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Forthcoming trip report (1 Viewer)

Petri

Well-known member
Hi!

I recently finished a nine day self-made tour of South Korea, and plan to publish a detailed report before spring. The weather conditions were interesting, with -5C - 15C on the west and southwest, between Seosan and Gocheonam, with up to 20 cm of snow. In contrast, the north and southeast were mild/warm, with the exception of mountains north of Wonju, W Gangwon (-17C daytime). At the latter site, a party of four Solitary Snipes were nevertheless feeding in a river, together with Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher and wagtails.

It was hard work in a destination were normal exchange of information does not occur, but locational information has largely been commercialized by gatekeepers. In this sense, South Korea is unique, in negative way. In the Internet, there is general information on birding sites but no details, and especially no details on the more sought after species. Hopefully, my report is going to shed some light on the situation.

The usual target winter species were seen, some readily, some by persistence and hard work, birding from dawn to dusk and driving some of the distances at night. Fortunately, my first try with Scaly-sided Mergansers was a success, with four birds at Naju-Si.

The only missing one on my list was Oriental Stork, the normal wintering grounds being hopelessly frozen and covered by thick snow. In regard to the other target species, the two most difficult ones were Swan Goose (saw tens of thousands of geese) and Chinese Grey Shrike, both of which were seen on the second last day, around Paju-Si (NW of Seoul).

A good number of vagrant or unusual/scarce winter species were also seen, including a Lesser White-fronted Goose, a female Blue-winged Teal, a drake Baer's Pochard, a pair of Ferruginous Ducks, an Upland Buzzard, a Black Woodpecker, an Asian Short-toed Lark, a male Grey-backed Thrush, a male Red-bellied Blue Thrush, and an unidentified Cettia warbler.

Well, it is bit difficult to judge what is unusual in a nation where distributional information remains meager, as a result of a very low number of skilled birders. I did not meet a single one in nine days.

Nevertheless, a very interesting place to visit with affordable accommodations, car rental, road tolls and food, and also in general welcoming locals. Nine days was enough for a goal-oriented bird race style birding. For more enjoyment, I would recommend at least 12 days. For a committed sea-watcher, it was hard to disregard the thousands of divers moving about Geojin-Ri, for example, and focus only on Pallas's Rosefinches.

Petri
 

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Spectacular, Petri!

I go to Korea a lot on business and have been to a few of these places, but always nice to get info on more of them, especially merganser locations.

Also interesting that the Baikal teal weren't at Seosan. It was 10+ years ago, but that was the spot for them back then.
 

Matthebirder

Well-known member
Hello Petri and Jeff
I'm doing a self organised (more likely a disorganised!) trip over Easter for two weeks. Though I've looked at Birds Korea website- excellent information, locating sites seems to be the hardest part. I'll try to review your report this week and maybe have some questions. I Know the mergansers may be gone by beginning of April but I'd be keen to have a go if any odd ones are left. Site locations seem hard to determine for disturbance reasons presumably but I'll possibly have to contact someone privately.
I've done parts of Hokkaido self organised in winter a couple of times so used to this sort of birding.

Thanks
Matthew
 

Petri

Well-known member
Hi Jeff and Matthew,

The Baikal Teals seem to congregate at a different location almost each winter. I have no idea where they were in 2014/2015. For me, it was enough to see a few well!

Some of the earlier trip reports have GPS information and one may paste the coordinates at search window at Google Maps. That is how I initially started.

Processing all the fragments of information (and disinformation) was time-consuming. I am sure you will do better with the short-cut I have created.

with regards,

Petri
 

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
My biggest problem is my company doesn't let us drive over there any more (they used to, but the laws in Korea changed). So I'm usually at the mercy of public transport and taxi drivers.
 

Matthebirder

Well-known member
Petri
I've studied your report in great detail now and have have tried to visualize the sites as they may be at the beginning of April. I think I'll probably concentrate on the main sites that you rated highly as I like to take a slower pace and take a lot of bird photos especially gulls. I think our chances for the mergansers and even the Baikal teals may be slim by April so may not spend too much time checking the rivers that you mention. I guess your spot by the dam is relatively easy to try and we might be lucky... Your Baer's was a good find; I'll certainly have a look just in case, I saw them in Thailand way back in 1992 when they were 'easy'. I'll report back to let you know how we go.
Matthew
 

Petri

Well-known member
Good luck Matt,

as you wrote, the mergansers may well by gone by April, but there are other birds to see. I have also seen up to 60 Baer's Pochards at one spot at Bueng Boraphet, in the good old times...

Petri
 

Petri

Well-known member
We crashed the night in a lakefront hut with thousands of bugs... In order to visit the toilet, one had to herd the big ones to one corner to be able to sit down.
 

jimthom

Well-known member
Thanks for the awesome report, Petri. It adds some much-needed specific information that is not, as you rightly mention, available on the intentionally, frustratingly, and unnecessarily secretive Birds Korea website.

As for the Scaly-sided Merganser, I was surprised on a routine trip to the Paldang Dam in December 2015 when I started chatting with a guy with a big camera and tripod. After talking a bit about the birds present on the river in front of us, I mentioned offhand that I'd love to see Scaly-sided. He said, casually, Oh yeah, I just took these pictures of them 30 minutes ago, and showed me on his camera. Sure enough, a pair of them right on the screen. But it was around 4 PM and they didn't come back before it got dark.

I went back in January 2016 and saw some other guys with tripods and big lenses who were set up just across the road from the Dasan Seonggwak (다산성곽) bus stop (see attached picture). I approached them and they said they were there for Stellar’s Sea Eagle, which I had seen earlier in the day and they had as well but were waiting for better photo ops. I mentioned the Scaly-sideds again and they said, again casually, “Oh yeah, tons of them here today. Easy. In fact, there’s a pair right there.” They trained the scope and sure enough, a beautiful pair frolicking in the water right there. Over the course of the next hour, two other pairs came and went and the original pair stayed in the area the whole time till it was time for me to get back.

On the way home I was kicking myself for not asking the guys more details, like if this is an annually reliable site for the mergansers or until what time of year the mergansers would be there. I guess I was just so happy to see the birds that I forgot to talk to the people enough.

Anyway, the bus stop is about 1.5 km down the road from the Gyeongui-Jungang subway line’s Paldang station heading towards the Paldang Dam. Various buses go there from the Paldang train station, including bus 167, which actually originates from Cheongnyangni Station in the middle of Seoul and might be a good option for getting there as well.
 

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Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Jimthom,

The impression I got is this was an exceptional year for the mergansers at Paldang. In fact, this was the first year I saw them reported there.

I heard there were as many as 13 earlier this year, although they've mostly dispersed by now. I had a pair there on the 5th of March.

Jeff
 

jimthom

Well-known member
Jimthom,

The impression I got is this was an exceptional year for the mergansers at Paldang. In fact, this was the first year I saw them reported there.

I heard there were as many as 13 earlier this year, although they've mostly dispersed by now. I had a pair there on the 5th of March.

Jeff

Thanks for the additional information. It would be great if this relatively accessible part of the country became a reliable spot for the Scaly-sided so that international visitors wouldn't have to traverse half the country in the freezing cold of winter in search of the mysterious "NE river" sited as the secret location on the Birds Korea website.
 

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Thanks for the additional information. It would be great if this relatively accessible part of the country became a reliable spot for the Scaly-sided so that international visitors wouldn't have to traverse half the country in the freezing cold of winter in search of the mysterious "NE river" sited as the secret location on the Birds Korea website.

That would be nice, wouldn't it? :smoke:
 

Petri

Well-known member
Could not agree more. Good to hear that the mergansers have been present in such a good site for their observation.
 

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