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!

A few Migrants and an Eagle at Mt. Davis

Mount Davis is probably the easiest spot for me to visit these days, second only to Lung Fu Shan. I dislike going there, however, given the foot traffic and, well, the truly oppressive amount of stairs. The walk up to the top of Mt Davis, by contrast, is more gradual. It’s a pretty tight spot, however, so you may struggle to find good stuff on the edge of the field at the top like buntings and chats during the autumn if some merrymakers are up there.

By the time I got up there, two separate groups were taking wedding photos in the field, and a few hiking groups also showed up, so at one point there were nearly 30 people up there—not great for birds. However, I did manage to spot an Asian brown flycatcher, as well as an Arctic warbler, two common migrants this time of year.

Asian brown flycatcher

More impressive, however, was a flyover by a white-bellied sea eagle. I’ve only seen this rather impressive bird in Hong Kong once before, soaring very high up during one of my trips to Po Toi. Today, however, I managed to get a proper shot as it was comparatively low while I was in the field at the top of the hill.

Additionally, I managed to see a Chinese sparrowhawk, a first for me. These raptors are currently migrating through Hong Kong and can be observed primarily in the open countryside or island hills. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to get a good capture of it flying lower.

Quiet Morning at Tung Lung Chau

Tung Lung Chau is a small island off the eastern coast of Hong Kong. The island’s east faces the South China Sea rather uninterrupted, so its cliffs are rather steep and impressive (and good for rock climbing). The island is mostly barren due to a history of clear-cutting combined with the intense weather there, but some of the trees near the village and the surrounding areas are a bit more mature and have proven to provide refuge for migrants.

Today, though, luck was not really on our side. While our 8:20AM ferry was not very crowded, the subsequent ones were all packed, making for a persistent stream of people passing through the village throughout the morning. But I’m not sure what effect crowds really had, as things seemed pretty quiet to begin with. In the trees just beyond the village we found a few Arctic warblers.

Beyond the trees in the open brushland, we immediately had a brief encounter with a Siberian stonechat, which we also saw yesterday at Mt. Davis. Otherwise, we didn’t see much of note aside from the occasional dollarbird or black drongo perched on a power cable.

This one posed rather nicely on an exposed bit of brush.

We also noted a group of 3 Chinese sparrowhawks very high in the air, likely traveling together during migration. A few of these have been spotted in the territory this past week, though they are not easy to photo.

Another fun encounter was a migrating group of 15 traveling cattle egrets. I don’t often encounter large groups of birds like this in my trips (though perhaps that will change in the coming months especially in the wetlands!) so witnessing groups like these on the move is pretty special to me. Otherwise, we may have heard a pale-legged leaf warbler calling, but really nothing else.

Happily, just before the ferry arrived to take us back, we had a bit of luck at one of the large trees in the village. A dark-sided flycatcher was perched on a rope under the tree, from which it was flycatching. I still don’t have a good shot of this rather common bird this season, so I was excited to have my best chance yet. I’m still not fully satisfied with the results in terms of sharpness, but still they’re way better than nothing!

We also saw an Asian brown flycatcher together with the dark-sided at times, which is a common but always welcome guest.