Shorebird Extravaganza, Geum Estuary & Seosan “A”. September 27-29

Bird News from Nial Moores with Per Kaijser and Jared Busen

A total of 34 shorebird species (out of a total 110 bird species logged) were found, with shorebird highlights that included a Pectoral Sandpiper below the Geum Barrage at dusk on 27th (NM & JB only); and  3+ Spoon-billed Sandpiper, 4+ Nordmann’s Greenshank, one (or two?) Little Stint and rarest of all in the Korean context a Common Ringed Plover, all on Yubu on 28th.

Following a request from PK for two days’ guiding focused on shorebirds, NM and JB (an active Birds Korea volunteer, who has been conducting counts of waterbirds at the Hwaseong Wetland) first met up near the Geum Barrage at dusk on the 27th, finding c. 5,000 shorebirds out on the mud. These included a single Red Knot (increasingly scarce in the ROK) and best of all a distant Juvenile>First-winter Pectoral Sandpiper. PK arrived later in the evening.

Distant Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos, initially with a Dunlin © Nial Moores

Before sunrise on the 28th, the three of us crossed to Yubu and did the mud-march as the tide allowed. With an hour or so, we located our most-wanted species, a Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This individual (perhaps a First Calendar-year in non-breeding plumage?) was even more active than usual, rising, twisting and spinning like a diminutive ballet dancer for more than 20 minutes – provoked it seems by erratic spurts of water ejected from thousands of hidden burrows. Absolutely superb. 

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmea © Nial Moores

A few hundred meters away, another Spoonie was seen walking and sprinting across the tidal flats, and thirty minutes later, further off, first two and then, rather further off still, perhaps an additional three possible spoonies were seen (including one which at 70X seemed to show more contrast, like a bird still with some juvenile plumage, perhaps with a green or blue leg flag that seemed to catch the low morning sun).  Crawling over – and at times under! – the mud, we approached this area of concentration but could find ‘’only’’ the closer two Spoonies, both of which were more obviously adult types in full non-breeding plumage, and neither of which were adorned with plastic. There were several Sanderling in the same area too – confusable at long range in harsh light with SBS.  Might the leg- flagged bird have been a Sanderling too?  

Either way, we can be certain that there were at least three Spoonies. It seems almost as likely that there were five, or perhaps even six

Also seen at low tide were decent numbers of Great Knot (an estimated 4,000 in total), up to 70 Red Knot (my personal highest count of the species in the ROK for at least a decade), and at least three Nordmann’s Greenshank, out of 4+ seen during the day.

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris © Nial Moores
Red Knot Calidris canutus © Nial Moores

High tide was magnificent, confirming it as PK’s “Best day of shorebirding ever, anywhere”.  

PK (foreground) and JB scoping through a close flock of more than 40,000 shorebirds…

Mixed in with the throng of Dunlin (c. 20,000) and Kentish (5,000+) and Mongolian Plovers (a conservative 2,000 estimated) were hundreds of Broad-billed Sandpiper, 1,000 + Red-necked Stint, one (or two) Little Stint and rarest of all in the Korean context, a Common Ringed Plover (perhaps my first in a decade, even though I saw the species ~5 times between 1998 and 2006).

Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus © Nial Moores
Little Stint Calidris minuta (foreground stint) © Nial Moores. Although I initially thought there were two birds, the time line and the similarity of plumage in the poor series of images taken suggests that perhaps only one bird was involved. In direct comparison with other stints, this individual was distinctly longer-legged (standing obviously taller when side by side) and had a longer, slightly decurved, finer-tipped and less deep-based looking bill. The mantle and upper scapulars were very dark, and critically some of the lower scapulars and at least one visible inner greater covert had full-looking black(ish) centres. In further support of the ID as Little Stint, at some angles the supercilium looked obviously bifurcated, and the central crown was at all times contrastingly darker, giving the bird a more striking head pattern than most of the Red-neckeds.
Group of Red-necked Stints Calidris ruficollis © Nial Moores. Although there was a wonderful spread of plumage (with much individual variation in wear and moult progression), all birds which were checked had the dark shaft streaks and pale grey centres to the lower scapulars and inner greater coverts which are diagnostic of this species. Most – but clearly not all!- also had quite deep bill bases (recalling e.g. miniature Sanderling rather than e.g. miniature short-billed Dunlin as sometimes suggested by Little).
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula © Nial Moores . Even in a blurred image like this and without views of the spread wing (and this bird’s striking wing bar) this individual really stood out in the field…

These ‘’smalls’  were then joined by the giants of the shorebird world – at least 3,250 Far Eastern Curlew (close to 10% of the world population) and 2,800 Eurasian Curlew, the latter mixed in with almost 2,000 Far Eastern Oystercatcher, 110 Black-faced Spoonbill and egrets, including 17 Chinese Egret.  Counts of all these, and additional, species are listed in eBird (Checklist S60253224).

On the 29th, local woodland in Gunsan was quiet, apart from an exceptional number of Red Squirrel, good numbers of woodpeckers, a migrant flock of 130 Brown-eared Bulbul and a lone Mugimaki Flycatcher.

Seosan Lake A Reclamation Area was much better. In addition to several “new” shorebird species (including a Long-toed Stint, two dusky Spotted Redshank, and several small troops of Marsh Sandpiper), we also enjoyed a wonderful mix of species, including several scarcities:  single Swan Goose and Baikal Teal, Pied and Eastern Marsh Harrier and a Chinese Grey Shrike.

Male Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus © Nial Moores. Eastern Marsh is a very uncommon migrant and even rarer winter visitor to the ROK. Almost all individuals seem to be juveniles or immatures. This was perhaps the first good-plumaged male I have seen here in over a decade.

PK had made one additional request that still had not been met – to see, finally, an Arctic Warbler. We therefore cancelled our planned long drive up to Asan Bay reclamation ponds (where Dr Shim Kyu-Sik photographed a Little Stint perhaps on the 23rd) and the Hwaseong Wetlands, where Park Heungsik photographed Korea’s 3rd (?) record of Black-winged Kite on 21st.

Instead, we stopped at a small patch of riverside trees at the edge of the reclamation area. Success: within a minute or two a calling and (briefly) viewable Arctic Warbler… “the sprinkles on top of the cream on top of PK’s Korean birding cake”!

All in all an excellent weekend: excellent company, stunning birds and even some nice scenery!

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