Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Suncheon, October 26 – November 15, 2015

Hen Harrier (Northern Harrier) Circus cyaneus
Long-eared Owl Asio otus
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
  On the chilly morning of October 30th, countable Hooded Cranes numbered about 250, with 14 Eurasian Spoonbills nearby. Yellow-Throated Buntings have arrived at the bay, with a half-dozen active individuals being the first I’ve noted at this site.
  The following day, more than 400 Hooded Cranes could be seen, and a reddish Eastern Buzzard feeding in a field was my first of the season. Several Heuglin’s Gull were mixed in with more numerous Vega, Black-headed, and Black-tailed Gulls, and a restless flock of at least 20 Grey-capped Greenfinch was seen circling the area.
  The morning of November 3rd was a grim one at the bay, with hazy skies and ever-expanding construction destroying yet more habitat. Aside from the two huge ‘pit’ sites, the wonderful reedy/scrubby ditches among the rice fields are being systematically ripped up, with the natural banks being replaced by concrete blocks. Notable bird sightings included 30+ Far Eastern Skylarks seen or heard, nine Whooper Swans, 400+ Hooded Cranes, now 12-15 Yellow-Throated Buntings claiming a narrow stretch of coastal scrub, and nine White-Cheeked Starlings in a nearby village.
  Three days later, the highlight was a Eurasian Bittern lazily flushing from its favored ‘froggy’ spot. A Hen Harrier drifted lazily near a meowing Northern Lapwing in a rice stubble field - this was the first I’ve seen of both species this autumn. Nearby, three Chestnut-eared Bunting were being closely watched by a Peregrine Falcon, and I noted my first four Pallas’s Reed Buntings since spring.
  On November 12th at a hilly reservoir close to my apartment, some avian signs of winter appeared in the form of three Rustic Buntings and four Hawfinch, all working a patch of fruiting trees.
  At ‘Flying Squirrel Mountain’ two days later, more signs of winter with about ten Goldcrests mixed up with the expected assortment of tits and woodpeckers. Several groups of 20-40 Eurasian Siskins were seen or heard as they flew past the mountainside. In one group of flying Siskins, I caught a quick glimpse of a finch with much lighter (almost white?) rump than the birds around it. Further down the mountain, at least 30 noisy Hawfinch were seen in berry-laden trees near some graves.
  November 15th was a dynamic morning at Suncheon Bay. With construction crews taking a rare day off, I was kept busy logging 55 species, with a healthy number of birds of prey amongst them. A plump Northern Goshawk sat perched in a dead tree, before heading off over the rice stubble fields. When I got closer to where the Goshawk had been perched, I was surprised to have a Long-eared Owl burst out from a low clump of trees and fly past my head, before briefly settling in another nearby low tree. Was it being hunted by the Goshawk? The Goshawk perch was soon taken up by a Peregrine Falcon, again closely watching the scrubby reed patch favoured by Chestnut-eared Buntings. This was soon sent off by a Hen Harrier, and 30 minutes later, a Common Kestrel was seen on the same perch. An Eastern Buzzard and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk later rounded out the raptor-themed morning. Shortly after all of this action, a rasping call brought my attention to a Light-vented Bulbul overhead. It was well-watched as it flew east across the bay toward the hills behind the park. This is the first Light-vented Bulbul I’ve seen in Suncheon.
  Also seen at the bay were an extremely skulking Oriental Reed Warbler (very late record?), several Chestnut-eared and Black-faced Buntings, and at least a dozen Pallas’s Reed Bunting. A few White Wagtails and Olive-backed Pipits were milling about in most spots, and Far Eastern Skylarks could be heard overhead at all times. On the mud flats, four Eurasian Spoonbills and six Saunders’s Gulls were seen feeding.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Embarrasing Armchair Tick - Flesh-footed Shearwater

Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes
  On April 26, 2014, I visited Mara-do, off Jeju's southwestern tip. On the return trip I noted "At least a dozen Streaked Shearwaters." Several days ago, while finally sorting through my 'To Edit' folder and deleting thousands of old photos to free up disk space (rainy day), I noted...something else. Buried amidst the hundreds of blurry shots of Streaked Shearwaters were just two frames showing a dark-looking shearwater. I rubbed my eyes and zoomed in. My jaw dropped. I stared at the grainy image for a good minute. Very dark all over. Hint of a dark-tipped pinkish bill. Blunt tail. Could it...yes. Flesh-footed Shearwater! My birding buddies quickly confirmed my giddy suspicions, and I checked it off my list, while sitting comfortably in my proverbial armchair. This was apparently the first April record for the species in Korea.
  While getting a long-awaited and rare bird like this would normally have me doing elated backflips, I mostly felt embarrassed in this case. After all, it had taken me a year and a half to ID the bird, which I failed to do in the field. On a more fundamental level, I needed to look at a picture to ID a bird - a cardinal birding shortcoming I judiciously strive to avoid these days.
  In my defense, the skies on that April 26th were gloomy, the seas were rough, and I was using a pair of crappy beat-up Bushnells at the time. The lenses weren't in sync anymore, and the seaspray from the choppy seas (I was the only one foolish enough to be up on deck) was beading up on/fogging up the lenses - it was like looking through a straw with Vaseline on my eyes (very unlike the divine Swaros I currently use - like angels licking my eyeballs). So I decided to just snap away at the distant weaving shearwaters I was seeing, and hope something juicy was mixed in with the Streaked. Good idea under the less-than-ideal circumstances, right?
  It would have been a decent idea had I gone home and carefully sorted through every one of the hundreds of grainy images and shouted 'Eureka! Flesh-footed!'. But I didn't. I was weary from the pre-dawn start, rough boat trip, and subsequent ninety-minute motorcycle ride, so when I got home I quickly flicked through most of the awful images of distant Streaked Shearwaters, then rolled over and took a nap, vowing to have a more thorough sort through later.
  I didn't do that. Instead, I went birding hard the following day, a Sunday, then tackled an exhausting work week the day after that. It was my last month in Korea before heading back to Canada and then Europe, so I was busy cleaning, packing, and shipping boxes home. Meanwhile, and for the next eighteen months, the 'April 26 Mara' folder sat unloved in my ever-growing 'To Edit' folder, with a Flesh-footed Shearwater waiting to be discovered within.
  On that note, I'm off to have a cheeky rummage through my 'To Edit' folder.