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  • Writer's pictureAllan Sander

Namdong Reservoir

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

The sun, a glimmering orange disk, struggles to burn through the low-lying fog.

I peer between the patches of vegetation and hear the honking of geese and ducks, waterfowl silhouettes fly over the reeds, my nostrils flare with the celebration of nature’s aroma.

Along the tree-lined path, a noisy flock of Japanese Tits (Parus minor) and

Brown-eared Bulbuls (Hypsipetes amaurotis) bid me, “Eoseooseyo!” (Welcome!).

I am paralleling Songdogukje-daero (Road) that runs along the Western border of the Namdong Reservoir in Incheon, South Korea. I packed my flash just for these low-light conditions and hope to capture some avian activity with the fall colors as my backdrop.

Reaching open water atop the bridge, several Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and an Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) scatter across the surface.

Once I stop to look over the railing the other waterfowl take notice and paddle further away. Hundreds of Ruddy Shelducks (Ferruginea tadorna) ply the misty waters, with half as many Spot-billed ducks, lots of Green-winged teals and a dozen or so Gadwall.

This NW edge of the reservoir, the Aam-daero Bridge skirts over a narrow channel of water that continues north for another five kilometers or so. Numerous trees host an assortment of avian activity. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and Greenfinch are the most prolific; ceaselessly shifting from bough to bough, the Chinese Elms (Ulmus parvifolia) tremble under the weight of their numbers.

Yellow-billed Grosbeaks (Eophona migratoria) join in the banquet, their oversize yellow beaks easily crush the hard coating of seeds.

A raucous call spins me around to capture a passing Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus) in my lens.

I cross over and enter a thin tract of trees. The veil has lifted, shelducks preen, bathe, fight, dip for food, come and go.

I notice a good assortment of Eastern Spot-billed ducks (Anas zonorhyncha) and Green-winged Teals, (Anas crecca) they are more plentiful around the bend, hugging the reeds.

Suddenly, like a gunshot, with a piercing “Squawk!” a Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) bursts into the air and just as quickly, crashes back into the vegetation. Waterfowl take wing!

So it is back to the road that harbors an array of warehouse buildings, apartments, and some small shops. It is not long before I turn at the Spoonbill Eco Nature Center. The building is tucked in against an apartment complex and is a great introduction to the avifauna in the area.

Wooden blinds have been constructed for comfortable, year-round viewing. Roof tiles, of clay and wood, have been used as a medium to display children’s drawings of their local spoonbills; they line the path leading up to the blind and continue right up the interior walls.

This easement skirts along the Aam-daero (Road) and parallels the entire north side of the reservoir. It hosts a collection of trees: mostly cottonwoods, some maples and cherry and scattered clumps of shrubs. The matted slope of reeds slides to the water’s edge, comes spring, fresh plants will emerge. Unfortunately, the ebb and flow of water has dragged in a collection of trash and discarded debris. Sadly, this seems to be the place to dump your unwanted furniture, construction materials, “Hell, I even came across the ubiquitous kitchen sink!”

Rhythmic tapping above reveals a Great-spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Its black-and white markings, splashed with crimson add to the day’s festival of colors. I chase it from tree to tree until I manage to capture a few good images.

Flocks of Bean Geese (Anser fabalis) cruise against a backdrop of condos, I cannot fault their desire to find less disturbed environs.

Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) navigate the waters, others raise their wings to dry before joining in the exodus. An egret (Ardea alba) joins the ranks, adding a stately air to the scene.

Reaching the far side of the reservoir, I carelessly scare a group of greenshanks. I decide to trace their route and head for the Aam mudflats across the street. The tide is out, leaving shallow arteries of water that dissect the black morass. Common Pochards (Aythya frina) drum the water as if ready for takeoff but the wings remain closed; they are creating turbulence in the water to stir up nutrients, then immediately dunk their heads beneath the surface to filter out seeds, invertebrates and other food items.

Hugging the water’s edge, I find the greenshanks and a handful of Dunlin - the few shorebirds that remain. I observe a Black-tailed Godwit nearby, it favors a pocket of water, hammering away at its contents. I hoped it might be another Asian Dowitcher, but after some deliberation it was not meant to be. A Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) sets the group scampering as it bullishly scours the water for food.

It flushes a Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) that joins its partner on the other side. Spoonbills actively feed in the distance. With little activity and the departing of the pochards, I too, “Exit, stage right!”

This time a Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) points the way. Proximity is not an option with the Common Shelducks. I use the available trees with hopes of concealing my approach. Most birds are at the furthest end but small groups come and go or are busy tipping their rear ends up as they reach for underwater plants; even in this pose they can be identified by the inverted black “V” under their tail.

Before rounding the bend, an Oriental Turtle Dove (Steptopelia orientalis) quietly struts among the leaflitter; its warm brown and gray body with wings scaled in rufous and black blend beautifully within its surroundings.

Enhanced with a breaking sun, the cottonwoods continue to shed their brilliance; a carpet of gold lies before me. Another woodpecker slips through the understory. It is green with a creamy underside that is spotted with tears of black. This is a female Gray-headed woodpecker (Picus canus), as she is minus the red-nape of her partner. I do my best to track her, having been led out to the edge of the track.

In my wake, a brilliant male Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus) flushes from behind a bush. “Beautiful!”

A bit further, I come across a red plastic chair in need of some company – it is time for lunch.

My camera is always at the ready, depending on conditions it might be at my side or still worn around my neck. I have had many unexpected encounters during such breaks. I am nearly finished with my sandwich when, “Sure enough!” Several spoonbills (Platalea minor) sail past my viewing platform. I miss the shot as the birds stay low to the water - cruising past behind a wall of reeds. Another pair follows that allows me to track its flight.

It is still tempting to check the results of my shots, as it is so easily done with digital cameras today. This time I refrain, “Good thing!” Common Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) whisk past then arc back towards their initial destination. Again, a few more retrace their route and I follow suit with my camera.

The colors today are brilliant; however, this is not a forest but a government easement with a preplanned design. Still there are some nice compositions to be had. In one image of a plum tree, now naked of leaves, I cropped the scribbled texture of its limbs and trunk so as to have it to appear to be engulfed by the flaming reds from a Chinese elm.

Another shot only required focusing what was underfoot, e.g., a leaf strewn mat that ‘shouts’ with color.

I hoped for a redstart to fly in to one of these compositions but - let me put it this way, typical behavior of this bird after alighting is to nervously ‘quiver’ its tail. Well, a spectacular male did make a colorful entrance but bolted immediately with nary a ‘flick’ from its backside. I did finally catch up with the bird and he obliged to sit still for about ten seconds.

Not far from where the redstart landed, a small hedgerow hosted several finches. I have been hearing the calls of Black-faced buntings but was not able to lock in visually. This trio was focused on feeding, allowing for a quick I.D. “Nice, Yellow-throated Buntings!” (Schoeniclus elegans).

This is an attractive fringillid, even in non-breeding plumage. It has a white belly, flanks streaked in brown with a creamy wash, the same for its chest but not as heavily streaked. The wings are chocolate brown with black margins, buffy-cream wing bars separated in black and its mantle a similar mix but of brown and cream once again. The topper, literally, is the brown crest pelted with flecks of black. A thick cream band above the eye expands as it makes it way towards the nape. The contrasting black mask separates the creamy colored throat.

When in breeding plumage, picture these highlights in bright yellow and you will have heads turning in all directions. My parting harmonic ensemble is from one of the most common city dwellers, the magpie (Pica pica) The raucous call can be heard in nearly any park of any size, among the easements or hanging out atop a building or light pole. This time, a *crash of a dozen birds or so has congregated among the trees adjacent to the meadow of reeds; a brilliant sensory explosion from every angle; quite the ruckus indeed!

*Crash - this term is generally used to describe a group of crows, so, I took the leniency to ascribe it for this species, which is also in the Corvid family.

Location: Incheon, South Korea

Date: October/November 2022

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