Bird News from Nial Moores with Russell Graham
A hugely enjoyable though extremely high-paced week, with highlights that included good views of many of Korea’s expected winter specialties, Eurasian Bittern, Grey and Snow Buntings, a presumed Steppe Gull and a flock of presumed Crested Auklet.
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris © Nial Moores
Presumed Steppe Gull Larus heuglini barabensis © Nial Moores
Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis vlasowae with flock of Asian Rosy Finch Leucosticte arctoa © Nial Moores
On February 7th, with a dawn low of -10C, highlights in Cheorwon included good numbers and excellent views of both White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes; a couple of Long-tailed Rosefinch; and two Chestnut-eared Bunting found loosely associating with perhaps 8-10 Pallas’s Reed Bunting. However, although one Pine Bunting was heard (NM only), we were unable to relocate the flock found the week before. En route to the National Arboretum, we had good views of Eurasian Eagle-Owl and in the arboretum itself, excellent views of one of the over-wintering Solitary Snipe. Further highlights there included a flock of six Pallas’s Rosefinch, four Eurasian Bullfinch and 2+ Yellow-bellied Tit.
On February 8th (after a LONG detour into central Seoul to visit Niio Vision for repairs to NM’s heavily worn Swarovski tripod) , we headed for the North-east coast via Chuncheon finding single Brown Dipper and several displaying Japanese Wagtail. From the boat out of Daejin and the headland above Geojin we saw 11+ Spectacled Guillemot, 6+ Common Murre, a single Brunnich’s Murre, 100+ Ancient Murrelet, several hundred Rhinoceros Auklet, one presumed Least Auklet (NM only) and several thousand loons – including two (or three?) Yellow-billeds. Gull numbers were much reduced, and unfortunately there was no time to check those that remained for the Western Gull found there a couple of weeks earlier.
February 9th was an epic day both in the distance travelled and in the birds that were seen. Wanting to get ahead of a major snowfall predicted for the southwest, we travelled from Daejin to Suncheon Bay via Seosan, the Geum River and Gomso Bay. Highlights included a single Eurasian Bittern, an adult Steller’s Sea Eagle, six (distant) Oriental Stork, perhaps a dozen Saunders’s Gull and a similar number of Cinereous Vulture, a Rough-legged Buzzard and an Amur Leopard Cat at Seosan; c. 45,000 Baikal Teal showing spectacularly on the Geum; one Oriental Stork appearing out of the snow at Gomso; and Hooded Crane at Suncheon Bay.
On February 10th, following the passage of a cold front, we heard and saw 2-4 Siberian Accentor (one excellently) in a valley near Jinju; and then in cold, strong winds found one First-winter Relict Gull in the Nakdong Estuary. In nearby woodland, we then had very good views of a Second Calendar-year male and a female Grey Bunting, with a support cast of two Red-flanked Bluetail and several Pale Thrush.
On the 11th, in continuing strong winds, we searched unsuccessfully for Long-billed Murrelet at Guryongpo, with highlights there a suspected Steppe, two Glaucous-winged and a half-dozen Glaucous Gulls and fair numbers of Harlequin Duck and Rhinoceros Auklet, before deciding to head up to Taebaek for the Asian Rosy Finch flock (c. 145 seen) which still contained a single Snow Bunting.
On the 12th, we resumed our search for Long-billed Murrelet along the coast south from Tonghae – again unsuccessfully. Instead we found a Brunnich’s Murre and what appeared to be one or two small flocks of Crested Auklet containing in total 10-20 individuals. Only seen in flight, the birds appeared in direct comparison to be similar in size to Ancient Murrelet, but unlike that species and Rhinoceros Auklet which were also present for direct comparison all lacked any white in the vent or on the belly. There are only a couple of previous claims of this species in Korean waters (including one very poorly digiscoped last winter), but unfortunately the wave swell was too great to see any sitting on the sea or to attempt any images. In addition to good numbers of loons, we also found two more Siberian Accentor feeding below some low cliffs.