When it comes to a trip to the DPRK you may be thinking about political and historical sights, factories and collective farms, the border with South Korea at the DMZ. You may even be thinking about a trip to the beach at Wonsan or a hike in the Kumgang mountains.
But one question we do get asked is…can I go birdwatching in North Korea?
The simple answer is yes! Korea has a wealth of birdlife for the adventurous ornithologist or intrepid twitcher looking for a birding holiday like no other.
Where can you go birding in North Korea?
You may not see much more than black-billed or azure magpies in Pyongyang itself, but there are surprisingly many relatively unspoilt natural environments around the country.
The rarely-visited Chilbo mountains in the northeast contain mixed broadleaf and coniferous forest, similar to the smaller Kuwol mountains in the southwest. The Kumgang mountains in the southeast are home to the protected red-crowned cranes and along with the more central Myohyang mountains these areas are all national parks of significant birding potential. Lake Bujon is an important area because of a significant population of vulnerable great bustards.
One of the best places to go is the Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve on the west coast near Anju city, a key stopover for hundreds of species of migratory birds including many endangered species.
There are 318 bird species in the DPRK and the national bird is the northern goshawk.
What kinds of birds can you see?
The red-crowned and white-naped cranes may be a big draw, but there are also many species including sea eagles, herons, egrets, woodpeckers, swallows, mergansers and, of course, the mandarin duck.
In the DPRK there are of course a lot of shorebirds, although mostly in locations only accessible with special permits. Shorebirds you may see include terek sandpipers, whimbrel, dunlin, far eastern curlew, far eastern oystercatcher, a range of plovers, godwits and redshank and the rare red knot and great knot.
Birding on the Borderlands
It’s also possible to take your binoculars out to the borders of the DPRK. Visiting border cities such as Dandong and Tumen in China you can find great spots to spot greenshank and other waders, peregrine falcon, Siberian blue robins, Siberian thrushes and a variety of woodland birds and in the wider region even white tailed eagles in Dalian bay.
On the southern border, ironically, the political and military tensions on the Korean peninsula may have produced a relatively safe environment for birds. In the DMZ in particular, the overgrown section separating North and South Korea has become an untouched paradise for many species already extinct or endangered elsewhere. As well as the cranes, the DMZ is also home to the rare Amur goral, Asiatic black bear, musk deer and spotted seal, and with occasional reports of tigers even. This part of the country is of course completely off limits to visitors wishing to go birdwatching in North Korea however.