Nial Moores PhD, November 19th 2013
The winter of 2012/ 2013 was remarkable, with an irruption of Varied Tit Poecile varius starting in late August; followed by waves of Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula and Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa in October and record-breaking numbers of Pallas’s Rosefinch Carpodacus roseus from November onwards. Even in mid-winter, several interesting species were found – including Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis and Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus in Seoul, and Bufflehead Bucephala albeola and Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus in Gangwon Province the outstanding highlights for many birders. So how about the winter of 2013 / 2014?
It is clear that this is not (yet) a winter to see Chinese Nuthatch, and numbers of many other species seem lower than last winter. However, the first two weeks of November saw a good number of Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra move through Baekryeong Island (at least) along with small numbers of Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea. Both are irruptive species that have been all but absent in the ROK most recent winters. Indeed, the Common Redpoll has proven a remarkably scarce species in the ROK in recent decades, with 2009 the only recent winter with small flocks found at several sites. This October, however, good numbers of Common Redpoll were banded at Muraviovka Park in Russia (via Amur Birding blog). In China, one had reached as far south as Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu Province by October 27th (by Zhang Lin), small flocks had apparently reached Beijing by November 3rd (where normally only erratic in occurrence: via Beijing Birding blog) and on November 15th one was also reported further south still, at Nanhui, south-eastern Shanghai (via Zhang Lin on November 19th). In the first week of November in Japan too, 50+ were reported in Nikko and “more” in Gifu, Honshu, Japan (via Kantori Listserver), again at sites south of the regular wintering range. With birds south of the annual wintering range already in ROK, China and Japan it seems this might be the biggest winter for the species here for several years.
And with these northern finches, other out-of-range species might perhaps be expected. Most intriguing, therefore, are reports in November of single out-of-range Pine Grosbeaks Pinicola enucleator in Japan with Red Crossbills in Kanazawa, Ishikwa Prefecture early in the month with another reported from an offshore island (perhaps on Hegura?). Exceptionally, in previous winters small groups have sometimes reached as far southwest as western Honshu (Brazil 1991) so it seems likely that the species can and has either migrated across the East Sea or south through the Korean Peninsula. Easy to overlook (especially with limited ornithological activity), this species has previously been recorded in far north-eastern DPRK only once (on November 12th 1959, according to Tomek 2002). This winter, with much higher levels of observer activity than in previous years, it seems a likely candidate to be found here, perhaps with Red Crossbills or with flocks of other finches. Its breeding range and records from Japan suggest that the East coast (or islands in the East Sea like Ulleung) might perhaps be the best place to find to find the ROK’s first record of this species (indeed, remarkably, as writing this, news has just broken of one on Dokdo, east of Ulleung island., found and photographed today!: http://news.kbs.co.kr/news/NewsView.do?SEARCH_NEWS_CODE=2757875&ref=S !).
Another species often associated with Red Crossbill irruptions is Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera. To date, this species has been recorded only a couple of times in the ROK (a pair were trapped in Gyeongsangnam Province in February 1969 [Gore & Won 1971]; and an adult male was seen with a flock of Red Crossbill on Socheong island on October 23rd 2005 [Moores 2007]). Tomek (2002) lists no records for the DPRK, though she overlooked one bird which was presumably collected in-country (Moores 2007). The banding team at Muraviovka Park in Russia saw their first Two-barred Crossbill in several years of survey effort in early November this year…
And could this be the first modern winter with records in the ROK of Pallas’s Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus? This central Asian species is well-known for its long-range irruptions, reaching west to Western Europe (perhaps last in the UK in 1990?) east to Japan, where there had been fewer than ten records by 1990- most in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Honshu (Brazil 1991). There are also only a few previous records on the Korean Peninsula: a group of seven or eight on the banks of the Han River (in March or April 1908: Gore & Won 1971); one or more in Pyongyang (on February 19th 1965) and in Wonsan, Gangwon Province on the (surprising date of) August 22nd 1984 (Tomek 1999). This November, however, has seen exceptional numbers turning up already near Beijing – with 555 seen in only one or two hours at just one site on November 17th (via Jesper Hornskov to the OB Listserver). Perhaps west coast reclamation areas, the Taean Peninsula or islands with arable land and rice-fields might be the best place to find the first modern ROK record of this beautiful steppe species?
While exciting to see, gathering information on regional movements of such species also allows us to understand, over time, large-scale changes in population and to habitats and / or to the climate. Please doshare your records with us – and help us to improve communication and understanding throughout a region already so eloquently connected by its birds.
Brazil, M. 1991. The Birds of Japan. Published by Helm.
Gore, M. & Won P-O. 1971. The Birds of Korea. Published by the Royal Asiatic Society.
Moores, N. 2007. Selected Records from Socheong Island, South Korea. Forktail 23: 102-124.
Tomek, T. 1999-2002. The birds of North Korea. Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 42: 1-217; 45:
1-235 (in English).
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