Bird News from Betty Slade, David Cole and Nial Moores (joined by Jason Loghry on June 24th).
Although mid-late June is NOT the best time for birding in the ROK, an enjoyable eight days in the field took us to a broad range of habitats and included a good number of surprises! Moving from north to west to southeast, we birded Yeongjong and Imjingak (June 17th), Cheorwon and the Han River (June 18th), Namhansan and Seosan Lake A (June 19th), Weiyeon Island (June 20th-21st), open sea off Heuksan Island (June 22nd), Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland and Hwaum Temple (June 23rd) and Goseong and Geoje (June 24th). In total, we recorded 122 species, including nine globally threatened or near-threatened regional endemics, and an excellent range of summer (and some typical winter!) species. A few of the highlights follow (with their global status from BirdLife International 2012, and their national status from Moores & Park 2009, the Birds Korea Checklist – see sidebar at http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Checklist/BK-CL-Checklist-Aug-2009.shtml):
Gadwall W3. One at Seosan on June 19th. Rarely, if ever, previously recorded in mid-summer in the ROK.
Falcated Duck (NT) W3, SV2. One at Yeongjong on 17th and a flock of 16 at Seosan on 19th. There are only a few mid-summer records. The Seosan flock is probably the largest mid-summer concentration recorded to date in the ROK.
Northern Shoveler W3. One at Seosan on June 19th is apparently the first mid-summer record in the ROK known to Birds Korea.
Baikal Teal W1, SV2. One presumed bird in eclipse seen at longish-range at Seosan on June 19th.
Common Pochard P/W2. Two were at Yeongjong on June 17th and one was at Seosan on 19th.
Short-tailed Shearwater P5. Three were seen from the ferry to Weiyeon Island on June 20th, and one was seen near Heuksan Island on 22nd.
Flesh-footed Shearwater P5. Three were seen with Streaked Shearwater near Heuksan Island on June 22nd.
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel (NT) S3. Two or more likely three were seen at sea near Heuksan Island on June 22nd.
Eurasian Spoonbill W4, SV1. At least seven together at Seosan on June 19th.
Black-faced Spoonbill (EN) S4, W5. At least 14 at Yeongjong on June 17th and 8 at Seosan on 19th.
Von Shrenck’s Bittern S4. Two males seen (NM only) at Cheorwon on June 18th.
Chinese Egret (VU) S4, WV2. At least four or five were at Yeongjong on June 17th and eight at Seosan on June 19th.
Booted Eagle V2. One presumed pale morph on June 17th close to the international airport at Incheon. For most birders visiting the ROK, the first species is usually Eurasian Magpie or Black-tailed Gull. Not this time. Within a kilometre or so of the terminal a largish raptor was called out from the moving car. Expecting it to be a Crested Honey Buzzard, mild excitement increased rapidly as the spiralling raptor looked too heavy-set, short-necked and round-headed. It was also largely white below, though with striking black-looking secondaries and primaries. Prolonged views through binoculars over the next 2-3 minutes confirmed that there was some hint of a pale blaze on the inner primaries and some suffuse-wash on the head and upper breast. As it spiralled against a glaring blue-white sky, pale brown upperwing coverts also contrasted strongly with darker flight feathers, and there was a hint of white “headlights” on the forewing. Although it looked surprisingly short-tailed, only one species shows such a distinctive plumage: Booted Eagle (photographed twice before in the ROK, with a handful of further “probables” – mostly of dark morphs). Was this a late migrant, or might it instead be over-summering in the area?
Ruddy-breasted Crake S5. Presumably much overlooked, two were watched well feeding in a rice-field at Imjingak on June 17th.
Watercock P/S4. Excellent views were enjoyed of a (second calendar year) male chasing and “gulping” to a female in Cheorwon on June 18th. Another male was also heard and seen well at Seosan on 19th.
Black-tailed Godwit (NT) P2, WV2. A flock of 35 were at Seosan on June 19th: an apparently exceptional concentration in the mid-summer.
Far Eastern Curlew (VU) P2, S3, WV1. Seven at Yoengjong on June 17th and 25 at Seosan on 19th.
Common Redshank P4, S5, WV2. Two birds showed mobbing behaviour, suggesting (continuing) local breeding, at Yeongjong on June 17th.
Saunders’s Gull (VU) P/W3, S4. 35+ were on the southern tidal-flat at Yeongjong on June 17th.
Crested Murrelet (VU) V1. One of the main highlights of the trip – with three found “just off the boat” a little north of Heuksan on June 22nd. This chance encounter appeared to be of one or perhaps two adults accompanying a young of the year, presumably out to sea away from their breeding colony While BS took some video (which we hope to post later), NM could only manage a series of handheld shots through a Nikon 55mm lens – where are big camera lenses when they are needed? Although considered to be a rare bird in Korea (cf. the 2009 Birds Korea Checklist), more recent survey work by the Korea National Parks Service and by researchers in Jeju and Shinan County suggest that we presently have a breeding population of several hundred pairs of this species in the ROK – rendering the old name of “Japanese Murrelet” pretty obsolete!
Ruddy Kingfisher S4. Heard in five different localities (with a maximum of 10 heard in Cheorwon trilling during the morning of June 18th) but glimpsed only a couple of times…
Black Woodpecker R3. An unexpected close-up encounter with two of three recorded on an island in the Han River on June 18th.
Fairy Pitta (VU) P/S4. During the only day of inclement weather, one was heard on Geoje on June 24th.
Black Paradise Flycatcher (NT) P/S4. A male and female were glimpsed several times on Weiyeon Island on June 20th-21st, and a male was seen briefly by JL on Geoje on 24th.
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler P3. One was heard briefly in song at Namhansan (NM only) on June 19th. The species breeds commonly in parts of the DPRK but appears to be seldom (if ever?) reported during the mid-summer in the ROK.
Red-billed Starling P/W4, S5. One seen briefly from the moving car as it fed next to the road on June 17th (less than 1km after the encounter with the eagle) was the second species noted during the trip!
Asian Brown Flycatcher P2, S4. A fresh juvenile (with extensive white-tipping on the upperparts) and an adult were seen at Goseong on June 24th, clearly indicating local breeding. Park (2002) provides few records of breeding in the ROK (all in more northern provinces), though there have apparently also been some reports of breeding in southern provinces in recent years. It appears that the breeding range of this species, which breeds as close to the ROK as Tsushima/Teima Do and probably much of the DPRK, now includes much of the Korean Peninsula.
Narcissus Flycatcher P4. A bird recorded calling and heard singing (and seen only briefly in silhouette) on Geoje on June 24th is believed to be of this species. A follow-up visit in better weather is required to confirm (sub-) specific identify. Narcissina breeds in Kyushu (and perhaps as close as Tsushima/Teima Do according to Brazil’s Birds of Japan published in 1991) but there are very few previous mid-June records in the ROK (perhaps only two – both times in mid-June on Jeju, in 1979 and 1982, according to Park’s 2002 ROK ornithological review) . It has, however, also been recorded at least once in mid-June in the DPRK (one on June 12th 1949 in Gangwon Province according to Tomek in 2002).