Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Historical post" - Ilsan, April 2008

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala
Jeongbalsan, Ilsan, April 28-29, 2008
  Six Black-faced Bunting were seen next to a parking lot. A Yellow-browed Warbler was spotted drinking in a drainage ditch in a scrubby area. One Asian Stubtail was in the same spot, and several others were heard nearby. The highlight was a Eurasian Wryneck hiding in a large scrubby bush. It was calling noisily, making a repeated metallic ‘creaking’. It was briefly but well observed. A single male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was seen on April 29.

Notes from 2012: (I honestly don’t remember writing these reflections over five years ago – I guess I was planning on putting up these historical posts when I started up SOL. They make me cringe a bit – who was that guy?)
  Spring migration at my secret spot on the mountain was spectacular! A great turnover of species, with new species being spotted every day. The Eurasian Wryneck was possibly the bird of the month. An amazing-looking member of the woodpecker family, the Wryneck is fairly rare in Korea, most commonly seen on Yellow Sea islands during the spring migration season.

left: Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami  right: Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus
Temminck's Mole Mogera wogura
Jeongbalsan, Ilsan, April 25, 2008
  Barn Swallows have returned to Ilsan, with several seen overhead at any time. The Olive-backed Pipits appear to have moved on – they were not seen all week. About a dozen Tristrams’s Buntings were seen feeding at the forest’s edge. A tree held a large mixed flock of about 40 Eurasian Siskins and Tree Sparrows. Several female Red-flanked Bluetails were seen nearby. A dead Temminck’s Mole was seen, perhaps killed by a cat that inhabits the area.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni
Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata
Lake Park and Jeongbalsan, Ilsan, April 20, 2008
  On a hot and sunny day in Lake Park, a pair of Mandarin Ducks (a personal first for Ilsan) stayed in the centre of the ‘lake’ for a few hours with the usual dozen Spot-billed Ducks, before flying off. A group of about eight unidentified smallish shorebirds also passed through the park. On Jeongbalsan, a clearing held at least a dozen Olive-backed Pipit. Mingling with several White’s and Pale Thrushes was a single Grey-backed Thrush. A Eurasian Jay perched in a tree, after being mobbed by several Brown-eared Bulbuls. A female Red-flanked Bluetail was also seen.

2012 notes: I’d seen a pair of Mandarin Ducks on the other side of Ilsan, flying towards Lake Park. I’m convinced I saw the same pair the next day. Lake Park, in spite of being extremely congested with foot traffic, was a great place for birding, with a decent range of habitats. Unfortunately, the extensive reedbeds around the north side of the ‘lake’ (favoured by Moorhens and Eurasian Wrens) were regularly trimmed down to the ground. The picture of the Eurasian Jay was noteworthy for me because it’s a notoriously shy bird, and I got pretty lucky to get a decent shot of one. 

Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
White’s Thrush (Scaly ThrushZoothera aurea
Varied Tit Sittiparus varius
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus Canus
Siberian Chipmunk Eutamias sibiricus
Jeongbalsan, Ilsan, April 12, 2008
  On a pleasant overcast and warm day, a large flock of about 40 Black-crowned Night Herons were circling over the mountain and settling noisily into the tree tops in smaller groups. A small blue bird was seen from afar and poorly photographed - I convinced myself it was a Hill Blue Flycatcher, until later study of the blurry pictures revealed the white chin and throat that identified it as a male Red-flanked Bluetail. The White’s Thrush invasion has hit Ilsan, with about two dozen seen on the mountain, pulling worms out of the ground. Several Pale and Dusky Thrush were also seen associating with the White’s Thrush. Some Brown-eared Bulbuls were feeding on bees and wasps in blossoming trees. Other birds seen include several Vinous-throated Parrotbills, Goldcrests, Japanese Pygmy, Great-spotted, and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, and plentiful Great,Varied, Long-tailed and Marsh Tits. Several Pheasants were heard but not seen. A Siberian Chipmunk was also seen busily feeding.

2012 notes: I can’t believe it took me so long to find the ‘magic patch’ of Jeongbalsan! I’d lived in Ilsan, a brand new city wedged between Seoul and Gimpo for almost a year before I discovered it. When I say ‘new’, this place was farm fields 20 years ago. It’s one of the few Korean cities to be laid out in a grid pattern - I always described it as ‘an urban planner’s wet dream’. Smack dab in the centre of Ilsan is a small mountain – a hill, really. There are several well-worn trails on Jeongbalsan (‘san’ can mean mountain in Korean), usually packed with groups of noisy Korean hikers, many with little radios strapped to their belts, blasting out some pretty bad and pretty loud Korean music. I’d done some winter birding on these trails, and I’d seen a good mix of woodpeckers, buntings, thrushes, tits, and creepers.
  In April, I followed a Eurasian Jay across what I thought was a dead-end field, often frequented by Korean picnickers. Well, this Jay led me up a small, unused trail up a steep ridge and through a doorway of pines, and led me to my magic patch! In an area the size of perhaps three football fields was a great mix of habitats – a mixed forest of older trees with a great defined edge; piles of old cleared branches covered in weedy scrub; an old cement drainage ditch with a trickle of water, and even a big patch of reedy weeds. It was in the scrub around the trickling ditch where I picked up a ton of lifers throughout April and May. I loved this spot, and I rarely saw anyone else there. Surrounded by millions of Koreans in a gleaming new monstropolis, I had found a quiet bit of paradise. I fear that someday soon, some bright bulb will decide to clear it all and put in a mini-golf course or hotel, or something equally stupid. It’s happening all over Korea.
  I heard the White’s Thrush rustling around in the underbrush from quite some distance away, and from the racket, I assumed I was looking for a Pheasant. When I finally saw it, at a distance of maybe 15 feet, I was impressed with both its size, and the effectiveness of its camouflage. The male Red-flanked Bluetail, glimpsed at long range down in a steep valley, threw me for a loop. I’d never seen such a bright blue bird, and I was convinced it was something extremely rare, as I tend to do at times! As it turns out, this male was the only male Red-flanked Bluetail I’ve ever seen in Korea, in spite of having seen females many times over the years. I’m not sure what explains this.

(*Note: This is a “historical post.” Whereas I started birding in Korea in 2005, this blog has only been active since early 2012 - these posts are an attempt to consolidate my early birdventures from the various blogs and websites where they reside, largely from the “Archived Bird News“ section of Birds Korea’s excellent website: http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Birdnews/BK-BN-Birdnews-archive.shtml. Find more historical posts by clicking on the "Historical posts" tab at the bottom of this post.
  For this post, most of images are lamentably poor-resolution screensaves, as many of the original photo files were lost in the infamous computer crash of 2011.)