Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pioneering trip to Geomun-do, April 11-12, 2015

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina
Lovely Port Hamilton
Vomit, life-vests, and clenched fists - worst boat trip ever
Charming Geomun
Tiny secret stream
Towards the southern tip
Land bridge to the lighthouse
Southern lighthouse
Interesting habitat on the smallest of the islands
British military graves
Above the main village
Subho in action
Bustling downtown Geomun
Tallying up
  Two hours southish of nearby Yeosu, on roughly the same latitude as Chuja-do and the glorious Gageo-do, lie several small islands collectively known as Geomun-do.  ‘Do’ can mean island in Korean, and is pronounced ‘D’oh!’, which is apt when dealing with travelling to Korea’s islands.  The ferries are cancelled at the drop of a hat, or are still running when they should have been cancelled, which I’ll get to in a bit.  Also, the ferries are often fully booked up by tour companies that fill them up with cackling tourbus-loads of drunken mainland pensioners.  On more than one occasion I’ve showed up at a ferry terminal at 7:00am, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with my binos and dreams of sexy vagrant birds, only to be told that the boat is fully booked for the day, and in fact, has been for weeks.  D’oh.
  Geomun-do has an interesting history in that the British held the island for several years in the late 19th Century ('Port Hamilton'), and were even trying to promote it as ‘The Gibraltar of the East’ to adventurous Victorian travelers.  There remains a small British cemetery on the island, with an array of commemorative plaques from different eras and political mindsets.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Hamilton
  Being largely unbirded, Subho and I headed down there a few weeks ago for a pioneering trip.  As far as Korean islands go, Geomun-do is quite a charming and friendly one, in my opinion.  The locals were welcoming, for the most part, and the island itself held some promising patches of habitat.  Some Korean islands have very different feels, like the over-militarized Baengnyong-do, the gruff Eocheong-do, or the aloof Gageo-do.  One interesting thing I’ve noticed on these islands is that there is invariably one cop, and one gangster on each island, and they are usually friends.  A story for another day.
  We didn’t run into anything too crazy, but we weren’t really expecting to, as it was still fairly early in the migration season.  We were just there to scope out the habitat.  The resident Black Wood Pigeons were great to see, and we did spot some early signs of movement, the most glamorous being several male Narcissus FlycatchersRed-flanked Bluetails, Grey-faced Buzzards, and a good mix of finches were also on the move through Geomun-do.
  The ferry ride back was tormented by 45 km/hr winds, and it was hellish.  Most of the 200 passengers, who glibly devoured beer, squid, and spicy soup for the first 20 minutes of the trip, soon regretted their lifestyle choices as the seas got extremely heavy.  Everyone around me was vomiting up spicy red foam, praying, and/or donning life-vests.  It was like being in a plane crash...for two hours.   D’oh.
  Perhaps chastened by the vomit-slicked boat, the ferry company cancelled the ferries for the past two weekends, spoiling my dreams of returning every weekend to continue the pioneering.  I may return this coming long weekend, if any tickets become available on the lottery-style ticket website.  My Gageo tickets for this weekend were already booked, but I had to cancel them due to the impossibility of post-9pm bus travel between major cities in Korea.  Double-D’oh.

Geomun-do Highlights:
Intermediate Egret – 1 trapped by weather/resting
Sparrowhawk sp – seen briefly from the ferry, flying low to the water, struggling in the 45 km/hr winds
Grey-Faced Buzzard – 7
Black Wood Pigeon – 4
Ashy Minivet – several heard from high in the hills
Red-flanked Bluetail – 6
Pale Thrush – 6
Asian Stubtail – 1
Goldcrest – 10
Narcissus Flycatcher – 3 males
Asian Brown Flycatcher – 1
Black-faced Bunting – 4
Grey-capped Greenfinch – 60+
Eurasian Siskin – 50+
Brambling – 12+
White-cheeked Starling – 3

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Suncheon Area, March 13 - April 13, 2015


Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus (minus trademark tail)
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Varied Tit Sittiparus varius
Japanese Wagtail Motacilla grandis
Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica
Siberian Chipmunk Eutamias sibiricus
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
  Japanese Waxwings were seen several times in March.  On March 20th, I saw ten in a quick flyby on the river that leads to the bay, with two more seen nearby, the next day.  On March 27th, seven were spotted in the company of some Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes, at the sterile/baffling Suncheon Bay Gardens.  I later got good looks at a diminutive tailless Long-tailed Tit.
  On the morning of March 24th, Suncheon Bay’s Hooded Crane numbers were down in the low 400s (from a personal high count of more than 800 in mid-February), and I saw my first Barn Swallows of the year.  Soon after, two Chestnut-eared Buntings were seen near the entrance to the touristy area.  Five days later, while on a walk to the bay along the river, I spotted a Wood Sandpiper pacing a small flooded field, and got great looks at a confiding Japanese Wagtail.   At the bay itself, an oiled Red-throated Diver was seen paddling aimlessly on a small artificial pond.
  On April 2nd, in a large field near the park, I encountered four Stejneger’s Stonechat (my first of the year), a Hen Harrier, and small groups of Chinese Penduline Tit, as well as Pallas’s and Common Reed Bunting still.  On the 8th, small numbers of Intermediate Egret and Common Sandpiper were seen along the river, probably fresh in, while Barn Swallow numbers swelled daily.  A Chestnut-eared Bunting and several Little Buntings were also seen.  On an early morning trip to Bay on April 10, the highlight came when I surprised a Eurasian Bittern at close range in a quiet reedy pond, and it hesitantly flushed, showing its spectacular tiger-stripe pattern well.