Baengnyeong Island, April 18-April 26

Bird News by Nial Moores and Charlie Moores

A full week of dawn to dusk birding sandwiched between two half-days on Baengnyeong yielded a total of c. 174 species, with an obvious progression through the week from tardy winterers to mid-spring arrivals – especially in the west of the island, while in the northeast, decent numbers of Brambling, large numbers of Hawfinch and several Japanese Waxwing seemed incongruous with the unseasonably warm temperatures. 

Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica 홍여새 © Nial Moores
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 쇠붉은뺨멧새 © Nial Moores

In addition to good views of pretty well all the expected late April migrants like Bluethroat, Eurasian Wryneck, Red-throated and Richard’s Pipits, and buntings (though many in unexpectedly low numbers – including Little Bunting and Yellow-browed Bunting, latter with a highest day count of only 130), highlights included the island’s first Japanese Night Heron and Japanese Robin; an island high count of 23 Little Whimbrel; and a presumed Green-backed Flycatcher. There were also several still unresolved ID challenges…

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 붉은가슴밭종다리 © Nial Moores

Checklists containing almost all of our observations have been posted on eBird.

On April 18th, the morning ferry crossing (kindly provided free to NM thanks to the generosity of Korea Express Ferry and the help of Incheon KFEM) was fairly uneventful, though included small groups of both Eurasian Curlew and Eurasian Whimbrel migrating low over the sea.

On arrival, the first surprise was an exceptionally early Black Drongo on wires above the road little more than 100m from the splendid Munhwa Motel. Although water levels in the Hwadong Wetland were high, species of note there included a booming Eurasian Bittern and a bohaii Black-tailed Godwit – a still rather poorly-documented taxon, which remained throughout (and was even joined for a couple of days by an early melanuroides). In the afternoon and evening, a total of 99 species were logged on the island.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa bohaii 흑꼬리도요 (큰흑꼬리도요?) © Nial Moores. Compared to the much more numerous and later-arriving melanuroides, this recently-recognised subspecies of Black-tailed Godwit is large and very long-billed. They also have much reduced coloration in breeding plumage – though this bird still looks to be largely in non-breeding plumage.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa melanuroides 흑꼬리도요 (Hwadong Wetland, April 25th) with Black-winged Stilt 장다리물떼새 behind © Nial Moores. Note the much shorter bill, more delicate mien and slighter build and much more advanced breeding plumage.

See full checklist here

On 19th,  light southwesterly winds produced in the northwest first a singing Japanese Robin (which remained for most of the week) and a very wary Japanese Night Heron (seen on only two dates) – both island first records  and bringing the island total to 394 or 395 species – followed soon after by a Grey-headed Lapwing and Latham’s Snipe (with ID of the latter based primarily on flight calls) in the northeast. In all we found 106 species.

Japanese Robin Larvivora akahige 붉은가슴울새 © Nial Moores.
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 민댕기물떼새 © Nial Moores

The full checklist is here.

On 20th, overcast conditions and light rain showers resulted in an increase in shorebird species, with the pick of these a very confiding Oriental Pratincole in the best fields in the NE. By far the most perplexing was an unseen and unknown singer, which repeated a very distinctive song 25-30 times over a 12+ minute period, before falling silent as rain started to fall.

Unknown singer. Please let us know if you recognise this song.

Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 제비물떼새 © Nial Moores

The full checklist is here.

On 21st, overcast conditions in the morning and light northeasterlies seemed to drop a few “smalls”, with e.g., decent concentrations of Pallas’s Leaf Warblers and Swinhoe’s White-eyes, and generated multiple highlights at the Hwadong Wetlands, including an island high count of five Eurasian Bittern (two booming, one of which remained invisible, and an additional three birds in slow flight over the reebed), and two close-hawking Oriental Pratincole, at times overflying two brilliantly coloured Citrine Wagtails. Initially more challenging was a dark-looking, very worn female redstart which on initial views apparently lacked any white in the wing. Prolonged views finally allowed us to see one small white spot on the right, and missing tertials on the left – Daurian Redstart, again!

Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 노랑머리할미새 © Nial Moores
Initial views and record shots are not always enough: it took both of us ten minutes to see the diagnostic white wing patch that allowed us to confirm that this was indeed a very worn Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 딱새 and not something less expected.

The full checklist is here.

The 22nd was our most species-rich day, with at least 112 species logged. Highlights (all in the NW) included an adult Black Stork, which unfortunately was chased unrelentingly by a mob of Large-billed Crows; brief, but close views of the Japanese Night Heron (head and neck only!); very early Indian Cuckoo and Brown Shrike; and what was presumably a Second Calendar-year male Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae (second or third sight record for the island), seen only from directly below, and then in flight away from us. Frustratingly there was insufficient time to get any images. From below, the bird looked large-billed, and had clean, unmarked yellow underparts and white undertail coverts. Expecting the bird to be a Yellow-rumped, a quick view of the head as the bird looked down at us revealed a strong eye-ring and what looked like some paleing on the lores but no supercilium. As the bird flew into an adjacent tree and then away from us, the upperparts looked fairly plain, greenish, without any yellow rump band or obvious white in the wing (though perhaps the bird did have fainter wing bars). The lack of vermiculations/ squamations on the breast and lack of yellow rump band rule out Yellow-rumped; and the lack of orange in the throat/ breast and the brightness of the yellow on the underparts, together with the lack of yellow on the rump should also rule out Narcissus or Ryukyu of any age.

Black Stork Ciconia nigra 먹황새, being harassed by Large-billed Crows 큰부리까마귀 © Nial Moores.

The day’s full checklist is here:

A quieter day on the 23rd (here and here ) ahead of a much anticipated weather system to the island’s south included a puzzling gull or two.

Late spring can be a challenging period in which to identify large gulls. Based on the very worn apical spots, the closest calling bird was identified in the field as a Mongolian Gull 한국재갈매기. The yellowish tones to the legs and the darkness of the “saddle” suggest that this is not a local breeder but might more likely originate from far to the west (based on inferences made by Yesou back in the early 2000s). The close non-adult behind was also suspected to be a Mongolian, but the head shape, and frowning mien (and the pattern on the outer primaries) look very suggestive of something with cachinnans 카스피해갈매기 influence. The bird to the rear was identified as First-winter taimyrensis 줄무늬노랑발갈매기(much less advanced than local mongolicus, with a neat pale fringe around un-worn tertials: Fw mongolicus often have frayed tertials by February and invariably by April), and rather dark grey bases to some of the second generation scapulars, giving a dark-spotted look.

This was followed by another generally quiet day on 24th, apart from a remarkable hour or two in the afternoon in the central rice-fields. First up were three Amur Falcon feeding close to the road (with a fourth nearby); then a single Little Curlew (surely, Little Whimbrel is a much better name!) heard then seen high in flight, perhaps flushed by a passing Peregrine Falcon. Remarkably, 10 minutes later what was presumed to be the same Little Curlew then dropped back in from high to forage along a bund in between rice-fields. Moving closer to re-find and watch that bird, we found our first Sharp-tailed Sandpipers of the spring, and saw a group of 15 or so medium-sized shorebirds fly away from us (more Little Curlews?). Driving away slowly, we then accidentally flushed ten Little Curlew which had been feeding unseen close to us, right next to the road. These flew up and dropped down again only 300m away. Moving round for better views, we found two flocks: one of 10 (one of which was too close to the car to digiscope) and one of 13, giving a minimum count of 23. There is little doubt that these birds had just dropped in, presumably after being pushed up the Yellow Sea by strong southerlies 200km or so to the south of us.

Amur Falcon Falco amurensis 비둘기조롱이 © Nial Moores
Handheld phone image of Little Curlew Numenius minutus 쇠부리도요 © Charlie Moores

A search of the harrier fields failed to find any additional Little Curlew, but instead produced two high-flying Pacific Golden Plover and more remarkably a Purple Heron foraging in grass next to the road…

One of the day’s two Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 붉은왜가리 © Nial Moores

Full checklists here and here.

It was again fairly quiet during the morning of the 25th (with highlights provided by views of singing Siberian Rubythroat and Siberian Blue Robin: full checklist here) but the appearance of a white-headed raptor heading east during a convenience store stop led to us checking out a new Viz-Mig watch point in Jinchon ( In addition to great eye-level views of some species (including Japanese Sparrowhawk and Ashy Minivet) this stop also added a white-headed Upland Buzzard (presumably the same bird as earlier), Forest Wagtail and a White-throated Needletail to our trip list.

Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane 쇠유리새 © Nial Moores

On 26th, our last morning on the island was spent in the northwest where to the backdrop of a singing Chinese Blackbird we found good numbers of several newly-arrived species, especially Chestnut-flanked White-eyes, Radde’s Warblers and our personal first Mugimaki and Grey-streaked Flycatchers of the spring.

For a full checklist see here.

Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus 대륙검은지빠귀 © Nial Moores
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 제비딱새 © Nial Moores

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.