Earlier this week, as part of our Zootherabirding tour of South Korea, we spent a few days travelling down the East coast of this East Asian country, stopping in many harbours and bays to look for seabirds and a number of gull species. The sheer numbers of gulls was mind-blowing, with around 50000 in just one bay, including around 10000 loafing around on the beach and we kept shaking our heads in amazement of the spectacle. Of course we also took time to identify and understand the East Asian species as well as try to pick out a few rarities which we did successfully. The large numbers of these birds on the beach gave us plenty of opportunities to photograph them.
Slaty-backed Gull was very numerous on the North East coast and must be one of the most variable gulls in the world in terms of its plumage and size. One thing which was consistent about them was the pink legs, but even this feature varied from light pink to deep pink.
In the harbours of the East coast Black-tailed Gull was very numerous with almost all birds being in adult plumage. This handsome gull is quite small in size but resembles many of the larger gulls making it very easy to identify.
Vega Gull was a harder bird for many people to get to grips with. It resembles closely a Herring Gull, being fairly pale on the upper parts and with a heavily streaked head but a fairly slight bill for a large gull.
In younger plumages Vega Gull is fairly confusing but the well-patterned upper parts are a big clue. Surprisingly for some of us Vega Gull was not seen in massive numbers; 100s rather than the 1000s that many species were seen in.
Common Gull was easy for everyone to pick out on shape because of its familiarity but the plumages were confusing. Presumably the subspecies here was kamtschatschensis as most birds were quite dark but paler plumages suggested that some henei were present too.
We also managed to pick out quite a few Glaucous Gulls from the crowds, quite easy to do in fact because of their distinctive plumage. We saw perhaps 20-25 of this species including the small subspecies barovianus which resembled Iceland Gull with a large bill. The bird below was very aggressive as can be seen from the photo.
One of the scarcest gulls which regularly winter in South Korea is Glaucous-winged Gull. On 2016′s birding tour to South Korea we saw just one adult of this species, but this year we saw a variety of plumages and up to 10 different individuals. This one very handily posed on rocks right outside our guesthouse both morning and evening.
We also identified small numbers of Heuglin’s Gull, most easily in adult winter plumage with dark upper parts, a streaked head and yellowish legs. Again, compared to the enormous numbers of Slaty-backed and Common Gulls this species was fairly scarce.
One of the rarities that we found was this first winter American Herring Gull. This species is very scarce but annual in South Korea and, in fact, we found a second bird very close to this one shortly after. This one can be seen through the railings along the beach designed to keep invading North Korean troops at bay!
We also saw several Black-legged Kittiwakes among the huge congregation and a first winter bird that appeared to be Western Gull. Photos were obtained and are under scrutiny by experts.
Although gulls are not everyone’s cup of tea the huge numbers and close views of birds on this trip was very impressive and everyone enjoyed the session viewing them and trying to understand the many plumages, although in truth many were more confused after the event than they were beforehand! We also saw small numbers of Mongolian Gulls & Black-headed Gull and later in the trip, away from the East coast, we found two more species of gull which were high priority target species – Relict Gull and Saunders’s Gull. South Korea is a truly excellent destination for those who like gulls.