Typically hot and humid (with day maxima often around 30°C), with occasional heavy rains and strong winds, associated either with southern typhoons or caused by the mix of humidity and heat.
Chinese Egrets become rather more widespread along the west coast. Shorebirds (including a very small number of Spoon-billed Sandpiper and at least in 2012 and 2013 several “White-faced Plover”) begin to build up in number at a few of the remaining best sites. Numbers tend to be rather lower than in spring, though Kentish Plover and Terek Sandpiper can be found in the thousands at a few sites. In open sea areas, August is often the best month to see Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel from commercial ferries, and towards the end of the month large numbers of Common Tern are also on the move, along the East Coast and in the Yellow Sea, sometimes joined by other tern species. On land, parties of Black-naped Orioles, the appearance of returning leaf warblers (especially Eastern Crowned and Arctic Warblers) and small numbers of Brown Shrike and Yellow-rumped and Brown Flycatchers by mid-month also hint at the start of passerine migration. At the very end of August, the first migrant Pechora Pipit (most likely of the subspecies menzbieri) and early migrant buntings also start to appear on offshore islands. National rarities recorded several times in August include Common Ringed Plover, Sooty Tern, Black Tern and Lesser Frigatebird. National firsts since 2000 have included Sooty Shearwater (2002), Aleutian Tern and Great Frigatebird (both in 2004) and Western Sandpiper (2012).
Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland, August 27
The short visit after lunch found the site already complete filled with water even the high tide mark was about two hours later and so most birds were on roost. Heavy rain shower started short after arriving. Seen were c. 150 Black-tailed Gull, c. 40 Grey Heron, 4 Great Egret, 2 Little Egret, 21 Terek Sandpiper, one with black and white leg-flags, 16 Ruddy Turnstone, 13 Grey-tailed Tattler, 3 Common Redshank, c. 15 Common Greenshank, 5 Common Sandpiper, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Wood Sandpiper, 3 Long-billed Plover, several Barn Swallows circling over the water and a Common Kingfisher.
Haeundae, August 14
The temperature was surprisingly cool (around 20°), with strong winds and torrential rain drenching us for most of the morning. We positioned ourselves for seawatching at Jaeger Point, which is one of the northernmost headlands near Haeundae. There were birds on the move but not in high numbers. We saw between 50-100 Streaked Shearwater, 75-100 Common Tern, 1 White-winged Tern, 8 Whiskered Tern, about 15 Red-necked Phalarope, two Black-headed Gull, and the surprise of the morning were 6 Garganey in flight offshore. Grey-tailed Tattler and Common Sandpiper could be found on the rocky coastline. In the afternoon, at a patch along the Nakdong (JL only) were 2 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Common Tern, and 5 White-winged Tern feeding in a marshy pond. At the estuary there were Dunlin, Common Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Sanderling, and Common Greenshank.
Busan and the Guryongpo Pensinsula - August 9 & 10
Even though Typhoon Halong was centred off southern Japan, its influence was apparent in the southeast of the ROK. In strong northeasterlies during the late afternoon of the 9th, NM counted large numbers of birds (mostly Streaked Shearwater and Red-necked Phalarope and other shorebirds, containing one or two orange-bellied birds, perhaps Red Phalarope?) moving off Busan. With the wind forecast to switch to the north, NM and JL headed for the Guryongpo Peninsula on the 10th seawatching from about 0730-1330, and then searching for grounded migrants on the headland and the main southwestern beach until 1800.
Through the morning of the 10th, in heavy overcast with visibility ranging from 500m to 10km, moderate to strong northerlies and a large sea-swell, we found low thousands of birds trying to move around the Guryongpo Peninsula headland, with each pulse of rain and falling visibility producing waves of birds closer to shore. There were multiple exceptional highlights, but very few images because of the extremely poor conditions. Along with high numbers of Common Tern and Red-necked Phalarope, the morning’s highlights included a Sooty Shearwater (only one previous sight record nationally), a Bulwer’s Petrel (only 1 or 2 previous national records), probably six Aleutian Tern and two or three probable / presumed Arctic Tern (first national claim?). In the afternoon, as the weather brightened and the winds dropped, time was spent looking for migrant shorebirds (finding c.15 Whimbrel, 2+ Far Eastern Curlew, single Common Redshank, Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers, 7+ Ruddy Turnstone, 10+ Grey-tailed Tattler, 30+ Sanderling, 10 Red-necked Stint, two Dunlin, 3+ Kentish and two Grey Plovers), distant terns and gulls (including 100s of Black-tailed Gull, 25+ Black-headed Gull, including several fresh juveniles, 9+ Slaty-backed Gull and one adult Vega Gull).
Details of selected highlights are as follows:
- Baikal Teal Anas formosa? A small dark duck disappearing into the murk showed a strong pale trail to the speculum, but only a weak leading edge. It therefore appeared a best match for Baikal Teal – which usually do not start to arrive in Korea until September.
- Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas. In three hours on the 9th, close to 2,000 passed Igidae heading into the wind, with 100 birds passing north every 5-6 minutes after 17:30. On the Guryongpo Peninsula on the 10th, 65 passed close to shore in the first (quiet) 30 minutes; and later c. 300 were visible in one scan once visibility had improved. No other counts were made, and as birds were almost always in view, passing by every minute or so, and larger flocks were visible feeding in brighter spells, probably 1,500- 2,000 were seen during the day.
- Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus. Only one dark shearwater was seen (at 11:35), found by NM and ‘scoped by both of us for probably 20 seconds or so at medium-range. Strikingly, it was powerfully-built, simultaneously more muscular and graceful looking than the larger Streaked Shearwaters it was with, overtaking them easefully with several deep rapid flaps followed by an extended banking glide followed by more deep flaps. On the first view, as the bird banked to show its underwing in half-decent light, NM noted a clear, contrasting white stripe on the underwings, most striking on what appeared to be the primary coverts. The bird looked dark-billed at all times (including when in the same ‘scope view as a Streaked, in which paleness of the bill and other plumage details were strongly evident in the latter species), and the head and bill looked strong, with a sloping forehead (lacking the steep-forehead shown by many Short-tailed Shearwater). In very dull light, the bird appeared plainly dark blackish brown, clearly lacking a hooded look or the paler chin as often shown by (immature) Short-tailed, but with a marginally paler belly (either reflected light from the sea or a genuine paling). Although dark shearwaters are notoriously difficult to ID, the combination of flight action (which for NM immediately recalled Sooty Shearwater); the all-dark bill; and the other plumage details in combination seem sufficient to ID this as a Sooty. The only previous claim known to Birds Korea is of two seen (also by NM) from a ferry just offshore from Busan on June 6th 2002. As this is the second sighting, the species will probably be moved from Category 4 to Category 3 of the Birds Korea Checklist during the next formal update.
- Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii. At 12:40, one was seen flying within 100m-200m of shore first by JL (rendering him temporarily speechless!), and then ‘scoped for probably 5 seconds at most by NM. Identification was based on a composite of impressions: all blackish-brown, with a slightly darker-looking head; small and slender-bodied, with a long tail that appeared tapering, even slightly lozenge like; exceptionally long-winged; with wings held angled back one moment like a miniature falcon, the next outstretched like a shearwater; with a flight action that seemed intermediate between a Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel and a shearwater, one moment flying rapidly in one direction, the next shearing and accelerating away in a different direction low over the waves. No images were taken. There is one previous record nationally (one found wrecked on Jeju on August 12th 2010). The shape and some of the flight action of the Guryongpo individual was strongly reminiscent of a large unidentified petrel seen by NM at Igidae after the passage of Typhoon Sanba on September 18th 2012.
- Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. 690 were counted moving round the headland between 12:00 and 12:30, with smaller numbers passing by at other times (but none were found once seas were calmer)
- Common Tern Sterna hirundo. Probably 1,000-1,500 were seen during the day. Most appeared to be adults in full breeding plumage, though some were moving into non-breeding plumage and many of those seen feeding (c.50 in total) were in juvenile plumage. In the first quiet 30 minutes, 112 were counted passing the count point; 85 were counted between 0830 and 0855; 148 were counted between 10:40 and 10:49; and a single group of 120 was watched heading south then spiraling up over the bay in the evening.
- Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea. As there are no records for Korea, the three Arctic-Tern lookalikes seen on the 10th (none of which were photographed) need to be left as probables. Two were in full breeding plumage (one passing the count point at 10:20 when it was well-scoped by NM for perhaps 15-20 seconds; the second, or much less likely the same one, was near the beach in the late afternoon, seen distantly though in good light). The adults shared medium grey upperparts (in the first, in very dull conditions the upperparts appeared perhaps one shade darker than most of the Commons?) and greyish underparts, with a perhaps cleaner white stripe below the black of the cap and the grey of the underparts than shown by Common; clear black trail to the primaries, which were otherwise pearly grey-white (much cleaner and paler looking than Commons in direct comparison); strongly contrasting white rump and in the first adult, “exaggerated-looking” tail streamers. The juvenile, seen passing the count point also in very poor light, looked paler-winged than the juvenile Commons, with dark restricted to the leading edge, with grey primaries and white secondaries lacking any obvious darker trail. We were unable to take any images.
- Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleuticus. At least six were seen well enough to identify (and at least four were very poorly digiscoped), one by itself at 0850; two together at 10:10; and three (or four) together at 11:55. All seemed to be moving from breeding plumage to non-breeding plumage. All were identified on obviously darker upperparts than the Commons, with strikingly contrasting white rump and fairly short tail streamers; white foreheads, with either solid black cap and loral line, or more broken loral line; dark outer primaries and paler inner primaries; and on several birds, clean black trail to the underside of the secondaries with faintly darker line on the upper side of the secondaries too. Aleutian Tern is probably regular in late August in Korean waters, and perhaps all (or at least almost all) of the obviously darker “common tern types” might well prove to be this species. This constitutes perhaps the earliest claim in Korean waters (by a week or more?); the largest day-count; and the first time that sight records have been supported by images (even if extremely poor, probably all the features can just be made out). As such Aleutian Tern will be moved to Category One of the Birds Korea Checklist during the next formal update.
- Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida. At least one was seen at the count point during the morning.
- White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus. At least two were seen near the beach: an adult moving into non-breeding plumage and a juvenile.
- Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus. Two: one (an all-pale brown juvenile or immature) seen reasonably well at 0920; the second an adult type (pale), most likely this species, more distantly, chasing terns at 0950.
- Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus. Two birds in non-breeding plumage swimming off the count point at 12:50.
Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland - August 4
For several days some shorebirds have returned to the site. This morning in heavy rain the number observed was smaller than the ones on the weekend by Dr. Kim because it was short after high tide and large areas of the tidal-flat was still under water. Due to the rain only the area along the street was quickly checked.
Non the less one Whimbrel, c. 20 Common Greenshank, 14 Ruddy Turnstone, 8 Grey-tailed Tattler, one Common Sandpiper, 5 Grey Heron, one Little Egret and c. 30 Black-tailed Gull were seen during the short walk by.
Songdo, July 27 - August 3
A surprising number of shorebirds were back at Songdo mudflats on 27 July. Subsequent visits over the next few dates to Gojan high tide roost revealed very variable numbers, indicating that the reclamation activities are probably affecting numbers as they find alternative roost sites in the area. Nearly all birds are in varying stages of summer (breeding) plumage.
- Eastern Oystercatcher (5, local breeders)
- Black-winged Stilt (3 on Namdong Reservoir on 3 Aug, maybe also local breeders)
- Grey Plover (250)
- Little Ringed Plover (1 at Namdong Reservoir on 3 Aug, local breeder)
- Mongolian Plover (250 on 27 July, very few seen thereafter, so maybe they moved on quickly)
- Black-tailed Godwit (150, maybe more, mixed with Bar-taileds)
- Bar-tailed Godwit (300)
- Whimbrel (at least 20, probably more)
- Eurasian Curlew (150)
- Far-Eastern Curlew (150)
- Spotted Redshank (1)
- Common Redshank (5)
- Marsh Sandpiper (1)
- Common Greenshank (At least 800, probably 1,000 on 27 July, but few after that, except 420 at Namdong Reservoir on 3 August, so I guess good numbers are still in the area)
- Terek Sandpiper (620 counted on 3 Aug: late July- early August is typically the peak time for this species)
- Common Sandpiper (2)
- Ruddy Turnstone (10)
- Great Knot (30)
- Red Knot (1-2)
- Red-necked Stint (50)
- Broad-billed Sandpiper (3)
- Dunlin (100)
- Saunders's Gull (85 young birds out of 190 present on 27 July indicates a good breeding season locally, a change from last year when very few young birds were seen)
Han River, August 2
Between Dokseo and Paldang, the following seemed noteworthy:
- Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Five adults (four males and a female).
- Common Merganser Mergus merganser. Three females.
- Striated Heron Butorides striata. Interesting to hear the alarm call of the juvenile, like a choking clockwork toy-reminiscent of a Helmeted Guineafowl. The individual in the picture was loosely following an adult, which crept stealthily between the rocks with a comical guilty expression. There were 15 or so in the area.
- Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. 1900+ (conservative count) made quite a dramatic spectacle, forming large rafts in perfect formations, or long lines flying just above the water. About a quarter appeared to be juveniles. This would appear to be the main post-breeding dispersal from the nearby Paldang Lake, where a rookery was first noticed about five years ago.
- Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris. 30+ juveniles have found their way upriver (about 70km inland) and were loafing about, seemingly confused as to how to go about finding food.
- Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus. We bumped into two feeding bunches of these, which mostly remained hidden in thick shrubbery.
- Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. It was intriguing to see about 20 of them repeatedly alighting on the vertical bridge pillars and then falling off, as if just for the fun of it.
- White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus. A juvenile, obviously locally raised.
East Coast and Gangwon Province, July 30 - August 1
As part of research both for Birds Korea’s report (Status of Birds, 2014) and a report on the conservation of forest birds in Gangwon Province with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, we took a three day-trip starting from Busan. On July 30th, JL and NM visited the coast between Busan and Ulsan; the Guryongpo Peninsula; the river at Yeongdeok; the Jukpyeon headland north of Uljin; and the headland at Imwon. Joined by HJM on July 31st, we then hiked the trail up Seorak Mountain, from the Hangyerang Services at about 820masl to the shelter, just below Daecheongbong, at about 1600-1650masl. Apparently a White-throated Rockthrush has been heard along this trail this summer. On August 1st, we visited Sangwon Temple in Odae Mountain National Park, counting birds from a moving car along the road, before birding around the temple complex at about 900masl. We ended at Gangneung (birding the small, degraded and highly-disturbed but still bird-rich Namdaecheon Estuary) and the coast to the south of the city, where a Lesser Frigatebird had been seen a week before.
Most notable species included:
- Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. Two, believed to be this species, were seen by JL near the peak of Seorak Mountain on July 31st. There are very few summer-month records of this species known to Birds Korea.
- Grey-faced Buzzard Butastur indicus. One (perhaps a juvenile as it appeared to show extensive white on the crown sides) was seen a little distantly perched and then in flight behind Sangwon Temple, Odae National Park, on August 1st.
- Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola. One probable seen (NM only) on Seorak Mountain on July 31st. There are very few summer-month records of this species known to Birds Korea.
- Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. One flying south over the sea off the Guryongpo Peninsula on July 30th and four south over the sea off Gangneung on August 1st.
- Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes. In total, probably 10-15 were seen and heard along the coast on July 30th with another 3+ at Namdaecheon, Gangneung, on August 1st.
- Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres. One at Namdaecheon on August 1st.
- Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta. One at Namdaecheon on August 1st was loosely associating with 15+ Red-necked Stint and three Dunlin.
- Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus. Two at Namdaecheon on August 1st.
- Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. A flock of 171 off the Guyrongpo Peninsula was comprised mostly of adults, though also contained several early-returning juveniles.
- Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus. On July 31st, seen at three different locations along the coast in very small numbers (c. 10 in total). These follow on from four seen in Busan on July 26th (by NM).
- Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus. One, tentatively aged as a Fourth Calendar-year / Third-summer, was at the Guryongpo Peninsula on July 30th. This species is seldom-reported in the ROK in the summer months.
- Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus. Two together flew south off Busan on July 30th.
- White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus. Two or three were near the peak of Seorak Mountain on July 31st.
- Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes. A total of c. 15 were observed near the peak of Seorak Mountain (a known site for this species) on July 31st. At least two fairly-young juveniles were present, with one diving clumsily through and under vegetation (and artificial structures) as it feasted on grasshoppers and other insects.
- Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis. One was seen on wires by the main road on Guryongpo Peninsula on July 30th.
- Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus. Probably two were singing near the peak of Seorak Mountain on July 31st.
- Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi. 4+ were heard in song near the peak of Seorak Mountain on July 31st.
- Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus. A total of 12 were heard or seen on Seorak Mountain on July 31st and five were heard and / or seen in Odae National Park on August 1st, including one watched singing vigorously from the top of a conifer.
- Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus. A total of 19 were heard (and 2-3 seen) on Seorak Mountain between 1100 and 1500m. None were heard in the small area of Odae National Park (lying at about 900m) which we visited on August 1st. This remarkably high number on Seorak Mountain, counted along only about 8km of trail, suggests that this species is likely a locally numerous summer visitor to steep-sided forested mountain above 1100m in Gangwon Province.
- Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes. A total of 26 were heard (mostly calling) on Seorak Mountain on July 31st and six were heard (and one or two seen) in the small area of Odae National Park we visited on August 1st.
- Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus. Although only one was heard on Seorak Mountain on July 31st, a total of 47 singing and calling birds were counted along the road (which follows a stream) to and around Sangwon Temple on August 1st.
- Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris. Two were seen on Seorak Mountain on July 31st and one was heard near Sangwon Temple on August 1st.
- Japanese Robin Larvivora akahige. One, probably a female, was seen briefly on Seorak Mountain on July 31st (NM only). This is the first summer-month record in the ROK known to Birds Korea.
- Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope. Probably three (or four) were heard singing near the peak of Seorak Mountain on July 31st.
- Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus. One was seen on Seorak Mountain on July 31st (JL only). This is the first summer-month record in the ROK known to Birds Korea.
- Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami. A total of perhaps four or five (heard and seen at three different parts of the trail) were seen on Seorak Mountain on July 31st, and a family party (including at least one and perhaps as many as three juveniles) was seen near Sangwon Temple on August 1st.
Seorak Mountain, July 31
As part of research both for Birds Korea’s report (Status of Birds, 2014) and a report on the conservation of forest birds in Gangwon Province with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, a day was spent on Seorak Mountain. We hiked the narrow trail from Hangyerang Services (at about 820masl) up past the shelter below Daecheongbong, through predominantly deciduous woodland, then mixed woodland, into the subalpine zone (from about 1500masl), with its waist-high shrubbery and conifers, including cone-laden Korean Pines.
On the route up, all birds heard or seen were logged by NM (irrespective of distance), with a few additional observations made only by JL and / or HJM. Starting at 5AM and finishing after 9PM (at least for two of the team!), this extremely arduous hike started in warm and humid conditions, with low cloud. Fortunately, the weather cleared for several hours in the afternoon at the peak, before deteriorating rapidly, with thunderstorms bringing heavy rain for two hours during the descent.
In all, 37 species were seen or heard along the trail. While most of the species, like Spotted Nutcracker, Radde’s Warbler and Siberian Rubythroat were expected (thanks to research by the Korea National Parks), there were several surprising finds. These included an absence of Brown-eared Bulbul and Oriental Turtle Dove; a high number of singing Two-barred Warbler (c. 19 logged, with most between 1100masl and 1250masl); two presumed Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a single male-type Red-flanked Bluetail (both seen by JL); and an unseen locustella heard calling (perhaps an early migrant?), a probable Eurasian Woodcock, and even more surprising a Japanese Robin, logged only by NM.
As there are so few details in the Birds Korea archives of bird distribution and abundance on high mountains, the species are listed in the order in which we encountered them, divided broadly into three main zones (as indicated by signage along the trail).Details are approximate only. The trails rise and fall along their length; some birds were heard only (and could have been higher or lower than the trail); and our team was sometimes split up.
Section 1: 850m-1350m; length c. 4.1km; c. 0500-1000hrs
Very steep ascent (and descents!) through occasionally tall closed-canopy deciduous forest with a few conifers admixed.
- Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus, 10
- Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes, 15 (most heard calling only; though a harsher version of the typical song was also heard 1-2 times)
- Hazel Grouse Tetrastes bonasia, 1 (heard only)
- Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, 2
- Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea, 16
- Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans, 5
- Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus, 3 (heard in song)
- Eastern Great Tit Parus minor, 1
- Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus, 4 (all birds that were seen were magnus)
- Varied Tit Sittiparus varius, 11
- Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos, 2
- Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus, 16 (the majority were heard in song, with two or more also heard calling. At one location four or five were singing vigorously “at each other”, allowing decent views of two individuals. Although we were aware that the species had been recorded here in the summer months at least once before, we had not expected it to form such a strong component of the avifauna and the soundscape. As Tomek  includes records from the end of May and early June and again in early August in the DPRK part of Gangwon Province as well as in several other DPRK provinces, it must be assumed this this species is a locally common summer visitor to forest above c. 1100m in this part of Korea, and northward)
- Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, 3
- Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane, 1
- Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps, 2
- Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos kizuki, 4 (all birds seen appeared quite pale on the underparts)
- Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius, 1
- Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami, 1+ (one seen and perhaps up to 2-3 heard)
- Coal Tit Periparus ater, 3
- Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, 1 (seen, JL only)
- Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus, 1 (heard only “down below”).
Section Two: 1350m-1500m; c. 3km; c. 1000-1300hrs
Moderately steep ascent, with mixed forest and often dense undergrowth, including patchy stands of dwarf bamboo.
- Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus, 8 (most singing, with one or two seen)
- Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes, 11
- Coal Tit Periparus ater, 13 (including one juvenile with strong yellowish tones to the “cheeks”)
- Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami, 2
- Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus, 3
- White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos, 1
- Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos kizuki, 2
- Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea, 6
- Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris, 1 (seen and heard)
- Marsh Tit Poecile palustris, 4
- Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris, 1
- Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes, 8
- Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps, 1
- Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus, 6
- Varied Tit Sittiparus varius, 7
- Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans, 1
- Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos, 1
- Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus, 1 (heard only)
- Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius, 1
- Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, 1
- Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, 4
- White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus, 2
- Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus, 1 (seen only by JL, at close range in a rainstorm during the hike down. This individual showed blue on the wings and tail, so is likely to have been a Second Calendar-year male or an autumn adult male. There are no previous summer-month records for the ROK in the Birds Korea archives. Tomek  states that this species breeds in the northern provinces of the DPRK, but is only a migrant further south. However, the date is far outside of the expected migration period of this species, which is given as “from the beginning of September” in the DPRK [Tomek 2002], and October in Japan [Brazil 1991]. The date and habitat-type fall within expected parameters given for breeding birds in Japan by Brazil , with the altitude of the record on Seorak similar to the 1300m recorded on Mt. Iide in Niigata Prefecture, in northern Honshu, also lying close to 38 Degrees North. There are substantial areas of forested mountain at and above 1300m in Gangwon Province. It seems possible, therefore, that this species might eventually prove to be regular in this area in the summer months.)
- Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, 1? (brief views of one seen in flight by NM at the start of a heavy rainstorm. Although identification was immediate as this species, viewing conditions were very poor and there is perhaps only one summer-month record known to Birds Korea [one photographed in Ansan in July 2011]. Tomek  considered the species to be a “species rarely encountered during migrations” in the DPRK, but nonetheless included several records in May, a month in which birds are already back on the breeding grounds in Japan [Brazil 1999].
Section Three: 1500m-1650m; c. 2km; between c. 1230-1500hrs
Vegetation predominantly waist or head-high, with a few taller coniferous trees.
- Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus, 2 (heard in song only)
- Japanese Robin Larvivora akahige, 1 (One, probably a female, was seen briefly and poorly as it moved through undergrowth next to the trail by NM. Identification was based on e.g. the bird’s size and structure; its warm-coloured tail, which was frequently raised and lowered; and its orangey head and breast, lacking any obvious grey or dark. This species has not been recorded previously in the summer months in the ROK. There were only three records in the DPRK up to 2006, with two records in April and one in early June in the far north [Duckworth 2006]. It is worth noting that this species can be extremely difficult to observe and is a summer visitor to large parts of Japan, including at latitudes south of Gangwon Province. According to Brazil , the species “inhabits evergreen, mixed or deciduous forests with dense undergrowth from 1,000-2,500m (chiefly around 1,300-2,100m in central Honshu and Shikoku)…Breeding occurs from late May to mid July” and the species remains on breeding grounds until at least “late August”.)
- Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, c., 12
- Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, 2 (One male and one female, both believed to be this species, were seen by JL, with one even dive-bombing a group of feeding Nutcrackers.)
- Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus, 6
- Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus, 1
- Marsh Tit Poecile palustris, 2
- White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus, One
- Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
- Locustella sp. 1 (contact / anxiety call heard by NM only)
- Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, 4+ (heard in song)
- Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami, 1 (adult female)
- Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans, 1
- Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus, 1
- Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope, c.3 (heard only, in song)
- Brazil, M. 1991. The Birds of Japan. Published by Helm.
- Duckworth, J.W. 2006. Records of some bird species hitherto rarely found in DPR Korea. Bull. British Ornithologists’ Club. 2006 126 (4) 253-290.
- Tomek, T. 1999-2002. The birds of North Korea. Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 42: 1-217; 45: 1-235 (in English).
Tancheon & Seongnae, July 26
The Tan stream, another tributary of the Han River, is rather high due to recent rains. From Suseo-Dong to the mouth at Samseong-Dong (a stretch of about 5km- a fraction of the streams total length), the following seemed of interest:
- Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. 58 in total, including a mother with eight juveniles (nr. the Gwangpyeong-ro bridge) and a second mother with four (under the Dogok-ro bridge).
- Common Merganser Mergus merganser. Two eclipse males (distinguishable from the similar females - according to my field guide - by the great extent of white on the closed wing and also the paler underparts). Both were in moult, lacking primaries, and presumably flightless. Another rare summer record for Seoul.
- Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. Five. The post-breeding dispersal / return migration starts early (two weeks ago they were nowhere to be seen).
Later on the canal at Seongnae-Dong:
- Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Six. It is worth noting that it was here I previously found a family brood on July 8th 2006 (see latest bird news for that date) - which is actually the first known case of breeding for the ROK.
- Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus. Two shyly keeping near cover.
- Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo. One winging its way over the skyscrapers was a real inner-city record.
“The southeast”, July 13
July is widely understood to be the hardest / quietest month for birding here. The weather is often hot and humid, or outright wet in years with a proper rainy season; there is almost no obvious migration; there are almost no accessible large concentrations of birds; there has been a near-absence of “good finds” in July - unlike all 11 other months of the year- unless as a result of typhoons; and finally, although biting insects are obvious, many bird species are shy and in increasingly poor plumage. Despite all these negatives, a day of birding riverside fields and reed-beds, rocky coast and open sea in the southeast (in Gyeongju, Pohang, the Guryongpo Peninsula and near Ulsan; first in rain and fog and then under clearing skies) was full of interest. In all only 46 species were logged, though much times was effectively wasted taking a so-called “Whale Watching Tour” out of Ulsan (more on this in a separate post). However, this low total included many notable species:
- Gadwall Anas strepera. Three were found (and photographed) near Pohang. There are very few previous summer-month records of this species in the ROK (though with better coverage this summer, the species has been found in both Seosan and in Seoul in June).
- Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Four were found near Pohang. Although increasingly regularly- recorded in the summer months in the north and northwest, and also found as an occasional breeder (?) at Upo, this species is scarce in the south at this time of year.
- Common Merganser Mergus merganser. One near Pohang. Although a local breeding species in the north of the country, this is perhaps the first summer record in the southeast known to Birds Korea.
- Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas. Probably c. 150 were seen in total, including several small groups off the Guryongpo Peninsula and 117 seen during the so-called “Whale Watching Tour” out from Ulsan, the nation’s whale-eating capital.
- Yellow Bittern. Ixobrychus sinensis At least three (two booming males and one female) were seen near Gyeongju.
- Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. Around 50 were seen near Pohang. Although easy to separate from Temminck’s Cormorant in non-breeding plumage by the colour of the lower mandible and the shape of the rear of the gular patch, the criteria for separating sinensis and (the perhaps synonymous?) hanedae still seem to be poorly understood. Sinensis, often thought of as the Great Cormorant of the interior of Eurasia (as opposed to the marine-preferential nominate subspecies), is widely believed to be the common subspecies in Korea. It is mapped across Asia by e.g. Newson et al. (2004) - though their study omitted Korea and Japan from their analysis – and by Brazil (2009). Hanedae is less well-known. According to the 7th edition of the Japanese Checklist published by the Ornithological Society of Japan in 2012, only hanedae has been recorded in Japan. Brazil (2009) provides no ID criteria, instead stating that hanedae is “mainly resident” in Japan but “may disperse” and that the “limits” between the two subspecies are “unclear”. Either way, there is evidence of large seasonal movements of Great Cormorants within Japan , where the species is increasing rapidly, and large numbers winter in the Nakdong Estuary in the southeast of Korea, only 200km from mainland Japan. In addition, the species was largely absent in the ROK in summer until the late 1990s, since when it has established several breeding colonies, but only in the northwest. In winter, there appear to be subtle differences in the shape of the gular between some birds when seen side-by-side (either “expected” variation or could this be due to subspecific differences?); and only in a very few areas, like Jeju (where there are several “Japanese-type” taxa), the species can be found regularly in rocky and marine areas. The birds at Pohang were on a river. They were in non-breeding plumage and most were immature. In many respects they looked remarkably similar to hanedae photographed by NM at a breeding colony in Tokyo (in early 2005). Sinesis or hanedae? Informed comments would be greatly appreciated.
- Temminck’s Cormorant Phalacrocorax capillatus. One was on the Guryongpo Peninsula. Although this species breeds commonly in the northwest and locally elsewhere in the Korean part of the Yellow Sea, it is apparently scarce in the summer months in the southeast.
- Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca. One was heard near Gyeongju.
- Watercock Gallicrex cinerea. Near Gyeongju, a female Watercock-type was seen as it flew across the track and disappeared into heavy cover.
- Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus. The day’s highlight, an adult Grey-headed Lapwing, was found by JL, and photographed by both of us in rice-fields near Gyeongju. This species is a very uncommon migrant through Korea, with very few records in the summer months (<5 in total?). Of note, one was also reported in the Nakdong Estuary in mid-June this year.
- Common Redshank Tringa totanus. One, presumably an early-returning migrant, was near Pohang.
- Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris. At least 400+ were noted during the day, including a half-dozen or more superb fresh-plumaged juveniles and large numbers of extremely worn-looking adults.
- Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus. A worn (sub-) adult was between Ulsan and Busan and was the only non-Black-tailed gull seen during the day. In addition to wear, it had a few coarse nape streaks (hard to see in the images). In this species, nape-streaking appears to be at its coarsest and most extensive in August / September, becoming weaker (and still confined to the nape) during much of the winter.
- Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus. One in non-breeding plumage off the Guryongpo Peninsula appears to be an exceptional July record away from breeding areas (many / most apparently depart Korean waters between mid-June and October).
- Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis. JL found a family party on the Guryongpo Peninsula on the 12th. Together, we heard single birds in two additional villages; heard and saw the same family in the same area; saw another perched on roadside wires next to the “known site”; and encountered singles at two more spots from the moving car between Guryongpo and Ulsan. Clearly, the species has already established itself on several offshore islands in the West Sea; it is now colonizing the mainland in the southeast. How many more might there be on islands and along the south coast too?
- White Wagtail Motacilla alba. In addition to at least two family groups of leucopsis, a single First-summer / Second Calendar-year male lugens was found and photographed on the Guryongpo Peninsula. Although lugens is a common winter visitor and migrant, and has apparently been recorded in the summer in the DPRK, the Birds Korea 2014 Checklist does not acknowledge any summer month records in the ROK. Is it regular here in the summer, perhaps along the Gangwon coast as seems likely, or was this a genuinely exceptional record?
Also seen a Tiger Keelback Snake.
Yongjeong Island, July 12
At a construction site for the planned new runway, an opportunistic Saunders's Gull colony has been active recently (via SKS). A parent was photographed feeding a well-grown chick here on July 2nd (OSH).
Today little activity remained, although one adult was fetching and carrying food to the general nesting area, which also circled me once overhead, screaming angrily. I also saw two distant adults on the ground, which may have been tending nests or young.
A Little Tern also flew to and from the breeding area (nests and chicks were reported here a month ago). Also present, a Hobby, a few Zitting Cisticola and a Meadow Bunting.
Yongjeong is losing its last areas of wild habitat to development. Picture A (below) shows the most valuable wetland a year ago: picture B shows the same area today.
Sorae Marsh Ecological Park, Incheon, June 1 - 17
During the period of the 1st to the 17th of June 2014 I visited the Sorae Marsh Ecological Park in Incheon almost daily for birdwatching and photography. I had easy access to the park as my wife's parents conveniently live a two minute walk from the East Gate. The park contains a mixture of salt marsh, mudflats, fresh and brackish wetlands providing habitat for a variety of bird species. The main walking/cycling track around the edge of the park is raised above the surrounding mudflats and tidal water enters through a gate on the eastern side. The main track is busy with people at times but the well made tracks through the park exclude bicycles and have minimal foot-traffic. Raised boardwalks provide access across the brackish lagoons and there are plenty of small shelters with seats to have a break. Unfortunately the bird hides are mostly poorly positioned. The Observation Deck within the freshwater wetland sits too low to be of any benefit for birdwatching. Toilets are located at the large three storey visitor centre in the south-western corner of the park. The view from the top deck provides a good outlook over the park and surrounding areas.
Constantly calling Oriental Reed Warbler were common within dense reeds and it was in these areas that Yellow Bittern were also quite common. When a bittern entered into the territory of a reed warbler they were more often than not aggressively chased away by the smaller bird. While trying to photograph Yellow Bittern in flight on the 3rd I inadvertently photographed a male Von Schrenck's Bittern. I was to see this species a few more times during my visits including a male on the 9th calling out in the open along a track on the northern side. Common Moorhen were also heard and sometimes seen crossing the tracks in this habitat. A single male Watercock in breeding plumage was a flyover on the 17th.
Migratory shorebirds were not abundant but I did see Common Redshank most days including pairs exhibiting nesting behaviour in various locations. On one occasion a bird landed on a sign 2m in front of me constantly calling. I saw Common Greenshank a few times along with single Common Sandpiper and Far Eastern Curlew on the 13th.
Zitting Cisticola and Vinous-throated Parrotbill were common in the grassland areas and it was here that I regularly heard and sometimes saw Ring-necked Pheasant. Trees are mostly absent in the park but a small patch on the eastern edge almost always had a Common Cuckoo present with up to four chasing each other around and calling in flight on the 14th.
Black-tailed Gull were ever present in the skies above the park with one showing aggression towards a little dog off the leash. A small group of Little Tern made an appearance on the 2nd feeding over the lagoons in the rain.
Great Egret and Grey Heron were commonly seen hunting around the edges of the lagoons and tidal gate along with Little Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron and the occasional Striated Heron. Black-faced Spoonbill were also seen feeding in these areas a few times with a maximum number of five birds seen together including two dependent young on the 15th. Eastern Spot-billed Duck and Great Cormorant were common on the water with a pair of Little Grebe and a single eclipse male Mandarin Duck on the 10th.
Common Kestrel was the most abundant of the raptors over the park with a Eurasian Hobby making an appearance on most days (I was pleased to get a decent photo of one moving at speed, low over the marsh). Chinese Sparrowhawk was seen on three occasions with one being driven off by a hobby on the 5th.
Other wildlife of interest seen in the park included Siberian Weasel which were easily attracted into view using pishing. I saw them more than once chasing Vinous-throated Parrotbill through the reeds. More disturbing was the discovery of a dead Finless Porpoise washed up by the tide which had severe injuries consistent with being cut by a sharp blade.