Bird News from Nial Moores (with 이건희 on April 29th-May 3rd).
Another two weeks of survey of the ROK’s top migrant hotspot. In total, 189 species were logged, all of which except Eurasian Curlew (19 seen heading north on April 25th) had been recorded in recent springs on this island. All daily checklists are posted on eBird.
On current knowledge, the island checklist now stands at 384 (with the latest addition a single Black Redstart posted on April 11th on Facebook by Park Cheong-Un). Is there any other site or collection of sites with a higher number of species?
During the present survey, the species total was rather less than e.g., the 195 species recorded between April 25th and May 9th in 2014 ; and did not include any large-scale movements on the scale of e.g., late April 2020. This was probably in large part because the weather was less than cooperative for stimulating large-scale movements, with northerly winds on multiple dates and only two or three days with any west in the wind.
Most days of fieldwork were conducted on foot, supported by the island bus, but three enjoyable days were also spent travelling around by car with Justin Lee (이건희) – including on May 1st when we logged 134 species (in this case just eight species short of the current all-on-foot 24-hour record for the island).
There were happily very good / island high counts of Garganey, Temminck’s Stint, and Chinese Grosbeak (all three species apparently recovering in number this decade after perhaps several decades of decline nationwide) along with probably a national high count of Swinhoe’s White-eye. Observations also included single Saker Falcon (ID presumed only), Black-winged Kite and Common Swift, with one Large Hawk-Cuckoo also heard.
Far less positive was the discovery of multiple traps set to catch wild birds in Jinchon (not the first time here…), and continuing habitat loss, with continuing disregard for biodiversity as throughout much of the nation. In addition to frantic infilling of what was the tidal flat and bulldozing for new roads (including in the far southwest), there is a proposed new airport. This plan seems to be progressing steadily behind the scenes with assessment bids being sought (with the focus foolishly on using tracking tech. on a few high-profile species, ignoring the high migration turnover) and construction likely from 2025. If it proceeds, this will likely include the loss of the Harrier fields and any peace and quiet in Sagot village; and will of course include a high threat of bird strike in certain weather conditions.
A few highlights / species of note follow:
- Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 황오리. One, rather late, on May 8th.
- Garganey Spatula querquedula 발구지. A new island high count of 56 on April 24th.
- Stejneger’s Scoter Melanitta stejnegeri 검둥오리사촌. Present throughout late April. Sixty-six still present on 30th. Most were obviously Stejneger’s. However. one bird (seen up to 29th at least) showed a rather brighter, orangey toned bill; and another apparently showed strongly brown looking flanks. However, range was too great to confirm identification one way or another.
- Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica 메추라기. Heard in the north-east and in the Harrier Fields, with at least four in the latter area on April 30th.
- Common Swift Apus apus 검은등칼새. One seen on May 7th in the NE. First picked up flying with a White-throated Needletail; and then with several Pacific Swift and perhaps the same Needletail. Two minute views were enjoyed through the ‘scope with the bird seen at several angles. Light was difficult but white was visible on both Pacifics and the Needletail in the same view and was absent on the medium-sized swift (though perhaps throat was paler). In direct comparison, the bird also looked more truncated than Pacific, and obviously brown-toned, above especially. No images. Although no record has yet been adequately-documented, Common Swift appears to be a quite regular (though rare) migrant to the west of ROK during spring migration.
- Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides 큰매사촌. One heard in the NE on May 7th. Following the first national record in 2007, this species is now recorded annually in the ROK.
- Little Curlew Numenius minutus 쇠부리도요. Two seen on 23rd in the NE was the only observation.
- Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata 메추라기도요. Another poor spring on the island for this fast-declining and globally Vulnerable shorebird. First recorded on April 24th (3); with five on 26th the peak.
- Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 흰꼬리좀도요. One in the Hwadong Wetland on April 24th, increased to three there by 26th. At least nine were seen on the island on 30th, with five together in one group in the Hwadong Wetland, and others seen in rice-fields.
- Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta 종달도요. A single on April 26th, increasing to a peak of at least 12 on April 30th. One confiding individual in the NE slept unobtrusively at the edge of a rice-field. On hearing alarm calls of other species, the bird “giraffed”, before suddenly “upending” in the rice-field, with the back-end stuck up prominently, presumably to disguise the silhouette and to imitate the cut rice-stalks – apparently in response to a passing Eurasian Sparrowhawk.
- Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 알락도요. Rather poor numbers recorded, with the high count 75 on May 1st.
- Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 노랑부리저어새. Increasingly recorded on the island. Peak count was six on May 1st.
- Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor 저어새. No survey was attempted of the breeding colony. However, E05 (present in summer on the island since at least 2014) was seen in rice-fields in late April.
- Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris 알락해오라기. One booming bird present throughout was joined briefly by a second individual in the evening of May 1st, which circled in, landed, then took off again and departed toward the east. Birds have been heard booming in this wetland almost every year since May 2014.
- Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 붉은왜가리. The only record was of three together watched flying over the Hwadong Wetland in the evening of May 1st.
- Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes 노랑부리백로. The breeding colony was not visited. However, the species appeared to be much less widespread than in earlier years, with the first individual only seen on May 2nd; and a maximum of only two seen on subsequent dates.
- Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus 검은어깨매. One briefly hunting over Hwadong Wetland on April 29th: first called out by JL, and also seen by NM. This is the first spring record for Baengnyeong that we are aware of. The previous island records were of 3-4 in November 2019. There are probably still fewer than 20 national records, after the first was found in Seoul in February 2013.
- Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus 벌매. Only small numbers seen. Highest day counts included 14 on April 30th and 45 on May 8th.
- Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos 알락개구리매. Two females on April 24th in the “Harrier Fields” (the proposed site of the airport) was the only record.
- Oriental Scops Owl Otus sunia 소쩍새. Singles heard on multiple dates, with two seen together on May 1st the highest day count.
- Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 개미잡이. First recorded on 24th, with 1-3 recorded on multiple dates.
- Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 헨다손매. One presumed Saker was seen over the Hwadong Wetland on April 26th. The bird flew past me initially at c. 50 m range, then low across wetland with very graceful, fairly slowish wingbeats; climbed and then stooped once. Subsequently just circled and gained height. Tailed looked long; wings tatty, but bent back with fairly broad looking hand at some angles, narrow at others. Brown above, with warmer tail, and quite dark looking below. Crown looked pale; some moustachial but not as strong as on Peregrine. Once bird gained height was only looking from below; hard to ascertain whether or not underwing coverts were obviously darker, as they simply looked darker compared to weakly translucent flight feathers. ID remains tentative. Although Saker has been seen on Baengnyeong in previous springs (as at several other sites along the west coast), several odd-looking falcons have also been seen (including a massive brown falcon with a perhaps similar head pattern last year, which I eventually listed, correctly or incorrectly, as a Peregrine).
- Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 노랑때까치. Only small numbers seen. The most striking individual was one confusus with an extensive white wing patch, in the NE from May 3rd to 7th, shown in the images below.
- Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica 홍여새. One in NE on April 25th and 27th (likely the same individual); singles in the NE and SW on May 1st; two in NE on May 3rd; one in NW May 5th; and two together (including at least one new adult male) in the NW on 8th.
- Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 검은이마직박구리. The rapid increase of this now common resident and migrant, first recorded in the ROK in 2002, continues. The largest flock was of c. 250 in the north-east on May 8th, when 50 were still present in the NW. The total number passing through the island in spring is likely now to be in the high hundreds as flocks of between 80 and 130 were observed trying to depart the island on several additional dates.
- Swinhoe’s White-eye Zosterops simplex 작은동박새. Small to medium-sized flocks recorded throughout the island. Minimum of 18 on 25th, increasing to at least 50 in the NW and SW alone by April 30th. Last noted on May 7th. The series of records on Baengnyeong, and increasingly from other islands too, following the split of this species in 2018 confirms the status of Swinhoe’s as a regular and locally common migrant through the ROK.
- Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 흰눈썹붉은배지빠귀. In accordance with their concentrated migration timing, an arrival of Eyebrowed Thrush on Baengnyeong included 50 in the NE alone on May 5rd, increasing to 130 there by May 6th.
- Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus 개똥지빠귀. Present throughout with e.g., 65 in the NE on April 27th.
- Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope 진홍가슴. Between 10 and a dozen heard on multiple dates; an increasing number of these were showy singers toward the end of the survey period.
- Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 긴발톱할미새. Highest day count was 430 on May 1st. A conservative count of flocks of birds (individually or in 5s) suggested that 305 departed the island to the NE in 90 minutes in the morning.
- Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii 쇠밭종다리. One in overhead flight, calling, over the “harrier fields” on 24th; two in the NE on 27th, with one remaining there on the 28th. Last record was one on May 1st.
- Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi 흰등밭종다리. First heard and seen on April 27th (when 1-3 were in the NE). The highest day count was 11 on May 1st. “Early” Pechora in late April and early May likely refer to the rather poorly known but distinctive menzbieri (sub-)species; while perhaps all later birds, after ~ May 15th are of the nominate subspecies.
- Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 붉은가슴밭종다리. Highest day count was 45 on April 24th, including 40 in one flock in the salt-marsh on the main beach.
- Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 되새. Present throughout, with 290 on April 23rd the highest day count.
- Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 콩새. Present throughout, with ten still present on May 8th.
- Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 밀화부리. Present throughout. On April 27th in the NE, a total of 330 were seen flying between N and NE off island, carrying with them the only Japanese Grosbeak recorded during the present survey work. The three largest groups of departing birds were of 32, 24 and 21.
- Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 검은머리방울새. Present throughout, with 15 still present on May 8th. The species has likely bred on Baengnyeong in at least one previous year.
- Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 쇠붉은뺨멧새. Highest count of grounded birds was a modest 300 on April 27th in the NE.
- Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys 노랑눈썹멧새. Highest day counts were remarkably modest, with e.g., 150 grounded in the NE on April 27th.
- Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 검은머리촉새. This species tends to peak in mid-May. During the present survey, four were seen on May 5th; five on 6th; but only one on 7th and 8th.
- Chestnut Bunting Emberiza rutila 꼬까참새. This species tends to peak between May 5th and 15th in the ROK. Eight on April 27th were the first of the spring and and the highest day count of the survey period was an extremely modest ten on May 6th.
- Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata 무당새. One or two were present in the NE on April 27th. The last record was one in the NE on May 7th.
- Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 촉새. The highest concentration was a modest 450 grounded in the NE on April 27th. As every year, birds showed a broad range of plumages and levels of saturation. “Bright-end” extremiorientis (such as the one below photographed by Lee Kon-Hee) invite obvious confusion with the recently-split Masked Bunting E. personata.