This was the first "organised" birding trip to South Korea in spring. The purpose was to see shorebirds and to experience spring migration. Many of the participants had also previously birded Hong Kong, Beidaihe and Happy Island and were looking for species that are difficult to locate at other birding destinations.
The trip was a huge success with two firsts for Korea (Crag Martin and Ferruginous Flycatcher), excellent wader counts including sightings of Little Whimbrel and Asiatic Dowitcher. We also had Baikal Teal and Swan Geese on exceptionally late spring dates as well as excellent numbers of migrants and a supporting cast of many globally rare species e.g. Nordmans Greenshank, Black-Faced Spoonbill and Chinese Egret.
The areas visited were primarily tidal flats at Saemangeum and around Gunsan and one day at Seosan. The rest of the time was spent on an island called Eocheong Do, 3 hrs by ferry from Gunsan on the west side of Korea. This island had only ever been birded once before (by Nial Moores) for two days about a week prior to our arrival! Indeed we were the first Westerners that most people on the island had ever seen.
The only disappointment of the trip was that after three days of wader watching, the only sighting of Spoon-billed Sandpiper was one very brief view by Nial Moores of a single bird.
Those that were on the trip were:
Nial Moores - Guide and organiser who is living in Korea and has an unequalled knowledge of local birds and whose identification skills in the field are superb. Nial can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org (tel:82 11 9303 1963)
Tony Lancaster, Dennis Weir, Willie McDowell and myself (arrived on the 21st April from the UK).
On the 25th we were joined by Jeff Gilligan, Tom Staudt, Nick Lethaby, Gerard Lillie (from the US) and Jim Dowdall (Ireland).
We flew with British Midland from Belfast to London, then London to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Seoul Incheon with Lufthansa. We left Belfast at 10:30 on a Saturday morning and arrived in Seoul the following day at 11:30 am Korean time (8 hours ahead). The flight cost was £550. No visa was required.
Sat 20th April: Left UK
Sun 21st: Arrived Seoul Incheon. Birded close to the airport at Yeong Jeong. Drove to Gunsan that evening
Mon 22nd to Wed 24th: Took an early morning ferry to Eocheong Do from Gunsan. Stayed on the island until the afternoon of Wednesday 24th when we returned to Gunsan. Joined by the American contingent and Jim Dowdall on the night of the 24th.
Thur 25th and Fri 26th: Birded tidal flats around Saemangeum and Gunsan.
Sat 27th to Thurs 2nd May - Returned to Eocheong Do on the early morning ferry on the Saturday. In rain and fog had a massive fall of migrants on April 30th and May 1st.(See "Archived Repports" in the Article Section of this site.)Stayed on the island until the Thursday afternoon.
Fri 3rd - Birded tidal flats and some nearby areas around Gunsan.
Sat 4th - Travelled to Seosan and birded the area. Minibus technical problems restricted birding in this area! Travelled onto Incheon to be near the Airport for the Sunday flight departures.
Sun 5th - We had about 4 hours birding close to the airport at Yeong Jeong. PM flight back to the UK.
There are some reasonable websites including:
Previous trip reports accessed included:
Korea, May 1998, Erik Toorman & Duncan James: http://perswww.kuleuven.ac.be/~p6478500/korea.html
South Korea, December 2001, John Day.
The identification guides that we utilised were:
”A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea” - Woo-Shin LEE, Tae-Hoe KOO and Jin-Young PARK. (Useful but not to the same high standard as typical western field guides).
”550 Birds of Japan”: (two part photo guide with little English content except for species names. Still was very useful)
”A Field guide to the Birds of South East Asia”, Craig Robson. (High level of detail and good plates)
Lars Johnson, Birds of Europe (Of limited use only).
Guiding: It is difficult to see how you could manage to survive in Korea without someone local who can arrange logistics, accommodation and travel etc. Even getting food is difficult. Very little English is spoken and visiting a country with a totally different culture is not easy. Nial Moores has lived in Korea for 4 years and should be contacted if you are thinking about visiting.
Money: Try and bring Korean Won with you. We were able to obtain it in the UK. This will prevent wasting time in arranging an itinerary around bank opening times.
Food: It is as bad as expected but just about bearable. On Eocheong Do the restaurant that we used was good in that the owner would make the effort to try and meet our individual needs - not a common practice in Korea. There is generally very little choice and little variety. Food is however reasonably priced. Beer was about £2 a bottle in most restaurants. Koreans eat the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner (generally a meat dish with rice, vegetables and loads of chilli sauce!). I brought a bottle of Dijon mayonnaise which helped flavour the eggs that we had every morning. We only used bottled water. Dog is available and in one restaurant the waitress purposely hid the fact that dog was a choice on the menu, knowing that it is not appreciated by westerners!
Accommodation: Nothing in the UK compares with Love Motels which we used for 5 nights of the trip. You can have anything from round beds with mirrors to a TV with an "adult" channel. They were generally £15 - £25 a night and were clean. The Hotel on the island was about £18 a night for a room but more basic and not as clean as it could have been. Only 5 rooms in the island hotel had beds, the rest use "futons".
Travel: We used a rented bus and driver for the mainland driving. Generally about £130 a day. (Road signs on the main roads are also in English but if going off the main roads to a site, you will need detailed directions).
Climate: It varied from hot sunny days (which required sun protection) to full days of rain.
Tidal Flats: Those watched were primarily at Saemangeum, some of the world's widest tidal flats. Watching tidal flats is difficult and often frustrating. They stretch for miles and the high tide viewing period for seeing large numbers of waders is limited. In addition, the congregation of large numbers of birds into small areas (e.g. at a high tide roost), can lead to viewing difficulties for example with disturbance or a hunting raptor. With probably only one high tide during the daylight hours it is important that you are in the right place at the right time. We experienced spectacular close up views of waders at some sites and then experienced the sight of miles of mud when we slightly misjudged a high tide. The early dates of our visit coincided with the higher tides (full moon). However, it is with great sadness to report that this site will be lost within a few years. The government are currently building a huge sea wall and the land will be reclaimed in probably 4 years time. This loss of tidal habitat is on an unprecedented scale and the long term implications for species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Great Knot are extremely worrying.
Eocheong Do ("Do" means island in Korean): This island is on the Yellow Sea and ideal for seeking out migrants. It is about 3 miles long and two miles wide and 3 hrs by boat from Gunsan. It is the only inhabited island in the area. It has cultivated areas around the village, a lighthouse, a beach, a small reservoir and a number of deciduous wooded gulleys. All are workable on foot making it easy to bird. It also has a Korean "Government" presence in certain areas which while fenced off and inaccessible, provides some of the best habitat for e.g. larks and pipits. Accompanied access may be possible in the future. Credit must be given to Nial for bringing us to this island as it had no previous birding record but now the enormous potential has been recognised.
Seosan: This is an area with two huge freshwater lakes and rice paddies that are a result of reclamation. There are no dwelling houses in the area so disturbance is less than at other sites. Good for wildfowl, geese and waders.
Woodland: There is extensive woodland throughout Korea although the range and number of bird species is very limited.
It must be said that the extensive rice fields seen whilst travelling throughout the country are relatively birdless. Such intensive agriculture with widespread use of pesticides and fertilisers cannot be in the long term interest of the country. However one significant plus for Korea is that there is only very limited hunting of birds. We only saw one shooter during two weeks and a few shotgun cartridges at particular locations.
Summary of birding highlights
The species list at the end give a breakdown of our sightings. However, the following is a more detailed summary of some of the more interesting sightings:
Baikal Teal: at least two birds (possibly as many as 5) were seen at Seosan on the second last day of our trip. These birds were unexpected as most Baikal Teal have left Korea by March.
Swan Goose: again, two birds were unexpected, found in amongst a flock of Bean Geese.
Black-faced Spoonbill: we had a significant fall of birds on Eocheong Do which produced many great birds, including two Black-faced Spoonbills. One of the most memorable sights of the trip is seeing these two birds feed in the moonlight on the beach.
Chinese Egret: a small number of birds were seen around Yeong Jeong.
Little Whimbrel: at least three, if not four birds were seen. These birds were extremely confiding.
Asiatic Dowitcher: again, a total of three birds were seen at two different sites.
Nordmann's Greenshank: a number of different birds were seen during the trip. To find them can require perseverance but they are relatively easily separated from Greenshank.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper: three days were spent wader watching and we were disappointed that the group did not get any views. One bird was picked up briefly by Nial Moores before the flock of stints took of.
Streaked Shearwater: seen each time from the boat over to Eocheong Do.
Ancient Murrelet: again, seen in very small numbers during each boat trip.
Oriental Pratincole: at least five birds were seen around the island.
Blyth's Pipit: at least two birds (probably 4) were seen on the island.
Buff-bellied Pipit: seen on the island and at Seosan.
Amur Falcon: one frequented the island for two days, often giving superb views. However it was missed by 2 of the party!
White-throated Needletail: some birds were seen (and heard) at very close range.
Himalayan Swiftlet: after Nial picked up three birds on his previous visit, we had a single bird, followed by a sighting, by Tony, of six the following day.
Crag Martin: this bird was seen independently flying around the island by at least five birders. It was seen again briefly on a number of occasions. This was a first for Korea.
Buntings: all the Buntings listed were seen most days, often giving excellent views.
Thrushes: all listed thrushes were seen although Grey and Siberian were often difficult to pick up due to their skulking habits. However excellent views of all other thrushes were obtained by everyone.
Greater Short-toed Lark: two birds were seen although they were difficult to observe due to their choice of habitat in a controlled area.
Ferruginous Flycatcher: amazingly, three records of this first for Korea.
Narcissus Flycatcher: birds were seen regularly during the trip. One, if not two, birds were 'elisae' Flycatcher, a very poorly known form, which are believed to differ in males having olive green upperparts with a bright yellow throat, and the females being generally similar, though duller.
Special thanks are made to both Nial Moores and to Kim Su-Kyung for assisting with our arrangements and for making the trip so enjoyable and successful. We hope that our trip will now prompt other birders to visit and thereby help in the promotion of birding and conservation in South Korea.
The following are the species recorded (with a few more of the more interesting peak numbers added by Nial from our log: NOTE with the exception of some of the non-passerines and OBPs, these refer almost exclusively to grounded birds). They are a combination of everyone's sightings. It should be noted that from the 21st to 25th, there were only five members of the group birding Eocheong Do. If you wish to have a daily analysis please e-mail me.
Species of Special Conservation Concern are in bold.
Great Crested Grebe
Streaked Shearwater: 300+ on 24/4 between Gunsan and Eochong Is.
Great White Egret (alba and modesta)
Chinese Egret: Seen on 3 dates, with peak of 3 on April 21st at Yeongjong Is.
Chinese Pond Heron: Peak of 5 on 30/4, Eochong Is.
Black-faced Spoonbill: 2 on Eochong, 30/4 - 1/5.
Swan Goose: 2 at Seosan, on 4/5.
Eastern Tundra Bean Goose (A. f. serrirostris): 1300 at Seosan, 4/5.
Greater White-fronted Goose (frontalis)
Northern Spot-billed Duck
Baikal Teal:2+ at Seosan, May 4
Falcated Duck: Peak of 30 at Seosan, May 4.
Chinese Sparrowhawk: Seen on 5 dates, with peak of 10 on 30/4 (much commoner from ca. May 10 onwards)
Japanese Sparrowhawk: Seen on 5 dates, with peak of 30 on May 1.
Amur Falcon: 3 sightings of 1 or 2 adult males on Eochong Is.
Lesser (Mongolian) Sand Plover: ca.400, Dongjin estuary, Saemangeum.
Greater Sand Plover
Pacific Golden Plover
Eastern Oystercatcher (osculans): 10 on 22/4, Gunsan.
Red-necked Stint: 1500+, May 3, Dongjin estuary, Saemangeum.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Only 1, on 27/4, Dongjin estuary. A more typical 6 were seen on May 14 at Saemangeum, where the September peak reaches 200+.
Little Stint: One on May 3, Dongjin estuary.
Long-toed Stint: 10 on May 4, Seosan.
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper: 1500+, April 26, Geum estuary.
Dunlin: 8000+, 26/4, Saemangeum, Geum.
Great Knot: Only comparatively small numbers were noted, with 1500+ on 26/4 the peak.(A more typical 35000 recorded at Mangyeung estuary, Saemangeum on May 14.
Broad-billed Sandpiper: 150+, May 3, Saemangeum.
Nordmann's (Spotted) Greenshank: 2 on 26/4, 4 on 3/5, Saemangeum.
Terek Sandpiper: 400+, April 26, Geum estuary.
Asiatic Dowitcher: 3 on 3/5, Dongjin estuary, Saemangeum.
Little Whimbrel: 3-4 down to a few metres range, Eochong Is.
Far Eastern Curlew: 250 on April 21, YeongJong Is.
Little Ringed Plover
Latham's Snipe: Seen on 5 dates, with max of 5 on 30/4, Eochong Is.
Swinhoe's Snipe: 2 on 30/4.
"Pacific" Black-legged Kittiwake
Saunders's Gull: Seen on 3 dates, with 4 on 22/4 at YeongJong Is.
Mongolian (Yellow-legged) Gull Larus (cachinnans) mongolicus
Heuglin's (Siberian) Gull (taimyrensis)
Ancient Murrelet: peak of 21, April 24 from ferry between Gunsan and Eocheong Is.
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Rufous Turtle Dove
Oriental Scops Owl
Brown Hawk Owl
Himalayan Swiftlet: see above
Greater Short-toed Lark
Red-rumped Swallow (japonica)
Asiatic House Martin
Crag Martin: see above
Citrine Wagtail: one female on April 30: considered a rare migrant in Korea.
White Wagtail (ocularis) We also saw 1-2 leucopsis, and 1 baikalensis
Black-backed Wagtail (lugens)
Blyth's Pipit: prob 4 different birds on Eochong Is.
Pechora Pipit: surprisingly scarce (can be numerous on passage), with 1 on April 30 and 1 on May 4 at Seosan.
Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit (japonica)
Olive-backed Pipit: The massive fall on Eocheong Island contained a rather conservative 3000 OBPs on 30/4!
Eurasian Tree Pipit : one on 30/4 constituted about the 4th or 5th record for Korea.
Waxwing sp.1, presumed Japanese Waxwing, on April 30 in heavy rain and fog.
Siberian Rubythroat: 5 on 30/4.
Japanese Robin: 1 in song, 25/4, Eocheong Is.
Siberian Blue Robin: Max. of 20, 25/4.
"Red-breasted" Blue Rock Thrush (philippensis
White's Thrush: Seen almost daily
Pale Thrush: Seen daily, with a peak of 40+, 29/4, Eocheong Is.
Dusky Thrush (both eunomus and naummani): Seen daily, with 100+ on two or more dates.
Siberian Thrush: Seen on 4 dates, with a max.of only 2; more numerous later in May.
Grey-backed Thrush: Seen daily on Eocheong Island, with a max. of 20+ on 25/4.
Brown Thrush: Seen almost daily on Eocheong Is, with peak of 10 on 30/4.
Eye-browed Thrush: Singles seen on only 3 dates (but peaking at 230 on 6/5)
Grey Thrush: Up to 3 seen on 5 dates on Eocheong Is.
Chinese Blackbird (T. [merula] mandarinus): 1, 22/4, Eocheong Is.
Black-throated Thrush: 1 adult male,23/4, Eocheong Is.
Red-throated Thrush: 1 adult male, 18-22/4, Eocheong Is.
Japanese Bush Warbler Cettia diphone cantans
Korean Bush Warbler Cettia (diphone) borealis
Radde's Warbler Yellow-browed Warbler: Recorded daily; peak of 200 on 30/4.
Pallas's Leaf Warbler: Scarce, peak of 10 on 25/4.
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler: Recorded daily on Eocheong Is. 100+ 22/4.
Eastern Crowned Warbler: Recorded daily: 150+ on 22/4
Two-barred Greenish Warbler: 5 on 30/4
Hume's Leaf Warbler: 2 singles on Eocheong Is. (only ca 3-4th records for Korea)
Oriental Reed Warbler
Narcissus Flycatcher (inc. elisae): Scarce, recorded on only 7 dates, with peak of 5 on 29/4.
Mugimaki Flycatcher: Only 1, on 29/4,but 174 on 7/5 on Eocheong Is.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher: Seen most days on Eocheong is, with peak of 7
Blue & White Flycatcher: Seen daily on Eocheong is., with a low peak of 8
Ferruginous Flycatcher: See above
Chinese Penduline Tit
Tristram's Bunting: Seen daily on Eocheong Is, with a peak of over 100 on 2 dates.
Yellow-browed Bunting: Seen daily on Eocheong Is., with peak of 75 on 29/4.
Yellow-breasted Bunting: Seen daily on Eocheong Is. in small numbers.
Japanese Yellow Bunting: Seen daily on Eocheong Is., with 4-7 most days.
Little Bunting: Seen daily on Eocheong Is., with 150+ on 29/4.
Black-faced Bunting: Seen near daily, with peak of 150+ on Eocheong Is.
Yellow-throated Bunting: Seen in small numbers most days.
Chesnut Bunting: Seen in small numbers most days (rather commoner later in May, with peak of 55 by 22/5)
Chinese Grosbeak: Seen most days. 19 on 22/4 was the peak.
Japanese Grosbeak : 1 on 23/4.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Red-billed Starling: Only 1, on 23/4.
Chestnut-(Red- cheeked) Starling: Daily between April 28th and May 2nd, with 5 the peak.
Unfortunately there was no roll-call on the 27th following a demanding and wet day in the field. This day was spent wader watching. All the major wader species were seen including good counts of Great Knot, Broad-billed sandpipers, Grey-tailed Tattlers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints. It was during this day that one Spoon-billed Sandpiper was seen briefly by Niall Moores.
Total species count: This depends upon how you want to treat certain groups e.g. Wagtails and Gulls. However, in excess of 210 species were seen during the two week period!
Eoncheng Do was also "manned" by Nial after our visit and details of the birds subsequently seen are on the Birds Korea Website.
Report prepared by:
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Tel: 028 90 225 818