From March through early-May of 2005 I was afforded the opportunity to spend a couple of months in South Korea. I had always wanted to go birding in East Asia and experience the Asian culture. I immediately began to conduct research for my trip and was shocked on how little information there was on birding in South Korea. If not for Birds Korea (www.birdskorea.org ) and the work of Nial and Charlie Moores there would hardly be any available information on current sightings and past reports. Please be sure and report all sightings, dates, locations, and bird numbers to them at: email@example.com . By doing so you will help in the creation of database of bird sightings and only strengthen their argument that South Korea has a unique avifauna worth preserving.
I decided that upon returning I would set aside some time and write up a basic guide to birding South Korea. However due to constraints while in Korea I spent the vast majority of my time birding in the southern region of the country. It is for this reason that I choose not to include more northerly sites in my report. If you have the time I highly recommend birding northern sites as they hold species such as Black (Cinereous) Vulture and Red-crowned Crane that can be difficult to find in the southern half of the country. That is not to say that birding is more or less productive in the north. South Korea is surprisingly rich in bird life and density, as you will see. My report is based solely upon the time period in which I was present and of course bird numbers can vary year to year. South Korea is a rapidly developing nation and its industrial expansion is quickly eating away at some of the most premier bird habitat in East Asia (see www.birdskorea.org). Hopefully with an expansion in eco-tourism South Korea will realize the virtual mountain of wealth that they already posses in bird and animal life.
*A Note On Birding Korea and Birding Ethics: One of the most amazing things about being a birder is that you can meet anyone from anywhere and immediately you are both talking and gabbing like old friends. Birders are united by many things, but most of all we care for birds especially their well-being. Birding in Korea is quite different from in the States where we have large expanses of relatively unpopulated areas where birds can escape to. This is not the case in Korea. There, in Korea, birds and people are tightly packed together both trying to make a living on small areas of land. The result of this is that the birds are easily prone to disturbance and under a great deal of stress. I know that sometimes it may be very tempting to crawl a little closer for a better look or a better photo. Before you do this, I bid you to think of the bird and the costs that will be weighed upon it if you disturb it while it is feeding or on its breeding or wintering grounds. I thank everyone for exercising restraint and I know for the most part birders do, but greed gets the best of us sometimes (even me).
BUSAN TAEJONGDAE PARK
This wooded park set in the southeastern portion of Busan can be extremely productive in spring and even in winter it can hold species not easily found elsewhere on the mainland. The vast majority of my experience in this park took place during spring migration April to May. It is easily reached by any number of buses. There is entrance fee to the park at certain hours of the day and other times there is not. I never could quite figure out the system but the fee is less 2000 won (1 US$=approx. 1200 won).
Starting at the entrance there is a large memorial on a hill above the gate. Around this are many small shrubs with good leaf-litter. This is good spot Yellow-throated and Black-faced Buntings and Pale and Dusky Thrush. Past the entrance there is a small tourist center if you need some breakfast ice cream or coffee. Around the parking lot keep your eyes peeled on the edges for thrushes and I have seen several flocks of Ashy Minivets, Black Kite (more in winter), and Oriental Honey Buzzard from this point. From here I typically take the dirt trail leading down to the docks. If you are lucky enough to be the first one on this trail you may luck upon an Asian Stubtail or a Brown Thrush. At the dock you should see Common Black-headed and Black-tailed Gulls and be sure and scan the concrete riff-raff for Blue Rock Thrush.
Take the paved road back up to the main loop and continue on. Keep an eye and ear out for the mixed woodland flocks that roam the park. Some of the more common birds in the park include Brown-eared Bulbul, Great, Coal, Long-tailed, and Varied Tits, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Japanese Bush-Warbler, Japanese White-eyes, Rufous Turtle-Dove, and Yellow-throated Bunting. When you reach a small food stand you will see a small temple behind it. Behind this small temple lies a narrow trail that follows the creek up to the upper road. I typically find 90% of my birds along this stretch of creek. Immediately behind the temple and two statues keep your eyes peeled on the rocks for Japanese Robins. I saw three here in one day. On a good day immediately following stormy weather this draw can produce wonderful fallouts of Japanese migrants. Along the creek watch for Gray Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit, Red-flanked Bluetail, Whites Thrush, Grey Thrush, Brown Thrush, Grey Bunting, and the fabulous Narcissus Flycatcher. I even had a Chinese Blackbird here! In the canopy above watch for Goldcrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Willow Warbler, Mugimaki Flycatcher and Blue-and-White Flycatcher.
At the top you will come upon a soccer field and a small workout area. This area allows for fine views into the canopy of the creek below. You can rest your weary warbler neck and scan the treetops for warblers, Ashy Minivets, and the occasional Broad-billed Roller. Keep an eye to the sky for Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Jungle Crow, Pacific Swift, and raptors. In the evening this is an excellent spot to observe feeding Jungle Nightjar and Eurasian Scops-Owls are typically present as well.
Above the soccer field is another temple (upper temple) and this area can be very productive for birding. The area around the temple seems to rather reliable for Siberian Blue Robin, Brown Thrush, Eurasian Jay, and resident birds.
From here you can continue on around the loop to the lighthouse. The trail down to the lighthouse can be productive for birding but is typically to busy and noisy for birding. However from here you can observe a number of gulls and Great and Temmincks Cormorants. You can follow the loop back around which will bring you back the entrance.
BUSAN NAKDONG ESTUARY & DADAEPO
The Nakdong Estuary located on the west side of Busan can be a very productive though somewhat depressing birding location. There is some great habitat here for migrating and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds however this site sometime seems more like a construction zone and less like a refuge. However I still highly recommend a visit here if you have the time. This site can be reached by bus, taxi, and a subway stop isnt all that far away.
Near the entrance there is a police station and restrooms. From here you can scan the numerous gulls that can be seen lounging on the levee in the Nakdong River. In March and early April there are fantastic numbers of waterfowl in the river including Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, Pochards, Tufted Duck, and Smew. Gulls here include Black-headed, Black-tailed, Slaty-backed, Mew, and Herring and along the rocks you should expect to see Gray Heron.
Continue south along the paved road and you will come upon a shallow pond on your right. This pond is particularly good for dabblers and waders. You should be able to find Common Shelduck, Spot-billed Duck, Mallard, N. Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon (I had one American Wigeon here as well), N. Pintail, Coots, Little Egret, and Great Egret. Later in the spring this spot can hold shorebirds at times of lower water including Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Greenshank,, and Whimbrel.
Continue south along the river and continue scanning for divers. There are typically a few Red-throated and Pacific Divers present in the river. Once you reach a large gate on your right go through it and eventually you will reach the southern terminus of the island and will have good views of the tidal flats that may or may not be under water. Depending on your timing you should see good numbers of egrets and herons, Whooper Swans, Common Shelduck, Common Teal, Saunders Gull, shorebirds, Black Kites, check the tower to your right for Peregrine Falcon, and the reeds can hold chattering flocks of Chinese Penduline Tits, swarms of parrotbills, and Oriental Great Reed Warbler. The grasslands behind you can be good for Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Kestrel, skylarking Fan-tailed Warblers. On bad weather days large flocks of bunting can be found including Yellow-throated, Little, Gray, Black-faced, Yellow, Rustic, Pallas Reed, and Meadow (just to name a FEW!). There is a small dirt track that runs through this field and can afford good views of the prior mention species.
Turning back north will bring you to several large shallow ponds that can hold good numbers of swans, Bean and Greater White-fronted Goose, and dabbling ducks. Shorebirds to watch for here include Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed & Mongolian Plover, redshanks, Greenshank, Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits, Far Eastern & Eurasian Curlew, and Common Sandpiper. All the while keep an eye on the sky for Black Kite, Hen & Eastern Marsh Harriers, and Common Buzzards. You can continue on north back the entrance via the marsh or the river.
If you have time I highly recommend making the trip to Dadaepo beach. This beach is a short taxi ride from the Nakdong Estuary. From the beach you can view more flats for shorebirds and waterfowl. This site has produced Stellars Sea Eagles but I never lucked upon one. Additionally there is a small wooded park at the east end of the beach that can be good for migrants. On one day in this park I saw the following migrants: Broad-billed Roller, Ashy Minivet, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pale Thrush, Asian Stubtail, Yellow-browed Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Black Paradise Flycatcher, and Grey Starling.
*The Nakdong Estuary has regularly held Spoon-billed Sandpiper & Nordmanns Greenshank in the fall for several years now. Keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed.
CHANGWON JUNAM & DONGPAN RESERVOIR
This excellent birding location is a short ride from the provincial capitol city of Changwon. It is readily accessible by bus and a taxi could be taken from Changwon for a not too unreasonable rate. This site is most productive in winter however is still a worthwhile stop most times of the year.
Dongpan Reservoir located south of Junam Reservoir is small reservoir that is surrounded mostly by woodland and has some significant areas of marsh on its south side. Often this little reservoir is packed to the brim with N. Shovelers, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Teal, Spot-billed Ducks, and is a good spot for Little Grebe. I must stress that this reservoir represents an important area for waterfowl to escape to when they are disturbed at Junam by fisherman and tourists. Please exercise restraint and try your best to avoid disturbing the birds here. For example where natural colored clothing, keep noise levels to a minimum, and allow birds to put distance between you and them before approaching the edge of the reservoir . The woodlands and persimmon orchards surrounding the reservoir are productive for passerines and worth picking over. You should find roaming flocks of tits, White Wagtail, Bull-headed Shrike, Daurian Redstart, Dusky Thrush, Rustic Bunting, Brambling, Grey Starling, Grey-headed Woodpecker, and Oriental Greenfinch.
Junam Reservoir is the real draw here. There is a small visitors center below the dam surrounded by rice fields. There are very clean and warm restrooms here and you can refill your water bottles or get some coffee here if needed. Behind the visitors center, in the rice fields, large flocks of Greater White-fronted and Bean Geese present. Be sure and carefully scan these flocks for Cackling and especially Lesser White-fronted Goose. There are usually one or more Lessers present throughout the winter. Also these fields can hold flocks of Eurasian Skylark, Buff-bellied Pipits, and Lapland Buntings. From the dam scan the main body of the lake for waterfowl. Species are similar to those on Dongpan but there are typically good numbers of Smew with a smattering of Goldenye, Common & Red-breasted Merganser, and Greater Scaup. Further down the dam there is an observation tower overlooking a marsh and an area of mudflats. Here in early March is your best bet for White-naped Crane. At least until mid-April carefully scan the reed edges and flats for Baikal Teal. Their numbers fluctuate rapidly from day to day. For example on a two-day birding stint at Junam I had 3 Baikal teal on one day and by the next morning there were over 3000 and by the afternoon there none. Large flocks up to 20,000+ are not unheard of. Whether you see one or thousands you will be amazed by this beautiful bird. In late April the birding slows quickly at these reservoirs however you will have a good chance at seeing Common Kingfisher, Striated Heron, and Black-naped Oriole
You can continue on north around the west side of the lake to the north end. The walk is just less than two miles but can be productive for waterfowl and rice field birds such as Japanese Quail. The north end of the reservoir typically holds large numbers of Falcated Teal. From hear you can catch a bus back Changwon.
MASAN HARBOR & FISH MARKET
Masan is the sister city of Changwon. The harbor and the large fish market there can be excellent for gull lovers. Try the docks by the fish market and you should be able to find Mew, Black-tailed, Black-headed, Herring, Yellow-legged, Hueglins, and Slaty-back Gulls. There are some rocky drainages to the west of the market that often hold a few Pochards, Blue Rock Thrush, Dunlin, and Common Sandpipers.
CHANGNYEONG UPO MARSH
This approximately 500 ha area of marshes located just west of Changnyeong is the largest remaining semi-natural floodplain system left in the interior or Korea and one of handful RAMSAR sites in the country. You can reach the marsh via bus or by taxi (about $8 US). There is a small visitors center with maps and some books on the south side of the marsh as well as the "Friends of Upo" center on the north side of the marsh. I highly recommend spending the day at Upo in order to check every marsh thoroughly. Additionally I recommend visiting the following web site http://www.birdskorea.org/Upo01.asp for more information the marsh, its importance, and current efforts to protect it. There is a system of trails and roads that will get you around most of the marsh however the western half requires some wading in knee deep water in order to cut it short.
Chokjibeol Marsh This small marsh is the most difficult to get good looks at and there tends to less bird life here than on other marshes. However I have seen 3 Eurasian Spoonbill here and a number of egrets and herons. The reed-beds between Chokjibeol and Upo Marshes can be productive for buntings including Rustic, Yellow-throated, Meadow, and Yellow Buntings as well as Hoopoe.
Upo Marsh This is the largest impoundment in the complex and often has the most birds. In winter there are large numbers of dabbling duck typical of Korea including healthy numbers of Gadwall and Eurasian Wigeon, Bean Goose, and Tundra and Whooper Swans. Eurasian Spoonbills were present throughout my stay and I never once missed them at Upo. Later in spring small numbers of Garganey arrive as well as Mandarin Duck, Common Kingfisher, Common Moorhen, and the west edge of the marsh often harbors a few Black-winged Stilts. Along the dam watch for snipes (up to 3 species) and Spotted Redshanks that will be feeding in the mud that gathers along the dam face.
Sajipo Marsh This marsh is one of my favorites as it has some of the best shorebird habitat and the birds are fairly close. The main part of the marsh tends to hold little but there is broad shallow section that can be viewed from up on the road. On some days this area can be saturated with dabbling waterfowl and shorebirds. This area is particularly good for Garganey, Northern Lapwing, Spotted Redshank, Green & Wood Sandpiper, and Black-winged Stilt. In the large deciduous trees bordering the marsh watch for Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Chinese Grosbeak, and Black-naped Oriole. From here you can take a trail by the water release tower that will take you down towards the backside of Upo and on to Mokpo Marsh.
Mokpo Marsh This "L" shaped marsh typically holds good numbers of waterfowl and is host to a Grey Heron rookery. The east end of the marsh is shallow and from here you can scan the backside of Upo Marsh. The shallow waters here hold good numbers of Common Teal and the occasional Garganey. Be sure and scan the flooded grasses for Wood Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, and Spotted Redshank. Following the road will temporarily lead you away from Mokpo Marsh but you will eventually rejoin the marsh directly across from the "Friends of Upo" Center. This is a small nature center with an artificially recreated marsh. Across from the center is a Grey Heron rookery. The woods around this rookery often hold Tricolored Flycatcher and Grey-headed Woodpecker. You can scan the main body of the marsh from here. Mokpo seems to be preferred by Falcated Teal. The north end of the marsh is dominated by a large grove of willow trees that can hold a few migrants and Tricolored Flycatcher are present from late-April onward. The paved road will take you north another 1/2 mile to a bus stop that can take you back to Changnyeong.
GURYE JIRISAN NATIONAL PARK HWAEOMSA TEMPLE
If you have time to visit only one national park in South Korea I highly recommend visiting the Hwaeomsa temple area of Jirisan National Park. It has to be one of the most beautiful areas in Jirisan NP. From the town of Gurye you can reach Jirisan National Park and the Hwaeomsa entrance via bus or less than $10 US taxi ride.
Most buses and taxis will drop you off at the large parking lot in front of the visitors center. In the visitors center you can get maps and they have some displays on the parks wildlife as well. In order to enter the park walk up the valley to the entrance gate where you will pay a small fee to enter the park, early in the morning and late in the evening the gate is usually unmanned and you can enter for free.
The road parallels a beautiful rocky mountain stream all the way up to the temple. Watch the stream for Gray Wagtail and Brown Dipper, both of which are common here. You will pass a large hotel on the way up, breeding on the sides of this hotel are many Red-rumped Swallows. On the way up to the temple you should come across mixed flocks of tits (including Marsh Tit) and parrotbills. Keep an eye out in these flocks for Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Eurasian Nuthatch, Japanese White-eye and Goldcrest. Corvids should be present and conspicuous with Carrion Crow and Eurasian Magpie and Jays being most common. The temple is not only beautiful in itself but it also offers good birding. On the temple grounds (arrive early before the crowds) I have seen all species of tit possible, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Blue-and-White Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail, White-backed Woodpecker, Pale Thrush, Eurasian Nuthatch. There is a trail that continues on up the creek and will intersect a road that can be taken back down to the temple parking lot. If you have missed White-backed Woodpecker you will likely see it on this loop.
SUNCHEON SUNCHEON BAY & SUNCHEON CITY PARK
Suncheon is located in the central portion of Korea on its southern coast. The city has a city park located in the central part of the city. The park has an observation tower that allows a commanding view of the area and in April has many blooming cherry trees. This park is a worthwhile visit in spring if your have time to burn before catching a train. The park is about a 10 minute from the train station. This park is a fairly reliable place for Azure-winged Magpie if you are having difficulty finding them.
From the train station you can catch a bus or a taxi ride to Suncheon Bay (inquire at the Tourist Information Desk). You will know you are on the correct road as you will pass large billboards with pictures of Hooded Cranes. The visitors center, still in the process of being developed, is a large and easily viewable structure that will give you some hint you are in the correct area.
The area is between the Visitors Center and the bay is comprised mostly of agricultural fields. It is in these fields that you can find Hooded Crane. On most visits here I typically encountered 30-50 cranes although on one occasion I saw nearly 100. Occasionally they will be accompanied by a stray Common or Sandhill Crane. In the more overgrown fields watch for pipits, bunting, and Japanese Quail.
Birding Suncheon Bay is all about timing. The birding here can be spectacular when high tide is coming in or just going out. Otherwise the birds are non-existent or so far away that viewing is made difficult. The flats hold fantastic numbers of Common Shelduck and Saunders Gull. The Saunders are easily recognized by their tern-like call and their mud diving behavior. Additionally the flats can host thousands of shorebirds. Watch for Little Ringed, Kentish, & Grey Plover, Red-necked Stint, Great Knot, Greenshank (including Nordmanns), godwits, curlews, Terek Sandpiper, and Whimbrel. Be sure and scan through all the waders in search of less common waders such as Intermediate Egret or Eurasian Spoonbill. If you arrive to early or to late to catch the tides the vast reed-beds surrounding Suncheon Bay hold fantastic numbers of Chinese Penduline Tit, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Pallas & Common Reed Buntings. Be sure to scan these flocks for rarer species such as Ochre-breasted (Japanese) Bunting or Bluethroat all of which I encountered here.
THE ISLANDS: MOKPO (MAINLAND) TO HEUKSAN-DO & HONG-DO
Mokpo is a bustling seaport on the southwest coast of South Korea. There are several high-speed passenger ferries that run from here to Heuksan-Do & Hong-Do Islands. There is now Migratory Bird Research Centre on Hong-do run by the National Parks Association you can visit http://npmbc.or.kr/ (Korean only) for more information. All birders visiting the two islands should support the centre by sending bird reports to the site above or to www.birdskorea.org (English) in order have a better understanding or migrants on the Korean side of the Yellow Sea. There is one ferry that leaves in the morning and one later in the afternoon. The trip takes a couple of hours to reach the islands. Ferries are often cancelled due to weather or choppy conditions. I have spent a great deal of time on the ocean on boats large and small and never have I been seasick until my first trip to Heuksan-Do. You are not allowed outside when the ferry is on the open ocean and the interior can become quite humid and stale so if you are prone to seasickness at the very least be prepared. I visited the island two more times and the ride was always very smooth. On the first part of the boat ride you are allowed to stand outside on the back of the ferry. While passing through the many islands be sure and scan the shoreline for Eurasian Oystercatcher which is fairly common in this region. Once on the open see grab a window and keep your eyes peeled for Streaked Shearwater. If your ferry does get cancelled try birding the large park that dominates the cities western edge. There are a vast network of trails criss-crossing this heavily wooded park, as well as several shrines, and an orchid and botanical garden.
This island is absolutely fantastic for birding and can experience amazing fallouts of Siberian and even Japanese migrants during times of bad weather. The ferry arrives on the north end of the island. This is where I spent the majority of my time as I never used taxis due to lack of funds. There is a large hotel about 1 mile from the ferry terminal and many of the islands natives offered me housing as well. There is a small grocery store opposite the ferry terminal where you can buy fruits (expensive) and vegetables or my favorite - Kim chi ramen noodles.
The mountain to the east and north of town can be very productive for birding with its patchwork of farmland, grazing pasture, and forest. I encountered large numbers of thrushes here including 100s of Brown Thrush on one occasion. Other species to watch for include Grey, Pale, Whites, Dusky, and Grey-backed Thrush, Olive-backed Pipits, and a plethora of other migrants. West of town lies the hotel. On the way, there are several heavily wooded draws and quaint gardens that can be productive for migrants. In these wooded areas watch for Japanese Bush Warbler, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Rustic Bunting, and on one occasion I flushed two Eurasian Woodcock. Further west is another small village with a pebble beach. Scan the buoys from here for Temmincks Cormorant, waterfowl, and gulls (I had one Glaucous here in April). The real hotspot is the jumble of gardens and houses that stretch back to a small reservoir (Res. 1 on map). Birding these gardens can be absolutely fantastic and I was lucky enough to be on the island during a fallout. Here is a sample of some of the birds I found solely in this area: Upland Buzzard, Little Ringed Plover, Lathams Snipe, Asian House Martin, EURASIAN TREE PIPIT (rare), Red-throated Pipit, Ashy Minivet, Siberian Stonechat, Grey Thrush, Tristrams Bunting, Yellow Bunting, Japanese Grosbeak, and Rook. On the reservoir above the village I have seen Chinese Pond Heron, Baikal Teal, Peregrine Falcon, and there is a resident pair of White-tailed Sea Eagles that are often found here in the evenings. There is a trail that borders the edge of the reservoir that can be productive for thrushes, pipits, and flycatcher (including Narcissus).
From the village you can continue on down the road passing over a small creek where I saw Eurasian Spoonbill on one occasion. There is small peninsular park with a loop trail that offers nice vistas of the harbor but isnt particularly birdy.
If you continue on you will come to a small wetland. There is a trail that runs through the middle of the wetland and you can walk the perimeter. I recommend doing both as this spot can be very productive. In the marsh watch for up to 4 species of snipe, Chinese Pond Heron, Common Kingfisher, Great Oriental Reed Warbler, and Pallas Reed Bunting. In the small willows and pine trees on the marsh watch for Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Blue Robin, and Violet-backed (Chestnut-cheeked) Starling. Above the marsh is another small reservoir (Res. 2) where there is often a small flock of waterfowl and this dam site seems to attract good numbers of raptors including: White-tailed Sea Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Osprey, and Grey-faced Buzzard.
There is a great deal of the island I didnt have time to explore and I never took the time to explore nearby Hong-Do Island that can be just as good or even better Heuksan-Do. The great thing about island birding is the high turnover of migrants. One location can have few birds in the morning and by the afternoon the situation can change completely.
ADVICE FOR THE TRAVELLING BIRDER IN KOREA:
Resources: While in South Korea I used A Field Guide To The Birds Of Korea by Woo-Shin Lee, et. al. While this isnt the greatest field guide in the world it certainly gets the job done and is small and easily carried into the field. I supplemented this guide with Robsons A Guide To The Birds of Southeast Asia and Lars Johnson A Guide To The Birds Of Europe and North Africa.
Research: Before the trip I used various trip reports off of www.surfbirds.com but all of these covered mostly the Seoul area and were not of much use to me. The Birds Korea website at www.birdskorea.org is your one stop shop for information on birding Korea.
Language: I highly recommend that you spend a little time studying the Korean language. Korean has a phonetic alphabet that is actually so simple I learned it in a few hours. This will come in handy many times on your journey through Korea. I used a cd/book combination published by Teach Yourself ®, authored by Mark Vincent and Jaehoon Yoen.
Housing & Food: There is a great deal on information about this on www.birdskorea.org. The love motels there are quite clean, nice, and inexpensive compared to the chain hotels. However being a college student and a true budget birder I had to find more inexpensive ways to get some sleep. There are virtually no hostels outside the largest cities so I spent a great deal of my time camping. In most cases I am not sure if it was legal but no one ever bothered me and there are plenty of small pockets of woodlands that one can slip into unnoticed and toss up a tent.
The food in Korea is great. You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you want. I was able to live off less than $5-$8 a day without any problem and still be full at the end of every meal. If you love spicy food you will love Kim chi. It took me a while to warm up to it but now I miss it everyday. For the less spicy inclined try gimbap, bibimbap (ask for the spicy red pepper paste separate), or mandu (dumplings).
Traveling: All the above locations can be reached via bus or train. I know this because this is how I traveled. Renting a car (International License Required) is fairly expensive in Korea and the driving etiquette is far from polite and organized. I saw numerous birds from the bus and train (including my lifer Ruddy Shelducks) and it also allows you to catch up on your sleep. The trains and buses are extremely punctual and efficient, a far cry from anything we have in the states. Most bus routes are direct and the bus drivers are absolutely insane and probably get you there faster than driving yourself would. However there are some key birding areas to the north such as Saemangeum and Seosan that are best birded with your own vehicle.
Final Say and Thanks: South Korea is a wonderful birding location and almost completely ignored by Western birders. I highly recommend a trip here in spring, winter, and/or fall. There are a handful of tour companies that visit here (mostly in winter) and a tour can be arranged through www.birdskorea.org. If you are looking for an alternative to Beidahae or Happy Island, China then I would highly recommend South Korea. There are few places in the world where you can see Black-faced Spoonbill, Baikal Teal, Spoonbill Sandpiper, Nordman's Greenshank, 100s of Siberian migrant, and 3 species of crane all in an area smaller than the state of Minnesota. What a truly amazing land for birds.
I want to say a special thanks to Nial and Charlie Moores and the countless others behind Birds Korea. If not for their efforts and determination a great deal of important bird habitat would have vanished. Thank you. Please visit their website ( www.birdskorea.org ) and if you can make a donation to their fight to save the Saemangeum estuary and countless other areas of ecological importance.
I would especially like to thank Nial for his help on bird identification and birding locations. He is truly a reservoir of birding information. I would also like to thank Sidra Blake for her invaluable knowledge of local bus systems, Korean etiquette, her sharp eyes, and for giving me a place to sleep and shower when not on the road.