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Pelagic trip to Cheniushan Island,Lianyungang- 28th February,2009

by Zhang Lin etc




Inspired by more and more findings of loons especially Yellow-billed Loon in South Korea,I have tried several times to organise our birder friends from Jiangsu Wild Bird Society to explore the offshore islands at Lianyungang,between Jiangsu and Shandong Province.

Finally there were enough birders to join to share the cost of boat rental.Comparing with the snowy and windy day on 27th Feb,on 28th Feb it was so good-just a little cloudy,a little windy,the lowest temperature around zero degree C.We gathered at the dock in the morning,watching some gulls(mainly Black-headed,a few Black-tailed,Mongolian,Vega and Heuglin's,and one Slaty-backed) and waiting for the birders from Nanjing.Far away beside the nuclear power station,I saw lots of ducks(the next day we saw thousands of Falcated and Eurasian Wigeon there).




Around 9:30,everybody arrived.At first,we crossed an area for planting the seaweed Laver Porphyra.For the next three hours,at the speed of 12.7km/h to northeast,no highlights.Just some gulls occasionally flew over.Someone was singing,the others sleepy,one or two even started to throw up although the sea looked calm to me.Right at the south of Cheniushan Island,we turned to the north.I kept my eyes open all the way,and at this time I found the excuse to shout everybody awake.To our port there were two black spots with white centers floating on the surface.I was sure that these were birds,possibly loons.We turned left for a while,but I lost the target.Then I found that the captain had turned the boat back again to the north!He thought we were going to Cheniushan Island for gulls,although he knew many Black-tailed Gulls could only be seen breeding in summer.I shouted at him to turn left and suddenly the birders standing on the front deck found one loon just 20 meters in front of us.I was totally confused if this was one of the two I saw minutes ago.But who cared!We passed it within 10 meters at full speed as we still had one hour to go.A little scared,it flapped its wings,low over the water,not willing to really fly into the air,and landed 20 meters away.Definitely a Black-throated Loon.Sorry to scare you,my buddy!

Minutes after the first loon,the excited birders found another Black-throated Loon.It behaved the same when we passed it within again 10 meters.

Gradually we could see Cheniushan Island and the islets around.What a wonderful place where I saw my first Lesser Frigatebird last summer!To our port,I saw two spots,with obvious differences in size.The bigger one on the right seemed to be a loon.But I had no idea what it was on the left.A grebe,or a merganser?We circled in between an islet and Cheniushan to approach the two.A small flock of small black birds flapping quickly to the starboard.We could see their white eyebrow-breeding plumaged Ancient Murrelet!Then a Crested Grebe flew away to the starboard,showing its typical wing pattern.



Getting closer and closer,we id the smaller one to be a female Red-breasted Merganser.We still couldn't id the bigger one,for that we didn't know how big a Black-throated or even our dream Yellow-billed Loon looked when comparing with a Red-breasted Merganser.It looked quite thick-necked,without any obvious white rear flanks shown in Black-throated.Against the background,the bill looked big and pale.Dream bird!Dream bird!We thought...

The captain now knew our request quite well.He turned down the engine to the minimum speed,trying not to scare the loon away.Within 5 meters,we saw its feet under the water!Not as often shown in books,the feet were not grey but kind of fleshy.I stepped backward,put down my binoculars,looked at everyone's face while the loon,totally enjoying the moment.And then I found the tail stream of our boat made a circle in which it was calm and outside it was the normal sea with a little wave-the loon was in the circle!

The loon dicided not to show off any longer,dived below the boat,and appeared within 10 meters to the port. I heard the gentle "ohh~" from the satisfied birders when the loon dived.Suddenly I felt hungry-I used too much energy to shout out the position of every seabird.



Yellow-billed Loon

Yellow-billed Loon, photo by Li Jing

Game not over.On top of an islet nearby,a juv cormorant was standing there with a gull.It flew away before I could make an id.But that led to the finding of a small flock of ducks.Someone was wondering why there could be Smews in the sea,while I saw another closer one,just 15 meters.It flew around to our stern,showing clearly its feet-they were pink!What a cute Long-tailed Duck,like a penguin!Behind the islet where we found the Long-tailed Ducks,more male and female Red-breasted Mergansers were seen flying towards where the cormorant disappeared.

It was a pity that we didn't have enough time to search this area any longer.On the three hours' direct way back,with the speed 13.5km/h,we saw some other birds including several loons unidentified.Maybe next time we could try to start earlier.

Dark at the dock,a Blue Rock Thrush were seen before we found a restaurant and crazily filled our stomachs.

PS.Yellow-billed Loon and Long-tailed Duck are added into Jiangsu checklist.




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