Hints of Spring

If there is one thing I have learned since moving to South Korea, it’s that things move very quickly here.  The Koreans call it 빨리 빨리 (balli balli), literally quickly, quickly.  Work begins on a new 4-story apartment building, and three months later the first tenants are moving in.  The weather starts to become colder, and from out of nowhere it does a 180 and you see butterflies in February.

Having just returned from Cambodia, where it was regularly 32°C (89°F), the sudden onset of spring-like weather wasn’t all that sudden to me.  And no, I haven’t forgot to post about Cambodia, I’m just collecting my thoughts and pouring over about 300 photos, so please bear with me.

I start teaching at my new schools next week; another semester is about to begin.  So while I still have time, I decided to check out my local patches to see if anything new had arrived while I was globetrotting in Cambodia.  There weren’t any new migrants (not surprising since it’s still February), but many places were abuzz with bird song and activity.  All of the resident species were fully molted and dressed in their finest.  The overwintering species were nearing completion of their molt, and preparing to leave Korea behind and make the long trip to their northern breeding grounds.  Waterfowl had begun to amass on the Yeongsangang River, comprised mostly of gadwall, common mergansers, Eurasian teal, and the first of the falcated ducks.

A distant photo of a pair of Falcated Duck (Anas falcata)

Male Gadwall (Anas strepera)

At the Gakhwa reservoir this morning, many of the resident species were stretching their vocal cords and beginning to sing; some were even hard at work building nests, as was clear by a female white-backed woodpecker excavating a cavity in a tall dead tree near the reservoir.  I also saw a pair of long-tailed tits carrying materials into the thickets, likely to a well-concealed nest site.  I’ve posted some of the best photos from the past week below; more are available at my at my website.

Juvenile Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudacutus magnus)

Varied Tit (Poecile varius varius)

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He Clicks, He Scores!

As you may remember from a much earlier post, I have a nemesis bird in South Korea called the common kingfisher.  Although I have seen this bird numerous times subsequently, both in Korea and Taiwan, I have never been able to successfully photograph it.  Such is the nature of the beast, so to speak.  Kingfishers as a general rule are very wary of humans and require a lot of patience and equal amounts of luck to photograph.

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis bengalensis)Naejang Reservoir, Jeongeup-si, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis bengalensis)
Naejang Reservoir, Jeongeup-si, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea

While still not perfect, this image is definitely a huge step in the right direction.  Take that, nemesis bird!

Past, Present & Future

The past few weeks have seen me in a state of constant change.  In a mere 14 days, I traveled nearly 14,000 miles and crisscrossed half the globe.  I experienced a 26-hour day, and skipped another one entirely.  So, as the title of this post suggests, I’ll fill you in on the past two weeks, what’s going on right now, and what’s in the books for the near future.

PAST

January began my winter vacation.  After completing the semester and saying farewell to my students, I packed my bags and hopped a flight from Seoul to my hometown in Pennsylvania.  It was here that, due to the extreme time difference and the International Date Line, I had the enjoyable experience of living Saturday, January 18, twice.  I left Seoul at 6:15pm local time, and arrived in Philadelphia a mere three hours later, or so the clock said.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently: 26 hours of travel is just wrong.

Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains

Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains

The prodigal son had returned.  It was an adjustment returning to life in North America, even if for only a short time.  And I don’t mean just getting over the jetlag.  There’s no way around it: daily life and culture in Asia are different than in North America, and I had gotten used to doing things the Asian way.  So I had to un-teach myself to bow to everyone I meet.  I didn’t have to give and receive everything with two hands anymore.  Probably the biggest adjustment was suddenly being able to understand everything I heard on TV and in the streets.  After a year in Korea, hearing English outside of my own apartment was such a rare occurrence that suddenly being inundated with it was sensory overload!  How I had gotten used to the quiet.

It was great to see friends and family again.  I could play with my nephews, read them bedtime stories, go out to lunch or dinner with friends who I hadn’t seen in forever.  And this says nothing about the food!  Oh, to have real cheese again!  Burgers and fries, pizza with no corn or potato wedges on it, and my mom’s lasagna…I’m still amazed I didn’t gain 20lbs while I was there.  The only regret I have is that there simply wasn’t enough time to see everyone and do everything I wanted to.  Two weeks can fly by when you’re not looking.

Turkey club with a side of poutine at the Elgin Street Diner in downtown Ottawa

Turkey club with a side of poutine at the Elgin Street Diner in downtown Ottawa

Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario

Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario

I managed to sneak away for short periods and reacquaint myself with North America’s avifauna.  In Ottawa, I spent a morning with one of my old birding friends and we were able to scour the area for snowy owls…I couldn’t miss the chance to see these magnificent birds while I was back in Ottawa, especially with the irruption year still going on.  While visiting my sister in Rochester, I managed to get my first photos of white-winged scoter, a diving duck that is usually found only over deeper water a distance from shore.  Although it wasn’t the purpose of the trip, I managed to tick off nearly 40 species for my year list, and I was just shy of my January 125 Species Challenge, ending the month with 122 species.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula bucephala) & Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)
Irondequoit Bay, Irondequoit, New York

Female White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)
Irondequoit Bay, Irondequoit, New York

Female Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)Gloucester, Ontario

Female Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Gloucester, Ontario

PRESENT

I no sooner acclimatized myself to my old way of life, then it was time to return to Korea for another year.  Another long, long flight awaited me, and this time I almost completely skipped Sunday, February 2.  I had a few days to recover from the jetlag (again), and it was back to school for another week before graduation.  This is a bittersweet time: due to budget cutbacks, I will not be returning to my current middle school, but will instead take on two new middle schools as a native English teacher.  The Office of Education will not be hiring any new native teachers this year, so those of us that remain in Gwangju must be spaced out to fill the vacancies.  Melanie will be staying at her current school, and will take on my position at my school as well.  So come March, I will have to new students and new schools to get to know.

I’ve made efforts to get out as much as I can.  The weather in Korea is not nearly as cold as it was in North America, and the birds are still out and about, if you have the patience to look for them.  I’m quickly running out of year birds now, waiting impatiently for the spring migration to begin in late March.  Until then, I’m trying to focus on photographing as many of the common resident species as I can, before the arrival of the summer breeders diverts my attention.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck (Anas zonorhyncha)
Yeongsan River, Gwangju, South Korea

Male Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Yeongsan River, Gwangju, South Korea

“Chinese” White Wagtail (Motacilla alba leucopsis)
Gwangjuho Lake Eco-Park, Gwangju, South Korea

Rustic Bunting (Emberiza rustica rustica)
Gwangjuho Lake Eco-Park, Gwangju, South Korea

FUTURE

When Melanie and I decided to re-sign our contracts and stay in South Korea for another year, we were entitled to a one-week paid leave as a bonus for doing so.  We’ve decided to go to Cambodia for this vacation, hoping to soak up some sunlight and warmer temperatures before the new semester begins in March.  I haven’t made any reservations with a birding guide for this trip, but I’m still hoping to add “a few” lifers while we’re there.  Stay tuned for a complete summary of the trip when we return at the end of the month.