Since I was in Seoul for a conference and there are not too many simple ways to see Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, I thought I would try the Mokpo to Gageodo Ferry. Several eBird records suggest that the birds are common in August/September off Gageodo. They likely breed either on Gageodo or somewhere quite close. I took the Mokpo to Gageodo ferry on Saturday, August 27. The following day I took the Mokpo to Jeju ferry in hopes of seeing more seabirds but that leg was disappointing. Below is some info on the logistics of doing these ferries.
Itinerary and Logistics
Aug 27: Mokpo - Gageodo Ferry (roundtrip)
Aug 28: Mokpo – Jeju Ferry (oneway)
I arrived in Mokpo by train fron Yongshan terminal in Seoul. It took just over 2 hours on the fast train. I stayed at the F-1 hotel (http://www.f1hotel.co.kr/home/sub02.php?mid=7). I was not able to book the F-1 hotel on any of the English hotel booking websites. The F-1 hotel website is only in Korean but I was able to make a reservation using google translate. It was 50,000KRW/night which seemed reasonable. It is in a good location as it is only 500 meters from the train station and 800 meters from the ferry terminal (2,800KRW by taxi). The front desk did not speak English. You pay when you arrive. The hotel is easily located if you are walking from the train station (tall and well signed). There were other hotels in the neighborhood as well.
There are two ferry terminals at the Mokpo harbor which are easily identified on google maps. The terminal titled, “Mokpo Coastal Ferry Terminal” is the terminal for trips to Gageodo and is slightly northeast of the ferry terminal for trips to Jeju (which has a sign stating “Mokpo – Jeju Car Ferry Terminal”).
There are two companies that have trips to Gageodo. They alternate days. I took the Dongyang Express Ferry to Gageodo (http://www.ihongdo.co.kr/). Their website is in Korean but you can navigate it by using google translate (cut and paste). I had a Korean speaking friend make my reservations to Gageodo (which was quite helpful). Costs were about 65,000 KRW each way. He booked both my trip to and return from Gageodo. You must then get your actual ticket the morning of departure. They recommended that I get there 1 hour before departure but that was more than enough time. My reservation was printed out in Korean. I showed it to them and they handed me my ticket. However, they would not give me my return ticket in Mokpo saying that I must get my return ticket in Gageodo (despite having a reservation). They were also confused why I would want to go to Gageodo and return in the same day. When I got to Gageodo, I simply showed the chief officer my reservation (in Korean) and he printed out my return ticket on the ship (so I actually did not have to get off in Gageodo and get my ticket at the Gageodo ticket office).
As for the ferry from Mokpo to Jeju, I simply went to the ticket office on the 1st floor of the Mokpo-Jeju Ferry terminal building and got my ticket the morning of the departure. They have 3 different ferries that leave at a variety of times. I took the 9:00 am ferry. I arrived at 7:50am and had no problem getting a ticket. I got the cheapest ticket (34,000 KRW one-way) which gives you a room on the ferry with 10 other people. You can get a private room for about twice that price.
Timing of the trip: I am not sure when Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrels arrive. There are April records from northern Taiwan but the earliest records for Korea in eBird are from May.
Weather & Clothing: It was cool and I needed a light jacket both for the spray and the wind.
Advice: I had been informed that sometimes the ferry is cancelled/does not make it to Gageodo due to weather. Thus, I was hesitant to stay on Gageodo (in case I was not able to get off the island). The seas were rough the day I went (Beaufort 5-6) and at one point I wondered if we would make it in the harbor. Saying that, I wish I had stayed a night or two on the island to look for migrants.
There is some prior information on birding Gageodo island available:
Gageodo birding info 1
Gageodo birding info 2
information in English on visiting the island here:
Gageodo island info 1
Ferry itinerary: The ferry is enclosed and seats close to 300 people. It was nearly full when we departed Mokpo, so having a reservation may be useful (not sure if it is ever completely full/sells out). The ferry leaves Mokpo at 8:10am. It goes through the inner islands west of Mokpo and makes a stop at Docho Terminal before crossing the seas to Heuksando (stopping in Heuksan-myeon). From Heuksando the ferry goes south to Taedo-Ri. Then, further south to Gageodo Island which is the last stop on the outward ferry. We arrived at Gageodo about 12:30pm.
The return ferry was scheduled to leave Gageodo island at 1:30pm. However, since we arrived at 12:30pm, we departed at 1:00pm. So be aware, that the departure time from Gageodo may change. After leaving Gageodo island (on the return ferry), the ferry goes northeast to Mangaedo-ri. Then, it goes northwest back to the Taedo-Ri, Heuksan-myeon, the Docho Terminal and then back to Mokpo. At all the island stops a few people get off and some supplies get on/off. Most people got off on the outbound ferry at Heuksan-myeon as this appears to be a tourist destination. Similarly, we picked up a lot of people at Heuksan-myeon on the inbound ferry. We arrived back in Mokpo around 5:30pm.
Birding: I had read earlier that they do not allow passengers outside the ferry such that all birding must be done from inside the ferry. I was outside the entire time and did not have any trouble and at times there were other passengers out there with me (mostly seasick Koreans and a few trying to smoke cigarettes). Pelagic birding was good south of Heuksando and best on the segments around Gageodo. At the island stops, it was mostly Black-tailed Gulls and some Gray Herons.
The most exciting find was the adult Aleutian Tern on the segment from Taedo-Ri to Gageodo. I was shocked to see it but after some investigating once I returned, it turns out Aleutian Terns occur in Korean waters in August (Birds of Korea website). I would guess they are migrating from breeding grounds to wintering area south of Taiwan.
eBird lists below for each segment:
Inner Islands (Mokpo to the open seas)
Seas east of Heuksando Island
Seas between Heuksando Island and Taedo-Ri
Seas on segments Taedo-Ri to Gageodo to Mangaedo-gil to Taedo-Ri