Late Spring Highlights, Baekryeong Island, May 23rd-30th 2019

Bird News from Nial Moores (with Shim Kyu-Sik for much of 25th and 26th).

Outstanding late May highlights on Baekryeong this year included Korea’s first Chinese Bush Warbler on May 25th (sadly not photographed or sound-recorded) and Korea’s first Black Bulbul on May 28th and 29th. Additional species of note including a second Black-winged Cuckooshrike (on May 24th) and a poorly seen Orange-headed Thrush (on May 24th and perhaps again on May 25th); a Large Hawk-cuckoo on May 28th and 29th; a Fairy Pitta on 28th; and several close encounters with Baikal Bush Warbler.

Korea’s first Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus © Nial Moores

With the addition of the above species and daily “new-for-the-trip” records, a total of at least 157 species were recorded on Baekryeong between May 19th and 30th – rather lower than the 180 species recorded between May 16th and 26th in 2013. Numbers of many species seemed rather lower than in previous years too, though even on May 30th, 65 species were logged during the afternoon in Jincheon alone, including e.g. single Gray’s Grasshopper and Lanceolated Warblers, several Chinese Pond Heron, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Chestnut-flanked White-eye, Forest Wagtail and Pechora Pipit, and the first (and only) Purple Heron and Red-billed Starling of this research visit.

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus © Nial Moores
Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus © Nial Moores
Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi © Nial Moores

Selected species are as follows:

Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides. One heard singing insistently just before sunrise on 28th; and again just before sunrise and through until mid-morning at least on 29th. A poor sound-recording was made. There are still probably 20 or fewer national records

“Barking Cuckoo”.  Singles heard again in different parts of the island on 24th and 26th.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistosFollowing a male seen briefly in the southwest of the island on 22nd, a rather more obliging female was seen in the northwest of the island on the 24th.  There are still probably 20 or fewer national records.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike © Nial Moores

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus. Surprisingly scarce, with between one and two recorded daily and a maximum of only three, on 24th.

Black Drongo © Nial Moores

Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis. Following very strong southerly winds on the 25th into the 26th and gale-force northwesterlies on 27th, at least 250 were logged in the west of the island on the 28th, including flocks of 40 and 130 birds.

Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus. Following the strong winds between 25th and 27th (and the rain of 26th into 27th) a white-headed, dark grey-bodied individual was found in the southwest of the island on the 28th, feeding loosely with a flock of Brown-eared and Light-vented Bulbuls. Some short video and sound recordings through the phone were taken, along with a series of images.  This constitutes the first record for the Korean Peninsula; and as adequately documented, will be added to Category One of the Birds Korea checklist during the next update.  The bird was still present (even singing) on the 29th, though much more elusive. There was no sign of any rings or unusual feather wear; and as there is no shipping in the area, the most plausible explanation is that the bird was pushed up the Yellow Sea from southern China by 50km/hour southerly winds on late 25th and 26th.

Black Bulbul, Baekryeong Island, May 28th 2019 © Nial Moores

Chinese Bush Warbler Locustella tacsanowskia. On 25th, a small, very dark warbler was flushed from low vegetation alongside a grassy track running through forest by NM and Dr Shim Kyu-Sik. During at least the next 3-5 minutes, we could confirm the bird was a locustella, as we glimpsed the bird walk and creep below a pile of fallen branches. The bird was roughly the size of a Lanceolated or Baikal Bush Warbler. Expecting this to be a Baikal Bush,  NM froze in one spot as the bird walked towards him. The bird was unexpectedly dark at all times and dull-looking, lacking any streaking or obvious warmth above. Remarkably too, in side views the bird seemed to lack the obvious striping across the undertail coverts that is usually easy to see in Baikal Bush, although this area did look warmer toned than the rest of the bird (a kind of dull orange-stained brown, lacking dark grey tones). The bird disappeared under a branch, then turned and walked directly towards NM, giving several seconds of side on views, before sitting in half-shade. For five seconds at least, NM then had an un-obscured head-on-view of the bird at close range through 8x binoculars.  During this clear view, the bird still looked as dark as a Dusky Warbler above; and still unexpectedly dark below too, with “cloudy” brown flanks, contrasting with a striking white throat and very pale pink legs (latter feature recalling Pale-legged Leaf Warbler). There was no hint of any dark spotting on the breast, either head-on or when the bird started to move again. In addition, the head looked unexpectedly plain. The lores were pale and unmarked (not darker as expected in a Baikal Bush); there was a weak supercilium immediately in front of the eye; fairly thick white immediately above the eye; and only a very weak pale trace of a supercilium behind the eye, fading very quickly. The bill was solidly dark. As soon as the bird disappeared from view, NM made a very coarse sketch and field-notes – the basis of the description above.

Concluding that this bird was clearly not a Baikal Bush Warbler but was rather a Chinese Bush Warbler, we spent some time trying to re-find this bird – both during the subsequent hour (when we enjoyed excellent views of a Baikal Bush Warbler) and again later in the evening and also the next morning.  

Subsequent review of the literature (including Kennerley and Pearson 2010)  helps to rule out other potential species (e.g. Brown Bush Warbler), and supports the original identification of this bird as a Chinese Bush Warbler, a species previously unrecorded on the Korean Peninsula (although one bird seen on Socheong Island by NM on October 7th 2004 might perhaps also have been of this species). Unfortunately, neither of us managed any images and we did not hear the bird.

Baikal Bush Warbler  Locustella davidi. Singles logged on 23rd, 24th, 25th, 28th with three on 29th the highest day count. Several heard in song, and several seen surprisingly well.

Two rather different-looking Baikal Bush Warblers: Top, © Shim Kyu-Sik, bottom, © Nial Moores. Although showing a very different head pattern (!), both individuals have dark lores; grey-washed ear coverts; well-defined spotting on the throat; warm-toned underparts which are much paler than the mid-brown upperparts; and yellow-pink tones to the legs and toes.

Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina. A female-type was heard and then poorly seen in flight on 24th. A “warm-toned” thrush seen in the same area by Shim Kyu-Sik on 25th might have been this same bird.

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