Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Epic east coast pelagic trip - November 24-25th, 2012

Of course we hit a bird...

Going auking within sight of North Korea
Good to see the Birds Korea crew again
Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica
adult Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
first winter Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica
Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides (wiegoldi subspecies)
  This past weekend I was lucky enough to take part in an epic pelagic trip on the east coast with fellow Birds Korea members. It was great to be with all the guys again, a motley crew to be sure! It was especially great to soak up the endless supply of bird wisdom that Dr. Nial Moores possesses. It's humbling to bird with such a master!
  It was a weekend filled with great birds, good company, and very little sleep. The trip got off to an inauspicious start as a passing truck hit a bird and it bounced off our van, leaving a gruesome blood stain down the side. Since it happened in the pre-dawn darkness, we were concerned it was perhaps a Ural Owl! Or perhaps a Crested Shelduck, hahaha.
 The boat trip from Daejin was a treat, and we got great long views of Ancient Murrelet and Rhinoceros Auklet. The Dr. spotted a mysterious, large dark shearwater-type bird, which put everyone on high alert. I snapped off some shots but unfortunately none came out due to the extreme far range and heaving boat. I won't even reveal what we speculated it could have been... 
  Our boat, which was close to the border with the North Korea and maneuvering erratically in search of birds (and packed with foreigners bristling with optics) quickly attracted the attentions of a coast guard cutter. It shadowed us for an hour, and was eventually joined by a navy destroyer. I wonder how many beeping weapons systems were trained on us as we gleefully took pictures of Rhinoceros Auklets?
  It was good to catch up with birds I don't get to see very often, like White-tailed Sea EagleSiberian Accentor, Long-tailed Rosefinch, and especially Chinese Nuthatch, which is having a major irruption in Korea this winter.
  Right, it's off to bed, I'm still exhausted.

Igidae, Busan, November 17, 2012

Good spot for a picnic

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
adult winter Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
juvenile Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
male Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
female Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Warbling (Japanese) White-eye Zosterops japonicus
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica
Eurasian bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula 
Bipalium (Hammerhead Worm) Bipalium kewense
Bipalium (Hammerhead Worm) Bipalium kewense
  I woke up very early a couple of weeks ago to check out Igidae - it was 5am on a dark, rainy and cold Saturday morning - the kind of situation that makes one wonder if birders really are touched in the head. Anyway, the rain finally tapered off as the sun rose over this forested bit of land jutting into the sea, and it actually turned into a great, crisp autumn day to go birding.  
  Things started well as I dipped on a Long-tailed Shrike that had been hanging out near some apartments. My favourite bird of the day ended up being a worm! I spotted several 'hammerhead worm' (Bipalium) working the trails in the early morning. These flatworms feed on snails and earthworms, and have the ability to regenerate into two worms if cut in half. Very cool.
  Overall it was a day filled with small birds, and I got some great long looks at Goldcrests and Eurasian Bullfinch, among others. I was hoping to spot something crazy like a Yellow-bellied Tit, but it wasn't meant to be.
  In other news, a Brown Booby was spotted at a major touristy beach in Busan. It looked pretty disheveled in the picture. Looking at the range maps for this bird, I have to wonder why it isn't spotted (noticed?) more regularly along Korea's southern coast.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Light-vented Bulbul (!!) - November 22, 2012

Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
  To say it's been a good birding week is the understatement of the year! I headed out on one of my luxurious 3-hour lunch breaks in search of a Long-tailed Shrike that visiting birder Stephen Judd recently spotted out on the east coast. I didn't manage to catch up with the shrike, but the area had a great 'birdy' feel to it. I decided to check out a scrubby agricultural area on the way out and I'm sure glad I did. I quickly spotted two gleurp-gleurping Light-vented Bulbuls!
  This is a bird that was only first sighted in Korea over the past decade, but appears to be busy colonizing the Hermit Kingdom, with breeding suspected on Socheong-do in the Yellow Sea. It's not really the sort of bird you'd expect to find in the southeast of mainland Korea. Well I guess Geoje IS an island, but it's still a pretty darn rare bird round these parts, so I must have done something to please the birding gods!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Japanese Robin (!) - November 20, 2012

spot the Japanese Robin Erithacus akahige
Japanese Robin Erithacus akahige
  I spent a wonderful few hours of crisp birding in a quiet valley near Gohyeon. The valley has been quite productive for birds over the past month, probably due to its remoteness and consequential very light foot traffic on the trail. After a relatively quiet trip back down the trail, I spotted a small dark bird flutter from the stream up to the bank. I first assumed it was yet another Eurasian Wren, but it was noticeably quiet, and something about it didn’t add up. I got a look at it with the binos and was more than pleased to realize that I’d finally crossed paths with a gorgeous but shy Japanese Robin. I'd been hoping to see one of these exceedingly rare and skulking birds for years! I'm surprised I got a picture at all considering the low light and the fact that I was shaking with excitement! Good bird.
  The wacky part about it is that I woke up at 5 a.m. this past rainy and cold Saturday to head to Igidae, Busan in the vain hope of seeing this bird. No luck. Then today I saunter through a valley embarrassingly close to my apartment on my lunch break and see one! That's how the bird gods work I suppose...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Eyebrowed Thrush - November 11, 2012

Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus
  After having a planned Saturday trip to a nearby offshore island scuttled by extremely high winds, it was good to get out and get a full day’s birding in at ‘Grey Bunting Mountain’. On the way, I heard several Chinese Penduline Tits calling from a reedbed.
  Aside from the expected forest mix of tits and woodpeckers, with several Goldcrests mixed in, I spied my first Red-flanked Bluetail of the winter, a shy female tail-flicking near the peak.
  Soon after this, I heard several thrushes calling from deeper in the woods, and their calls sounded a bit thin and different from the Pale Thrushes I encounter there regularly. I made my way to a remote gravesite fringed with fruiting berry trees and hunkered down. I put my camouflaged rain poncho over my head, and covered my face with a camouflage scarf. I covered my legs with fallen pine branches and waited. I wasn't messing around, ha ha.
  About 45 minutes later, six Eye-browed Thrush returned and casually fed on the berries for ten minutes. A special birding moment, and a real treat to watch! (Best latin name ever, too)

Winter Ducks

male Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
female Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha
female Greater Scaup Aythya marila
  The saltwater canals, harbour, and rice fields around Gohyeon are filling up with winter ducks. The vast majority are Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, several hundred strong. Nothing crazy yet, but I'll keep picking through those rafts in hopes of finding something out of place.

Eurasian Spoonbill - November 8, 2012

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia with Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia with Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
  Earlier in the week I took a chilly ride out to the west coast, and spotted a lone Eurasian Spoonbill resting in a reedy lagoon in the company of two dozen Grey Herons. Awesome bird!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eurasian Wren - November 6, 2012

Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes dauricus
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes dauricus
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes dauricus
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes dauricus - Ilsan, February 2008
  I discovered at least eight of these rotund little birds today on a refreshing walk through a windy river valley this afternoon. Always a fun bird to watch as they zip around the forest floor like rodents. Their call is similar to that of a Japanese/Korean Bush Warbler, only 'wetter'. These winter migrants (a small number apparently stay year-round in Korea, but I've only ever seen them in winter - hence the clever former name 'Winter Wren') were quite confiding as they chased each other around the stream-beds. Scuffling over prime territory maybe?
  I also spotted some Goldcrests today, which is always a good thing.