Having left the confines of the Eco-Park, Melanie and I decided it would be worth exploring around Chunghyo-dong. It was nearing lunchtime and the growling of stomachs was overpowering the bird calls. We headed north towards a main roadway, hoping to find a Korean BBQ place or other restaurant.
A small bridge went over the stream coming from Gwangjuho Lake, but there were no sidewalks and traffic was fairly regular, so we took a side road to reach another bridge a little further down. There were several small collections of houses, and another Buddhist archway near the summit of a small hill. As we were looking at the structure, a group of four white-cheeked starlings flew into a nearby farm plot. My attention diverted from the scenery, I also noticed about a dozen rustic buntings in a tree along the roadway. These small sparrows had not completed their spring molt, and so were lacking the striking black crests and deep rust-red coloration in their plumage. A single little egret was roosting on a branch on the far side of the stream.
We continued down the dirt road, the promise of imminent food pushed us forward toward the main road. As we crossed the second bridge, I noticed a Eurasian kestrel sitting on an electrical wire down the road. These small falcons are fairly common in Gwangju and the countryside, and can be found along roadways in a similar way to the red-tailed hawks of North America. However, this one was Melanie’s first sighting, as she was never around when I would come across them on my own. The kestrel did several stop-and-hover maneuvers over the stream, and then suddenly dove after something I hadn’t seen. It was an unsuccessful strike, and we watched as the small bird flew off into the distance and disappeared, the kestrel in hot pursuit. It was flying away from us, but through the binoculars I was able to make out a yellow rump on the bird. I didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t something I was familiar with.
Oh, the temptation…
The promise of another lifer tantalizingly close, we continued into civilization, heading toward some signs that gave their siren song of fresh meats and vegetables waiting for us to BBQ them up into deliciousness. But, ever the obsessed birder, I kept one eye on the stream, in the hopes that my mystery bird would return. Obsession occasionally pays off, and sure enough, before we left the stream to cross the street, the bird flew past us again, and this time I was able to see enough of it to positively ID it as a grey wagtail. The yellow rump was apparent, and seeing the bird from the side revealed the yellow covered most of the belly and breast. The white supercilium (eye brow) was obvious, and the bird had a black throat patch bordered by a white submoustachial stripe (malar stripe). It was a brief glimpse, but more than enough for an ID.
The mystery solved and the bird checked, we resumed our search for lunch. Choosing a small restaurant tucked away from the road, as we approached the entrance we flushed two more grey wagtails that were hiding in the gravel parking lot. Every successful birding trip should end with such a meal – and in Korea there is always the added excitement because we are rarely able to read what we’re ordering unless the place has a picture menu, which this one did not. But fortune smiled on us that day, and we ate heartily after a lot of walking. Upon leaving the restaurant after lunch, I was able to photograph an oriental turtle-dove right near the parking lot.
As the afternoon wore on it was getting time to head back to Gwangju, so we returned to the Eco-Park where we would pick up our bus back to the city. Unfortunately we had just missed the bus, so we had an hour to spend waiting. Rather than sit in a bus stop kiosk, we decided to walk the side streets of the village and explore Chunghyo-dong a little more. It was just then that a large flight of azure-winged magpies came overhead from the west – I counted at least fifty birds. They were all heading to a large stand of bamboo on the outskirts of the village, so we headed in that direction to have a look. Another Buddhist shrine was on the hilltop, and the magpies were flying in and out of the bamboo around the shrine. From its elevated position, the shrine had a great view over the village and surrounding mountains. A short walk through the village side streets revealed several more white-cheeked starlings, a couple oriental turtle-doves, and Eurasian tree sparrows by the handful. Our waiting was over finally, and we returned to the bus kiosk in time to catch the 6pm bus back to Gwangju. The last sighting for the day was a group of Eurasian magpies picking at the vegetable stubble in a farm plot near the kiosk.
We returned to the city with a beautiful sunset in the mountains, highlighting the cherry trees still holding on to their blossoms despite the relentless winds throughout the day. Without a doubt I’ll be returning to the Gwangjuho Lake Ecological Park, perhaps once spring is in full swing.