Taiwan has long been on my list of countries to visit, so I took the opportunity of a quick trip after my latest visit to the Philippines. It proved to be very rewarding with 16 new birds including all the endemics except Taiwan Partridge (very difficult), Styan's Bulbul (easy but not on my route) and Mikado Pheasant, the one disappointment. I have no hesitation in recommending Taiwan as a first class destination, with numerous birds and a very safe environment; the helpfulness, hospitality and friendliness of the Taiwanese was outstanding.
I flew to Taipei with Eva Air, a compulsory stop on my route to Manila - see Appendix for the intricacies of this routing. Taipei airport is c.50km south of the city but there are buses to the city every 20 mins for 110 T$ (Taiwanese dollars, US$1 = 34.7 T$, £1 = 54.3 T$). There is no VISA requirement for a stay of 14 days, nor airport tax, which makes a pleasant change these days.
Cash can be changed at the airport and there are plenty of ATMs in the cities, some of which will give cash to British cards. The general cost of living was higher than in the cheaper SE Asian countries, probably more akin to Malaysia and Singapore.
I used public transport, generally good and efficient, or hitched - easiest country I've been in. Car hire is relatively expensive and driving in Taipei, at least, a test of nerves, but roads were good, although narrow in the mountains. The best method of travel in Taipei is the MRT, equivalent to the underground - a good free map of routes and the city is available on request at Taipei main station. Note that it does not start till about 06.00.
In Taipei I stayed at Amigos Hostel, which cost 350 T$ a bed - tel. (02) 2929-7583 or 7596, email email@example.com. This friendly hostel, with free internet, one hot shower, washing machine and cooking facilities, is easily reached by taking the MRT to Tinshi station on the orange line - take exit no. 1, cross the main road to the alleyway immediately opposite; Amigos is at the end of this alley. Food of all descriptions is available nearby, the night market 2 blocks to the left of the station being particularly good.
In Sung-gang I stayed the first night at no. 26, a homestay - 1000 T$ for a double tatame room, probably an inflated price due to it being the Chinese New Year. There was no room available after this, so I spent the other 2 nights on the floor of a room with nearby hot shower in the village public building, free, courtesy of the head-man, who also lent me a sleeping bag.
In Taipei many young people speak at least some English, elsewhere the majority do not. There is a national aim of having an English-teacher in all schools, so the situation should improve. It is necessary to buy a card to use most public telephones; cell-phones are numerous.
Mixed: beautiful the first 2 days, then rather damp after this although it did not rain heavily for long. Cool in the mountains when damp but not really cold.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
There appear to be no problems: Taipei must be one of the safest big cities in the world. The only people who are liable to cheat you are taxi-drivers, so I was told.
FIELD GUIDES and TRIP REPORTS
Taiwan has an excellent field guide, but in Chinese and only available in the Wild Bird Society of Taipei shops for 900 T$. Good trip reports are available on the net, eg by Barry Wright and Garry George. A newly published (by WBST) leaflet Top 10 Taiwan Birdwatching Spots is useful and may be available now at Tourist Offices.
I am greatly indebted to Dr Woei-horng Fang, Vice President of the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan, thanks to Richard Thomas. He very kindly took me to the Botanical Gardens and Hua-Jing Nature Reserve on my first afternoon, then to the Wulai area on my first full day. He also helped me greatly with the rest of my itinerary, including writing various handy questions in Chinese for use where English is not spoken. My other major benefactors were many of the populace of Sung-gang, especially Carol Lu, who made me so welcome during my 3 day stay.
Jan 15 Arrived at CKS airport, Taipei at 11.25 on a cloudy day, and after checking in at the airport hotel, courtesy of Eva Air, took coach to the city, arriving at 1.25 pm. Rang Dr Fang who arrived at 1.45 and we walked to the Botanical Gardens. Here we saw 2 Malayan Night-Herons, a long-awaited species for me, apparently feeding on worms, and a Pale Thrush. We then walked through the snake-market (for eating) to Hua-Jing Wild Duck Nature Reserve, a fairly large wetland, where there were good numbers of wildfowl and a few other birds, but nothing outstanding. After a bowl of fish soup, we departed and I caught the 6 pm bus back to the airport and the shuttle to the hotel. Flew to Manila the next morning
Jan 30 Returned to CKS airport from Manila at 2.50 pm. Booked bed at Amigos Hostel by phone, took coach to city and MRT to Amigos. Eventually got through to Dr Fang on the phone,to be told that this was possibly the worst time of the whole year to visit Taiwan as it was Chinese New Year when half the population would be on the move and his friend who would have helped me in the mountains had left the country, on a birding holiday. He said he would pick me up in the morning to bird in the hills outside the city and discuss an itinerary for the rest of my time. Ate at the local night market.
Jan 31 Dr Fang picked me up at 06.30 and we drove to the Wulai area to look for the magpie and whistling-thrush. A walk along the river gave a mixed flock, with Dusky Fulvetta, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler and White-tailed Robin, and we could hear a whistling-thrush calling but not see it. Driving up the nearby hillside road, a party of magpies was spotted and good views obtained from the car, but as soon as I opened, they flew away. We proceeded to the spa town and checked the river from the main bridge. A whistling-thrush was calling and bathing, before flying up into a riverside building. We continued up the valley and on to a tribal village at the end of the road. By now it was pretty warm and sunny and the only real bird activity, apart from numerous Black Bulbuls, was soaring and calling eagles: 4 Blacks and 2 Crested Serpents. After a Chinese lunch at a local restaurant, we returned to Taipei, visited Dr Fang's office to pick-up his spare fieldguide and the bus station to buy a ticket for Puli (400 T$). After parting at 2.30, I took the MRT to Kuandu and walked to the marshes. Apart from wildfowl, there was not much bird activity, the highlight being a hunting Eastern Marsh Harrier. Back to Amigos and the night market.
Feb 1 Caught the MRT to Taipei main station just after 06.00, then went to the wrong bus terminal North instead of West, after taking the wrong exit, of the many, from the station. Found the West in time for my 07.00 coach - comfortable, with reserved seat and videos. Reached Puli at 10.45, but with heavy traffic on the final stretch, found I had missed the 10.25 bus to Meifeng. The next was not till 2.05 but was able to get one part way, to Wushe, at 11.25. Traffic was heavy on Rte 14 up the mountain, so soon hitched a lift, with a dentist and his wife. They kindly helped me to locate accommodation in Sung-gang, and I then continued with them to Km 32, the top of the Mt. Hohuanshan pass (Wu-lin), as the weather was so good. There was some snow on the ground and a lot of Tawanese tourists. I searched the pines for some time, expecting to find Flamecrest, but to no avail. I did have a flight view of a Taiwan Bush-warbler and good views of White-whiskered Laughingthrush, but that was it, apart from the odd dark Wren. I walked down the road to Km 24.5, only seeing Laughingthrushes, until I heard a party of birds in a clump of bamboo. Brief views revealed that they were the rarely seen Golden Parrotbills, the other target species that I was hoping to see. As it was late afternoon, I was considering hitching back down when I heard a bird in a fruiting bush and was amazed to find it was a male Flamecrest! After a celebratory coffee at a nearby stall (90 T$ but good), I did hitch back to Sung-gang, courtesy of a Burmese lady. I was befriended by the family next door to my homestay they invited me to share their New Year's eve banquet and a good time was had by all. I went to bed at a reasonable hour but the mah-jong continued till 03.00!
Feb 2 Today was overcast with a little rain and fog. I left at 06.10 as there was no sign of the promised 06.00 breakfast, and walked up the road through good forest from Km 12.5 to the Blue Gate trail at Km15.5, with disappointingly few birds. Several hours on the muddy trail were very rewarding, with 2 male Swinhoe's Pheasants, Collared Robins, Barwings, Sibias, Liocichlas, Yuhinas, Yellow Tits and Brown Bullfinch. Then back a km to Meifeng Experimental Farm, where a long walk gave best ever views of Bamboo-Partridge, a Bluetail, Daurian Redstart and a flock of Siskin - quite a surprise. Also saw what appeared to be a small party of Flamecrest but they flew off before I had a decent view and disappeared into the Siskin flock. Decided to return to Km 24.5 to look again for the parrotbills and Flamecrest there. No joy, so walked down to Km 21 but only saw Laughingthrushes. Returned to Blue Gate trail for 3.30-5.30, hoping for Mikado Pheasant, but only Red-faced Warbler and Black-throated Tit were new, though did flush a roosting female Swinhoe's from a tree. Walked back to Song-pang and was eventually able to take possession of my free room, when the key had been located. Another hospitable evening, which included playing a form of pontoon and drinking whiskey and the local firewater. Retired at 10.30 but sleep was impossible at first because my room was directly above the karaoke machine which was on full blast. However, they soon stopped when I explained the problem.
Feb 3 Hitched up to Blue Gate trail at 06.15 and stayed along the first few 100m where I had seen the pheasants yesterday. One female Swinhoe's crossed the track but that was all, except for an owl flying to roost in a large tree by the trail. At 08.00 continued along the trail and back fairly quickly, seeing Rusty Laughingthrush, White-browed Shortwing and Ashy Woodpigeon. Decided to go down to look for lower elevation species, so at 10.00 hitched a lift with a couple of young teachers and a chocolate shop owner down to Wushe, with a stop for coffee. They kindly gave me a big bag of delicious "home made" chocolates to share with my friends, which unfortunately got completely consumed before I returned to Sung-gang. I said I wanted to go to Tsuenyan Farm and they insisted on finding it for me, some 4 km from Wushe. Walked the trails here from 11.30-16.00, seeing many birds, the best being a pair of White-bellied Green-Pigeons, Bamboo-Partridge, Vivid Niltava, Scaly and Pale Thrushes, but no hoped for Collared Finchbill. Hitched back to Sung-gang in the rain and spent another pleasant evening with the locals.
Feb 4 A wet morning started with an unprecedented wait of 20 mins for a lift up to Blue Gate trail. An hour in the pheasant area was fruitless, then walked down to Meifeng Farm , hoping for Flamecrest, but seeing nothing new, though a good view of Scaly Thrush was a consolation. Thought of trying to cross the mountains to Hualien, for Styan's Bulbul, and then taking the train back to Taipei, but with low cloud and rain, and most people apparently just heading for the snow, decided to be prudent and return the way I had come. Reached Puli at 10.45, in two lifts. The 11.00 bus was full, so had to wait for the 12.00; traffic OK till last 70 km, reached Taipei at 4.30. Picked up rucksack and showered at Amigos, then MRT and coach to CKS airport for 22.55 flight home.
Taipei Botanical Gardens - only small but a haven for wildlife, the speciality being the resident Malayan Night Herons that have nested in recent years. This must be the easiest location in the world to see this tricky specie.
Kuandu marshes, near Kuandu temple N. of Taipei, reached by MRT to Kuandu station. Only worth visiting if you have time to spare in Taipei.
Wulai area - hill forest at 150-200m and rivers, reached by Hsintien Bus Company bus to Wulai from opposite Taipei railway station. A good site for Taiwan Magpie and Whistling-Thrush, which can both be tricky species, especially the magpie as it appears to be very shy.
There are two popular areas visited by birders: Anmashan and Wushe. A car is needed to reach the former, whereas the latter is accessible by bus - hourly from Taipei to Puli, then less frequently to Wushe, or better still, to Meifeng. There is accommodation in Wushe, Chin-chin and Sung-gang, the tatame at Wushe mountain hostel probably being the cheapest but furthest from the best site (Blue Gate trail).
Four areas to visit from Wushe are:-
Tsuenyan Farm, 1200-1300m - take the right fork out of town, towards the hot springs, rather than the left fork up the mountain to Chin-chin etc. After passing through a large village, the farm is on the left-hand hillside at Km 83.5, some 4km from Wushe.
Meifeng Experimental Farm, 2200m - first entrance is on the right just before at Km 15 and there is an unused tarred road, giving easier access c.200m later. Open, mixed habitat.
Blue Gate trail, Meifeng, 2200m - this is on the left at Km 15.5. It continues for a couple of km, mainly through primary forest, before reaching a tarred road, then continues on the other side of the road for some distance - this part is sometimes known as the second or upper Blue Gate trail, for no apparent reason.
Mt. Hohuanshan, 3200m - the Route 14 pass is at Km 32.there are patches of old pines, in dwarf bamboo, where Flamecrest is said to be common in spring and summer, and Nutcracker and Alpine Accentor occur.
SYSTEMATIC SPECIES LIST
Taxonomy, names and sequence follow Clements, JF (2001) Birds of the World: a Checklist, with a few modification to names, notably changing the outdated Formosan to Taiwan. Endemic species to Taiwan are highlighted in bold.
Grey Heron,Ardea cinerea - Common Taipei area. Great Egret,Ardea alba - Fairly common in lowlands. Little Egret, Egretta garzetta - Common in lowlands. Striated Heron, Butorides striatus - 1 along river at Wulai. Black-crowned Night-Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax - Common Taipei area. Malayan Night-Heron,Gorsachius melanolophus - 2 Taipei Botanical Gardens.
[Sacred Ibis, Threskiornis aethiopicus] - 15-20 Kuandu marshes, Taipei. This species is an escape from Taipei Zoo. Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea - 1 Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Common Shelduck, Tadorna tadorna - Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca - Hua-Jing NR and Kuandu marshes, Taipei. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos - A few Hua-Jing NR and Kuandu marshes, Taipei. Spot-billed Duck, Anas poecilorhyncha - Common Kuandu marshes, Taipei. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata - A few Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Crested Serpent-Eagle, Spilornis cheela - 4 Wulai area, 2 north of airport and 1 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Eastern Marsh-Harrier, Circus spilonotus - 1 Kuandu marshes, Taipei. Crested Goshawk, Accipiter trivirgatus - 1 on the way back to Taipei. Black Eagle, Ictinaetus malayensis - 4 at Wulai area and 1 Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. Eurasian Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus - 1 Hua-Jing NR and 2 Kuandu marshes, Taipei. TAIWAN PARTRIDGE, Arborophila crudigularis - Heard daily below Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Bambusicola thoracica - 3 + 2 seen and others heard at Meifeng Experimental Farm and 3 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. SWINHOE'S PHEASANT, Lophura swinhoii - 2 males and a female Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. White-breasted Waterhen, Amaurornis phoenicurus - 1 Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus - A few in the lowlands. Ashy Wood-Pigeon, Columba pulchricollis - A flock of 15-20 in flight at Blue Gate trail, Meifeng and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Spotted Dove, Streptopelia chinensis - Common in the lowlands. Red Collared-Dove, Streptopelia tranquebarica - A few in the lowlands. White-bellied Pigeon, Treron sieboldii - 2 perched at Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe.
[Collared Scops-Owl, Otus lettia] - A medium-sized owl flying into roost in a large tree at 07.00 along the Blue Gate trail, Meifeng was probably this species. Fork-tailed Swift, Apus pacificus - A few en route. House Swift, Apus nipalensis - A few flocks en route. Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis - 1 Taipei Botanical Gardens and Kuandu marshes. Black-browed Barbet, Megalaima oorti - A few Wulai area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Grey-capped Woodpecker, Dendrocopos canicapillus - 1 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. White-backed Woodpecker, Dendrocopos leucotos - 2 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe and a few heard on Blue Gate trail, Meifeng Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica - Common in the lowlands. Pacific Swallow, Hirundo tahitica - A few in the lowlands, common in the mountains. White Wagtail, Motacilla alba - 1 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla flava - 1 Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea - 1-2 Wulai area. Olive-backed Pipit, Anthus hodgsoni - 5-10 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Grey-chinned Minivet, Pericrocotus solaris - Fairly common Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbul, Pycnonotus sinensis - Common up to 1300m elevation. Black Bulbul, Hypsipetes leucocephalus - Common Wulai area, Meifeng Experimental Farm and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. FLAMECREST, Regulus goodfellowi - A male at Km 24, Mt. Hohuanshan, 1 heard a bit higher up the road and a small party at Meifeng Experimental Farm. Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes - A few Mt. Hohuanshan. TAIWAN WHISTLING-THRUSH, Myophonus insularis - 1 seen well and 2 heard Wulai area. Scaly Thrush, Zoothera dauma - 1 Wulai area, 2 Meifeng Experimental Farm and 1 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Pale Thrush, Turdus pallidus - 1 Taipei Botanical Gardens, 2 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. White-browed Shortwing, Brachypteryx montana - 1 seen and 2 heard Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. Striated Prinia, Prinia criniger - A few Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. This species is listed as Brown Prinia, Prinia polychroa in the Taiwan fieldguide and is listed by Clements as pesent in Taiwan, erroneously. Yellow-bellied Prinia, Prinia flaviventris - A few at Kuandu marshes. Plain Prinia, Prinia inornata - A few Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler, Cettia fortipes - Heard at Meifeng Experimental Farm. Yellowish-bellied (Verraux's) Bush-Warbler, Cettia acanthizoides - A few Meifeng area. TAIWAN BUSH-WARBLER, Bradypterus alashanensis - 1 in flight Mt. Hohuanshan. Oriental Reed-Warbler, Acrocephalus orientalis - 1 Kuandu marshes. Inornate Warbler, Phylloscopus inornatus - 1-2 Wulai area. Arctic Warbler, Phylloscopus borealis - A few Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Rufous-faced Warbler, Abroscopus albogularis - A few Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Japanese White-eye, Zosterops japonicus - A few Taipei Botanical Gardens. Vivid Niltava, Niltava vivida - 2 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Siberian Rubythroat, Luscinia calliope - Heard Wulai area. Red-flanked Bluetail, Tarsiger cyanurus - 1-2 Blue Gate trail, Meifeng Experimental Farm, Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN, Tarsiger johnstoniae - Several Blue Gate trail, Meifeng and 1 Meifeng Experimental Farm. Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus - 1 Meifeng Experimental Farm and 2 Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Plumbeous Redstart, Rhyacornis fuliginosus - 2 Wulai area. White-tailed Robin, Cinclidium leucurum - 1 Wulai area and heard Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. Common Stonechat, Saxicola torquata - 1 Hua-Jing NR, Taipei. Black-naped Monarch, Hypothymis azurea - A few Wulai area. Rusty Laughingthrush, Garrulax poecilorhynchus - 1 seen Blue Gate trail, Meifeng and 2 heard Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH, Garrulax morrisonianus - Common along the road at Mt. Hohuanshan down to 2500m. STEERE'S LIOCICHLA, Liocichla steerii - Common Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Pomatorhinus ruficollis - 2 Wulai area. Rufous-capped Babbler, Stachyris ruficeps - Fairly common Wulai area, Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. TAIWAN BARWING, Actinodura morrisoniana - Fairly common Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. Dusky Fulvetta, Alcippe brunnea - Several Wulai area, Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Alcippe morrisonia - Common Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. WHITE-EARED SIBIA, Heterophasia auricularis - Common Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. TAIWAN YUHINA, Yuhina brunneiceps - Common throughout the mountains down to Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. White-bellied Yuhina, Yuhina zantholeuca - A few Wulai area. Golden Parrotbill, Paradoxornis verreauxi - A party of 5-10 at Km 24.5 Mt. Houhuanshan. Black-throated Tit, Aegithalos concinnus - Fairly common Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Green-backed Tit, Parus monticolus - Small numbers throughout the mountains and in the Wulai area. Yellow Tit, Macholophus holsti - Several Blue Gate trail, Meifeng. Eurasian Nuthatch, Sitta europaea - Several Meifeng area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Dicaeum ignipectus - A few throughout the mountains down to Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Brown Shrike, Lanius cristatus - 2 Taipei Botanical Gardens and Wulai area. Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus - 1 on way back to Taipei. Bronzed Drongo, Dicrurus aeneus - A few Wulai area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Eurasian Jay, Garrulus glandarius - 10+ Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. TAIWAN MAGPIE, Urocissa caerulea - 6+ Wulai area. Grey Treepie, Dendrocitta formosae - A few Wulai area. Black-billed Magpie, Pica pica - 1 Kuandu marshes. Large-billed Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos - Small numbers throughout. Crested Myna, Acridotheres cristatellus - A few en route. White-cheeked Starling, Sturnus cineraceus - 2 130km S of Taipei. Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus - Common in towns. White-rumped Munia, Lonchura striata - A few Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Nutmeg Mannikin, Lonchura punctulata - A few Hua-Jing NR and Kuandu marshes, Taipei and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe. Eurasian Siskin, Carduelis spinus - C.50 Meifeng Experimental Farm. Brown Bullfinch, Pyrrhula nipalensis - 2 small parties Meifeng area. Black-faced Bunting, Emberiza spodocephala - Singles Wulai area and Tsuenyan Farm, Wushe.
I bought the cheapest ticket (£510) to Manila available at the time, from the excellent Dial A Flight (017732 592131). Routing was Manchester - Amsterdam on BA, Amsterdam - Taipei, Taipei - Manila on Eva Air, and vice versa. The draw-back was the need to overnight in Taipei at my own expense on the way out and no stopover allowed, according to the agent. The ticket was issued as 2 parts with Taipei - Manila return separate from the rest. Enquiring at Eva Air's agent in Amsterdam, I was told that I would have to pay for a hotel in Taipei but could return from Taipei on any date as the ticket was unrestricted. On arrival at Taipei, I spotted an Eva Air transfer desk, before Immigration, and requested free accommodation which was duly granted, with meal vouchers, at the airport hotel! I subsequently changed the return dates from both Manila and Taipei at no cost, although could not get a reservation for the final British Airways Amsterdam - Manchester leg as both afternoon flights were full and the morning flight connection time was too short. I just managed to catch the morning flight after running a 4 minute mile at Schipol to collect my rucksack before returning to the departure gate. All flights were on time or even a bit early.