Spring in the Yellow Sea, (Post 2 of 4), Chuja Island

“Wryneck Road” down to Chuja’s southern tip © Matt Poll
The view of peaceful Shinyang 1-Ri from my minbak
(Jeju’s Halla Mountain is faintly visible just behind ‘Lion Islet’)  © Matt Poll


Chuja Island, April 14-17, 2019

  The island-hopping continued north to Chuja-do, a medium-small set of bridge-connected islands 2/3 of the way to the mainland from Jeju. I visited a few times back in my Jeju days, but those were day-trips in winter and summer, with just a superficial scouting of the lay of the land, so it was rewarding to finally take a much deeper dive into the fruitful hills, especially in spring.

   At least 30 Streaked Shearwaters were seen from the ferry, which was quite large and had open deck access…but chilly in the sea breeze! Also, a loon sp., a thrush sp., and a Northern Boobook heading north low over the waves.

   I got dropped in the small town of Shinyang 1-Ri in the late afternoon, which I was not expecting, but decided to stay the night to explore the southeast section of the island (I ended up staying three nights!). I was the only guest in a huge minbak complex on the hill – it all felt very The Shining. The place, like many other facilities in town, had that charming ‘brand-new-yet-falling-apart’ vibe going on.

   On my afternoon recon jaunt, the bushes in the lovely quiet hills were heavy with birds! The most numerous migrants were Red-flanked Bluetail (120ish), Black-faced Bunting (70+), Brambling (65+), and Stejneger’s Stonechat (30+). Other migrants were seen in single-digit numbers, such as Asian StubtailEastern Crowned Warbler, NarcissusBlue-and-White, and Asian Brown Flycatchers, as well as Tristram’s and Little BuntingsBlack-crowned Night Herons were heard after sundown. Of note, both Brown-eared and Light-vented Bulbuls inhabit the island, with the latter greatly outnumbered by the former.

Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri © Matt Poll
Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus © Matt Poll
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina © Matt Poll
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami © Matt Poll
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis © Matt Poll

  A solid day in the hills on the 15th – my eyebrows were bruised from binocular reps! A thorough circuit of Chuja’s southeastern headland for the entire morning, and some of the post-siesta afternoon. Again, every trail and path from sea-level to the hills was blanketed with Red-flanked Bluetails – easily over 600 were seen throughout the day. This is a well-estimated, if conservative number – there were one or more individuals within sight at all times, and I was often flushing one off the trail every few seconds…that’s over eight hours in the field. Still plenty of Black-faced Buntings (370+), Bramblings (140+), Stejneger’s Stonechats around the harbour (85+), and Asian Stubtails (40+).

Also: A Chinese Blackbird was spotted just after dawn; seven species of bunting were logged; no woodpeckers seen, but evidence of their existence is around; a Great Crested Grebe in the harbour; a dozen or so Ashy Minivets over the hills; several Dusky WarblersRed-throated Pipits, and Grey-backed Thrushes (I’d forgotten how blue they look in flight!) seen around town. While only one Great Tit was seen, small bands of Yellow-bellied Tits can be found in most corners of mixed hill forest.

  The habitat in and around Sinyang 1-Ri is a welcome example of ‘old school’ island habitat, with a mix of bamboo, coniferous and deciduous trees in the hills, scruffy old gardens, small agricultural plots, and overgrown mountain trails. So much birding potential! Accessible by ferry from both Jeju and the mainland, it’s a wonder more birders haven’t ended up on Chuja.

On the 16th, a dawn surprise in the form of a Redwing! It was associating with a mixed group of other turdus thrushes, and they all flushed when I came down a trail. I got long bino looks at the Redwing as it perched up in a tree for less than a minute before flying off. It was most definitely a Redwing, and not one of several possible confusion species. I almost got a record shot, but of course my camera went into ‘autofocus hell mode,’ and the opportunity was over just like that. I loitered in the area for over an hour and checked it two more times throughout the day, but the bird was not to be re-found.
  Also: a Siberian Rubythroat, three Eurasian Wrynecks, a White’s Thrush, several Brown-headed Thrush, more than 30 Grey-backed Thrush, and two Daurian Redstarts. More Asian Stubtails were out, with over 50 seen or heard on the day. Red-flanked Bluetail numbers were much reduced compared to the previous day, with less than 150 recorded. In addition to the multitude of singing Japanese Bush Warblers, I spotted a lone Korean Bush Warbler at the very southern tip of the…southern tip.

  The following morning, just a few hours in the hills before the 11:00 a.m. ferry to Usuyong, a small port south of Mokpo. New for the island included a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and a Grey Thrush. Only about 25 Red-flanked Bluetails. Loads of Grey-backed Thrushes around at dawn, with flights of 10-50 Bramblings constantly overhead. Several Streaked Shearwaters were seen from the ferry, which had no outside access. I must return to Chuja-do one day!

male Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus © Matt Poll
female Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus © Matt Poll
partially leucistic Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala © Matt Poll
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus © Matt Poll

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