Birding South Korea December 12th 2011 - January 10th 2012
Martin Sutherland and Kim Sona

This is a summary of a month-long visit to South Korea between 12th December, 2011 and 10th January, 2012. As usual, we were based at Kim Sonas’s family home in Waegwan, Kyongbuk province.

The trip involved three excursions around various parts of the country and exploration of the countryside around Waegwan itself.

December 19th to 23rd, 2011: West coast from Gomso Bay up to Namyang Lake.

We started by following the Geum River from Ganggyeong to the tidal barrage at Gunsan. Wildfowl numbers much lower than expected and there was no of any Baikal Teal. Numbers were also low on the estuarine side of the barrage. Highlights were 80+ Saunder’s Gulls flying upriver at dusk and a few Eurasian Oystercatchers. A drake Mandarin Duck was the only one of the trip.

We soon headed west along the south side of the river and across the Saemangeum Barrage to Gosapo and Gomso Bay. From the barrage we found a concentration of at least 4000 Greater Scaup and, on the seaward side at the southern end, a flock of 180 Eurasian Oystercatchers.

Greater Scaup Aythya marila female, Saemangeum, 21st December, 2011

Greater Scaup Aythya marila male, Saemangeum, 21st December 2011.

Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus, Saemangeum, 20th December 2011.

Reaching Gomso Bay we had two Black-faced Spoonbills fly over and a flock of 11 Swan Geese off the seawall. The following day, 21st, we worked Gomso Bay again until late morning. Highlights included four Oriental Storks in a tidal creek but there was no sign of the spoonbills. A large flock of 1200+ corvids on fields by a landfill were apparently mostly Rooks with a few crows admixed. No sign of any Jackdaws but a flock of 16 Common Starlings was of interest. Heading north again we found single Upland Buzzard and Black Kite at Gosapo.

Oriental Storks Ciconia boyciana, Gomso Bay, 21st December 2011.

Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, Gomso Bay, 21st December, 2011.

22nd December: Seosan. We spent the whole day here. The highlight was another two Oriental Storks while other birds included three Eurasian Spoonbills, two White-tailed Eagles, a Merlin and two Peregrine Falcons. There were also at least 5000 Bean Geese and smaller numbers of White-fronted Geese but few duck and not a Baikal Teal to be seen.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus (adult), Seosan, 22nd December, 2011.

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus male, Seosan, 22nd December 2011.

December 23rd: Namyang and Asan Bays. A depressingly devastated area: we found the area around Namyang Lake the most productive. Another large flock of corvids, this time mostly rooks, held 40+ Daurian Jackdaws while a single Eurasian Bittern dropped into reeds along the lake shore. A large flock of at least 1000 Ruddy Shelduck was also noted.

Daurian Jackdaws Coloeus dauuricus and Rooks Corvus frugilegus, near Namyang Lake, 23rd December 2011.

Ruddy Shelducks Tadorna ferruginea , Namyang Lake 23rd December 2011.

December 16th and 26th to 29th, 2011: East coast from Gampo north to Hwajinpo.

On December 16th we made a day trip to the Guryongpo peninsula where a young drake Harlequin Duck in a harbour near Jikgwan was the only bird of note: no divers, auks or scarcer gulls seen at all.

Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus (1st Winter male) Guryongpo peninsula, 19th December 2011.

On December 26th we again headed to Guryongpo and began following the coast northwards. A flock of 800 Red-breasted Mergansers off Daebo was of note and a single osprey was seen. Gulls were initially unremarkable with just one first-winter Glaucous before Pohang.

However, after this things became more interesting and between 27th and 29th we recorded at least 55 Glaucous Gulls, including 18 in one harbour near Songiho. Other birds included a sprinkling of Black-throated and Red-throated Loons and, near Geojin, a concentration of 300+ Pelagic Cormorants on the sea.

Glaucous Gulls Larus hyperboreus near Songiho, 28th December 2011.

Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica near Uljin, 27th December 2011.

Presumed adult heini and 1st Winter kamtschatschensis Common Gulls, near Uljin, 28th December 2011.

Pelagic Cormorants Phalacrocorax pelagicus with adult Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus, near Hwajinpo, 29th December 2011.

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata near Songiho, 28th December, 2011.

Pelagic Cormorants Phalacrocorax pelagicus (with 2 Temminck’s Cormorants Phalacrocorax capillatus) near Hwajinpo, 29th December 2011.

From midday on 29th December we headed inland to the Cheolwon area and enjoyed great views of over 75 White-naped Cranes and 30+ Red-crowned Cranes as well as a flock of 98 Cinereous Vultures.

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii, east of Cheolwon, 29th December 2011.

Red-crowned Cranes Grus japonensis, Cheolwon, 30th December 2011.

White-naped Cranes Grus vipio, Cheolwon, 30th December 2011.

2nd and 4th to 6th January, 2012: South-east coast from Suncheon Bay to Nakdong estuary.

On 2nd January a day trip with family from Waegwan to Upo Wetland and Junam. Being a public holiday both sites were very busy, especially at Junam.

Upo Wetland was largely frozen with just gangs of common dabbling duck and pochard on the few areas of open water together with 110 Whooper Swans, 400 Bean and 100 White-fronted Geese. The best bird was a young White-tailed Eagle.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla 1st Year, Upo Wetland, 2nd January 2012.

Bean Geese Anser fabalis, Upo Wetland 2nd January 2012.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Upo Wetland, 2nd January 2012.

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus male, Upo Wetland, 2nd January 2012.

After Upo Wetland on 2nd January we moved on to Junam until dusk. We visited Junam again on the way back from Busan on the evening of 6th January. Birds recorded here included 40 Eurasian Spoonbills, 250 Whooper Swans, 60 White-naped Cranes, 40 Falcated Duck, an adult White-tailed Eagle and two (male and female) Northern Goshawks.

Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia, Junam, 2nd January 2012.

Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus, Junam, 2nd January 2012.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis (male), Junam, 2nd January 2012.

Suncheon Bay. We arrived here around midday on 4th January and stayed until the evening of the 5th. Hooded Cranes were in good numbers: we counted at least 500 birds. With them were four Common Cranes and a sprinkling of hybrids between the two species. Also present were at least 30 Cinereous Vultures. Other species included Osprey, Rough-legged Buzzard and Short-eared Owl, 300+ Saunder’s Gulls, another Hoopoe and two Common Starling with 75 Grey Starlings. Also, a Pale Thrush which was one of just two thrushes seen in the whole month’s visit!

Cinereous Vultures Aegypius monachus, Suncheon Bay, 4th January, 2012.

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, Suncheon Bay, 5th January, 2012.

Rough-legged Buzzard (probably 2nd Year), Suncheon Bay, 5th January, 2012.

Common Crane Grus grus (adult) with Hooded Cranes Grus monacha, Suncheon Bay, 5th January, 2012.

Hooded Cranes Grus monacha, Suncheon Bay, 4th January 2012.

Hooded x Common Crane hybrids (left and upper bird) with apparent pure Hooded Crane Grus monacha,
Suncheon Bay, 5th January, 2012.

Saunder’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi (1st Winter), Suncheon Bay, 5th January 2012.

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris, Suncheon Bay, 5th January 2012.

On the 6th we met up with Nial Moores and Jason Loghry at Busan for several hours birding from the east bank of the Nakdong estuary looking in particular for eagles. This produced at least three immature Steller’s Sea Eagles and four or more White-tailed Eagles including at least two adults. Several Black Kites were present and at least two Western Ospreys while a personata Black-faced Bunting gave brief views in Dadaepo park.

Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus, Busan, 6th January 2012.

Black Kite Milvus migrans, Busan, 6th January 2012.

This is the final part of the summary of our month-long visit to South Korea between 12th December, 2011 and 10th January, 2012 and involves the region around Kim Sonas’s family home in Waegwan, Kyongbuk province. We birded parts of this area almost every day when not off touring, a total of nine dates.

The most striking thing was how the Four Rivers Project has further degraded the Nakdong river here, compounded by even more road construction and other schemes along its banks. On previous visits I have regularly watched this stretch of river, and tried to do so again on the first two or three days, but it has become so poor that river watching soon became just occasional cursory scans from the bund near the family house. All my local birding subsequently took place in the forested hills and streams to the east of the river.

The bird community in these forests appeared little different to previous visits. White-backed, Great Spotted, Grey-headed and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers were all frequently noted, Eastern Buzzards and Eurasian Sparrowhawks and most common resident species appeared to be in reasonably good numbers.

Singles of Cinereous Vulture, Hazel Grouse and Pallas’s Rosefinch were all species I had not previously recorded in the area. Many winter migrant species were, however, noticeably few: not a single thrush, few Siberian Accentors and just one Siskin. Olive-backed Pipits, Bramblings and Rustic Buntings were not uncommon.

Hazel Grouse Tetrastes bonasia (female) near Waegwan, 7th January 2012.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos (female), Waegwan, 1st January 2012.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major (male), Waegwan, 19th December 2011.

Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella, near Waegwan, 8th January 2012.

Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis, near Waegwan, 24th December, 2011.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea, Waegwan, 7th January 2012.

Varied Tit Parus varius, Waegwan, 18th December 2011.

Numbers of birds in the farmland habitats seemed poor with fewer Skylarks and Buff-bellied Pipits than normally noted, definitely fewer Magpies and fewer and smaller bunting flocks.

Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica, Waegwan, 20th December 2011.

Vinous-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis webbianus, near Waegwan, 18th December 2011.

Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans, male, Waegwan.

On December 24th we visited the Hooded Crane area at Haepyong, near Gumi: another depressing experience. The whole ‘crane sanctuary’ area was a massive construction site. After much searching we finally found just four Hooded Cranes on the shore of an island just downriver from the new dam.

On Christmas Day, just north of Daegu, a couple of Eurasian Hoopoes was an unexpected find.

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops, near Daegu, 25th December 2011.