We spent two weeks doing a self-drive trip around Taiwan with the aim of seeing all the country's endemics and specialties, with plenty of time for relaxing and sight-seeing. The trip was highly successful with almost all targets accounted for, including the endemics. Although I opted not to hire a guide, Taiwan birding guide Patrick Lee was most helpful; his services would clearly make it easier to track down birds and find your way around (contact firstname.lastname@example.org); others have highly recommended his services. Thanks also to Keith Barnes and Joshua Bergmark for tips.
We arrived in Taipei in the early morning of April 14, picked up our Hertz hire car and headed south to the town of Dongshi for an overnight stay in the basic Chang-Ti Hotel. That afternoon I ventured up the well-known Dasyueshan birding road (it is not as difficult to find these days as it once was) a short distance, stopping at KM 4 in an area of second growth scrub and gardens. Here I quickly snared my first endemic – the sometimes difficult Taiwan Hwamei. More easily encountered endemics in bamboo thickets along a stream were Taiwan Barbet, Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler and Grey-cheeked Fulvetta.
The next morning we headed up to Dasyueshan for a three-night stay at the Anmashan Mountain Hostel, kindly booked ahead by Patrick. This was our only pre-booked accommodation. In second-growth scrub along a rocky stream near KM 15 I flushed a Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge - another potentially problematic target. Other nice birds there included Plumbeous Redstart and Collared Finchbill. Our next stop was KM 23, a known site for pheasants and partridges because they are often fed here. None appeared but the first of many Taiwan Yuhinas and White-eared Sibias in the mountains were out and about.
The entrance to the Dasyueshan National Forest Reserve is at KM 35, where a park-like area adjoins the entrance to Trail 210, a birding hotspot. A party of Rufous-crowned Laughingthrushes was found in the clearing at the entrance and a second group was seen about 1km along Trail 210 – a welcome surprise because this bird can be difficult. Also in the area were Vivid Niltava, Taiwan Macaque and Reeve's Muntjac.
We continued to the park visitors' centre and accommodation lodge at KM 44, and settled into our comfortable lodge in the forest. Sadly the food in the restaurant (there's nowhere else to eat up in the mountains) lived up to its dreadful reputation. Fortunately the birds were active in the mist in trees outside the restaurant windows. Here were Taiwan Barwing, Taiwan Fulvetta and Steere's Liocichla, while Taiwan Whistling-Thrush and Pale Thrush were on the lawns outside. Pallas's Squirrel was common.
The next day we drove to the end of the road at KM 50. Weather conditions were appalling all day. An odd-looking Taiwan Serow roadside at KM 48 was a surprise. A pair of Grey-headed (Taiwan) Bullfinches were in the same area. A female Mikado Pheasant feeding on the lawn outside the interpretation centre at KM 50 could be approached closely. Also here were White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Taiwan Rosefinch and Collared Bush-Robin.
In the afternoon I headed back down the road in a vain search for better weather, but I did find a pair of Taiwan Partridges (another tough one) along Trail 210, along with a furtive pair of Mikado Pheasants. At the KM 23 site, a male Swinhoe's Pheasant was something to behold; it was joined by a second male pheasant. Large Hawk-Cuckoo was calling loudly here. With better weather the next day, we headed back up the mountain. White-browed Bush-Robin was seen at two spots around KM 47. A male Mikado Pheasant showed nicely roadside at KM 46 after another female was seen at KM 47; I saw a total of five of this much-wanted species at four sites.
Taiwan Bush-Warbler was seen at KM 48 with more heard, while Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler was common. White-whiskered Laughingthrush and Collared Bush-Robin were plentiful high up. I saw a Taiwan Shortwing and a Taiwan Cupwing briefly along Trail 230, although both appeared to be quite common by call, as did Taiwan Bush-Warbler. On the way back were several delightful Flamecrests at KM 47 feeding in the conifers. In the afternoon I again descended the road, where a singing Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler was at KM 39 and a group of noisy Rusty Laughingthrushes were a welcome site at KM 37.5. Outside the cabins that night, Mountain Scops-Owl was calling well but a sighting eluded me yet again, though close-up Red-and-white Giant Flying-Squirrel was a nice consolation prize.
On the final day at Dasyueshan, April 18, a pair of Yellow Tits – another potentially tricky target - showed nicely in trees behind the restaurant. A party of Brown Bullfinches was in a fruiting tree. Another male Swinhoe's Pheasant appeared outside our cabin.
On the way down on our final day in the mountains, I found a pair of Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babblers, another species sometimes missed by birders, at KM 35.5. A male Swinhoe's Pheasant crossed the road at KM 16.5; I saw a total of four of this species, all males, at three sites. We stopped again at KM 15, seeing Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge well as a pair crossed the road. A pair of Brown Dippers were along the river. On the subject of dipping, the only potential targets that I failed to see in the mountains were Himalayan Owl, which I didn't search for, and the distinctive endemic race of Island Thrush. I saw all but three of Taiwan's endemic species (Chestnut-bellied Tit, Taiwan Blue-Magpie and Styan's Bulbul) in the mountains and foothills of Dasyueshan.
After this productive visit we moved on to the hot springs resort town of Guguan for a two-night stay in the Dragon Valley Hotel on April 19. Across the suspension bridge from Hotspring Park I found the local key endemic – Chestnut-bellied Tit. Malayan Night-Heron was feeding on the lawns and one bird was sitting on a nest. I had brief views of a pair of Taiwan Blue-Magpies as we walked around the town.
We drove south of Nantou along Route 21, seeing Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge and Taiwan Hwamei roadside just before Shihkangken, north of Puli. We called in to the Dizang Temple where the distinctive endemic race of Maroon Oriole was seen. We headed along the main road east that crosses Taiwan, stopping briefly at the Blue Gates Trail, a birding hotspot. I'd seen all the species occurring there but Taiwan Shortwing was again spotted briefly before rain set in.
Continuing east we stopped at several places at Hehuanshan, the highest road in Taiwan, in cold and misty conditions. Taiwan Rosefinch and Taiwan Bush-Warbler showed nicely in spite of the mist, while the endemic races of Alpine Accenter and Winter Wren were seen. We had an overnight stay in Tienshsiang at a hotel strangely called the Youth Advisory Centre, admiring the splendid Taroko Gorge the next morning.
We headed south, stopping at the Danongdafu Forest Park at Guangfu. Styan's Bulbul was abundant, if one of the less exciting Taiwan endemics. The endemic race of Ring-necked Pheasant was common and Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge was seen again – my fourth sighting of this normally cryptic species. We had a two-night stay in the pleasant coastal town of Taitung in the Kaishen Starlight Hotel. A visit to the Taitung Forest Park turned up plenty more Styan's Bulbuls but not much more.
We took the early morning ferry to Lanyu Island from Fugong Harbour on April 23 for a two-night stay in a basic but pleasant guest-house by the beach. The first afternoon I headed a short distance east to the Flycatcher Creek area, where all the island's special birds can be found. I ventured up the main creek bed, finding a co-operative pair of Ryukyu Scops-Owls, which sometimes calls during the day; I was to hear quite a few and had brief views of others. I saw a few Whistling Green-Pigeons after hearing their eerie call. The island endemic races of Brown-eared Bulbul and Lowland White-eye were plentiful. That evening I returned to the area and tracked down a lovely Northern Boobook. We had a hire care and drove around the island the next day, taking in the fine coastal scenery. A Bulwer's Petrel on the way back was of interest. We then had a third night relaxing in Taitung.
We drove north to the town of Douliou for a two-night stay in search of the Fairy Pitta, staying at another oddly named hotel – the Micro Brigade Fashion Inn. It was April 26, two days before the first migrant pitta turned up last year, so I had reservations. I headed out in the afternoon to Linnei Park outside Huben. Although it was 2pm and hot, Fairy Pitta was the first bird I heard and I tracked down a nicely co-operative bird. A second bird was calling nearby and possibly a third further up the forest trail.
The next day we had a leisurely drive around the area and were shown a roosting Collared Scops-Owl in a temple in Zushen. Very early the next morning I headed back to the pitta site to try my luck with Mountain Scops-Owl, a species I've missed on numerous overseas visits. A bird was calling in the same spot where I saw the pitta; an unusual rufous morph owl offered fine views. A pair of Collared Scops-Owls were also here.
After leaving Douliou to head north to Taoyuan for an overnight stay on the last leg of this trip, I followed a tip from Patrick Lee and called in at the Bade Pond Ecological Park. Here was a male Mandarin Duck in breeding plumage and another in eclipse plumage. Local birders are adamant these are wild birds as they leave the site annually to nest in mountains inland. After visiting Palau we had a few days sight-seeing in Taipei. I photographed a Taiwan Blue-Magpie in Nangang Park, near where we were staying in Songshan.
BIRDS *denotes lifer. Dasyueshan = Dasyueshan Road for KM.
Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Eastern Reef-Egret, Grey Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Malayan Night-Heron (widespread in urban parks)
Bulwer's Petrel (1 from boat from Lanyu)
Common Moorhen, White-breasted Waterhen, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Mallard
*Mandarin Duck (2 Bade Ecological Park)
Black-winged Kite, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Crested Goshawk
Pacific Golden Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank,
Common Tern (1 from boat to Lanyu)
Black-naped Tern (several from boat to Lanyu)
Spotted Dove, Red Collared-Dove, Ashy Wood-Pigeon
Philippine Cuckoo-Dove (a few Lanyu)
Pacific Emerald Dove
*Whistling Green-Pigeon (several Lanyu)
*Taiwan Bamboo-Patridge (3 seen others heard KM 15 Dasyueshan; 1 KM 17 Nantou-Puli Road Route 21; 2 Danongdafu Park)
*Taiwan Partridge (pair Trail 210)
*Mikado Pheasant (pair Trail 210; 1 female KM 50 Dasyueshan; 1 female KM 45 Dasyueshan; 1 male KM 46 Dasyueshan)
*Swinhoe's Pheasant (all males: 2 KM 23 Dasyueshan; 1 at lodge KM 44 Dasyueshan; 1KM 16 Dasyueshan)
Ring-necked Pheasant (common Danongdafu Park, Taitung)
House Swift, Pacific Swift
Large Hawk-Cuckoo (1 seen others heard KM 23 Dasyueshan)
Oriental Cuckoo, Lesser Coucal
Collared Owlet (KM 44 Dasyueshen)
*Ryukyu Scops-Owl (3 seen others heard Lanyu)
*Mountain Scops-Owl (1 calling KM 44 Dasyueshan; 1 Linnei Park)
Collared Scops-Owl (1 Huben; 1 Zushen Temple; 2 calling Linnei Park)
*Northern Boobook [Hawk-Owl] (1 Lanyu)
*Taiwan Barbet (common from lowlands, including Taipei parks, to mid-elevation mountains)
*Fairy Pitta (1 seen, 2 others heard Linnei Park)
Black Drongo, Bronzed Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Brown Shrike, Blue Rock-thrush
*Taiwan Whistling-Thrush (quite common low to mid-elevation mountains)
*Pale Thrush (1 at lodge KM 44 Dasyueshan)
Barn Swallow, Striated Swallow, Pacific Swallow, Asian House Martin, Grey-throated Martin
Plain Prinia, Yellow-bellied Prinia,
Rufous-faced Warbler (common mid-elevation mountains)
*Flamecrest (party of 3 KM 47, Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Bush-Warbler [Taiwan Grasshopper-Warbler] (common high-elevation mountains)
Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler (common high-elevation mountains)
Winter Wren (1 Hehuanshan)
*Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler (1 singing KM 39 Dasyueshan; several Phylloscopus warblers elsewhere unidentified)
*Taiwan Cupwing (1 seen, others heard KM 50 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Shortwing (1 seen Blue Gates Trail; 1 seen others heard KM 50 Dasyueshan)
White-tailed Robin (common)
Ferruginous Flycatcher (1 KM 50 Dasyueshan)
Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher (a few Lanyu), Black-naped Monarch,
Grey-chinned Minivet, Plumbeous Waterstart, Rufous-capped Babbler
*Collared Bush-Robin (common high-elevation mountains)
*White-browed (Taiwan) Bush-Robin (2 KM 47 Dasyueshan)
*Steere's Liocichla (quite common low to mid-elevation mountains)
*Vivid Niltava (several between KM 35 and KM 45 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler (2 KM 4 Dasyueshan; 1 KM 15 Dasyueshan; 2 Dizang Temple)
*Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler (2 KM 25 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Hwamei (2 KM 4 Dasyueshan; 1 KM 17 Nantou-Puli Road Route 21)
*Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush (parties at KM 35 Dasyueshan; Trail 210; around lodge at KM 44 Dasyueshan)
*White-whiskered Laughingthrush (common high-elevation mountains)
*Rusty Laughingthrush (small group KM 37 Dasyueshan)
Maroon (Red) Oriole (1 Dizang Temple)
*Grey-cheeked (Morrison's) Fulvetta (quite common from lowlands to mid-elevation mountains
Dusky Fulvetta (1 KM 15 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Fulvetta (small numbers from KM 44 to KM 48 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Barwing (a few behind the restaurant at KM 44 Dasyueshan was the only sighting)
*Taiwan Yuhina (common in mountains mid to high-elevation)
*White-eared Sibia (common in mountains mid to high-elevation)
Black-throated Tit (common in mountains), Coal Tit, Green-backed Tit
*Yellow Tit (2 behind restaurant KM 44 Dasyueshan)
*Chestnut-bellied Tit (2 Guguan),
Light-vented Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Brown-eared Bulbul (common Lanyu)
*Styan's Bulbul (abundant in south-east lowlands)
Collared Finchbill (1 KM 15 Dasyueshan; 2 Linnei Park)
Large-billed Crow, Grey Treepie
Eurasian Jay (2 KM 50 Dasyueshan)
Eurasian (Taiwan) Nutcracker (1 KM 47 Dasyueshan; 1 KM 50 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Blue-Magpie (2 Guguan; 1 Taipei)
Brown Dipper (2 KM 15 Dasyueshan),
Grey Wagtail, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail
Japanese White-eye, Lowland White-eye (common Lanyu)
Alpine Accentor (1 Hehuanshan)
*Taiwan Rosefinch (1 KM 44 Dasyueshan; 1 KM 50 Dasyueshan; 3 Hehuashan)
Grey-headed (Taiwan) Bullfinch (2 KM 48 Dasyueshan)
Brown Bullfinch (group at lodge KM 44 Dasyueshan)
White-rumped Munia, Chestnut Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Javan Mynah, Common Mynah
TOTAL 123 (38 lifers)
*Pallas's Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus (common)
*Red-and-white Giant Flying-Squirrel (2 around lodge KM 44 Dasyueshan)
*Reeve's Muntjac (2 KM 35 Dasyueshan, others heard)
*Taiwan Serow (1 KM 48 Dasyueshan)
*Taiwan Macaque (fairy common in mountains)