Various Wetlands, DPR Korea: May 17-25

Bird news from Nial Moores with Bernhard Seliger (HSF representative and Birds Korea member), accompanied by three researchers from the State Academy of Sciences (SAOS) and several staff from the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection.

After a major meeting in Pyongyang on May 16th (during which the DPRK’s formal accession to the Ramsar Convention and joining of the EAAFP and the Ramsar-site designation of Mundok and Rason Migratory Bird Reserves were all celebrated),  the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea) funded two days of survey at Mundok on the west coast (May 17-18)  followed by a series of long road-trips and survey along the east coast at Sijeung Lake and adjacent seaside (May 20-21); Tongcheon Lake (May 21); the Songcheon Estuary, Hamhung (May 22); Kwangpo Migratory Bird Reserve (May 23); and Kumya Migratory Bird Reserve and now EAA Flyway site (May 24). In total, we recorded approximately 175 bird species , several of which are especially noteworthy because of their global conservation status and / or  perceived rarity in the DPRK,  seasonally or otherwise (see below).

Shorebirds at Mundok, May 18 © Bernhard Seliger

Sijeung Lake, Gangwon Province, May 20 © Bernhard Seliger

Tongcheon Lake, Gangwon Province, May 21 © Bernhard Seliger

Songcheon Estuary and hinterland, Hamhung, May 22 © Bernhard Seliger

Kwangpo Migratory Bird Reserve, May 23 © Bernhard Seliger

Kumya Migratory Bird Reserve and now East Asian-Australasian Flyway Site, May 24 © Bernhard Seliger

Species of most note included:

  • Stejneger’s Scoter Melanitta (deglandi) stejnegeri (LC). A total of 19 were seen at three sites.
  • American Scoter Melanitta americana (NT). Four were seen off Majon on May 24.
  • Arctic Loon Gavia arctica (LC). Marginally the commonest loon, with a total of 45+ at three sites.
  • Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica (LC). 35+ were on the sea off Sijeung Lake on May 20 (with very poor record shots taken by BS).
  • Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena (LC). Two birds in non-breeding plumage were on the sea off Sijeung Lake on May 20 and 21.
  • Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus (VU). One in breeding plumage was on the reservoir at Kwangpo on May 23; and one (presumed) in non-breeding plumage was on the sea off Majon  on 24 (SAOS).
  • Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor (EN). One immature bird was seen in flight over Sijeung Lake on May 20.
  • Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris (LC). One was seen in active migration over Mundok on May 17, and one was in reedbeds at Kwangpo on May 23.
  • Von Shrenck’s Bittern Ixobrychus eurhythmus (LC). One adult male was at Kwangpo on May 23; and at least eight males were at Kumya on May 24 (with seven seen and another heard “barking”).
  • “Western” Great Egret Egretta alba alba (LC). Two, both in non-breeding plumage, were at Kumya on May 24.

‘Western” Great Egret, Kumya, May 24 © Bernhard Seliger

  • Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus (LC).  One was at Mundok on May 18.
  • Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos (LC). A male and female were over a reedbed in Mundok on May 18, and two females were seen at Kumya on May 24.
  • Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca (LC). One was heard at Tongchon on May 21, and two were heard (and glimpsed) in active courtship at Kumya on May 24
  • Watercock Gallicrex cinerea (LC). Two males were in wet fields and reeds at Tongchon lake on May 21.
  • Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus (LC). 250-300 were at Mundok on May 17-18.
  • Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (EN). Approximately  205 were at Mundok on May 17-18.
  • Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris (EN). Approximately 225 were at Mundok on May 17-18; and five were in the Songcheon Estuary on May 22.
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmea (CR). One bird seen at very long range at Mundok on May 18 was feeding actively by running in circles with much pummeling of mud and based on plumage, structure and feeding action might have (or might not have!) been this species.
  • Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis (NT). 2,200 were counted roosting in fields during high tide at Mundok on May 18.
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina (LC). 100 were in the outer part of the Chongchon Estuary (Mundok) on May 17; and an additional 3,300 were counted roosting in fields in the inner part of Mundok on May 18.

Mixed shorebird flock, Mundok, May 17 © Bernhard Seliger

  • Little Stint Calidris minuta (LC).  A breeding-plumaged adult was seen well and photographed poorly feeding with Red-necked Stints in fields used for roosting at high tide in Mundok on May 17. Although a researcher from the SAOS claimed that the species has been recorded in the DPRK previously, we have so far been unable to trace any other records.

Little Stint (with Red-necked Stint), Mundok, May 17 © Nial Moores

  • Oriental Pratincole Glareola madivarum (LC). Two were at Tongchon lake on May 21, with one very poorly photographed.
  • Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi (VU). Ten, all in non-breeding plumage, were at Mundok on May 17.
  • Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida (LC). Found at three sites, with the highest count at least 20 at Kwangpo on May 23.
  • White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus (LC).  A total of 530+ were logged at Mundok (on May 17 and 18, with 300 on the latter day) and at Kwangpo on May 23.

White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Kwangpo Migratory Bird Reserve, May 23 © Bernhard Seliger

  • Black Tern Chlidonias niger (LC). A breeding-plumaged adult was seen briefly at Kwangpo on May 23 in a large mixed flock of marsh terns, with identification based on plain grey upperwing and underwing, and dull-looking grey-toned tail (NM only).  We failed to relocate the bird in among a large flock of resting terns; and did not manage to get any images.  According to a researcher from the SAOS there are no DPRK records of this species.
  • Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto (LC). Seen at Mundok, with a high count of 15 on May 17, and in Wonsan, where one was logged on May 25.

Collared Dove, Mundok, May 18 © Bernhard Seliger

  • Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus (LC).  Birds found singing in and displaying over all  major reedbed areas we surveyed, contradicting the assertion sometimes made that the species “does not nest in reedbeds in Korea”.

Common “reedbed” Cuckoo, Kumya, May 24 © Bernhard Seliger

  • Amur Falcon Falco amurensis (LC). One was at Mundok on May 17; and two overflew Kwangpo on May 23.
  • Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus (LC). Frequently encountered, with 31+ birds logged at 11 different sites.
  • Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz consobrinus (LC). A total of 75+ were logged, most at Mundok, with a male singing and wing-fluttering at a female at Songcheon Estuary on May 22.
  • Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis (LC).  A flock of ten were at Mundok on May 17.
  • Eastern House Martin Delichon (urbicum) lagopodum (LC). One overflew Kumya on May 23. This appears to be only the second record in the DPRK (after one in Rason last year), but again we failed to take any images.
  • Russet Sparrow Passer rutilans (LC). At least three (two males and a female) were at the Sijeung Hotel complex on May 20 and 21, with one of the males in full song, and one male and female watched carrying nesting material, all strongly indicative of local nesting.

Russet Sparrow, Sijeung, May 21 © Nial Moores

  • Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola (CR). A Second Calendar-year male was seen briefly at Mundok on May 17 (NM only).

The survey team: Kumya Migratory Bird Reserve, May 24

Important NOTE:

Birds Korea is dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in Korea and the wider Yellow Sea Eco-region. We are a small non-political conservation organisation that aims to provide best information on birds and their habitats to decision-makers (as well as to the general public), to help inform the conservation process. Birds Korea has an MOU with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea). Dr Nial Moores of Birds Korea was contracted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation to help lead this bird research as part of a much-needed longer-term wetland conservation program supported by e.g. the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention Secretariat and several other international conservation organisations, with the aim of conserving Korean biodiversity in ways that can benefit local communities.

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