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A Report from

South Korea 3 - 19 January 2004,

Collaerts Peter


Collaerts Erwin, Belgium
Collaerts Peter, Belgium :


In winter South-Korea is one of the best birding places in the eastern paleartic to see rare ducks, gulls, cranes and raptors. Global threatened species like Swan Goose, Baikal Teal, Falcated Duck, Scaly-sided Merganser, Steller's Sea-eagle, Oriental Stork, Red-crowned, White-naped and Hooded Crane and Relict and Saunders's Gull are all possible within a two week trip.

It is just very recent that South Korea is visited by foreign birdwatchers. Travelling is very easy in the country so within the further it will be more and more popular as a birdwatching destination.

One of the pioneers and leading birdwatchers/conservationists in the country is Nial Moores. Nial is living in South Korea since 1998. He guided us from January 13th to 17th. Nial speaks Korean language very well and that makes travelling around less complicated. Also his explanations of Korean habits gave an extra dimension to our tour. So thanks to Nial for his great guiding and enjoying time. You can contact Nial at this address Together with his brother he also manages a great site about Korean birding


The flight was with Air France from Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris) to Incheon International Airport (+/- 45 km west of Seoul). We paid 701 euro. Transport between Brussels and Paris CDG by train, the high speed Thalys. Flying-time Paris - Seoul 10 hours, Seoul - Paris 11.45 hours.


The currency unit in South Korea is the Won. Exchange rate in the airport was for cash US Dollar 1$ = 1156.76 won and for traveller cheques 1$ = 1158.75 won. Automatic bank terminals were not found, even in the cities.

Time and weather

Time difference UTC/GMT +9 hours

It was a rather mild winter in South Korea. During our two weeks visit, night temperatures were always around -10 °C. During the day it was most of the time cloudless with temperatures near freezing point. We had 2 days with snowfall and this on our second visit to Daejeon and before noon at Ganghwa Island. Heavy fog made birdwatching in Seosan nearly impossible on our second day in this area. In Haenam-Gocheonam Lake and Busan, stormy wind made birdwatching unpleasant and very difficult.


Most of the birdwatching areas are extensive and a long distance from the villages and towns. Public transport (buses, trains and aeroplanes) is not expensive and very intensive between the big cities. Taxis are rather expensive with prices near 100.000 won for half a day.

So hiring a car is the best way to travel around in Korea. We booked a car by Avis. We asked for the smallest car but this was not available. They gave us a Hyundai Avance for the price of the smallest car. Price 550000 won.

At the Incheon International Airport you will find the rental car desks (Hertz and Avis) in the rightmost corner at the arrival floor. An international driving license is absolutely necessary.

South Korea has an intensive road system and it is really unbelievable how many new roads they are building. Near every existing road or highway, a new one is being built.

Traffic control is very intensive with speed control cameras everywhere on the highways and smaller roads.

Toll has to be paid on the main highways. We drove nearly 4000 km and spend 65600 won for toll.

The price for gasoline is near 1350 won/litre.


The cheapest way to overnight is staying in a love-motel. These hotels are big buildings and easy to recognise by their pink neon-sights. You will find a lot of them in every city and close near the birdwatching areas. It are cheap and clean hotels. You have the choice of rooms with a bed or rooms in Korean style (Ondol). Prices are between 25.000 and 35.000 won.


A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea Lee Woo-Shin, Koo Tae-Hoe, Park Jin-Young
A Field Guide to the Birds of China - J. MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps
ANWB Vogelgids van Europa - K. Mullamey, L. Svensson, D. Zetterström, P.J. Grant

For good identification information for large gulls see
Gulls of Europe, Asia and N.America - Klaus Malling Olsen, Hans Larsson

Internet Sites

This is the best internet site about birdwatching in Korea. Charly Moores and his brother Nial manage it. Pay attention to the large gulls and Japanese Skylark identification pages. These information will be very useful during your trip.

The following three sites are managed by Korean birdwatchers and are also worth a visit.

Trip reports

Because South Korea is a rather new birdwatching destination, not so many trip reports were found. These were the most useful.

Birding in South-Korea - N. Lethaby, N. Moores, Jin-Young Park, Dutch Birding 22: 204-219, 2002
South Korea - Pekka Komi, Alula 3/2002: 82-88
South Korea Winter Tour, December 6-17 2001 - Nial Moores
South Korea, Spring 2002 - Wilton Farrelly
Birdwatching in South Korea - Frederik Willemyns (Dutch language, private published)


Map of Korea-2, S=1:1.100.000 - Sung Ji Mun Hwa Co. Ltd
Korea South, S=1:800.000 - Hildebrand's Travel Map
Tourist Map of Korea and Seoul - get from the Avis Rental Car Company
Korea Tourist Map - central area (Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam-do, Daejeon)

The first map is deficient in not having the numbers of the main highways. The second map has old highway numbers and is also not useful in that way. Benefit of these maps is that also smaller villages are mentioned.

The map that we get from Avis was the best. All the correct highway numbers are on it but only the bigger cities are mentioned on this map. Also the detailed central area map is very good with highway numbers clearly marked.

Because they are building new roads everywhere in the country, the maps we used will soon be out of date.


4 January          am - arriving Incheon International Airport
                        pm - Incheon - Song-Do
5 January          am - Seoul city
                        pm - Gwangneung Arboretum               
6 January          am - Cheonsu Bay / Seosan Lake A
                        pm - Cheonsu Bay / Seosan Lake A and B
7 January          am - Cheonsu Bay / Seosan Lake A
                        pm - Gunsan / Geumgang River
8 January          am - Gunsan / Geumgang River
                        pm - Saemangeum Reclamation Area and Daejeon-Sintanjin
9 January          am - Daejeon-Sintanjin
                        pm - Mokpo-Haenam area
10 January        am - Mokpo-Haenam area
                        pm - Haenam - Gocheonam Lake
11 January        am - Suncheon Bay
                        pm - Joonam Reservoir
12 January        Joonam and Dongpan Reservoirs
13 January        am - Busan Nakdong delta and southern most corner of Busan and South Korea
                       pm - eastern most area of Busan : Taejongdae
14 January        Guryongpo Peninsula
15 January        am - coast between Yeondeok and Hupo
                        pm - Andong
16 January        am - Cheorwon DMZ
                        pm - Han-Imjin River - Munsan area
17 January        Daejeon-Sintanjin
18 January        Ganghwa Island
19 January        am - return home

Visited sites


Dipped species

Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus
The winter of 2003-2004 was one of the worst for this specie in South-Korea. In December, Nial observed just two female-type birds, one in Daejeon and one near Munsan - Han-Imjin River. We searched for the merganser on both sides but were unlucky. On our last day in Daejeon there was also disturbing by illegal hunting activities. We searched also in Andong, another known site for the species.

Baer's Pochard Aythya baeri
Normally one or two birds wintering on the Joonam-Dongpan Reservoirs. None was seen this winter before and during our visit.

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