Azure Tit Parus cyanus
Two records, both of birds seen very poorly. One on January 13th 2000 next to Gocheonnam Lake (with Lee Jeong-Sik), and the second approximately 30 km north on February 12th 2000, next to Yeongam Lake (with ten Japanese birdwatchers). Both sites are reclamation lakes with extensive reed-beds in Haenam-Gun, Jeollanam Province.
During a survey of wintering waterbirds in the Haenam area, LEE Jeong-Sik and NM were driving along a gravel road that runs along the eastern flank of Lake Gocheonnam, with NM as a passenger, counting birds out of the window. Driving slowly, in heavy overcast, both observers saw a small, bright grey-blue and white bird fly very low down the road in front of the vehicle, for approximately 5-10 seconds at less than 10 meters range. The bird very closely resembled in shape and flight action a Blue Tit Parus caerulus (a bird with which NM is very familiar, as it is one of the commonest birds in the UK), though it appeared a little longer-tailed (like a Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus) and largely white-headed, with a grey-blue back, and blue tail and wings, both "flashing" white (the pattern was not clearly discerned). As the bird flew away from the road, into a ditch filled with tall reeds, both observers also saw that the underparts were white. Realizing that this was either an Azure Tit or even much less likely a vagrant hybrid Azure x Blue Tit we stopped the car and searched the area for over one hour, but could not relocate the bird.
One month later, in bright conditions on February 12th 2000, while guiding a group of Japanese birdwatchers at Yeongam Lake, also in Haenam Gun, NM again saw, initially with the naked eye, a bright blue and white Blue Tit-type bird fly low along the reeds only 2-3 m away from him. The bird flew some 30 m past the whole group, which was stretched out in a line, before disappearing again into a dense stand of reeds. Views were extremely poor, but all observers were able to note that the bird was clearly a tit, close in size to a Great Tit Parus major, largely white-headed (the pattern of the eye-stripe was not clearly discerned in such brief views) with blue or blue-grey upperparts and white underparts. Combining the views of the whole group (which included several very experienced birdwatchers and one professional researcher) it was agreed that the bird also showed obvious white in the otherwise blue wings and tail. The whole group searched the area thoroughly for one or two hours, but apart from hearing one Blue Tit-like call ("tsi-tsi-tsi-tsuh") we could not relocate the bird.
The Azure Tit is considered to be a striking and distinctive species, even on the briefest of views, and is very unlikely to be confused with any other species. Other options were considered, for example partially albino Great Tit, but the blue-grey tones on the mantle alone would render this impossible. Moreover, the bird looked closer in structure to Blue Tit (i.e. smaller-headed proportionately than Great Tit) and the white-blue patterning was regular in appearance. The possibility of a hybridBlue Tit x Azure Tit was also considered, but both birds showed an all-white crown, and white underparts which tend to be yellow in hybrids. This also rules out the otherwise quite similar Yellow-breasted Tit Parus flaviplectus of northwest China.
The Azure Tit is a non-migratory but nomadic species with a range extending from the central belt of the former European USSR across to the Soviet Far East (Flint et al 1984). On range alone it should occur occasionally in the north of the Korean peninsula, as it has already been recorded in Japan, on November 8th 1987, in reed-beds on Rishiri Island, west of Hokkaido (Brazil 1991), and has an occasional tendency to wander in winter to the west of its range. Many tit species show a tendency to irrupt in certain years, and the presence of two individuals found by chance, in massively extensive reed-beds and wetlands in the southwest of the peninsula, suggests the possibility that significant numbers are likely to have moved south of the typical range in the winter 1999/2000.