Bird news from Leslie Hurteau
A Sunday afternoon was spent on Ganghwa-do with Dr. Soyoung Sung, Subhojit Chakladar, and Todd Hull, to scan rice fields for vagrant geese. After a bit of searching and not finding anything out of the ordinary (aside from one radio-tagged Greater White-fronted Goose), we moved onto Gyodong-do to search for eagles (in particular, a reported Imperial Eagle) and other raptors. While driving along in fields in Gyodong-do, a small passerine flew by the road and caught our attention. We reversed the car slowly to relocate the bird. It appeared to be a lark, and the pale colouration and small compact shape pointed towards a Short-toed Lark.
The lark played a bit of hide and seek with us, taking turns popping up on one side of a field after we had lost it on another side, and so on. Some brief moments allowed for photography, and we checked its flight call with a couple potential candidate species. Unfortunately we were unable to record any calls. After examining our photos and comparing the calls, we concluded that it may have been an Asian Short-toed Lark (Alaudala cheleensis, 북방쇠종다리), a scarce vagrant in South Korea (listed as V2 in the Birds Korea checklist). Our guess was confirmed after checking the photos with Dr. Nial Moores and Tim Edelsten.
The bird had pale colouration, with light streaking on an otherwise pale breast. The tertials did not cover the primary tips, which appears to be a key difference between Greater and Asian Short-toed Larks According to Brazil’s Birds of East Asia. The flight call was a soft rolling sound, and matched well with the calls available in the Xeno-canto database. Overall an exciting find for the four of us, and the second interesting lark discovery of the winter. It will be exciting to see what more comes up in the upcoming spring migration.