Baekryeong Island, October 8 / 9-17

Bird News from Nial Moores, with Kim Su-Kyung on 15th and 16th

From inside the afternoon ferry from Incheon to Baekryeong Island on 8th, best were a loon sp., 78 Streaked Shearwater, one dark shearwater sp., two Black-legged Kittiwake, 30 Taimyr Gull, seven Pomarine Jaeger, a probable (very distant) South Polar Skua and at least 33 Finless Porpoise.

On Baekryeong itself, I logged approximately 125 bird species during one full day of uninterrupted field work and seven half days  (with much potential field time yielded to additional work commitments and meetings, including – happily – much of a day assisting Dr Kim Su-Kyung as she conducted a rapid assessment of the ecological health of several drainage ditches). Weather was clear and bright on most days with northerly or northwesterly winds on several days, especially strong following a tremendous thunderstorm and a rapid fall in temperature overnight on 9th-10th.

The view at dawn looking from Jincheon on Baekryeong toward the Hwanghaenam coast of the DPRK © Nial Moores

Highlights included an approachable Pied Harrier (on 9th and 11th), several groups of Chestnut-flanked White-eye (with the highest day count 35+ on 9th),  two Yellow-breasted Bunting (on 9th) and 1 or 2 Pine Bunting (on 9th, 14th and 17th); 40 Amur Falcon (on 10th); a juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle (on 11th) and what now appears most plausibly to have been a Crested Serpent Eagle (on 14th);  single Watercock (on 12th and 15th); a Japanese Leaf Warbler heard (on 12th); Little Owl (heard on 13th and 14th);  presumed Siberian Chiffchaff (heard only on 13th); two Lesser White-fronted Goose (on 15th); 650+ Eastern Great Tit (on 15th) potentially indicating the start of a major irruption); and a presumed dark morph Booted Eagle (on 17th).

Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos © Nial Moores

Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela © Nial Moores.  Following the posting of the top two images on my facebook page with a request for help with the ID, leading experts Phil Round and Yoav Perlman both independently suggested Crested Serpent Eagle, based on the ” extensively pale gape and whacking broad wingbar in the base of the flight feathers” and the bird’s shape (PR: Oct 20th); and “Two-toned remiges and huge white tail base” (YP: Oct 20th). Checking through the additional un-posted images, one (the bottom image) shows that the broad white stripe continues on and along the base of the primaries – a very strong feature of Crested Serpent Eagle and one that rules out any other raptor likely to occur in East Asia.  I am the first to admit that I (foolishly!) did not even consider this species – although there were several features that should have strongly pointed me in that direction, namely: the bulging secondaries, the broad hand,  and the mid-length tail; the strikingly extensive amount of yellow on and around the bill; the apparently almost-all dark plumage (somewhat blacker on the head, along the secondaries, the tip of the primaries and in the tail-bar, and browner-toned on the underbody); and the pattern of white on the underwing – including across the secondaries, and also across the bases of the outer primaries; with an additional fainter line / markings close to or on the bases of the primaries – and even on the tail (in the field I noted that there was a pale band on the tial, perhaps pale grey, but I did not think this was at all obvious in the images…). According to Park Jong-Gil’s Identification Guide to the Birds of Korea, there are about five previous records in Korea, including one specimen, and one sight-record from Socheong (if memory serves correctly, seen by now-Dr Kim Sung-Hyun in October in about 2001 on a day of very strong northerly winds).

As in most early-mid Octobers on Baekryeong, diversity was good and many areas felt very “birdy”. At the same time,  most species were challenging to see well (if at all!) because of the still extensive habitat, often strong winds and ever-presence of raptors.  Largely as a result, I succeeded in logging only quite small numbers of most tropical migrants , e.g. only singles of three species of former “locustella” warbler, maximum day counts of 2-3 each of Asian Brown, Mugimaki and Taiga Flycatchers, a high count of only 20 Stejneger’s Stonechat and only 2-3 Pallas’s Leaf Warbler and two Radde’s  (latter two species as usual in Dumujin) . Even the peak counts of the more typically abundant and visible migrants were fairly low compared to some very big days logged in other years: e.g. maxima of 126 Yellow-browed Warbler (on the 12th), 330 Olive-backed Pipit (on the 11th), 580+ Brambling (on the 16th) and 120+ Black-faced Bunting (on the 12th).

Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri © Nial Moores

Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica © Nial Moores

Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni  © Nial Moores

Selected records follow:

  • Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus. An adult and juvenile were together on the main Hwadong wetland on 15th. This is the second record we know of on Baekryeong, with the first an adult seen in the Hwadong wetland on October 18th 2017.

  Lesser White-fronted Goose at Hwadong © Nial Moores

  • Stejneger’s Scoter Melanitta (deglandi) stejnegeri. At least 40 were offshore from Sagot beach on the 7th; with this number rising to at least 152 on the 17th.
  • Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus. The only record was of a total of 10 moving back northeast on the 16th.
  • Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga. A juvenile came in off the sea and moved rapidly west across the island on 11th.
  • Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus. A dark morph, presumably of this species, was ‘scoped at long range during a major movement of raptors on October 16th. Identification was based on size (being only slightly larger than several Eastern Buzzards in direct comparison) and structure which looked more or less typical of the species; and especially on the striking white rump-band/ crescent and strongly contrasting upperwing pattern, with darker secondaries, a paler mid-panel, and a patchy-looking and fairly pale forewing.
  • Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus. One was at Hwadong on the 18th.
  • Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus. Seen daily from the 10th, with the highest day count a very conservative 240+ on the 16th (this was the number counted leaving the island Northeastward in only two hours).
  • Eastern Water Rail Rallus indicus. One was flushed accidentally from long grass on the 16th.
  • Watercock Gallicrex cinerea. One, perhaps a 1cy male, was seen twice at Yeonhwari, on the 12th and 15th.
  • Amur Falcon Falco amurensis. Recorded with certainty on only one date (the 10th), when 40 – including a group of at least 35 – were seen moving west in only 30 minutes.
  • Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus. First logged on the 10th, with the highest day count a minimum 18 on the 12th, and a likely total of 40-50 individuals heard or seen thereafter.
  • Eastern Great Tit Parus minor. Recorded each day in small numbers until the 14th when 75+ were logged. Between 0700 and 0900 on the 15th at least 600 were counted coming in from the southeast and moving northwest, with at least 50 seen that afternoon close to the west coast.
  • Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristris. I heard the distinctive call of this species two or three times in quick succession in Jincheon on the 13th, but failed to see the bird despite an hour of two of searching.
  • Chestnut-flanked White-eye Zosterops erythopleurus. Logged only between the 9th and 14th, with several flocks of 30 or so birds seen moving west over Jincheon; and the highest day count 35+ on the 9th.

Chestnut-flanked White-eye © Nial Moores

  • Daurian Starling Agropsar sturninus. One on the 9th.
  • Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris. One on the 15th.
  • Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus. Five on 14th, one on 15th and two on 17th.
  • Thrush sp. On the 12th, a series of calls were heard given by a thrush over 1-2 minutes, including some squeaky-hard “Tshakk-Tsjakk” type notes and some with a hint of rattle. These were most reminiscent of Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, a species recorded only once previously in the ROK, and did not resemble any regularly-occurring thrush.
  • Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope. Logged most days, with the highest day count a conservative 16 logged on the 12th. Only a few of these birds were seen well – and none were photographed.
  • Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus. 15+ on the 11th is perhaps my highest day count of this species on Baekryeong.
  • Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami. The highest day count was only 8+ , on the 14th. Numbers that were actually present were likely to have been very much higher…

 

Tristram’s Bunting © Nial Moores

  • Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata. The highest day count was 20 on the 15th.

Chestnut-eared Bunting © Nial Moores

  • Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys. Remarkably scarce with the highest day count five, on both 14th and 15th.
  • Chestnut Bunting Emberiza rutila. Remarkably scarce, with the highest day count 30 on the 12th.
  • Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi. First logged on the 11th, with the highest day count 15+ on the 15th.

Pallas’s Reed Bunting © Nial Moores

In addition, three species of mammal were recorded: 25+ Spotted Seal Phoca larga; probably three or four different Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica;  and one rat sp. (caught and killed by one of the weasels).

Spotted Seal (above) and Siberian Weasel killing a rat sp. (below) © Nial Moores

 

 

All images taken through a truly optically-superb Swarovski scope.

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