Jeolla swamps aflight with life in winter

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Jeolla swamps aflight with life in winter

Korea possesses some wonderful bird-watching destinations in the winter. During the period, thousands of birds migrate from Siberia and northern Manchuria, some passing through the peninsula and some passing the winter here. Among the best-known sites for bird-watching in the nation are wetlands such as Upo Swamp. These wetlands, in Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang province, consist of four swamps: Upo, Mokpo, Sajipo and Jjokjibeol, but the area is generally known as Upo, the name of the largest and most popular birding site.

Upo, about the size of Yeouido island in Seoul, is the largest swamp in South Korea. It was created about 140 million years ago when the Nakdong River overflowed and surged back into its feeder stream, Topyeongcheon. The backward flow caused an accumulation of soil and created the wetlands.

The swamp is generally between 1- and 3-meters deep, purifying Topyeongcheon before the stream flows into the Nakdong River. The swamp is also the habitat of about 1,700 species of animals and plants, including the gasi-yeonkkot, a kind of water lily with spined pads. A pad of the gasi-yeonkkot can be 2-meters wide, making it the largest-leafed of Korean plants. During the winter, hidden behind stalks of countless golden reeds, Upo is alive with the sound of thousands of birds. There is hardly any trace of green because the terrain is so covered with flocks of geese, swans and mallards flying south.

While many birds are hard for a nonexpert to identify, some are quite recognizable. The large white birds are obviously swans, or keun-goni in Korean. The brown-feathered birds that make up the majority of the swamp's denizens are bean geese, or keun-gireogi. Flocks of cheongdung-ori, or mallard ducks, fly in long formations. The birds most wary of people are the baekno, or snowy herons, that tend to rest in the pine forest across the swamp.

When the birds sense danger, for a moment the sky turns dark as a flock takes wing. They return and resume their life in the wetlands.

To visit Upo, take the Guma Expressway, which links Daegu in North Gyeongsang province and Masan in South Gyeongsang province, and exit at the Changnyeong interchange. You will see a sign, "Upo Neup 7 km." (Neup is "swamp" in Korean.) From the tollgate, a 10-minute drive down national road No. 24 will bring you to the wetlands.

For those who want more information on the area, the Learning Place of Upo Ecology, situated near the swamp, is worth visiting. A guidebook is available there for 3,000 won ($2.50), and guided tours to the wetlands for bird-watching are available for 70,000 won to groups of visitors of 10 or more with reservations.

For more information, visit the Web site (English available) or call 055-532-9042.

by Sung Si-yoon

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