Various Sites, January 3-14

Bird News from Nial Moores, on own on 3rd, and from January 4th-14th with the very good-humored Team Zoothera (Nick Upton, Lee Collins, Stephen Davis, Jeff Higgott, Simon Roddis, Peter Zelenyj, David Cousins, John and Pauline Arkle and Nick Blackwood).

The tour – helping to raise funds for our conservation work – produced some excellent winter birding with multiple daily highlights in generally very good weather (with clear, calm chilly conditions for most of the first week, though windy along the east coast; followed by a milder mix of overcast and hazy sunshine from the 12th, with fog on 14th gradually lifting during the day).

Smew Mergellus of several stunning duck species wintering in the ROK
© Nial Moores
Team Zoothera in the Citizen Controlled Zone in Cheorwon adjacent to the DMZ, with access enabled by Dr Jiseok Jung of the Peace School and his esteemed colleague © Nial Moores

Although several typical or widespread wintering species appeared to be scarce or absent this year (e.g. zero Black Kite, despite spending time in Busan, and zero Eurasian Siskin were logged), we nonetheless enjoyed excellent views of almost all of the Far East Asian and Palearctic specials we were hoping to see: Swan Goose, Baikal Teal, Harlequin Duck, Scaly-sided Merganser, Hazel Grouse, Oriental Stork, Steller’s Sea Eagle, Red-crowned Crane, White-naped Crane, Hooded Crane, Solitary Snipe, Saunders’s Gull, Long-billed Murrelet, Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Naumann’s and Dusky Thrushes, Japanese Wagtail, Asian Rosy Finch, and Pallas’s Reed and Ochre-rumped Buntings, with decent views too of additional most-wanted species that included Relict Gull, Chinese Grey Shrike, Yellow-bellied Tit and Siberian Accentor.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo kiautschensis © Nial Moores. At dusk, three were heard vocalising in this area…

We also had plenty of time to enjoy flocks of gulls and geese and alcids – and to marvel at a massive gathering of 10,000+ Rook, which contained much smaller numbers of Daurian Jackdaw. We also logged seven naturally occurring wild mammal species, including enjoying wonderfully close and exciting encounters with Amur Leopard Cat (at two sites) and Korean Water Deer, and seasonally less expected River Otter, Siberian Weasel and Siberian Chipmunk.

One of two sparring Amur Leopard Cats © Nial Moores

Fuller bird species lists can/ will be found on eBird; and in the formal Zoothera Trip report (which will likely include many much higher quality images too!). Only especially noteworthy records follow (due to global rarity, unseasonal occurrence or very high numbers):

  • Swan Goose Anser cygnoides. VU. Seven at Junam on 11th; and four in the Geum estuary on 13th
© Nial Moores
  • Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea.  Red-listed in the ROK in 2014 after substantial recent declines. At least 600 at Siheung on 6th was the highest count.
  • Baikal Teal Sibirionetta formosa.  Currently globally assessed as Least Concern and Amber-Listed in the ROK by Birds Korea in 2014, but now better assessed as threatened following massive very recent declines. In addition to small numbers at a couple of sites, the largest count was approximately 19,000 on the Geum River on 14th.
© Nial Moores

  • Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca. NT.  Although increasing year-on-year, still less than 10 records annually in the ROK. Two were found and reported by Marshall Ilff on eBird near the Bamseom Islet on the Han River on December 28th (  The same two birds were still present on the 3rd. Although one looked pure to me, the second bird looked a little bigger-headed and yellower-eyed, and had an obvious paler wash on the foreflank – features suggestive of a hybrid origin.
  • Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus. EN.  Five or six were at Paldang on 6th. Approximately 150 were counted during Birds Korea surveys in 2012 and 2014. Funds have been insufficient since then to repeat a national survey.  
  • Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii. NT. One was seen well by SR and poorly by NM on 8th and by NM at range on 9th along the Goseong Coast.
  • Oriental Stork Ciconia boyciana. EN. One “restored” bird was seen at close range in the Namdaecheon, Gangneung on 9th (at one time, scarily trying to eat a discarded can of “Pocari sweat”, a popular so-called sports drink); and four unringed birds were at Junam on 11th.
One of four unringed Oriental Stork, roosting in among flocks of Eastern Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis middendorffii © Nial Moores
  • Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus. Two different individuals were in the Nakdong Estuary on 11th and 12th.
  • Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus. VU. One or two adults were at Paldang on 6th (with one also seen from the main bridge over the river on 7th) and one or two adults were also seen in the Nakdong Estuary on the 11th.
  • Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis. Five were together with Hooded Cranes at Suncheon Bay on 12th.
Five Sandhill Cranes – four on the bank behind the Hooded Crane flock and one to the far right, in among the feeding mass… © Nial Moores
  • White-naped Crane Antigone vipio. VU. At least 650-750 were in Cheorwon on the 5th (including several hundred in the Great Flypast), with another 250-260 at Junam on the 11th.
  • Red-crowed Crane Grus japonensis. EN. At least 150 in Cheorwon on the 5th, most of which were in the Great Flypast, with smaller numbers feeding in rice-fields.
  • Common Crane Grus grus. A hybrid Hooded x Common was in Cheorwon on the 5th; and three “pure” adult Commons were in among a large flock of Hooded Crane at Suncheon Bay on 12th, along with dozens of First, Second and presumably Third Generation hybrids.
Three “pure” Common Crane, including one displaying to a hybrid Hooded X Common Crane, with several other hybrids visible (most obviously, the pale bird toward the left, with the dark throat, but without the black rear crown and foreneck sock of Common © Nial Moores
  • Hooded Crane Grus monacha. VU. Two were in Cheorwon on the 5th; one was must unexpected at Siheung on 6th; and 1,700 were counted (in blocks of ten) at Suncheon Bay on 12th. This total, however, contained potentially several dozen hybrid Hooded x Common Cranes of several generations.
Hybrid Hooded x Common Crane © Nial Moores. Although the general pattern recalls Hooded, in being white-hooded without the black foreneck of Common, the plumage is far too pale and shows the Common-like dark edges on the wing. Moreover, the eye is yellowish, like Common Crane.
Hybrid family © Nial Moores …the adult on the right looks like a Hooded Crane, but appears to be paired with a very large and pale grey hybrid (similar-looking to but different from the individual above). The immature on the left shows the blotchy pale and dark plumage typical of a hybrid. As many crane families stay together through the winter, this young bird’s parents seems to be a Hooded and a Common x Hooded Crane hybrid.
  • Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. NT. Exceptional in winter. One, of unknown taxon, was still at Junam on 11th.
  • Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria. Despite continuing degradation along the stream both within and outside of the National Arboretum, three were found after some searching.

© Nial Moores
  • Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi. VU. Seen at multiple sites, with easily the highest count 535 at Song Do on the 6th.
  • Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus. VU. One First-winter was watched at length (and sadly at some distance) in the Nakdong Estuary on the 11th.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens. A Second Calendar-year at Sokcho on 7th was either an exceptionally dark individual or (to my eyes much more plausibly) a hybrid; while a full adult at Geojin on 8th was rather less controversial!
Glaucous-winged type Gull © Nial Moores. Although Glaucous-winged like, with a good bill shape and speckled look to the wing coverts, this individual was extremely dark for that species, with an especially dark grey wash appearing on the mantle. The bird also lacked a “waxy grease paper” look, typical of that species; showed the kind of blotchy look to the neck and head expected in Slaty-backed Gull; had very short primary projection (again like Slaty-backed) and unclear pale edges to the upperside of the primaries; and importantly showed quite a lot of dark brown on the underside of the primaries (visible in both images), rather than the clean look expected in Glaucous-winged.
  • American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus. One Second Calendar-year at Geojin on 8th.
  • Steppe Gull Larus heuglini barabensis. One or two candidate Steppe Gulls were at Daejin on 8th; and three more were at Seosan on 14th.
Two different candidate Steppe Gull at Seosan in foggy conditions on the 14th
© Nial Moores, with latter bird approaching a mixed group of Taimyr and Vega Gulls. For some information on identifying barabensis in Korea from about 15 years ago, please see here
  • Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia. Only one was seen – a non-breeding plumaged bird at very long range by NM on 9th.
  • Spectacled Guillemot Cephhus carbo. In large part probably because of increasingly high seas on 8th only one was seen (by NM, SR and perhaps one or two others in the group).
  • Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix. NT. One was seen well, if rather briefly, from the boat off the Goseong Coast on the 8th.
  • Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus.  At least 3,500-4,000 were seen from the boat on the 8th; smaller numbers were seen along the coast south to Ayajin on 9th.
  • Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata. At least 1,500 were seen off the Goseong Coast on 8th.
  • ArcticPeregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus calidus (?). A Second Calendar-year bird at Suncheon on 12th looked more massively-billed and subtly paler below, with a narrower “moustache” than the much more regular japonensis (seen on several dates) – features expected in calidus which, based on satellite tracks of some birds from the Arctic to eastern China (see Dixon et al. 2012) is likely to prove regular in Korea during migration and winter.
Peregrine © Jeff Higgott
  • Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus. Singles were heard at the Geum River on the 13th and at Seosan on the 14th.
  • White Wagtail Motacilla alba ocularis. Assessed as very rare in winter by Birds Korea (2018). Two were at Yangyang on 8th, with another at Junam on 11th.
  • Asian Rosy Finch Leucosticte arctoa. Only 80 at the regular wintering site – no doubt because most of the best habitat has been plowed and now looks quite sterile.
© Nial Moores
  • Pallas’s Reed Bunting / “Mongolian Reed BuntingEmberiza pallasi lydiae.  In addition to small numbers of pallasi / polaris, at least one male at Seosan on 14th appeared to show features expected in lydiae, including a long sloping forehead and bill (narrow with a fairly strongly curved culmen, quite unlike the typical stubby bill of pallasi/ polaris, visible in the middle lower record shot); and a largely straw-brown and black “saddle”, lacking the pale braces shown by almost all Pallas’s Reed Bunting in Korea.
Putative lydiae Pallas’s / “MongolianReed Bunting © Nial Moores. Every winter, we can see a wide range of structure and plumage in wintering Pallas’s Reed Bunting, with some birds obviously browner than others, leading to an annual request for information from across the region on how to separate Mongolia-breeding lydiae (a geographically well-separated taxon with a Corn Bunting like song!) from much more northern breeding Pallas’s Reeds (which sing more or less like Reed Buntings). Few individuals look as different from typical (i.e pallasi / polaris) Pallas’s Reed as this bird. Even in these very poor quality record shots note the long bill with the obviously decurved culmen (and compare it with the more typical Pallas’s on the right in the middle image); and the upperpart coloration, lacking the obvious whiteish braces and tramlines seen in “typical” Pallas’s Reed Bunting. Is the bulging wedge of white visible on the undertail also a potential difference between lydiae and other Pallas’s Reed Bunting?
  • Ochre-rumped Bunting Emberiza yessoensis. NT. Two were at Siheung on 6th.
© Nial Moores

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