands. In summer, forests, especially Gotjawal Forests, are used for breeding by vulnerable endangered species of birds like the Black Paradise Flycatcher and Fairy Pitta, which is called the most beautiful bird in the world.”

Nonetheless, he said there is not a huge amount of interest on the island.

▲ A Japanese White-eye. Photo by Matthew Poll

The Jeju Wildlife Research Center was originally a group of birdwatchers and supporters mostly from mainland Korea with only a few researchers in the local Jeju area.

“From time to time, bird-watchers from the Americas, Europe or Japan contact the research center asking for a bird-watching guide. They know that in the spring and autumn migration seasons they can see many special birds which are difficult to see in the other areas. Meanwhile, researchers are interested in the summer breeding patterns,” said Jang.

I was a bit late in my search for a bird-watching companion to Hado, but was fortunate enough to touch base with Matthew Poll before heading out on my own. Poll is actually known by most of his friends on the island as “Birdman.” He arrived in Jeju 2 years ago. Poll said he started birdwatching when he was 10, back home in Montreal, Canada.

“I got taken along on bird trips with my friend and his mom. I didn't really bird watch for years, until I got to Korea. I lived up on the mainland, and I kept seeing birds I couldn’t identify on my lunch break. I didn't like not knowing, so I picked up a Korean field guide, and became a bit obsessed!” said Poll.

▲ A Fairy Pitta. Photo by Kim Young Ho

When I was about the same age my Great Uncle Joe Tom gave me a bird-watching book with a pair of binoculars and a cassette tape. It was easy to dismiss early on with Nintendo and everything else around for entertainment. Being out at Hado though made it easy to understand why people become so enthused; it’s a great way to get back to nature.

I was told birds are most active early in the morning, so when I arrived in Hado around 7:20 a.m. there were hundreds of varying birds swimming and flaunting about. One duck, which appeared to be a common mallard lifted gracefully above the water, dragging its webbed toes to create a slim line behind, only to land head first as if it hadn’t slowed enough in preparation.

Groups of what appeared to be Great Egrets stood watching over the rest of the lake, while a large black Temminck’s Cormorant stood with its wings in half-span shaking as if performing some ritual dance or perhaps removing water from an plunge.

The wildest thing about viewing the birds is knowing the distance they travel for this particular patch of land.

According to Jang, Jeju is one of the important sites along the East Asia-Australia Flyway. The island bird population can be divided into four groups: Birds that live in Jeju year round; birds that migrate between New Zealand and Alaska and take a rest in Jeju; birds that breed in Jeju in summer and spend the winter in the South East Asia; birds that breed in Russia and China and spend the winter in Jeju.

“Jeju is important for monitoring the changes of bird migration and the related ecology. For the last several years, Jeju was the first place for many new species of birds that came to Korea for the first time. For example, the Pheasant-tailed Jacana, which breeds in the more warm areas, came to Jeju and succeeded in breeding. It means more birds are coming to the North to avoid the hotter weather brought about by climate change in the southern area,” said Jang.

The central government has designated Jeju as a monitoring site for climate and ecological change. Jung said the center has noticed that the migratory birds resting in the spring and autumn are changing sharply each year. Jang said the birds are confused by the changed weather.

Birdwatching is a new hobby in Korea. According to Poll there are far more “bird photographers” in Korea than “bird-watchers.”

“Birdwatchers are more interested in all aspects of birds, and the role they play in the bigger picture of their environment,” Poll said. “There are many vital habitats in Korea that are under threat from voracious and short-sighted development projects. These habitats aren't just vital for birds, but for many species, as well as the local people who depend on the land to make a living.”

Poll’s interest led him to link up with some knowledgeable local birdwatchers on Jeju, who he feels have a genuine concern for the environment. Poll said he has yet to see the Fairy Pitta after two years, but that hasn’t stopped him from searching. Poll goes two or three times a week, and after experiencing Hado, I hope he might let me tag along.

For more information:

If you are interested in bird-watching here are a few tips from the experts:
- Go early in the morning, this is when they are most active.

- Be patient. If you are impatient, you will become upset. A guide can't promise that you will see specific birds. Rather, enjoy the experience in its entirety.

- If you have a camera with a zoom lens, you can learn quickly by studying the pictures.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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