Joint bird survey in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) October 2019

Report by Dr. Carmen Or (WWF-Hong Kong), Mr. Yat-tung Yu (Hong Kong Bird Watching Society) and Dr. Bernhard Seliger (Hanns Seidel Foundation)


After the 1st Swan Goose Festival at Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve on 13th October 2019, a 5-day joint bird survey by researchers from MoLEP, Academy of Science of Korea, Hanns Seidel Foundation, WWF-Hong Kong and Hong Kong Bird Watching Society was conducted to cover three significant wetlands in the DPRK (14th to 18th October 2019). It included long road trips from Pyongyang to Wonsan where we stayed for two nights to facilitate visits to Lake Tongjong and Lagoon Chona (14th and 15th October) and Kumya Migratory Bird Reserve (15th and 16th October). Back to Pyongyang, two more morning surveys were carried out at Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve (17th and 18th October). We recorded 105 species in total with several species of global conservation concern.

Wonsan (14th and 15th October)

Pyongyang and Wonsan is over 210 km apart and a brief stop at Sinpyon at the middle of Pyongyang-Wonsan Highway provided us a group of 50+ Rooks, a few species of tits and a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.

Catchment area in Sinpyon © Carmen Or/WWF-HK

At Wonsan, the seaside at our hotel was a good spot for checkingout migrating waterbirds. Highlights during our stay included 20 Black-necked Grebe, 200+ Temminck’s Cormorants, 250+ Black-tailed Gulls, a White-winged Tern and 300+ migrating waterbirds in flight, unidentified due to long distance.

Sea view at the hotel in Wonsan © Carmen Or/WWF-HK

Lake Tongjong and Lagoon Chona (14th and 15th October)

Located at the east coast of DPRK, the two lakes are connected and surrounded by paddy fields. In both visits, we walked through the paddy fields to Lagoon Chona. A total of 46 species were seen of which 6 were raptors(Osprey, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Hen Harrier, Eastern Buzzard, Common Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon. Commonly seen in paddy fields were Far Eastern/ Eurasian Skylarks, Grey-capped Greenfinches and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. White wagtails, Meadow Buntings, Little Buntings, Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Olive-backed Pipit, were also noted. At Lagoon Chona, our first visit was during a windy afternoon and, 3 Mute Swans, 3500+ Eurasian Coots and some ducks were present. On the next morning, they were replaced with 10 Greater White-fronted Goose and various ducks. In total, we recorded 10 species of ducks, including Eurasian Teals and Gadwalls being the dominant species of over 100 individuals. Maximum counts of other ducks were 2 Mandarin Ducks, 15 Eurasian Wigeons, 22 Mallards, 68+ Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, 15 Northern Shovelers, 1 Northern Pintail, 30 Tufted Ducks and 2 Greater Scaups.

We stopped by Lake Tongjong for lunch on 15th. Waterbirds were not as plentiful as in Lagoon Chona with a few Temminck’s Cormorants, Mandarin Ducks, Little Grebes, Black-necked Grebes and some unidentified ducks at a distance and we also spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Lagoon Chona and paddy fields © Carmen Or/WWF-HK

Lagoon Chona © Carmen Or/WWF-HK

Kumya Migratory Bird Reserve (Flyway Network Site EAAF 044) (15th and 16th October)

On our way to Kumya, flocks of 40+ Rooks were noted. Kumya wetland is situated at the mouths of Kumya River and Dokji River.,The two estuarine rivers are surrounded by paddy fields and salt pans. Our car drove along the Kumya River, and it was particularly favoured by Eastern Spot-billed Duck, with 854 being recorded and is the highest record in the trip. Several Eurasian Teals, a few Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers, a Mallard and a Eurasian Wigeon were seen. Waders, egrets and gulls were also observed. Highlights included 3 endangered Far Eastern Curlews and 2 Black-faced Spoonbills resting in the shallow water area of the river. Other sightings included 111 Black-headed Gulls, a handful of Black-tailed Gulls, Great Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Marsh Sandpipers, 2 Dunlins, a Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper.. At the eastern side of Kumya River, 150+ Tundra Bean Goose were observed flying over paddy/ salt pans with 3 Eurasian Spoonbills, 2 Northern Lapwings and some egrets feeding in the paddy fields. A total of 43 species were recorded.

Kumya River and paddy fields at the Kumya Migratory Bird Reserve © Carmen Or/WWF-HK

Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve (Flyway Network Site EAAF 045) (17th and 18th October)

Two locations were visited at the Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve and 74 species recorded. Overlooking the intertidal flat at the inner part of the estuary of Chongchon River(Dong Rim-ri), more than 26,200 Swan Geese were recorded in the tidal area. This was a minimum estimate as the other side of the tidal flat could not be viewed. Such large numbers may represent a third of the global population of the species. This signifies the international importance of Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve in the Flyway. Various ducks, gulls and waders were also seen. Highlights were over 900 Common Shelducks, 22 Ruddy Shelducks, over 400 Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, 7 Black-faced Spoonbills, 85 Far Eastern Curlews, some Tringa, Dunlins and Red-necked Stints. On the way to the viewing point were all rice paddy and reedbeds. A Chinese Grey Shrike was seen. Coal tits, Marsh Tits, Chinese Penduline Tits, Bramblings, Rustic Buntings and Pallas’s Reed Bunting were also noted.

Overlooking Chongchon River and the tidal flats where 26200+ Swan Gooses were observed at Dong Rim-ri, Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve © Carmen Or/WWF-HKAt the outer part of the estuary(Ryong Rim-ri), which was visited on the following day, the mudflat was favoured by shorebirds and gulls. The highest number of Far Eastern Curlews recorded during the whole trip (300) was observed, accounting for about 1% of the species population. Along with the Curlews were 22 Far Eastern Oystercatchers, 24 Grey Plovers, 98 Spotted Redshanks, some Common Greenshanks, a few Terek Sandpipers and a Common Snipe. As for gulls, 290 Black-headed Gulls, 790 Black-tailed Gulls and some Saunders’s Gulls and Vega Gulls were present.

Intertidal flat at Ryong Rim-ri, Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve © Carmen Or/WWF-HK

With a significant portion of the globally endangered Swan Goose, our joint survey highlighted the importance of Mundok to migratory birds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.  Diverse Anatidae species in Lagoon Chona and the presence of endangered species at Kumya also signify their roles as refugee and stopover sites for migrating waterbirds. Indeed, if more surveys could take place in these places, bird records will be enhanced considerably and this will further promote the conservation of these wetlands.  More about the EAAFP Flyway Network Sites in DPR Korea, click [here].

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