Bird News from Matt Poll
July and August were notable for their record-breaking lack of precipitation on Jeju. Water levels were dangerously low at reservoirs across the island, and local farmers suffered enormously. Birdwise, this period saw young birds fledging at a variety of sites. Ring-necked Pheasants seemed to grow from pint-sized to full-grown in a spectacularly short time frame. Other Jeju summer breeders observed fledging during late summer include Tree Sparrow, Great Tit (many appearing washed-out with a dingy yellowish tint), Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Brown-eared Bulbul (which look prehistoric when getting their adult feathers in) Japanese Bush Warbler, and Black Paradise Flycatcher at several sites that still remain undisturbed for now. Unfortunately, the voracious pace of commercial land development on Jeju has increased alarmingly over the past few years – it cannot possibly continue like this unchecked. Several key birding sites have been disturbed or destroyed in recent years due to ‘development’.
I have enjoyed watching Barn Swallows cavort within arm’s reach outside my windows all summer, as well as at numerous sites around Jeju. In early August I spotted two Black Wood Pigeons clacking noisily through a nice bit of coastal mixed forest on the south coast, just across from an islet where they breed. Several confiding White-backed Woopeckers (the official bird of Jeju) also favor this area. Vocal flocks of Japanese White-eye can be found at a wide range of wooded spots, and often mix in with Great and Long-tailed Tits, as well as Japanese Bush Warblers and Eastern Crowned Warblers. In mid-August I got a leisurely look at a large White’s Thrush as it perched on a boulder in the middle of a quiet gully, surveying the area for a good ten minutes. Mid-August also featured Lesser and Oriental Cuckoos calling relatively close to downtown Seogwipo.
On a trip out to the west coast on August 14th I spotted a Zitting Cisticola, Little Ringed Plover, and several Far Eastern Skylarks in a productive patch of farm fields. A trip to Chuja-do (one hour north by ferry) on August 18th was very quiet, with perhaps a dozen Streaked Shearwater seen on the sea crossing, and very little bird life in evidence on the island, save for a dead Common Snipe found on a trail and dozens of Pacific Swift high overhead a hill.
An early-September excursion to Mara-do saw a bit more bird activity, with perhaps two dozen Streaked Shearwater spotted on the return voyage (but none on the outward trip). The island was veiled with thick clouds of raucous and chattering Pacific Swifts, with close to 140 seen – at one point menaced by a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Also on Mara were a Brown Shrike, female Black Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, four Whimbrels, several Buff-bellied Pipits, and an Arctic Warbler.
Last weekend I spotted several young Black Paradise Flycatchers still at a quiet gully. Nearby, an active band of Long-tailed Tit moved through the trees with a small number of Eastern Crowned Warbler. Closer to Seogwipo, I spotted almost 40 Eastern Yellow Wagtails in a large rice field.
Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a lot what appears to be courtship activity among Blue Rock Thrush, with two or three males chasing each other away from females, and taking turns performing complex songs from the highest possible perch.