Bird News from Subhojit Chakladar
I returned to Deokjeok-do to check out the areas that I surveyed last weekend. Being nearer to shore means I could spend more time actually birding rather than traveling on the ferry, as is the case with Socheong. Even though there are some hikers on the trails, most of the tourist go to this island either for fishing or merry-making. So inspite of the tourist numbers and the associated ‘development’, birding can be quite productive here.
Birding started the moment I got off the boat. There were 2 Eastern Buzzard circling over the ridge, closely followed by a mid sized flock of Brambling. The hiking trail towards the eastern side of the island had about 300 Yellow-throated Buntings, whose numbers seemed to have changed little since last weekend. However, the other species of buntings that I had encountered last Sunday seemed to be missing. There were a large number of Great Tits as well as a steady column of hikers – greatly amused to find a ‘strange foreigner’ looking at the treetops. Partly, to get away from the attention and partly to have a better look at the Tits, I decided to use a bit of fieldcraft and disappear into the surrounding vegetation. I examined each Tit carefully, trying to find if anything was ‘odd’. The oddity however, came in form of thrush! Concealed in vegetation at the end of a gully at a distance of about 50m, it had very light orange streaks on the breast, white belly, a faint malar stripe but hardly any streaks on the flank. After a couple of seconds, it turned revealing an almost uniform grey nape, mantle and back. The sunlight hinted a faint supercilium on a grey head and a white throat. I tried to get a photo but it soon disappeared into the vegetation and I couldn’t locate even after waiting for close to 15 minutes. The orange streak pattern resembled a Naumann’s but it was too faint for any Naumann’s I’ve ever seen and was confined only to the upper breast. Perplexed by this new mystery bird, I recalled a split second view of a similar bird that I had in Socheong last month. I could just catch a glimpse of its breast (which more a bit more orange … maybe because of the sunlight) and belly, before it flew off but the size of the bird was commensurate with that of a thrush (because of the extremely short view and unable to ID it definitely, I left it off my account for Socheong … this time I had a little more time to look at it closely). Flipping through the field guide and a bit of searching on the net, the nearest match I found was a probable hybrid between a Red-throated Thrush and a Naumann’s Thrush. However, looking at the distribution map makes me less confident! Any expert opinion in this matter would be deeply appreciated. Rest of the day was easy pickings and quite eventful as well!
As I emerged from my hideout, I startled a group of hikers whose colorful clothing would easily put Birds of Paradise to shame. They greeted me with wide eyed wonder and their high decibel laughter would have carried all the way to mainland. After they departed, I was considering my next course of action, when out of nowhere, a flock of Chinese Nuthatches swept through the pines. Given their agility, it was difficult to count but I’m quite sure its size was no less than the flock that I’d encountered in Socheong a month ago, and could be even more. There were also a number of curious Coal and Long-tailed Tits, a couple of Eurasian Jays and 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming furiously.
Coming out of the pine forest, to the rice-fields near the school, I found a particularly obliging female Meadow Bunting, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a couple of Bull-headed Shrikes. Crossing over the small hillock, brought me to a more extensive series of rice fields. There were more Buntings here including about 100+ Yellow-browed, 30 Rustic and stunning male Pine Bunting. Apart from that I had close look at a Siberian Accentor and the excellent light afforded some nice shots.
I managed to spend only about 5 hours on the island before the return ferry and as a result could survey only a small part of the island (primarily the North-eastern part). But even with such a limited time, more than 30 species were found based only on visual record (I’m sure somebody good with bird calls would find a few more). Given the fact that these islands are quite popular with tourists, I think it presents a great opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of these islands, and the Yellow Sea region in general, to bird migration. Even a very small step like encouraging people to speak in a low voice while hiking could have a large impact on the long run. If any local or international organization, wishes to pursue or is pursuing a project in this regard, I’d be happy to offer my ideas and help.