Cold winters mean both temperatures and birding are similar to January, while increasingly frequent mild winters are marked by brief spells of rain or sleet, often followed by warmer sunshine, with maximum temperatures rising to 15°C or more in the southeast.
Many wildfowl are on the move by mid-month: Tundra Beans, Greater White-fronted and usually Swan Geese can be found at the Han-Imjin. Most Baikal Teal start to depart and by month’s end can become difficult to find in southern locations. Rooks and Daurian Jackdaws begin to move back into the Nakdong valley and near Gunsan. February sees the start of crane migration, with Hooded and White-napeds moving into South Korea from Japan. The now very scarce Relict and the rather more widespread Saunders’s Gull peak at several tidal-flat sites. At the end of the month the first spring migrants, such as Far Eastern Curlews, Hoopoes and Japanese Lesser Sparrowhawks start to arrive.
February highlights in recent years have included records of Baer’s Pochard, Steppe Eagle, Least Auklet, Snow Bunting, and Common Redpoll.
Outstanding national rarities in February include the second record of Green-winged Teal in 2008, and the second Arctic Redpoll, on Heuksan Island in 2009. Recent Korean firsts in February include Thick-billed Murre in 2006 and Himalayan Vulture in 2007.
(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.)
Eulksodo, February 28
We spent the majority of the day exploring, under pleasant spring weather, most of the island except the southern observatory station. There were strong numbers of Spot-Billed Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Japanese Reed Bunting, and Common Reed Bunting. Major highlights for us were: 6 Black-Faced Sponbill, 80 Whooper Swan, 12 Smew, 7 Red-Breasted Merganser, 15 Chinese Penduline Tit, 1 Little Bunting, 12 Black-Crowned Night Heron and 1 Japanese Bush Warbler.
Paju / Chungju, February 28
In warm spring-like weather at Paju, most outstanding a roving flock of c.25 Common Redpoll.
Early morning roused 2 White-tailed Eagle into the thermals, with up to 25 Cinereous Vulture likewise lazily spiralling upward, and an (unusually?) calling Common Buzzard.
Along this picturesque and pristine stretch of the Imjin river, 4 White-naped Crane, a Northern Lapwing, 1 Siberian Accentor, bunches of Hawfinch, Siskin, Brambling, Rustic Bunting (all in the advanced stages of assuming breeding plumage), Naumman's Thrushes, Azure-winged Magpie (heard nearby), and 2 Great Cormorant. A Korean-type Red Squirrel tucked into pine cones, while lines of Tundra Bean and Greater White-fronted Geese passed overhead.
At Chungju, a Little Owl emerged from his crevice just before dusk, with a Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Dusky Thrush in the vicinity.
Jeju West Coast, February 28
At a beach near Mosulpo, a spectacular close view of a Pacific Loon was a treat. Several Black-throated Loon were also spotted nearby. Nearby, a single Red-necked Grebe kept company with a raft of about 50 Great Crested Grebe. Also among the raft was a single female White-winged Scoter. An Osprey sat on rocks near the shore. In a field among old Japanese concrete aircraft hangars, several Far Eastern Skylarks were seen.
Taejongdae, February 27
My wife and I were hoping for a good afternoon of both weather and birding here.
Amidst foul weather the highlights were as follows: 2 Japanese White-eye, 8 Eurasian Siskin, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Pelagic Cormorant, 11 Grey-Capped Green Finch and 22 Carrion Crow terrorized by 12 Black Kite.
Gageo Island, February 24
With rain and low cloud, only a short time in 1-Gu before the boat back to the mainland. Species of note included 4 Hawfinch, the Long-tailed Shrike and Dusky Warbler again, and new for the week, a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Japanese Lesser Sparrowhawk and two displaying Little Ringed Plover: the latter an extremely early arrival date.
Haenam, February 24
At Geumho lake- in the process of being bulldozed into industrial zone- best a juvenile Imperial Eagle, 2 Greater-spotted Eagle, and an Oriental White Stork.
Also in and around the vast reedbed, 200+ Tundra Bean Goose, 3 Northern Harrier, 1 White-tailed Eagle and 1 further unidentified Eagle.
On the water, plentiful duck including up to 90 Common Merganser, 11 Whooper Swan, and notably 400+ Great Crested Grebe. Otherwise 2 Common Kingfisher, a scattering of Coot, Red-breasted Merganser and several Gadwall.
Also in the surrounding area, 3 flocks of Azure-winged Magpie (one comprising at least 25 individuals), a Chinese/Korean Water Deer, 1 personata Black-faced Bunting, 1 Winter Wren, 1 Dusky Thrush, c.30 Grey Starling and c.20 Northern Skylark. A Northern Goshawk, Peregrine and 2 Eurasian Sparrowhawk were also among the 9 raptor species for the day.
Mokpo, February 23
At the Namhang Urban Wetland,at least 160 Common Shelduck, 100+ Eurasian Wigeon, 8 Common Sandpiper, plentiful Gadwall and several displaying Red-breasted Merganser: also 5 Eastern Oystercatcher, 6 Falcated Teal, several Shoveler and a mixture of Mongolian, Common, Black-headed, Vega and 2 Heuglins making up the assembled Gulls. Otherwise, plentiful Great Cormorant and Common Teal.
Gageo Island, February 23
In strong winds (again!), a long hike along the west of the island from 1-Gu in the south to the isolated lighthouse in the north in search of Black Woodpigeon. In total, four heard including three “new”. While there were very few birds of any species, even in the excellent looking area of forest in the north (where in addition to two Black Woodpigeon, only Varied Tit, Great Tit, Pale Thrush and Japanese White-eye), species of note included this trip’s first Buff-bellied Pipit, Red-flanked Bluetail and Black-faced Bunting (probably a personata), two presumed Eurasian Woodcock (flushed from the road-side after dark) and, exceptionally, two more Light-vented Bulbul, these coming into roost at 2-Gu (also in a measured way, moving from perch to perch around the final roost site). These birds, at least 3 and possibly four, represent the first proven multiple over-wintering of this species in Korea.
Gageo Island, February 22
With heavy rain for most of the day, and winds gusting occasionally even up to SE 8, only two hours in the field in the far south of the island. Highlights included single Black-legged Kittiwake and Red-necked Grebe (the latter a generally uncommon species in the South Korean Yellow Sea), the Dusky Warbler still, and outstanding highlight 1 or 2 Light-vented Bulbul heard and glimpsed coming into roost by the church. Based on the measured movement to the roost-site, this/these were not new arrivals.
Namsan & Yoido Ecology Park, February 22
Namsan: The morning started out in a dreary fashion. I took my usual route starting at the Namsan library. Highlights up and down the mountain were: 6 Pale Thrush, 4 Naumann's Thrush, 1 Siberian Accentor, and 14 Brambling.
Yoido Ecology Park: This "park", I once was familiar with (9 years ago), is undergoing a complete facelift. All trees between the walk path and a stream fed with overflow from the Han river are being as fast as the cranes can pull them up. All vegetation, including massive reed beds, have been plowed under from the weight of the Excavators. Nonetheless, highlights were as follows: 1 Dusky Thrush, 2 Daurian Redstart, 5 Little Grebe, 8 Common Teal, and 1 Winter Wren.
Namdaecheon and Cheongcho Lagoon, February 22
I checked the birds along Namdaecheon from the coast to Yangyang on Saturday morning 21 February. There were no surprises with small numbers of Vega Gulls near the coast and a few ducks including Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Great Cormorants, Coots, Mallards, Spot-billed Ducks and Greater Scaups. Upstream I found some Grey Herons, Eastern Great Egrets, a Pochard and Common Teals, more Mallards, Spot-billed Ducks and Great Cormorants. Unfortunately one of the cormorants was entangled in fishing line and I was unable to give it any assistance because it was out in the water of the river. In the riparian areas there were a Common Buzzard, Pallas's Reed Buntings, Long-tailed Rosefinches and Tree Sparrows. And on the gravel banks there were Long-billed Plovers, Japanese Wagtails and Buff-bellied Pipits.
In Sokcho's Cheongcho Lagoon there were Great crested Grebes, Mallards, Spot-billed Ducks, Greater Scaups, Tufted Ducks, Common Teal, 3 Northern Shovelers, 2 Eurasian Wigeons, 2 Mandarin Ducks, a Common Merganser and a Little Grebe. There were Slaty-backed Gulls, Vega Gulls, Black-tailed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. Around the edge of the water I saw 46 Sanderlings, 10 Northern Lapwings, 19 Grey Herons, 6 Eastern Great Egrets, a Little Egret and a White Wagtail subspecies Motacilla alba ocularis. As it was high tide, lots of Great Cormorants were using the artificial roosts in the lagoon, some of them in Breeding plumage.
Gageo Island, February 21
In beautiful weather (finally) a car drive up to the radar station on Doksil San (variously claimed to be 639 m or 649 m high, but less than 600 m by my GPS), followed by a 10-hour hike down to the lighthouse, and around the east coast through 3-Gu back to Il-Gu in the south. Near the peak, relict patches of snow and frosted ground were a fit setting for 4 flyby Redpoll (presumably all Common Redpoll), and a Bullfinch (heard only) but less fitting for a Hoopoe, one of two seen. In total, twelve Black Woodpigeon were heard “crooning” (none of which were seen), and one further silent bird was glimpsed as it flushed near 3-Gu.
Yeongsan Barrage (oceanside), February 21
A little walk in the early morning with no wind and nice sun showed only a handful Black-headed Gulls but 2 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe and 10 (4 male, 6 female) Red-breasted Merganser. The female Blue Rock Thrush was again sitting in her corner.
Daejin, February 20
The day added 2 Long-tailed Rosefinch amongst the scrub and the regular adult Glaucous-winged Gull presumably the same individual seen at the same place last year: also 3 Smew on Hwajinpo lake, an apparently breeding-plumaged Temminck's Cormorant, further out, Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes, 3 Ancient Murrelet, and a possible Least Auklet (distant, starling-sized, in flight over sea).
Gageo Island, February 20
In strong, gusting gale-force, westerly winds, a failed search for Black Woodpigeon in the far south of the island. In the harbout, several Temminck's Cormorant, an oiled Red-throated Loon and c. 40 oiled gulls, mostly Black-tailed, in amongst several hundred unoiled birds. The pigeon search also turned up a Siberian Accentor, a Long-tailed Shrike, a Hoopoe (either a very early migrant, or a rather rarer overwinterer - one did overwinter somewhere in the ROK this year based on images on BirdDb) and rarest of all a (male-type) Ferruginous Duck, that landed on the beach, and tried to shelter under a large rock!
Yeongsan Barrage, February 20
After a heavy rainshower the weather turned quite sunny with strong wind. On the lakeside of the barrage a training session of the local canoe-club forced most birds from their preferred area onto the open water. C. 800 Coot, 80 Spot-billed Duck and c. 50 Gadwall as well as a distant fly-by of a cormorant could be seen. On the rocks several lugens White Wagtail, a single Little Egret, a Buff-bellied Pipit (the same individual which was found there on early March the year before?) and a small flock of Tree Sparrows.
The ocean side of the barrage showed about 600 Black-headed Gulls, 2 female Red-breasted Merganser (the days earlier also males were seen), 2 Little Grebe, 1 Great Crested Grebe and a small flock of 21 Gadwall accompanied by a single male Mallard. Also of note a single female Blue Rock Thrush.
Daejin, February 19
Unfortunately no boat trip available due to high winds. Wintering birds at Dejin included 2 Glaucous Gull, a single flock of 14 Harlequin, and 2 offshore Rhinoceros Auklet.
Otherwise, small groups of American Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, and small numbers of Goldeneye, White-winged Scoter, Black-necked Grebe, and somewhat unusually 3 Common Pochard in the harbour.
Aundant Pelagic Shag flew to roost in long lines out to sea, also plentiful Great Crested Grebe, Slaty-backed and Vega Gulls.
Heuksan Island, February 19
Time spent examining and photographing the redpolls suggested that there were 39 birds in the mixed finch flock on the 18th. These included 4 Eurasian Siskin, probably 33 Common Redpoll, and based on the photographs taken on the 19th, two or more Arctic Redpoll - only the second record for the Republic of Korea.
Ferry and Gageo Island, February 19
In sleet then rain, a fairly uneventful sea crossing with about 75 Ancient Murrelet and one or two highly unseasonal Streaked Shearwater.
On the island, in strengthening winds and rain, no chance to survey for Black Woodpigeon, but a quick look around the harbor produced over 1000 gulls (mostly Black-tailed, with 5-10 oiled), 5+ Dusky and one Pale Thrush, and best a Dusky Warbler.
Heuksan Island, February 18
An early start at the south of the island with Senior Researcher Park Jong-Gil to look for and to try to sound-record Black Woodpigeon. At least 2 and probably three birds were heard crooning, though level of activity was low, perhaps unsurprising considering the low temperature.
During the morning, a phone call from National Parks staff about a flock of c. 35 Common Redpoll that had just been sighted near the Park office (a new record for the island, and a new national high count of this very scarce species, at least in recent decades) resulted in a quick drive back up the island and a nervous wait until the flock flew back in. In total there 36 redpoll (based on a photo taken by Park Jong-Gil), and while the vast majority were clearly Common Redpoll (heavily streaked with dull rumps and heavily patterned undertail coverts), possibly as many as three appeared to be much better candidates for Arctic/Hoary Redpoll - with at least one, probably two, showing only a narrow, slim single streak on the undertail coverts, and the same or another two or three showing apparently broad white rump bands, at most containing some very faint streaking, considered by NM to be out of the range of Common Redpoll (based on older literature at least). With the birds flying in to drink for only 1 or 2 minutes every hour, several hours were needed to see a range of pro-Arctic features on several birds, and a few very poor digiscope images were taken. Further efforts will be made by PJG to look for the presumed Arctic Redpolls on 19th, a species with only one previous record in the ROK.
Also present, single adult White-tailed Eagle and Osprey, and very small numbers of Dusky Thrush and e.g. Buff-bellied Pipit.
Andong Subsiduary Dam, February 16
I walk from Andong Dam along the subsiduary dam to Andong on the morning of Valentine's Day. I wanted to spend some time with my true love, that is birdwatching.
Birds present included Common Mergansers, Mandarin Ducks, Mallards, Spot-billed Ducks, Tufted Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Grey Herons and Little Grebes. And I was surprised and delighted to see an adult Steller's Sea Eagle flying down stream when I was crossing Moonlight bridge.
Okksu, February 15
There seems to more intensive dredging adjacent to Okksu stn. There were several notable highlights. At the mouth of the stream I saw 7 Eurasian Wigeon. Just before the Seoul forest bridge, I encountered about 12 Gadwall and 1 Great Cormorant in some very striking breeding plummage. I ended up the day seeing 2 Bull-Headed Shrike, numerous Common Teal, and 1 Common Kestrel.
Jeju island, February 14
Stunning summery weather made for a great day of birding in Seogwipo. In the harbor, 14 Great Crested Grebe drifted together offshore, while two Pacific Reef Herons hunted for fish in tidal pools using a wing-flapping technique. A single Hawfinch and an Osprey were seen near the harbor.
Along several streams, about 20 Japanese Bush Warblers were seen and heard in the underbrush. A similar number of Pale Thrush bubbled noisily from paths into the undergrowth at my approach. The Striated Heron remains in its corner of a stream, and appeared to be eating insects from a mossy rock. A Common Pheasant, Common Kingfisher, a pair of Bull-headed Shrikes, several Green Sandpipers, and a White-backed Woodpecker were also seen near the stream. A loosely mixed flock of about 40 Eurasian Siskin and Grey-capped Greenfinch moved through the tops of nearby coniferous trees, while a male Daurian Redstart deftly caught insects over the stream at sunset.
Ganghwa Do, February 8
It turned out to be a fairly pleasant day on the island once the FOG traveled inland! At Onsuri, some Rustic Bunting kept me company until I could see some blue sky and sun. Near Jeondeungsa, A single Haw?nch, and I were entertained by some 15 very inquisitive Azure-winged Magpie. Some undisturbed rice fields, adjacent to the large fish pond in Jang Heung Ri held approx. 25 Ruddy Shelduck mixed in among approx. 900 White-fronted Goose.
Dokseo- Paldang, February 8
Sadly development of this broad swathe of the Han river has begun, with construction of an apparent new boating harbour/marina (due to be completed in 2011) and markedly increased numbers of hikers, daytrippers and even paragliders using the area. The presumed future use of motorboats along this stretch would undoubtedly eliminate the globally threatened Steller's Sea Eagle from this favoured haunt, one of only three wintering sites for this species in the country.
Nevertheless today 2 superb full-adult Stellers to be seen, along with 5 White-tailed Eagle (two of which clashing in mid-flight).
In the spring-like weather, 2 Great Cormorant are already in full breeding plumage, and even some of the c200 Coot are showing territorial courttship-type behaviour.Also noteworthy, 2 Siberian Accentor, 1 Long-billed Plover, a Japanese Wagtail, 2 Eurasian Sparrowhawk and 79 Whooper Swan.
Otherwise, lower than normal numbers of the regular waterfowl, eg Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Wigeon and eg perhaps only 40 Common Pochard.
Arboretum, February 1
A short trip to the arboretum didn't yield very much but good views were had of Grey-headed Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker (4), White-backed Woodpecker and Eurasian Nuthatch. On the stream were 4 Solitary Snipe.
right: Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos kizuki, Photos © Rich Lindie