|Coal Tit Periparus ater|
|Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea|
|Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos|
|Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica|
|Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica|
|White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus|
|Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata|
|Siberian Chipmunk Eutamias sibiricus|
|Dione Ratsnake Elaphe dione|
(showing drab pre-moult markings)
|Not used to seeing such old trees in Korea...|
|Cherry blossoms on the back canals of Gyeongpo|
|An islet stripped of bushes and scrub, trees mauled...|
|Sweet progress! Back up those concrete trucks!|
|'Old school' farm ditches...|
|...being converted into concrete death traps...|
Terrible smog, and much quieter than last week in the hills behind my house on March 20th. Highlight was a possible Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker heard on a hill near the original sighting location from back in November – this one not yet visited by the backhoes of progress.
Seasonal movement was hinted at by several singing leucopsis White Wagtails that were moving through the fields (and past my window at dawn!), the first I’ve seen there. Through the pines, I spied a dark smudge of 200+ Rooks streaming north. Still some restless White-cheeked Starlings around as well.
Windy and clear along the river the next day. At the mid-river point, the impressive sight of 23 Grey Herons kettling towards migratory altitude, then heading north. Seven individuals changed their minds and peeled back down to the river, perhaps realizing they were in fact local birds.
Soon after, more visible migration. Over the course of 15 minutes, I watched a vein of 340+ Rooks, composed of smaller squads of 20-50, also on the move. Folded within each of those sub-groups were the requisite 1-3 Daurian Jackdaws. I watched as most of these flocks also circled higher over the river on thermals, before winging with purpose towards the Amur lands.
Near the river’s mouth, a lone Dunlin paced, my first of the season, followed by a pair of flyby Mandarin Ducks.
March doldrums still on the river and lake on March 23rd. An evident clear-out of gulls and waterfowl on the lake, with perhaps 60-70% of winter’s numbers gone. The fields were mostly devoid of Far Eastern Skylarks, with only six seen, where there were normally at least 100. Still four Little Ringed Plover and a Dusky Thrush around.
On March 24th, I finally made it up to Odaesan (Birobong). It’s a hard-ish place to get to, so not many folks were up there on a fresh and windy morning. Lovely. No crazy birds in the temple-ridden hills, with the expected blend of tits, woodpeckers, and nuthatches, as well as a Eurasian Wren, semi-tame Large-billed Crows on the trails, and a Carrion Crow in fields on the way. I was expecting to see a Brown Dipper on the mountain streams – it’s been a while. I had grand winter plans of finding a Spotted Nutcracker in these hills, but I frittered away the one true month of winter we had here obsessed with finding a Black Woodpecker. Fair trade-off, I regret nothing.
First Barn Swallow of the year on the 29th, lazy over the river towards noon. A lone Red-billed Starling was observed skulking at the river’s edge, acting wary, creeping around where mud meets brush.
I walked the Namdae River and Gyeongpo Lake the following day. Still overall quiet, with more clear-out of much of winter’s birds, but still no real influx of migrants expected for another week or two. Five flyby Mandarin Ducks at the river’s mouth were notable. At the Plumbeous Water Redstart spot, a Grey Wagtail on territory, but no PWR.
I was surprised, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, to find an audacious example of habitat destruction at a formerly scrubby islet. This little oasis in the river has always been ‘birdy,’ teeming with resident birds all winter, and sheltering migrants, including warblers, last October. All of the scrub, and many of the mature trees have been stripped, with the backhoes peeling everything back to bare soil. Did an excavator reach across to do this? Why the hell would this be done? Surely this islet is too small to host a building? Reduction of brush to prevent fire risk would make little sense, as…it’s surrounded by water. Anyway, gross.
The lake was besieged with clots of extremely festive weekenders taking selfies with the cherry blossoms. Of note: no Skylarks; two more Mandarin Ducks; 9 Falcated Ducks; two low-flying Eurasian Sparrowhawks heading north over the lake together; 8 Little Ringed Plovers; White Wagtail activity on the rise, with at least 30 along the various small waterways (lugens, ocularis, and leucopsis); 20+ Daurian Redstarts, bunched up in places; a singing male Blue Rock Thrush; a skulky Dusky Thrush still; still a dozen Pallas’s Reed Buntings; 25+ Rooks on the move; groups of 20-40 White-cheeked Starlings out and about.
In the fields, I nearly tripped on my first snake of the season, a Dione Ratsnake. It had more subdued/washed-out markings than I’ve ever seen. Apparently their markings are muted right before shedding. Thanks to Dr. A.B. again for the tip.
On the final day of the month, several Goldcrest still in Disappointment Valley, but no signs of the Ural Owl I heard there exactly one lifetime ago. No Black Woodpeckers spotted or heard, but plenty of evidence of recent feeding activity on their favoured ‘old-growth’ ridge.
Coal Tits were in full song, and quite bold in approaching me closer than arm’s length, I thought. Three Eurasian Siskins were spotted in almost the exact same spot (a stand of birch and pines high on a ridge) where I saw a dozen back on January 5th – the only Siskins I’ve seen in Gangneung.
I was surprised to find a skulky Tristram’s Bunting up near the peak of a ridge. I got good looks at it – it was not a breeding-plumaged Rustic Bunting. My first thought was that it was an extremely early migrant, but my memory ticked over to when I encountered six Tristram’s in similar habitat on Jeju in early March. I dug through the Birds Korea archives and came across several records of Tristram’s being recorded in winter (and summer!) in this part of the country – so it seems not all Tristram’s Buntings are passage migrants here. Cool!
Back in town, a squadron of 25 Barn Swallows revelled in the strong winds, and skimmed low on the river where the lone scout was spotted two days earlier.