Bird Report by Jason Loghry with Matt Poll
Saturday was easily one of the greatest days of birding I’ve ever had in June. We started early at Suncheon Bay. Just at sunrise we made it to some rice fields near the park and looked for painted-snipe. It was a beautiful cool summer morning. There were several Oriental Reed Warbler vocalizing in the reeds and many of the typical summer species were observed, including all four egret types (Great, Intermediate, Little, and Cattle) and a Striated Heron. On the tidal flat, there were distant Curlew and Far Eastern Oystercatcher. There was no sign of painted-snipe so we headed towards the park to look at starlings. We found at least 4 breeding pairs of Chestnut-cheeked Starling near the park. They seemed to be in a continuous territorial struggle with the neighboring Azure-winged Magpies and White-cheeked Starling. About 70+ White-cheeked Starling and a few of the Azure-winged Magpie were flying to and from the big grassy lawn inside the park, feeding and socializing. As we watched them, we spotted a Chinese Sparrowhawk flying overhead and then a Black-crowned Night Heron.
After a short coffee break, we headed for the hills (to one of the southern islands south of Yeosu) to see what we could find. On the way out we spotted our first Tiger Shrike of the day; although we ended up seeing a total of seven throughout the day! On the island, Red-rumped Swallows were abundant and birds seemed to be singing everywhere – mostly Pale Thrush but also various tit species and quite a few Yellow-throated Bunting. Once we reached the southern side of the island we began to hear Fairy Pitta. They were also vocalizing from almost every direction. We walked up a hill and seemed to be getting closer and closer to one of the birdiest areas I have ever been to during this late spring / almost-summer period, with singing from all directions. Common Cuckoo, Lesser Cuckoo, and Oriental Cuckoo could be heard along most of the trail. From the top of the hill, we heard Black-naped Orioles and a Black Paradise Flycatcher singing in one of the lower valleys. We heard some ruckus from above and then spotted a Large-billed Crow mobbing a passing Oriental Honey Buzzard.
We hiked down to a walking path where we were at about eye-level with the much of the mixed forest tree canopy, and there we could hear at least three pittas vocalizing. Several Pale Thrushes continued to sing along the trail, and then a White’s Thrush and a barking Korean Water Deer. We would get small flurries of tits and Japanese White-eye and at one point some warblers moved through, a young Eastern Crowned Warbler and a couple of Arctic-type Warblers. We also heard the beautiful summer song of Asian Stubtail. The pittas always seemed to be getting closer and then moving away, just teasing us. At one point, a pitta was just a few feet away in some tree cover, but reluctant to show itself. Finally, there was one in flight. Its colors stood out so bright as it flew and perched under the broad leaves of a nearby tree. Then it was gone. It gave only a brief glimpse, but still unforgettable. We decided to wait and see if it was possible to see again. It returned and perched in a pine tree, singing, and then over to a broad leaf tree. It was the first time I had really ever seen this species in all of its glory; and it was marvelous. Fairy Pitta is one of the most beautiful birds to be seen in Korea, and I can easily understand why it’s treasured by bird lovers. Its colors are just exquisite. We must have heard at least eight, but there were likely more around the island given the abundance of good and seemingly undisturbed habitat.
The afternoon was growing late, so after a delicious plate of some local pajan and a celebratory cold beverage, we headed to back to Suncheon Bay. Traffic was a bit slow but we were able to make it just as the sun was going down. We went back to the rice fields. The evening grew darker and then finally we were able to hear them, and then see them; just as the last of the day’s sunlight retreated behind the mountains: two Greater Painted-Snipe, a male and female. Views of this amazingly cryptic species were just how I imagined they would be, magnificent, yet fading into the darkness of the evening.
Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha © Matt Poll
Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus © Matt Poll
Chestnut-cheeked Starling Agropsar philippensis © Matt Poll
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus © Matt Poll