Bird News from Nial Moores, with Kim Seogmin and friends for part of May 1st and 2nd, and with Shim Kyu-Sik on 3rd – 5th.
On April 30th, the obvious and outstanding highlight on Baekryeong was a Mongolian Lark seen only by KSM (the third or fourth national record?), with the best I could manage in survey of three areas – excellent on any other day or island – being two Japanese Quail, a substantial departure of Pin-tailed Snipe in the evening, with 79 counted; a single Amur Falcon; 3+ Yellow-bellied Tit; the personal first Rufous-tailed Robin and Blyth’s Pipit of the spring; the White-shouldered Starling and two Red-billed Starling still; a single Common Rosefinch; and good numbers of warblers and buntings, including at least 110 Little, 100 Yellow-browed, 200 Black-faced and four Yellow-breasted Buntings.
Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans © Nial Moores
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus © Nial Moores
On May 1st, 103 species were logged in Jincheon, with highlights a Water Rail-type heard briefly; 45+ Pin-tailed Snipe seen, including one in song-flight!; a singing Chinese Blackbird; a Long-tailed Shrike (perhaps the first Baekryeong record?); and several more personal firsts of the spring, including two White-throated Needletails and two Forest Wagtail.
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach © Nial Moores
On May 2nd, in increasingly settled and warm anticyclonic conditions, the island seemed very quiet. Nonetheless, 109 species were logged (by NM) in six areas visited, made rather more accessible by the kindness of Kim Seogmin, Im Kwang Wan and friends who let me into their already-crowded vehicle. The day provided one major ID challenge; a couple other “birds that got away”; and an Oriental Pratincole, at least six Black-winged Stilt and a Wryneck.
Some of the soccer-sized birding team, with all 11 members travelling the island in a starex van, here looking for shorebirds at the heavily-disturbed and now rather poor Hwadong wetland (good to find another ‘swaro scope user, or “swarrior”, here!) © Nial Moores.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus © Nial Moores
A major ID challenge, still unresolved, was provided by a Second Calendar-year (?) Peregrine Falcon (?) spotted from the van by some of the team members on the way to lunch. The bird had exceptionally brown upperparts which were oddly speckled (more like a Saker or Gyr) and very heavily marked, splotchy rather than streaked underparts (also quite Saker and Gyr-like!).
Unknown falcon, perhaps Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus (?) © Nial Moores. Peregrine is the only widespread large falcon in Korea; and the only large falcon that is supposed to have a head pattern like this individual. However, as noted when watching this bird and as confirmed by the images, this individual also showed multiple features not shared with the regularly-occurring japonensis subspecies. For a start, the bird looked larger than typical (with e.g. an especially large and powerful-looking head); showed tail extension beyond the primaries at rest (perhaps possible in Second Calendar-year subadult Peregrine?); and was strikingly brown-toned above, with contrastingly dark primaries. This falcon also lacked the pale tail tip expected in Peregrine (especially in immature birds); was spotted and speckled above rather than being barred; and was splotchily dark below. Brownish tones are shown by some juvenile japonensis Peregrine, but not as late as May and not without some grey tones especially in replaced feathers. Moreover, the yellow cere contradicts any potential argument that this might be an exceptionally slow-to-develop juvenile, and allows instead that the bird might even be in adult plumage. Nonetheless, the helmeted head pattern should rule against a pure Saker Falcon (which occurs rarely in Korea – especially in May) – so a hybrid origin was discussed even while watching the bird. To date though there has been little need even to consider escaped or hybrid falcons in Korea – and the only examples of suggested wild hybrids which might occur naturally are probably of the so-called Altai Falcon, sometimes considered to be Saker and Gyr Falcon hybrids rather than hybrids between Peregrine and another falcon species. Are the features shown by the bird indicative of a hybrid origin or are they perhaps found sometimes in calidus Peregrine (which as shown by satellite tracks is now know to occur within this region) or even in dark-end (Altai-type?) Saker ? How should this bird be best-identified?
In the evening, I then glimpsed a possible Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (simply a dark looking medium sized woodpecker, seen only below in flight) and a probable drongo sp at Junghwadong, where a small late afternoon arrival also included a few Blue-and-white Flycatcher and Eyebrowed Thrush.
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana © Nial Moores: identification as intermedia is suggested by the blueish breast sides and turqoise tones to some of the upperparts.
On May 3rd, highlights with SKS included single Crested Honey Buzzard and two Grey-faced Buzzard; a singing Chinese Grey Shrike; two Red-billed and two White-shouldered Starlings; and a single Wryneck.
White-shouldered Starling Sturnia sinensis © Nial Moores
May 4th provided several outstanding highlights. In the morning, we found at least three singing Yellow-streaked Warbler (at least the 8th national record, following several on northwest islands in early May since the first on Socheong back in mid-May 2007 , including at least two together on May 8th 2014 on Baekryeong; and more recently one claimed on Eocheong by several birders on about May 1st this year, reported by Xavier Vandervyre).
Yellow-streaked Warbler Phylloscopus armandii © Shim Kyu-Sik. First identified by song and call, good ID features for Yellow-streaked shown in the images include the big head but weak bill and legs; the weak greenish blaze on the remiges of the closed wing (stronger than in Dusky; less striking than in some Radde’s); the well-defined supercilium throughout (warmer on the supralorals); and the pale throat contrasting with the blotchy yellowish look to the underparts and warmer vent).
We also heard – but did not see – a singing Sakhalin Leaf Warbler in the southwest of the island; and then heard a few times – but again failed to see – a singing Chestnut-winged Cuckoo in the northwest. In increasingly overcast conditions there was some weak movement in the evening – with best single singing Indian Cuckoo and Northern Hawk-cuckoo and at least 110 Oriental Dollarbird in the air together at Jincheon (a new high national day count?).
The forecast several hours of rain failed to materialize on the 5th. Instead, very warm, sunny and fairly calm conditions in the morning gave way in the late afternoon to heavy overcast, fog and yellow dust (direct from Mongolia…) with a very few spots of rain. The island seemed very quiet in the morning with best good views of e.g. several Eyebrowed Thrush and a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and a few Ashy Minivet and White-throated Needletails starting to move by late morning.
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus © Nial Moores
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia © Nial Moores
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus © Nial Moores
Surprisingly the change in weather also produced rather few new birds – with best in Jincheon in the evening being eight Crested Honey Buzzard and several hundred hirundines, including three (presumed) Sand Martin and a male Citrine Wagtail.
On May 6th, cold strong winds were reaching Baekryeong from both the southwest and the northwest (and wind graphics suggested these latter winds were coming unobstructed from several thousand kms away…)– and a major arrival of birds was eagerly awaited. However, even though I covered the three main west coast areas there again seemed to be very few new birds in – with no real hint of the mass arrival which was to come on the 7th. Best for the 6th therefore were a female Black Bittern (presumably a first for Baekryeong, but unfortunately very wary); a probable Red Turtle Dove, seen briefly in flight; a Brown-headed Thrush; one or two more Wryneck; 10+ Yellow-bellied Tit (including a couple of high-fliers going west); and a Western-type “plexa” Yellow Wagtail. Survey also confirmed nesting Temminck’s and Pelagic Cormorants, and apparently two pairs of Mongolian Gull.
Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus © Nial Moores
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus © Nial Moores
All NM’s images taken with a handheld sony camera through a truly superb Swarovski ‘scope…