Bird News from Matt Poll
It has been incredible to observe the gradual seasonal changes occurring at Suncheon Bay, a stunning and peaceful place at dawn. Unfortunately, at other times it is not so peaceful, with a wide range of disturbances spoiling the tranquility of the habitat used by large numbers of resident birds as well as migrating shorebirds. Picnickers using pedal cars to access quiet areas of the bay often leave behind heaps of garbage, much of which ends up blowing into the bay. On some days, a large (almost four metres long) and noisy remote-controlled crop-dusting helicopter was seen over the rice fields. It raced noisily up and down the fields adjacent to the bay, repeatedly putting up flocks of egrets and shorebirds. Additionally, large noisemakers on five-minute timers that produce shotgun-like booms where rice is being harvested have been heard for several weeks in Suncheon’s otherwise sedate rice fields. The endless disruptive construction work being done on the seawall finally seems to be tapering down. Unfortunately, the Eurasian Bittern seen on July 10th has not been seen since the heavy construction equipment moved into ‘its’ area shortly after that sighting. I sincerely hope this area adjacent to the eco-park stays closed to the general public. Thanks to the crowds, the well-touristed main park is already fairly unwelcoming to migrating birds. The agricultural areas around it are so vital to migrants, it would be calamitous if they were to be opened up to organized tourism, or developed further.
On August 8th, several Raccoon Dog pups were spotted near the bay, as well as 50-60 Cattle Egrets. August 26th saw a flyover male Black-winged Stilt, a Black-capped Kingfisher, and a Sand Martin mixed in with at least a hundred Barn Swallows. Notable at the bay on September 4th were two young ‘tigery’ Yellow Bitterns, and a reduction in both Cattle Egret numbers and colouration, with only seven mostly white individuals seen in the rice fields. Several Far Eastern Curlews were observed cleverly feeding on crabs on a small inland path. Another Sand Martin was seen with a 70-strong group of hirundines perched on power lines, mostly Barn Swallows with six Red-rumped mixed in. Two days later near the bay, observations included an Asian Brown Flycatcher, and another clumsy young Yellow Bittern.
The following week, on the 10th, new arrivals at the bay included low double-digit numbers of Red-necked Stint, Common Snipe, White, Grey, and Eastern Yellow Wagtail, as well as a Eurasian Hoopoe. Shorebird numbers continued to gradually swell. Only one Cattle Egret remained in a field where dozens had recently fed. The best bird of the day was also the first – an extremely early Short-eared Owl flushed from a ditch among rice fields just before dawn. Its underparts and side profile were seen well through binoculars as it flushed and flew low along the ditch. A pleasant surprise later in the day was the sight of at least 200 Barn Swallows sagging down power lines right outside my window, with several of them showing a pinkish wash to their underparts.
On September 15th, dawn at the bay saw a female Black-winged Stilt, two Yellow Bitterns, still decent numbers of Eastern Yellow Wagtail, with Common Snipe numbers down to five. The day’s highlight was a juvenile White-winged Tern flying low just above the rice fields, deftly catching insects on the wing, and cavorting with Barn Swallows at times. This was my first time observing the species, and it was a real treat! No renewed sign of the Short-eared Owl on the 17th, and the White-winged Tern appeared to have moved on. The Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Stints, Eastern Yellow Wagtails, and several Common Snipes remain, while several Far Eastern Cisticolas were seen and heard calling from high overhead. Three days later, a confiding Broad-billed Sandpiper was seen. It was sighted again on the 23rd, along with an apparent Pied Harrier and Black-winged Stilt still, and a personal first Stejneger’s Stonechat of the fall.
The morning of the 24th had a notably large congregation of Little and Intermediate Egrets spotted on a small waterway near the bay, totalling perhaps 70 birds. At least 250 Barn Swallows and several Red-rumped Swallows were seen intensely feeding where reeds give way to mudflats, presumably preparing for their long flight south. An Arctic Warbler seemed out of place on the seawall, flitting nervously through the scrub.
The morning also produced a memorable encounter with a bird I had seen only once previously. On the way out of the rice fields, a pipit flushed from the path in front of my motorcycle. I quickly shut down, coasted to a stop, and hunched behind the handlebars. To my delight, the bird, a cracking Pechora Pipit, walked along the ditch straight towards me, and I was able to observe it from very close range for several minutes. An incredible birding moment. Not much different on the 26th, with best being a Eurasian Wryneck. Shorebirds were represented by at least one hundred Black-tailed Godwits, and smaller numbers of Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Red-necked Stint, Eurasian and Far Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Snipe, Terek Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Dunlin, Marsh Sandpiper, and the lingering Black-winged Stilt.
Away from the Bay, a weekend trip to Dolsan-do on August 29-30th had several highlights – good flight views of a Grey Nightjar, seven Grey-streaked Flycatcher, a frustratingly quick look at a plain ‘olivey’ flycatcher (perhaps a female Blue-and-white?), eight Red-rumped Swallows still nesting in a small coastal town, and three Eastern Crowned Warblers. On September 8th, a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was spotted in a small ‘nursery’ woods next to a reservoir near Suncheon. Young Black-naped Orioles, Brown-eared Bulbuls, Azure-winged and Eurasian Magpies tested their wings under the watchful eye of several perched adult birds nearby.
Northwest of Suncheon on September 19th, aside from a band of confiding Long-tailed Tits, a lone Grey-backed Thrush was seen skulking in a tiny remnant of what was a lush quiet valley just three months ago. It has since sadly been reduced to a clear-cut moonscape, the wood sold for lumber by a land-owner that lives in Seoul.