Bird News from Nial Moores and Jason Loghry
In glorious sunshine and autumn-cool, with a dawn minimum of 12C and a high of about 22C, we spent a day birding three of the top mainland sites in the southeast: Junam Reservoir (Changwon); the Nakdong Estuary; and Igidae, in east Busan.
Following on from JL’s excellent discovery of a Critically Endangered Baer’s Pochard at Junam on the 10th , we headed there for an early start, first though being diverted by a large owl sitting atop of a pole, seen from the expressway at 100km/hour before first light. Most likely a Eurasian Eagle-owl, it nonetheless looked sufficiently long-tailed and round-crowned, and hence Ural-like, from the car to try to search for, unsuccessfully without success.
At Junam, in among approximately 900 Common Pochard was a fascinating range of Aythya which provided plenty of ID challenges and discussion. Fortunately, this included a bird that in the low light of early morning seemed to show some features of Baer’s (dark head and browner breast; some pale on the flanks) but a few features that really did not fit (apparently yellow eye; lack of striking white foreflank spur; limited tiger-striping). We lost the bird for a while, and then thought we had found a much “better” second bird (JL’s images from yesterday had also suggested that there might be two birds). As the light improved further, however, we realized this was indeed one and the same individual: a male Baer’s Pochard. As can be seen from the images (NM’s taken through a truly superb Swarovski scope), at times this bird looked strikingly obvious, at other times less convincing. During the two hours or so of observation we could detect no features suggesting any hybrid influence.
As the light strengthened and the bird became more active, it looked much better for Baer’s Pochard: big rounded head, with little forehead and a strong blueish-toned bill; strong white foreflank spur, broken tiger stripes on the flanks; warm Mallard-brown breast and greener head; and pale blue tones to the eye © Jason Loghry
Baer’s Pochard: showing the very distinctive profile (rounded head sometimes recalling Mallard but too big for the neck), with very pale eyes high in head and very large deep bill with dark cutting edge topped with blue-grey . At this angle too, the warmer fringes to the upperparts are also apparent © Nial Moores
Mixed in too, was a tiny Scaup with a much more rounded look to the head than the three or four more obvious Greater Scaup and even some of the “white-ringed” female Tufted Ducks. It was too active and far away to get good images, and the upperwing was not seen. And another more distant eclipse-plumage male seemed to have a bill pattern that suggested Ring-necked Duck (NM only).
Also of note there were 6-7 Pheasant-tailed Jacana, single Baikal Teal, 5+ Garganey and a single Western Osprey, while overhead raptors on migration included a loose kettle of 15 Grey-faced Buzzard, four Eurasian Hobby and a possible Amur Falcon.
On the way to the Nakdong Estuary, we saw two more possible Amur Falcon from the expressway; again frustratingly searched for along smaller roads without success. At Miyeonji itself, there was even more disturbance than usual, and only small numbers of shorebirds (including half-a-dozen Far Eastern Curlew, 30+ Common Greenshank and probably 100 Red-necked Stint), with best there an Eastern Marsh Harrier.
However, rejoining the busy road, and surrounded by construction and traffic, we met with one of the highlights of the day: a gorgeous juvenile Amur Falcon sitting on wires, and wing-stretching before heading off west (on the way to China, then India, then East Africa for the winter!). Cooler toned than the otherwise pretty similar Red-footed Falcon, it also showed more white on the underparts and underwing, and a complete greyish cap. Really beautiful.
At Igidae, there were huge crowds of film-fest people and unpromising seas, with a southwesterly wind and few landbirds, with the exception of a few Daurian Redstart and some bickering Blue Rock Thrush. However, during an hour or so of seawatching it was clear that birds were on the move (connected to the ex-typhoon up near the top end of the East Sea?), with 10+ small shorebirds seen moving south, along with a dozen or so duck (Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Common Pochard and a merganser sp), two flocks of Grey Heron (25+11), a few dozen Streaked Shearwater and dozens of gulls. These included the personal first proper flocks of Vega Gull of the autumn (30+ in total, including both juveniles and adults, many of the latter now starting primary moult) and at least 40-50 Black-legged Kittiwake. Further highlights for the day then included probably seven Pomarine Skua south; one dark Parasitic Jaeger chasing a Black-tailed Gull; and rarest of all in the Korean context, an adult Long-tailed Jaeger more or less in non-breeding plumage, watched as it flew slowly south, at times steadily, at other times lifting high and then dropping briefly to the sea (NM only). ID was based mostly on the really slim structure and the absence of any obvious white in the upperwing (with the exception of a trace on the leading edge) or underwing. At the same time, JL was exploring some of the woodland, unexpectedly coming face-to-face with a Eurasian Eagle-owl: a fitting end to a really great day’s birding.