Bird News from Nial Moores
Some excellent numbers and great diversity; but always a challenge to get good views of the more notable species and accurate counts of the movements!
On 21st, a total of 73 species were logged, with highlights including good views of a Black Kite as it consumed a rat; between 5,000 and 10,000 Brambling, four Amur Falcon at least 65 Yellow-bellied Tit (a new national day high count?) and three Pine Bunting in Jincheon; and 1,200 Brambing and 20+ Japanese Grosbeak in Dumujin in the northwest of the island.
Black Kite Milvus migrans lineatus © Nial Moores
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos © Nial Moores
On 22nd, in overcast conditions with light northeasterlies and occasional rain-showers a total of 94 species were logged in Jincheon and Yeonhwa Ri. Highlights included two Eurasian Bittern departing at dusk; a single Purple Heron arriving with a small group of Grey Heron; a total of 550+ Olive-backed Pipit and 3,700 Brambling; four Hawfinch; 14 Chinese Grosbeak; and between 88 and 111 Japanese Grosbeak (all in Jincheon, with flocks of 36 and 52 seen more or less simultaneously, 300m apart, followed by smaller groups of seven and 26 seen in different parts of the east of the island during the next two hours). Perhaps the highest previous day count of this species in Korea was 85 at the national arboretum in December 1997. There were also ten Common Starlings in Yeonhwa Ri, and 1-10 in Jincheon. Biggest “miss” was a plain-looking sandy-buff coloured starling, with a slightly paler rump, seen twice flying in a small mixed group of Common and White-cheeked Starlings. If not a leucistic Common the only reasonable ID would be a juvenile Rosy Starling, a species recorded only a few times on the Korean Peninsula. However, even though I searched for this striking individual for several hours on several dates, I failed to re-find it.
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris poltaratskyi © Nial Moores
On 23rd, in continuing overcast with moderate east-northeasterlies, I found a total of 88 species in Jincheon. These included the personal first Hen Harrier and Ochre-rumped Bunting of the autumn; a flock of 20 or 21 Amur Falcon; 8+ Yellow-bellied Tit; an increased number of Buff-bellied Pipits (for the first time this autumn reaching double figures); a small number of thrushes (including one Red-throated or Naumann’s seen in flight and 2+ Eyebrowed Thrush); 40+ Chestnut-eared Bunting; and still 13 Japanese Grosbeak.
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus © Nial Moores
On 24th, a day that started beautifully clear and calm and finished with heavy overcast, I decided to do the long hike from Jincheon through Samgot Ri, onto to the Hwadong wetland (requiring a separate post…) on to Taekaul Ri. I logged at least 98 species, including 94 (Asiatic) White-winged or Stejneger’s Scoter; perhaps 400 Taiga and 200 Tundra Bean Geese; five Eurasian Spoonbill; an Eastern Marsh Harrier; 8+ Yellow-bellied Tit, including several high moving southwest; eight more Common Starling; and an increase in “winter buntings”, with 150+ Rustic and 10+ Pallas’s and Common Reed Buntings.
Pallas’s Reed Buntings Emberiza pallasi © Nial Moores
Highlights, none of which despite my efforts are supported by any photographic evidence, were two small grey larks – apparently Asian Short-toeds – flying with a group of Far Eastern Larks; a brownish-backed, warm-crowned and warm-tailed juvenile Peregrine Falcon with much pale on the face, so looking much better for calidus than japonensis (of which perhaps 5-10 are present on the island); and perhaps personal bird of the trip, a massive dark-end (?) albidus Northern Goshawk, with a greatly reduced face pattern; massive white splotches on an otherwise light grey-brown background to the upperparts; light streaking on snow white underparts; and a tail banded brown and white. It was first seen “play-tussling” with a Black Kite, before landing for 1-2 seconds on an exposed branch, before disappearing round a corner to spook the goose flock into flight.
On 25th, after heavy overnight rain and with winds finally swinging briefly to the north and northwest, I surveyed Jincheon in the morning before taking the bus to Yeonhwa Ri and then on to Dumujin for the afternoon. In total, a disappointing 81 species were logged, with highlights including a single Baikal Teal and Northern Lapwing; and small increases in warblers (including another Hume’s Leaf), thrushes (including 50+ Dusky Thrush in Jincheon), chats, with e.g. 15+ Stejneger’s Stonechat (showing a wide range in tone, saturation and plumage details) and 15-20 Daurian Redstart in Dumujin alone, where there were also five Yellow-browed and 50+ Yellow-throated Buntings.
Stejneger’s Stonechats Saxicola stejnegeri © Nial Moores
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus © Nial Moores
Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans © Nial Moores
On 26th, in continuing overcast, the last full day of census started with finding a disorientated Eurasian Woodcock in the street by the motel (relocated to a quieter area); and included two Northern Lapwing, up to six Pine Bunting and the first small influx of Red-flanked Bluetail (with four in Jincheon and two in Dumujin).
(Selfie) with Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola © Nial Moores
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus © Nial Moores
The best, in terms of numbers, was still to come, however…
Before the boat on 27th, in good weather (clear to the north, and overcast southward – perhaps leading to a major reorientation of migrants that had failed to cross the Yellow Sea during the night?) there was a substantial movement of thrushes departing over Jincheon, with about 500 Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes departing west between 07:20 and 0:850. At the same time there also a truly MASSIVE movement of small birds, unexpectedly departing north and northeast toward the DPRK coast, along a front that was initially about 2-3km wide, narrowing down to <1km by 10:30. This northward movement, mostly of buntings, was by far the largest I have ever seen anywhere.
View of the Hwanghaenam coast (DPRK) at closest 12 or 13km north of Baekryeong: the initial destination of perhaps tens of thousands of birds on the 27th © Nial Moores
The biggest number of birds seemed to be moving shortly after sunrise, with birds already high up and others joining the rush of flocks, many appearing out of what seemed like every hill and patch of habitat on the island.
During more than a dozen sample counts (until 08:45 made in a not particularly good spot, in a valley with a fairly narrow view of the sky) at least 100 birds were counted moving north or northeast every 28 to 42 seconds between 08:15 and 09:45. This movement had already started by or before 07:20, and appeared to continue on until at least 11:00, apparently gradually losing strength from about 08:00, so that there were 100 birds north or northeast in 31 seconds at 8:15, 100 birds per 90 seconds at 10:30 and 100 birds counted going north in four minutes 30 seconds at 10:55.
Based on the constant sky-full of calls and flight action the vast majority of these birds for the first two hours after sunrise were Yellow-throated and Rustic Buntings. These then seem to be joined, over time, by an increasing mix of other species (either that or it just got easier to pick out other species as the flow reduced…) so that during the last hour there were as many departing Brambling and Olive-backed Pipit as buntings, many of them taking off from nearby cover.
During the last hour of this movement, based on calls and / or visuals, notable species seen or heard to depart north-northeast included ten or so Common Reed, eight Ochre-rumped and four Pine Buntings, three Common Starling, two Siberian Accentor (the personal first of the autumn) , a Long-tailed Rosefinch, three Lapland Longspur and even twenty or so Brown-eared Bulbul.
A coarse and conservative calculation would suggest that a minimum 25,000 birds were involved during this morning’s movement, with an extremely rough guesstimate based on calls of about 10,000 Yellow-throated Bunting, 8,000 Rustic Bunting, 3,500 Brambling, 2,000 Black-faced Bunting, 1,000 Olive-backed Pipits and perhaps 500 “other” assorteds – including flocks of Buff-bellied Pipit, Pallas’s Reed and Common Reed Buntings, Chinese Penduline Tits and small numbers of finches (13-20 Hawfinch and 10+ Eurasian Siskin were counted). It is of course also quite possible that these relative proportions are incorrect, as there is no way of knowing whether higher-flying bunting-types were of the same species as birds that were lower down and within ear-shot.
Even after this mass departure, there were still several hundred Brambling and dozens of Olive-backed Pipits remaining in fields and hedge-rows and on wires around Jincheon, and good numbers of raptors on the move, including several Northern Goshawk and a late Amur Falcon moving west.
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni © Nial Moores
Brambling Coelebs montifringilla © Nial Moores
Ochre-rumped Bunting Emberiza yessoensis © Nial Moores, digiscoped through a truly superb Swarovski scope, before it too joined a group of 5+ Ochre-rumpeds and departed the island.
Other work and commitments (as well as lack of funding!) meant that I needed to leave – even though the weather forecast looks extremely promising for the first half of next week…