Many of us think of North Korea as a strange, closed-off and highly dangerous place. Reports of activity within the hermit kingdom usually concentrate on high levels of poverty and heavy-handed government control that lands plenty of citizens in brutal labor camps. The North Korean government keeps a tight rein on its people by limiting the flow of information, banning things like outside newspapers, music and movies. Kim Jong Un & Co. also fire of the occasional nuclear missile test to keep other countries on their toes.
However — it turns out that a cold, crushing dictatorship might be just what the doctor ordered for exotic birds and those who enjoy watching them. That's right: North Korea is quickly and unexpectedly becoming something of a birder's paradise, thanks to its pristine coastline.
Cranes, spoonbills, songbirds and something called the scaly-sided merganser are among the thousands of migratory water birds flocking to North Korea's west coast during an annual migration north for the summer. The mudflats along the Yellow Sea have become a default landing spot for birds following the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, thanks to coastal cities and development that have overtaken other natural habitats in South Korea, China and elsewhere along the route.
That's just fine for New Zealand birdwatchers that the North Korean government has allowed to come in and follow their feathered friends. It's also a happy accident for conservationists, who say the areas untouched by manufacturing and other trappings of a free and developed nation offer a safe harbor for a diverse range of flying creatures.