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South Korea

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia ©Nial Moores Website

One of Asia's Top New Birding Destinations…

More than 475 species so far recorded in South Korea (with a new species added almost every month). Global birding highlights include the world's highest concentrations of Baikal Teal Anas formosa, Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea and Nordmann's Greenshank Tringa guttifer; breeding Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes and Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor; the world's most accessible wintering Red-crowned Cranes Grus japonensis, Saunders's Gull Larus saundersi and Relict Gulls Larus relictus; and some of the biggest concentrations of spring and autumn migrants, with peak counts of 50,000 Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, 3,000 Olive-backed Pipits Anthus hodgsoni in a day, hundreds of warblers and buntings.

Lacking real endemics but high in star quality and numbers (how about a single swarm of 300,000 Baikal Teal?); South Korea is a great country for visiting birders. Safe, friendly, only 450km north to south and roughly the same west to east, the country's best areas are now linked up by good infrastructure, and nowhere, with some good planning, is more than a day away. Much of the best habitat is concentrated along the coasts (either western tidal-flats and reclamation lakes for water birds and offshore islands for passerines; or the rocky eastern coast and headlands for seabirds); with a few extra species also found on rivers (Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus and Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata); in forests or scrub (Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella and Pallas's Rosefinch Carpodacus roseus); or more open country (Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus and Steller's Sea Eagle Haliaetus pelagicus). South Korea: a great birding destination!

The Korean Birdwatcher's Year

Throughout the Year
South Korea has a temperate/continental climate, with generally hot summers (maxima typically above 25C from mid-June to mid-August); and cold winters (below freezing most nights between December and February). Rainfall tends to be concentrated in the summer monsoon (mid-June to July) or is associated with typhoons (late July to mid-September). Winters are often very dry.

Usually the first bird that visitors see is the extraordinarily common Black-billed Magpie. Most tidal-flats or rivers support Black-tailed Gull, Grey Heron and Great Egret, along with Spot-billed Ducks, which breed widely in rice-fields and reedy wetlands. In even small town parks Eurasian Tree Sparrows and Oriental Turtle Doves are very common, while larger areas will also hold flocks of Vinous-throated Parrotbills, the striking Daurian Redstart, and genuine Ring-necked Pheasant. Taller trees inevitably contain Brown-eared Bulbuls and Great Tits, while Oriental Greenfinches prefer allotments and overgrown riverbanks, which often also conceal Black-crowned Night Herons. More extensive mature woodland, like Gwangeung Arboretum, can hold Great Spotted, White-backed and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers plus the regionally endemic Varied Tit. Gravelly rivers in the south and east support Long-billed Plover and Japanese Wagtail. Large-billed Crows and Azure-winged Magpies are resident and visible in mountainous areas and along the south coast.

These representative species are joined seasonally by a very wide number of migrants: of the 475 or so species of bird recorded in Korea, less than 40 can be considered truly resident…

December and January
In occasional periods of extreme cold many smaller rivers and reservoirs freeze over. Temperatures often drop to –5 C at night, and stay near freezing in the day. Periods of light snow and severe cold are usually followed by milder temperatures, and then severe cold again.

An organised winter tour can expect about 160 species in 12 days if all the best areas are visited, and winter specialities include Baikal Teal and Scaly-sided Merganser, Swan and Lesser White-fronted Goose, Steller's Sea and Eastern Imperial Eagle, Relict and Saunders's Gull and Solitary Snipe! Red-crowned Cranes stand out on tidal-flats at Ganghwa in the northwest, while White-naped and Hooded Cranes can be found in the south. Huge numbers of ducks and geese fill west coast sites like Haenam and Seosan's Cheonsu Bay. Siberian Accentors can be common. On the southern island of Jeju milder conditions allow White's and Pale Thrushes, Olive-backed Pipits, and Red-flanked Bluetails to overwinter along with Korea's only regular winter Black-faced Spoonbills, and several thousand Mandarin Duck.

February
Cold winters mean both temperatures and birding are similar to January, while mild winters are marked by brief spells of rain or sleet, often followed by warmer sunshine, with maximum temperatures rising to 15 C in the southeast.

Many wildfowl are on the move by mid-month, including one or two Baer's Pochard. Tundra Beans, Greater White-fronted and usually Swan Geese can be found at the Han-Imjin near Seoul. Most Baikal Teal start to depart and can be difficult to find in southern locations. Rooks and Daurian Jackdaws begin to move back into the Nakdong valley and near Gunsan. February sees the start of crane migration, with Hooded and White-napeds moving into South Korea from Japan. Relict and Saunders's Gull peak at several sites. In the right weather conditions large numbers of Ancient Murrelets and a few Rhinoceros Auklets move north off Guryongpo on the east coast. At the end of the month the first migrants, such as Far Eastern Curlews, Hoopoes and Japanese Lesser Sparrowhawks, arrive.

March
March often contains a mixture of dry, cold days (with night temperatures down to 3-4 C, and highs between 10 and 15 C) and occasional milder showery, windy weather.

In March Falcated Duck regularly display on reservoirs and ponds. Most wintering species are still present, but in progressively reduced numbers. Small numbers of shorebirds, including early Great Knot arrive, plus Siberian Buff-bellied Pipits and the first leucopsis White Wagtails. Hundreds of Rustic Buntings, Dusky and Naumann's Thrushes move north-east out of China into Korea. Bramblings and Siskins also often form large flocks at key migration points. Sunny days tempt Rustic, Meadow, and Yellow-throated Buntings into song.

April
One of the very best birdwatching months! Cold days and nights (lowest day maxima of ca 12 C) gradually warm through the month (reaching the low 20s C by month's end); and dry spells interspersed with 1-2 days of heavy rain and stormy conditions produce great birding towards month's end.

The cranes, winter raptors, and Relict Gulls have gone, but large numbers of shorebirds have arrived. Peaks of ca 100 000 shorebirds at the west coast Saemankeum are higher than anywhere else in the Yellow Sea, inc up to 50 000 Great Knot, and small numbers of the globally-endangered Nordmann's Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Other Korean specialities include Chinese Egret from mid-month, and Black-faced Spoonbill in small groups along the coast. This latter species has a world population of approximately 850! Passerine migration peaks towards the end of the month, with the first leaf warblers, up to 100 Blue-and-white, 30 Narcissus and 20 Yellow-rumped Flycatchers a day at the best sites, and flocks of Tristram's and Yellow-browed Buntings. Japanese Yellow Bunting is regular too, along with other Japanese migrants, including small numbers of Japanese Robin and Brown Thrush in the far southeast or the far southwest. Up to 100 species a day is possible on Eocheong and Gageo Island off the west coast from April 25 onward (with a record-breaking 122 recorded on April 30 2002: see the trip reports)

May
Like April, a great birding month. Temperatures begin to climb with day maxima often reaching 25 C by the end of the month, though feeling cooler on offshore islands due to low sea temperatures and wind. Fog can temporarily limit birding, while also causing spectacular falls of migrants.

Migration continues. Especially in the first week, diversity can be exceptional. Lesser Sandplovers, Red-necked Stints, Broad-billed and Spoon-billed Sandpipers peak at Saemankeum and other key areas, while Chestnut and Little Buntings begin to outnumber Yellow-throated and the very common Black-faced Bunting. Mugimakis, Dark-sided and Grey-streaked Flycatchers also start to arrive. Brown and Tiger Shrikes, Siberian Rubythroats and Broad-billed Rollers add colour and quality to the birding mix. By late May locustella warblers (Gray's, Pallas's, Middendorf's, Styann's Grasshopper and Lanceolated) arrive on western islands. In forests Ruddy Kingfisher and Fairy Pitta are in territory and vocal, though still elusive and easily disturbed. Korean breeding Chinese Egrets and Black-faced Spoonbills remain widespread at the best sites in the northwest, and Saunders's Gull also sometimes nest.

June
Often hot (temperatures up to 30C inland) and humid, with very heavy rains some years by mid-month.

By early June, Yellow and the rare Shrenk's Bittern are breeding in reed-beds, and Watercock give their (slightly comical) gulping calls in the best rice-field areas, such as Seosan. Nesting activity in Black-faced Spoonbill and Chinese Egret colonies reaches its peak, and forest nesters are still vocal, especially in the first half of the month. At Gwangneung, northeast of Seoul, typical species include 4 species of woodpecker, Ruddy Kingfisher, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and Mandarin Duck, while on the south coast at Goje Island Pale Thrush, Blue-and-white Flycatcher and Yellow-throated Bunting predominate. Black Woodpigeon nest on Gageo and other islands and Styann's Grasshopper Warbler are widespread on small islets: both species, plus the very local Russet Sparrow, can be seen well on Eullung Do in the East Sea.

July
Hot (typically above 25C, sometimes reaching 30 C) and humid, with occasional storms and heavy rains associated with southern-tracking typhoons.

Young Japanese and White-faced Wagtails can be found begging food on streams and rivers in the southeast. Juvenile Chinese Egrets and Eastern Oystercatchers are on northwest tidal-flats, Chinese Goshawks on telegraph poles in rice-fields throughout the country. Black-naped Orioles, Vinous-throated Parrotbills and parties of tits, are found in almost all woodland areas. By the end of July the first returning shorebirds arrive, with large numbers of Far Eastern and Eurasian Curlews at Ganghwa and the Geum estuary.

August
Often hot and humid (sometimes up to 30C); with occasional heavy rains and strong winds, associated either with southern typhoons or the mix of humidity and heat.

Chinese Egrets become widespread along the west coast. Shorebirds (including a very small number of Spoon-billed Sandpiper) begin to build up at many of the best sites. Numbers tend to be rather lower than in spring except at Saemankeum, though Kentish Plover and Terek Sandpiper often number in the thousands in the southwest. Parties of Black-naped Orioles, the appearance of returning leaf warblers (especially Eastern Crowned and Arctic Warblers) and Grey-streaked and Brown Flycatchers also hint at the start of passerine migration, while Hobby

September
Temperatures begin to cool, especially towards the end of the month, with maxima often falling from 28C to 20c. Sunny, dry weather predominates, though often punctuated by occasional heavy rain and very strong winds associated with typhoons.

The autumn is the start of excellent birding, which goes right through into the winter. Shorebirds are widespread and numerous: highlights include the world's largest concentration of Spoon-billed Sandpipers (which have peaked in recent years at 200, possibly 10% of the total world population!); Nordmann's Greenshank, and up to 170 Black-faced Spoonbills at Ganghwa. The scarce White-winged Black and Whiskered Tern become rather more widespread, along with the first returning Siberian and Mongolian Gulls. Raptor migration includes large concentrations of Chinese Goshawk making their way towards Japan, where 350 000 have been recorded in one day at Tsushima, only 40 km south of Busan in the far southeast www5b.biglobe.ne.jp/~raptor/index.htm along with smaller flocks of Grey-faced and Oriental Honey Buzzards. Passerines become rather more numerous, including good numbers of Yellow Wagtails and Pechora Pipits and the first returning buntings towards the month`s end.

October
Warm (typically between 15-20 C mid-month); with often excellent birding weather: dry, sunny, and relatively calm. Occasional rain, although uncomfortable for birdwatchers, can produce excellent falls. One of the best times to be birding in Korea!

Autumn migration is in full swing, and anything is possible! Black-faced Spoonbill and Chinese Egret are still reasonably widespread. Hooded and White-naped Cranes start moving south into Korea, with several thousand in the DMZ. Huge concentrations of Thick-billed Beans and Greater White-fronted Geese form at the Han-Imjin and Seosan. The charismatic Baikal Teal arrives in force mid-month, with up to 200 000 at Seosan! Raptor migration is often strong, with Grey-faced Buzzards, Oriental Honey Buzzards, the occasional eagle, Hobby and the odd Amur Falcon. Shorebirds are still present in good numbers and diversity, with a peak in Nordmann's Greenshank. Visible migration peaks with Olive-backed Pipits becoming very numerous by mid-month along the west coast, plus good numbers of buntings and flycatchers. Pale, White's, and small numbers of Dusky Thrushes are also on the move, along with the first of the typical winter passerines, Brambling and Siskin.

November
Waves of colder air cause a sharp drop in temperature, especially from mid-month onwards, when maxima can be as low as 8-10C: the last of the autumn migrants are joined by huge numbers of wintering water birds.

Numbers of Baikal Teal continue to build, along with geese (many of which move on into China). Swan Geese peak at the Han-Imjin (with 1000-1500 in recent autumns). Buzzards and Cinereous Vultures start to arrive for the winter, along with gulls (Saunders's, Siberian, Vega, Mongolian and Slaty-backed are all widespread); cranes. and passerines, including Siberian Accentor. Movements of alcids, most especially Ancient Murrelet, can be impressive. Passerines include many late summer visitors until the second week of the month, when winter species, such as Chinese Penduline Tit and Pallas's Reed Bunting start to predominate.

And from here, it's back into the winter, and some of northern Asia's best birding…

Top Sites

Chollabuk-Do; Mankyong River Estuary, Dongjin River Estuary, Komso BayYoungsan, Young-am lake, Kumho lake, Kocheon-am lake

These areas are good wintering sites for wildfowl. When the lakes in Seosan AB area are frozen, many Baikal Teal come to the south seeking open water; they stay in this area.

Chollanam-Do ; Sooncheon Bay

There are many Hooded Crane here in winter. If you have lucky, you can see Black Stork and many wildfowl too.

Chungchongnam Do ; Daeho lake

In Spring, there are many breeding birds, for example, Moorhen, Little Grebe, bittern, Great Reed Warbler and so on. Great Crested Grebe breed only in this area in the whole of Korea. In winter there are lots of wildfowl including swans, Baikal Teal and so on.

Chungchongnam Do ; Kum River Estuary

There are many wildfowl including swans, Swan Goose, and gulls including Saunder's Gull in winter.

Chungchongnam Do ; Seosan A.B reclaimed area

In my opinion, this area is the very best birdwatching site in Korea. You can see very many breeding birds, for example, Kentish Plover, Little tern, Skylark, bittern, Crested Lark and so on in spring & Summer, as well as Black-winged Stilt, which only breeds in this area of Korea. Many waders pass through and many stay in Spring and Autumn. Many wildfowl, such as 200,000 Baikal Teal, Oriental White Stork, Raptors, Hooded Crane, Spoonbill, gulls, buntings and so on winter in this area.

Kangwon Do ; Chulwon

This area was formed by extrusion. So it is a typical plateau. Some parts of this area were included in the DMZ (De-militarised Zone)). In winter, many cranes over-winter here. It is a fantastic spectacle - Red Crowned & White-naped Cranes can be seen in rice fields that are covered in snow.

Kangwon Do; Hwajinpo Lake, Songji Lake, Chungcho Lake, Kyongpo Lake

These lakes were created by indentation. In winter, there are many eagles, wildfowl, gulls and other diverse species. If you are lucky, you will see Oriental white stork and many warblers, bitterns, egrets, etc. in summer.

Kyonggi Do (including Seoul & Inchon); Kanghwa Island & Han River Estuary

In spring and autumn, many waders migrate and stay here. They rest and feed in the silt. In Summer & autumn, you can see many warblers in the reed beds and many other passerines in the interior of the island. In Autumn & winter, you can observe many kinds of gulls, for example, Herring Gull, Black-tailed Gull and so on.

Kyonggi Do (including Seoul & Inchon); Kwangnung

There is a well preserved primeval forest here. Until some years ago, some pairs of White-belled Black Woodpeckers bred here, but it is not known whether they are still breeding or not. You can, however, see many passerines, woodpeckers, Mandarin Duck and so on.

Kyonggi Do (including Seoul & Inchon); Namyang Bay

In spring and fall, very many waders pass through and stay here. They rest and feed on the mudflats.

Kyonggi Do (including Seoul & Inchon); Sihwa Lake

In spring, several pairs of Saunder's Gull breed on the sandy field, also good numbers of wildfowl over-winter here.

Kyongsangbuk-Do ; Dokdo Island

This island is located in the East-sea. There are breeding sites of Black-tailed Gull and it too is a designated Natural monument (No.336). You can observe many seabirds, for example, Japanese Murrelet, Streaked Shearwater, Swineho's fork-tailed Petral and so on.

Kyongsangbuk-Do ; Ullung Island

This island is located in the East-sea and was formed by volcanic activity. Sadong is a breeding site of Japanese Wood Pigeon and has been designated a Natural Mounment (No.237). You can see many seabirds there too.

Kyongsangnam-Do ; Junam Reservoir and Upo

There are many breeding birds here, including, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Coot, bittern, Great Reed Warbler and so on. In winter, there are diverse wildfowl including swans, Baikal Teal and so on. Sometimes you can see Oriental White Stork. Upo has been designated a RAMSA site.

Contributor

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 475

Number of bird species: National Bird

Black-billed Magpie Pica Hudsonia

Checklist

Checklist

WebBirder Checklist

Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder

Useful Reading

* Field Guides & Bird Song

For a comprehensive list of recommended titles covering Asia as a whole - please see the Asia page of Fatbirder

A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea

by Woo-Shin Lee, Tae-Hoe Koo & Jin-Young Parl. Illustrated by Takashi Taniguchi 330 pages 120 Colour plates, LG Evergreen Foundation 2000

ISBN: 8995141514

Buy this book from NHBS.com

A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia

Craig Robson Hardcover - 504 pages ( 1 February, 2000) New Holland Publishers (UK)

ISBN: 1843307464

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Birding Pal

Information

Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

Wetlands & Birds Korea

Tour Operator

WBKEnglish has extensive experience in helping/guiding birders, both in Korea and other parts of the region (for example providing both a co-leader and ground agent services for Sunbird/Wings in December 2001). Contact: WBKEnglish@aol.com or Nial Moores in South Korea, at spoonbill@hotmail.com. H/P 82 –11 –9303 1963.

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2007 [05 May] - Nick Allen

Report

I visited South Korea for just over a fortnight in May 2007 with my fiancée Hyeza, with the intention of meeting some of her family and seeing some of the country, not primarily for birdwatching…

2010 [06 June] - Nick Allen

Report

Annotated list…

2012 [01 January] - Martin Sutherland and Kim Sona

Report

…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…

2013 [01 January] - Jens Thalund

Report

…Many of the most-wanted birds like Stellers Sea Eagle, Cranes, Alcids and Gulls occur in both countries, but ROK offers better chances of seeing species like Scaly-sided Merganser, Saunder's and Relict Gull, Daurian Jackdaw, Naumann's Thrush, Siberian Accentor and Pallas's Reed Bunting, without too much time spent travelling between sites…

2014 [10 October] - Nicholas Allen

Report

Three days spent birding on a family holiday from 4-18th of the month. October seemed to be an in-between time for the birds in the country with almost all of the summer visitors gone, but with the winter visitors mostly still to arrive – I was told most waterfowl come in late October/early November. The weather was cool overnight/early morning, but temperatures soon rose to high 20s Celcius. It was mostly sunny, with only 2 days out of the 15 I was in the country having a little rain. One day was windy due to a typhoon over Japan exerting an extended influence. Towards the end of my stay the trees were really starting to colour up and lose their leaves, especially in the mountains....

2014 [12 December] - Petri Hottola

Report PDF

...an eight-day solo visit to South Korea was completed, in an attempt to see 18 target species not yet on my world list. All of them, except Oriental Stork, could be located, with a Grey-backed Thrush as an unexpected bonus.

2016 [01 January] - Zoothera Birding

PDF Report

2016 [03 March] - Jeff Hopkins - Seoul Area

PDF Report

I recently had a business trip to our plant in Ansan City, in Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province) on the southern outskirts of Seoul and took the opportunity to do some birding with my free time on the weekends. I’ve birded in Korea and Asia many times before, so I used the time to go after a couple special target birds in addition to some general birding.

Organisations

Korea wild bird society

Website

In Korean…

Wetlands & Birds Korea

Website

Dedicated to assisting the survival of charismatic Korean and Yellow Sea species such as the Saunders` Gull and Chinese Egret, this site aims to become the most informative and up-to-date English-language site on birds and wetlands in Korea: a one-stop shop for everyone interested in Korean birds and Korean conservation with Recent Bird Reports and extensive Archives; an unofficial National Checklist; Site Introductions and Travel tips; Updates on Wetland Conservation Issues and backgrounds to initiatives.

Reserves

Wetlands

Website

The Republic of Korea presently has 2 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 960 hectares…

Other Links

Birds of Korea

Website

In Korean… checklist of birds.

Birds of Korea - Dr. Cho

Website

Welcome to my homepage. I want to introduce Korean birds to birdmaniacs. There are about 13 orders, 54 families, 194 genera, 416 species, and many beautiful birdwatching sites in Korea. Some birds are protected as natural monuments, rare&vulnerable and endangered birds. Also some birds are recorded in Red databook. We have diverse avifauna. In spring and summer we can observe breeding birds from southeast Asia and resident birds, and in fall and winter, we can observe wintering birds from Russia and north China. In my homepage, you can see pictures of Korean bird, search birdwatching sites and read abstract of The Korean Journal of Ornithology. If you want to do birdwatching or get information about Korean bird, how about contact me or our laboratory? I'll help you willingly. Thank you. Have a nice day.

Checklist - Birds of South Korea

Checklist

Photographers & Artists

Aves Korea

Gallery

Birds of South Korea…

Photographer - Jason Lee

Gallery

Birds and other nature photography…