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A Report from

Shorebirds on the Keumgang Estuary, Kunsan, South Korea,

Tim Allison

May 11-12, 2002

This trip was planned as a bird trip from the get-go. The original plan was to visit the Keumgang and Mangkyeong estuaries, but in the end I spent all my time along the Keumgang in order to save time and energy (this was a tiring trip!). Given the shortness and limited geographical scope of this trip, I'll avoid going into great detail, but I'll give an overall species list and describe the locations visited over my 29-hour visit to the area.

I took the train from Seoul station to Janghang on the morning of May 11, and arrived in Janghang at about 11:30 am, after about a 3.5-hour ride. The train ride allowed for some decent looks at some birds, but few were seen well. Birds of some interest on the train ride included Common Moorhen, Black-capped Kingfisher, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron, and Grey Heron. Many shorebirds were seen but few were identified.

On arrival at the Janghang train station, there were Lesser Striated Swallows singing outside the terminal building. I initially mistook their "jeet-jit-trrrrrrrrrrrr" for some sort of bunting, until I got close enough to see the forked tails on the sitting birds. From the train station, I walked to the shore of the Keumgang estuary, and hopped over the guard rail of the road along the shore where there was some suitable mudflat habitat wich held a good number of shorebirds. This proved to be one of the most productive areas for tidal flat shorebirds.

I spent most of the afternoon on the Janghang side of the river before walking across to Kunsan (if you decide to do what I did -- be forewarned -- it's a lot of walking. I put well over 35 km on the old feet over the course of the weekend), where I spent the late afternoon walking along the river from the barrage to the town of Kunsan. As I found out late that night, after a fruitless search for a yeogwan (Korean traditional inn), there is only one hotel in town -- the Summit Hotel near the barrage on the Kunsan side. It ran me \49 000 (about C$60), plus tax and service charge, for a nice Korean-style room. I spent the morning along the Kunsan side of the Keumgang between the hotel and Kunsan before heading to the rice fields South of Kunsan for some early afternoon birding. I left to return to Seoul by bus in the mid-afternoon. Highlights of the trip included most of the shorebirds, which I had never seen, as well as Relict Gull (rare in the winter -- extraordinary in mid-may!), and my first Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileatus), which, although the look wasn't as nice as I would have liked (it was from the moving train), was easily enough to ID this beautiful bird. Missed birds: there are supposed to be some good numbers of Eastern Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus osculans) there, somewhere, but I never saw any. I was also hoping for Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra), which didn't oblige, athough I was thrilled with the numbers of the other herons! Here's the list for the entire weekend, with numbers and locations provived:

Species Name minimum
k=Kunsan, t=train
j=Janghang, b=bus
Black-Crowned Night Heron
(Nycticorax nycticorax)
300 all
Striated Heron (Butoroides striatus) 10 k, t
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 35 k, t, b
Great Egret (Egretta alba) 200 all
Intermediate Egret
(Egretta intermedia)
4 k, t
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 130 all
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 250 all
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 25 all
Spot-billed Duck
(Anas poecilorhyncha)
60 all
Common Teal (Anas crecca crecca) 15 t, j
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) 3 k
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 4 k
Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) 1 b
Ring-necked Pheasant
(Phaisanus colchicus)
10 all
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 1 t
Little Ringed Plover
(Charadrius dubius)
20 k,j
Kentish Plover
(Charadrius alexandrius)
25 all
Mongolian (Lesser Sand) Plover
(Charadrius mongolus)
45 k
Greater Sand Plover
(Charadrius leschenaultii)
1 k
Black-bellied Plover
(Pluvialis squatarola)
25 k,j
Red-necked Stint
(Calidris ruficollis)
1 j
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
(Calisris acuminata)
250 k, j
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) 15 k, j
Red Knot (Calidris canutus) 2 k
Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) 135 k, j
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) 15 k, j
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) 3 k
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 200+ k, j
Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) 500+ k, j
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 30 j
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 2 j
Grey-tailed Tattler
(Heterosceles brevipes)
60 k, j
Common Sandpiper
(Actitis hypoleucos)
75 k, j
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) 500+ k, j
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) 120 k, j
Asiatic Dowitcher
(Limnodromus semipalmatus)
3 k
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 2 k
Far Eastern Curlew
(Numenius madagascarensis)
8 k, j
(Eastern) Whimbrel
(Numenius phaeopus variegatus)
300+ k, j
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago) 5 t, j
Black-tailed Gull
(Larus crassirostris)
50 k, t, j
Black-headed Gull (Larus rudibundus) 250 k, j
Relict Gull (Larus relictus) 1 j
Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) 8 k
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 6 k
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia many all
Oriental Turtle Dove
(Streptopelia orientalis)
many all
Black-capped Kingfisher
(Halcyon pileata)
1 t
(Eurasian) Barn Swallow
(Hirundo rustica)
many all
Lesser Striated Swallow
(Hirundo daurica)
20 j
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1 j
White (Pied) Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 4 k
Buff-bellied Pipit
(Anthus rubescens japonicus)
1 k
Brown-eared Bulbul (Ixos amaurotis) several j, k
Bull-headed Shrike (Lanius bucephalus) 1 k
Daurian Redstart
(Phoenicurus auroreus)
4 k
Short-tailed Bush Warbler
(Urosphena squamiceps)
2 k
Inotnate Warbler
(Phylloscopus inornatus)
3 k
Vinous-throated Parrotbill
(Paradoxornis webbianus)
many k, j
Chinese Penduline Tit
(Remiz consobrinus)
65 k
Varied Tit (Parus varius) 20 k, j
Marsh Tit (Parus palustris) 30 k, j
Coal Tit (Parus ater) 10 k
Great Tit (Parus major) 50 k. j
Oriental Greenfinch (Carduelis sinica) 5 k
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) many all
White-cheeked Starling
(Sturnus cineraceus)
40 all
Azure-winged Magpie
(Cyanopica cyana)
1 k
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) many all
Total 69 species seen

The field guide I used was: A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea by Lee Woo Shin, Koo Tae-hoe, and Park Jin-young (published by the LG Evergreen Foundation, 2000(?))

It is a very good resource, although the English version contains some pretty awful translational errors (at least a couple of times, there is a negative added or dropped, and there are a few sentences that make absolutely no sense at all). It could be excellent with just a little more work, and it is the best FG available for Korea, and I'd consider it to be on a par with the Peterson's Guides in North America (which aren't my favourites, but they're certainly better than some).

Many hotels think of joining their offers with flights as a good marketing move. Rarely a travel lodge or two also does the same. This it does with a car rental as well. The cruises however rarely are a part of deals with car rental. Hotels are something different though.

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