Bird News from Nial Moores (Birds Korea) with Bernhard Seliger (Hanns Seidel Foundation, Korea), and researchers from the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection and the State Academy of Sciences, DPRK.
As part of Hanns Seidel Foundation funded and Ramsar Secretariat-endorsed work in support of the revision of the national wetlands inventory being led by the Ministry of Environment and Land Protection, we visited the northern provinces of Korea again between November 2nd and 9th.
Kumjin River tributary, South Hamgyong Province, November 7th © Bernhard Seliger
Opportunistic bird observations in Pyongyang and then between Pyongyang and Wonsan on November 3rd followed by a rapid survey of five east coast wetlands and two sea areas found a minimum 141 bird species, including two or more potential first records for the northern provinces. Three of the wetlands supported close to or >1% of the East Asian population of one or more species of waterbird, as did two of the sea areas.
The main areas we visited, with coordinates and dates of survey, are as follows:
- Sijung Ho (Lake), northern Kangwon Province, at 39.014, 127.822, on 3rd and 4th;
- Dongjong Ho (Lake), northern Kangwon Province, at 39. 082, 127.771, on 3rd and 4th;
- Songchon River Estuary, South Hamgyong Province, at 39.811, 127.580, on 5th;
- Kwangpo Migratory Bird Reserve, South Hamgyong Province, at 39.767, 127.488 on 6th ;
- Jongphyong/ Pokhung Ri, about 1.5km north of Kumjin River Estuary, South Hamgyong Province, at 39.648, 127.490, on 7th; And two sea-areas
- Wonsan Bay, northern Kangwon Province, at 39.166, 127.459, on part of 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th;
- Majon Seaside Resort, Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, at 39.818, 127.668, during part of the mornings of 6th and 7th.
Survey highlights included internationally important concentrations of Mute Swan at 1-3 sites; single American Wigeon (perhaps the first national record documented with images); up to nine globally Endangered Scaly-sided Merganser on Dongjong Lake; 1,581 Red-throated Loon south in 3 hours past the Majon Hotel on the 7th, along with a minimum ten Near Threatened Yellow-billed Loon and a booby sp. which looked during the brief views closest in structure and plumage to immature Red-footed; an internationally important concentration of 1,055 Great Crested Grebe in Wonsan Bay (equivalent to 3% of the East Asian population); 57 globally Vulnerable White-naped Crane and five Near Threatened Cinereous Vulture flying south near Hamhung on 5th; single globally Vulnerable Saunders’s and 14 Relict Gulls, including a dozen of the latter species at Kwangpo; flocks of (soon to be designated as threatened) Black-legged Kittiwakes on two dates; single Caspian Tern at Songchon, and two Common and one possible Arctic Tern (?) in Wonsan Bay; several decent-sized flocks of Hill Pigeon (with 90 individuals between Pyongyang and Wonsan and 120 in one flock at Songchon); a Little Owl, not far from Pyongyang on the 3rd; and two or three Yellow-bellied Tit and 1-2 Japanese White-eye heard (both national first records?) along with a single Light-vented Bulbul (second national record?) next to Sijung Lake on the 4th.
We started and and finished in the capital city of Pyongyang.
Bridge across the Taedong River, downtown Pyongyang © Nial Moores
After crossing the mountains, we then spent a stormy hour in Wonsan Bay, where the highlights were a late Common Tern, 50+ Black-legged Kittiwake and several loons, before heading south to survey Sijung Ho in the rain on 3rd and then again in bright sunshine on the 4th.
Waterbird survey at Sijung Ho: researcher from MoLEP (top); and Drs. Moores & Seliger, with a researcher from the State Academy of Sciences (centre, bottom)
Sijung Lake © Nial Moores
At Sijung Lake on the 4th we found c. 11,000 waterbirds on the water, and in addition 2,000 geese flying overhead including 1,450 Greater White-fronted Geese.
Greater White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons © Bernhard Seliger
We also counted a minimum 12-13 Mute Swan on the lake (with 11 on the water and 12 seen flying overhead): 15 is a Ramsar-defined internationally important concentration of 1% in East Asia.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor and assorted waterbirds © Nial Moores
Also here, among the large number of duck and Eurasian Coot…
Globally Vulnerable Common Pochard Aythya ferina and Eurasian Coot Fulica atra © Bernhard Seliger
we found one hybrid Eurasian x American and one pure (-looking) adult male American Wigeon.
American Wigeon (towards the centre) with a diverse assemblage of other duck species and Eurasian Coots © Nial Moores
We also found many small landbirds here, including 4+ Red Crossbill, and more notable in the DPRK context one or two Japanese White-eye, 2-3 Yellow-bellied Tit and a single Light-vented Bulbul.
In the afternoon of the 4th, we moved to the rather less-disturbed Dongjong Lake in Tongchon, surrounded by wet rice-fields and patches of reed.
Tongchon Lake and adjacent wet rice-fields © Nial Moores
Here we found a minimum 39 Mute Swan (2.5% of the naturally-occurring East Asian population), including two birds with thick ‘geolocator-neck collars’ (numbered “J56” and “73”) which the birds actively pecked and tugged at, as if the collars were causing substantial discomort and/or stress to the birds.
Thanks to coorespondence from Dr. Nyambayar Batbayar (received on November 12th), we can confirm that both of these Mute Swan were “collared” by his team in late July 2017 at Buir Lake in Mongolia, a stunning-looking Ramsar site on the border with China. These swans – two out of 20 collared at the time – have therefore travelled a minimum distance of 1,260km to reach Dongchon. (As noted by Dr. Nyambatar too, “Neck collars always look not comfortable. But ..the internal diameter was followed by swan color ringing scheme. We hope these transmitters will provide some useful information about this “rare” bird in East Asia”).
Mute Swans © Bernhard Seliger (birds in flight) and Nial Moores
In addition to the Mute Swans, the highlight at this lake was finding nine ‘loafing’ Scaly-sided Merganser. According to MoLEP, this was the first record of this species in this part of Kangwon Province.
Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus and Mute Swan © Nial Moores
There were surprisingly few buntings in the rice-fields, though we did find a single Lapland Longspur here, 300+ Grey-capped Greenfinch and best of all, a single Eurasian Collared Dove (a species that is Grey-Listed by Birds Korea, as it has been effectively extirpated from the southern provinces).
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica © Nial Moores
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto © Nial Moores
Arriving in Wonsan just before dusk, the highlight was two First-winter Relict Gull on the beach- a site where we also found the species in March. The next morning we saw the same or another late Common Tern.
Wonsan Bay from our hotel © Nial Moores
On the 5th, we drove 2.5 hours north to Hamhung City in South Hamgyong Province, and surveyed the Songchon river mouth in the afternoon.
Songchon River Estuary © Nial Moores
Highlights in this area included five Cinereous Vulture seen from the road; a flock of 120 Hill Pigeon; single Saunders’s Gull (rare on the Korean east coast); and two flocks of White-naped Crane, containing a total of 57 birds, flying south. We also found single Western Osprey and eight each of Spotted Redshank and Eurasian Curlew.
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris © Nial Moores
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi (in front on left), with single adult Vega Gull Larus vegae (far left), First-winter Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus, Common Gull Larus canus and First-winter Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus © Nial Moores
White-naped Crane Grus vipio © Nial Moores
In the evening we drove north to the Majon Seaside resort, where there was a calling ‘Northern Scops Owl‘. We were not permitted to survey openly at the Majon resort, so instead we counted birds from inside our room for 1-3 hours during the morning of the 6th and 7th as birds passed south, visible between a narrow gap in the trees. Good numbers of birds passed south on the 6th (including single Common Murre and eight Rhinoceros Auklet); and southward passage on the 7th was exceptional, with >1,500 Red-throated (1.5% of the East Asian population according to the Waterbird Population Estimates by Wetlands International) and ten Yellow-billed Loons counted flying south, along with >1,000 Buff-bellied Pipit, 60+ Ancient Murrelet and even two suspected Long-billed Murrelet.
Two post breeding-plumaged Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii, Majon © Nial Moores
On the 6th, we surveyed the much-disturbed Kwangpo Migratory Bird Reserve – a BirdLife IBA. The outstanding highlight here was finding 12 Relict Gull (the highest DPRK count to date; and strong evidence that there is indeed an east coast population, in addition to the much-larger and highly-threatened population that depends on the Yellow Sea). Other species of note here included a Caspian Tern (apparently rather more regular in the northern than in the southern provinces); two Western Osprey; two Hen Harrier; single White-tailed Eagle and Upland Buzzard; 13 Eurasian Spoonbill; single very late Garganey and a more seasonal Tundra Swan; and 13 Mute Swan.
Kwangpho © Nial Moores
First-winter Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus © Nial Moores
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia © Bernhard Seliger
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus © Bernhard Seliger
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, single Great Egret Ardea alba (rear, right) and assorted ducks © Nial Moores
The combination of great birds and great optics was too much for the folks from MoLEP and the State Academy of Sciences to resist…
Widespread and numerous but still very popular among observers here were several Great Egret …
Great Egret (c) Nial Moores
– and this wonderfully confiding Eurasian Wren.
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes © Bernhard Seliger
On 7th, we tried to survey the Kumjin River Estuary for the first time, but likely failed to access the best areas. Diversity and numbers were disappointingly low in the areas we could reach, with the most notable species including three late Barn Swallow, a Common Moorhen and three Common Reed Bunting.
The last proper observations of this rapid survey were made for an hour or two on the morning of the 8th from our hotel in Wonsan. In addition to a male Long-tailed Duck, there were now at least three (extraordinarily late) terns. Two looked like Common Tern; the third individual instead appeared to show multiple features expected of the unrecorded Arctic Tern, including apparently clean white secondaries; a well-defined black trail to the primaries; a rather narrow carpal bar; and a very grey mantle.
Common Tern Sterna hirundo (top left), unidentified tern (bottom left) and Black-headed Gull (bottom right) © Nial Moores
The same unidentified tern showing several features suggesting juvenile Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea © Nial Moores
Smiles all round – almost!…Some of the survey team at Majon
A more detailed report is in preparation for use by the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the Ramsar Secretariat and MoLEP and decision-makers in the Republic of Korea; and will be available on request to Birds Korea members.
Birds Korea is dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in Korea and the wider Yellow Sea Eco-region. We are a small non-political conservation organisation that aims to provide best information on birds and their habitats to decision-makers and the general public, to help inform the conservation process. Birds Korea has an MOU with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea). Dr Nial Moores of Birds Korea was contracted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation to help lead this bird research as part of a much-needed longer-term wetland conservation program supported by e.g. the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention Secretariat and several other international conservation organisations, with the aim of conserving Korean biodiversity in ways that can benefit local communities.
Funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office) and supported by the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection with the full knowledge and support of the Ramsar Secretariat, this survey was conducted as part of strictly non-political conservation work.
Finally, as always, all bird images by Nial Moores were taken with a handheld sony camera through a truly superb Swarovski scope..