Daily Archives: 09/06/2019

Tropical Junam: Cotton Pygmy Goose and Jacanas!

Bird News from Nial Moores

On June 5th, headed out to Junam Reservoir in the evening to look for a Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus, a national first record reported somewhat belatedly in the Seoul Ilbo on the 4th, with this news then passed on by Birds Korean Ha Jungmoon (one of the authors of our 2018 Checklist and now like myself, also a volunteer e-Bird reviewer).  

Cotton Pygmy Goose is a southern-distributed species which nonetheless has reached northern China several times in early summer (likely in response to the rapidly warming climate), so was a long-awaited addition to the national list.

On arrival, the main reservoir was near-devoid of birds and completely devoid of birders, with a scattering of Grey Heron, only one Eastern Spot-billed Duck, and best for the day, three Whiskered Tern and a lone and disappointingly distant Pheasant-tailed Jacana – a species that was first recorded in Korea in 1993 and which has bred at Junam more or less annually since at least 2007.

The adjacent Dongpan was rather birdier.  Out in the lotus were two Mandarin Duck and two Mallard, a single Eurasian Teal, a dozen or so  Eastern Spot-billed Duck (several with their own accompanying flotilla of ducklings), and along the edges, at least four singing Yellow-rumped Flycatcher.

A birder there drove past, stopped, reversed and explained in somewhat depressed tones that the bird was still present, seen and photographed in the morning by a birder from Busan.  Apparently the bird was very shy and was first seen more than a week ago – on May 26th – found it seems by local birders (does anybody know by who?).  This birder had invested most of the day searching without success.  He left.  As dusk deepened, there was still no sign of the Cotton Pygmy Goose – with the highlight instead three Northern Boobook, including one that spectacularly dive-bombed a flying Spotbill!  

On 6th, a national holiday, a large number of birders headed out to Junam, and the bird was seen at least three times – each time only very briefly. One of these birders was Dr Shim Kyu-Sik, who took a series of distant images before the bird disappeared into a forest of lotus again.

Korea’s first Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus, Junam, June 6th
© Shim Kyu-Sik

On 7th, after heavy overnight rain, a last minute decision was made to head out to the reservoir again at dawn. In light rain and mist, first bird of the day was a spectacular “singing” Pheasant-tailed Jacana, with yellow nape flared, starting wheezy and Lapwing-like and ending like a Lesser Coucal: “Nii-hope, Nii-hope”.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus © Nial Moores

After an hour or so of waiting, the male Cotton Pygmy Goose flew in calling, and dropped into the lotus only 100m away, near a half-open patch of water.  Remarkably, though, the bird seemed to disappear on landing – and the rain and demands of work required me to head back to Busan.

This Cotton Pygmy Goose is just one of three species so far publicly reported in Korea for the first time between May 25th and 28th (the others being Chinese Bush Warbler and Black Bulbul, both on Baekryeong Island). Oddly, news of national firsts found by government-related bodies can take months to be released, with the “only” other first national record made at all public so far this year a White-throated Redstart on Mara Do, off from Jeju, perhaps sometime in April.

It seems likely that this latest trio were displaced by an unusual pair of low pressure systems, with – as of May 26th – one of these twins over southern China, the other centred near to Beijing – with heavy rain preceded by strong southerlies and followed by very strong westerlies across parts of the Yellow Sea.

Pressure systems as of May 26th © KMA (http://www.weather.go.kr/weather/main.jsp)

Looking at this map, have to wonder what other interesting species will have crossed the Yellow Sea between May 24th and 28th during the passing of this unusual weather system.