Bird Sightings

Rason, NE Korea, June 2nd-8th 2018

Bird News from Nial Moores, Bernhard Seliger, Amael Borzee and staff from Rason City

This was the sixth bird survey in Rason (with previous surveys by NM and BS in March 2014; July 2016; November 2016; and April 2017; and a shorter survey conducted by BS and AB on birds and amphibians in March 2018).  As with all previous surveys, this research was funded and initiated by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office),  and this time overlapped in timing with the second survey of amphibians and reptiles by AB (more on the results of that research later, we hope!). Local logistics were conducted by a team from Rason City comprised of Mr. Ho (Administrator), Mr. Cheong (Security), Ms. Hwang (Translator) and driver.

Phone-scoping Ochre-rumped Bunting…© Nial Moores

Among 124-125 bird species logged, especially notable records included:

  • Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata.  LC. Apparently fairly widespread, with observations of a total of up to 16 individuals at four different locations.

Mandarin Duck, Chonghak Rice-fields © Nial Moores

  • Gadwall Mareca strepera.  LC. Approximately 49 were logged during the survey, including one female with two small ducklings confirming continued breeding (first documented in Korea at Rason in July 2016: Moores 2018).
  • Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. LC. Two females were seen (and photographed) with ducklings, confirming local breeding
  • Stejneger’s Scoter Melanitta (deglandi) stejnegeri. LC. Four were off from Pipa on June 2nd. The species was also recorded in Rason in July 2016.
  • American Scoter Melanitta americana.  NT. A male poorly photographed on the sea off from Sobonpo on June 4th is the first mid-summer record in Korea known to us.  Although the latest spring record traced by Tomek (1999) was April 9th-10th off Pipa in 1996, we counted 178 along the Rason coast in late April 2017, and a few lingered until the end of April off Baekryeong Island (ROK) in 2017 (but not in 2018).
  • Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis. VU. Two females off “Russian Beach” on June 3rd appear to be the first to be recorded in Korea in the summer months.
  • Common Pheasant Phasianus colchius.  LC. Widespread and quite numerous, with 54 logged (and probably several others unintentionally omitted from the counts). All the males showed extensive scaly patterning onto the rump, perhaps diagnostic of pallasi. Several showed fairly extensive blue-grey rump-sides; one seemed to lack much such colour at all.

Pallasi Common Pheasant © Bernhard Seliger

  • Arctic Loon Gavia arctica. LC. Probably ten individuals were seen at a total of four locations. We found twenty in Rason in July 2016.
  • Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica. LC. One in partial-breeding plumage was seen on June 4th. This is perhaps the first summer-month Korean record of this species known to us.
  • Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena. LC. Four were seen on the sea on June 4th, with two remaining in the same area on the 5th. Although this is perhaps only the second Korean record of over-summering, the number is much lower than the 40 that we recorded in Rason in July 2016.
  • Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus. LC. A total of 368 were recorded, with many in breeding habitat, but the largest concentration being 118 together on the sea on June 5th.
  • Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia. LC. Two in the Sonbong Lagoon on June 2nd had increased to four by the 5th.
  • Von Schrenck’s Bittern Ixobrychus eurhythmus. LC. The commonest small heron recorded during the present survey, with 15 seen. Most of these were in the two main reed-bed and pond areas, but we also found a female in the fish-ponds east of Dongbonpo and a male and female in rice-fields and the main stream in Chonghak.

Von Schrenck’s Bittern © Amael Borzee

Key Von Schrenck’s Bittern habitat – with 5-6 birds present in this area © Nial Moores

  • Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax.  LC. One was heard at Pipa on June 2nd; and one was poorly photographed at Sobonpo on June 7th.
  • Striated Heron Butorides striata.  LC. One was heard at Pipa on June 2nd. Surprisingly, this is our first record of this fairly widespread and locally common species in Rason.
  • Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia.  LC. Up to eight were seen (and photographed) in total.

Intermediate Egret © Nial Moores

  • Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus. LC. An adult was seen close to Uam Ri on June 7th. Although we have seen the species on the Chinese side of the border, this was our first record of this species in Rason. Disappointingly, no other large raptors were seen during this survey.
  • Swinhoe’s Rail Coturnicops exquisitus. VU.  One probable was heard giving a “PRRP” call once in a wet grass and reedbed area, about 500m from where we heard one in July 2016.
  • Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus.  LC. At least six were present in the main wetland area, including one pair seen copulating.

Black-winged Stilt, Dobongpo Fishponds © Bernhard Seliger

  • Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus.  NT. Ten were seen; and at least three territories appeared to be occupied.

Northern Lapwing © Nial Moores

  • Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis.  EN. Nine were seen in the recently-reclaimed fishponds at the southern end of Sobonpo/Dongbonpo.

Far Eastern Curlew, Gulpo © Nial Moores

  • Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata. NT. Three were photographed feeding with Far Eastern Curlew in the newly-constructed fishponds. This is our first record of the species in Rason, although previous Rason records are given in the literature (cf Moores 2018).
  • Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris. EN. One was seen on June 4th.
  • Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibindus.  LC. Only c. 24 were seen, including many immatures. None were seen on nests.
  • Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus. VU. One presumed Third Calendar-year was seen on Gulpo on June 4th. This is the first mid-summer Korean record known to us.

Relict Gull © Nial Moores

  • Common Tern Sterna hirundo. LC. A minimum 25 were seen including one sitting on the nest on a small island (with their partner flying towards us calling aggressively), and several likely sitting birds, with one other pair seen copulating and a couple more seen allo-preening  (AB only) and sharing a fish. This is the first confirmed Korean breeding record, although we strongly suspected local breeding during our July 2016 survey when we found  c. 200 Common Tern.

Above, Common Tern colony out in the middle of Sobonpo © Nial Moores; Below Common Tern © Bernhard Seliger

  • Common Murre Uria aalge. LC. Two breeding-plumaged birds were seen off Pipa on June 2nd.
  • Spectacled Guillemot Cephhus carbo.  LC. A total of 71 were counted along the coast, all of which were in breeding plumage, with a couple of birds seen fish-carrying. This number is rather higher than the number we recorded in July 2016 – no doubt because we checked more sea-areas during this survey.
  • Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus.  LC. Four were seen in total.
  • Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata. LC. A total of 36 were seen in four different sea-areas. Several of the birds had bills full of fish, so are presumed to have been feeding young in the nest. According to Kondratyev et al. (2000), in South Primorsky, Far East Russia, the species arrives at nesting colonies in mid-April, eggs are laid in late April and May and hatch in late May and June, with most fledglings leaving by the end of July.
  • Northern Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus.  LC. One vocalising bird was photographed on Sahyang San on June 6th. Tomek (1999) traced no records for North Hamgyong Province, including Rason.

Northern Hawk-Cuckoo © Nial Moores. The heavily streaked underparts suggest that this is (most likely) a Second Calendar-year.

  • Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus.  LC. One vocalizing male and one hepatic female were photographed on Sahyang San on June 6th.  Tomek (1999) traced no records for the north-eastern provinces of Korea. However, we also found the species in Rason in July 2016.

Lesser Cuckoo © Nial Moores

  • Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus. Two or three heard – with phone recordings made.  These were our first records in Rason, perhaps because previous survey visits did not coincide with this species’ expected presence / peak of vocalisation.  Tomek (1999) traced no records for North Hamgyong Province, including Rason.
  • Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus.  LC. A total of 32 were counted at 7+ “locations”, with almost all birds ascribed to confusus, with two cristatus or cristatus-types.

Confusus Brown Shrike © Bernhard Seliger. Identification to taxon is based on the crown being obviously warmer-toned than the otherwise brownish upperparts

  • Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus.  LC. One in breeding habitat at Uam, where we found an adult feeding young in July 2016.
  • Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus.  LC. A total of six birds heard or seen at four discrete sites, several in potential birding habitat, including in a couple of areas that we also surveyed in July 2016. We previously recorded only one individual in Rason (in April 2017)  – even though the species had been predicted to breed in the northern provinces of Korea, and was found breeding on Baekryeong Island, ROK, in 2018 (Moores & Seliger 2017).

Chinese Penduline Tit, above image © Bernhard Seliger, bottom image © Amael Borzee

  • Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis lonnbergi.  LC. A minimum c. 135 was ascribed to this species, with the largest concentration found in recently burnt and now regenerating grassland on sandy soils adjacent to Sonbong Lake. At this site and at Uam, the density of singing birds was quite extraordinary, with a coarsely estimated three territories per hectare in some areas. This density compares with 4.6–6.0 pairs per 100ha recorded during a study of breeding western Eurasian Skylark – potentially a different species – in the UK (Browne et al. 2010). The area also held a much smaller number of Far Eastern Larks.

“Eastern” Eurasian Skylark © Nial Moores. We made some sound recordings, and once these become available they will likely form the basis of (yet) another identification note on these tricky taxa. Identification of the vast majority of these larks to taxon was remarkably straightforward on songs (with “Eastern” Eurasians showing more variability, and repeating favorite notes and phrases multiple times, especially when landing); on tail and wing position during song-flights (with “Eastern” Eurasians fanning their tails and holding the winds broadly open, especially in descent when they looked like small raptors);  on plumage (with “Eastern” Eurasians much paler above and below, including pale-edges to several tracts on the upperparts; and below a much poorer orange-based breast band and less streaking on the breast, though with some streaking extending weakly along the flanks); and in several on structure (with some “Eastern” Eurasians looking obviously bulkier and heavier-billed, with more obvious crests and longer-looking tails).

  • Far Eastern Skylark Alauda japonica intermedia. LC. A maximum of 27 were identified (some less robustly than others) in a total of four areas. The only areas where the species appeared to be found in a similar density to “Eastern” Eurasian Skylark was in dense grassy areas on Snake Mountain, where we tried to sound-record both taxa.

Snake Hill, Rason © Nial Moores. The area in the foreground, with obvious bare patches, and sand ridges was favoured by “Eastern” Eurasian Skylark, while the Far Easterns occupied  more heavily vegetated patches of grassland to the rear.

  • Korean Bush Warbler Horornis borealis.  LC. A total of 26-28 were heard in song in nine different areas. Two of these gave strikingly long introduction notes to their songs, strongly recalling Japanese Bush Warbler H. diphone; and a single Japanese Bush-type “Tchak” call was heard either from or close to one of these two birds.

Korean Bush Warbler © Nial Moores

  • Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi.  LC. In addition to three singing near to the peak of Sanghyan San on June 7th, one was calling on Pipa Islet on the 2nd.
  • Pallas’s Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus.  LC. As in July 2016, the most numerous Phylloscopus, with 65 heard singing in four areas, all forested, from near to sea-level on Pipa Islet to the top of Sanghyan San, with the largest concentration in mixed forest above Pipa, especially in areas with taller pines and larches.

Forest above Pipa: breeding habitat of Pallas’s Leaf Warbler © Nial Moores

  • Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps. LC. As in July 2016, the most numerous Acro, with 158 counted – almost all in song – in five different areas. Most were in reed-edged ditches close to the main lakes, but some birds were also found in bushy grassland, e.g. above Pipa Islet and along “Surf Scoter Lane”, near to Ungam.

Black-browed Warbler © Nial Moores

  • Thick-billed Warbler Iduna aedon.  LC. A total of seven or eight birds were heard in song, including in mature bushes on Sanghyan San, in bushy forest-edge habitat above Pipa and in willows at Chonghak.
  • Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata. LC. One was seen in the “main marsh” between Manpo and Sobonpo at dawn on June 4th. The bird was silent. This is our first record of this species in Rason.
  • Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola.  LC. One bird, presumed to be this species on brief flight views, was glimpsed in the “main marsh” between Manpo and Sobonpo.
  • White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea.  LC. Although only one was glimpsed on Sanghyangsan, eleven were heard in song in forest above Pipa on June 8th.  Tomek (2002) traced no records from North Hamgyong Province (including Rason) and concluded on the basis of the small number of records from the northernmost provinces of Korea that the species was uncommon.
  • Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana.  LC. A total of 15 were logged in three separate areas. Surprisingly, all the singing males that were seen well (4 in total?) were matt-black throated nominate types, with none of the blue gloss or tones to the throat or breast expected in intermedia.

Nominate Blue-and-white Flycatcher, in forest above Pipa © Nial Moores

  • Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane.  LC. Although 15 were heard in song on Sanghyansan on June 6th, none were heard in forest above Pipa.
  • Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri.  LC. A total of 26 individuals were logged in eight different areas, suggesting that the species is a locally common breeder in Rason. The number of birds we found during this survey was much higher than during survey in July 2016 (when only four were logged), perhaps because of a combination of greater geographical coverage and stage of breeding – with birds this survey still actively in song and territiorial disputes making them rather easier to detect.

Stejneger’s Stonechat © Nial Moores.  Note the dark centre to the longest uppertail coverts, often shown by this taxon.

  • White Wagtail Motacilla alba. Leucopsis were widespread, with one or two young juveniles. Less expected was a single lugens seen in the fish-ponds.

Lugens White Wagtail © Nial Moores

  • Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni.  LC. One possible was heard in forest near to Uam on June 7th.
  • Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula. LC.  Apparently two birds were heard calling in mixed forest above Pipa on June 8th. Tomek (2002) states that in the DPRK, this is a “wintering species … perhaps very rarely nesting.”
  • Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides. LC. The most widespread bunting species, with 51 individuals logged in multiple areas.
  • Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata. LC. Locally the most numerous bunting species, with 51 individuals logged in six areas – all in open or forest edge habitat with patches of tall grasses. Curiously, as in July 2016, there was great variation in the songs we heard.

Chestnut-eared Bunting © Nial Moores

  • Ochre-rumped Bunting Emberiza yessoensis.  NT. A total of ten were seen around Sobonpo/ Dongbonpo, eight in wet sedge-type habitat, with most plants about 20-50cm tall. Two males were in song, from taller plants; other males and females were seen food-carrying, with two pairs watched returning to the same small area (perching up on a higher strand of vegetation, before dropping down to the ground, and then flying off and returning with food again), behaviour typical of birds feeding nestlings. My search to confirm the presence of a nest was suspended after a few minutes, as the vegetation was easily damaged by walking through it (as evidenced by tracks made by several grazing cows); and the birds showed obvious signs of distress, fluttering away – and then (unknown to me) hovering closely behind my back.  Near to a second nest, the pair gave very sharp calls, and appeared extremely agitated by our presence. Although we did not photograph a nest or any nestlings, we consider that our observations constitute the first breeding record of this species in the DPRK; and only the second breeding record for the whole of the Korean Peninsula (with breeding at Shiwa Lake in Gyeonggi Province documented annually from at least 2014 or 2015).

Ochre-rumped Buntings © Nial Moores

  • Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus. LC. Seven individuals were found in three areas of wet reed-bed adjacent to Sobonpo/ Dongbonpo, with two adult males in song, and two females seen apparently gathering nest material.  This appears to be the first suggestion of breeding on the Korean Peninsula.  Of the only ten or so DPRK records of this species traced by Tomek (2002) none were mid-summer or breeding records; and the species has long been known as a winter visitor to the ROK, with an estimated 1,000 to 9,999 individuals each year (Moores et al. 2018). Although, the BirdLife International (2018) factsheet erroneously excludes the Korean Peninsula entirely from the species’ range, the species is mapped as breeding as close to the DPRK as the Russian Far East; and is likely also to be widespread in the DPRK at least during migration, as we earlier recorded Common Reed Bunting in Rason in March 2014; at Mundok on the west coast in March 2017; and in northern Gangwon Province in November 2017.

Common Reed Bunting, “Eastern Reed-beds”, east of Dongbonpo © Nial Moores

We also saw several species of mammal including a single Eastern Roe Deer Capreolus pygargus, multiple Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina stejnegeri , 3+ Korean Hare Lepus coreanus, a single Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra (very poorly photographed: this Near Threatened species is  not listed by the IUCN for the DPRK, even though the species can be locally common in the ROK), 2+ dark-morph Eurasian Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris and several Siberian Chipmunk Eutamias sibiricus, which together with the often stunning landscapes further suggests the attractiveness of Rason for eco-tourists – especially once relations have improved as everyone hopes!

Siberian Roe Deer © Bernhard Seliger

Red Squirrel © Bernhard Seliger

Harbour Seal © Nial Moores

Important NOTE:

Birds Korea is dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in Korea and the wider Yellow Sea Eco-region. We are a small non-political conservation organisation that aims to provide best information on birds and their habitats to decision-makers and the general public, to help inform the conservation process as part of genuinely sustainable development.  Birds Korea has an MOU with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea).  Dr Nial Moores of Birds Korea was contracted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation to help lead this bird research as part of a much-needed longer-term wetland conservation program (supported by e.g. the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention Secretariat and several other international conservation organisations), with the aim of conserving Korean biodiversity in ways that can benefit local communities and Korea as a whole.

References

  • BirdLife International. 2018.  Species factsheet: Emberiza schoeniclus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 15/06/2018
  • Browne, S., Vickery, J. & Chamberlain, D. 2010. Densities and population estimates of breeding Skylarks Alauda arvensis in Britain in 1997, Bird Study, 47:1, 52-65, DOI: 10.1080/00063650009461160
  • Kondratyev, A., Litvinenko, N., Shibaev, Y., Vyatkin, P. & Kondratyeva, L. 2000. The breeding seabirds of the Russian Far East. Pp.37-82 in A. Kondratyev, N. Litvinenko & G. Kaiser, eds. Seabirds of the Russian Far East. Ottawa: Canadian Wildlife Service.
  • Moores, N. 2017/2018. Birds and their conservation in Rason Special Economic Zone, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Forktail 33. 2017: 66–75 (*still in press, so page numbers might change).
  • Moores, N. & Seliger, B. 2017. First breeding record of Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus for the Korean Peninsula. BirdingASIA 28.
  • Moores, N., Ha J-M. & Seo H-M. 2018. The Birds Korea Checklist (2018). Published by Birds Korea, Busan, Republic of Korea.
  • Tomek, T. 1999. The birds of North Korea. Non-Passeriformes. Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 42: 1-21.
  • Tomek, T. 2002. The birds of North Korea. Passeriformes. Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 45: 1-235.

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