Bird news from Nial Moores and Jung Hanchul.
Almost 6,400 waterbirds were recorded during this particular survey, including 2,188 shorebirds of 26 species. Southward Migration is already well underway!
Highlights of three more days in the field at this top waterbird site included at least 1,240 Far Eastern Curlew (already!), a presumed Purple Heron, an exceptionally out-of-season Northern Lapwing (heard only), two Oriental Pratincole, 3-4 vocalising Greater Painted-snipe, confirmation of successful nesting by Black-winged Stilts, several Ochre-rumped Bunting, including a female carrying food, and >100 globally Vulnerable Gold-Spotted Pond Frogs Pelophylax chosenicus.
This was the twentieth and perhaps final “regular” survey conducted as part of the Hwaseong Wetlands Project, led by the EAAFP Secretariat and funded by Hwaseong City through the Hwaseong Environment Foundation. It was also the first of our surveys to “repeat dates” – as the Project started in 2020 with survey between June 23rd and 28th.
Selected species of note, including records which can be used in our revision of the now out-of-date 2018 Birds Korea Checklist:
Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis 큰부리큰기러기. P3, W3, SV2. One over-summering.
Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris 큰기러기. P2, W2, SV2. At least 17 over-summering. Geese are increasingly over-summering in the ROK, and with a high count of 40,000 Tundra Beans here in autumn 2020 (when similar or even larger numbers were at Seosan) it is clear that the status annotation needs to be revised from P2 (i.e. less than 100,000 on migration through the ROK each year) to P1 (100,000 or more on migration each year).
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata 넓적부리오리. W3, SV2. One over-summering.
Far Eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus osculans* 검은머리물떼새. W3, R4. Especially following Senfeld et al. (2020), it finally seems more appropriate to treat this taxon as a full species (as Birds Korea has been suggesting for almost a couple of decades now…). During the present survey, we counted 43, including at least one fresh juvenile (very distinctively brown-backed, and lacking a strong white forecollar at this and at any age, unlike Eurasian Oystercatcher).
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 장다리물떼새. P4, S5, WV2. During the present survey we counted at least 98, including three young chicks and several birds sitting on nests. Following a steady increase over the past two decades (with breeding first recorded at Seosan and then at Haenam, and now birds present in summer at multiple sites, including on Baekryeong Island), it seems reasonable to revise this species’ summer status from “S5” (meaning between 10 and 99 present in summer annually) to “S4” (meaning between 100 and 999 present in summer annually).
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 댕기물떼새. W4. One was heard at dawn on 24th. We are unaware of any other mid-summer records, although our surveys in NE DPRK suggest that the species breeds regularly, at least at Rason.
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 개꿩. P3, W3, S4. Our survey here on June 23rd 2017 found 350, while our surveys in late June and mid-July 2020 found only 154 and 155 respectively. Disappointingly, the present survey, with counts of shorebirds on 23rd and 25th, found only six individuals. Of note, on eBird Mr Lee Byungwoo listed 150 on 24th, suggesting that somehow we “missed” the flock.
Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus 흰목물떼새. R3. One was in rice-fields in a mixed flock of adult and juvenile Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers. Although there are records of this species suggesting post-breeding dispersal or southward migration, and although many breeding sites are only occupied seasonally, it is still unclear whether the Korean population is entirely discrete, or whether instead there is some movement between China, Korea and Japan.
Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 중부리도요. P3, WV2. On 23rd, 345 were counted at high tide; and one was heard in flight close to midnight over the rice-fields, suggesting active migration. By 25th only 235 remained. Puzzlingly, considering the date, these are the highest counts of the species made during the Project. As only 149 were found during the survey in late May, it seems likely that most or all of these are birds on southward migration. According to Kuang et al. (2020), many Eurasian Whimbrel stage on the Chinese coast during both northward and southward migration. Were some of the birds we saw simply making a short stop-over at the FNS before crossing the Yellow Sea to preferred staging areas?
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis 알락꼬리마도요. P3, S3, WV1. At least 1,240 were present on June 25th. It seems very likely that most of these were not over-summering locally as only 110 were present here in late May and because there was a marked increase during the three days, from only 453 on the 23rd (during a moderately high tide) to between 1,240 and 1,366 individuals on 25th, during a much higher tide. The highest count in the FNS made during the Project was in late July last year. Southward migration through the ROK of this globally Endangered species has likely been largely missed by previous shorebird surveys.
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 붉은어깨도요. P2 S5. Twenty-one of this globally Endangered species were seen at roost on the 25th. As none were seen on the 23rd, it seems likely that these were new arrivals (and had not over-summered at the site).
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 제비물떼새 P5, SV2. Two singles were seen in rice-fields on 24th. This species has likely bred at least once or twice in the ROK (at or near to Seosan).
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. W2, R4. The high count during the present survey was 795 – almost exactly half the number recorded here during the longer survey in June 2020. All those seen well looked quite short-billed, and presumably can be attributed to subspecies sinensis.
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia. 노랑부리저어새. W4, SV1. Three were present with Black-faced Spoonbills. This species appears to be increasingly recorded in the summer months in the ROK.
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 저어새. S3, R5. The highest count was 143, on June 23rd: substantially higher numbers than recorded in June last year, but the same as recorded here last July.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 붉은왜가리. P5, SV2. One probable was seen on June 25th. The species was also present here in July 2020.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo 수리부엉이. R3. One on poles in the rice-fields on 24th.
Ochre-rumped Bunting Emberiza yessoensis 쇠검은머리쑥새. P4, W5, S5. Birds were found in three different patches of habitat. Of note, apparently two song types were noted (and recorded): one given by a bird with a white rear to the supercilium (perhaps a sign of immaturity?); the other by a full black-hooded male, paired with a female that was watched carrying food – presumably to an active nest with young.
All in all some really enjoyable early summer/ early autumn birding!
More importantly, however, the survey provided a fitting opportunity to reflect on what has been learned and achieved during the past year.
First, through these surveys we have successfully helped to establish a really solid baseline to use in the conservation of this site and in planning future research programs on birds. During this past year, based on the highest day count (one per species) between June last year and the end of May this year, we found close to 150,000 individual waterbirds of 116 species at this Flyway Network Site. At least 23 of these waterbird species were counted in Ramsar-defined internationally important concentrations of 1% or more of a population. Our surveys also confirmed that at least six species of shorebird breed in the wetland and that the Hwaseong Wetlands FNS also supports a small breeding population of the globally Near Threatened Ochre-rumped Bunting and a substantial (healthy?) population of globally Vulnerable Gold-spotted Pond Frog. In combination these surveys have helped to confirm (or even to identify?) that the Hwaseong Wetlands FNS is (still) one of the most important wetlands both in the ROK and also on the Flyway – a priority site for meaningful conservation action, as well as an attractive destination for properly managed eco-tourism.
Second, our survey work for the project has also confirmed the Ramsar-defined international importance of the Maehwari tidal flats that lie to the north of the FNS; and re-confirmed the continuing international importance of the much-degraded Asan Bay to the south.
Third, we have been able to pass these data on to decision-makers through presentations and reports, including a major report presented to the city early this year and one now being written which will make multiple proposals for possible management options to conserve bird populations. Happily, this was not research for research’s sake.
Fourth, we have helped build local capacity a little – through in-field training and seminars. And this August and November we will be holding two week-long workshops on identification and counting for possible site wardens.
And fifth, we hope that we have done all that we can with others (including the EAAFP Secretariat, Hwaseong City, Hwaseong KFEM, Gyeonggi KFEM and National KFEM) to help raise awareness of the national and international importance of the Hwaseong Wetlands FNS – through supporting documentaries, through presentations and meetings and of course through using this blog to share many of our more interesting discoveries.
Thank you for reading this far: and if you want to help Birds Korea with this kind of work, please let us know!
Kuang, F., Coleman, J.T., Hassell, C.J. et al. Seasonal and population differences in migration of Whimbrels in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. Avian Res 11, 24 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40657-020-00210-z
Senfeld, T., Shannon, T., Heinvangrouw, Paijmans, D., Tavares, E., Baker, A., Lees, A. & Collinson, M. 2020. Taxonomic status of the extinct Canary Islands Oystercatcher Haematopus meadewaldoi. Short Communication. Ibis 162, 1068–1074 [in English].