Temperatures begin to cool, especially towards the end of the month, with maxima often falling from 28°C to 20°C. Sunny, dry weather predominates, though often punctuated by occasional heavy rain and very strong winds associated with typhoons.
September sees the pace of migration pick up considerably. The first returning flocks of geese and Baikal Teal arrive mid-month, while seabirds still provide much interest too, with increasing numbers of jaegers and dark shearwaters possible. While a few shorebirds peak in number in August, most species are present in good numbers throughout September too, with occasionally large numbers of Red-necked Phalarope in the east and south, and small numbers of Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper at prime sites, such as the Geum and Nakdong Estuaries. There can also still be large numbers of Common Tern on the move (especially early in the month), while the scarcer Whiskered and White-winged Terns also become rather more widespread - with small flocks of the latter possible especially at Seosan and in Gunsan. Raptor migration picks up too, including by mid-month occasionally large concentrations of the declining Chinese Sparrowhawk making their way towards Japan (where over 50, 000 have been recorded in one day on an island in the Korean Straits only 50 km south of Busan!), with later in the month also an increasing number of Grey-faced Buzzard and Crested Honey Buzzard and very small numbers of Pied Harrier and Amur Falcon - especially through the northwest. Passerines also become rather more numerous and diverse too, with Thick-billed Warbler and Brown Shrike early in the month in the northwest, and good numbers of Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pechora Pipit, and the three species of "grey-brown flycatchers" by mid-month (some Dark-sided and Brown still, with a peak in Grey-streaked). Towards the very end of September, Olive-backed Pipit migration also starts in earnest, and the first mixed flocks of buntings start to arrive, with most numerous being Chestnut and Black-faced.
National first records for the Republic of Korea in September in the past decade have included Steppe Grey Shrike (2004), Eurasian Dotterel (2005), Willow Warbler (2006), Wood Warbler and Buff-breasted Sandpiper (both in 2007) and Booted Warbler (2011).
Igidae (east Busan), September 15 - 18
Having finished work on the latest Birds Korea report (Status of Birds, 2014), a few hours were spent in the local park on the 15th, 17th and 18th, including 90 minutes seawatching (one hour on 17th and 30 minutes on 18th), in the hope of seeing some early-autumn migrants. Visibility over the sea was good, but few birds were moving, with best 48 Black-headed Gull south on the 17th; and 18 Streaked Shearwater north and three Common Tern, four Mongolian Gull and four Little Egret south on the 18th. On both days, much of the sea was brown with algal blooms, with some patches as red as tomato soup, where water and algae was trapped by seawalls (ironic to note that Busan is presently hosting an international meeting focused on increasing use of marine resources…).
In the woodland, four species of woodpecker (all giving good views), many groups of Brown-eared Bulbul and apparently steadily increasing numbers of Varied (15+), Long-tailed (40+), Eastern Great (c.20) and Coal Tits (c.10), but no sign of any Yellow-bellied Tit (last heard here on September 7th). A single group of 10 Daurian Redstart on 18th also suggested that this species too was on the move. Numbers of most complete migrants were pretty low despite the promising weather (with overcast and occasional spells of rain on the 17th and 18th), but included one Northern Boobook, three Black-naped Oriole, two Blue-and-White and 3+ Grey-streaked Flycatchers, probably a dozen Arctic Warbler, and one possible Japanese Leaf Warbler, heard briefly on the 17th). There were no hirundines or Pacific Swift and no raptors obviously on the move, with instead one Black Kite, three Common Kestrel, 2-3 Eurasian Hobby and two Peregrine Falcon blogging up and down the coast.
Gangneung, September 13 - 14
A stroll near Gyeongpo Lake on the afternoon of the 13th found e.g. a Chinese Pond Heron, two Common Kingfisher, Hobby, one or two Mongolian Gull (on the lake), close views of an Oriental Reed Warbler, Bull-headed Shrike, Striated Heron, 3 Common Snipe (which conversed non-stop with eachother in harsh calls towards dusk), and of most interest, an apparent juvenile Lesser Cuckoo, which allowed close views as it returned repeatedly to the same tree, gorging itself on catterpillars. Identification was based on the rather small size and neat, slim build; very bold, large white spotting along the uppertail (as depicted in Brazil, 2009), and barely visible very fine white trim on the coverts.
One the 14th, a few hours seawatching from the outer wall of the harbour produced two juvenile Pomarine Skua and an early Vega Gull, identifiable on e.g. structure and shading, steep forehead, and diffuse but faint blotching head and nape (not present on the earlier Mongolian). Best perhaps, prolonged views of some 500 Common Tern, most of which idled in a long raft, occasionally roused into a great white cloud, and a close encounter with two Ruddy Turnstone.
Along the beach and at the mouth of the nearby Namdae Stream, a Mandarin Duck, already nine Sanderling, a Red-necked Stint, four Grey-tailed Tattler and a Common Sandpiper.
Paju, September 12
A morning only poking around rice fields at Paju yielded about 20 snipe, made (more) difficult by distance and poor lighting: most appeared to be Commons while 3 or 4 looked like Pin-tailed. Other highlights: 2 Black-faced Spoonbills, 2 Chinese Pond Herons, 1 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, 3 Wood Sandpipers, 1 Long-toed Stint, 1 Common Kingfisher, a few Pheasants, several Kestrels and a probable (from call) Pechora Pipit.
Gageo Island, September 6 - 9
Spent the Chuseok holiday on Gageo-do, hoping to catch some migrants on their movement south. Weather throughout the trip was perfect, with predominantly clear sunny skies; this was probably the reason there was a decided lack of migrants. However, several unusual and unexpected species were observed. Highlights include Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler, Long-tailed Shrike, Brown Shrike, and some good pelagic birding on the ferries to and from Gageo-do. See below for more information.
- Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas – a single bird on the ride out to Gageo-do near Tae-do; 3 separate birds around Gageo-do on the return trip
- Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monorhis – 30+ on the way to Gageo-do; 40+ on the return trip
- presumed Band-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro – 3 individual birds observed amid Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels on the way to Gageo-do. Clearly seen white rump on an overall dark-colored storm petrel; ruled out Leach’s Storm Petrel because of rounded tail (not forked) and no appearance of a small dark stripe across the white rump band (although not all Leach’s show this stripe; some Leach’s do not show a white rump at all). No photos were possible (outside access is restricted on the ferry), but the white rump was clearly obvious during the observations, so Swinhoe’s is unlikely
- Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus – 1 bird in Gageodo-ri on the 6th; 3 birds on the 8th and 9th
- Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – 15+ at the main harbor in Gageodo-ri most days
- Eastern Great Egret Ardea a. modesta – 1 at the main harbor in Gageodo-ri on the 7th; 2 on the 9th
- Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva – 1 on the pebble beach at Gageodo-ri on the 6th and 7th
- Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus – 1 on the pebble beach at Gageodo-ri on the 6th
- Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii – 1 flushed at the Sky Park near Gageodo-ri on the 6th; 1 flushed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola – common, with 3-5 being seen most days
- Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos – 2 observed on the 7th
- Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres – 2 observed on the 7th
- Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis – 1 observed at Gageodo-ri on the 7th; 6 observed there on the 9th
- Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta – 1 observed at Gageodo-ri on the 9th
- Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus – 12 observed on the ferry ride near Heuksan-do on the 6th
- Black Wood Pigeon Columba janthina – 1 observed on the 8th
- White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus – 5 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Pacific Swift Apus pacificus – 10+ observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis – 1 observed near Gageodo-ri on the 6th; 1 observed in the interior mountains on the 8th
- Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis – 1 observed at Gageodo-ri on the 6th; 1 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla – 1 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos – 1 heard calling near Sam-gu on the 8th
- Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus – 1 or 2 observed most days around Gageodo-ri
- Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus – 1 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th; 2 observed near Sam-gu and the interior mountains on the 8th
- Bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus – 1 juvenile observed near Gageodo-ri on the 9th
- Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus – 2 observed; 1 around Gageodo-ri on the 6th, 8th, and 9th; a second at Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach – 2 observed; 1 at the Sky Park near Gageodo-ri on the 7th; 1 observed at Hangri-maeul, also on the 7th
- Varied Tit Poecile varius – 3 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th; 5+ observed near Sam-gu on the 8th
- Eastern Great Tit Parus minor – 5+ observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th; 2 observed near Sam-gu on the 8th
- Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis – common around the villages; usually 30-40+ per day
- Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis – not as common as the LVBU; usually 10+ per day
- Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica – 2 or 3 observed each day
- Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica – 10+ observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th; singles on other days
- Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus – most common warbler observed; 10+ on the 7th and 8th
- Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus – 1 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th; 3+ in Sam-gu on the 8th
- Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus – 1 observed near Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes – 1 heard along the interior of the island on the 8th
- Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella pleskei – 1 observed near the Sky Park at Gageodo-ri on the 6th and 7th
- Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus – very common; 100+ per day
- Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus – 8+ heard and observed in the interior of the island on the 8th
- Grey-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta – very common; 10+ observed most days, especially around Gageodo-ri and the western road leading to Hangri-maeul
- Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane – 1 observed along the central road leading to Gageodo-ri on the 8th
- Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius – very common around the villages; 5+ observed each day
- Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri – 1 observed at the Sky Park by Gageodo-ri on the 6th
- Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis – 1 observed at Gageodo-ri on the 7th; 3 observed there on the 9th
- Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea – common; 3-5 observed each day, especially around Gageodo-ri
- White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis – common; 4+ observed each day, especially around Gageodo-ri
- Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi – 3 observed at Hangri-maeul on the 7th
- Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria – a large flock of around 30+ birds observed atop the ridge above Gageodo-ri on the 7th
Cheongdam Park, September 8
Very tough going birding this small urban park- almost nothing to speak of, although best single Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, and Asian Stubtail.
Among the commoner sights, several Jay (which show a surprising range of mimicked calls) and Oriental Turtle Dove.
Gunsan-Jeonju, August 29 - 31
Three days were spent in the field, in weather that was calm and mostly sunny, with temperatures ranging from c.20°C as minima to 29-30C as daily maxima. On August 29th, the afternoon was spent at the Geum Estuary, near the barrage and then on Yubu Island for high tide (with 45,000 shorebirds and no other people at the latter site!); on the 30th, we then took a day-trip out to Eocheong to look for early autumn migrants; and on the 31st, we checked some woodland and a couple of reservoirs near Gunsan, before rechecking the barrage area and then visiting a river near Jeonju. In all, approximately 120 species were logged, including several fascinating ID challenges (at least two of which are the focus of articles on the highly informative Dig Deep website), and some excellent highlights that included:
- Garganey Anas querquedula. A total of 103 were counted in one scan of Ognyeo Reservoir on 31st. This appears to be the highest post-2000 site- and day-count in the ROK known to Birds Korea. The highest counts in Park Jin-Young’s 2002 thesis are of 333 and 145 at Cheonsu Bay (Seosan Reclamation Lakes) in April 1996 and 1997 respectively.
- Common Pochard Aythya ferina. Three on Ognyeo Reservoir on 31st.
- Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas. Excellent views of several of the 40+ seen from the Eocheong ferry.
- Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. Ten were on Yubu.
- Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes. Seventeen were counted on Yubu by HJM.
- Far Eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans. Very approximately 2,000 were on Yubu.
- Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus. Six or seven were on the river near Jeonju: almost all were birds of the year.
- White-faced Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus. One male moving into non-breeding plumage and one female-type were found in among the Kentish Plover flocks on Yubu. Several other suspects were seen by NM, but were not confirmed due to insufficient time. This is the third year in a row that this taxon has been found on Yubu in late August. Although not yet recognized as a full species by Gill & Donsker, it is now listed as a full species by BirdLife with its own species factsheet (though unfortunately with an inaccurate description of plumage and an incomplete range map…).
- Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii. At least ten were found mixed in with Kentish (2000++) and Mongolian Plovers (500+).
- Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus. Two (an adult in breeding in plumage and an adult type in non-breeding plumage) were found on Ognyeo Reservoir: presumably another new ROK site for the species.
- Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago megala. One was on Eocheong Island, in the main concrete drain. Although identification of this species is extremely challenging, ID was based on a combination of features, including the shape and pattern of one or perhaps more outer tail feathers (in the image, it is the feather on the right of the bird, immediately adjacent to the more rusty-red central tail feathers). Compare this with images of tail feathers on p.225 of Park Jong-Gil’s excellent new photo guide and the plate found at:
- Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii. A possible was seen and heard in flight on Eocheong.
- Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. Probably a thousand were at the Geum barrage on the 31st.
- Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. Approximately 800 were on Yubu.
- Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer. Four were seen on Yubu at high-tide. As large numbers of shorebirds moved away from Yubu to roost, it is possible that more might have been present.
- Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris. Approximately 200 were onYubu.
- Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea. Probably five were on Yubu.
- Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. On Yubu, an adult was scoped well but at distance by HJM and probably the same bird was seen much more briefly by NM.
- Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus. Although there was too little time to make proper counts, probably >1,000 were present on Yubu.
- Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. About 30 were seen from the Eocheong ferry. One of these first appeared as a distant flying speck, before it flew towards the boat and landed just off the bow giving excellent views.
- White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus. Approximately 20 were on the Gunsan reservoirs briefly on the 31st, including one in nearly full-breeding plumage (puzzlingly showing a greyish rump apparently more or less concolorous with the tail; and greyish upperwing coverts, but striking black underwing coverts).
- Black Woodpigeon Columba janthina. One or two were on Eocheong on the 30th. This is perhaps only the second record of the species on this island.
- Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus. Perhaps two or three were on Eocheong on the 30th and one was on the mainland in Gunsan on 31st.
- Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Out of c. 25+ cuckoos seen, most (~15?) were believed to be this species. Although four species were identified, many birds were left unidentified.
- Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata. One was on Eocheong.
- Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus. One was in Gunsan on the 31st.
- Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus. Two were on Eocheong.
- Sand Martin Riparia riparia. Four or five juveniles were in Gunsan on the 31st. Separation from Pale Martin was based on the combination of: the deep tail fork at rest (and in flight); the dark brown plumage tones of the upperparts and the complete and wide breast band (lacking grey tones: though such grey tones might perhaps only be a feature of adult Pale?); the darkness of the ear coverts which were as dark as the crown (again, though, perhaps only a feature which might be useful in adults?); and the feathering on the rear of the tarsus, which appeared to be restricted to an obvious feather tuft, and not to extend up the rear of the otherwise bare tarsus as expected in Pale. Although tarsal feathering is considered diagnostic of Pale and to be more or less absent in Sand, this can be difficult to see in the field and might even be somewhat variable (as first suggested by Dave Bakewell in his articles on Dig Deep). Umegaki Yusuke wrote (in lit. December 2013) that after his brief article on “brown-backed martins” was published in the Japanese birding magazine BIRDER last year, he subsequently received some conflicting information: one person saying that all ijimae Sands have tarsi feathering to some amount (based on skin examination), and another saying that no brown-backed martins trapped and ringed in central Honshu in autumn had tarsi feathering. Therefore, until better information is published, it seems wise in the ROK to consider dense or extensive tarsal feathering as diagnostic of Pale; and sparser feathering (in addition to the tuft) only as a supporting feature for those birds that also show the appropriate structural and plumage features.
- Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus. One heard on Eocheong on the 30th (sounding obviously different from the more numerous Arctic Warblers which were also present).
- Thick-billed Warbler Iduna aedon. Three were seen together in one ‘scope view on Eocheong.
- Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi. Singles heard on 30th and 31st.
- Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria. Probably 20 were on Eocheong.
- Black-faced Spoonbill (60)
- Grey Plover (750)
- Mongolian Plover (200)
- Bar-tailed Godwit (200, including Yellow Flag DRS from Australia, who has been present about a month now)
- Great Knot (20, mostly juvs)
- Red Knot (1)
- Pectoral Sandpiper (1)
- Ruddy Turnstone (3)
- Terek Sandpiper (only 10, most have left since early August)
- Whimbrel (10+)
- Far Eastern Curlew (200)
- Eurasian Curlew (500)
- Dunlin (250)
- Broad-billed Sandpiper (50)
- Red-necked Stint (1)
- Saunders's Gull (5 - always very few this time of year)
- Black-faced Spoonbill (30)
- Grey Heron (10)
- Spot-billed Duck (500 - an autumn build-up)
- Garganey (8)
- Common Teal (3)
- Pacific Golden Plover (32, nearly all adults - my first for Songdo)
- Little Ringed Plover (1)
- Black-tailed Godwit (350)
- Common Greenshank (1,000)
- Common Redshank (20)
- Spotted Redshank (1)
- Marsh Sandpiper (50, maybe more)
- Common Snipe (4)
- Green Sandpiper (5)
- Wood Sandpiper (100)
- Common Sandpiper (5)
- Long-toed Stint (6)
- Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (1)
- Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha (20+)
- Striated Heron Butorides striata (1)
- Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus (10+)
- Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (8)
- Eastern Great Egret Ardea a. modesta (6)
- Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus (1)
- Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus (8)
- Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva (1)
- Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola (2)
- Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago (2)
- Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (70+)
- Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata (12)
- Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (4)
- Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (8+)
- Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola (20+)
- Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus (1)
- Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (2)
- Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata (10+)
- Ruff Philomachus pugnax (1)
- Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris (2)
- Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida (6)
- Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis (30+)
- Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (1)
- Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus (2)
- Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus (3)
- Eurasian Magpie Pica pica (1)
- Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos (1)
- Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica (28)
- Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis (4)
- Far Eastern Cisticola Cisticola juncidis (4)
- Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana (30+)
- Stejneger's Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri (1)
- Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus (50+)
- Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis (6)
- Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea (2)
- 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.
Songdo, August 30 & 31
The tides were quite good for checking the shorebirds at Gojan mudflats. The highlight was a Pectoral Sandpiper on 30 Aug.
Nearby Namdong Reservoir was crammed with birds - an estimated 1,600 shorebirds. But all different species from Gojan (only one species found on both - any guesses?)
Other than waterbirds, a Siberian Weasel slipped across the path and a splendid male Japanese Grosbeak was singing from a tree in the adjacent small park.
Aphae Island & Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland, August 30
The vistit to Aphae island in the afternoon with high-tide ahead showed not as many shorebirds as expected. Most numerous were Terek Sandpiper 100, Red-necked Stint 100, Grey Plover c. 80, Whimbrel c. 60, Common Greenshank 50. Also seen were Far Eastern Curlew 10, Black-tailed Godwit 4, Bar-tailed Godwit 5, Far Estern Oystercatcher 1, Common Redshank 1, Grey-tailed-Tattler 30, Ruddy Turnstone 10, Dunlin 3, Mongolian Plover 20, Kentish Plover 30.
Of special not is a black/white-leg-flagged Terek Sandpiper. We believe that this is the same individual that was seen days earlier in Mokpo but wasn't seen after Thursday.
Non shorebirds were Great Egret 170, Little Egret 30, Chinese Egret 3, Grey Heron 5, Common Kingfisher 1, Spot-billed Duck 3, Black-tailed Gull 30.
Back in Mokpo we went to the Namhang Urban Wetland at high-tide at its peak and so almost all birds were in one area of the site; exception were c. 40 Grey Heron and a few Great Egret which roosted all over the place and 1 Striated Heron and 2 Common Kingfisher were seen at one end of the site.
On shorebirds Red-necked Stint c. 350-400, Whimbrel 15, Pacific Golden Plover 5, Common Greenshank 40, Common Redshank 18, Grey-tailed-Tattler 25, Terek Sandpiper 40, Ruddy Turnstone, Marsh Sandpiper 5, Wood Sandpiper 20, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 2, Broad-billed Sandpiper 2, Long-toed Stint and 4 Long-billed Plover 2 were seen with two additional highlights for the day: 1 juvenile Ruff (like the previous year) and the first time record for this site of 5 Red-necked Pharalope.
Suncheon Bay, August 30
I spent a pleasant morning around Suncheon Bay, wandering through the rice paddies in search of birds. I arrived a few hours after low tide, so shorebird numbers on the bay itself were lower than expected. The rice had not been harvested yet, except for one cell, which held a good number of shorebirds. There were some passerines around as well, including four counter-singing Far Eastern Cisticolas, singing Oriental Reed Warblers, and a few Eastern Yellow Wagtails passing through. Also observed a Least Weasel and an Amur Leopard Cat. A total of 35 bird species were observed throughout the day.
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 20 - 21
On the 20th, heavy rain fell for most of the day. Upon arriving at Jaeger Point, to avoid getting wet, I set up at a café, and for a little more than three hours had good views of the passing migrants all heading south into the wind. Within that time, I counted 900+ Common Tern, 54+ Red-necked Phalarope, 18 Black-headed Gull, two Garganey and 650+ shorebirds including mostly Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper, Whimbrel, a few Far Eastern Curlew and Eurasian Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler, some Dunlin, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Sanderling, and Red-necked Stint.
On the 21st, rain was forecast for the morning. Instead conditions were a mix of sunshine and occasional heavy showers early on, clearing by 9AM with moderate (Force 4) southerlies. Together with NM, we arrived at Jaeger Point before 0730. We counted c. 210 Common Tern, one Aleutian Tern (an adult moving into non-breeding plumage, with a hint of dark seen on the underside of the secondaries and a pale area on the inner primaries: NM only), 5 Red-necked Phalarope, close to 30 Black-headed Gull, a single Barn Swallow and between 30 – 40 other shorebirds including Whimbrel, Great Knot, two Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and some stints, all heading south. Close to 10am, some construction workers arrived at the headland apparently to close-off the best watchpoint. This was our cue to change positions and head to the third floor of a local café for a couple of hours. From there, we saw an Intermediate Egret, c. 80 more Common Tern (including one “dark” bird that on head-on views might, or might not have been an Aleutian)and a good mix of shorebirds including Green Sandpiper (1), Terek Sandpiper (12), Pacific Golden Plover (7), Grey Plover (c. 10), Mongolian Plover (1+), Kentish Plover (1), Red-necked Stint (8), Long-toed Stint (1), Dunlin (15), Great Knot (5+) and more Barn Swallow (13), again all heading south. There were a few Black-tailed Gull on the rocks, and briefly a juvenile Great Knot, but sadly few opportunities for digiscoping.
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: