The last few days have made for some very exciting birding here in the Southeast. On Monday the 29th, I returned to Hwapo Cheon and spent most of the day quietly watching and working through a very large flock of geese (containing between 3,400 and 3,700 birds, with the vast majority Taiga Bean and Greater White-fronted Goose, with perhaps 10-20 Tundra Bean Goose also mixed in, along with several Korean Water Deer!). Many of these geese showed quite a bit of variation (size, structure and plumage), especially the Greater White-fronted Geese. Finding a Lesser required more than searching out a cute, golden eye-ringed grey goose because many of the GWF also share these features. The combination of these characteristics with the Lesser’s unique bill shape, size, and color were an easier way to distinguish between the two species. I took quite a few images that will be included in a later follow-up blog post.
On Tuesday the 30th, I was joined by Dr. Nial Moores [NM]. We started off the morning in some “relict wetland” near to the main barrage, and then looking at gulls and other birds in the Nakdong Estuary. We then went on to Hwapo and finished at Junam. The total number of species for the day was 96. Here are some of the highlights from the 30th, in order of observation (with all of NM’s images below taken with a hand-held compact digital camera through a really superb Swarovski scope):
- Dusky Thrush. A dozen or more were seen at the Nakdong River with several also at Junam, where there was also a Naumann’s Thrush.
- Common Snipe. One was seen in flight along the Nakdong River and six were seen feeding and roosting on a muddy bank across from Eurasian Spoonbills at Junam Reservoir.
- Relict Gull. On the way to one of our usual viewing points over the Nakdong Estuary, NM casually said from our moving car, “Oh look, a Relict Gull,” and indeed just across the river on some exposed tidal flat, there was a stunning Relict Gull at relatively close range. We saw six there, including five First-winters and one Second-winter.
- Stellers’s Sea Eagle. There was a very handsome sub-adult Steller’s out in the estuary. At one point, thisSteller’s and a nearby Relict Gull (along with several Saunders’s Gull) could be seen together in the same scope view – how often does that happen? We also observed two White-tailed Eagle along the river on our way to the estuary.
- Eastern Marsh Harrier. At the Nakdong Estuary, an immature male and an immature female were seen in flight, with the male also seen sitting on the bank near some reeds.
- Tundra Swan. Two adults with one juvenile were also observed at the estuary.
- Lesser White-fronted Goose. Four were at Hwapo on the 29th with two there still on the 30th.
- Taiga Bean Goose. NM found a very distinctive bird that I might also have seen on the 29th and will post images of later. In striking contrast to the more “typical” big-end middendorffii, this Taiga Bean had a strikingly thin, long-looking bill and looked much smaller-headed and flatter-headed than the “typical”middendorffii near to it, recalling (for NM at least) more western populations. Notably, it also was much paler-necked and perhaps also had paler fringes to the upperparts than most of the other Taiga Beans.
- Cinereous Vulture. On both days at Hwapo, 100+ were seen mostly in flight, although many of them were also sharing the same habitat as the large flock of geese. At times, some of the vultures would swoop down closely over the geese bringing large numbers of them up in the air, only to circle around and resettle on a different part of the grassy field.
- White Wagtail. There was at least one leucopsis White Wagtail at Hwapo and two or more at Junam. Lugensis the common White Wagtail in winter. Leucopsis is still scarce in winter, though perhaps increasingly-reported.
- White-naped Crane. On the 30th, 204 were counted, which, along with two Hooded Crane, were feeding and roosting in Junam Reservoir. This was the first time this year to see such a high number together here.
- Swan Goose. One on Junam Reservoir.
- Great Cormorant. At least 1,100 cormorants were roosting in the trees in Junam Reservoir, with many birds usually present during the day and highest numbers toward the evening.
- Japanese Quail. Three were heard vocalizing after sunset at Junam Reservoir, as we enjoyed an unforgettable winter wetland soundscape.
- Short-eared Owl. Although it’s very hard to beat a Steller’s or a Relict, personally this lone owl was the Bird of the Day. After many years of wanting to find this species in Korea, here it was, sat quietly on a bund in the middle of some rice fields a short distance from one of the Junam farm roads near a persimmon orchard. The sun was setting, as NM and I stood and watched this stunning owl, as it also appeared to be watching and listening to us. As the sun went down, the bird flew and perched in one of the nearby persimmon trees. For me, this was the perfect ending to a very good year.