Various Sites in the South-East: January 17-27

Bird News from Nial Moores

A modest 106 or so species were logged in five part-days in the field in the south-east of the Peninsula during what already feels like the tail end of an extremely short and dry winter. Habitats covered included woodland near the Birds Korea office in Busan on January 17th; parts of the Nakdong Estuary on 18th; Suncheon Bay on 20th; the west side of the Guryongpo Peninsula on 25th; and Junam Reservoir on 27th.

In addition to seeing the successful reduction of disturbance at two sites, highlights included singing Yellow-bellied Tit on 17th; a single First-winter Relict Gull on 18th; three species of crane on 20th; nice looks at gulls and three Long-billed Murrelet on 25th; and four species of crane and an inland Saunders’s Gull at Junam on the 27th.

In woodland in Busan (eBird checklist here) and in the Nakdong Estuary (eBird checklist here), no exceptional numbers, with best a singing Yellow-bellied Tit (song starting rather earlier than in previous winters), a distant first-winter Relict Gull seen along an increasingly exposed and hard-sided eastern flank of the estuary, and close views of several wintering and habituated waterbirds at Miyeonji (where a belt of forest separates the river from the road), including Whooper Swans and a single Eurasian Curlew.

Poor design along the Nakdong Estuary, January 2022 © Nial Moores. Recent construction of walking and cycle lanes along the eastern flank of the Nakdong have greatly reduced the area’s attractiveness to birds. In addition, the long straight sections lack vegetation, exposing walkers and cyclists to strong winds without shelter in winter; and to fierce heat without shade in summer.
Globally Near Threatened Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 마도요, Nakdong Estuary © Nial Moores

In rice-fields at Suncheon Bay (eBird checklist here), thanks to screening and access restrictions (combined with artificial feeding and ever-milder winters), excellent views were enjoyed of 2,400 Hooded Crane, 10+ White-naped Crane and at least two Common Crane. Numbers of cranes and geese that I saw were substantially lower than those counted more methodically by local expert Mr Kang Naru on earlier and subsequent dates; and sadly there was no sign either of the Bar-headed Goose seen here a few days earlier (listed by Dr Lee Kisup on 13th on eBird).

Globally Vulnerable Hooded Cranes Grus monacha 흑두루미 © Nial Moores
Reed screens and signage have helped to reduce disturbance to the core rice-field areas: better for the birds and for the people who come to see them. Suncheon Bay, January 2022 © Nial Moores.

The main bay (included in the World Heritage Property) was in contrast rather less productive, with e.g., fewer than 200 Dunlin and only 80 Saunders’s Gull seen on the falling tide – greatly reduced numbers compared with 25 years ago.

Following moderate north-easterlies on the 24th (the first such winds in weeks), most of the day was spent scoping calm seas and the shoreline along the Guryongpo Peninsula (eBird Checklist here). Here too, several landbirds were remarkable for their absence and numbers of almost all species seemed lower than expected. Although three species of alcid (including three Long-billed Murrelet) and three species of loon were seen, there was no sense of abundance; like last winter there were only a few hundred Black-headed Gull (compared with 15,000+ seen here in other winters) and I failed to find any Glaucous-winged or hoped for Iceland Gull (both more or less regular here). All the same, this is still a great site for gullers, with long close looks possible of the regular challenging mix of Taimyr Gull, Vega Gull and Slaty-backed Gull.

First, four Taimyrs…

Taimyr Gulls Larus heuglini / fuscus taimyrensis 줄무늬노랑발갈매기 © Nial Moores

Then some Vegas…

Vega Gulls Larus vegae 재갈매기 © Nial Moores

And then three Slaty-backs…

Slaty-backed Gulls Larus schistisagus 큰재갈매기 © Nial Moores

And of course, at least one unknown gull!

Probable hybrid Slaty-backed x Vega or x American Herring Gull? © Nial Moores. This stand-out individual looked too long-winged for Slaty-backed, and showed very extensive grey in the replaced scapulars in otherwise largely juvenile plumage (unexpected in any regularly occurring gull here in January, with this grey looking much darker than would be expected in e.g. American Herring). In the field, many of the plumage features suggested a mix of American Herring Gull (very dark underparts; heavily barred undertail coverts) or Vega Gull (laddered outer tail) and Slaty-backed Gull. The head shape and heavy breast also suggested Slaty-backed. Could this be a hybrid Slaty-backed x Vega or American Herring Gull? Unfortunately, I was unable to digiscope any open wing shots.

Fortunately, some species are much less challenging to identify!

Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus 흰줄박이오리 © Nial Moores

A relaxed afternoon at Junam yielded sixty species (eBird checklist here), including three personal firsts for this inland site: Sandhill Crane (3-4) and Common Crane (2), mixed in with several hundred White-naped Crane, and a First-winter Saunders’s Gull.

Globally Vulnerable White-naped Cranes Antigone vipio 재두루미

In addition to flooding several rice-fields (attractive to all floodplain preferential waterbirds, including Taiga Bean Goose and Northern Lapwing), as at Suncheon Bay, reed-screens and restricted access have also been put in place to reduce disturbance to foraging cranes and geese. This approach should also help to reduce the likelihood of infection of waterbirds with Poultry Flu – both by reducing dispersal of foraging birds and also by reducing the likelihood of people carrying the virus from farms on their shoes or car tires into core areas used by the birds.

Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis middendorffii 큰부리큰기러기 © Nial Moores
(Adult) Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 댕기물떼새 © Nial Moores
Using living reed to help screen the main pathway, Junam, January 2022 © Nial Moores
Flooding rice-field through the winter; and blocking access to fields used by foraging cranes, Junam, January 2022 © Nial Moores
Floodplain preferential waterbirds: Junam, January 2022 © Nial Moores

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