Waves of colder air cause a sharp drop in temperature, especially from mid-month onwards, when maxima can be as low as 8-10°C: the last of the autumn migrants are joined by huge numbers of wintering waterbirds.
Numbers of Baikal Teal continue to build, along with geese (many of which move on into China). Swan Geese peak at the Han-Imjin (with 1000-1500 in recent autumns). Common Buzzards and Cinereous Vultures start to arrive for the winter, along with gulls (Saunders's, Siberian, Vega, Mongolian and Slaty-backed are all widespread), Red-crowned, White-naped and Hooded Cranes, and passerines, including Siberian Accentor. Movements of divers and alcids, most especially Ancient Murrelet, can be impressive. Passerines include many late summer visitors until the second week of the month, when winter species, such as Chinese Penduline Tit and Pallas's Reed Bunting start to predominate.
Outstanding national rarities in November have included Black-headed and Ortolan Bunting and Savannah Sparrow on Gageo Island in 2000 and 2001, Demoiselle (2001) and Siberian White Crane in the Nakdong and the Han-Imjin/DMZ (2001) respectively, Korea's first White-capped Water Redstart and Water Pipit in 2003, the country's third and fourth Verditer Flycatchers in 2004, and a Ural Owl photographed at Odaeson National Park in 2005.
(The following records are a compilation of our own sightings and records sent in by other observers. As well as being posted on the Birds Korea website(s), selected records are also forwarded to other Korean-language birding websites; records of threatened species are arranged and forwarded to Birdlife International and national authorities when appropriate; flag images and records are passed to bodies responsible for their coordination throughout the flyway; and all records sent to us are used to compile annual reports and to support the evolving understanding of the status of many of Korea’s birds.)
Gunsan vicinity, Geum; tidal flats and lake, November 26
A single Long-billed Plover was seen at Seong-san reservoir, resting and preening on the shoreline, poorly digi-scoped. A few Shovelers were seen among the Mallards and Common Teal. White Wagtail lugens were seen in several locations as well as Buff-bellied Pipits.
In Oksan a pair of Common Buzzards sat on the tops of high power lines, seemingly not concerned with each other.
At the Geum a particularly late single Spotted Redshank was actively feeding along the shoreline. Some particularly dark mantled Herring-gull types with yellow legs seemed like good Heuglin's Gulls. Perhaps more Swan Geese were hiding behind the grasses, but only 17 counted, viewed from the Chungchong side. A few dozen Saunders Gulls were watched flying by and sitting on somewhat distant flats. Joined there by Geoff Styles, Andy Henderson, Jeff Puccini and Sue (a Korean national) we moved on to watch the Baikal Teal gather and go off for nighttime foraging. I couldn't begin to imagine counting them...
Uiwang, November 26
30+ Coot and 10- 15 Great Crested Grebes on the reservoir included 2 or 3 young birds- both species nest here in the summer. Otherwise standard early winter birds: plentiful Mallards, Spot-billed Ducks, a few Shoveler and Teal all panicked by a passing Common Buzzard, plentiful lugens Black-backed Wagtails, a Winter Wren, 2 Great-spotted Woodpeckers, 15 Long-tailed Tits, a Bull-headed Shrike, and a lone Buff-bellied Pipit. Oriental Turtle Doves were in almost plague proportions in nearby rice fields.
Seungbongdo, November 23 - 25
A family trip to Seungbongdo in cool clear weather found small numbers of birds but some high quality.
Highlights of November 23 (afternoon): Small numbers of Bramblings and Siskins (both heard only). 1 Buff-bellied Pipit. Numerous Yellow-throated Buntings. 3 each of Naumann's and Dusky Thrushes, joined briefly by a Pale Thrush. Several Buzzards and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Several Siberian Accentors (2 seen).
November 24 added a few Goldcrests, several Wrens, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a Skylark (heard) , a lingering (and scolding!) Korean Bush Warbler, 2 Pallas' Reed Buntings and a single Yellow Breasted Bunting. A brown-plumaged juvenile Peregrine Falcon sat in a field of rice stubble.
Definite highlight came in the afternoon next to the minbak: a single winter-plumaged Snow Bunting, apparently just South Korea's second record, which flew onto a bump on the road and posed confidingly about 15-20 yards away. Unfortunately, my camera was in the bag, and a car flushed the bird before I could get it set up. I searched the rest of that afternoon and the following morning (there are grassy dunes in the area as well as extensive ricefields nearby) but did not find the bird again.
Guemgang, Mangyeong, Hwapo and Simpo, November 19
The total of 60 species for the day was quite good, but it was the sheer number of birds seen today that left an impression on us. Baikal Teal (c.400,000) and a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese flew right over our heads in the evening, and was a fantastic way to end the day. c.12,000 Rooks with Daurian Jackdaws mixed in were seen kettling away near the Mangyeong. Large numbers of Bean Geese, Mallards, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Spot-billed Duck were also seen. A flock of c.100 Little Bunting were found and followed, and c.80 Eurasian Skylarks called at almost every stop we made. A high count by JL of 38 Swan Geese were at the Geum, while 47 Azure-winged Magpies were seen near the Mangyeong. 8 Kestrels also winged their way into our records.
Small numbers were also exciting, as the Mangyeong held 7 White Spoonbill, 2 Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye along with numerous Common Shelduck and a Common Snipe further inland. At the Geum, the season's first male Smew joined 6 females, 1 Common Sandpiper was seen, while 4 Chinese Penduline Tits flew overhead, 2 more Common Mergansers and Goldeneye dove in the waning tide and good numbers of Black-headed Gull were on the mud.
Two highlights were one Dusky Thrush eunomus near the Dongjin, and the season's first Eagle species seen overhead at Simpo Harbour. Flying away from us at slight angle didn't give us enough to make an accurate call on it though, and it was not seen again. Sticking with birds of prey, 2 Common Buzzard and one Osprey were recorded near the Mangyeong at Hwapo.
All in all an enjoyable day, and a great start to the winter birding season.
Hong and Heuksan Island, September - November
News of two additions to Category 1 of the Birds Korea checklist, following formal release of the information (and permission to post).
1) September 20, Hong Island
Two Willow Warbler were photographed by Kim Sung-Hyun and Park Jong-Gil of the NPMBC. Although this species has been informally claimed before (with birds twice heard and glimpsed for example on Socheong in 2005), this is the first documented record of the species on the Korean peninsula.
Willow Warbler is rarely but increasingly regularly reported in Japan, especially on offshore islands in autumn.
2) October 29-30, Heuksan Island
A Booted Eagle was photographed by Park Jong-Gil. Although a light-phase individual identified as this species was seen at long range by Nial Moores on Socheong on October 20, 2005 (see latest news archive), this earlier record was unsupported by photographs and had been placed in a pending file for later consideration.
Booted Eagle has apparently been reported several times from eastern China (e.g. Hebei Province) in recent years.
November 1, Hong Do
A Plumbeous Water Redstart photographed by Park Jong-Gil and Kim Sung-Hyun of the NPMBC becomes the second record of this species for the Korean peninsula, with the first found on January 13, 2006, in Daejeon.
Cheorwon and Han-Imjin, November 12
A crisp and frosty start to the morning (with a low of -3C) was well-warmed by excellent flight views of White-naped Crane (ca 150 in total there), sightings of Red-Crowned Crane (6), Cinereous Vulture (9), and Siberian Accentor (two out of the five or so present were scoped excellently in perfect light), and a Chinese Water Deer running past us at probably less than 20 m distance.
Other birds of note there included at least one and possibly two Red-throated Thrush (clearly an excellent winter for this taxon), another Red-throated or Taiga Flycatcher (this one seen well), and one Common, 3 Long-tailed and 2 Pallas's Rosefinches.
On the way to the Han-Imjin, decent views of Japanese Wagtail and Long-billed Plover (2), while the estuary itself produced another Common Crane, 2 Hooded and 100 or so White-naped Cranes. While only 40 or so Swan Goose were seen at the Han-Imjin, numbers of grey geese seen during the day were exceptional. Rough estimates of Greater White-fronted Goose included a very conservative minimum of 50000 to 60000 at Cheorwon (with 4 or 5 Lesser White-fronteds mixed in), and probably 25000 at the Han-Imjin.
Seosan A; Mangyeung Estuary; Geum Estuary and barrage lake, November 11
In largely sunny conditions with a brisk wind, over 80 species logged. At Seosan A, highlights included huge numbers of grey geese (with 10000+ Bean, 50000+ Greater White-fronted and 2 Lesser White-fronted Geese), 75 Eurasian Spoonbill, one Rough-legged and one or two Upland Buzzards, 17 Hooded Crane, a very late Eastern Yellow Wagtail and 400+ Lapland Longspur, in addition to a Raccoon Dog crossing the road in front of us.
At Hwapo Ri on the Mangyeung, our search for an Oriental White Stork found by Mr. Ju Yong-Gi on November 6 instead turned up three Common Crane resting up on the open tidal-flat (these were relocated on Nov.07 by Peter and Angela Nebel) - presumably an exceptional record for this area. In addition, a very rough estimate of several flocks of Rook came to 15000.
In the late afternoon, there were 70 Saunders's Gull at the barrage, most unexpectedly a single Red-throated Flycatcher heard near the Geum, and very approximately 400000 Baikal Teal on the barrage lake - sadly rather distant, likely due to disturbance from maintenance staff in the hire of Gunsan City.
Seosan A, November 12
Clear skies over the rice fields, and several hundred Bean & Greater White-fronted Geese gathered in the rice paddies, accompanied by lesser numbers of Ruddy Shelducks and a lone Swan Goose. The whole enormous flock took to the air occasionally when besieged by hunting Peregrine, as well as a fleeing Chinese water deer which ran directly at them.
45 Northern Lapwings were a pleasing sight, also a Long-tailed Rosefinch, 2 Chinese Penduline Tits, 2 Siberian Stonechats, handfuls of Eurasian Skylarks and Buff-bellied Pipits, and plentiful Black-faced Buntings.
On the water 2 Coots, 2 Tufted Ducks, 2 Great-Crested and many Little Grebes, and an assortment of Mallards, Teal, Goosanders and Spot-billed Ducks.
Also of note, a Tiger keelback snake Rhabdophis tigrinus, appearing about 1.5m long, and an Amur Leopard Cat.
Yongyudo (near Incheon airport), November 10
A couple of hours at Yongyudo found the return of some winter regulars there - most especially, 2 Long-tailed Rosefinches that frequent,the scrub along the canal. Also noted: about 30 Yellow-throated Buntings, 1 Yellow-browed Warbler calling, 1 Bull-headed Shrike, 50+ Bramblings, 2 Goldcrests, 7 Long-tailed Tits, 4 Common Buzzards and 2 Kestrels, 1 lingering Common Greenshank, and 15 Bean Geese.
No Siberian Accentors yet, though . . .
Socheong Island, November 9
With clear conditions and a temporary drop in the wind, a decision to leave for the mainland. In the little time available in the morning, most unexpected was a Spangled Drongo, again in flight, and again seen only briefly. Other species of note included a Hen Harrier and probably 3 Siberian Accentor. In rough seas from the ferry, a single late Streaked Shearwater and 4 Pomarine Jaeger were the only species of note.
Socheong Island, November 8
Winds increased overnight to Beaufort Force 8, and remained from the southwest all day, with hazy though sunny and mild conditions. Most interesting species included 2 Goosander, a Pomarine Jaeger, a very late and perhaps injured Oriental Scops Owl, and a dead first winter Red-throated Thrush (killed by a car), while more intriguing was a medium-sized owl watched coming in off the sea at medium-range.
Seogwipo, Jeju, November 8
An adult-type Rose-colored Starling, in loose company with 3 Red-billed Starling. This is the third national record, after single juveniles on Eocheong on September 1, 2002, and on Hong Island on 6-7 September 2004.
Socheong Island, November 7
With moderate winds swinging round from NW to SW, 62 species logged. Of most note were a Hen Harrier, an albidus-type Northern Goshawk, 2 Upland Buzzard, 2 Light-vented Bulbul still, probably 2 Red-throated Thrush (one stunning adult male, and one heavily streaked First Winter, either pure ruficollis or hybrid with naumanni), late single Yellow-browed and Chestnut Buntings, and an adult male Chinese Grosbeak.
Socheong Island, November 6
Extreme weather and some excellent birds. Occasional rain showers became more prolonged spells of rain, hail and even wet snow in the late afternoon, with northwesterly winds gusting to Beaufort Force 8, before swinging more to the west overnight. Temperatures struggled to reach 7C maximum. 63 species logged for the day.
The regular morning visible migration count early in the morning, from a ridge overlooking North Point, produced single late Asian House Martin and Crested Honey Buzzard heading north-northwest (up towards the very western tip of Korea, with the shortest sea crossing west to the Shandong peninsula, China), 1070 Brambling counted moving in the same direction in one hour, and a single Lapland Bunting. Thrush numbers were much improved too, with 2 White's Thrush, Pale and Grey-backed Thrushes heard, and at least 100 Dusky Thrush.
Outstanding highlight came in one of the Dusky Thrush flocks: a single Eurasian Redwing Turdus iliacus, sadly (and absolutely typical of Socheong this year!) only seen in flight, when its obviously smaller size; distinct face-pattern, with lack of Dusky or Naumann's white half-collar; heavily streaked underparts; and strongly dark-reddish flanks and part of underwing were all clearly seen. This species has previously not been claimed in Korea, though it has been recorded, very rarely, in neighboring Japan. Despite much searching, not refound (though in the afternoon the same or another smaller thrush was again seen mixed in with a highly mobile and wary Dusky Thrush flock).
Other species of note for the day included the 2 Light-vented Bulbul still, and a presumed Hume's Leaf Warbler. (A paper to be published next year in Forktail on records from Socheong will provide more details on claims of this taxon in Korea).
Gunsan vicinity, Oh-seong Mountain, Na-po Reservoir, Geum tidal and freshwater side, Mangyeong Village, November 5
A mixed group of Buntings were behind the nurses' college. It included Yellow-throated, Rustic as well as Black-faced (spodocephala) and a couple of Chestnut Buntings. Buzzards were soaring off Oh-seong Mountain. Shovelers were seen in the reservoir, as well as Falcated Teal, Mandarin Ducks, and a Great Egret (alba). Several thousand Baikal Teal, a couple of dozen Whooper Swans and a few Bean Geese were in the freshwater side of the Geum.
On the Geum tidal flats a couple of dozen Black-tailed Godwits remain. Twenty-three Swan Geese, including the third return of R90, accompanied this year by R05. These were noted on the 4th by PN and JL.
Near Mangyeong Town a dozen or more Northern Lapwings were seen. A large group of a few thousand Corvids were seen in the distance, after we caught up with them we saw a couple of thousand Rooks, perhaps as many Carrion Crows and a few dozen Daurian Jackdaws mixed in. In a replay of our last outing a couple of Magpies were seen harrassing a Chinese Pond Heron in non-breeding plumage.
Finally at dusk a single Green Sandpiper was seen in a canal in Ji-gok Dong.
Socheong Island, November 5
A very clear and sunny day until dusk, when rain started to fall. Rather cooler than of late, with a max of only 14C.
Few highlights, with best a lingering Osprey still, a Merlin, 3 or 4 Slaty-backed Gull, a very late Asian House Martin, good numbers of Brambling on the move (with 575 NW in 90 minutes in the morning), 2 Light-vented Bulbul, and still a good range and number of buntings, with Meadow (3), Tristram's (10), Chestut-eared (1), Little (10), Rustic (75), Yellow-throated (50), Chestnut (1), Black-faced (15), and Pallas's Reed (2) all logged.
Socheong Island, November 4
The forecast rain failed to materialise, instead a strong wind (from all directions betwen SE and W) kept many birds in cover.
Best for the day were 2 Woodcock and a single Yellow-legged Buttonquail, a Red-throated Flycatcher (very scarce this autumn), very late Eastern Yellow Wagtail (2) and Yellow-breasted Bunting (a very buffy juvenile), and a single Light-vented Bulbul still.
Socheong Island, November 3
A few hours before the ferry (and the threat of severe weather on the following day) saw somewhat increased movement off the ocean. About 150 Dusky Thrushes were noted flying in over North Point, as were 1 Olive-backed and 6 Buff-bellied Pipits, about 100 Yellow-throated and 1 Tristram's Bunting, and 40 Bramblings.
Highlight was a Yellow-legged Buttonquail flushed from the grass: the latest (so far!) record for the island. Several Pallas' Leaf and Yellow-browed Warblers were heard.
The return ferry had outside access for the entire 4 hour trip. The ocean was generally quiet, but 1 unidentified diver was seen flying away from the boat, as were 7 Pomarine Skuas (one characteristically harrassing a gull) and 1 South Polar Skua.
Socheong Island, November 3
A quick return to Socheong based on a severe weather system forecast to move in, apparently from west of Mongolia!...
From the ferry, 9 Pomarine Jaeger, adult Slaty-backed Gull, and - outstanding highlight - three phalaropes, of which at least two were non-breeding plumaged Red Phalarope (based on heavy bill and very plain, pale grey upperparts). This species is not (yet) recorded annually in Korean waters.
On the island itself, a single Light-vented Bulbul but few other birds until late in the evening, when a thunderstorm seemed to bring in another male Red-throated Thrush (in with ca 70 Duskys) and ca 60 Olive-backed Pipit along with many small groups of Rustic Bunting.
Most intriguing were three large snipe at nightfall, that gave a harsh, dry and rasping call...
Socheong Island, November 2
New birds on the 2nd (continued clear and warm with light winds) included a good flight view of a Woodcock, 3 Light-vented Bulbul, a Meadow Bunting (splendid adult male), an Arctic Warbler, and 2 Jays.
Most excitement was from 2 brief flight views of an owl flushed from some pines: large, earless, strikingly pale, with streaked crown, pale facial disks, strong barring on inner primaries, long barred tail, and overall grey coloration: an apparent Ural Owl.
Socheong Island, November 1
Ferry (from inside) and poorish viewing conditions in light fog: a distant flock of approx. 60 Scoters (assumed White-winged, from flock formation). 1 Streaked Shearwater, 1 Pomarine and 1 unidentified Skua.
On the island, in very clear and fairly warm weather, little obvious movement of birds: 50+ Yellow-throated, 1 Rustic and 10 Black-faced Buntings. 1 adult male Pine Bunting in near-breeding plumage at North Point. 2 Buff-bellied Pipits (heard). 2 Winter Wrens, 4 Eurasian and 2 Japanese Sparrowhawks, 2 Peregrine Falcons, 10 Common Buzzards. 3 Dusky Thrushes. 100 Bramblings, Siskins (heard), 3 Goldcrest, 2 Yellow-browed and 1 Pallas' Leaf Warbler (heard). 2 Bull-headed Shrikes and 1 Red-flanked Bluetail.