Monday, February 4, 2019

Cranes in the haze – Gangwha Island, January 30, 2019

Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis
Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis

Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella (levitating)
Gangwha mudflats

Southwest corner of Gangwha Island
  Last Wednesday I zoomed west on the KTX to chill in Seoul for a few days…and to tick a couple of nagging and elusive lifers, of course. First on the list was a crane. I’ve seen a few crane species in Korea, but never the crane – the iconic Red-crowned Crane, so familiar from both nature documentaries and cultural depictions. Not wanting to spend a whole day faffing around near the North Korean border (Cheorwon) to see them, I went for the soft option – Gangwha Island, just west of Gimpo and just south of ‘The North.’
  The theme for the day, and the whole Seoul trip, was smog. Profound, industrial, blinding, horrific smog. The landscape west of Seoul unfolded in a yellow daydream haze, borne of sleep deprivation and smog-toxication. Passing through Gimpo, my one-time home, I didn’t recognize anything, especially the skyline. A lot changes in Korea in ten years, yikes.
  Gangwha is a funny sort of place. Closer to the Seoul side of the island, standard shiny apartment valleys flanked the road. These soon gave way to shabby out-towns, before dark hills groped though the miasma, and finally the mudflats on the south coast appeared. The tidal range in the area is second only to the Bay of Fundy, by the way.
  After the groggy drive, I was dropped at a long seawall along the mudflats, where I spied the cranes almost immediately. Well, that was somewhat anticlimactic! Park Gun Suk’s incredibly detailed intel was crucial to finding them in a prompt manner, so many thanks go to him.
  The cranes were seen from a long way out, in bad light, and through thick smog. But there they were, 21 in all, feeding on the flats at their own pace. I spent an hour watching the docile birds, then went for some much-needed caffeine at the strangest little convenience store ever. I could have waited around for a few hours to secure better views in photog-friendly lighting, but if you want money shots of Red-crowned Cranes, go check Google, innit.
  There were seven hours to kill before a scheduled rendezvous with a friend in Seoul, so I headed up a local mountain in search of my second target species for the trip, Alpine Accentor. I didn’t find any, but there were some Naumann’s Thrushes around, and I also saw some tree damage that looked suspiciously like the work done by Black Woodpeckers…but I could have been just bird-lucinating, ha ha. Oh, I blew my legs out in the process of hiking. Coming down the mountain, I heard an ungodly hollering, and was sure someone had snapped both ankles. Nope, just a guy primal-screaming the entire way down. Yep.

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