Exploring Sorae Marsh Ecological Park 소래습지생태공원

I had been meaning to visit Sorae Marsh Ecological Park for some months now, but was always worried during the summer months that it would be far too hot without any protection given that it is a wetland, and I was right! It neared 20C yesterday (6 November) so I couldn’t imagine how hot it would get in the summertime. At any rate, I finally made the trip over by taxi and did some meandering and birdwatching.

The area is sparsely vegetated, with the majority of the trees on the outskirts. The problem there is that this means that the trees are located along the bike path, which means that the areas most likely to hold birds are also most likely to be disturbed by park-goers. Luckily, I was there by 9AM on Saturday and so the park was relatively quiet until about 10:30-11AM when I was getting ready to leave anyway. But regardless of the activity, I found that a number of trees did indeed reliably hold birds.

As you enter the park, you cross a bridge over a muddy tidal river that was full of eastern spot-billed ducks and mallards bathing.

Marshy river with some bathing ducks

It looked like the tide gets quite high, but at the time I went it was really quite low. It didn’t seem, though, that the marshes within the park were subject to tidal changes, perhaps due to engineering. The marshes empty out into Sorae Harbor, which is home to a lovely fish market. I wasn’t quite brave enough to actually purchase anything there, but perhaps once I learn a bit more Korean and can at least count (or maybe even haggle!) then I’ll try my luck.

I have no idea what these red bushes are throughout the marsh but they really did add something special to the environment. I’m not sure if they’ll turn brown during the winter time (or if they had been brown all summer) but I was definitely appreciative of their color this time.

Now down to business: birds. The first place I stopped was actually right at the park visitor center, and to be honest it produced the best birds overall. There, the trees are further away from the bike path and access otherwise is blocked off, so it seemed like birds were more keen on hanging out in that area and foraging in the morning.

Daurian redstart blending in with the autumn colors.

The first bird of interest that I spotted was a daurian redstart. These birds are positively ubiquitous in the autumn near where I live in Incheon as I hear them basically every day and see them quite often as well. Unlike the redstarts I’m used to seeing in Hong Kong, which were mostly rather shy females, the males I’ve found so far in Korea have been utterly fearless and will sing loudly from atop the branches without a care in the world. I only managed to spot one female yesterday during my trip compared to 4 different males.

Yellow-throated bunting hiding in the willow.

Another bird I spotted rather early on was a yellow-throated bunting. It was hanging out in a tree with another bunting that I couldn’t identify but the both of them would occasionally fly over to the bushes near where I was waiting and forage around a bit on the ground before returning to their tree. They were far too quick the first time they came around. See if you can spot the bunting in the willow!

I also finally had some semi-decent luck with the elusive Oriental greenfinch (also known as grey-capped greenfinch). These birds are also rather ubiquitous this time of year, but I find them to be quite difficult to capture given their speed and reluctance to stay still. I managed to capturer a few perched, and even one feeding, but still I’m not entirely satisfied with the detail. I’m sure there will be more opportunities!

As I made my way around the park, I came across a handful of other usual suspects including many spot-billed ducks, herons, egrets, and cormorants, which I didn’t bother to photo. I managed to take one somewhat decent shot of a little grebe, looking a bit haggard, but the most interesting surprise to me was a bull-headed shrike. I had seen these birds in Hong Kong a few times before–once during a very close encounter on Victoria Peak with a specimen who stayed at the garden throughout the winter–but I was happy to find one here, though I’m sure many small creatures are less pleased with its presence.

On my way back to the entrance, I found another lovely surprise: a light-vented bulbul, otherwise known as a Chinese bulbul. While they became almost something of a bother to me in Hong Kong, not quite being a bird of interest given their ubiquity, I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of home with its gentle chirping. Two of them were foraging in a berry bush and after about 5 minutes of waiting, one of them poked his head out and came out to say hello, and even posed with its lunch.

Lond-tailed tit showing off its long tail.

After I saw the bulbul, I began heading back to the entrance to see if I had any good shots and try to figure out what to do next. As I was packing up, though, I heard the familiar call of a group of long-tailed tits, and so I decided to try my lick. Mixed in with them was also a group of vinous-throated parrotbills, but I wasn’t able to capture any of them. I’m mostly just satisfied that I finally got a full, unobscured photo of a long-tailed tit complete with its long tail and with reasonable detail.

These lovelies are something of a fixture in Incheon, usually traveling in groups of 10 or so from tree to tree nibbling on whatever it is they nibble on. Their calls are a bit more shrill and less varied than the even more common Japanese tit, and so they definitely play the role of adding a bit of variety to the local birds you might expect to see walking around a park in Inchean (and perhaps elsewhere in Korea–i’ve only birded in Incheon so don’t want to speak too soon!).

Full-body shot of the yellow-throated bunting

But once I packed up for real, I heard a curious call in the bushes right near the visitor center. It was much more varied and sing-song-y than some of the usual bush-dwelling suspects, but I wasn’t sure what it was until I saw it not 2 meters away right at my feet, though hopelessly obscured by brush–the grand prize of the day: a yellow-throated bunting. I could hear it calling in the brush and in a last ditch effort I got out my camera just hoping that it might show itself for a single record shot, but to no avail for the first five minutes.

But then fate smiled upon me and this lovely bird flew over to a bush in front of a clearing and was hanging out in the grass right in front of the brush, and for about a minute or so I was able to get some very clear shots from an excellent vantage point. This lovely male was absolutely fearless and was happy to show off his yellow throat for the camera and even posed a few times. I feel so lucky to have found such a cooperative subject at the very end of the trip right before I left for good.

Overall I’m looking forward to returning to Sore Marsh Ecological Park and hopefully finding even more birds there as I suspect it might be one of the more productive nearby places that I have easy access to—a new patch to explore indeed!

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