Being based in Hong Kong I took the opportunity to spend a long weekend in Taiwan in the hope of being able to see 14 of the 15 endemics currently recognised. I had no information on the Taiwan Scrub Warbler I based my trip on bird reports by Dave Sargent and Barry Wright and information from an Internet site maintained by Wayne Hsu. The following is basically an update on these reports.
With Taiwan being a relatively small country and with the majority of the endemics being located in the central highlands I was quite hopeful.
None of the major car hire companies have offices in Taiwan and so you have to rent a car from a local company. I had a lot of trouble trying to contact one, which operated, out of CKS international airport. Eventually I found what appeared to be the only one but it was expensive at £50 a day. Apparently you can hire a car for a lot less in Taipei however you would have to go to the city to pick it up The car was a relatively new 1.6 automatic Toyota. I found the higher power useful especially in the central highlands where the roads were very steep. Although car hire was expensive petrol was cheap with it costing about £12 a tank.
I had heard and read a lot about the driving standards in Taiwan however I was surprised. Yes they were not up to European standards however they were not that bad. I did however avoid driving in Taipei City.
Getting around proved easier than I expected as although all the road signs are in Chinese the majority of the major towns are also sign posted in English.
The roads are all numbered and I found it relatively easy to find my way round with the exception of when the road entered a town where signs were few and far between. I got lost on more than one occasion. But I found contrary to reports basic English was fairly widely spoken especially by the younger generation and with the aid of a map in Chinese supplied from the car rental company I was able to eventually find the right road.
Because of the terrain and the volume of traffic apart from the main north south highway down the West Coast of the country driving was very slow going. My average speed was only 40kmph so although distances are relatively short they take a long time to cover.
Petrol was widely available except in the central highlands where the few petrol stations I found appeared to only open for a limit time each day.
For navigating I used a Nelles Map of Taiwan purchased in Hong Kong It proved perfectly adequate however the map in Chinese provided with the car was very useful the few times I got lost and had to ask for directions.
A word of warning Taiwan is often hit by minor earthquakes and heavy rain, which quite often result in landslides blocking roads. Sometimes the roads are closed for long periods. Whilst I was there route 8 the main west - east cross country road was blocked. Finding out about these closures was not easy as the signs are all in Chinese I tended to ask at petrol stations.
Due to the limited amount of time I had I slept in the car for two nights and stayed in a hotel for one, which cost £25 for a double room.
Health and Safety
I had no problems and no hassels in fact I found the majority of the locals to be friendly and very keen to help. Chinese food was very widely available from roadside stalls and most towns had a 7-11 shop where basic western food could be purchased.
5th October - Arrived CKS airport at 16.00 had no problems with immigration and found the car rental desk. Left the airport at 17.00 and proceeded to Anmasham arriving at 21.00 The main gate was closed and the guards explained to me that the park was closed to visitors due to landslides. Slept in the car outside the main gate
6th October - Walked into the park at 05.30 whilst the guards were asleep. Birded trail 210 from dawn until about 11.00 looking for Mikado Pheasant but no success however I did see Taiwan Barwing, Yellow Tit, Steere's Liocichla and Taiwan Yuhina
Walked up the park road towards trail 220 expecting to be ask to leave the park at any second however although I was passed by a number of trucks all I got was a polite wave. Whilst walking along the park road at about KM 34 flushed two partridges from the edge of the road luckily one perched in a tree allowing excellent views of what turned out to be a Taiwan Partridge. Birded trail 220 until about 16.00 seeing one more endemic, White-eared Sibia before returning to trail 210 to try for the Pheasants again. No luck. Due to my limited time decided to move on to Wushe another Pheasant site. Left the park at 18.00 and arrived at Wushe at 22.00 Slept in the car at what I though was the start of the Blue gate trail at KM 15
7th October - Woke at 05.00 and attempted to find the blue gate trail This proved difficult as I could find no obvious trail with a blue gate in the vicinity of KM 15. Eventually after much exploring I came across a trail at KM 16 which had a blue gate that was not visible from the main road. Birded the track from about 06.15 however after the first km or so it was quite often blocked with fallen trees making walking quietly impossible. Saw a good selection of birds but no Pheasants. Left the trail at 09.00 and proceeded to the top of Mt Hohuan
On route Taiwan Laughing Thrush was a roadside bird at the higher elevations. Birded the pine forest at KM 34 finding Flamecrest and Collard Bush Robin relatively easily. Left the area at 12.00 and proceeded to the East Coast via Taroko Gorge seeing Taiwan Whistling Thrush on route. Arrived at the coast headed south for about 50Km and then stopped by the roadside and found a number of Styan's Bulbul easily. Proceeded north on the coast road towards Yanmingshan National Park north of Taipei. Stopped at a roadside hotel for the night
8th October - Approached Yanmingshan from the north and within a few Kms discovered a party of 4 Taiwan Magpies by the roadside with another party a couple of Kms further along. As it was a Sunday I soon discovered that it appeared the whole of Taipei had decided to visit the park by 07.30 there were cars and people everywhere and very few birds. Birded around the park HQ where two more Magpies were seen Left the park and made my way to the airport birding on route
The following information is meant to supplement the information already available in Dave Sergeant's and Barry Wright reports
This is an excellent site and is only about a four-hour drive from Taipei. It is possible to see 12 of the 15 endemics in the park. Access to the park is from the town of the Tungshih situated on Road 8. The access road is not easy to find however the map in Dave Sargents report is accurate with regards the distances however I could not located the shops mentioned on it. From the town it takes about 50 minutes to drive to the park entrances. The whole of the area appears to have been affected by a number of landslides with the result that the park is currently closed. I had no problem driving to the park entrance although the road was rough in some places Work is currently being carried out on improving the access roads and the main road within the park but its going to take a long time. As the park is technically closed there is no accommodation therefore you either sleep in the car or drive up from Tungshih each morning. I slept in the car and walked into the park early before the guards woke. Although I was seen by a number of workers in the park I was never asked to leave
Trail 210 - This trail is on the left just after the park entrance It has a locked gate across and some reports indicate it is private although I had no problems. The trail is supposed to be a reliable stake out for Makado Pheasant. I had no luck despite an extensive search. The trail had been effected by a number of landslides creating large open areas which may have been the reason. The trail continues through good but patchy forest for about 5km before it enters an extensive area of landslides. I found Taiwan Barwing, Yellow Tit, Steer's Liocichla and Taiwan Yuhina fairly easily
Park road - As I could not take the car in I walked the 4km to trail 220. Saw some good birds on route including White-eared Sibia and Taiwan Partridge
Trail 220 - Although I birded this trail during the heat of the day I still saw a wide variety of birds including a number of the endemics. The trail is a stake out for Swinhoes Pheasant and although I didn't see any it was the middle of the day. The trail passes through some good mature forest for about 8km
I never made it up to the top but it is possible to see three more of the endemics at the higher altitudes
Wushe and Mt Hohuan
Blue Gate Trail - This trail is located off route 14 just before the16km post not the 15 as is stated in a number of reports. The gate is not viewable from the main road however the entrance can be identified by the concrete retaining wall. After about 1.5km the trail became blocked on a number of occasions by fallen trees. There was evidence that these were being cleared. The trail is a stake out for Swinhoes Pheasant however I failed to connect. Birding along the trail was excellent with a number of the endemics being seen.
KM 16 - Mt Hohuan - A number of roadside stops proved very productive. From about km 24 Taiwan Laughing Thrush was a common roadside bird.
Mt Hohuan - At km 34 the main road passes through a section of mature pine trees. A brief roadside stop produced Flamecrest and Collard Bush Robin
Yanmingshan National Park
Located north of Taipei the area appears to be the best place to see Taiwan Magpie. Route 2 goes through the park from north to south. I found two separate parties of Magpies early in the morning whilst driving into the park from the north between the park entrance and a big white bridge spanning a dry valley.
I also saw two more birds around the park HQ in the car park area where they had been seen before by other birders. I was there on a Sunday and by 07.30 the park was full of tourists, all the car parks were full and there were people everywhere
Endemic Birds Seen
Taiwan PartridgeArborophila crudigularis - Anmasham -one 6th October. I was not expecting to see this bird as very few people do. I was possibly lucky that Anmasham was closed and hence the main road was quite. I also heard a number of other birds running through the woods at Anmasham which could have been this species It appeared to me that when flushed the birds would fly/run a short distance and freeze I was lucky I managed to locate one perched in the open on a branch after flushing it initially. It might just require luck
Taiwan MagpieUrocissa caerulea - Yanmingshan -three separate parties consisting of a total of 10 birds I was apprehensive about connecting with this bird as a number of trips had trouble seeing it although they all eventually scored at Yanmingshan.
I saw two parties within 15 minutes of entering the park from the north first thing in the morning It appears the park is a reliable site.
Taiwan Whistling-ThurshMyiophoneus insularis - One Taroko Gorge. One heard Anmasham trail 220. According to reports appears to be widespread in suitable habitat
Collard Bush RobinTarsiger johnstoniae - Mt Hohuan 3 in pines Km 34. I struggled to connect even though I put in a lot of effort in suitable habitat Eventually saw three in the pines at the top of Mt Hohuan.
FlamecrestRegulus goodfellowi - Mt Hohuan 3 in pines at km34. Appear to be relatively common in suitable habitat
Styan's BulbulPycnonotus taivanus - stopped on the east coast at the entrance to Taroko Gorge in suitable habitat and found what appeared to be a good Styan's However to be sure I drove 50km south were I easily found a group of Bulbuls in suitable habitat
Taiwan Laughingthursh Garrulax morrisonianus - Mt Hohuan 10+ seen at the roadside on route 14 from about km22. A common roadside bird at the higher altitudes.
Taiwan BarwingActinodura morrisoniana - Anmashan- 4 trail 210 and three trail 220. Wushe 2 Blue Gate trail
White-eared SibiaHeterophasia auricularis - Anmasham - 2 Trail 220, 4 roadside between 210 and 220 trails
Taiwan YuhinaYuhina brunneiceps -Anmasham - Common in all areas of the park A total of 50+ were seen. Wushe - Common along the Blue gate trail
Swinhoe's PheasantLophura swinhoii - I visited two sites where they had been frequently seen in the past trail 220 at Anmasham and the Blue gate Trail. I was disappointed at not seeing any and have real explanation.
Mikado PheasantSyrmaticus mikado - According to the all the information I could find there was only one stake out for this Pheasant trail 210 at Anmasham. Everybody appears to see them here. I tried in the morning and the evening but with no success. I noted the trail had been effected by landslides and contained a number of open areas however this was after the first one or two km's and according to reports the pheasants are often seen within the first km.
Taiwan Scrub WarblerBradypterus arisansis - I had no information on locations of this recently discovered endemic
Taiwan A Birders Guide to Taiwan by Dave Sargent - Private publication available from NHS book shop. An excellent report with good maps and general information
A Birding Trip to Taiwan by Barry Wright - Private Publication available from the World Twitch web site. A good supplement to Sargent with more up to date information