Bird News from Nial Moores and Jason Loghry
This was an exceptional day of late winter / early spring birding in light northerlies and bright light, with a record-breaking number of loons (made all the better by the absence of any obviously oiled birds, with just one individual seen with apparent feather damage of some kind) and several notable species.
As usual, we drove the western flank of the peninsula making rough counts at each of about eight stops; then drove the eastern side with the focus on gulls in the afternoon. This afternoon, as loons and alcids were passing south in a steady flow from at least 11:30 to 15:30 (and perhaps all day), we also made counts of birds on the sea off the eastern side from three stops and made two timed counts of moving birds, one of ten minutes between 14:42 and 14:51, and one of four minutes between 15:15 and 15:18, cut short by the sighting of a passing tern! These too-brief counts suggest that IF the rate of birds was more or less steady, then 3,600 birds were passing south each hour (with almost all of those that could be identified being Pacific Loons, with Rhinoceros Auklet a distant second).
In addition to most of the regular wintering species (including Harlequin Duck, Light-vented Bulbul and Siberian Accentor) there were a few really puzzling ID challenges, and several easier-to-ID species of note. The day’s highlights, with apologies in advance for the poor quality of the images, included:
- Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata c. 100 in total.
- Arctic Loon Gavia arctica. Probably 500-1,000+ in total.
- Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica. Easily the most abundant species seen during the day, with a rough-counted 6,000-7,000 on the sea and conservatively an additional 8,000-10,000 estimated as moving south (so a day total estimated at 14,000-17,000).
- Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii. One adult was watched well at distance, and digiscoped poorly, and another 1-2 probables were seen moving south with Pacific Loons (latter NM only).
- Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena. Although poorly counted, probably 250-500 were seen (many starting to move into breeding plumage).
- Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus. At least 50 (and perhaps up to 100) were seen, many starting to move out of non-breeding plumage.
- Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis. At least 350 were counted, including half-a-dozen more or less in breeding plumage.
- Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens. One atypically small and oddly grey-washed bird (with contrasting well-patterned wing coverts, a fully speckled rump and uppertail coverts and slightly darker off-white primary tips) nonetheless seemed to match this species better than any other – or than any other obvious hybrid combination. Is this bird really within expected range of this species?
- Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus. Thirty were counted, including one loose flock of 17.
- Unknown gull resembling American Herring Gull. One. Multiple features in combination seem to rule against any of the more regular gull species. However, the lack of replaced scapulars combined with the slightly more than expected paleing at the tail base prevented a confident identification.
- Common Tern Sterna hirundo (?). One was seen and imaged poorly in flight. There are very few records of any sea-tern in Korea outside of months April-November. Identification (still a tad tentative for now, and awaiting comments from others) was based on small size and plunge-diving feeding action; longish tail streamers; long-looking bill; greyish tones to the rump; darkish underside to the primaries visible in some images; darker carpal bar, with dark extending onto the scapulars (evident in one image); and faintly not strongly darkish trail to the underside of the secondaries.
- Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus. One light morph (NM only). Rarely recorded in the ROK outside of May-November.
- Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo . One. This species is very rarely recorded south of Gangwon Province.
- Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix. Two definites and one possible
- Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus At least 2100 were counted: however, large numbers seen sparkling in the horizon’s haze were left uncounted.
- Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata. Although we “only” counted c. 100 from the western side, there were much larger numbers mixed in with the flying loons. A scan of the sea at one stop found 70 on the water, and the two short timed counts suggest that 400-500 were passing south each hour, giving a conservative estimate of 1500+ for the day.