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  • Writer's pictureAllan Sander

Incheon Mudflats Revisited

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

What a difference a week or two can make! It is June in South Korea.The only shorebird spotted thus far has been an oystercatcher. The prior month was a carnival of color with a multitude of avian migrants. Before scaling the slope to the Namdong-daero Bridge and on over to the Ama mudflats, I relish a few more moments with a sweeping flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbill’s (Sinosuthora webbiana).

Up here allows me a bird’s eye view of the birds! I see Saunder’s gulls (Chroicocephalus saundersi) behaving like storm petrels, delicately prancing across the water’s surface;

Black-faced Spoonbills (Platalea minor) join the ballet, sweeping their sinuous necks through the shallows;

while above, with a five-foot wingspan, a Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) glissades effortlessly across the azure sky.

The noisy chatter of Little terns (Sternula albifrons) breaks the calm.

Disputes continue with Black-tailed (Larus crassirostris) and

Saunder's gulls battling it out along the shore.

It appears a spoonbill has, “Had enough!” and departs to the other side of the channel. Plying the waters are several Great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo). Along the base of the bridge, on higher ground, are small plots of vegetables planted by the local inhabitants. Scanning the flats for shorebirds results in only a handful of Common greenshanks (Tringa nebularia).

Continuing to the other side I notice movement beyond the rocks. A pair of spoonbills, propped on single legs, relax with their heads turned completely around, their oversized bills tucked under the base of their wings. Let’s see if I can get a little closer without disturbing… “Damn!” Off one goes. I freeze.

The remaining bird, now with both feet firmly planted (literally) in the mud, seems to eye me with disdain! I turn my gaze to the ground, wait a bit, then very slowly disturb the ground with my boot. I pause, look up for an instant, and go back to my ‘grazing” behavior. The spoonbill proceeds to feed. Continuing in this manner, I slowly creep my way closer, slowly working my camera up to take some shots. These actions have given me positive results on numerous occasions. “Strike a pose!”

Observation and opportunity wanes with the peak tide. My last water bird encounter is of a Black-tailed gull, seemingly indifferent to my presence.

The tide pushes me up to the main road in the direction from whence I came, however, this time I decide to check out the opposite side of the canal for my return. This area has been left to reclaim itself with an assortment of opportunistic plants.

My first discovery, a Green darner (Anax species) basking on a blade of grass.

Anticipation of the next encounter builds in volume as Vinous-throated Parrotbills (VP’s) slip through the underbrush, constantly chattering and always on the move; they remind me of the Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) back home.

These little curiosities are much more colorful, having a purple-brown wash across their warm brown body. The miniature parrot-shaped bill and high domed profile add to their allure. Balancing at odd angles on slim reeds or hanging upside down, they are always entertaining.

Similar in shape to the VP’s but with a conical-shaped bill is the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). It, too, forages in small flocks but it is usually higher up in the trees. VP’s prefer bushes and brush along forest edges.

Generally, any thickly vegetated waterway with tall grasses or reeds will host a bird that is more often heard then seen. The incessant chatter and squeaks of the Oriental Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis) is a familiar sound in such habitat across most of Asia.

It is robust for a warbler, wearing a brown coat above, creamy white below and a white throat that flares out when in song. With a firm grip it sways in the wind, the bird is exposed within the tangle of vegetation often times not so much because it keeps singing, but in doing so it reveals this ‘beacon’ of bright orange – the lining of its gaping mouth!

The most common urbanites found along the tree-lined parks include

Japanese Tits (Parus minor),

Brown-eared Bulbuls (Hypsipetes amaurotis)

and the Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica).

As I approach the Songdogukje-daero Bridge, a pair of Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) pop up to the surface. Interestingly how much smaller they seem the closer I get. Many grebes have eyes that are blood red; I notice this species does not. However, the deep cinnamon brown coat highlights this little fluff of feathers against an interesting reflective pattern that stretches across the surface.

Back to the magpie, which is not only ostentatious but it seems to be everywhere! It feels like having your own personal entourage.

I realize the birds can be looking for a tasty morsel that I might disturb but this blue dragonfly, (Deielia phaon) once airborne, is simply too fast.

On the opposite side of the water is Saeachim (New Morning) Park (much too busy for me) on this side you are lucky to come across a handful of (illegal) fisherman. Also, the occasional crewing aficionado might ply the waters and even then, it is usually only on the weekend.

I reach an inlet that dumps water runoff from the streets and find a pair of carp (Cyprinus species) at the surface; they are sucking in oxygen with their large hose-like mouths. These are hardy creatures and can manage to adapt when their habitat is put under strain. I question the quality of these waters with such an influx of development. High-rise buildings with rooftop cranes, sprout up like mushrooms, dotting the landscape in every direction. I need to bring my focus back down and enjoy the little things nature has to show.

Brilliant Chinese Pinks (Dianthus chinensis) put on quite a show; if this is a preamble of things to come, “Bring it on!”

Near the shore, deep purple banners from pea-like flowers

(Fabaceae) shout out from within the thick vegetation.

Alongside the reeds is a smattering of grasses and sedges layered with a pleasant yellow palette of daisies (Asteraceae). An Asian Comma (Polygonia c-aureum), properly dressed in warm brown and black, eagerly moves from one golden goblet to another.

The more abundant Eastern Pale Clouded Yellows (Colias erate) adds a tad more excitement as they flit about: in territorial tag, over a potential mate or seemingly just enjoying the moment.

There is a bit of variability in hue with this species ranging from bright yellow to almost white.

Midway through the track I spy a spoonbill flying overhead.I notice it has a stick in its bill – nesting material. Flying in wide circles seems a result of having to constantly adjust the position of its cargo for less drag. I empathize with its gallant effort and wish it all the best for its fervent struggle to succeed, and more importantly, for it to thrive.

Location: Incheon, South Korea Date: June 01, 2022

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