Thursday, January 26, 2012

Back in Korea...again

Grim, jet-lagged zombie, wandering through the hills in search of tits...
Feeding the chickadees with Dan when life was simple
  So I'm back in Korea, yet again, and it's time to go birding. I've got a lot of bird-ventures to put up here from the past few years, and not just Korea, so expect a geographical and chronological nightmare! Here's a thumbnail sketch of Matt Poll the birder:
  I grew up in Montreal in the 1980's, and loved birds from the time my first grade teacher made my class write a letter to Ottawa asking the government to help ban the DDTs that were killing Ospreys. One of my first memories is of my father pointing out a Nighthawk diving and shrieking through the summer sky at dusk. Not too common a sight these days in Montreal, unfortunately. Back then my friend Dan and I used to tag along with his parents on countless birding field trips with the PQSPB (now the BPQ - Bird Protection Quebec). I'm afraid in our youthful exuberance we used piss all the adult birders off by running ahead in our search for 'cute' birds. So after being moderately interested in birding for a few years, I forgot all about birds for 15 years when I decided it would be better to grow out my hair and become a rock star. Oops.

  Flash forward to 2005, when my interest in birding was rekindled in a huge way one summer day in a narrow valley in Gimpo, South Korea. I was there teaching English to Korean kids that enjoyed nothing more it seemed than sneezing and coughing in my face constantly. I had a habit of ‘hiding’ on the roof of my school during breaks, to avoid getting assigned busy work by an overzealous boss. Leaning over the edge of the roof staring dreamily at a small farmer’s field, a Black-naped Oriole flew fast me at a distance of 20 feet, perched in a tree, and started mewling loudly. I was intrigued, and instantly angry at myself for not knowing what I was looking at. 
  On my next trip into Seoul, I picked up a copy of Birds of Korea, and jumped right in. I read it obsessively, and quickly began checking off the more common birds I was seeing around my neighborhood. I loved the fact that in Korea there was a whole different cast of bird characters compared to the birds I saw in Canada, yet many were strangely familiar nonetheless. 
   Another unique aspect about birding in Korea was the relative isolation. In North America and Europe, the number of birders per square mile is relatively high when compared to the relatively unbirded wilds of Asia. In Korea, your patch can be pretty darn big - I had the largest island in South Korea almost to myself, birdwise, for 2.5 years, for better or worse! Over the past few years, I have become increasingly involved with birding in Korea, and have met some great people because of it. I've also had to face some grim truths.
  Unfortunately, Korea's wild habitats are being consumed by thoughtless and voracious development on all fronts, and I fear the place will be one solid slab of concrete from the DMZ to Mara-do in 20 years. I would highly recommend contributing to and following the work of Birds Korea (, an organization that works tirelessly to help document and combat habitat loss in South Korea.
  I'll be putting up all of my new birding tales from my latest Korean sojourn, as well as 'classic' stuff from my previous five years in Korea. I'll also put up some of my recent birding trips in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, so be prepared for a lot of discontinuity.
  I'm an amateur birder, and this is a work in progress, so keep that in mind if (when) I mis-name a subspecies! If you're reading this, then I wish you excellent birding and a peaceful new year.

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