Bird News from Nial Moores with Sandy Darling, Jeni Darling and Tom Thomas (Team Hawk-watch from Ontario, Canada).
Timed to capture a mix of autumn migrants and early-returning winter specials, we logged approximately 187 bird species, with several concentrations of widespread migrants like Yellow-browed and Pallas’s Leaf Warblers, Daurian Redstart and Red-flanked Bluetail and multiple (“WOW!”) highlights that included spectacular congregations of geese and shorebirds and an early morning movement of several thousand buntings; 25 Scaly-sided Merganser on one stretch of river, including several in display; a family of three Black Stork emerging slowly out of the silence of the DPRK into the DMZ; four species of crane; single Spoon-billed Sandpiper and a total of 18 Nordmann’s Greenshank; no less than 13 species of bunting; and national scarcities that included single Eurasian Collared Dove, Water Pipit and probable Meadow Pipit.
Signs of Autumn.. Top: a male Scaly-sided Merganser back for the winter; a flock of White-naped Crane arriving in Cheorwon, coming in high from the northeast; Red-flanked Bluetail on Baekryeong Island; and Meadow Bunting – one of no less 13 species of bunting recorded during the tour. All images © Nial Moores
Our time together included a late evening high tide at Yeongjong Island (Oct 22nd); a day at Song Do and Hwaseong Wetlands (Oct 23rd); the Geum Estuary (Oct 24th); Seosan Reclamation Area A (Oct 25th AM and again on the Nov 3rd); Baekryeong Island (Oct 26th-30th), in often very windy conditions; Cheorwon (Oct 31st); Yeoncheon and the National Arboretum (on Nov 1st) – the latter site increasingly degraded and disturbed and remarkably bird-poor; and North River (on Nov 2nd).
Species and / or counts of note in the Korean context included:
- Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii. One was found in long-range images taken of the massive concentration of geese at the southern end of Seosan Lake A on Oct 25th.
- Snow Goose Anser caerulescens. An adult was at Seosan on Oct 25th and was probably seen again more distantly on Nov 3rd.
- Swan Goose Anser cygnoides. 34 were in the Geum Estuary on Oct 24th.
- Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris. Counting in blocks of 100, a conservative 150,000 were estimated pre-sunrise at the southern end of Seosan Lake A, with an additional 20,000+ Greater White-fronted Geese. This was easily the largest concentration of this species that I have seen in the ROK.
- Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons. The largest single concentration was of 30,000 at the north end of Seosan Lake A on Nov 3rd.
Although several smaller, darker, pinker-billed Greater White-fronted Geese (presumably of nominate albifrons orginating from the northwest) were seen at Seosan, the vast majority resembled the bird above: bulky, brown-washed, with a deep orangey-pink or orange bill © Nial Moores. According to Gill & Donsker (2018), birds like these surprisingly also belong within subspecies albifrons, though they are still treated as frontalis in the Waterbird Population Estimates database maintained by Wetlands International.
- Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus. A single bird was seen poorly in flight on Baekryeong on 29th; another was seen poorly in flight at Cheorwon; and a First-winter was seen well (NM only) at Seosan on Nov 3rd, when several birds were also heard calling.
- Baikal Teal Sibirionetta formosa. Seventy were at Hwaseong on Oct 24th, and an estimated 3,000 were at Seosan on Nov 3rd.
- Stejneger’s Scoter Melanitta (d.)stejnegeri. 152 were counted off Baekryeong on Oct 26th (all but one of which were adult males): the same count as made on October 17th. These had now been joined by three adult male American Scoter M. americana.
- Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus. One was on Tokyo Reservoir, Cheorwon on Oct 31st (my personal first record of this species at that site); and at least 25 were seen well in beautiful autumn light along just one stretch of North River on Nov 2nd.
Scaly-sided Merganser © Nial Moores
- Black Stork Ciconia nigra. In Yeoncheon County, two adults and a juvenile were watched flying out of a wetland in the DPRK, circling slowly before flying more actively to the south over the DMZ. Although no photography was allowed in this restricted-access area, the sight nonetheless made a deep impression on all of us.
- Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. Fifty-five were at Yeongjong; 120 at Song Do; 175 at Hwaseong; and 45 in the Geum Estuary.
- Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus. One early-returning individual was in Cheorwon on Oct 31st.
- Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga. One (or perhaps two?) juvenile was at Seosan on Nov 3rd.
Greater Spotted Eagle © Nial Moores. Once TT’s images are processed, it should be easier to determine if we were overflown by one or two eagles.
- Siberian Crane Leucogeranus leucogeranus. What was considered to be the call of this species was heard in Cheorwon at dawn on Oct 31st. Later, news was received that one had been seen the previous day in the CCZ (via Dr Bernhard Seliger and separately by Dr Kim Su-Kyung).
- Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis. One was in Cheorwon on Oct 31st.
Sandhill Crane (far right) with White-naped Cranes © Nial Moores. The smaller crane was repeatedly harassed by the White-napeds.
- White-naped Crane Antigone vipio. A conservative 900+ were seen in Cheorwon on Oct 31st. Apparently 2,500 were in the area the same week (via Dr Bernhard Seliger).
- Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis. Five were seen in Cheorwon arriving from the northeast on Oct 31st. Unfortunately, perhaps due to massive habitat degradation of their preferred roosting area (to create “hides” for photographers and “eco-tourists”), none were seen to land.
- Hooded Crane Grus monacha. Seven at Seosan on Nov 3rd were the only ones we encountered.
Hooded Crane family © Nial Moores…from a summer spent in Russian wetlands to a winter feeding on rice spilled on roads – the modern reality for this globally Vulnerable species.
- Far Eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus (o.) osculans. Counting in blocks of 100, a conservative 5,200 were estimated to be on Yubu Island in the Geum Estuary on Oct 24th. This is one of the highest counts of this distinctive taxon made in the ROK.
Part of the Far Eastern Oystercatcher flock © Sandy Darling
- Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus. One in Yeoncheon on Nov 1st and a dozen along one stretch of North River on Nov 2nd.
Long-billed Plover © Nial Moores
- Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus. At least 1,800 were still present on Yubu Island on Oct 24th.
- Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. Forty were at Hwaseong and 750+ were on Yubu Island on Oct 24th.
- Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris. Ninety were at Hwaseong on Oct 23rd and 4,500 were on Yubu Island on Oct 24th.
- Red Knot Calidris canutus. Five were at Hwaseong on Oct 23rd and five were on Yubu island on Oct 24th.
- Broad-billed Sandpiper Calidris falcinellus. 350 were on Yubu Island on Oct 24th.
- Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmea. A juvenile moving into First-Winter plumage was seen well – if briefly – on Yubu on Oct 24th.
- Dunlin Calidris alpina. Approximately 26,000 were on Yubu Island on Oct 24th.
- Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer. Five were at Hwaseong Wetlands on Oct 23rd and 13 were on Yubu Island on Oct 24th.
Nordmann’s Greenshank at the internationally-important Hwaseong Wetlands with Red Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover (above) and with Grey Plover (below) © Nial Moores
- Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi. A flock of 280 was in the Geum Estuary on Oct 24th.
- Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto. One was seen well – though briefly – in flight, loosely associating with a group of Oriental Turtle Doves at Hwaseong on Oct 23rd. Although this species appears to be locally common in parts of the DPRK, this was only my second observation of the species in the ROK.
- Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo. One was out in the open at Seosan on Oct 25th.
- Little Owl Athene noctua. On Baekryeong, one was heard calling near to the Munhwa Motel on Oct 25th; and either the same or an additional individual was seen briefly at nightfall in Jincheon on Oct 29th.
- Merlin Falco columbarius. Although apparently rather scarce in the ROK in recent winters, one or two were seen on several dates on Baekryeong Island; and one was also at Seosan on Nov 3rd.
Merlin, Baekryeong Island © Nial Moores
- Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus. One or two birds were still present on Baekryeong between Oct 26th and 28th. The only individual to be digiscoped showed an odd dirty wash to the underparts (but no other feature obviously suggesting ID as extralimital Swinhoe’s Minivet).
Ashy Minivet: although some of the underpart tones in the image on the left might have come from looking through leaves or reflected light, the image on the right confirms that the bird had a brownish wash on the underparts – highly (?) unusual in this often shy species © Nial Moores
- Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus. Two at Hwaseong on 23rd; one in Hwadong Wetland, Baekryeong, on 29th and one in Seosan on Nov 3rd.
Chinese Grey Shrike, Hwaseong Wetlands © Nial Moores
- Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus. Logged on several dates, the highest count was of 85+ in Gunsan on Oct 24th.
- Hume’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus humei. On Baekryeong, two on 27th and 28th and one on Oct 29th.
- Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris. On Baekryeong, three on 29th and four on 30th.
- Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis. One of the pipits in “best fields” on Baekryeong on Oct 30th repeatedly gave triple-sequence calls that sounded identical to Meadow Pipit to my ears (a call I last heard multiple times in February in the UK), being noticeably squeakier and more hesitant-sounding than several calling Buff-bellieds heard at the same time. Views were insufficient to confirm or rule out the ID.
- Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta. One was on the bank of the Tokyo Reservoir, Cheorwon, on Oct 31st.
- Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos. On Baekryeong, two were seen well – if briefly – in Yeonhwari on Oct 28th; and in Jincheon three or so were heard in flight on 29th; and one or more were seen and heard in flight on 30th during a large departure of landbirds.
- Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys. The highest day count on Baekryeong was 20+ on Oct 30th; more remarkable was one far inland in riverside habitat on Nov 2nd.
- Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica. The most numerous bunting after Oct 28th, with the highest day count 1,000+ in Jincheon on Baekryeong Island on Oct 30th.
- Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi. Locally common in suitable habitat, with the highest day count at least 50 on Baekryeong on Oct 29th. Because of massive individual and age-related variation, until criteria are published on the separation of lydiae in the field, identification to taxon of some especially brown-looking birds remains inconclusive.
An especially brown-washed (winter male) Pallas’s Reed Bunting, October 28th Baekryeong Island © Nial Moores: lydiae or individual variation?
- Ochre-rumped Bunting Emberiza yessoensis. Three (or more) were in Jincheon on Oct 30th.
Ochre-rumped Bunting, Baekryeong Island © Nial Moores
Of the seven naturally-occurring mammals we encountered, highlights included:
- Narrow-ridged Finless Porpoise Neophocaena asiaeorientalis. Recently reclassified and assessed as globally Endangered by the IUCN. 10+ from the ferry to Baekryeong on Oct 25th
- Spotted Seal Phoca larga. High count was of 10 on Baekryeong on Oct 26th
- Amur Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis euptilura. One seen well in Yeoncheon on Nov 1st; and a second was seen more briefly at Seosan on Nov 3rd.
Team Hawk-watch enjoying scope views of Baikal Teal at the internationally important Hwaseong Wetlands © Nial Moores
And, towards the end of the tour, searching for thrushes in glowing autumn foliage…© Nial Moores