Gageo Island, May 15-20

Bird news from Dominic Le Croissette

Five full days on Gageo Island in the far south-west of Korea produced a decent range of migrant species and several national rarities. However, despite some excellent records, commoner migrants seemed rather thin on the ground especially later in the week. I observed a total of 104 species on the island.

Sunday 15th May

Warm, hazy sunshine and a light westerly breeze greeted me when I arrived on Gageo-do at lunchtime on Sunday. After walking the road towards 2-Gu and spending some time around 1-Gu village, the late afternoon found me at the far eastern end of the quarry, where I found Korea’s 3rd Northern Wheatear – a splendid male. Other interesting records for the day included a singing Northern Hawk Cuckoo and a range of migrant species including 7 species of bunting, 4 species of flycatcher, Thick-billed Shrike, Japanese Grosbeak and Black Drongo. The seaweed-covered landing stage at 1-Gu port hosted a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a Terek Sandpiper and 2 Common Redshank, while an unexpected sight was a Little Grebe in the harbor.

Monday 16th May

A mainly cloudy day with fog, although it was sunny for a time in the late morning. Today I visited 3-Gu, where a small grove of trees around a rocky stream provided shelter for many birds. On the stream itself, a White-breasted Waterhen and a Striated Heron put in brief appearances, while a single tree nearby held 5 species of flycatcher (Asian Brown, Grey-streaked, Dark-sided, Mugimaki and Yellow-rumped). 6 species of bunting on an adjacent meadow included Tristram’s, Yellow-browed and Yellow-breasted. Some good raptor passage over 3-Gu in the late morning sunshine included 80 or more Chinese Sparrowhawk, 3 Grey-faced Buzzard and single Black Kite and Northern Goshawk. On the trail back to 1-Gu, a White’s Thrush fed quietly on the forest floor, and a Rufous-tailed Robin was also seen. Back in 1-Gu, a Common Moorhen was perhaps noteworthy. In the quarry, the Northern Wheatear was still present and showing very well; also there, single Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Siberian Rubythroat, and an apparent arrival of Black-browed Reed Warblers.

Tuesday 17th May

An excellent day, which while producing “only” 65 species, included plenty of scarce migrants and two national rarities. Last night’s rain and drizzle gave way to a hazy day with spells of bright sunshine and a light westerly breeze. The first surprise of the day was a male pandoo Blue Rock Thrush around rocks at the east of the quarry, in the same area as the Northern Wheatear (which was not seen today). It showed very well, but briefly, on two occasions. Unfortunately I could not get any photos. Second prize for the day went to the Hair-crested Drongo near the “pass” between 1-Gu and 2-Gu, which while giving excellent (and prolonged) views through binoculars, was a little too distant for any workable photos from my compact digital camera. 2-Gu held some interesting migrants including Chestnut-cheeked Starling (2), Red-billed Starling (1), Chinese Grosbeak (11), and Red-throated Pipit (3), while the roadside between there and 1-Gu produced Thick-billed Shrike, Radde’s Warbler and Forest Wagtail. In the quarry today, a single Blyth’s Pipit with about 5 Richard’s Pipit, 3 Pacific Golden Plover, an unidentified snipe flushed, and still plenty of Black-browed Reed Warblers about. Of local interest, a single Black-billed Magpie was seen at 2-Gu in the morning, and it (or another) was at 1-Gu in the afternoon, while on the landing stage the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was replaced by a Red-necked Stint, with the Little Grebe and Common Moorhen both still present nearby.

Wednesday 18th May

A sunny and very windy day, with a noticeable decline in numbers of common migrants today. Of 63 species, the most interesting were around 1-Gu: a House Swift with an arrival of Pacific Swift in the afternoon, a male Chinese Blackbird, a male Citrine Wagtail on the landing stage, and a pair of White-shouldered Starling. Also seen today around 1-Gu, a male Chestnut-cheeked Starling and 3 Sand Martin. It was very quiet at 2-Gu in the morning due to the strong winds, but nonetheless the 11 Chinese Grosbeak were seen again, as well as an Ashy Minivet and 2 Red-throated Pipit still.

Thursday 19th May

Quieter still in terms of birds with only 49 species seen today; continued strong winds meant cancellation of the boat back to the mainland. New birds for the trip list comprised a Two-barred Greenish Warbler in the gully at 1-Gu, an Asian House Martin overhead, and an Oriental Honey Buzzard near the pass; meanwhile in one area of bamboo, 3 newly arrived Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing but proved very difficult to see in the windy conditions. The pair of White-shouldered Starlings were again present in 1-Gu, while other notable birds included a male Siberian Rubythroat on the clifftop above the quarry, and a splendid male Northern Goshawk passing low over 1-Gu village.

Friday 20th May

Another very windy morning led to fears that the boat would again be canceled, however it struggled to the island over bumpy seas, and I was able to leave only a day later than planned. Birdwise, it was an extremely quiet morning; common migrants have all but disappeared. Nothing new was added to the list today, with the only notable records the continued presence of the White-shouldered Starlings in 1-Gu, also the lone Black-billed Magpie, and still 2 Black Drongo remaining from the 8 or so that have frequented 1-Gu for most of the week. A few birds in the insalubrious location of the tip at the western end of 1-Gu included 3 Black-browed Reed Warblers in full song and an Oriental Reed Warbler.

Northern Wheatear, Gageo Island, May 15th 2011
Northern Wheatear, Gageo Island, May 15th 2011

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