Nial Moores, with special thanks to Yusuke Umegaki, February 8th 2013.
This is proving to be an exceptional winter for birds and birders here in the ROK. And thanks to blogs and regional list-servers we also already know that this is also a fascinating winter throughout much of Far East Asia.
Last autumn started with an irruption of Varied Tit Poecile varius, with birds on the move here, in Japan and into China They were followed in October by record numbers of Yellow-bellied Tit Periparus venustulus in the ROK (see: http://www.birdskoreablog.org/?p=6337). First recorded here as recently as October 2005, “Yellow-bellies” were found at multiple sites last autumn – in Busan, in flocks on Gageo and other offshore islands, even reaching Jeju. It seemed almost inevitable that at least one would reach Japan this winter. And as reported by Yusuke Umegaki, Yellow-bellied Tit was indeed found in Japan, with a First-winter male in Fukuoka (northern Kyushu) present since November 2012, and some other individuals also possibly still present in Kyushu.
In November and especially from December it then became the turn of winter finches like Pallas’s Rosefinch Carpodacus roseus and Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula to arrive here in higher numbers than in any other recent winter. It seems that this has also been the case in parts of China too. A mail sent by well-known Beijing-based birder Jesper Hornskov to the Oriental Bird Club List-server on January 21st stated: “this winter offers outstanding chances to see Pallas’ Rosefinch within convenient reach of China’s capital NOT only relative to ‘at least the past 3-4 winters’ but in absolute terms. No doubt right now there are more around than two weeks ago, and very likely more than at any time for decades.”
Beijing also enjoyed its first record of Eurasian Bullfinch (with correspondence suggesting that the majority of records south from there probably refer to rosacea, as here in Korea). A blogpost on bullfinches in Korea at that time (http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Identification/ID_Notes/BK-ID-Bullfinch.shtml) raised questions about identification and distribution and helped generate a series of helpful emails from Dr. Hiraoka Takashi (at the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology in Japan) and Vadim Ivushkin (in Irkutsk, Russia). VI especially both challenged the taxonomy and distribution maps used (based on published English-language sources), but also offered some tentative, though ambiguous, support to the ID of one of the national Arboretum birds as a cineracea….The all-grey cineracea is a taxon (species according to Russian taxonomy, subspecies according to the IOC) that was last recorded in Korea way back in 1929 – in present day DPRK.
If such exceptional records were not enough, since late January there have also been no fewer than three national firsts (or near-firsts) in the ROK – with these species apparently coming to us from vastly different directions. The Gangwon Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus came from somewhere to the west (Mongolia?); the Seoul Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus from somewhere to the south or southwest of the Korean Peninsula; and the Sokcho Bufflehead Bucephala albeola came to us originally from North America, far to the north-east.
It is worth noting here too that the ROK is not alone in adding a new American duck species to the national list this winter. In Mid-December, Paul Holt found both American Wigeon Anas americana and Redhead Aythya americana in Jiangsu Province, near-first and first national records respectively for China (via his post to the OBC Listserver). While American Wigeon is an annual winter visitor here, we are not aware of any adequately-documented records of Redhead in the ROK (despite the multiple claims during the annual Ministry of Environment Winter Census!). There must be a reasonable chance, however, that this Chinese Redhead will migrate back north-east through Korea this spring. Will someone be lucky (and skilled!) enough to find it?
Meanwhile, another American species – this time a gull – just made it all the way south to the Philippines. According to Des Allen, the Philippine’s first Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla was found by Rob Hutchinson on about February 4
th: the very same day that an American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus was found in Gangwon Province! Like Redhead, Laughing Gull has already been recorded in both Japan and China – but again, not yet here in Korea.
The winter has also been a good one for thrushes, both here in the ROK (with the best numbers of overwintering Naumann’s Turdus naumanni and Dusky Thrushes T. eunomus for several years) and also apparently in Japan. According to Yusuke Umegaki there have been three records this winter alone in Japan of Fieldfare Turdus pilaris (with one photographed in Ishikawa Prefecture in December; one photographed on Amami Oshima in January and a third .photographed in Yamaguchi in late January). There have also been two records of Eurasian Redwing Turdus iliacus (one in Kangawa in December and a First-winter found in Kagoshima in January). While there are two Korean records of Eurasian Redwing from previous years (including one photographed in Cheorwon on January 8th 2009: http://www.birdskorea.org/Gallery/Species/BK-GA-Turdus-iliacus.shtml), there are as yet no records of Fieldfare.
All things considered, this really is proving to be a winter to remember. Both for birds and also for the improving communication between birders. Specialist blogs (like this one and “Birding Beijing”) and listservers (most especially those run by the Oriental Bird Club and Kantori – covering Japan) are enabling disparate records to combine to provide a clearer picture of region-wide movements of species and to refine understanding of taxonomy, distribution and conservation status.
We would therefore like to encourage and welcome you to join in this discussion. While we have websites (in Korean and English) for official Birds Korea work, this blog has been set up to help support the exchange of ideas and information – both between Birds Koreans and with birders and ornithologists throughout the region (and the birding world!). How about posting your comments – and sending us bird news and views from elsewhere in the region?
For some images of these great birds:
Yellow-bellied Tit on Gageo in October 2012:
Bufflehead in Sokcho, January 2013:
Bearded Vulture and American Herring Gull in Gangwon, February 2013:
Black-winged Kite in Seoul, February 2013:
And for a Few Further Useful Links:
Birding Beijing: at: http://birdingbeijing.com/