FIELDS POND NOTEBOOK

Birding and babies in Korea

Posted May 13, 2011, at 2:39 p.m.

The news from South Korea was wonderful — a new baby in the family. I don’t like shopping and I don’t like to wear dresses, but it turns out I loved buying dresses for Sophie, my new granddaughter. I wanted to see her, and my son Ted Markowsky wanted to go too.

So I packed my binoculars, scopes, maps and Korean bird book given to me from my friend, a Korean birder. Then I packed the baby’s clothing I brought. Not much room in my suitcase for my clothes, shoes and boots.

I flew from Bangor to Los Angeles and rested in Ted’s apartment for a night, then we were off across the ocean to Seoul. From the Korean capital, we went by train to Pohang to visit son Greg and Juyoun Kim Markowsky — and Sophie. We were exactly on the other side of the the world — and it was very different from Maine.

Their older houses are beautiful due to the roofs, with their lines not blocky or triangular. Older houses in Korea have graceful circling lines on their roofs.

Many of their restaurants have tables just 18 inches high, and people don’t use chairs. Korean people sit on the floor with their legs bent, knees under the table. Their food is delicious and very good for me, with celiac disease. They don’t use bread, flour, spaghetti or noodles. Rice is the main food, and they eat many fish since South Korea is a peninsula.

I ate three small octopi in restaurants, each octopus the size of a walnut with eight legs an inch and a half long. Another time, we had a meal of snails, octopus, oysters, mussels, quail eggs (from a farm), peas and kimchi, which is cooked cabbage with a red sauce — all delicious.

In supermarkets and outside shops, there were octopi the size of an 8-inch softball with eight legs a foot and and a half long. They keep the octopus in an aquarium until the buyer decides which one to buy, then they chop it into pieces. In the street market, we also saw mantas, devil rays and boxes of anchovies, small fish.

When I wasn’t with my granddaughter and the family, I went out birding with my friend Hyunsook Kim. What could be better than that?

We found many species: Chinese great gray shrike, the largest shrike in the world; brown dipper, a bird that walks underwater and makes its nest behind a waterfall; Chinese grosbeak, more colorful than our evening grosbeaks; a white-tailed sea eagle killing a coot; and a gray heron catching a fish 15 inches long.

One bird looked like our raven, all black and larger than a crow; but my bird book tells me its name is jungle crow. This bird eats “anything appearing edible, alive or dead, plant or animal.”

An hour later, I saw a bird that was like our American crow, but Korea only has the carrion crow. Though an eater of dead animals of all kinds, it also will eat insects, worms, grain and mice.

The next day, Ted and I went looking for prints on the snow, and we found footprints of wild boar, roe deer, Korea red fox, otter and snowshoe hare. On the way back, we saw a Korea squirrel, a red squirrel larger than our gray squirrel in Maine with fur tufts on its ears.

Near the end of the trip, Greg, Ted and I went to Seoul, where we visited a beautiful old hotel and slept on the floor with a pad as Korean people did in the 1700s and 1800s. The pad was comfortable, but it was hard to get up and stand on your feet in the morning.

We also visited the Korea Museum with its many items and art, and then the Korean Tower, from which we could see the whole city.

Then we hugged Greg, and Ted and I flew from Seoul to San Francisco to Los Angeles, and I went on to Bangor. The trip took 24 hours — time to savor all the things we did in those two wonderful weeks.

Join Judy Kellogg Markowsky, founding director of Fields Pond Audubon Center, for “Journey through Korea” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, at the center in Holden. She will highlight wildlife, birds, mammals and plants. The cost is $5 members, $6 others. For information, call 989-2591.

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