Sunday, December 30, 2018

Year-end birds – Gangneung, December 27-30, 2018

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Northern Goshawk on duck stakeout
(videos are clearer on the 2nd play, for some reason)

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos
Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Sanderling Calidris alba

Whooper Swan Cygnus Cygnus (going for a skate)
Japanese Wagtail takeoff

  As all three regular readers of this blog may have noticed, birding on new year’s eve (or thereabouts) has become something of a stumbled upon personal tradition. In that spirit, I’ve been birding steadily during the last week, and…here’s what I saw.
  In my house-hills on the 27th, I came upon (at least) 50 Brown-eared Bulbuls going berserk in a tree laden with persimmons, with a lone Azure-winged Magpie in the mix.

  The following morning, which was a coldish one – four Ruddy Shelduck and 18 Sanderlings on the river were noteworthy. A superficial sweep of the harbour revealed my first two Black-throated Divers (Arctic Loons) for Gangneung.
  A gorgeous morning around Gyeongpo Lake on the 29th – crisp and sunny, with no smog. With 85% of the lake frozen over, scanning the gulls and waterfowl massed on the unfrozen bit was easier than usual. A pair of overwintering Common Kingfishers were seen at their habitual spot, two Siberian Accentors lurked in the bushes, and a Bull-headed Shrike clumsily going after a Winter Wren was a dramatic vignette in an otherwise quiet morning.
  The walk ended well when I explored a new spot and stumbled onto a Northern Goshawk. It was sitting immobile in a wet, grassy stream-bed, with its dark back turned to the section of stream behind it. On that part of the stream, just around a small bend and beyond a footbridge, a brace of dabbling ducks fed obliviously. Clearly the goshawk was lying in ambush for the inevitable mass fly-past. Smart!
  Fifteen minutes later, the goshawk must have run out of patience, as the feathered missile came in hot, making an unsuccessful harassment pass. It even hovered for several seconds, before briefly landing on the bank, then flapping off to a nearby fragment of pine woods. A Eurasian Kestrel on a post was the day’s 51st species logged.
  A five-hour walk through hills west of town on the 30th, under continuing fresh clear skies. The peak pines were busy with Eurasian Nuthatches, Goldcrests, “all the tits” and a solid selection of woodpeckers, including a White-backed Woodpecker. The best/worst bird of the day was a long-awaited and seldom-seen species that was heard, but not seen, as first a Northern Goshawk, and then a chainsaw hillbilly conspired to keep the bird moving. Stay tuned, I’m headed back on Tuesday for another go.
  My Gangneung list hit 140 species today, since I started counting in early October.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Holiday hooter

Little Owl Athene noctua
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens (and friends) 
A river with natural banks...not easy to find these days...
Tangled habitat for buntings, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Siberian Accentor
Korea's east coast
  Took a little Christmas bus trip out of town, where a lethargic Little Owl awaited me in a field. How did Santa know that was exactly what I wanted?
  Along a nearby river, a Siberian Accentor, a female Long-tailed Rosefinch, and two dozen Rustic Buntings were seen in the lovely natural scrub-lined banks – an increasingly rare sight on South Korea’s rivers. A lone Dusky Thrush reminded me how unthrushy my Gangenung tenure has been to date. Still only one species of Turdus thrush logged, with individual birds countable on one hand.
  On the coast, I unknowingly strayed onto a militarized section of beach and was chased off by a squad of jumpy young whistle-blowing soldiers – fun times. If you don’t want foreigners bristling with optics bumbling into your machine-gun nest, how about putting up a bigger sign…or a fence maybe? Just an idea.
  Gulling produced more highlights, with the highlightiest being a Glaucous-winged Gull tucked in among a motley colony of more common gulls – another long-awaited bird. Also along the coast, several Glaucous and Slaty-backed Gulls, four species of grebe, and my first few Red-breasted Mergansers of the season.
  The mystery thrush from the last post was of course a Blue Rock Thrush, not on a namesake rock, but looking out of place in more traditional thrush habitat. It sure can mess with the mind when a familiar bird is seen out of context.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

And an odd thrush in a bare tree – Gangneung, December 22-23, 2018

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus
Festive thrush quiz! What is it? Answer next time...(evil laugh)
White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi
Gelatinous harbour ornament
Tim scoping it out
Home for now
   Due to alarming smog levels, only a quick circuit of the river on Saturday morning, wearing my silly drywaller’s mask of course. My personal first Peregrine Falcon (seemed pale-masked?) of the season terrorized the river birds near my house. Further downriver the first seven scuttling Sanderlings of the season. Also, a Common Kingfisher still, and three Siberian Accentors.
  On Saturday night Tim Edelsten blew into town, and we clucked away like hens about bird stuff over a bowl of spicy something-something. Always nice to check in with another grizzled old Korea vet.
  The following day, Tim and I met up early at the lake, on a Sunday that was windy when it wasn’t mild. Tim brought his scope, so we engaged in the sort of birding that pulls me out of my comfort zone (which is mucking through lonely ditches) – gulling and seawatching. It reminded me that I’m happiest when I’m learning new things. My eyes still hurt though, ouch ouch, that sea-wind…real stingy.
  A White-tailed Sea Eagle wheeling overhead whipped the other birds on the lake into a frenzy – it was entertaining to watch Grey Herons pulling aerobatic maneuvers better suited to terns or swallows.
  Back in the harbour, a couple of hours of seawatching produced some memorable sightings. Near the shore, three elusive Slavonian Grebes (would make a solid name for a Harry Potter villain) performed an underwater disappearing act (AKA Horned Grebe). Further out, several ranks of White-winged Scoters and Ancient Murrelets zipped past. Some Black-legged Kittiwakes were also spotted, and I got tenuous long-range looks at what was probably a Brant Goose…I’ll wait for a closer view before ticking that one, as it would be a first. There’s a spot for them just up the coast, apparently.
  After seeing Tim off, I walked back home via the river, with the setting sun in my eyes for once. On a sandy strip, Sanderling ranks had swelled to a dozen. The day ended with a mini-murmur of about 45 Red-billed Starlings rallying on the wires near home – the 54th and final species of the day.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Weekend bimbles – Gangneung, December 15-16, 2018

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia with Great Egret Ardea alba
Oriental Stork Ciconia boyciana
Gadwall Anas strepera
Greater Scaup Aythya marila
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Looking north towards downtown Gangneung, from my side of the river 
Doomfinger cloud
Proudly and constantly covered in tokebis
  It has been a mercifully unsmoggy week, but I didn’t manage to get out much, so I hit it hard on the weekend. On Saturday the 15th, I woke up stupid early and walked the Namdae River, along the coast to Gyeongpo Lake, and then the fields beyond.
  Red-billed Starlings remain fixtures in my neighbourhood, with 14 seen squabbling over persimmons at dawn. The Oriental Stork lingers on the Namdaechon, and four Common Snipe were counted along various reedy streams. Common Gull numbers have swelled to over 40 on the lake, among seven species of gull. Once again I forced myself to stare into the rafts of gulls for a lot longer than I have in the past. If you ain’t tryin’ you dyin’.
  A flock of Far Eastern Skylark that conservatively numbered 90 birds rippled low over the fields near the lake. The day ended with an initially puzzling, flighty pipit that turned out to be a Buff-bellied – always worth ruling out more exotic options, innit.
  Since I hit ‘both’ spots on Saturday, I decided to explore the river and valleys west of town on Sunday. With ominous dark finger-clouds of doom looming above, an odd, living wind lashed the countryside, making for a decidedly unbirdy morning. I walked up a long valley crowded with an unsettling blend of small factories, redneck dog farms, and designer homes, before getting to a reservoir that was almost completely devoid of waterfowl. Hell, it was worth a try, anyway. A Eurasian Spoonbill with a wedge of 42 Great Egrets was the highlight on the river.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Early Decembirds of Gangneung

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus (left) with Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
doomed Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
scruffy Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus
Common (Kamchatka) Gull Larus canus kamtschatschensis
(heavier bill than I expected, but within the range of 
kamtschatschensis -
thanks to the Kantori group for the ID help)
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Great Egret Ardea alba 
(I think those pale legs at this time of year make this a 
Western Great Egret Ardea alba alba...reading up on it right now...)
White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (and friends)
Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria
The flusher (left), the swans (centre), and the photographer (right)
Gotta get that perfect in-flight shot...
The flusher hustling over to scare the resting swans back towards the photographer
  Wait, how is it 2018? Weird. It was just 2009, pretty sure that was yesterday. A cold week in Gangneung, but not Canada cold, heh heh. Geez, I sound like a typical smug Canadian. Guess that’s what I am, eh. Ho hooo, cold? Never! Anyway, I’ll take cold over smog any day. I understand cold, and can deal with it. Oh, it’s cold? Put on a hat. Smog filling my lungs with ghost cancer? Get me outta here. I rested my mountain-busted legs for the first half of the week, and there wasn’t much going on in the hills or on the river later in the week – no further sightings of the Barn Swallows or Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker.
  I walked the Namdae River on the afternoon of December 8th, and spotted 40 species. At the photog spot, the Oriental Stork still loitered, and was joined by a White-tailed Sea Eagle, which performed to the staccato applause of camera shutters. A flock of eight Chinese Grosbeaks seems to be making a (rare) go at overwintering near my house. Stay tuned.
  I headed out to Gyeongpo Lake bright and early on December 9th to meet a good birding friend, but unfortunately there was an issue with my phone and we got our wires badly crossed, so didn’t end meeting up. A la prochaine.
  By mid-afternoon, I had tallied a nice even 50 species on the lake and in the fields and reservoirs beyond. No sign of last month’s Water Rail or suspected Bluethroat. On a quiet canal, I was greeted with the grotesque sights of a Common Merganser with its bill fouled with fishing line, and then a dead Temminck’s Cormorant lying upside down in the crook of a tree. Nearby, I spotted a Common Kingfisher – a species I feel like I don’t see that often in winter in Korea.
  Best of the day was a winter-plumaged Chinese Pond Heron that circled the canal once then headed off – the species rarely overwinters in Korea. Also notable were a Common Shelduck flyby, and single Slaty-backed, Common (Kamchatka), and Glaucous Gulls on the lake, amidst the more common gulls. I’m giving gulls a try, sigh.
  My day ended with a Common Snipe and a dozing Tundra Swan among a bevy of 26 Whooper Swans. The resting swans were repeatedly harassed by a photographer, who sent his companion ahead to disturb and flush the birds back towards him so he could get closer/flight shots. Appalling.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Birding in the yuck – Gangneung, November 25-December 2, 2018

Invisible carcinogens! Yipee!
"The worst of it" (from Misei Misei app - that other app is no good)
Destructo-truck hard at work
The banks on either side were, up until last week, covered with 20-foot high trees, bamboo, and scrub (also, note the colour of the sky compared with the previous image)
Goofing on Seorak-san
Haze hills
Looking down from Ulsan-bowi
Looking up at Ulsan-bowi

Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthera webbiana
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthera webbiana
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthera webbiana
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthera webbiana
Japanese Wagtail Motacilla grandis
Barn Swallow Hirundo Rustica
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
  Even just a few years ago, air pollution in Korea seemed limited to a few weeks in spring where yellow dust fallout from the Gobi Desert was possible. Well, in 2018, the peninsula is regularly smothered by a dirty lens of yellow-grey coal smut. Apparently a dozen or more coal plants have been built in South Korea in the past several years, and I believe it. Oh, and there’s new coal plant being built just outside of Gangneung, so something to look forward to.
  For those reading this in areas without dangerous levels of suspended particulate matter – don’t take it for granted, please. I was sick exactly once in 2.5 years in Canada before setting off for Gangneung. I haven’t been healthy for more than a day or two here – it’s always a sore throat, congestion, headaches, malaise, dark circles, etc. I built my DIY air purifier a few days ago, and it has made a huge difference in my house. I no longer almost faint when taking a deep breath of concentrated house smog, or have to sleep wearing a mask.
  Checking the smogcast? Wearing a mask every single time I leave the house? A grim new normal. Birding with a mask is interesting, as you have to hold your breath when looking through the bins, lest the expelled breath rising past your eyeballs fog up the eyepieces.
  Also a disgusting new normal was discovering that a productive patch of coastal scrub has been totally wiped out – cleared down to the dirt, for no apparent reason other than keeping a work crew busy. This patch, up to a few days ago, had been a great mix of bamboo, small trees, and tangles of unruly thorn bushes. I was surprised when I found this slice of habitat that felt so wild and 'islandy' on the mainland. This was the spot where I found Long-tailed Rosefinch, Eurasian Wren, Common Pheasant, Siberian Accentor, several skulky bunting species, with finches up high in the bamboo. As I left, the last thing I saw was a female Yellow-throated Bunting perched on a heap of felled bamboo, and I swear it threw me a very palpable look of confused pain. Probably all in my smog-addled head. Should be interesting to see the road get washed into the ocean after the next heavy rains. There are some things I will not miss about this country.
  It feels like Olive-backed Pipits and Eurasian Wrens were fresh in this week, bunching up and jostling for dominance in the best locations. Guessing they will soon disperse, as the Rustic Buntings have – I haven’t seen one in weeks, whereas there were restless clots of them in most rural locations in late October.
  A juvenile Barn Swallow was seen on the river near my house on November 25th. This is very late for this species, so I was surprised to see two juveniles at the same spot on the 29th. Wonder if they’ll stick around this winter, which happens very rarely. Later on, several Saunders’s Gulls were also seen on the river.
  A day-trip up Seorak-san’s Ulsan-bowi rock on December 2nd was notable for being quiet, bird-wise. Some corvids, ‘all the tits,’ and a few Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers was about all that was up there. It was good to see Varied Tits, as I haven’t had any in Gangneung yet. I’ll be returning to a higher peak later this month, in search of mountain specials, such as Asian Rosy Finch, Alpine Accentor, and Spotted Nutcracker.