Today we spent almost the whole day on the South Korea/North Korea border, spending much of our time in the Citizen Controlled Zone, having obtained special permission to enter this area of high military presence. This area of the Cheorwon Plain is the main wintering area, in Korea, of Red-crowned Crane with also large numbers of White-naped Crane and our expectation was to see large numbers of these birds as well as a host of other top quality wintering species, including Raptors, Buntings, Finches and Wildfowl.
We timed our day for an arrival at White Horse Hill for the morning flypast of Cranes. This is a wonderful spectacle of nature and although the temperature was down at around -15C we stood on the hill in anticipation of something to remember forever and we were not to be disappointed. Soon after arrival the first small flocks of White-naped & Red-crowned Cranes started to fly past, with the numbers building up as the sun began to penetrate the shady areas.
At first many of the flocks were in the distance, making a beautiful feature within the snowy, winter landscape but as the numbers of birds built up they came closer and closer. Some individuals came so close it felt like we could pluck them out of the air.
One thing which was interesting was the fact that it was so cold that many of the Cranes were flying with their legs tucked in to conserve heat, changing the overall appearance of the bird, making them look like some sort of giant goose in shape.
After enjoying the fly past we entered the CCZ and were allowed to drive around, birding unmolested by the military. It should be noted that the CCZ is not the same as the DMZ into which it is strictly prohibited to enter, but even so the CCZ is the buffer zone and we were lucky to be able to enter this area.
Throughout the day we saw many Cranes of both species at extremely close quarters and it is quite likely that both species will join yesterday’s Solitary Snipe in the shortlist for bird of the trip.
As if these wonderful birds were not enough we enjoyed a lot of excellent birds throughout the day with a group of 4-500 Cinereous Vultures being another amazing highlight of the day but Baikal Teal, Chinese Grey Shrike, Meadow Bunting, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Naumann’s Thrush & Tundra Bean Goose were all excellent too – a great day of birding!