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A Conspicuous Bird

December 17, 2014

A Conspicuous Bird

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Jonathan C. Slaght Jonathan C. Slaght

I was high on a hill above the village of Ternei in the Russian Far East, looking out towards the Sea of Japan just a few miles away, when I noticed a massive black-and-white form circle then descend past the tree line along the Serebryanka River below. I was stunned. I was pretty sure I had just seen an Oriental stork.

There were a few reasons this surprised me. First, acquaintances had been telling me on and off for weeks that there was an Oriental stork in the area and I had dismissed their claims; locals mistook the ubiquitous egrets of East Asia for rare cranes or storks all the time. Had they been right this time?

Second, Oriental storks were endangered. The global population of this imperiled species was less than 3000 individuals; the odds of actually seeing one were low.

And lastly, a mountain river near the Sea of Japan coast was not where an Oriental stork should be: their closest habitat was 150 miles due east, over the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, in the marshy lowlands of the Amur River basin that formed the border with northeastern China.

I leapt into a car with some equally-curious friends and soon found the bird by the river, near some houses, apparently hunting for frogs. It was indeed an Oriental stork! As I raised my giant lens and snapped a rapid succession of photos of this magnificent creature like it was a celebrity leaving a nightclub, intrigued locals shuffled over to see what the fuss was about. They meant me, not the bird.

“That thing’s been feeding here for about a month,” one man said to me. “You’re only just noticing it now?”

Canon Rebel XTI

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