Bird News from Nial Moores and Jason Loghry
With a storm up in Hokkaido/ The Okshotsk and the promise of northeasterly winds (4-5m/s+ throughout the day) and some drop in temperature (with a minimum of about 14C and a high of 18C) we headed to the Guryongpo Peninsula. On arrival at the headland at about 06:50, we could see a decent movement of birds was underway, with most numerous species including Black-headed Gull (perhaps 3-5,000 recorded during the day), and duck (several hundred seen coasting south into the bay, before moving back out and south again). Also seen on the move over the sea were several Eurasian Sparrowhawk (perhaps 20 in total seen coming in off, with a few more also seen over land), and similar numbers of skylark sp. and pipits (probably both Olive-backed and Buff-bellieds, based on birds seen on the land). We also saw a total of about 50 Black-legged Kittiwake (including two juveniles) and c. 75 Common Tern, some of which looked to be on the move, while others seemed to be blogging.
Twenty minutes of gulling found a few dozen Slaty-backed Gulls of all ages; probably 500+ Vega; and a small number of the other usual suspects, including a couple of Common Gull.
Although the following identifications should be treated with caution, as they were made of birds that were not seen in flight, the following images show some of the expected range in First Calendar-years of the fascinating Mongolian–Vega–Taimyr group of gulls that we can see here at this time of the year.
Far more advanced than any vegae or taimyrensis at this time of year, this typical late October mongolicus already looks more or less white-headed (streaking still present but faint) and largely white below, with very worn tertials and obvious paleing of the bill. The upperparts look very pale too, and have two generations of feather: those which are brown and white as in the wing coverts, and most or all of those which are tipped light brown and have clean black anchors and very pale grey bases (e.g. some of the scapulars).
Flat-backed, neat and contrasty, the bill is black; the scapulars contain large dark brown centres with black bases extending up the shaft and clean frosty-white fringes and notches; and the greater coverts too are well-patterned, with some darker shading. The underparts lack any areas of solid brown, and the head and nape pattern is a mix of white, dark brown and grey-brown streaks, showing the start of a mask and finer detail than most vegae. Although the tertials show quite a lot of notching and pale, the tail has more black and less white at the base than might be expected in vegae. The bars on the uppertail coverts already look a little broken, less well-defined than in e.g. smithsonianus.
Both look a little awkward in structure, and seem to have a plumage that is more muted than would be expected in taimyrensis, though rather more contrasty than e.g. juvenile Slaty-backed. Both birds show a little paleing at the bill base, more obvious on the bird on the left and some dark on the scutes (which would be unusual in Slaty-backed). The scapulars lack the blackish bases that seem usual in taimyrensis, and the underparts look solid brown on the belly and flanks. The head pattern seems somewhat muted, and there is a good amount of variation between them in the exact pattern of the tertials and coverts, though both are well-patterned. While preening the bird on the left shows some contrast between the black outermost primaries and paler primaries inward, and the primary coverts show extensive paleing, suggesting that the bird would likely show a decent pale blaze or ‘window’ across the upperside of the spread primaries as would be expected in vegae.
A search of the headland found few birds of note, with best being a Richard’s Pipit (JL only) and a Red-flanked Bluetail, with the only warbler of the day a single Yellow-browed Warbler.
Checking the coast then produced the most perplexing bird of the day, an unidentified alcid. At long range, the bird appeared to be at most about 2/3rds the size of a Black-headed Gull which was close to it as it preened and wing-flapped. Initial identification was as Rhinoceros Auklet, as it was almost uniformly brown, with a paler belly. However, it looked a little small for that species, lacked any pale on the undertail coverts, also had a small oval-shaped spot of cream or off-white apparently just behind the eye (suggesting Spectacled Guillemot), and perhaps a weaker spot in front of it to; and the bill, while hard to see in the sea haze, looked short, deep and broad and largely grey, lacking any horn. The bird then flew right towards us, confirming that the wings were all dark (above and below); the belly was paler brown; and the vent lacked any paleing or white. Scope views as it flew suggested strongly that there was some orange or orange-grey in the heavy bill and perhaps in the legs too. The bird looked like it was going to land close to us, but we lost it and failed to find it again in four hours of searching which only turned up two small grebes (both presumed to be Black-necked Grebes).
Off from the beach, there were three Great Crested Grebe (making four for the day) and an excellent mix of probably 1,000 loafing duck, most of which were Eurasian Wigeon, Spot-billed Duck, Mallard and Eurasian Teal but which also included small numbers of Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard and Greater Scaup and 4+ White-winged Scoter (making at least six for the day); 25+ Mandarin (making 30+ for the day) and 5+ Baikal Teal (total of 100+ for the day?).
Our last stop was at the river, where obvious highlight was a distant First-winter Relict Gull (which flew off downriver), and where additional species of note included 30+ Great Egret (many of which were the oversized alba), six Dunlin and a single Long-billed Plover.