Bird News from Matt Poll
The three Amur Falcons that had been fixtures on the power lines near Suncheon Bay for a week were joined by a fourth on October 15th, but the best bird of the day by far was an Eastern Water Rail skulking in a reedy ditch. After catching a quick ‘Moorhen-like’ view of it scuttling to cover, I lay on the ground, and after a few minutes, the bird came out and fed among the reeds. I spent an amazing 30 minutes watching it sneak around the murky reedscape. At times it vanished, only to burst suddenly from cover and comically skid to a stop, like a reluctant performer being pushed on stage.
Also seen in fields were six Far Eastern Skylarks, still about 20 Barn Swallows, 15 Stejneger’s Stonechat, two Far Eastern Cisticola, the first Grey-capped Greenfinch I have seen for quite some months, and at least ten Black-faced Buntings. The day was also ‘Peak Motacilli-day’, with eight pipit and wagtail species observed. The seafront saw an influx of Eurasian Magpies, with over 20 seen milling about the area restlessly.
Amazingly, three days later another Eastern Water Rail (or the same one?!) was spotted in the morning gloom, at a site almost 2 km from first. This bird was seen as it walked casually along a trail just after dawn. It melted into a reedbed, but returned cautiously several minutes later, and we watched each other for five minutes.
Other observations included four Amur Falcons still, a dozen Far Eastern Skylark, a Black-browed Reed Warbler, and two relatively confiding Yellow-breasted Buntings. There was a notable absence of swallows and martins overhead. A probable Middendorff’s Warbler was briefly observed as it jumped around near the ground in a muddy patch of reeds. Thanks as always to my fellow Birds Koreans for helping me puzzle through this tricky ID.
On October 23rd, Hooded Cranes returned to Suncheon Bay, with a total of 29 seen drifting overhead restlessly, unable to find a quiet field to land in for quite some time. The other highlight of the day was an inquisitive Siberian Rubythroat, that watched me from several metres away as I staged an unsuccessful stakeout in an effort to re-find the original Eastern Water Rail. Other notable birds at the bay today included two Bean Geese, perhaps 70 Oriental Turtle Doves, 20+ Far Eastern Skylarks, a similar number of Chinese Penduline Tits heard from the reeds, and nine Grey-capped Greenfinch perched on wires.
Dawn on October 25th saw Hooded Crane numbers up to 38, eight flyby Eurasian Spoonbills, and low double-digit number of Greater White-fronted Goose and Bean Goose. Later in the morning, an influx of ducks was noted on and around the bay, with 200+ Spot-billed Ducks and half that number of Mallards, with several Common Pochard and Northern Pintails on the periphery. Still plentiful were Far Eastern Skylarks, but there was a paucity of pipit species, with only Olive-backed seen today. Two quick flybys had me scratching my head on the way out – a distant unidentified buteo-looking raptor drifting past in bad light, then a small, light starling. Late Chestnut-cheeked perhaps?
This week, both Eastern Water Rail sites have been heavily disturbed/destroyed by the relentless construction that has been steadily trashing some of the most productive habitat I’ve ever seen for residents and staging migrants. Perhaps the rails were going to overwinter, but it’s doubtful if they are still there now, what with the dump-trucks rumbling by several feet away every few minutes. So far, a formerly quiet stretch of coastal rice fields has had four massive pits (each at least the size of a football pitch, or bigger) gouged out, with two being filled in with concrete already. Is this to make way for more solar panels that no one here wants? It is massively frustrating and depressing to watch the destruction of such amazing habitat. “Suncheon Green City” indeed.
Away from the bay, the hills around town are bustling with a healthy assortment of tits, but no sign of winter finches or thrushes yet. A very hazy day (hazy all week) on the 24th, with two Japanese Wagtails spotted on a downtown stream.