Selected Bird News from Nial Moores with Bernhard Seliger, Choi Hyun-Ah, Robin Newlin, Marco Della Seta and Subhojit Chakladar.
December bird counts were made by NM along the coast between Daejin and Geojin as part of ongoing joint research in the inner border region of Korea with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Korea, on 16th and 17th with BS; on 18th with a boat trip taken by NM, CHA and RN; followed by further land-based and boat-based observations on 19th and some land-based observations on the 20th by a small group of Birds Koreans (NM, RN, SC, MDS), as always based out of the excellent January Pension.
A much fuller collation of counts and a more detailed report is in preparation for the Hanns Seidel Foundation. For some absolutely stunning images of alcids seen during this time, please scroll down towards the bottom of this post!
There was much evidence of continuing turnover of marine preferential birds through this important area, even though the weather was excellent and mild (with overnight lows ranging from -6C to +1C), and the sea almost calm, on both the 19th and 20th. The most abundant species were gulls – most feeding on what appear to be some kind of fish-eggs.
Noteworthy records/ counts (with some of these counts likely to be amended once all counts have been processed) included:
- White-winged Scoter 검둥오리사촌. Probably 115 were present along the coast on the 17th.
- American Scoter검둥오리. Still remarkably scarce with probably a maximum of 60 along the coast on the 17th.
First-winter male American Scoter © Nial Moores. (For more on ageing and separation from the extralimital Common Scoter, see this page on the Birding Frontiers website).
- Red-breasted Merganser 바다비오리 . A total of 538 were counted along the coast on the 16th.
- Arctic Loon 큰회색머리아비. Loons were present in low numbers along the whole coast, from close to shore up to 5km or so from shore, with the largest numbers concentrated near the headland. The vast majority of the 1,622 loons counted off the headland on the 20th were Arctics, with probably fewer than 100 Pacifics and only 10 Red-throateds noted. An estimate of 1,600 Arctic Loon present during the present survey seems reasonable (though highly conservative).
Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica © Robin Newlin. Identification of this individual as Pacific and not Arctic is suggested by the dark area behind the wings, extending down from the upperparts; the narrow chin-strap; the smallish bill; the lack of steep forehead angle and the rounded rear to the crown; the much paler grey coming through on the hind-nape; the darkly mottled look to the rear of the ear coverts; and the width of the dark on the neck, coming further forward than in Arctic (making Pacific appear obviously darker and less cleanly contrasting than Arctic).
- Yellow-billed Loon 흰부리아비. Three singles were seen moving south from January Pension on the 17th; and one was seen from the boat on the 18th (all NM only).
- Red-necked Grebe 큰논병아리. A total of 242 were counted on the 16th.
- Great Crested Grebe 뿔논병아리. A total of 902 were counted on the 16th.
- Pelagic Cormorant 쇠가마우지. A total of 2,383 cormorants were counted by NM and BS moving south past the January Pension in the first two hours of light on the 17th. Almost all of these were Pelagics. Most of these probably return each afternoon and evening to roost in the DMZ. As the morning movement started before our count did and continued after it, an estimate of 2,400 during this survey period seems reasonable even if rather conservative.
- Great Cormorant 민물가마우지. Probably twenty or thirty were still present feeding and roosting up in front of the January Pension on the 17th, with still 5-10 present there on the 19th. Flocks were also noted on Hwajin Po and also on several smaller rivers. Birds have not yet been identified to subspecies (see this ID note for more on subspecies).
- Temminck’s Cormorant 가마우지. Probably less than 50 in total, with confident identification at distance made more challenging by the (exceptional) presence of Great Cormorant feeding and roosting in the same areas.
Three species of cormorant together: Pelagics, with single Temminck’s (left of centre) and single Great (towards right) © Nial Moores. Identification of Temmincks from Great is based on more angular “pinched” rear to the bare facial skin; yellowish tones to the lower mandible; and much more extensive white on the head, even extending below the bare skin towards the bill base. Further supporting features include the much fuller head-shape and perhaps also the intensity of the green eye colour.
- Common Gull 갈매기. Huge numbers were present on the 16th, 17th and 18th, with an estimated 9,000-11,000 present along the coast on the 18th. Many were feeding on what appeared to be egg-cases (suggested by our kind host at the January Pension perhaps to be produced by the fish species dorumu?). One strongly leucistic Common Gull was digiscoped on the 17th.
- Glaucous-winged Gull 수리갈매기. At least seven in total.
- American Herring Gull 옅은재갈매기. One or two pale-saddled adults; with one on 16th near Geojin harbor (NM and BS); and one briefly north of Daejin Harbour on the 18th (NM only).
- Vega Gull 재갈매기. Huge numbers were present, especially on the 18th and 19th, with at least 3,000 in one flock on the latter date. Most were feeding on what appeared to fish eggs or fish egg-cases (of dorumu?).
- “Caspian-type gull”. One or two adults were present in the massive gull flock near Daejin on the 19th.
- Slaty-backed Gull 큰재갈매기. The third most numerous gull along the coast, with a conservative 1,500 (counted roughly in blocks of 100) in the massive gull flock on the 19th.
(Juvenile into) First-winter Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus © Nial Moores: in addition to the “classic” structure, note the pattern(s) of the replaced scapulars; the brown tones to the primaries; and the piebald look to much of the upperparts, all indicative of this species at this age.
- Taimyr Gull 줄무늬노랑발갈매기. Remarkably scarce, with probably only 30 or so found in the flock of 11,000-12,000 gulls seen in the evening of the 18th.
- Steppe Gull. One adult-type probable barabensis or barabensis-type was seen by RN and NM and poorly digiscoped on the 18th.
(And now for those truly stunning images…!)
- Brunnich’s Murre 흰줄부리바다오리. Four were seen from the boat on the 19th, and two were seen off the headland on the 20th.
- Common Murre 바다오리. Up to 17 were counted off the headland on the 16th; with one seen from the boat on the 18th and only one seen off the headland on the 20th.
- Spectacled Guillemot 흰눈썹바다오리. A total of 27 were counted off the headland on the 16th; six were seen flying south soon after sunrise from the January Pension on the 17th; small numbers were seen from the boat; and six were still off the headland on the 20th.
- There was / were also one or two much whiter-looking alcids seen off the headland on the 16th (NM and BS) and 17th (NM only), one of which was with a group of three Spectacleds and appeared to be either the same size or slightly smaller than them. Both (?) of these “white gillies” apparently had greyer-upperparts than the Spectacleds; more white on the head; and apparently some limited white on the wing coverts just about visible on the closed wing (though only at 50X magnification through a truly superb Swarovski scope – essetial gear for survey work of this kind).
- Long-billed Murrelet 알락쇠오리. Two were present off the headland on the 16th and 17th, and were seen at very close range from the boat on the 19th; one was seen about 10km north from there, perhaps 7-8 km from shore on the 18th; and one was seen to the north off the headland on the 20th.
Ancient Murrelet 바다쇠오리. Probably more than 3,000 were present in the area. Numbers were very hard to count or estimate well, as there were small flocks dispersed offshore all along the coast that was surveyed, apparently in two main bands. The first band was within 2-3km of shore (and was possible to see and count from land), with 1,600 seen in one scan off from the headland on the 20th. The second band seemed to be located from about 7km from shore, with groups seen in flight well beyond 10km from shore. Although most of these groups were of only 10-20 birds, several hundred were seen from the boat along 9-10km of this second band on the 18th.
Least Auklet 작은바다오리. One was seen excellently well on the 19th.
Rhinoceros Auklet 흰수염바다오리. The highest day count during the survey period was of 27 seen from the boat on the 19th.