Joint Shorebird Survey of the Onchon County Coast of DPRK

By Nature Conservation Union of Korea, DPRK and

Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust, New Zealand, 5 – 7 May 2015.


Each year hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds stage in the Yellow Sea region during migrations between austral wintering sites and breeding sites in the Arctic. Since the 1990s important shorebird sites on the coasts of China and the west and south coasts of South Korea have become relatively well known, but the coast of the DPRK remains largely unknown. In April 2009 the Korean Natural Environment Conservation Fund and Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust (PMNT) completed a joint survey of shorebirds at Mundok, 80km northwest of Pyongyang. This was the first known survey of birds using tidal areas of the West Sea of DPRK. In 2014 a joint agreement was signed in Pyongyang between the Nature Conservation Union of Korea (NCUK) and (PMNT) to expand on this work with a series of shorebird surveys along the West Sea coast starting in 2015.

From 5-7 May 2015 three members from PMNT joined NCUK staff to complete a three-day survey timed to make use of high spring tides. A coastal area just north of the port city of Nampo in Onchon County was selected by the NCUK to be surveyed. Late April and early May are considered the period when maximum numbers of migrant shorebirds are likely to be present and so each of the surveys will be conducted during this period. The weather was clear and dry, making for good observational conditions. The purpose was to find key high tide roost sites along the Onchon County coast, just north of Nampo, identify and count all shorebird species in the area. If time and local conditions permitted, looking for flags and colour bands on shorebirds from other countries of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway would be another objective. This visit by PMNT was supported by funding from EAAFP.

A total of 20,635 shorebirds were recorded at three sites, two of which were identified as being internationally important. Major species were great knot (7600), dunlin (7419), and bar-tailed godwit (2794).

Survey Sites

The coastal area being surveyed is not part of any nature reserve and is backed predominantly by salt extracting ponds and rice paddies and lies around 38°N – 125°E. Three locations had been identified by NCUK as suitable for the surveys.

Ansok-Li – 38° 58.9’N – 125° 11.8’E, Wonub-Li – 38° 50.8’N – 125° 8.8’E and Zhongak-Ku, Ponds – 38° 43.6’N – 125° 11.4’E


Table 1 summarises the species and totals for the three sites counted. The counts at sub-roosts and main roosts at each site are combined, as on each occasion the birds on the sub-roosts moved to different areas to roost and were not counted again. Incidental counts are also included as these birds were generally in ponds and creeks away from the main count areas. A total of 20,635 shorebirds of 31 species were counted.

Other Outcomes from the visit.

  • NCUK staff told us they had reconnoitred key shorebird sites within the designated survey area. They impressed us with their keenness to engage and to do everything possible to ensure the success of the survey.
  • Following the survey talks were held with NCUK staff to plan for scheduled visits in 2016 and 2017. An area south of Mundok was identified as the survey location for 2016, with Sindo Island scheduled for 2017.
  • Benthic monitoring. We expressed interest in commencing some benthic sampling work next year. We explained the importance of monitoring shorebird food sources, and methods with which it could be done. Given the sensitive nature of the coastal zone in the DPRK, and restricted access to it, we thought this would represent a considerable challenge. However, it does seem quite likely that some intertidal work next year will be possible.
  • Banding. NCUK expressed interest in developing a bird-banding scheme. We discussed the complexities of setting up a national bird banding scheme – such as acquiring bands (and a suitable address on them), and other specialist equipment, training banders, and the importance of subsequent monitoring.
  • School visits. School visits and talking to students is a regular activity for us in China, but it was not something we had considered in DPRK. However NCUK staff raised the possibility of talking to school classes during our next visits.
  • EAAFP. While the current location of the EAAFP secretariat presents a problem for DPRK, we formed the view that NCUK could be encouraged to become involved with the Yellow Sea Task Force.


Table 1. Total shorebird count for Onchon Coast 5-7 May 2015  
  Date > 05.May.15 06.May.15 07.May.15
Species Site > Ansok-Li Wonub-Li Zhungak-gu
  TOTAL 8,643 8,803 3,189
Far-eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 5     5
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 1 1    
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 638 257 261 120
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 1 1    
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 28 3 5 20
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 290 4 238 48
Snipe sp. Gallinago sp. 1 1    
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 92 81 1 10
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 2,794 2,300 163 331
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 120 14 29 77
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 1     1
Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 25   1 24
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 4 2   2
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 6 2 1 3
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 8 7 1  
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 483 273 21 189
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 130 101 1 28
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 19     19
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 17 2 6 9
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1     1
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 27   7 20
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 7,600 5,100 2,500  
Red Knot Calidris canutus 36 26 3 7
Sanderling Calidris alba 10   9 1
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficolls 602 20 400 182
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta 13 13    
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris accuminata 251 132 5 114
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea 8   1 7
Dunlin Calidris alpina 7,419 300 5,150 1,969
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus 4 2   2
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus 1 1    
Totals 20,635 8,643 8,803 3,189