Warm (typically between 15-20°C mid-month), with often excellent birding weather: dry, sunny, and relatively calm. Occasional rain, although uncomfortable for birdwatchers, can produce excellent falls. One of the best times to be birding in Korea! Autumn migration is in full swing, and anything is possible.
Black-faced Spoonbill and Chinese Egret are still reasonably widespread. Hooded and White-naped Cranes start moving back south into the ROK and huge concentrations of Tundra Beans and Greater White-fronted Geese form in Cheorwon, at the Han-Imjin and Seosan. Raptor migration is often strong, with Grey-faced Buzzards (day peak of 1,650 on Gageo Island), Crested Honey Buzzards, the occasional eagle (especially Greater Spotted), and in some years, flocks of Amur Falcon, especially in the northwest. Shorebirds are still present in good numbers and diversity, with a peak in Nordmann’s Greenshank. Visible passerine migration also peaks with Olive-backed Pipits becoming numerous by mid-month along the west coast, plus often excellent numbers of buntings and flycatchers. Pale, White’s, and small numbers of Dusky Thrushes are also on the move, along with the first of the typical winter passerines - Brambling and Siskin.
In 2005 the country’s first Swinhoe’s Rail in 70 years was reported from Hong Island, while Korean firsts in October have included Scaly-breasted Munia (2003), Yellow-bellied Tit (2005), Booted Eagle (2006) and Pine Grosbeak (2013).
Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland, October 23
The morning visit to the site show quite a variety of species. On shorebirds still c. 30 Common Greenshank, one Common Redshank, 11 Long-billed Plover, 11 Dunlin, two Common Sandpiper, one Terek Sandpiper and one Black-winged Stilt were seen.
Ducks get more numerous every week. Now c. 15 Northern Shoveler, c. 60 Common Teal, 20+ Eurasian Wigeon, c. 40 Eastern Spot-billed Duck, 10+ Mallard one in eclipse plumage.
Other birds seen were: one Great Egret, 3 Little Egret, 11 Black-tailed Gull all resting on poles, 20+ White Wagtail, 3 Grey Wagtail, small numbers of Eurasian Magpie, Eurasian Treesparrow, Grey-capped Greenfinch, Brown-eared Bulbul, Oriental Turtle Dove and also 3 Phylloscopus warbler which were very restless moving within several trees which made observation very difficult. From the few better views they most likely were Yellow-browed Warbler.
Mangyeung River, October 19
A Horned Lark, first found a week earlier, was photographed by local birder Lee Kwon-Woo on the 18th and then again by more birders on the 19th. This appears to be about the fifth record in the ROK of this species.
Mt. Gyeyang, Incheon, October 18
From my mountain watchpoint (which commands an excellent, almost 360-degree view for at least 20km in all directions), still a trickle of raptor migration evident. Over the course of two and a half hours around midday, five Japanese Lesser Sparrowhawk formed a spiralling mini-kettle, two of them stooping and tumbling briefly; one Amur Falcon hurried through, and six Eastern Buzzard lazed on thermals over the ricefields.
Descending through the trees I bumped into the resident gang of Azure-winged Magpies.
Mt. Gyeyang, Incheon, October 11
During a non-birding hike up Incheons highest peak (395m), I was suddenly surprised by the overhead rush of 15 Amur Falcon, deftly catching airborne insects with their spectacular flight. This movement of migrants continued for about 40 minutes, and included 10 Red-rumped Swallow, four Eastern Buzzard, and 12 Brambling.
Of most interest on the wooded and grassy slopes, two Siberian Thrush, four Yellow-browed Warbler, two Olive-backed Pipit, two Azure-winged Magpie and a Black-faced Bunting.
Dobongsan, Seoul, October 4
A morning at the mountain yielded 3 or 4 calling Yellow-browed Warblers, 2 Eurasian Nuthatches, calling Eurasian Jays, scattered Marsh and Great Tits, a male Mugimaki Flycatcher high in a tree, a Rufous-tailed Robin much lower, 2 Asian Stubtails, a pair of Tristram’s Buntings, a single Yellow-throated Bunting, and 1 calling Japanese Pygmy and 4 White-backed Woodpeckers, the last an apparent family unit.
Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland, October 4
Compared to three days earlier birds were almost the same; only Eastern Spot-billed Duck were now over 20 and two Common Redshank were seen additionally.
The Black-winged Stilts are still on the site and this morning at very close range.
Images of all four individuals:
Junam Reservoir, October 3
With a few hours free this afternoon I decided to have a quick walk at Junam Reservoir. It was clear and sunny, almost a perfect day. At my first stop, it was nice to see a small flock of Bean Geese (8) flying overhead. There weren’t many birds on the main lake, but still there were a few surprises including (6) Pheasant-tailed Jacana. I was only able to view them from a distance, but none were in breeding plumage, and I’ve read that juveniles resemble adults in non-breeding/winter plumage. They were feeding on some floating vegetation. The birds that I looked carefully at lacked yellow on the sides of the neck sides. Other birds on the main lake include Little Grebe (8), Common Pochard (19), Tufted Duck (3), Gadwall (10), and Falcated Duck (2). At Dongpan, there were about 700+ ducks, mostly Gadwall, with some Mallard, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, a few Northern Pintail, and a single Greater White-fronted Goose.
Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland, October 1
A sunny afternoon invited for a visit at the site. Still a few shorebirds present: c. 50 Common Greenshank; one found without the tip of the bill, 3 Terek Sandpiper, a lonely Grey Plover and a lonely Grey-tailed Tattler, several Common Sandpiper, Long-billed Plover and Red-necked Stint. Also present for several days now 4 Black-winged Stilt.
Eight Eastern Spot-billed Duck, two Common Teal and one female Mandarin Duck were seen. Only three Little Egret, thirteen Great Egret and 63 Grey Heron were on the site along with one Common Kingfisher, one Grey Wagtail and at least seven White Wagtail.
Two bigger flocks of birds, one c. 40 Eurasian Magpie and the other c. 80 to 100 Eurasian Treesparrow moved around. Several Oriental Tutle Dove and Brown-eared Bulbul were also seen.
Nakdong Estuary and Geum Estuary, September 26 - 28
A “marathon” 3-day weekend (preceded by an afternoon of birding in Igidae in Busan on the 25th) saw multiple Birds Korea objectives met and provided opportunities for information-sharing and survey work focused on the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other threatened waterbirds. This post is focused simply on notable bird observations (in the hope that others will write at greater length in separate posts about the seminar, kindly supported financially by K Water; and also about our latest report, “Status of Birds, 2014”).
Due to a rather tight / hectic schedule, observations below were made in two hours in Igidae on the 25th (by NM and Andreas Kim); during nine hours of fieldwork at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th (NM, AK and Robin Newlin); during four hours of educational program at the Nakdong Estuary on the 27th; and during 13 hours on Yubu Island, Geum Estuary, on the 28th (NM, RN, Jason Loghry, Ha Jung Mun and Patrick Blake), when very large numbers of shorebirds were counted during both the early morning high tide and the especially good evening high tide.
Most notable species included:
- Swan Goose Anser cygnoides. Three were at Yubu on the 28th.
- Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna. Three were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 27th.
- Falcated Duck Anas falcata. Probably 20+ were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 27th, mixed in with high hundreds of other duck.
- Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. Four were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, with 1-2 there on the 27th; and one was on Yubu on the 28th.
- Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes. Two or three were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 27th and probably 10+ were on Yubu on the 28th.
- Black Kite Milvus migrans. One was in Igidae on the 25th and perhaps 15, all of which were juveniles, were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 27th.
- Far Eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans. Seven were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 27th. At least 4,500 were counted in 45 “blocks of 100” from Yubu on the 28th.
- Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva. Perhaps up to 10 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th; and one was at Yubu on the 28th.
- Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola. Twenty to thirty were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th (including many juveniles) and only c. 300 were on Yubu on the 28th. In autumn 2007, counts on Yubu on August 16th-17th, September 12th and September 28th all found much higher counts of this species, with 2,100 there on September 28th 2007 (SSMP 2007 report).
- Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus. Probably 200 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 150 on the 27th. On Yubu on the 28th, 11,000 were counted in one scan of the closer smaller shorebirds, with a total of 15,000 estimated (out of a total 41,800 smaller shorebirds counted an hour or so before high tide). This is a remarkably high count of this fast-declining species, Red-Listed by Birds Korea.
- White-faced Plover Charadrius alexandrinus dealbatus (?). A taxon now split at the species-level by BirdLife International, though regrettably on apparently incorrect ID criteria. On Yubu on the 28th, four or so plovers were obviously (slightly) larger, much heavier-billed and longer-legged, with paler sandy upperparts than typical (presumed nihonensis) Kentish, and all such birds also had pink or pinky-yellow leg colour (when all obvious Kentish were either mostly grey or green-grey legged). These individuals, all seen in the same area as c.30 (now only suspected) White-faced Plover seen last year, recalled Greater Sand or Mongolian Plover at some angles more than Kentish, and at least two were very aggressive towards typical-looking Kentish, driving them away from temporary feeding territories (using a deeper “churritt” call than typical Kentish). Two or three of these had white lores on one or both sides of the head; the best seen individual (with the camera set to darken the images considerably) had extensive dark on the lores on one side and faint brown on the other. Pale at the bill base was looked for in all of these birds but not seen, though conditions were extremely bright. As this bird in the images had large breast patches and no pink at the bill base it was thought possibly to be a Kentish but….might it instead have been White-faced? Correspondence with Jonathan Martinez, who has much experience of breeding and non-breeding “Swinhoe’s Plover” (the perhaps better name for dealbatus, as it is often has marked lores in non-breeding plumage), throws up the possibility that some birds in the ROK might show intermediate characters between “true dealbatus” and “true nihonensis”. Several images of breeding Kentish Plover from the southwest of the country in our gallery, for example, show some pink on the legs (said to be a feature of dealbatus) but otherwise look like typical Kentish. It is clear that much more work is needed still to resolve the status of the various Kentish-type taxa!
- Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus. Only sixty or so at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 27th but an estimated 3,000 at Yubu on the 28th.
- Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii. One or two at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and three at the Geum Estuary on the 28th.
- Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata. At least 130 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and an estimated 2,300 were at Yubu on the 28th, with many of these “appearing” shortly before high tide.
- Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. At least 90 were at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, though only ~2 were seen there on the 27th. On the 28th, an estimated 2,200 were on Yubu. Many of these “appeared” about an hour before highest tide, and “disappeared” 15 minutes later.
- Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer. Five were seen in one scan on Yubu on the 28th, and several others (the same, or an additional 3-4 individuals) were seen at other times of the day.
- Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris. Sixty-five were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 2,000 were counted in repeated scans along the shoreline at Yubu on the 28th.
- Red Knot Calidris canutus. Five were in the Great Knot flock at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and probably 20 were seen at Yubu on the 28th.
- Sanderling Calidris alba. Probably 300-400 were at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, and c.500 were at Yubu on the 28th.
- Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis. Only 50-100 were seen in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th (compared with 1500 at the same time last year). At Yubu, there were probably 1,000 present shortly before high-tide. The rather low numbers suggest that the breeding success of the population moving through the ROK might have been lower than last year, when exceptionally good numbers of juveniles were seen. At least one leg-flagged bird was seen, with black over yellow on the right leg (banded in SW Kamchatka in late August this year per Evgeny Syroechkovskiy).
- Little Stint Calidris minuta. Based on structure, one worn juvenile was at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th. A possible (appearing long-billed, strongly marked on the head, rufous and black with decent white braces) was also seen briefly and poorly digiscoped on Yubu on 28th (NM only).
- Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea. One was on Yubu on the 28th.
- Dunlin Calidris alpina. About 50 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and >20,000 were at Yubu on the 28th. One of these was flagged black over yellow (so was banded in SW Kamchatka); another was banded engraved white over blue on the left leg (digiscoped by JL); one had a single orange flag on the right leg; and one had white over orange and another orange over white on the right leg (so both had been banded in the ROK, one more recently than the other).
- Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. A total of four or five juveniles were seen in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, with three seen in one scan there on the 27th (with much less coverage). None had leg-flags. At Yubu on the 28th, nine were counted in a single scan along the western edge on the falling tide (in amongst probably <30% of the 41,800 small shorebirds counted in blocks of 100 two hours before high tide). There were several additional encounters with birds on other parts of the flats before and after this, so an estimated 11 were recorded during the day. Of these three had flags. One Juvenile into First-winter was banded black over yellow (so was one of five juveniles banded in SW Kamchatka in late August by Birds Russia) and two, aged as adults, carried light green flags. One of these flags appeared to be engraved (with a “3” or some such) though was only seen distantly. The least bad image of this bird and flag has been sent onto Nigel Clark at the BTO to try to decipher. Further survey is still required through all tide states to see if there are any more patches of habitat in the Geum Estuary preferred by spoonies that are not usually counted.
- Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus. Probably 5-10 were at the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 1,000-1,500 were at Yubu on the 28th.
- Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi. At least 15 were at Yubu on the 28th.
- Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus. Two First-winters were seen together in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th; only one remained there on the 27th. This is likely to be the first September record of this species in the ROK (perhaps, hopefully, the result of a successful breeding season for the Russian population?).
- Vega Gull Larus vegae. At least 18 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th (the first seen in Busan this autumn by NM was on September 18th).
- Taimyr Gull Larus heuglini taimyrensis. At least 24 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and 2-3 on Yubu on the 28th.
- Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica. One in non-breeding plumage (perhaps a First Winter) was found and photographed in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th. It apparently took a dragonfly before then taking crabs – dropping from several meters up in swoops like an exaggerated Saunders’s Gull. This species is scarcely annually-recorded in the ROK.
- Common Tern Sterna hirundo. Five or more were seen moving south off Igidae on the 25th and at least 80 were in or offshore from the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, with none were seen there on the 27th.
- Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus. One was seen flying south off Igidae on the 25th.
- Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi. At least 15 were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, with three there on the 27th. One was heard over Yubu on the 28th.
- Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii. One First Calendar-year was heard and seen in the Nakdong Estuary on the 27th.
- Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni. Probably 10-15 were heard over Yubu during the 28th, marking the start of autumn migration of this species.
- Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi. At least six were in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th, with 2+ there on the 27th and perhaps 5-10 overflying Yubu during the 28th.
- Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus. One was in the Nakdong Estuary on the 26th and probably 20-30 were heard overflying Yubu on the 28th, marking the start of autumn migration of this species.
Bongraesan (Busan), September 22
Starting our morning before dawn, we were greeted first by sunrise watchers and early morning hikers. It was a gorgeous clear morning, and a Saturday, so it was no surprise to see so many folks up and out so early. The first birds of the morning were Grey-streaked Flycatchers, which added up to 12 birds by our finishing time. After those first flycatchers, we started to see a few Chinese Sparrowhawk. At around 7am, we spotted our first big flock of 52 together, flying over the hill towards the sea. Then for about an hour we saw a few Northern Hobby (10 for the day), a Peregrine Falcon, and a few Large-billed Crow. Finally at 8am, a second by flock of 60+ Chinese Sparrowhawk flew over. We had a total of only 131 Chinese Sparrowhawk by noon. By ten o’clock, we were seeing very few birds. At noon, we finished. Other interesting species include Japanese Sparrowhawk (1), Arctic Warbler sensu lato (5), Barn Swallow (8), Asian Brown Flycatcher (2), Grey-headed Woodpecker (1) and Great-spotted Woodpecker (1).