Baekryeong Island, April 17-30

Bird News from Nial Moores

Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi 북방검은머리쑥새

Between April 17th and 30th, I logged approximately 168-170 species on the island, including the national second or third record of Claudia’s leaf Warbler on 26th; a singing Yellow-streaked Warbler on 28th (still probably fewer than 20 national records, with more than half of these on Socheong and especially Baekryeong); and a Pied Wheatear on 30th (still perhaps fewer than 20 national records).  In addition, I found the island’s first Ferruginous Duck on 18th (together with an apparent hybrid Aythya of some kind), helping raise the island’s unofficial list maintained by Birds Korea to 367 species.  Is there anywhere else in Korea with a higher list than this?

As in previous years, many birds were likely missed as I was again confined to public transport and walking, so could not easily visit several usually birdy areas.

Although diversity was high, and comparable with previous years (e.g., 172 species logged between April 15th and 29th, 2020), with a few exceptionally early arrivers mixed in with substantial numbers of early spring hangovers, numbers of individuals of many species were generally either rather or very much lower than in recent years. For example, the highest day count of Olive-backed Pipit so far this spring has only been 70 and of Little Bunting 90.  This compares extremely poorly with the same period in 2020, when on April 25th approximately 27,000 small landbirds, including an estimated 15,000 Olive-backed Pipit, 5,000 Brambling, 1,000 Eurasian Siskin and thousands of buntings, were counted moving north in only four hours, with 1,800 Little Bunting grounded in Jinchon alone on 26th.

The unusual prevalence of northerly and / or easterly winds has likely been the major cause of the absence of any big movements across the island this spring.  This assumption is supported by low numbers of migrants being reported on eBird on other islands too (although sadly such reports only rarely, if ever, include any counts of visible migration). 

Habitat degradation has likely also played some role.  In spite of an encouraging slew of public announcements made by various levels of government in April finally formally recognizing the island’s importance to biodiversity and its potential for ecotourism with e.g., Jinchon now listed as a National Ecotourism area (this thanks to years of hard work by organisations like Green Korea Incheon and of course Birds Korea), ongoing habitat loss continues – especially in Jinchon. This includes what appears to be complete reclamation of the remaining tidal flat for yet another new harbour; concreting of more streams; and in-filling of more reedbeds and small wetlands, including areas known to support large populations of Nationally Endangered Boreal Digging Toad Kaloula borealis. Work has also started on converting some of the disused salt-pans in the Hwadong Wetlands, presumably to make more rice-fields.

There are still many patches of excellent habitat, however, and lots of good birds to see on the island, including a wide-range of beautiful, still-typical April migrants (e.g., White’s Thrush and Grey-backed Thrushes Siberian Blue Robin and Siberian Rubythroat, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Blue-and-white and Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, and Tristram’s Bunting etc.).

White’s Thrush Zoothera aurea 호랑지빠귀 © Nial Moores
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana 큰유리새 © Nial Moores
Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 쇠유리새 © Nial Moores
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 진홍가슴 © Nial Moores
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia 흰눈썹황금새: Female above, male below © Nial Moores.
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri 검은딱새 © Nial Moores
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 흰배멧새 © Nial Moores

A few of the more notable bird records/ observations follow, with all images copyright of Nial Moores and of Birds Korea:

Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 저어새. Only between 5 and 7 noted during the period, with birds absent from previously preferred areas (e.g., in Jinchon).

Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 알락해오라기. One heard booming in the Hwadong Wetland on 22nd.

Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes 노랑부리백로. VU. To date, still only two recorded during surveys, first on 28th.

Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus 벌매. First on the rather early date of April 30th.

Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis. Displaying pairs seen in three different parts of the island.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. One or two birds seen displaying on two dates, again suggesting local breeding as in previous years.

Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 알락개구리매. Three males passed through Jinchon on 30th.

Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 민댕기물떼새. Three different individuals recorded on 17th, 19th and 28th.

Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii 큰왕눈물떼새. One on the main tidal flat on 18th.

Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 알락꼬리마도요. EN. One on the main tidal flat on 18th.

Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 흰꼬리좀도요. One in the Hwadong Wetland on 22nd.

Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii 큰꺅도요. One on 28th.

Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata 청호반새. One heard on 28th: 5-7 days earlier than expected.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopos hyperthrus 붉은배오색딱다구리. A “rattle trill” that sounded to me just like this species was heard three times on 29th, followed by a glimpse of a medium sized bird with a lot of red and / or orange in the plumage. Views were insufficient, however, to confirm ID.

Bull-headed Shrike Lanius Bucephalus 때까치. At least two pairs with begging juveniles were seen, first on 26th, with one bird being fed a young shrew sp. This species regularly has young out of the nest before the main arrival of Brown Shrike, and worn adults with their young are undoubtedly the cause of almost all claims of Brown Shrike before about April 20th or 25th.

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 노랑때까치. Remarkably scarce and rather late, with the first only on April 29th.

Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica 홍여새. NT. Three on 28th and one on 30th.

Syke’s (Mongolian) Short-toed Lark Calandrella dukhunensis 쇠종다리. Four or five on 17th and one on 28th.

Yellow-streaked Warbler Phylloscopus armandii 쇠긴다리솔새사촌. One singing on 28th. Poor sound-recordings were made. This species appears to be regular in very small numbers on Baekryeong in spring.

Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi 긴다리솔새사촌. One on 26th and another on 28th: at least a week earlier than expected.

Hume’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus humei 연노랑눈썹솔새. One heard calling on 22nd.

Claudia’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus claudiae 북방동고비솔새. One was seen well if a little briefly on 26th. Superficially looking like a smallish, slightly hyper Eastern Crowned, with e.g. a pale central crown stripe and paler nape, but behaving very differently. During three views of 15+ seconds over 3-4 minutes at 10-20m range, the bird was seen clambering up and down the main bough of trees three times (living up to the delightful Korean name of “Northern Nuthatch-warbler”!) and hanging upside down like a tit and wing-flicking. Compared with Eastern Crowned Warbler (present in the same area at the same time, together with Pallas’s Leaf, Pale-legged and Yellow-browed Warblers) this bird also showed: A much greyer head, including ear coverts; duller green upperparts without blaze across remiges; obvious double whiteish-yellow wingbar; dirty white underparts apparently without yellow wash on vent; longer, thinner-looking bill (not quite as broad-based as E CW), with very extensive orange on bill including all of the lower mandible (and it appeared up onto the upper mandible too, though with a darker culmen). The legs were dirty pink. The bird was not heard to call and did not vocalise in response to a recording of a song on Xeno Canto, though my closest view coincided with the first time of playing it. Frustratingly, the bird moved too quickly to digiscope, and stuck with a mixed group of leaf warblers, that seemed to move rapidly eastward through the forest. My second or third in the ROK (and perhaps the second or third national record?), with the first on Socheong on April 14th 2009 digiscoped and sound-recorded; with another presumed individual (either this species or rather less likely the still un-recorded Hartert’s) heard giving snippets of song 2-3 times though not seen, also on Socheong Island, on April 25th 2010.

Swinhoe’s White-eye Zosterops japonicus 작은동박새. Only small numbers (1-10) were present throughout.

Chestnut-cheeked Starling Agropsar philippensis 쇠찌르레기. One on 27th with the same or another seen in a different part of the island on 30th.

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris 흰점찌르레기. A breeding-plumaged bird was in song on 22nd: a rather later observation of this local winter visitor.

Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus 개똥지빠귀. Easily the commonest thrush, with at least 150 seen together in Jinchon as late as April 28th.

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 유리딱새. Highest day count was a very modest 63 on 18th in Jinchon only.

Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 흰꼬리딱새. The first individuals were noted on April 19th: an exceptionally early date for a species which usually first arrives in May. In 2010, during near-daily coverage throughout the northward migration on nearby Socheong Island, the first Taiga Flycatchers were not logged until May 6th, with the peak in number falling on May 25th.  

Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka 검은등사막딱새. A female in Dumujin on the 30th appears to be the first record for Baekryeong. There are probably fewer than 20 national records still.

Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi 흰등밭종다리. One on 28th was the only record.  Previous observations suggest that early “Pech Pipits” are most likely to be of subspecies menzbieri.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 되새. Present in small numbers throughout, with the highest day count 1,200 on 28th including many birds watched departing the island.

Perfectly patterned for feeding on dry pine cones!

Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 검은머리방울새. Present in small numbers throughout, with the highest day count 350 on the late date of the 30th.

Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys 노랑눈썹멧새. Remarkably low numbers recorded during this period, with the highest day count an extremely modest 150 on April 28th.

Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 검은머리촉새. CR. Only two individuals logged: a 2cy male nominate on the early date of April 22nd and an adult male ornata on 24th. The species tends to peak in early or mid-May.

Chestnut Bunting Emberiza rutila 꼬까참새. Formerly one of the most numerous migrants on offshore islands; now increasingly scarce and absolutely inappropriately assessed by BirdLife as Least Concern. Single birds only were recorded on two dates, April 29th and 30th.  A decade ago, the species used to show a very concentrated peak on about May 7th or 8th.

Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata 무당새. VU. Only one recorded: a male seen giving brief snatches of song on 27th.

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