Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Historical post" - Ilsan, January 2008

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
Lake Park, Ilsan, January 27, 2008
  Saw four Bramblings in a tree on a small hill. They were hard to see, as they were not moving, and well-camouflaged. Several Dusky Thrush were also seen.

More embarassing 2012 notes: It turns out the ‘Dusky Thrush’ I was seeing in Ilsan were actually Naumann’s Thrush. The Naumann’s was split off from the Dusky after my humble ‘Birds of Korea’ field guide was written. Not the first time I’d had to pencil in splits and lumps in this book. If there’s one family of birds I love, it’s the turdus thrushes. In Montreal we only have the American Robin, but in Korea, there are a dozen turdus thrush species to be seen bouncing around parks, and scratching noisily through leaf litter in the forest. To me, they’re a ‘sexy’ bird, and whenever I get a new turdus lifer, I can’t stop smiling for hours.

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus with Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
White Wagtail Motacilla alba lugens
Stream behind Baekma train station, Ilsan, January 26, 2008
  A short walk around a (less than clean) stream near some farmer's fields provided me an opportunity to photograph some birds spotted there earlier this week. The highlights on this sunny and cool morning were a Green Sandpiper, two Long-Billed Plovers, and a pair of Black-Backed Wagtails. A male Daurian Redstart, and a flock of a few hundred Tree Sparrows were also seen.

2012 notes: I had spotted a few ‘little dark scuttlers’ briefly from a bus on the way home from work. Dying to get my new camera into action, I returned the next day, and was thrilled when the scuttlers were still there, scuttling. It turns out the Long-billed Plover was the standout bird of the day, with their numbers dwindling due to the shameful destruction of river habitat in Korea.

Red-Flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris (left with Eastern Great Tit Parus minor)
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
Long-Tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Forested hill near Gobongsan, Ilsan, January 24, 2008
  Despite the cold and windy day, I managed to spot a good variety of forest birds. Highlights included a female Red-Flanked Bluetail, a pair of active Eurasian Treecreepers (one of which was involved in an amusing scuffle with a Great Tit), a single Eurasian Nuthatch, and three white-headed caudatus Long-Tailed Tits (I got a picture of one a week ago at the same location). A group of about eight Brown-Eared Bulbuls was mobbing a Jay. Several Goldcrests were fleetingly visible high in the treetops. Single examples of Japanese Pygmy, Great Spotted, and Grey-Headed Woodpecker were also seen.

2012 notesThis was a great day of classic winter forest birding. Sitting still on a log in a small mixed forest, I found myself enveloped by an active bird wave within minutes, as the snow began to fall. I love those mixed waves of ‘small birds’ that occur in the winter, that are almost identical in Korea (Tits, Eurasian Treecreepers, Eurasian Nuthatches, Goldcrests, and assorted woodpeckers) and Canada (Chickadees, Brown creepers, Nuthatches, Kinglets, and assorted woodpeckers). I felt like I was nine years old again, in the Morgan Arboretum, in the extreme west of Montreal Island.
  In my mind, the Red-flanked Bluetail was a highlight, because it was my first, and because I was coming out of the woods after answering the call of nature, when I walked smack into the bluetail, not eight feet in front of me. I thought it was a female Daurian Redstart, and got a quick picture fired off before it flew back into the scrub. I’ll admit it was only later, when studying the picture closely, that I realized what I had. I don’t think birders should rely on pictures for identification, but as someone who did just that fairly regularly early on in my Korean birding ‘career’, it’s not really the end of the world. It takes years of experience to fully take in the subtle blend of call, behaviour, range, and plumage of tricky birds in a split second. When you’re just starting out, use anything you can to help, I say.
  On that day, I was also pretty psyched to have seen Eurasian Treecreepers and caudatus (white-headed) Long-tailed Tits. Both are irruptive in South Korea, and with the treecreepers being very scarce most years, but quite widespread around Seoul in the winter of 2007-2008.

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
Lake Park, Ilsan, January 23, 2008
  A chilly sunset circuit of Lake Park in Ilsan produced a few bird sightings. An elusive group of five Dusky Thrush was seen. A single male Daurian Redstart was sitting next to the lake near several Yellow-Throated Buntings. Nearby, a pair of Mallards sat on the frozen water (the male seemed to have an injured wing).

2012 notes: My first official bird news for Birds Korea! I was full of energy as I wandered around frigid Lake Park, looking for birds to try out my new camera on. I picked up the camera on a whim the previous day. I was in the early phases of doing my ‘research’ before dropping some significant bucks on a DSLR camera and birding lens, when I accompanied my (ex) girlfriend to a large electronics market in Seoul, to help her pick out a laptop. Her purchase took hours, and on the way out, in spite of being quite ready to leave, I hovered in front of a counter glass display case filled with a mind-numbing array of camera gear. The salesman was a quick one, and before I knew it, I walked out with a new camera and lens.
So the shot I got of the Daurian Redstart was not the best, as the light was fading, my ISO was cluelessly locked on a shamefully inefficient setting (wanna know a secret – I now keep my ISO locked on 1600! Insanity!), but when I looked at that bird on that little display screen, I swear it was one of the high points in my life. My first 'good' bird picture! ‘You’re a man now,’ I assured myself.
  That very same male Daurian Redstart kind of served as my chipper little Lake Park guide for the next few months. He always hung out in the same corner, and seemed to lead me down the path, flying ahead of me and flicking his tail ‘Come on, hurry up! Finches down the path, Matt, keep up!’ But never a female...until February, when I finally saw a female Daurian Redstart in the park, but at the extreme other end. I was glad when I finally saw the two together, and I was rooting for the guy. “Atta boy!”, I muttered.

(*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: 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.)