Baengnyeong Island, March 14th-20th

Text and all images by (and copyright of) Nial Moores, Birds Korea

A little under a week of late winter / early spring bird survey, conducted in generally cold and often very windy conditions as part of an intended increase in conservation activity on the island in 2024 and especially 2025 (following our signing of an MOU on March 21st with Incheon KFEM).

In all, 101 species of bird were logged including an island first record of Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica, bringing the island total up to about 392 species (based on the Birds Korea Checklist) in a little over 12 years of research visits, starting in March 2013. Will 2024 be the year in which the 400 barrier is broken?

Most survey effort was focused on coastal areas, especially on and close to the east and south coasts. Central and western fallow fields and rice-field areas were rather poorly covered – in large part because of disturbance from a hunting (“pest control”) team which drove around the island in search of birds to shoot.

Google Earth image showing survey effort March 14-20 2024: red tracks (approximated) show the route taken on foot; yellow tracks show the route taken by the local bus during which some incidental observations were also made.

Most surprising during the survey was a total absence of geese; while the good diversity but rather low number of buntings – following on from a very bunting-poor autumn here and apparently in many parts of East Asia – was also potentially worrisome. Of potential ornithological interest, no Yellow-bellied Tits or Eurasian Siskins were recorded either (though both are present in large numbers in Busan currently and have been seen on the island in winter months previously) while most of the “other” expected very early spring migrants (e.g., ducks, Rook, White-cheeked Starlings, Daurian Redstarts and leucopsis White Wagtails) showed changes in numbers between dates. Decent numbers for Baengneyong of loons were also seen – despite the bad yellow dust haze and often rough seas.

Unavoidable conservation issues included continuing habitat degradation and loss, including further infilling of tidal areas in the main harbour; lower numbers than expected of scoters, perhaps due to an expansion of areas with nets; and that visiting team of hunters shooting at birds thought to harm crops (i.e., ducks, pheasants and corvids). Although confined to hunting between November and March, the disturbance they cause both to wildlife and to people during their visits is very substantial.

On the 14th, I arrived on the afternoon ferry, with the only highlight two early Streaked Shearwater and two Ancient Murrelet off from Socheong. A quick search in the NE found several Goldcrest, and 1-2 Eurasian Treecreeper and at least two Eurasian Bullfinch (left over from a very good winter for both species); a single Ochre-rumped and a promising 175 Rustic Bunting; and the expected small flock of scoters off the NE coast – comprising 10 American and a single Stejneger’s.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus 상모솔새.
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris 나무발발이.
Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula 멋쟁이.
Globally Vulnerable Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica 쑥새.

Full eBird Checklist here.

On the 15th, a long walk through Jinchon, Sagot and around the reclamation lake in fair weather allowed for a decent count of duck (>2000, with Eastern Spot-billed most numerous and a pair of Falcated Duck arguably the most attractive) both in freshwater and on the sea. Highlights included good views of an Upland Buzzard low overhead being chased aggressively by Large-billed Crows, a booming Eurasian Bittern (did one over-winter here?), a single Red-necked Grebe (rather rare in the West Sea – though this was an exceptionally good winter for seeing them along the east coast), a rather early Pacific Swift and an exceptionally early Wood Sandpiper. Personally, I am unaware of any previous March records of this species in Korea – though this observation was followed soon after by two on Jeju Island. Also surprising to me was the number of Asian Comma Butterfly on the wing – probably 30 were seen in total during the day.

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 큰말똥가리 being harrassed by a Large-billed Crow.
Falcated Duck Mareca falcata 청머리오리.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 알락도요.
Asian Comma Butterfly 네발나비.

Full Checklist on eBird here:

Ahead of a change of weather, survey was confined to the NW on 16th, where the highlight was two Alpine Accentor. Both birds were seen flying singly east to the next headland, and therefore were either on active migration or were maintaining winter “territories” that included more than one headland. Also seen were one or more likely two more Pacific Swift, a few more loons and several White Wagtails seen on active migration out over the sea, and several displaying Mongolian Gull, including some nest prospecting.

Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris 바위종다리.
Mongolian Gulls Larus mongolicus 한국재갈매기

Full checklist on eBird here:

Winds blew in from the North or Northwest at 40-50 kph through the night of 16th and all day 17th preventing any meaningful survey.

The 18th remained windy through to mid-afternoon. In the morning in the Northeast there was an obvious increase in the numbers of early season “diurnal migrants” ( a few White-cheeked Starlings, Rooks trying to depart,  and small flocks of Hawfinches and buntings) with the most interesting-looking bird an Eastern Buzzard, showing several unexpected features (including e.g. a pale throat; a pale breast band above a solidly dark belly and obvious underpart barring). In the afternoon, the southwest corner seemed rather quiet in comparison, with species of most note a single Japanese Waxwing, 1-2 late Pallas’s Rosefinches and at least 30 Red Crossbill (frustratingly seen only in flight).

Yet another “odd-looking” Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus 말똥가리.

Full checklist on eBird here:and here.  

On 19th, survey effort was confined to the NE corner, and had to be prematurely curtailed because of the hunters.  The early hours felt rather birdy, with at least 45 Naumann’s Thrush seen in a single flock; the starling flock now containing 4 Common and 76 White-cheekeds; and passing finch flocks including a few Brambling and one group of eight (Common) Redpoll.

Naumann’s Thrush Turdus naumanni 노랑지빠귀.

Full checklist on eBird here:

The 20th was the last day of this survey. In addition to another visit to the Hwadong Wetland, where highlights included four White-tailed Eagle still, good views of the Eurasian Bittern, four Black-faced Spoonbill and at least two Garganey, this required a long hike through parts of island that tend to get little coverage – the south coast from the now much-degraded rice-fields of Nampo-Ri to the valley of Jangchon with its concrete-sided stream.   Highlights included Baengnyeong’s first Pacific Loon, a couple of roadside Eurasian Hoopoe which looked to be fresh in, a Common Snipe, and several duck moving over the sea, including Mandarin and a single Ferruginous Duck (either the 2nd or 3rd island record).

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla 흰꼬리수리.
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 후투티.

Full checklist on eBird here.

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