Bird News from Matt Poll
At Suncheon Bay on November 22nd, two Swan Geese, a crisply-marked Rough-legged Buzzard, a Hen Harrier, 25+ Saunders’s Gull, a single Eurasian Hoopoe, and 40+ nearby Rooks stood out on a fairly quiet morning. On the morning of December 6th at the bay, bird sightings included the Swan Geese still, over 300 Greater White-fronted Goose, 15 Eurasian Spoonbills, a Western Osprey, prowling Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a dozen Grey Plovers, two Common Cranes mixed in with about 500 countable Hooded Cranes (with many more presumably dispersed around the bay), as well as several hybrids of the two species.
On December 13th, the morning started well when I realized that all construction in the area appeared to be over for the winter. The area had a very different feel without the relentless dump truck traffic – the birds seem to have returned. An Eastern Water Rail was spotted several feet from a now-quiet construction site. Nearby, a loose flock consisting of five species of bunting kept me on my toes, and it was great to observe them together and try to differentiate their calls. The area also had a good mix of raptors, with Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Buzzard, Eastern Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and Eurasian Kestrel all present.
Three White-naped Cranes were a pleasant surprise mixed in with the Hooded Cranes, as well as a Common Crane and two hybrids. On my way out, I had a careful pick through a group of about 150 Hooded Cranes in a quiet field. After about 15 minutes of observation from a covert clump of trees, one bird stood out. It was slightly smaller than the other cranes around and hued a distinct ghostly light grey with rusty daubs. It had its head down feeding much more than the local birds, and when it finally lifted its head my heart skipped a beat – the unmistakeable red forehead was the final puzzle piece – I was looking at a Sandhill Crane! A quick text message to Jason Loghry, Subhojit Chakladar, and Robin Newlin, and they were soon at the bay watching this fortuitous visitor with me. Another amazing and unexpected day of birding with good friends.
The idyllic scene was not without worrying disturbances however. Groups of noisy cyclists/picknickers from nearby minbaks, an ATV, food delivery vehicles, couples on romantic strolls, and even a group of neon-garbed ‘bird photographers’ were all seen in and around the area meant to be off-limits in the winter to minimize disturbance to the cranes. The latter group had particularly lamentable behaviour, as they made their way around barriers to get close to the cranes, talked (screamed) incredibly loud, and even tried to flush the flock several times in order to get flight shots. They had no binoculars with which to observe the birds, and indeed no interest in the welfare of the birds they were photographing – it was an appalling spectacle.
In a wooded valley close to my apartment on November 27th, I watched in awe as a Eurasian Eagle Owl was mobbed by three species of corvid as well as Brown-eared Bulbuls. The owl sat well-camouflaged and nonplussed in a pine tree for 20 minutes before flying swiftly across the valley, seemingly shaking its surprised antagonists. I have done this hike over 30 times, but this was the first sign of this mighty owl – perhaps it roosts on a small cliff face nearby? Several Goldcrests, two Pale Thrush, a dozen Eurasian Siskins and three Hawfinch were also notable on this day. On December 7th at the same location I saw 50+ Eurasian Siskins, my first two Cinereous Vultures of the season, as well as several Grey Wagtails and Red-flanked Bluetails that are presumably overwintering. ‘Flying Squirrel Mountain’ was fairly quiet on December 12th, with three Red-flanked Bluetails, several Hawfinch, ‘all the tits’, and a Eurasian Bullfinch (heard only) being notable.