Bird News from Nial Moores with Patrick and Kate Hodgson
Various Sites in the North and Northeast, January 11-16.
Time was spent on Yeongjong and at the North River, followed by a drive to Chungju (11th); in Odae Mountain National Park (12th); on the northeast coast from Gangneung north to Ayajin (13th); in Goseong County, including a boat trip (14th); in Cheorwon County, including within the Citizens Controlled Zone (CCZ), with this special visit organised most kindly by Dr. Bernhard Seliger and the Hanns Seidel Foundation in order to discuss the impacts of habitat change on bird life in the inner Korean border zone (15th); and in Cheorwon County, Jeonkok, Imjingak and Song Do (16th). Throughout conditions were quite mild (with lowest temperatures on the 12th, starting at -10C and finishing the day at -9C), and largely clear, apart from heavy overcast and light snow and hail-sleet on the 16th. In total more than 150 species were logged, with 145 of these logged by at least two (and in most cases all three) team members.
Obvious low points were construction ongoing at almost all places visited, with bulldozers hard at work even within large areas of the so-called specially protected CCZ, as well as reclamation ongoing at Yeongjong and Song Do. We also saw feral cats at several sites.
Multiple birding highlights for the team included Red-crested Pochard, Scaly-sided Merganser and male Smew; two Eurasian Bittern feeding out in the open; excellent views of Siberian Crane, Red-crowned Crane and White-naped Cranes; several Spectacled Guillemot and Long-billed Murrelet; Ural Owls heard and Little Owl well-seen; and a good diversity of winter landbirds, from Blue Rock Thrush to Siberian Accentor and Pallas’s Rosefinch. In addition, we also enjoyed a prolonged close encounter with a large, long-whiskered and “eared” pinniped about 10km offshore from the Geojin headland which we tentatively identified as a Northern Fur Seal Callorhinus ursinus, found just before weather conditions deteriorated forcing us to return earlier than planned to the harbour. Northern Fur Seal is listed as globally Vulnerable by the IUCN and apparently as Nationally Endangered, no longer being found regularly in ROK waters.
Although December was colder than average, several “cold-winter” species were found in rather smaller numbers than expected; and conversely some “mild-winter” species were also found. Details of some of the less usual species and / or higher counts follow:
- Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea. Only two seen, both on the 16th.
- Falcated Duck Anas falcata. Seen at several sites with 100+ at Yeongjong on the 11th the largest concentration.
- Baikal Teal Anas formosa. Approximately 110 were on Tokyo reservoir in Cheorwon on the 15th; and 10+ were also on the Imjin River in the 16th.
- Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis. A presumed First-winter male was seen with 150+ Eurasian Teal Anas crecca and 110 Baikal Teal on Tokyo Reservoir on the 15th (perhaps by NM only). Views were very distant but in good light the identification was based on: the presence of a vertical white or whitish bar on the fore-flank; a lack of yellow between the green and brown on the head; and the lack of the white horizontal bar on the wing. The bird was only seen sleeping and adjusting its position slightly during three minutes or so of prolonged observation through a tripod-mounted scope.
- Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina. One male was seen well in Chungju on the 11th. This bird has apparently been present at this site for a month or so.
- Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus. Only small numbers logged, with only 30 in Goseong County on 14th and 15th.
- American Scoter Melanitta americana. Remarkably, only two seen in Geojin on the 14th.
- Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis. One female-type was seen in flight at long range off from Daejin on the 14th (NM only).
- Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus. Probably 25 were seen in total along two main stretches of North River.
- Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica. Five or six were seen at Yangyang on the 13th.
- Arctic Loon Gavia arctica. At least 1500 were off the Geojin Headland in the 14th.
- Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena. Probably 800 (and up to 1000) were seen at sea, largely off the Geojin Headland, on the 14th.
- Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus. 900+ were seen along the coast between the Daejin lighthouse and Hwajin Po on the 14th.
- Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris. Two were watched excellently feeding along the edge of a reed-bed in Gangneung on the 13th.
- Temminck’s Cormorant Phalacrocorax capillatus. Only a few dozen were seen around Geojin, thus being vastly outnumbered by Pelagic Cormorants (2000+). Several of the Temminck’s were already moving back into breeding plumage.
- Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos. A First-winter was seen over Odae Mountain National Park on the 12th.
- Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus. Probably five were seen in total in the CCZ on the 15th, including four adult males.
- White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. Seen daily and at multiple sites, with probably close to 30 encounters and highest numbers on the 16th (when at least 8 along the Han-Imjin).
- Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus. One or two were in Chungju on the 11th.
- Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus. Probably three adults were seen in the CCZ on the 15th, with one seen (and heard in flight) and two seen together on the ground, and one sighting of probably all three together in flight. This species seemed obviously shy, restricted to one of the least disturbed parts of the CCZ, using small fields edged by trees.
- Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis. One adult was in the CCZ on the 15th.
- White-naped Crane Grus vipio. No proper counts were attempted, but probably 200-250 were seen within the CCZ on the 15th and a total of 300+ were seen in flight from Baekma San on the 16th.
- Demoiselle Crane Grus virgo. The long-staying adult was seen very briefly in flight by NM on the 16th, when the smaller size, smaller bill, strongly contrasting upperwings, contrasting black and white head pattern, and black down to the breast were all noted.
- Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis. No proper counts were attempted, but probably 75 were seen in the CCZ on the 15th and 35+ were seen from or near Baekma San on the 16th.
- Hooded Crane Grus monacha. One young bird was in the CCZ on the 15th.
- Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus. Seen at several sites, with especially good views of one or two at Gangneung on the 13th. Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus © Nial Moores.
- Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius. At least one and most probably three were seen in flight then landing on the sea by NM off Gangneung on the 13th. Unfortunately, birds were too distant and waves too high to see once on the water.
- Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi. Three were at Gangneung on the 13th and probably 60 were on the tidal-flat at Song Do on the 16th.
- Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus. One adult and three First-winters were on the tidal-flat at Song Do on the 16th.
- Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens. Only one was seen: an unusually pale-eyed adult at Geojin on the 14th. According to Malling Olsen’s Gulls only 5% of adults have “dirty yellow” eyes like this individual.
- Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri. An adult, presumably one of the two birds first found at the same site on January 2nd, was seen briefly by NM in Gangneung on the 13th.
- American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus? A dark brown-bodied and -naped First-winter gull, with a streaky white head and pink on the bill base, and pale wing panel seen briefly in Gangneung on the 13th was considered out of the range of vegae and therefore most likely to be of this species. Unfortunately, it was not seen in flight. In what appears to be an exceptional winter, several smithsonianus First-winters have already been claimed and / or identified this winter in the ROK (along with one or more adults).
- Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus. Seen on most dates, with already ten adults (and 2-3 First-winters) back at the breeding island in Song do, even though much of the lagoon is now dry.
- Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus. Several hundreds seen along the coast, including one adult with apparently dark eyes (sadly not digiscoped as such birds are considered exceptional) and First-winters showing the massive variation typical of this species.
- Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia. Two seen from land and 16 from the boat off Geojin on the 14th.
- Common Murre Uria aalge. Three seen from land and 16 seen from the boat off Geojin on the 14th.
- Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo. One or perhaps two were seen off Ayajin on the 13th; and five were seen from land and 15 from the boat off Geojin on the 14th.
- Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix. Two were seen off Ayajin on the 13th; and a total of eight were seen from land between Daejin Lighthouse and 5km south of Ganseong on the 14th.
- Eurasian Eagle-owl Bubo bubo. On the 16th, one was seen dead on the road between Jeonkok and Cheorwon and one (live bird) was seen well in the usual spot at Jeonkok.
- Ural Owl Strix uralensis. Four or five were heard in the usual prime location for this species, with vocalisations including the standard hoot; and a barking note (presumably given by a female?) which apparently provoked a rapid series of 6-8 short deep hoots (presumably from a male).
- Little Owl Athene noctua. One was watched excellently by the road-side in Cheorwon on the 15th.
- Merlin Falco columbarius. Singles were seen at three locations.
- Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus. Although we failed to see the Great Grey Shrike at Chungju, we nonetheless had good views of two Chinese Grey Shrike in the CCZ on the 15th.
- Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris. Three were heard and one was seen well in Odae Mountain National Park on the 12th.
- Naumann’s Thrush Turdus naumanni. Present in only small numbers at the sites we visited, with the highest count only 8 or 9, at Song Do on the 16th.
- Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva. One, presumably this species, was heard calling from deep vegetation in the river at Gangneung on the 13th.
- White Wagtail Motacilla alba. Lugens is typically the only regular and widespread White Wagtail in winter, especially away from the southeast where some leucopsis now over-winter. However, at least two leucopsis were seen at Chungju on the 11th and a First-winter female ocularis was seen at Song Do on the 16th. Identification of the Song Do bird was based on the extensive dark in the greater coverts, and the dark bases to the median coverts; the uniformly grey upperparts (lacking the darker rump and mantle spotting of lugens); and the fairly small bib. This is apparently the first mid-winter record of ocularis known to Birds Korea (?).
- Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria. Four (three females and one male) were at Song Do on the 16th.
- Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula. Four or five rosacea seen at Daejin on the 14th included one bird that was largely pink below and rather blue-grey above; and another that had pink confined to the “cheeks”.
Mammals were less well-represented, but included one rat sp., another rodent sp., Red Squirrel, Korean Water Deer at several sites, and the presumed Northern Fur Seal off Geojin on the 14th.
Presumed Northern Fur Seal Callorhinus ursinus © Nial Moores.