Ulleung and Dokdo, November 20 – 24

Bird News from Nial Moores

A short research trip to Ulleung County from November 20th-24th found a total of c. 74 bird species (including five seen only from inside the ferry between c. 10km north of the Guryongpo Peninsula and Ulleung). Weather throughout was mild, mostly overcast with occasional sunny periods (especially on the 23rd), with overnight temperatures falling to 3-4C and day-time highs reaching 13-15C. Winds were from the west, and were generally either light or moderate.

The main research aims were to determine whether there was much overlap in migrant landbird species on Ulleung Island (at approximately 37.50° N, 130. 86° E), with those found earlier in the month on Baekryeong Island c. 540km to the west-northwest (see: http://www.birdskorea.org/Habitats/Other/Baekryeongdo/BK-HA-Baekryeongdo-Nov-2013.shtml). Main species of interest this visit therefore included Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra and Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea, in addition to populations and subspecies of more widespread presumably sedentary species (including the “Ulleung Great Tit” Parus minor dageletensis). While much of the centre of the island is mountainous and forested, fieldwork focused on more open areas, including the ‘arboretum’ and hillside behind Sadong harbour in the southeast (on 20th PM); fields and villages at Hyeonpo and Taewa in the northwest (on 21st); and the Nari Basin (in the north) and Taewa again (on 23rd).

A chance conversation with the motel owner (of the excellent M Motel in Dodong, Ulleung) on November 21st also resulted in a wonderful opportunity to visit Dokdo on November 22nd. Well-known to everyone in Korea, Dokdo (at approximately 37.24° N, 131.87° E) is a small cluster of islands and islets approximately 90km southeast from Ulleung and 215km east from Uljin. In addition to being the ROK’s easternmost and most isolated island-group, Dokdo also possesses deep meaning and value to people nationwide. It is “where the Korean Peninsula begins”. While most visitors nowadays are restricted to spending only 20 minutes on the jetty, the Dokdo Management office and police officials most kindly allowed a few of us (including no less than three media teams) to join the county boat as it ferried police and supplies to the island – and then me to spend almost two hours freely searching for birds on the eastern island of Dongdo. Although I was unable to find the ROK’s first Pine Grosbeak that had been recorded there in late October and early-mid November, it was still an excellent experience – to visit these remote Korean islands and also to get some sense of their value (increasingly realised) to migration studies in this part of Korea and in the East Sea. Habitat-wise, the islands of Dokdo are steep-sided, with patches of grasses and some fruiting bushes. They were remarkably ‘birdy’ considering the date and weather, which on the 22nd allowed clear views of Ulleung to the northwest.

Ulleung-Island_NMUlleung Island, © Nial Moores

Ulleung-Island-Hyeonpo_NMUlleung Island: Hyeonpo, © Nial Moores

Ulleung-Island-Part-of-Nari-basin_NMUlleung Island: part of Nari basin, © Nial Moores

Of course, there is much overlap between these islands (from jurisdiction and administration to geology and birdlife). However, one surprising species on Dokdo, was Tree Sparrow Passer montanus (more or less absent from Ulleung, where it is replaced in summer by the only substantial breeding population of Russet Sparrow P. rutilans in the ROK). Why were they on Dokdo and not on Ulleung?

From this visit to both Ulleung and Dokdo, it was also clear that several species were indeed still on the move in the ROK – including both Red Crossbill and Common Redpoll. Other species of most note included Black Wood Pigeon Columba janthina on several dates; a Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis and Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria (on 21st); Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus (on 22nd); and apparent Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis and a gull showing several features of Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri, in among large numbers of other gulls, on the 23rd.


Dokdo, © Nial Moores

Dokdo-Sign_NMDokdo: Visitor information board, © Nial Moores

As there is little detailed information publicly available on the birdlife of Ulleung and Dokdo (especially on our websites or in English), a full list of species from this short research visit follows. All are from Ulleung unless specifically stated otherwise. All observations and images were by NM, using a hand-held Nikon Coolpix P7100 and superb Swarovski optics.

  1. Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus. Noted daily on Ulleung in small numbers. Apparently introduced on the island.
  2. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. On Ulleung, seen only at Taewa, with 12 on the 21st and two on the 23rd. A group of 25 duck – including or comprised entirely of this species – were seen flying south over the sea c. 15km east of Ulleung on the 22nd.
  3. Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha. Six on 21st and three on 23rd.
  4. Eurasian Teal Anas crecca. Three on the 21st and two on the 23rd.
  5. Greater Scaup Aythya marila. Two on the 21st.
  6. Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus. An adult male and female were in Hyeonpo harbour on the 21st and 23rd.
  7. Harlequin-Duck_NMHarlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus, Ulleung Island, November 21, © Nial Moores

  8. White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi. One First-winter male was in Hyeonpo harbour on the 21st.
  9. White-winged-Scoter_NMWhite-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi, Ulleung Island, November 21, © Nial Moores

  10. Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula. One on the 23rd.
  11. Common Merganser Mergus merganser. Three on the 21st.
  12. Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata. From the ferry, in addition to two close to Pohang one was seen c. 150km southwest of Ulleung, all on 20th.
  13. Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas. From the ferry, one was seen c. 110km southwest of Ulleung on the 20th and eight were seen between c. 25km and 60km southwest from Ulleung on 23rd.
  14. Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis. One was in Hyeonpo harbour on the 21st.
  15. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea. Four were seen over the sea approaching Ulleung from the east in the evening of the 20th and one was in Taewa on 23rd.
  16. Grey-Heron_NMGrey Heron Ardea cinerea, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores

  17. Temminck’s Cormorant Phalacrocorax capillatus. Fairly widespread with the highest area count 40 along the east coast on the 20th. At least five were also seen on Dokdo.
  18. Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. A juvenile was in Taewa on the 23rd.
  19. Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus. One or two were seen daily, including one on Dokdo on the 22nd.
  20. Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus. One on Ulleung on 21st and one on Dokdo on 22nd.
  21. Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus. Singles were at Hyeonpo and Nari and 2-3 were also on Dokdo on 22nd.
  22. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus. One was in Taewa on the 21st.
  23. Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva. Perhaps the oddest observation of this trip was a Pacific Golden Plover at Nari on the 23rd. Not only is this an exceptionally late date, but this bird was also in near full breeding plumage!
  24. Pacific-Golden-Plover_NMPacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva, Ulleung island, November 23, © Nial Moores

  25. Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria. One was at Taewa on 21st. Although looked for on 23rd it was not re-found. The species is probably not recorded annually in the ROK away from the National Arboretum, with most such past records coming from offshore islands (e.g. Gageo and Socheong) during migration or from Gangwon Province.
  26. Solitary-Snipe_NMSolitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria, Ulleung Island, November 21, © Nial Moores

  27. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Two (including one with broad white edges to the coverts) were with theSolitary Snipe in Taewa on the 21st. One even seemed to imitate the bobbing feeding motion of the Solitary, before both flew off an hour after sunset.
  28. Common-Snipe_NMCommon Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Ulleung Island, November 21, © Nial Moores

  29. Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius. From the ferry, a phalarope in non-breeding plumage seen c.40km southwest of Ulleung on the 23rd was presumed to be this species.
  30. Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla. From the ferry on the 20th, c. 125 were seen 5-10km northwest of the Guryongpo Peninsula; three were seen halfway between Pohang and Ulleung; 20+ were c. 40km southwest of Ulleung; and 25 were within 10km of Ulleung. One adult was also seen close to Sadong harbour on the 20th and 15+ were feeding off from Hyeonpo on the 21st.
  31. Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris. From the ferry on the 20th a total of 55 were seen in open sea, with a further 19 within c. 10km of Ulleung. On Ulleung itself, the highest single count was of 1500 (at Taewa), and there were also c. 1000 at Dokdo on the 22nd.
  32. Common Gull Larus canus. Two were at Hyeonpo on the 21st and 3+ were at Taewa on the 23rd.
  33. Common-Gull_NMCommon Gull Larus canus, Juvenile / First-winter kamtschatschensis, © Nial Moores

  34. Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri (?). A juvenile gull showing multiple features of this species (and a few features perhaps not so typical of thayeri) was at Taewa on the 23rd. As shown in the images, taken in very strong light, structurally it was intermediate in size between Black-tailed and Vega Gull L. vegae, and was also long-winged and slender-billed. Most of the underparts were solidly brown (at times appearing “velvety”), more so that seen in any regularly-occurring Korean gull species, while most of the upperparts, including the wing-coverts, were pale and strikingly frosty-edged. It lacked the darker coverts expected in e.g. L. smithsonianusand was much more strongly patterned than L. schistisagus. The primaries of the closed wing were dark but obviously brown-tinged, with strong white tips for a gull of this age. The upperwing when open showed dark primaries (especially outer edges) contrasting strongly with greyer-washed inner primaries (also ruling out all but an extreme-plumaged L. vegae or L. smithsonianus). The underwing coverts and axillaries were dark brown (latter with a hint of barring) contrasting with silvery undersides to the primaries, which were tipped darker (an underwing pattern shown by very few gull species). The bill was dark (with a hint of some paling – but much less so than all other First Calendar-year gulls that were present for direct comparison) and the legs were pink. While Thayer’s Gull is a rare but regular visitor to Japan, it is recorded less than annually in Korea (with most records being of adults). Informed comments on the images here would therefore be greatly appreciated (NB: there are also several minutes of video that could be sent to any guller interested in helping with its identification).
  35. Thayers-type-Gull_NM-1Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri (?), Juvenile, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores
    Showing elongated, delicate structure and size (in direct comparison with L. crassirostrisL. vegae and L. schistisagus).

    Thayers-type-Gull_NM-2Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri (?), Juvenile, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores
    Showing brown tone of otherwise fresh-looking primaries.

    Thayers-type-Gull_NM-3Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri (?), Juvenile, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores
    Showing rump and tail (left) and underwing (right).

    Thayers-type-Gull_NM-4Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri (?), Juvenile, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores
    Showing upperwing.

  36. Vega Gull Larus vegae. Only small numbers (<10) were noted in open sea during each ferry journey. Much larger numbers were present in main harbours on Ulleung (e.g. 500+ at Sadong and 500+ at Taewa) and also on Dokdo (>1000).
  37. Vega-Gull_NM-1Vega Gull Larus vegae, Adult (left) and First-winter (right), Ulleung island, November 23, © Nial Moores

    Vega-Gull_NM-2Vega Gull Larus vegae, Juvenile > First-winter, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores/center>

  38. Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus. One or two were with other large gulls at Taewa on the 23rd.
  39. Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus. Small numbers (<50) were seen on Ulleung, and at least three were on Dokdo.
  40. Slaty-backed-Gull_NMSlaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus Juvenile (> First-winter), Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores

  41. Heuglin’s Gull Larus heuglini. In total, at least 25 (all apparently taimyrensis) were seen on Ulleung and one or more were also seen on Dokdo.
  42. Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus. From the ferry one was seen c. 100km southwest of Ulleung Island on the 20th.
  43. Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus. From the ferry, one murrelet (presumably this species) was seen c.75km southwest from Ulleung on the 23rd.
  44. Black Wood Pigeon Columba janthina. Three or more were seen well in trees above Sadong harbour on the 20th; one was seen in flight at Taewa on 21st; and 2+ were seen on Dokdo on the 22nd, sitting on cliff-sides and feeding in berry bushes. All individuals appeared rather dull, with some green gloss on the neck sides and weakly on the breast and mantle, but apparently lacking, as previously noted, obvious pinky-purple tones on the head as shown by (most) adults on Gageo and at some other sites.
  45. Black-Wood-Pigeon_NM-1Black Wood Pigeon Columba janthina, Ulleung Island, November 20, © Nial Moores

    Black-Wood-Pigeon_NM-2Black Wood Pigeon Columba janthina, Dokdo, November 22, © Nial Moores

  46. Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis. On Ulleung only seen above Hyeonpo (where 3+ on 21st and one on 23rd), with the highest number (eight) seen on Dokdo on the 22nd.
  47. Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus. A total of five were seen or heard on Ulleung.
  48. Rook Corvus frugilegus. Sixteen were in Hyeonpo on the 21st, with four there still on 23rd when one was also in Nari.
  49. Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos. One was in Nari on the 23rd. Bill depth and length appeared closer to more northern than to more southern birds and this individual was therefore most likely to be of subspecies mandshuricus.
  50. Varied Tit Poecile varius. The most numerous landbird species encountered on Ulleung during this short survey period, with small flocks of 5-10 present in all areas. While many Varied Tit show rufescent tones to the head in autumn (perhaps more than at other times of the year?) birds on Ulleung all appeared strongly washed through with rufous-orange, including weakly admixed into the mantle. They therefore lacked the clean blue and orange appearance of typical mainland Varied Tit.
  51. Varied-Tit_NMVaried Tit Poecile varius, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores

  52. Coal Tit Periparus ater. A total of six were encountered on Ulleung.
  53. Eastern Great Tit Parus minor. Ulleung has its own recognised subspecies, P. m. dageletensis. In total, 35+ were found during this survey on Ulleung. Of note, many birds gave a quite distinctive “tuk” call, recallingMarsh Tit Poecile palustris – a call I personally do not yet associate with Eastern Great Tit. There was much individual variation in plumage in the Ulleung birds – though some perhaps appeared paler and greener-toned above than might be thought typical of mainland birds. At least one individual (perhaps a First Calendar-year?) also showed a fairly strong yellowish wash on the underparts – recalling some images of hybrid P. major andP. minor from Russia. What were the characters used to determine this subspecies first used by Kuroda and Mori almost a century ago, when Ulleung must truly have seemed a remote place? P. Minor and P. major are now both known to be irruptive and in some areas regular partial migrants. P. minor frequently migrate out over the sea, e.g. departing Socheong in their thousands some years. Presumably both species are able to reach Ulleung in the right weather conditions – a distance of only 375km from the DPRK coast to the north and 200km from the ROK coast to the west. Therefore, is it possible that dageletensis might be the result less of prolonged isolation and rather more of occasional hybridisation between Northern and Eastern Great Titfollowing irruptions?
  54. Eastern-Great-Tit_NM-1Eastern Great Tit Parus minor dageletensis, Ulleung island, November 21, © Nial Moores

    Eastern-Great-Tit_NM-2Eastern Great Tit Parus minor dageletensis, Ulleung island, November 21, © Nial Moores

  55. Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis. Seven at Hyeonpo and perhaps two at Nari. Two larks seen at distance on Dokdo were probably this taxon.
  56. Far Eastern Lark Alauda japonica. At least 23 were at Nari on the 23rd.
  57. Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis. Present in small numbers (1-5) in all areas that were surveyed on Ulleung.
  58. Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone. One was heard at Hyeonpo on the 21st.
  59. Goldcrest Regulus regulus. A total of five were heard on Ulleung.
  60. Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes. Five were in Hyeonpo on the 21st, and one was in Taewa on 23rd.
  61. White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus. Three were on Dokdo on the 22nd.
  62. White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea. One was between Hyeonpo and Taewa on the 21st.
  63. Naumann’s Thrush Turdus naumanni. At least four were on Dokdo on the 22nd.
  64. Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus. Two were on Dokdo on the 22nd and one was at Nari on the 23rd.
  65. Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus. A total of c.15 was found on Ulleung during this survey.
  66. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius. A total of six was found on Ulleung and two on Dokdo.
  67. Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus. About twenty were around the buildings on Dokdo. None were found on Ulleung
  68. Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella. At least three were on Dokdo on the 22nd and one was at Nari on the 23rd.
  69. White Wagtail Motacilla alba. Nine were at Taewa on the 21st with six there still (all lugens) on the 23rd.
  70. Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis. One was seen and heard briefly in amongst a flock of c. 20 Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens at Nari on the 23rd. Before any images could be taken the flock was flushed by anOriental Turtle Dove, and appeared to depart south out of the Nari basin. Identification was based on heavily streaked upperparts (contrasting with the plain rump) and underparts; facial pattern (including prominent eye-ring standing out in an otherwise plain “face”); sandy-buff plumage tones – obviously warmer than any of the accompanying pipits, especially on the upperparts and flanks; and pinkish legs and fairly extensive yellowy-orangey base to the lower mandible. This species is (still) very rarely recorded in the ROK and in Japan – with perhaps all records being of birds in late autumn and winter, often with other pipits.
  71. Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni. Small numbers (3-5) were seen or heard each day on Ulleung and three were also on Dokdo.
  72. Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus. One late individual was at Nari on the 23rd.
  73. Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens. Eight on the 21st, three on Dokdo on the 22nd and 35+ in total on the 23rd, including 25+ at Nari.
  74. Brambling Fringilla montifringilla. Twenty-five were at Hyeonpo on the 21st and ten were on Dokdo on the 22nd.
  75. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes. Five were on the cliffs at Dokdo and one was in Nari.
  76. Hawfinch_NMHawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes, Dokdo, November 22, © Nial Moores

  77. Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula. One or two were heard in Taewa on the 23rd.
  78. Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus. One was on Dokdo on the 22nd: an exceptionally late migrant or one intending to overwinter?
  79. Long-tailed Rosefinch Carpodacus sibiricus. One on the 21st and two on the 23rd.
  80. Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica. Odd “chuw” calls heard on Dokdo from unseen birds on the 22ndwere presumed to belong to this species.
  81. Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea. A flock of 11 on Dokdo on the 22nd contained 3-4 greyish birds with obviously pale rumps. Unfortunately, due to moderate winds and the nervousness of the flock views wereinsufficient to rule out / rule in Arctic Redpoll A. hornemanni. One was also heard at Nari on the 23rd.
  82. Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra. At least 35 were in Nari on the 23rd. Although views of perched birds were distant and brief, all the males seen well (3-5) were pale red and had clearly paler and streaked vents. They can therefore safely be ascribed to subspecies japonica (unlike the males seen earlier in the month on Baekryeong).
  83. Red-Crossbill_NM-2Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra japonica, Ulleung Island, November 23, © Nial Moores

  84. Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus. One on Ulleung on the 21st and 5+ on Dokdo on the 22nd.
  85. Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos. Two non-breeding plumaged males were at Nari on the 23rd.
  86. Pine-Bunting_NMPine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos, Ulleung island, November 23, © Nial Moores

  87. Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides. One was heard (but not seen -despite much searching) at Hyeonpo on the 21st.
  88. Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica. Two were on Dodko on the 22nd and one was at Nari on the 23rd.
  89. Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans. The only bunting encountered every day, with highest counts 3+ on Dokdo and 3+ at Nari.
  90. Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis. A male (presumably in its First Calendar-year) was at Hyeonpo on the 21st. This species is recorded less than annually in the ROK and there are still probably only 10-15 records in total nationwide.
  91. Snow-Bunting_NM-1Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis, Ulleung island, November 21, © Nial Moores

    Snow-Bunting_NM-2Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis, Ulleung island, November 21, © Nial Moores

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