Birdwatching
in North
Korea

Naturalists from New Zealand and the Nature Conservation Union of Korea completed a survey of shorebirds in the DPRK

Earlier this year, the Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists' Trust and Nature Conservation Union of Korea conducted a joint survey of shorebirds in North Korea, primarily focusing on areas in South Hwanghae Province and North Pyongan Province (where we had visited in 2017 – you can watch the news feature on that trip here).

We were hoping to visit five areas in South Hwanghae, but in the end were only granted permission to visit two: Chonghwa-Ri and Kurang-Ri. We spent two days at each location, as well as two days in Ansan-Ri and Sokhwa-Ri in North Pyongan, which enabled us to make some comparisons with the 2017 survey.

This year’s survey also included talking to classes at two middle schools in Pyongyang, which were a great success.

Chonghwa-Ri

Spotting shorebirds is all about getting to the coast at high tide. On our first day in Chonghwa-Ri, we predicted that high tide would be at 6.50am, so we left our hotel at 4am to leave plenty of time to get to the shoreline in time. We arrived just before sunrise, and walked the last 2km to the seawall through dry rice paddies and several wetlands, including reed-fringed waterways and open areas of freshwater where we spotted several species of waterfowl.

The tide was already fully in when we reached the seawall at around 7am, but a small number of shorebirds were roosting on the lower bank, with around 50 Whimbrel and a few Terek Sandpipers. The tide dropped evenly along the coast so there was no large concentrations of waders close in and birds were soon scattered over the vast mudflats. The mudflat looked firm with only ankle deep mud, judging from the people we saw walking out to tend to their fishing nets in the tidal channels as the tide dropped.

Pyongyang

After another two days in Kurang-Ri, we visited Changdok Middle School in Pyongyang to talk to the students about shorebirds, with the help of translators and powerpoint presentations. The children seemed very interested in the shorebirds, asking lots of questions during the presentation.

After the school visit, we drove north to Ansan-Ri and Sokhwa-Ri, where we saw several flocks of birds but only from a distance of 1.5km. We were able to count them though as it was a clear day, and found reduced numbers of Dunlin and Far Eastern Curlew than in 2017.

While it was disappointing being unable to visit all five areas in South Hwanghae Province we had hoped to get to, the two we did reach were very interesting and well worth seeing even if they did not contain huge numbers of birds.

Once again, we failed to find a site for Red Knot and only found Great Knot on one count. Returning to Ansan-ri and Sokhwa-ri was also very valuable, as these sites had held around 20,000 shorebirds in 2017. In spite of ongoing development they are still very good sites for Dunlin and Far Eastern Curlew and are still internationally important for both species. Neither of the southern sites we visited held internationally important numbers of shorebirds on the days we were there, but Chonghwa-ri is such a big site it probably is internationally important and finding the main roost site might help determining this in the future.

Kurang-Ri appears to be in good condition with a large expanse of mudflat and very little human disturbance of any kind apart from the one aquaculture pond that has been created.

We had wanted to visit schools since our first visit in 2009, as we had been doing in China, so it was very satisfying to be able to do this and we hope more school visits can be arranged in future, particularly in the provincial centres close to the shorebird sites.

Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists' Trust and Nature Conservation Union of Korea are most grateful to Living Water for helping to fund this important work.

Total shorebirds counted in 2019

Far Eastern Oystercatcher – 56

Pacific Golden Plover – 3

Grey Plover – 152

Little Ringed Plover – 4

Kentish Plover – 6

Lesser Sand Plover – 42

Whimbrel – 307

Far Eastern Curlew – 212

Curlew Sp. – 480

Black-tailed Godwit – 19

Bar-tailed Godwit – 33

Great Knot – 200

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper – 2

Long-toed Stint – 33

Red-necked Stint – 3

Dunlin – 2,180

Snipe Sp. – 10

Terek Sandpiper – 124

Common Sandpiper – 2

Grey-tailed Tattler – 1

Common Redshank – 1

Wood Sandpiper – 155

Spotted Redshank – 6

Common Greenshank – 47

Unidentified Waders – 1,400

TOTAL – 5,478

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