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  • Writer's pictureAllan Sander

Moving with the Tide...

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

I was so tempted to run, but I knew high tide had not reached its zenith. Still, I began to second guess myself if I should (“Not knowing even if I could!”) have crossed under the bridge to shave off some time. So, civil obedience was observed as I (im-) patiently waited for the crosswalk light to change. Here, a rock embankment parallels the Aam-daero (Road), it confines an extension of a small estuary that is rich with marine invertebrates - a cornucopia for migratory birds, not surprisingly these are called, the ‘Aam Mudflats.’ Kitty corner from here is the Namdong Reservoir.

Looking over the embankment, I find several Common Greenshanks (Tringa nebularia) wading about in a nearby pool of water.

A Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopa) wanders about its bank until the sharp, whip-like ‘trembling’ call of an incoming bird chases it off. Maneuvering over the four-foot cement wall was hard enough, it was juggling between the two-tiered guard rail that became the challenge; especially when the birds took to the air.

I did manage to capture the bird’s fluted patch of white running down the center of its back and rump. Its distinctive barred tail of brown and black is revealed as it fans out for a soft landing.

Further out, strutting across the ooze is the larger and longer billed Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata). It, too, has the white back and rump but it continues to the uppertail coverts. It has white underwing coverts unlike the barred flight feathers of the Whimbrel, which is also found on the less common Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) – a much larger bird with a longer decurved bill and dark rump.

There is constant movement overhead of Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa), displaying a rusty head and breast, and Dunlin (Calidris alpina), with rufous backs and black bellies.

Other shorebirds join the Black-tailed (Larus crassirostris) and Saunder’s (Saundersilarus saundersi) gulls along the water’s edge.

A myriad of waterbirds busily scampers about unabated, all the way to the next bridge. The density of this avian gathering increases, not a result of numbers, but of limited space from the rising tide. Imagine this congregation: jet black and porcelain white, Black-bellied plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), contrasting with the breeding plumage of orange chested Lesser Sand- plovers (Charadrius mongolus), Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits and Red-necked Stints (Calidris ruficollis). As the setting sun highlights these huddled masses, I am at a loss to continue; words could not justify this humbling experience. I cannot wait to return tomorrow, with camera in hand, to record this assemblage of nature’s design!

Early morning, Black-faced Spoonbills (Platalea minor) and Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) migrate from the reservoir overhead.

Taking photos atop the Namdong-daero Bridge does bring me a tad bit closer, but the structural design forces the birds to gain altitude.

There is a constant flux of activity as Little Terns (Sternula albifrons) noisily zip past.

Looking below, I find egrets, terns and gulls going to-and-fro across the water.

The tide is gradually going out, “Tis time to observe the hungry throngs in action!” I approach from under the bridge where whirling Black-tailed

and Saunder’s gulls hug the waterline...

...with several Great Egrets (Ardea alba); they take flight with a pair of unforeseen Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypuleucos). The egret’s strokes are slow and deliberate,

the sandpipers are stiff and hurried.

I am back at the main road, good timing, several mixed flocks of Dunlin

and Terek Sandpipers (Xenus cinereus) zigzag their way over the receding tide;

they land and immediately begin to feed. Different shapes and sized bills, adapted for specific types of food, probe into the heavily silted muck. Each species has a unique methodic feeding style as well.

The Red-necked Stints are the smallest in size and bill length. They can be seen in drier mud beds pecking persistently along the surface and will go deeper when necessary.

A Dunlin's bill is much thicker with an obvious droop at the end and has similar feeding habits, but it will jab rapidly, called ‘stitching’ at times.

Terek Sandpipers have a thin, upturned bill and will snatch food at the surface or will probe into the mud, looking much like a miniature godwit.

The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) scampers about ‘flipping’ stones, shells, and flotsam for a hidden morsel with its more stout, wedge-shaped bill.

Still opportunities await. Tracking many of the birds allows views of their behavior. After pulling a tasty morsel from its sanctifying hole is when the fun begins. Some birds will gobble it down immediately, others run its victim along the length of their bill to realign it and may commence to flip it into the air to be caught at the back of the throat. Often the bird dips its victim under water and shakes the heck out of it to remove any grit and incapacitate it further before swallowing it whole.

I observe a greenshank extract a small crab out of its burrow. Splayed in consternation, the critter’s spiny legs wave about. The shorebird dunks and thrashes it about; down it goes again but now the crab is held by the four legs on one side; repeat, now it has done so to the opposite side. A final plunge, holding it in the center, the legs are now limp; its life spent, and with a quick jerk of the head the meal is consumed.

I focus on a Terek sandpiper making repetitive jabs while up to its nostrils in murky water. A pause, and as if reaching into a magic hat, out slides an oversized bill with an eight-legged creature in its grasp. A quick rinse, a jerk of its neck, and down it goes.

A stint has a bit of a struggle with a marine worm as it attempts to keep it aligned lengthwise in its bill. In the past I recall a plover appearing to be on its tippy toes, with worm in tow, neck extended as high as possible as its head bends from the tension of the worm’s body refusing to release itself from its burrow!

The ’run-and-peck” behavior leads me to several Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus). They are the most tolerable in regarding proximity of yours truly. The stints seem indifferent, too.

Maintaining their distance, Black-bellied Plovers are more skittish and few. The breeding males are quite handsome with a mottled back of black and white, bold black belly, chest, throat, and face that demarcate the white shoulder, crown, and nape.

The assemblage of these birds yesterday was quite the spectacle, indeed! I find a number of Whimbrels but the pickings are slim. There is quite a variety, but the numbers are not as impressive as the day before. I have seen this before in New Zealand with over ten thousand birds one day and only to encounter a mere ten percent or less the next. When that biological alarm strikes, "Off they go!"

Dunlin are the most prolific,

followed by the stints. On the other hand, I could only locate three Lesser Sand Plovers in the distance.

This area becomes surreal at low tide. Rolling mounds of mud, glisten, giving it a sheen of fine porcelain.

Gouged out by the receding water, rivulets harbor feeding Black-faced Spoonbills (Platalea minor), sweeping their unique bill from side-to-side.

Interspersed throughout are Great Egrets and Gray Herons (Ardea cinerea), flying in and congregating around larger pools of water.

“Peep! Peep! Peep!” That seemed to be the most common, rather, the ‘noisiest’ bird call today; emanating from the rather ostentatious Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)! As if their bold, pied, black-and-white adornment was not loud enough, add to it a straight, bright orange bill, an eye ring circling bloodshot eyes, and all set atop cotton candy pink legs. Interesting how I barely managed to see a pair fly by the other day.

I would guess the high tide had chased them off. These birds may not be here in great numbers but they sure can make a ruckus when others enter their feeding territory. No, it is not oysters, rather, cockles and mussels are the prized food source.

Attention is constantly shifting to the air with a regular flow of Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo),

Black-tailed Gulls, and Eastern Spot-billed Ducks (Anas zonorhyncha).

I hope to find a Relict Gull (Icthyaetus relictus) among the Saunder’s or a Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) mingling with the Common’s. I am motivated as having found an

Asian Dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus) at the Songdo Mudflats a few weeks ago. This was a result of editing my images a few weeks later. I did not know I even saw it at the time! With that said, I have a question for the “Birding” community. Can this bird be accepted as a ‘lifer’ since it was not identified at the time it was seen?

It is always refreshing to find a familiar face in a foreign land. This aviator can be found

on most coastlines throughout the world, the commoner’s name, the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), "But wait!" It seems its commonality has resulted in much research and it has

"But wait!" It seems its commonality has resulted in much research and it has

been split into several species. Some authorities have accepted as a separate species, Larus vegae, the Vega Gull. “Oh well.”

OK, another candidate is the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). I have seen this “Fish Eagle” across the Americas, Europe, Australia, Africa, the Caribbean and now Asia.

The setting of these mudflats is impressive, the numbers and presence of its avian patrons adds to its splendor.

It is unfortunate the negative attitude that mankind or at least some governments maintain when protecting this kind of habitat. Its biodiversity is evident by the throngs of life it supports. The growth of Incheon as designed to alleviate the congestion from Seoul has been a huge undertaking of landfill for the construction and development of these tidal mudflats; it has gone on unabated.

As the light slowly fades, drifting among the dimpled pools of water, I watch the ghost-white body of a spoonbill wading across this black morass; will they become an apparition of what once was?

Location: (Namdong-gu) Incheon, South Korea

Date: May of 2022

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