The days are ever so slowly getting longer now. After my winter English camps at school, there were still a few hours of daylight, so I took a quick trip to the Gakhwa reservoir to look for some more birds for my January 100 Species Challenge.
There were the usual little grebes on the reservoir – eight in total this time. I took one of the steeper trails this time, hoping to locate some white-backed woodpeckers that I know were breeding on the mountain. As I scaled the near-vertical climb, oriental turtle-doves flushed from their roosts in the treetops, in groups of threes and fours. I counted some thirty-odd birds before I stopped counting. An inquisitive Daurian redstart was the only other bird along the ascent.
I reached the top and took several minutes to catch my breath…yet another subtle hint that I’m no longer in my twenties anymore. While I waited a foraging flock of coal tits and varied tits came along the trail, feeding high in the trees and creating quite the racket. These two species were the last of the resident tits (chickadees) that I had not seen this year in Korea.
It was around that time that I heard a soft tapping in the trees behind me. Soon after there were several pic calls, characteristic of woodpecker contact calls. Pic calls are difficult to diagnose in the field; unlike many other bird species, woodpeckers are difficult to identify solely on their calls. Woodpeckers do not sing to attract mates or defend their territories; instead they drum on tree trunks and branches, so while this drumming can be used to identify a woodpecker, the contact calls are useful only in alerting you to the presence of a woodpecker, not to the particular species.
A little bit of searching revealed a male white-backed woodpecker, right where I expected to find one! While watching him, I heard more soft tapping behind me. Expecting to find his mate, I was surprised to discover a female great spotted woodpecker instead. Although both of these species are resident in South Korea, I usually encounter white-backed woodpeckers more often than great spotted woodpeckers, so coming across the latter is always a special treat.
Up until now I had not had the opportunity to photograph a great spotted woodpecker. They are typically quite shy as compared to the other woodpecker species in Korea. This bird, though wary, would allow me to observe from a small distance, and as long as I didn’t try to get closer, she was fine to let me take as many photos as I wanted. While I enjoyed my photo session with the great spotted woodpecker, I inadvertently found the female white-backed woodpecker I was expecting to find.
With now three separate woodpeckers foraging around me, I wasn’t too surprised to hear the sound of a pygmy woodpecker fly overhead. However, I was incredibly surprised to hear the call of first one, then a second, grey-faced woodpecker shortly after the pygmy had flown by. In one small grove of trees on a mountain ridge, I had just seen the four main woodpecker species in the country!
As the sun was setting, I began the trek back down the trail. The woodpeckers had gone their separate ways, and the trails were quiet with only the sound of pale thrushes disturbing the silence. A short way down the path, I unexpectedly flushed a scaly thrush, an infrequently seen resident species in these mountains. Scaly thrushes are very shy, and despite their large size (almost twice the size of an American robin), they prefer to hide in dense thickets or low-lying vegetation.
Though I only had a short time, it was an enjoyable outing with a lot of surprises. I have now found most of the resident species in this part of South Korea, so the January 100 Species Challenge will now become more interesting as I search for the winter visitors.