I had been cooped up in the apartment for too long. The rainy season in South Korea was dragging on, and as final exams loomed at school, I was under pressure to create meaningful review lessons to prepare my students. My birding had taken a back seat for the meantime, and while July is always a slow month for birding, I had been away from the chase for too many weekends. So Saturday morning Melanie and I set out to Gwangjuho Lake Ecological Park (광주호 호수생태원) on the outskirts of Gwangju. The Eco-Park is a little removed from the city, but is easily accessible by the #187 village bus. This bus only comes once an hour, usually on the :30 or :45, so be sure to check the bus schedule before leaving – nothing is worse than waiting for an hour because you missed the bus by a few minutes.
The surrounding area in Chunghyo-dong is covered with rice paddies and agriculture. Wading through the paddies were numerous cattle egrets and little egrets; occasionally a big great egret could be found. The skies above the paddies were full of red-rumped swallows hunting insects; on this instance I also found a Eurasian kestrel hunting the swallows that were hunting the insects.
The Eco-Park had grown wild since my previous visit in April. The small ponds were inundated with reeds, and hidden within were several oriental reed-warblers. The grounds of the Eco-Park had dozens of azure-winged magpies and Eurasian magpies feeding their offspring. I also spotted a scaly thrush with a mouthful of food for an unseen nest or fledgling. One of the resident pair of grey-faced woodpecker also put in a brief appearance.
Many of the shrubs were in full bloom, and butterflies and dragonflies abounded. Most of the butterflies were Asian swallowtails, but a few Chinese peacocks could be found with a little effort. In the small ponds, there was a wide range of dragonflies, including black-tailed skimmers, scarlet skimmers, with smaller numbers of pied skimmers and butterfly skimmers. I was particularly drawn to the butterfly skimmers, which had magnificent black iridescent wings that exploded with color in the sunlight. Zipping among the blades of grass were several small green-and-yellow damselflies, which I later identified only as Ceriagrion melanurum.
We took the boardwalk along the edge of Gwangjuho Lake, drinking in the fresh air and sunlight. Even though the day was a warm one, and the skies were mostly clear, there was still a surprising amount of birdsong in the air. On the lake we saw a mother mandarin duck with two fluffy chicks in tow, and came across several groups of vinous-throated parrotbills with fledglings. Melanie almost stepped on a dark-spotted frog, which provided me with a photo opportunity before disappearing into the grasses.
A black-naped oriole could be heard singing from somewhere in the Eco-Park. We could also hear two common cuckoos and a lesser cuckoo calling periodically. Near a junction in the boardwalk, by a shallow reed bed, the sounds of oriental reed-warblers gave way to a juvenile bull-headed shrike, calling out to attract an adult. Shortly thereafter an adult male came in from the north and answered its anxious fledgling. Not far from there were several more vinous-throated parrotbills and Japanese tits in a mixed-species foraging group.
We left the boardwalk and proceeded through a stand of metasequoia trees. A Japanese bush-warbler could be heard calling nearby. A dollarbird flew overhead, and in the swarms of red-rumped swallows overhead I found three barn swallows. On the other side of the Eco-Park is a large open area with ornamental shrubs and trees. This area was undergoing maintenance, so we decided to head back to the entrance of the park. On the way we stopped at an observation deck overlooking the lake. Hidden in the trees I found three common kingfishers, the most of this species I have found anywhere.
It was getting near the lunch hour when we decided to head back to Gwangju. On the way out of the park we passed another group of azure-winged and Eurasian magpies. An adult male ring-necked pheasant ran across the walkway, and hiding in the tall grass I found a small juvenile pheasant. All in all the visit to the Eco-Park was a great outing. I’m looking forward to returning here in the early autumn, to see what kind of migrants use the park as a stopover on their migration routes.