Seoul, January 1

Bird news from Subhojit Chakladar

With overnight snow painting the landscape white, I decided to check out what the Han River had to offer on New Years Day. Inspite of the bleak conditions, the year started with a bang! Just stepping out of Deokso station, a section of the river is visible which held a dark speck on the ice. At a distance of about 600m, it could only have been an eagle. A quick scan revealed a white wing patch confirming the first bird I saw this year to be a Steller’s Sea Eagle. Later, the bird came much closer, terrorizing huge rafts of Common Goldeneyes. However, the initial section of the river barely had any waterfowl except for a dozen Little Grebes. The scrubs were along the banks were much more active, with large numbers of Yellow-throated Buntings darting around and the more composed Rustic Buntings sparing me an occasional glance in the midst of feeding.

The unfrozen sections of the streams feeding the Han contained White and Japanese Wagtails, along with a party of Olive-backed Pipits, while the reeds supported a group of Oriental Greenfinch and Marsh Tits. At least 2 Naumann’s Thrush gave good views and more were heard. A Grey-headed Woodpecker was seen probing holes in a concrete wall. Waterfowl started appearing as I approached the Paldang bridge in form of rafts of Goldeneyes, Pochards, Tufted Ducks and fair number of Common Mergansers. The only other raptors of the day were a pair of Common Kestrels. Whooper Swans were also present in good numbers just before the bridge. But it was the finch bonanza that provided some excitement towards the end. Oriental Greenfinches, Hawfinches and Bullfinches (which appeared as if they were internally illuminated and the males sported an almost unearthly shade of red … perhaps accentuated by the reflections off the snow!) But the most surprising of the lot (at least for me) was a single male Chinese Grosbeak. Other birds of note were Meadow Buntings and Bramblings.

With the sun finally appearing from behind the clouds close to midday, I decided to try my luck at finding Alpine Accentors at Bulamsan. But the sight of the colorful hiking juggernaut going up the slopes dashed all my hopes. I still decided to give it a try but with slippery slopes (and without the aid of crampons or a walking stick) it was tough going. The only new birds here were Long-tailed Tits and a couple of rather noisy Eurasian Jays.

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