Researchers observe rare bird species in the North

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Researchers observe rare bird species in the North

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From Left: Relict gull, White-naped cranes, Mute swan

An ecological survey team with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap) has discovered some 111 bird species in North Korea’s Rason region, including several globally threatened species and others that could be threatened with extinction in the near future.

Dr. Nial Moores, director and co-founder of the conservation organization Birds Korea, participated on the team that conducted an assessment of birds and their habitats from March 26 to 31 in the Rason and lower Tumen River region, which borders China, Russia and North Korea. Over six days of observation, he said, the team recorded sightings of at least two new species in North Korea that had not previously been documented.

An adult male American wigeon, a species not listed for North Korea in previous records, was spotted on Lake Manpo, according to Moores. Researchers also spotted five relict gulls, a species considered globally vulnerable and not previously listed for North Korea.

The team, comprised of international ornithologists, conducted the survey with the support and participation of the Economic Cooperation Bureau of the People’s Committee of Rason City, the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the Robert Bosch Foundation the East and North East-Asia Office of Unescap.

They recorded multiple sightings of birds that are listed as globally vulnerable, including the white-naped crane, the Far Eastern curlew and the long-tailed duck. Researchers also spotted one hooded crane, a globally vulnerable species, in among the rice paddies and a great knot at the mouth of the Tumen River.

Their observations, Moores said, “confirm that the wetlands at Rason are internationally important for migratory water birds.”

“Many of these birds are likely moving from the ROK [Republic of Korea] through Rason into breeding areas in Eastern Asia, such as Far Eastern Russia,” the leading field birder in East Asia added. “Of course, birds know nothing of politics or of national boundaries.

“The habitat is made of some large, natural lakes, and also very naturally productive area of sea,” Moores continued, “so it was wonderful to see large numbers of swans are feeding in one of the lakes, especially the mute swan. This species is now very rare in East Asia, and Rason is probably the most important site for this species we know in East Asia.”

An annotated bird checklist for the Rason region posted on the Birds Korea website this week indicates that 106 mute swans were spotted on March 28 on Lake Manpo, which represents approximately 7 percent of the East Asian population of this species and apparently the highest day count of the species recorded on the Korean Peninsula to date.

Moores also noted in their discovery that the sea regions have many sea ducks, especially long-tailed ducks.

“This indicates the sea condition is very good, very naturally productive,” Moores said, “so this was also very encouraging, especially because long-tailed ducks are declining very rapidly globally and are now globally vulnerable, with some in danger of extinction in the future.”

In contrast, Eurasian widgeons were the most common species spotted by the survey team, with 12,200 counted, including 8,100 on Lake Manpo.

The South Korean Ministry of Environment last month released a blueprint to better boost cooperation with North Korea for the preservation of biodiversity in the peninsula, which includes ecological studies near the demilitarized zone, where many rare species can be found.

BY SARAH KIM, KANG CHAN-SU [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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