Birding in Ruins

The shirt says it all…

I’ve been fortunate enough to go birding in some amazing places.  While I’m not even close to a Big Lister (though I have met the biggest Big Lister in history!), I’m always keeping my lists up to date, regardless of where I happen to find myself.  I’ve seen a lot of new and interesting birds at some of the most mundane locations imaginable: great-tailed grackle in the parking lot of the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas; Javan myna outside a subway station in Taipei; a group of nēnē, or Hawaiian geese, at a golf course on Kauai.  You simply never know where the next great sighting is going to occur!

So as my long-suffering wife will grudgingly admit, I’m birding even as we speak.

Let me set the scene: a nice 4-day weekend holiday to the Aegean Sea, courtesy of Republic Day in Turkey.  We travel to the town of Bergama, site of the ancient Acropolis of Pergamon, the remains of a settlement dating back to the early 10th Century BCE.

Pergamon sits atop a small promontory above the modern town of Bergama.  Although much of the settlement has been reduced to ruin from the effects of earthquakes and time, it’s not difficult to imagine what life might have been like when Pergamon was thriving.  During the height of its power, the city had an estimated 200,000 inhabitants.

Narrow corridors wind throughout Pergamon

The Theatre, overlooking modern day Bergama

The Theatre, overlooking modern day Bergama

It’s difficult to explain how it feels to walk through these ancient ruins, knowing they have been here so much longer than my own country ever existed.  Then my reverie is broken by a bubbling trill to the north.  Over there, behind those rocks.

Western Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer syriaca)

Spotting a medium-sized nuthatch amid a plateau of strewn rocks is no easy challenge.  Luckily, the western rock nuthatch likes to sing from exposed perches on cliff walls or atop boulders on the ground.  This bird has adapted to the semi-arid environments of Turkey’s western and central provinces; a similar looking species, the eastern rock nuthatch, can be found in similar habitat in eastern Turkey, Georgia, and Syria.  If I wait around patiently, I might be able to get a decent photo of this unique bird…and so goes the sightseeing for a time.

The nuthatch comes to investigate me as it flits about looking for food

Eventually I do remember that I, in fact, have a wife, who is somewhere nearby wondering (for the millionth time) why she married one of those weird bird people in the first place.  I leave the rock nuthatch to do its thing, and I scramble over the rocks to continue doing my thing.  I come over a small rise and see…

The Trajaneum, or Sanctuary of Trajan

Well, that stops me in my tracks for a moment.  Staring at the white marble columns in the sunlight, my eyes nevertheless switch almost instantaneously to movement on the left.  And here we go again.

More nuthatches?

No, this one’s too small.  It’s very fast, flitting around, never staying put for more than a few seconds.  Darts out into the air and snatches some unseen insect.  Ah, a flycatcher.  Back in North America, flycatchers can be pretty dull and uninteresting to look at (on the average).  But in Europe and Asia, flycatchers become just as colorful and vocal as our most beautiful wood-warblers.

As I watch this female black redstart, tan brown with a bright orange splash of color under her tail, I notice a few more redstarts about.  Then a dark male bird pops up on a small rock, overlooking the area.  He’s the one I’m after, so I get the camera ready and fire away.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis)

It turns out that these redstarts are by far the most common birds in the area, and I’ll see around 25 of them before the day is through.  While there are birds around, the wind coming up the promontory is quite strong.  After nearly losing my hat twice, I begin to understand why the birds I do see are staying low, hugging the ground, or just staying put under cover.  A lone male blue rock thrush, singing quietly to himself, surveys the Theatre and the town of Bergama down below.  A northern raven glides overhead, using the steady wind to drift in the air.

And then I hear a sound over the wind.  It’s a different sound, not like anything else I’ve heard today.  And a little bit of tracking reveals three sombre tits in some scrubby shrubs near the edge of the promontory.  These are birds I was hoping to run across on this trip – they’re hard to come by around where I live in Bursa, but they’re more common along the western coast of Turkey.

Sombre Tit (Poecile lugubris anatoliae)

These three birds were all juveniles, as indicated by their brownish coloration.  Adult sombre tits resemble large Carolina chickadees, more greyish in tone.  Not to be outdone, another male black redstart came in to feed on some small flying insects, using a nearby boulder as a launch pad for his aerial strikes.

One can see how the black redstart uses his color to camouflage

Although I ended the day with a scant 9 species, due largely to the strong wind and remote habitat, it’s opportunities like this that make birding such a rewarding and accessible activity.  You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment; you don’t have to travel to exotic locations.  Places you never thought of as having wildlife of any kind can often surprise you, if you have patience and a good pair of eyes to see.

Advertisements

A Big Day for Charity

Everyone has something they like to do on the first day of a New Year, whether that be curling up in front of the TV and watching movies, downing piping hot coffee to combat a hangover, or just enjoying some private time to reflect on the promise of a new year.  My tradition (or at least I’d like it to be a tradition) is to start out a New Year with a Big Day.

I did it for 2014, and managed to spot 46 species throughout the day – a new personal record for January 1.  For 2015, I wanted to do things a little different.  First, I wanted to blow that record of 46 out of the water.  Second, I wanted to raise some money for Birds Korea.  So I got some sponsors and got an itinerary: I would retrace my steps in Haenam county, where I could reasonably expect to find around 60 species.

Instead I awoke to discover that it had snowed overnight, and now the roads were nearly impassible.  So I needed a new itinerary, and it needed to be accessible by public transportation.  The real challenge was in doing all that and still beating 2014’s record.  And so I decided to start 2015 in the same place I started 2014 – the Gwangjuho Lake Ecology Park.  While waiting for the bus, I heard the first bird of 2015, a brown-eared bulbul (not surprisingly).  On the way to the Eco-Park, the bus took an unexpected detour around the mountains and through the outskirts of Damyang; I gratefully spotted three more species along the way.  Maybe things wouldn’t turn out so bad after all…

A frozen silence greeted me at the entrance of the Eco-Park

A frozen silence greeted me at the entrance of the Eco-Park

…and then I reached the Eco-Park.  Undisturbed snow indicated that I was the first person to enter, and it was already after 9am.  Snow fell lazily all around me, and a silent pall held over the area.  Not a good sign – no Eurasian tree sparrows near the bus stop (they’re usually there).  No Eurasian magpies or azure-winged magpies foraging by the entrance.  It was beautiful, yet decidedly lacking in birdlife.  Had I made a huge mistake?

I continued into the Park, and thankfully it wasn’t long before I found some birds.  The naked trees held several flocks of bramblings.  Yellow-throated buntings and vinous-throated parrotbills darted in and out among the shrubs while oriental turtle-doves took off from their roosts in the trees.  As I made my way to the edge of Gwangjuho Lake, the day’s tally was starting to take shape and hope for a truly “Big” Day was renewed.

Yellow-throated Bunting (Emberiza elegans elegans)

White’s Thrush (Zoothera aurea toratugumi)
An unexpected but welcome addition to the Big Day list

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
These winter finches would prove to be the most abundant bird at the Eco-Park

On Gwangjuho Lake itself I found a decent selection of waterfowl, the most numerous being mallard and eastern spot-billed duck.  Smaller numbers of Eurasian teal, falcated duck, and Eurasian coot were also present.  The big surprise was a small group of mostly male Baikal teal!  It was the first time I had ever seen this species at this location before, and was by far the best bird at the Eco-Park.  The small farm pond in the western corner of the Eco-Park held its typical common pochard, tufted duck, and mandarin duck.  The western side of the park, dominated by open grass and seed-bearing trees, was a haven for rustic bunting.  Singles of Naumann’s thrush, Eurasian sparrowhawk, bull-headed shrike, and eastern buzzard were also located here.

One of three ornamental ponds at the Gwangjuho Lake Eco-Park

Rustic Bunting (Emberiza rustica rustica)

Looking over the western side of the Eco-Park as the sun breaks through
Gwangjuho Lake can be seen in the background

Having spent almost three hours at the Eco-Park, it was time to return home for a quick meal and then return to the fray.  Getting a later start and relying entirely on public transportation made the next decision a little harder.  Although the Eco-Park had been excellent, I left there with only 36 species.  I had to choose another location where I could expect to find at least ten more species.  Some quick calculations in my head and I decided the next (and possibly final) stop for the day would be the Yeongsangang River in Gwangju’s west end.  I could expect to pick up the remaining overwintering ducks, as well as some grebes (which were surprisingly absent on Gwangjuho Lake) and maybe some gulls or raptors as well.  It was a gamble, as birding the riverside can be a finicky mistress: some days are gold, other days leave you wishing you stayed in bed.

On the bus ride to the river I picked up some rock pigeons near Chonnam National University; who would ever think a pigeon would be hard to find in a city?  I arrived at the river at 2:30pm, just as the snow returned.  I quickly located a flock of grey-capped greenfinches near the public restrooms, and three Vega gulls were floating on the water.  Scanning through the ducks I found Eurasian wigeon and northern shoveler, and a few tiny little grebes and two common moorhens were also using the waterway.  Now that I had the majority of the overwintering ducks in Gwangju, I set my sights on trying to locate some buntings, which can be found (with patience) in the stretches of tall grasses along the river.

Prime bunting habitat along the Yeongsangang
In season, Stejneger’s stonechat and zitting cisticola can also be found here

I did find some buntings, but only more yellow-throated buntings and a single rustic bunting.  Not the sort I needed.  Taking a short detour along a boardwalk, I hit pay dirt!  I found a mixed species flock containing several Pallas’s reed bunting, black-faced bunting, and chestnut-eared bunting.  The black-faced bunting was an expected species, and was the one I was hoping to locate.  Although I had seen the other two species here in the past, I certainly did not expect to come onto them today.  It was a really fortunate accident, and I marked the occasion by taking some time to observe the buntings as they foraging among the grasses.

Chestnut-eared Bunting (Emberiza fucata fucata)
The most abundant bunting along the river, with over a dozen counted

Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala personata)
This is the less common subspecies; it usually shows more yellow with dark streaking on the breast

Pallas’s Reed Bunting (Emberiza pallasi polaris)

It was getting dark, but I still needed a few more common species that should be on the river.  I turned around and headed south, hoping to find some egrets and maybe a pheasant along the way.  I located another group of ducks, including more eastern spot-billed ducks and common mergansers.  Serendipity intervened and I just caught two Japanese quail as they made a short flight from one scrubby area to another.  An eastern buzzard took position overlooking the river, and bull-headed shrikes chased grey-capped greenfinches and Eurasian tree sparrows through the grasses.

Bull-headed Shrike (Lanius bucephalus bucephalus)

I reached a man-made weir on the river, usually a good place for egrets and shorebirds.  Unfortunately I didn’t find any egrets there, but I was rewarded with two long-billed plovers hiding on a small rocky islet, and four common shelducks feeding within another group of waterfowl.  Like the Baikal teal before them, this was the first time I had seen this species at this location.  And with this last sighting, it was time to head back home.  Getting too dark to see, I was satisfied that I had given it my all.

When I got home it was time to do some number-crunching.  When all the numbers were tallied, I ended January 1, 2015, with a whopping 51 species!  That translated to 177,500₩ ($160 USD) earned for Birds Korea.  I managed to see a lot of great birds, the best being Baikal teal, chestnut-eared bunting, and common shelduck.  Noteworthy misses were red-flanked bluetail, Chinese grosbeak, little egret, and large-billed crow.

Now that January is underway, it’s time once again to take the 125 Species Challenge.  This is where I challenge myself to see 125 species during the month of January; last year I came up just shy of the goal with 123 species.  This year, with my Big Day behind me and 30 days left to go, I think I’m in a good position to meet my goal.

2015 looks like it will be a great year for birding.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Public Outing at the Yeongsangang

Birding is a passion for me, and like anything one truly cares about, one wants to share it with others.  Our lives are so busy nowadays, and there are so many distractions (*cough* smartphones), that it is all too easy to forget to stop and look around once in awhile.

Therefore I have become increasingly active in the Gwangju community here in Korea.  With the help of a good friend and birder-to-be Maria, I’ve begun a campaign to generate interest and enthusiasm for birds and conservation, and maybe even encourage a few Gwangjuites to join and support Birds Korea.

So how exactly do I generate interest?  Simple: take everyday people outside and show them the world through the eyes of a birder.  Recently I led a public outing along my favorite stretch of the Yeongsangang River on the west end of Gwangju.  The goal was to observe waterfowl which had just arrived from northern breeding grounds.  Since the climate in Gwangju is relatively mild, the Yeongsangang doesn’t freeze over and provides food and shelter for nearly a dozen species of waterfowl throughout the winter.

I was delighted to have an enthusiastic group attend; what’s more, it went beyond my expectations to have such a large group come out…we had twelve participants in total, including two visiting all the way from Seoul!  We had perfect weather, with clear skies and mild temperatures.  While the numbers of waterfowl were still fairly low at this time of year, we did have a decent variety, and I ticked off eight different species of duck before the outing even officially began!  In the end our group tallied just under 30 different species of bird, including excellent views of falcated ducks, Eurasian coots, a friendly and cooperative bull-headed shrike, and four different species of heron.  A full list of the day’s sightings is available here.

Here are few images from the day’s outing.  Thanks to everyone who attended!

The pagoda near the Gwangshindaegyo Bridge made the perfect meeting place

Decorative carvings near the Gwangshindaegyo Bridge

I answer questions as the outing gets underway

Scanning the river for waterfowl

Igidae’s Kites

I don’t get out that way very often, but Busan has a selection of great birding sites.  Many have specific species that simply can’t be found in Gwangju.  And the simple fact of being on the Sea of Japan makes the scenery that much more spectacular.  Melanie and I took a weekend trip to Busan in mid-November with the sole purpose of spotting a Pacific reef heron for my year list.

Busan skyline, as seen from Igidae Park

To find this bird, the best place I knew of was Igidae Park.  I’ve written about it before, as it is one of the best birding sites in Busan.  Since we were looking for a heron, we opted to follow the trail that hugs the rugged coastline; for hikers on a day trip, I’d recommend going into the forest interior and exploring the trails there.

Igidae’s eastern coastline

Well, we’re certainly not going to go left…

To make a long story short, the reef heron eluded us, despite an exhaustive search.  But we did have luck with some of Igidae Park’s other resident species.  Numerous gulls were out on the water, namely black-headed and black-tailed gulls, and several blue rock thrushes put in appearances along the rocky coast.  And it wouldn’t be complete without finding a few large-billed crows willing to pose for the camera.

It’s fun spotting female Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius philippensis)
blending in seamlessly with the rocks

Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos mandschuricus)

Although there were no reef-herons at Igidae, we were generously compensated by observing two of Igidae’s majestic birds of prey:  the black kite.  I ticked my first black kite at Igidae Park in May 2013, and on every subsequent trip I’ve managed to spot at least one.  But every time the weather was against me, and most black kite sightings I’ve made were during overcast or rainy days.

“Black-eared” Black Kite (Milvus migrans lineatus)

As you can see, weather was no problem today.  The first kite spent several minutes flying low over the coastline, riding the thermals coming off the surf.  Eventually the kite swooped down to the surface of the water, snagging a fish much to the chagrin of fishermen nearby.  But never before had I been able to watch a raptor hunting from such close proximity:  as the kite took off to the safety of the trees to eat it’s meal, it passed nearly within arm’s reach of Melanie and I as we stared dumbfounded by the edge of the rocks.  Shortly afterwards a second kite appeared, and the two spent time circling eat other in the sky before disappearing over the mountains to the other side of Igidae.  This was Melanie’s life bird experience with black kite, and what a memorable one it was!

Flying below eye-level, this black kite is a juvenile bird, as evidenced by
the white wash on the secondary coverts.
Nearly all black kites in Korea are juveniles; adults are rarely observed.

Zeroing in on lunch…

Success!  The black kite heads off to eat its catch

The Fortress and the Unexpected Year Bird

The end of summer in Korea is a spectacular time of year.  Korean summer consists of inescapable humidity and crippling heat.  Everyday.  For nearly four months.

Once summer ends, though, things take on a whole new appearance.  It rarely rains throughout September, with every day being a perfectly clear sky and comfortably warm temperatures.  October is much of the same, though the leaves start to change color and fall away, and the temperature dips ever so slowly at night.  And as hard as you try to ignore it, the sun creeps behind the horizon a little earlier each day.

So it was on a perfect October morning that Melanie and I set out to Geumseongsanseong (금성산성), an ancient fortress ruin in the mountains around Damyang-gun, just north of Gwangju.  We’ve hiked this steep climb many times, but had never actually gone all the way around the fortress wall.  This wall encloses a small valley, and protects an old hermitage at its center.  Like the Great Wall in China, the battlements follow the lay of the land, resulting in a lot of sharp ups and downs along the path.

One of the gates at Geumseongsanseong

Looking out over Damyang-gun

This hardy tree clings to life on a solid boulder along the wall of Geumseongsanseong

The view from the northern wall of Geumseongsanseong

In addition to the amazing scenery (especially on a clear autumn day), I’ve found many interesting bird species in this area that I rarely encounter elsewhere.  See an earlier post about Geumseongsanseong, when I observed alpine accentors and a golden eagle, two species that I have yet to see anywhere else in Korea to date.

It took Melanie and I almost six hours to hike the entire perimeter, keeping in mind we were going at a leisurely pace.  Hiking with me usually consists of a lot of stopping and starting, as every song or call I hear requires identification.  If I can’t ID it just on sound alone, I have to stop and look for the source, because chances are if I can’t ID a sound, it’s because I’ve never encountered it before (and therefore, LIFER!)  Melanie has an abundant supply of patience…

We were finishing up our hike as the sun descended towards the horizon.  Then, a flutter of movement as something flushed from right along the trail at Melanie’s feet and bee-lined it for the tree branches above.  My mind goes through the motions: medium-sized ground bird, large body, powerful direct flight.  Strong wing beats that produce some noise.  Overall brown color, cryptic patterning, short tail.  (Oddly enough, this is practically word-for-word what went through my mind as I watched the whole event, which lasted no more than 5 seconds.)

I put all of that information together, instantly ruling out 99% of my Field Guide to the Birds of Korea.  Only two candidates remain, and I can rule out common pheasant easily because of the short tail observation.  Which leaves only one option left: hazel grouse!

Hazel grouse are small gallinaceous birds, part of the order that includes turkeys, chickens, and other game birds.  They closely resemble the ruffed grouse of North America.  However, they are scarcely seen, due mainly to their naturally shy nature and cryptic camouflage.  I have only encountered hazel grouse before on two separate occasions, both of which were over a year earlier.  Melanie, on the other hand, had never seen one before.

Male Hazel Grouse (Tetrastes bonasia amurensis)

For all the fuss it made flushing from the side of the trail, we had to peer through the branches to actually see the grouse.  Finally, I located it hiding behind a low-hanging branch.  The grouse looked down at us, and remained relatively motionless.  Then it began to vocalize in a high-pitched whistle; the sound was very uncharacteristic of most gallinaceous birds I’ve encountered before, and had I only heard it calling and not actually have seen it, I would never have guessed a grouse was making this call.

A pair of hikers passed us by soon after, and the grouse decided to fly off to another tree.  Generally grouse are not strong flyers, and make short direct evasion flights when flushed or startled.  This time the grouse only flew about 10 meters away, and landed in an exposed tree where it was in plain sight!  I cautiously approached, and was treated to a one-on-one photo session with a truly accommodating bird.  It wasn’t until a nosy Eurasian jay appeared that the grouse began to move further into the surrounding forest.

Hazel Grouse closely resemble Ruffed Grouse in every way but the facial patterning

And with that, we continued on down the mountainside, enjoying a beautiful sunset after an incredible hike.  Although the day was not particularly birdy, encountering a hazel grouse and having such good views made for a very memorable experience.

Birding Gageo-do

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done some birding on islands, namely Amherst Island in Canada, on Kinmen Island and mainland Taiwan, and on some of the small islands off the coast of Korea, namely Eocheong-do (오청도) and Heuksan-do (흑산도).  Large islands can often offer the adventurous birder endemic species, found nowhere else on Earth.  Smaller island, on the other hand, are havens for birds during migration, and one never knows what will show up.

Unlike the other islands I’ve birded in Korea, Gageo-do (가거도) is about as isolated as a Korean island can get.  It’s out in the middle of the Yellow Sea, about 140 kilometers from the nearest mainland port, and has a very small population compared to its size.  The island itself is quite rugged, characterized by high, forest-covered mountains in the interior, surrounded by rocky cliffs around the coast.  It’s not an easy terrain to navigate on foot, and the trails that do exist are not maintained and barely deserve the name.  As compared to Eocheong-do, with its well-kept hiking trails and convenient paved roads, Gageo-do is challenging…but it makes it that much more rewarding.

Island birding in Korea means pelagic birding, as the islands are only accessible by ferry.  Depending on the destination, this rare opportunity to observed the ocean’s unsung avian wonders can be thrilling or a complete miss.  The ferry to Gageo-do takes between 4 and 5 hours to reach the island, making a few stops at other islands along the way.  However, unlike the ferry to Eocheong-do, passengers are not permitted to go outside of the cabin throughout the trip, so all birding must be done looking through the window.

The rocky shores of Gageo-do

The rocky shores of Gageo-do

Nevertheless, the sea was surprisingly calm and the skies were clear.  At about the one hour mark, we came onto several groups of red-necked phalaropes out in the ocean.  These shorebirds spend the breeding season on land in the northern latitudes, but retreat to the open ocean for the winter.  It wasn’t until we were nearing Gageo-do that I began to see my first pelagic species.  Gageo-do has a breeding colony of Swinhoe’s storm petrels, which nest on the surrounding islets.  There were dozens of groups of threes and fours, flying quickly from the path of our ferry.  Hidden among these small birds were three unusual specimens.  Swinhoe’s storm petrels are bat-like in appearance, and have dark plumage all over their bodies.  So imagine my surprise when I picked out three birds showing bright white rump patches as they evaded the ferry.  Reviewing my copy of Onley & Scofield’s Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters of the World, I narrowed it down to either Leach’s storm petrel or (more likely) band-rumped storm petrel.  Reviewing my observations, I decided on Band-rumped, as the birds I observed did not have the forked tail common in Leach’s.  I doubt this is the first recorded sighting of this species in Korean waters, but it is nonetheless an exceedingly rare occurrence.  Both A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea and the Birds Korea Checklist for the Republic of Korea only list Swinhoe’s storm petrel as occurring in Korean waters; even the checklists on Avibase fail to mention any other storm petrel species.  If only I had been able to get a photo for confirmation…

When we finally arrived at the island, my first encounters were with the resident species.  Blue rock thrushes were plentiful, and the prevalence of first-year birds indicate there was a successful breeding season on the island.  The marina held dozens of grey herons and smaller numbers of great egret and little egret.  The village of Gageodo-ri was patrolled by a pair of common kestrels, which would put in an appearance everyday of my trip.  Elsewhere around the village were numerous light-vented bulbuls; these rare breeders actually outnumbered the brown-eared bulbuls which are far more common on the mainland.  And flitting about the harbors were numerous wagtails, including grey, white, and eastern yellow wagtails.

Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius philippensis)

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea cinerea)

Looking out over Gageodo-ri

But it was the migrants that I was interested in.  There isn’t much in the way of shorebird habitat at Gageo-do.  The beaches that are there are rocky and the sand is replaced by smooth pebbles.  However, a few migrant shorebirds were around, including singles of Pacific golden plover, red-necked stint, long-toed stint, and several wood sandpipers that could be found on the grassy common area at the center of Gageodo-ri.  Cryptic Latham’s snipes were flushed from their hiding places in the tall sedges around Gageodo-ri and Hangri-maeul.

Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

I was hoping for some migrant warblers and flycatchers, which should be moving through in good numbers.  The few trails that I had located around Gageodo-ri were too overgrown to bird effectively – I spent more time avoiding thorns and watching my footing than watching the birds around me.  Luckily, there are two roads that traverse the island, connecting the main village of Gageodo-ri to the small hamlets of Hangri-maeul and Sam-gu.  Most of the migrant passerines could be found along these roads, where the edges of mountain forests met the rocky coastline.

This road (1 of 2 on the entire island) connects Gageodo-ri and Hangri-maeul

Grey-streaked Flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta)

The most common bird along these roads, besides the blue rock-thrushes, were grey-streaked flycatchers.  I am not sure whether this species breeds on the island; I usually found them in groups of three or more, flitting along the roads and into the air as they hawked insects and dragonflies.  Migrant warblers could also be found along the roadsides.  I didn’t find many warblers in large numbers, but there was definitely a good variety of species.  Dusky warblers were probably the most numerous; although I rarely actually saw them, their distinctive chip note could be heard frequently along the road.  Eastern crowned leaf warblers and yellow-browed warblers were present in smaller numbers, and I had a brief glimpse of a brightly colored Pallas’s leaf warbler.  However, the best Old World warbler (and the best bird of the entire trip!) was Middendorff’s grasshopper warbler, a drab brownish warbler that I located twice near the village of Gageodo-ri.

Although it isn’t much to look at, the Middendorff’s was officially my 700th species!

Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella ochotensis)
This is Life Bird #700!

Eastern Crowned Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus coronatus)

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)

The most numerous bird of all, however, was the Japanese white-eye.  These small greenish birds were literally dripping off the leaves.  I would often have to sift through large flocks of white-eyes just to spot that one non-white-eye.

Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus simplex)

There were so many white-eyes that the tree branches simply ran out of room for them all…

The island also hosted a few predators as well.  In addition to the pair of kestrels that patrolled the skies above the main village, at least two peregrine falcons were also making use of the thermals over the mountainous interior.  Shrikes were also fairly common on the island, with three species present.  Brown shrikes are often found on the islands offshore around Korea; I found one on Eocheong-do during the spring migration.  On Gageo-do there were two brown shrikes, each on a different side of the island.  A single juvenile bull-headed shrike indicated that there was likely a breeding pair of adults somewhere on the island, even though they remained unseen during my stay.  The big surprise was not one but two long-tailed shrikes, again on either side of the island.  These shrikes are quite common in China and Taiwan, but almost entirely absent from Korea.  Occasional records do crop up on some of the islands, but overall it is quite a rare bird for the country.

Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus cristatus)

Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach schach)

The four days on Gageo-do were a great way to kick off the fall migration.  There was a good variety of resident and migrant species, and I was treated to some rarer species that I can’t find on the mainland.  In total I saw just over 50 species, and picked up 4 life birds, including #700!