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A Report from

South Korea 13th to 26th June 2010,

Nick Allen

A few notes on a mostly family/friends visit to the Republic of Korea with my wife Hyeza and our young daughter.

Mid- to late June is not a good time for birding Korea. It’s way too hot (most days low to mid-thirties Celcius, and dipping below 20 at night if you’re lucky) and very humid. It rains quite a bit too. Birding is hard work, not helped by many resident birds having seemingly finished breeding, and therefore a bit quiet.

Travel was almost all by public transport. One trip by (expensive) rental car from Daejeon to the Hokukwon National Cemetery was perhaps the most nerve-wracking driving I have ever done. The KTX trains go too fast for meaningful birding (and are often in tunnels or the view is blocked by a noise baffle), but it is possible to bird from the Mugungwha trains to some extent. The express highways used by intercity coaches often seem to be built in the hills and provide limited scope for birding (lots of tunnels or far-away views of rivers/forests). Local buses trundling through the countryside are a bit better.

A visit to Sokcho was mainly to see the amazing scenery of Seoraksan NP. Sokcho City produces a booklet including a useable map in English (and probably other languages such as Mandarin and Japanese) and seems well set-up for tourism/foreign tourists – at least at the information centres. There were some interesting birds in the area though. Cheongchoho reserve is adjacent to the city, and though relatively birdless in summer is probably a lot better in winter. It was good to see a group of school children being shown the birds there during our visit by a ranger complete with telescopes. I’m sure the kids would have been happy looking at the few herons and egrets present, while listening to the reed warblers singing.


13/6 Seoul – visiting friends/shopping
14/6 Seoul – visiting friends/shopping/sight-seeing
15/6 Gangwha-Do (Bunori Dondae/Dongmak Beach – tide half way to China (!)) birding, then Seoul (visiting friends)
16/6 KTX train to Daejeon, then visiting family
17/6 Daejeon (visiting family), afternoon visit to O-World (zoo/amusement park/gardens)
18/6 Sightseeing to Hongseong and Sudeoksa (with a bit of birding)
19/6 Family car trip to Hokukwon National Cemetery (Jeollabukdo)
20/6 Sightseeing (Bomun Mountain lookout on edge of Daejeon) and visiting family
21/6 slow train to Sokcho (bus last leg from Gangreung)
22/6 Seoraksan NP/Seoraksa (temple)/Rocking Rock Track/farmland near Sokcho (birding and sightseeing)
23/6 Sokcho – Cheongchoho migratory bird reserve (birding – not many birds)/Sokcho Beach/Sokcho, experiencing raw fish restaurant
24/6 bus Sokcho to Suwon, then visiting friends
25/6 visiting family/friends Seoul
26/6 to Incheon Airport just after dawn


Urban – even very built-up areas had Rufous Turtle Dove, Great Tit and Brown-eared Bulbul mixing it with the Tree Sparrows, Magpies and Feral Pigeons. Kestrels were a feature in some places. Black-crowned Night Heron was seen flying around near water.

Big rivers – only visited the Han River in Seoul. This had reasonable numbers of Temminck’s Cormorants flying over and Black-tailed Gulls, plus the odd Spot-billed Duck.

Smaller (gravelly) rivers hold a good number of egrets (Great, Intermediate and Little) plus Grey Heron, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, lots of Spot-billed Duck (and the very occasional Mallard). Japanese Wagtails seemed to be fairly common along the river at Sokcho. My previous visit in May 2007 found Little Ringed Plover to be common (and Long-billed Plover to be sometimes present) on middle-sized rivers with decent-sized islands or large expanses of gravel. I didn’t manage a close look at an example of such a river this visit but would expect the species to still be present in June.

Farmland – Intermediate Egret is the common heron of paddies, followed by fairly common Cattle Egret and Grey Heron, and fewer Little Egrets. Spot-billed Duck is also common. Things tend to get very monotonous after watching paddy after paddy – the majority of them devoid of birds. Common town birds seem to be the main inhabitants of other types of farmland, though maize in the Sokcho area seemed to be an important habitat for Oriental Reed Warbler, and Hoopoe was also present.

Forest edge/urban woodland remnants – these can hold surprisingly diverse populations of birds, such as Daurian Redstart, Black-naped Oriole, Varied Tit, Marsh Tit, Oriental Greenfinch and Common Cuckoo. Forests proper hold such species and more.

Ponds/lakes/reservoirs – these were almost entirely devoid of anything with feathers.

Coast – the East Sea coast held less than a handful of species – lots of Black-tailed Gulls, a Little Tern and Blue Rock Thrushes. On the West Coast (Incheon/Gangwha-Do) the only wader species I saw was Far Eastern Curlew, Black-tailed Gulls were common, Saunders’ Gull scarce, as were Swinhoe’s Egret and Black-faced Spoonbill – other than that the generalist Great Egret, and Black-crowned Night and Striated Herons were present.

Species List/Notes

Temminck’s Cormorant - common along the Han River

Black-crowned Night Heron – seen here and there farmland/rivers/urban

Striated Heron – similar to above

Cattle Egret – fairly common in rice paddies (cattle in South Korea are almost entirely kept under cover)

Great Egret – one off Dongmak Beach, occasional other sightings on gravel rivers

Intermediate Egret – the most numerous of the egrets, a common bird of rice paddies

Little Egret – small numbers in rice paddies and along gravel rivers

Swinhoe’s Egret – one definite and one probable off Dongmak Beach

Grey Heron – a common bird of rice paddies and rivers

Black-faced Spoonbill – two feeding along a tidal channel off Bunori Dondae

Mallard – only one the whole trip, on a small river in the Taebaeksan Mountain Range (from train)

Spot-billed Duck – common wherever there was water (but strangely not farm ponds or lakes)

Chinese Sparrowhawk – one central Ganghwa-do (farm/forest)

Eurasian Hobby – one hawking dragonflies over O-World on the outskirts of Daejeon – I admit it I took my bins when I went with my daughter to the zoo/amusement park! And I initially dismissed the bird as just another Kestrel!

Common Kestrel – common – urban areas or anywhere with at least a few trees and open areas to hunt

Pheasant – heard plenty but they all eluded me – common forests/farmland edge

Far-eastern Curlew – about 6 off Bunori Dondae (these were the only wader species there)

Black-tailed Gull – common coastally/Han River

Saunders’ Gull – a small flock of 4 of what I am 90% sure were these flew over the expressway to Incheon Airport on our last morning

Little Tern – one at mouth of a harbour on East Sea leg of train journey to Gangneung

Rufous Turtle Dove – a common bird of farmland and forest edge, also in towns and parts of cities with trees.

Common Cuckoo – commonly heard in forests, seen in farmland. Strangely didn’t hear a peek from the other cuckoos that were audible on my previous visit three years before in May

Broad-billed Roller – saw several especially farmland/forest edge habitats. Nice but brief rolling display at Hokukwon National Cemetery

Hoopoe – one seen in farmland near Sokcho, heard in forest at Sudeoksa.

Great Spotted Woodpecker – kek calls probably from this species heard on Rocking Rock Track, Seoraksan

Grey-headed Woodpecker – heard from several forest patches

Barn Swallow – small numbers in scattered locations, generally open and rural habitats

Red-rumped Swallow – one flock of about 10 near the river at the food town district of Sokcho

Grey Wagtail – seen on the fast-flowing streams/rivers at Seoraksan and the mountain section of the train journey from Jecheon to Gangneung

White Wagtail – a fairly common inhabitant of open urban areas and farmland

Japanese Wagtail – seemed to be a few pairs along the gravel stream/river running into Cheongchoho, Sokcho

Brown-eared Bulbul – a common and noisy species of urban, farmland and forest edge areas (but not deep in forest).

Brown Dipper – one seen flying up a mountain river near the Nanjeong switchback on the railway between Jecheon and Gangneung and a juvenile giving excellent views about 15 minutes up the Rocking Rock Track from Seoraksa

Daurian Redstart – a common species of forest, forest/urban edge and well-vegetated farmland. Many seemed to be singing strongly.

Blue Rock Thrush – saw 3 from the train along the coastal section south of Gangneung, but then didn’t see any at Sokcho, which I felt was a little odd.

Pale Thrush – commonly heard singing in larger patches of forest, but only saw one

Grey-backed Thrush – one heard singing in forest along Rocking Rock Track, Seoraksan NP

Oriental Great Reed Warbler – seemingly common in damper habitats at Sokcho (reeds in river beds, streams and nearby maize stands in fields) with many singing

Eastern Crowned Willow Warbler – several singing in forest edge at entrance to Seoraksan NP/Seoraksa

Asian Brown Flycatcher – one along Rocking Rock Track, Seoraksan NP

Vineous-throated Parrotbill – only one party of 3-4 seen the whole trip, at Sudeoksa. This is usually a commonly-seen species.

Varied Tit – fairly commonly seen and heard in forest/forest edge. An adult was feeding a fledgling on biscuit crumbs from a squashed biscuit at O-World, Daejeon.

Marsh Tit – 2 or more at Highville Apartments, Suwon – there was a forest remnant behind the apartments

Coal Tit – heard singing at various forests

Great Tit – very common forests, forest edge, farmland, urban areas with trees

Eurasian Nuthatch – fairly common in forests

Yellow-throated Bunting – one singing along Rocking Rock Track, Seoraksan NP

Oriental Greenfinch – fairly common forest edge and farmland

Tree Sparrow – very common where buildings are present

Black-naped Oriole – saw several in flight, song seemed fairly common in forest, even close to habitation

(Eurasian) Jay – several seen in forest/forest edge

Azure-winged Magpie – one seen in hilly farmland/forest along Hwy 27 south of Jeonju

Black-billed Magpie – very common in urban areas and farmland

Jungle Crow – common forest edge/farmland. Two were playing in updraughts above cable car at Seoraksan NP


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