Bird News from Dr Nial Moores, with Dr Bernhard Seliger & Ms Baek Minjae, Dr Jungmoon Ha and Mr Kim Eojin (새덕후)
With essential funding support from the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office), a return visit to the inner border region in the far Northeast of the ROK to conduct a 4-day survey of “marine preferential seabirds and waterbirds”. This survey follows on from monthly counts through 2016 into 2017, and this time was also organised to help with the making of one (or more videos?) for the 새덕후 You Tube Channel, to help raise awareness of the importance of this area. We also benefited this time from the company of visiting Canadian artist, Mr Adrian Gollner, on 5th and 6th – who we hope will also include this area in his ongoing artwork which looks at the birds of the inner border region of Korea.
Happily, our survey dates coincided with some decent weather and a tremendous southward movement, especially of Pacific Loons and Rhinoceros Auklet. In all, from December 4th to 7th we counted between 21,386 and 38,848 birds (former number based on summing of the peak day count of each species; latter based on adding together counts of birds moving south each day). This total included 1% or more of population of several species, again confirming the international importance of this area to marine bird life.
Although very few scoters were seen and we could not confirm a couple of suspected Least Auklet, highlights and / or notable species included:
Brant Goose. Two feeding offshore from the Geojin Headland on 6th.
Harlequin Duck. Forty of this gorgeous duck were counted in our main survey area, with another 7+ further south in Ayajin. Happily, some were remarkably confiding.
Red-necked Grebe 큰논병아리. An estimated total of 251 were seen.
Great Crested Grebe 뿔논병아리. An estimated total of 655 were seen, including several small groups migrating 10km offshore on the 4th.
Horned Grebe 귀뿔논병아리. Although usually absent here, a total of five seen.
Black-legged Kittiwake 세가락갈매기. An estimated total of 208 was seen, most >2km from shore.
Thick-billed Murre 큰부리바다오리. One seen on the 4th.
Common Murre 바다오리. Two seen on the 4th from the boat, and one seen on the 5th from the balcony of (the wonderful) January Pension.
Spectacled Guillemot 흰눈썹바다오리. Only one seen – that from the January Pension on the 7th.
Long-billed Murrelet. Two seen well from the boat on the 5th.
Ancient Murrelet. A conservative estimate of 6,918 seen over the four days. Every year, it is great to re-experience these stunning little birds – with many of the ones we see wintering in Korea coming to us all the way from Canada!
Rhinoceros Auklet. A conservatively estimated total of 15,660 of these chunky auks were counted flying south between 4th and 7th. The highest day count was on 7th, when just over four hours of viz-migging produced 7,700 south – perhaps a national day high count? – with just under 4,000 of these passing by in just 20 joyous minutes – a black flying carpet stretched out over the sea!
Pacific Loon 회색머리아비. Unusually for here, 80% or so of all the loons seen were considered to be Pacific – including many thousands flying south. During the four days, we estimate that 6,770 Pacific and 1,820 Arctic Loons went south, with hundreds also sat on the sea.
Yellow-billed Loon 흰부리아비. No good views, but was happy – after several winters without the usual sightings – to see three this survey (one on 4th and two on 7th).
Pelagic Cormorant. Counts of this species have to start each day 15 minutes before sunrise as most of the Pelagic Cormorant along this stretch of coast roost across the inner border on rocks in Haekumgang, DPRK and commute south early in the morning to feed along the ROK Goseong coast. The highest day count was 2,174.
Temminck’s Cormorant. Certainly at least 90 – and possibly up to 1,000…Twenty years ago, you could safely assume that if you saw a large cormorant along the coast, that would be a Temminck’s. Then came an explosion in the population of Great Cormorants, which typically feed in freshwater but now often roost with other cormorants along the coast. Five years ago, there were only 50 or so Temminck’s along this stretch of coast and at least 400 Great Cormorants. This visit, every large cormorant on the sea looked at carefully turned out to be a Temminck’s. Are they also enjoying a sudden population increase?
In addition to the wonderful sea-birding (marred by the discovery one day of one active fishing net that contained no less than 13 drowned or drowning Ancient Murrelets – more on that later), the mix of land-birds around Daejin harbour did not include any expected winter finches, but instead included 15 or so Light-vented Bulbul and a small flock of Red-billed Starlings. Neither of these generally warmth-loving species had even been recorded on the Korean Peninsula before the turn of this century…
And finally – non-birding encounters included a distant whale sp seen from the boat on the 5th, and an oddly confiding Amur Goral seen by the roadside on the way back through the mountains to Seoul. A vet was contacted…