This report covers observations made mainly by Dominic Le Croissette during the period 1st October 2010 to 31st March 2011. I have also included sightings from other observers where known, but this is by no means a comprehensive round-up of bird sightings from Junam during this period.
Despite large (and increasing) numbers of recreational visitors and photographers, Junam Reservoir is in fact rather under-birded, and it is likely that a lot of interesting birds pass through unnoticed.
The area covered by this report consists of Junam Reservoir, plus the smaller nearby reservoirs of Dongpan to the south, and Sannam to the north. Junam Reservoir itself is a large reservoir, some of which (especially the western and south-western shores) is difficult to observe. The water level is controlled: it is typically high in late autumn, gradually receding during the winter to reveal areas of shallow water and mud along the eastern edge of the reservoir, which are used by many species such as White-naped Cranes. In early March, the reservoir is filled again, the mud spits disappear, there is increasing disturbance from survey boats and fishing boats, and birding interest at the reservoir suddenly diminishes.
There are fairly extensive reedbeds along the eastern edge of Junam, plus an area of reed and scrub-fringed ponds to the south near the visitor center. Most of the eastern and north-eastern fringes of the reservoir are very open, surrounded by rice fields with very little in the way of trees or bushes. Along the southern edge, there are areas of scrubby woodland, and the difficult-to-access western shore also has a greater number of trees and bushes fringing the water.
Junam Reservoir is mainly observed from the raised, surfaced walkway along the eastern shore, from where the majority of the reservoir can be viewed. A telescope is essential here, as some of the birds can be quite distant. The surfaced walkway ends at a sluice gate and pumping station; from here, an unsurfaced path continues north-west along the embankment separating the reservoir from the rice fields; this is another good vantage point. A minor road near the visitor center leads to a third viewpoint across the south-western arm of the reservoir. Several other minor roads and tracks lead to the shores of the reservoir along the southern and western shores, but these are rarely visited.
Dongpan Reservoir is much more vegetated, with plenty of woodland and persimmon orchards etc. around the water. This reservoir is more difficult to observe than Junam but a sizeable area of it can be seen from the embankment along the eastern shore, and a minor road that goes partly along the northern edge of the lake. The far north-west section of Dongpan can also be seen well from a minor road about 300m back towards Changwon from the main Junam Reservoir bus stop. Dongpan lacks visitor facilities and is therefore much less heavily visited by members of the public than Junam, but on the other hand the birding is generally much less interesting here.
Sannam Reservoir is located at the far northern end of Junam; it is extensively used by fishermen but often has good numbers of ducks and can be easily viewed.
There have been several changes to Junam Reservoir since the 2009-10 winter which have, in my view, led to a decrease in birds. First of all, the reservoir is becoming more and more popular with members of the public, especially at the weekends, leading to sometimes quite remarkable levels of human pressure and disturbance. Although some of the birds (e.g. Cranes) appear quite tolerant of the human visitors, there is undoubtedly lots of disturbance to the birds in general. On Sundays the walkway along the edge of the reservoir is invariably crowded with hundreds of visitors. The surrounding rice fields which are feeding grounds for large numbers of geese (especially Greater White-fronted) are disturbed by cars cruising along the minor roads, and photographers trying to get pictures of the geese.
The second significant change has been a gradual but relentless degradation of habitat. For example, in the winter of 2009-10, there was a reedy ditch and area of waste ground across the road from the viewing tower, an excellent parcel of habitat which was used by a wintering flock of Pallas’s Reed Buntings and Little Buntings. That area has now been “tidied up” and is devoid of vegetation and, therefore, birds. This trend can be seen in other places around the reservoir too, where the emphasis appears to be on creating an aesthetically pleasing neat-and-tidy environment for the human visitors, at the expense of the avian ones. In a similar vein, the embankment along the north-eastern shore is completely devoid of bushes and reeds this year, meaning there were almost no buntings wintering in that area this winter (and no Long-tailed Shrike this year either, perhaps because the area now lacks suitable perches).
Indeed, the area at times appears almost suburban, with buildings and farms seemingly everywhere, and the farmland criss-crossed by numerous roads. However, despite the increasing urbanization of the environment, Junam remains an excellent area for birds – but for how much longer?
Birds in winter 2010-2011
Similar to last year, birding at Junam was most productive in early winter (late October to mid December) and again from mid February to early March. These are the periods when wildfowl are most numerous. When the reservoir freezes in mid-winter, many birds leave the area.
Several key species were notably reduced in number this winter compared to 2009-10. First of all, no Swan Geese overwintered. The only record was of a pair seen on two occasions in late November and early December; these birds then disappeared and there were no further sightings of this species during the winter. This compares to up to 8 birds seen constantly throughout the winter in 2009-10. I speculate that increased human disturbance could be partly the reason for this, as the Swan Geese prefer to dig for food in the mud close to the main walkway.
Second, there was only one record of Tundra Swan, in February; last winter, up to 4 spent the whole winter in the area.
By contrast, it was an excellent winter for Lesser White-fronted Geese, with 3 in the early winter period followed by a remarkable run of records in February and March of up to 5 individuals. One or two of these birds were usually quite obliging and easy to find among the Greater White-fronts in the rice fields or on the reservoir.
White-naped Crane numbers were unchanged overall from last winter, with a high count of about 125 in mid-winter. They were joined by up to 3 Hooded Cranes from time to time.
As usual, large numbers of Baikal Teal in early winter all but disappeared later in the season; these birds are very mobile and seem to be completely absent from the reservoir for long periods. Other species of wildfowl were present in numbers comparable to last winter, but there were no sightings of Common Merganser. The outstanding highlight in late winter was the fine drake Baer’s Pochard at Sannam Reservoir.
The early winter period was exceptional for raptors, with 13 species seen between October and December. The highlight was a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle which spent several weeks in the area. 8 species (White-tailed Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Merlin, Common Kestrel, Northern Goshawk and Eurasian Sparrowhawk) were seen more or less regularly throughout the winter.
There was no sign this winter of last year’s overwintering Long-tailed Shrike; lack of suitable perches and a general degradation of habitat in its favored areas could be the reason for this.
Buntings were also notable by their relative absence compared to last winter. There were no records at all of Rustic Bunting, Pallas’s Reed Bunting or Meadow Bunting, all species that were regularly seen in the area in winter 2009-10.
A summary of this winter’s more interesting records is shown below:
Swan Goose: 2 in early winter. Taiga Bean Goose: a common wintering species, no significant change in status since 2009-10. Greater White-fronted Goose: thousands winter in the area, no significant change since 2009-10. Lesser White-fronted Goose: 3 at the end of October, and up to 5 between mid February and mid March. Whooper Swan: about 200 wintering in the area. Tundra Swan: only one record this winter, in late February. Tundra/Whistling Swan: last winter’s hybrid bird seen with the Tundra Swan.
Common Shelduck: only 2 seen this winter. Common Goldeneye: up to 6, mainly on Sannam Reservoir. Baer’s Pochard: best observation of the winter was that of the fine drake on Sannam Reservoir from mid February until at least 6th March. Smew: numerous in mid-winter. Eurasian Spoonbill: peak count of about 50 birds.
Merlin: much more frequently seen this year compared to last year, usually in the area around the NE embankment. Both male and female birds seen. Peregrine: up to 3 birds present. White-tailed Eagle: 2 individuals were regularly seen throughout the winter, usually on the mud spit or in the row of trees along the southern edge of Junam. They were occasionally joined by a third bird. Steller’s Sea Eagle: one bird passed over the reservoir on 22nd February before departing high to the south west. Eastern Imperial Eagle: juvenile bird present from 26th November until 5th December at least. Western Osprey: late passage bird on 31st October. Cinereous Vulture: regularly seen in small numbers (2-3) overflying the area in winter. Hen Harrier: two winter records this year, a ringtail on a date on October and an adult male on 3rd December. Northern Goshawk: up to 4 individuals often seen. Oriental Honey Buzzard: passage bird on 26th October.
White-naped Crane: Junam’s key wintering species was present from 21st November until the end of February, with a peak of 125 birds in January. Hooded Crane: up to 3 present and seen on several occasions during winter.
Northern Lapwing: up to 50 birds in late winter when extensive mud exposed. Spotted Redshank: early spring bird on 22nd February. Eurasian Hoopoe: seen occasionally in every month of the period, suggesting possible overwintering in the area.
Rook: 200 passage birds on 26th February over rice paddies to the NE of Junam. Daurian Jackdaw: one black-and-white bird with Rook flock.
Japanese Waxwing: 2 in January.
Dusky Thrush: much less numerous than winter 2009-10, with small numbers scattered throughout the area but no big flocks like last year. Naumanns Thrush: scattered throughout the area but much less common than Dusky. Pale Thrush: a few overwintered in woodlands and scrub around Dongpan. White’s Thrush: one seen at Dongpan.
Red-flanked Bluetail: one at Dongpan. Bluethroat: one reported at Junam. Japanese Bush Warbler: singing bird on 31st March at Dongpan.
Hawfinch: seen on two occasions during the winter in the Dongpan area.
Brambling: very numerous this year compared to last winter, with hundreds of birds present in the area. Eurasian Siskin: after no records at all in winter 2009-10, this species was abundant this winter. Siberian Accentor: one on 10th December.
Olive-backed Pipit: a few birds overwinter. Buff-bellied Pipit: a few birds overwinter but numerous on migration in late autumn and early spring.
Yellow-throated Bunting: while still fairly common, noticeably much less numerous in the area than last winter, perhaps due in part to the degradation of suitable habitat around Junam. Black-faced Bunting: one or two with above species at Dongpan on 3rd February. Little Bunting: unobtrusive species seen only singly this winter on several occasions; in common with other buntings, apparently much less common in the area this year.
Posted by Admin on behalf of Dominic Le Croissette, April 2011