Shorebird Research/ Bird News from Nial Moores
A boat-based shorebird survey of the Nakdong Estuary was conducted with Tim Edelsten on April 22nd as the first of three counts to be made this spring for a regional project led by the wonderful SBS in China on “The ecology and conservation of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the Yellow Sea”, funded by the National Geographic Air and Water Conservation Fund (China).
Unfortunately, no Spoon-billed Sandpipers were seen in the Nakdong and the total number of shorebirds found – 805 – was disturbingly small (by way of comparison, way back on April 13th 1998 I counted more than 7,000 shorebirds here). Most numerous among the 20 shorebird species found were Dunlin (549) followed by Sanderling (131), Kentish Plover (c. 30) and Red-necked Stint (16). Shorebirds of most note for this site included eight Far Eastern Oystercatcher, 17 Far Eastern Curlew, two Oriental Pratincole and single Little Whimbrel (which even started to display!), single Black-winged Stilt, 2-3 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, seven Pacific Golden Plover and three Greater Sand Plover (allowing for nice comparisons with several Mongolian Plover that were also present).
Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii with Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus (latter on left in top image) and Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis in incipent breeding plumage (latter on right in bottom image) © Nial Moores
Additional species of note in the Nakdong Estuary included single Eurasian Spoonbill, a couple of Western Osprey and perhaps 5-10 Black Kite, 200+ Little Tern, and 2+ Red-throated Pipit (latter typically rather scarce in Busan).
At the Geum Estuary on 25th, shorebird numbers were estimated by NM below the barrage on the incoming tide: no Spoon-billed Sandpipers were seen. However, in addition to approximately 6,000 Dunlin, species of note seen here by NM and TE included two or three Saunders’s Gull, a single distant Curlew Sandpiper, a green-flagged Bar-tailed Godwit in amongst a mixed flock of baueri and menzbieri, and single Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit (latter initially appeared large and pale, but based on images seems best attributed to melanuroides).
On 26th, almost thirteen hours were spent (NM only) on the tidal-flats at Yubu, where the dawn high-tide resulted in a count of 45,000 shorebirds (in blocks of 1,000) and the much lower afternoon high tide of c. 55,000 (many of these toward or beyond Daechuk). Among the 26 or 27 shorebird species logged, the most numerous were Dunlin (20,000+), Great Knot (9,700 feeding at low tide; closer to 18,000 at high tide) and Bar-tailed Godwit (c. 8,000 – most of which were distant).
(Although Great Knot was listed as Least Concern back in the 1990s, following the Saemangeum reclamation and reclamation elsewhere in the Yellow Sea, this once numerous species has recently been uplisted to Endangered…The BirdLife Factsheet for the species now reads: “This species has been uplisted to Endangered owing to recent evidence showing a very rapid population decline caused by reclamation of non-breeding stopover grounds, and under the assumption that further proposed reclamation projects will cause additional declines in the future.”)
Although distant and seen for only a minute or so, the main highlight was a single Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper in incipient breeding-plumage.
Other globally-threatened species here included Black-faced Spoonbill (10), Far Eastern Curlew (1,100), Nordmann’s Greenshank (at least twelve – making them more numerous in this part of the Geum than Common Greenshank!) and Saunders’s Gull (3), while other highlights included 15+ leg-flagged shorebirds, two Oriental Pratincole, three Broad-billed Sandpiper, three breeding-plumaged Greater Sand Plover and good views of several of the 300+ Far Eastern Oystercatcher.
Rarest in the Korean context was what looked in the half-light of dawn to be a Little Stint (perhaps a Second Calendar-year in First Breeding Plumage?). Although hunched-up and rather pale (lacking much rufous), the bill looked fairly long, slightly decurved and fairly fine-tipped; the bird was warm-faced but white-throated, with dense dark markings on the breast sides; and there were blackish centres to the few wing coverts that could be seen. Most of the upperparts looked much blacker than typical of Red-necked Stint, and there was a hint of pale braces. As the species is scarcely annually-reported in Korea caution is required and informed comments on the ID are warmly welcome…
Non-waterbird interest on Yubu was limited, but included one or two Northern Boobooks and a single Blue-and-white Flycatcher. Unfortunately rain prevented further survey on 27th.
Although the first few hours of shorebirding felt almost magical in this part-Ramsar site, the amount of flotsam along the tide-line was startling and the level of disturbance on the tidal-flats was intense for a large part of the day. In addition to all of the ships and construction in the river and the 50-100 shell-fishers (including one with a boat blasting out radio broadcasts for much of the day) there were several fighter jets doing repeat flights overhead and even more troublesome a coastguard helicopter that seemed to be on a training exercise, hovering and circling, hovering and circling. With the bird-free dead-space created in Saemangeum available and unused just to the south, do these aircraft really need to use the nation’s last bit of optimal shorebird habitat in this way?
All counts were made and all the shorebird images above were taken by NM (with a hand-held camera) through a truly superb Swarovski scope…