World Migratory Birds Day and Birdathon Report by Nial Moores
The place: Eocheong Island (Gunsan City).
The challenge: to record as many species of bird in a single day, sponsored (many thanks!) in order to help raise funds for essential research on the feeding ecology of Spoon-billed Sandpiper (which Birds Korea will be conducting later in 2011).
The date: May 14th, World Migratory Bird Day – focused this year on raising awareness of the impacts of the changing landscape on migrant bird populations.
May 14th: just one day out of a month spent this spring on Eocheong Island, comparing counts of birds made between April 14th and May 16th, 2003 and 2011. While May 13th this year was very species-rich (much more so than back in 2003), the weather on the 14th looked much less promising – cloudless, clear, with a moderate to strong north-northwesterly wind. Hardly the weather you would choose to see a lot of species on an offshore island. First bird of the day too was a little less than inspiring – a shrieking Brown-eared Bulbul before sunrise – happily followed soon after by a much more melodic Korean Bush Warbler singing by the minbak. Out just before sunrise and straight to the quarry in the southwest, a few steps behind the first of the morning’s dog-walkers. There, the species logged increased rapidly – with calling Yellow-browed and Dusky Warblers, a small flock of Little Bunting feeding on the road side and the first of several Chestnut Bunting flocks overhead, followed by another dozen or so regular migrants here (including e.g. Eyebrowed Thrush and Brown Shrike) that are better-known as rare vagrants to the Western Palearctic and North America: evidence of their amazing ability to cross mountains and oceans. Within eight minutes Richard’s Pipit became species 20 for the day and seven minutes later, Greater Short-toed Lark became species 30. In a vivid patch of yellow flowers, the first of the day’s highlights – a Cardinal-red male Common Rosefinch, looking swollen on grass seeds, outshining two accompanying females.
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus Photo © Nial Moores
This was followed soon after by singing Lanceolated Warbler (personal first of the spring) and then another blaze of colour for species 40 – a male Siberian Rubythroat, perched near-vertically on the side of a sapling pine. In the next twenty minutes or so, more of the mix of the brown and cryptic (with two Asian Brown Flycatcher and three minor Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler) and the super-colourful and striking (including four Siberian Blue Robin, eight Black-naped Oriole and a male Siberian Thrush – species number 50).
Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope Photo © Nial Moores
An hour of “viz-migging” (watching migrants coming in off the sea) helped add Pechora Pipit, Oriental Dollarbird and a tardy Japanese Waxwing to the day list, while species 65 was a Yellow-breasted Bunting (already globally Vulnerable, and still declining rapidly here in the ROK at least). A long, late breakfast in the Yangji Siktang (where else?), was followed by a few more new species for the day in the village, including the day’s second Black-capped Kingfisher (also apparently in decline here), and the day’s first Tiger Shrike and Japanese Grosbeak. While the weather remained bright and sunny, it was clear that an increasingly large fair-weather arrival was now taking place, with small parties of Chinese Grosbeak and larger flocks of Chestnut Bunting and Chestnut-flanked White-eye passing overhead. The personal first Indian Cuckoo of the spring was species 76, followed the same minute by several Yellow-browed Bunting and a Black-browed Reed Warbler. The long-staying Russet Sparrow was a beautiful re-find by the school, while the first Eurasian Hobby of the spring over “central-valley” was species 80. Patches of habitat in “central valley”, much-degraded during the past decade through construction, extra wires and buildings and garbage, was now “heaving” with birds – including swelling flocks of Chestnut and Little Buntings, a smart male Bluethroat and, arguably, an even smarter (though far less showy) male von Schrenck’s Bittern, while the newly-gouged our reservoir also held a flock of 13 new-in and hunched-up Green Sandpiper.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia Photo © Nial Moores
The boardwalk (yet another change to the landscape of Eocheong Island since 2003), already greatly increases disturbance to shorebirds and egrets along the beach, and will soon be extended the whole length of the eastern flank of the bay. However, it also allows easier viewing of landbirds – especially during strong northerly winds. There was no sign of the Tickell’s Leaf Warbler seen there on the 13th, but still several Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and in addition, a Hume’s Leaf Warbler, a Light-vented Bulbul and a Black Drongo all suggesting displacement of migrants from the other side of the Yellow Sea, and all helping push the day total into the low 90s… From there, back north – “up slope” and to the Lighthouse – and a few more interesting species. While numbers of hirundines are much-reduced compared to less than a decade ago, one small flock feeding of 30 birds along the hill ridge contained both Asian and Northern / Common House Martins and also attracted a passing White-throated Needletail, bringing the species total for the day up to 98 with more than an hour of daylight still remaining. At the lighthouse, rather fewer birds – but after a 20 minute wait, yesterday’s male Watercock reappeared, testing out a small patch of wet mud and grass: species 100! Back towards the village in the falling light and above the all-pervasive noise of the power station, a chorus of Tree-frogs; the Green Sandpiper flock emerged from what appeared to be an exhausted slumber into a frenzy of departure; one or two Pin-tailed Snipe called overhead; a Grey Nightjar chok-chok-chok-ed; flocks of thrushes and buntings lifted into the night sky; and the last new species for the day (number 104) at five minutes past eight – a calling Oriental Scops Owl, throat pulsating, silhouetted hard against the night sky.
After such a wonderful day, it is easy to appreciate how migrant birds like these have inspired people across continents and through the millennia. And yet, how many people even noticed these birds over the noise of loudspeaker muzak, boat engines and other artificial noise and lights? More importantly, how many of us, here and around the world, are really willing to modify our lifestyles and make the right kinds of choices so that such species and migrations can survive long into the future?
For more on the World Migratory Bird Day 2011 visit The BirdLife Community.