Taiwan and Fairy Pitta, May 2004

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by Graham Talbot (gtalbot at netvigator.com), Chris Campion and Mike Turnbull

Introduction

By chance whilst surfing the net I came across a contact who was studying Fairy Pittas in Taiwan. The species was high on my wanted list and following an exchange of e-mails it became obvious that the birds were relatively easy to see in late April and early May, so arrangements were made for a short weekend trip. As usual I was joined by Chris and this time another HK birder Mike Turnbull. As we had all been to Taiwan before, the main focus was to see the Pitta but Mike and Chris still needed some of the other endemics and potential splits so we planned to include a visit to the interior highlands.

Although we had been to Taiwan before, we all like birding there as it is a very birdy place, the endemics are good and fairly easy to see and the people are very helpful.

Our thanks go to Scott Ruey-Shing Lin (rslin@tesri.gov.tw), firstly for responding to my initial enquiry and secondly for guiding us during our first morning. Scott's work is funded by the Taiwanese Government and apart from studying the Pittas he is trying to get the local people involved in preserving the habitat. Hopefully his hard work will prove fruitful. Should you require assistance visiting the area he has indicated that he would be willing to help.

Logistics

As usual we found the logistics very easy despite the fact that none of us spoke Chinese. We pre-booked our hire car from the only firm that has a depot close to CKS International airport and although not the cheapest, the car and service was excellent. Most of the road signs are in English as well as Chinese although sometimes depending on which map you use the English spelling is not the same. Driving is no problem but speeds are slow due to the terrain and sheer volume of traffic on the expressways. Everywhere we went there was always somebody who could speak a smattering of English and we found Taiwanese people very friendly and helpful.

Accommodation/Food

Our contact Scott at the Fairy Pitta site arranged some accommodation on the first night in the research center, but we did notice that there was as hotel in Linnei near to the site. The accommodation we used was basic but adequate. The second night we just checked into a small hotel that we had used before in Wushe. The area is a big tourist area and there is a wide selection of hotels, probably from around US$30 a night per night upwards. We ate the usual junk food during our stay from the numerous 7/11 shops and had a meal in a local restaurant on the Saturday night.

Weather

According to the weather forecast it should have been hot and sunny all weekend and although this was true for the lowland areas, once we got to the highlands we encountered a number of thunderstorms and visibility was down to almost zero at times on top of Mount Hohuan although this was very variable.

Sites

Details with regards all the sites can be found in my previous trip reports. The following new site details are as follows

Huben

This area of lowland forest is located about three and a half hours south of Taipei. Although the area is not currently a fully protected reserve there are a number of single-track roads through the area. These are marked on a number of signs dotted around the area. In addition to the Pitta the area is probably the best place in Taiwan to see Taiwan Partridge, and Malay Night Heron is also apparently quite common, though we failed to connect. To reach the area, take expressway 3 from Taichung and after about 50km you come to the Linnei/Dolieu intersection. Turn off the expressway and turn right to Linnei. After about 5 minutes turn right at a set of traffic lights just before a 7/11 shop on the left. After about 1km the road forks. Take the left hand fork keeping the river channel on your right. After about 500m there is a bus shelter type structure and opposite is the hostel used by the Pitta research team. There is a map of the area detailing the various access roads on a sign near the shelter. Carry further along the road and after about 200m there is a bridge over the river channel. Turn right over the bridge and very soon you come to a temple. We parked in the car park and heard Fairy Pitta as soon as we got out of the car and saw one from the car park. We explored a number of small ravines in this area and saw a further 2 birds. We also heard Taiwan Partridge in this area close to the road.

We explored another area reached by taking the second bridge over the river channel. Again we explored a number of ravines. In one we saw another Fairy Pitta and Taiwan Partridge.

I would recommend contacting the researchers, as they are very helpful and know where all the best sites are.

Itinerary

Friday 7th May 2004

Departed Hong Kong on the 17.45 flight to Taipei arriving at 19.30. We were quickly through immigration, phoned the car hire company who collected us and took us to their depot 5 minutes away. After completing the paper work set off towards our rendezvous site about three hours away. Traffic was initially heavy but it thinned out the further we got away from Taipei. Arrived at the 7/11 shop at Linnei to find Scott waiting. Made our introductions, stocked up on some junk food and then followed Scott to the research center, a 5 minute drive away.

As we were getting our things out of the car we heard a Mountain Scops Owl calling about 50m away on the other side of what appeared in the dark to be a large wet catchwater. We decided not to try and see it as access was hard to determine, we had to get up early in the morning and we thought we would have a good chance the following night at Wushe. A fatal mistake as we failed to even hear one the following night. A lesson learnt.

Saturday 8th May 2004

Got up at first light, which was about 5am, and birded up and down the road for half an hour before Scott took us to the temple car park. As soon as we got out of the car we could hear a Pitta calling and within a few minutes it was located sitting on a branch. Scott then took us off-trail and we followed a small ravine where we saw a further two Pittas. The ravines are good for Taiwan Partridge and although we didn't see one we heard one calling after we had left the ravine we had just walked through.

Decided to try a different location over the second bridge and about 2 kms into the reserve. Here we explored a number of ravines and although we heard Taiwan Partridge we failed to see one and they appeared not to respond to playback. Eventually we tried another ravine and just as we entered it we saw a Partridge about 2m away in the undergrowth. Because of the steep sides the bird could not run away and so we obtained excellent views before it eventually decided to fly. By now it was 10am and we decided to leave and head towards the mountains. In retrospect we should have spent more time in the area as we failed to see Malay Night Heron.

Headed to Wushe and after checking into a hotel checked out the road near the petrol station for Rusty Laughing Thrush but it was very quiet. Headed to the start of the Blue Gate Trail Continuation Section, where we parked the car and headed back along the Blue Gate trail. It was not long before we came across a male Swinhoe's Pheasant on the track. Headed back and then walked along the Continuation track, failing to connect with Mikado Pheasant but managing to see a number of other endemics and also Pygmy Wren Babbler, which must be a good candidate for splitting as it calls completely differently. We also managed, with some difficulty, to see White-browed Shortwing, another potential split. By now the weather had deteriorated with intermittent rain and low cloud. And as dusk approached, the clouds opened. We headed down towards Wushe and ate at a local restaurant. As the rain had now cleared we spent the next few hours listening for Mountain Scops Owl but to no avail. Headed exhausted back to the hotel and crashed.

Sunday 9th May 2004

Up at first light and headed to the Blue Gate Trail Continuation , where we saw Chinese Bamboo Partridge, another potential split. Spent the morning exploring the trail, and had two brief sightings of separate female Mikado Pheasants, one with chicks, as they moved from the edge of the track into the undergrowth. We eventually had a third brief sighting but this time we spent time peering into the wooded slope and eventually we saw a female and a least one chick walking along the forest floor. It appears that when the Pheasants are disturbed from the track they only go a small distance into the forest edge and sit tight. We decided to head towards the top of Mount Hohuan stopping en route in an area of extensive low bamboo where we pulled in Taiwan Bush Warbler by using play back. We also heard Mountain and Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler in the same area. Further up the Mountain we found 2 Taiwan Laughing Thrushes along the roadside. We carried on up the mountain and hit intermittent low cloud, but this did not prevent us from seeing Alpine Accentor in the car park at the viewing point at the highest point of the road. We carried on down the other side of the mountain to Km 31 where we found 3 Vinaceous Rosefinches. Carried on further down a few more kms and stopped at a stand of mature pine trees, where before long we found a Flamecrest. By now it was getting late so we retraced our steps and commenced the long drive back to Taipei making a couple of roadside stops in lowland river valleys on route. About 70kms from Taipei we hit very heavy traffic and it was stop-start all the way to the airport. We eventually arrived only 25 minutes before our flight was due to leave and with a little pleading we managed to check onto the flight. Arrived back at 11pm in Hong Kong, exhausted but happy. Yet another successful trip to Taiwan.

References

Taiwan: A Birders Guide to Taiwan by Dave Sargent - Private publication available from NHS bookshop. 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

Birding Taiwan by Graham Talbot - Surfbirds website updates to Sargent and Wright reports

Birding Taiwan 2 by Graham Talbot- Surfbirds website. An update to his previous trip.

Birding Taiwan 3 by Graham Talbot - Surfbirds website. An update to his two previous trip reports

A Field Guide to the Birds of China - John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps- Although it contains many errors its the only guide in English that illustrates all the endemics with the exception of the newly discovered Bush Warbler

The Birds of Taiwan - A local Field Guide in Chinese with English names that covers all the Birds in Taiwan

F B Magpie website - http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/9003/ - This site is hosted by Wayne Hus and has a recording section with a number of the endemic birds on which can be down loaded and was very useful.

Systematic List

Taiwan Partridge Arborophila crudigularis 3 heard and 1 seen Huben 8 May. According to Scott this area is one easiest places to see the Partridge. They tend to feed in the bottom of the wooded gullies and by walking slowly up them you should come across one

Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracica 2 Huben 8th May. 2 at the start of the Blue Gate Continuation h May. A potential split

Swinhoe's Pheasant Lophura swinhoii 1 male Blue Gate trail 8th May

Mikado Pheasant Syrmaticus humiae 2 females, one with 5 chicks, Blue Gate Continuation trail 9th May

Grey Backed Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus 1 Huben 8th May

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1 Huben 8th May

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos 2 Blue Gate trail 9th May

Black-browed Barbet Megalaima oorti Up to 10 heard and one seen Huben 8th May. One seen Wushe 8th May.1 heard Blue Gate trail 8th and 9th May. Heard in the lowlands 9th May

Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus 2 Huben 8th May

Little Swift Apus affinis Small parties seen in widely scattered locations

Mountain Scops Owl Otus spilocreephalus 1 heard Huben 7th May

Ashy Wood Pigeon Columba pulchricollis Up to 10 seen daily Blue Gate/continuation trail 8/9th May

Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica Common in lowlands

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis Common in lowlands

Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica 1 Huben 8th May

Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha 3 seen 2 heard Huben 8th May

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 1 Huben 8th May

Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus 1 Huben 8th May

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1 Huben 8th May. 5 en route Wushe - Taipei 9th May

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis 3 en route Wushe - Taipei 9th May

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 2 en route Wushe - Taipei 9th May

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius 1 Blue Gate trail 8th May

Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae 2 Huben 8th May

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos 2 Huben 8th May

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 4 Huben 8th May

Spangled Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus 2 Huben 8th May

Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea 2 Huben 8th May

White-browed Shortwing Brachypteryx montana Up to 10 heard daily and 2 seen Blue Gate/Continuation trail 8/9th May

Collared Bush Robin Tarsiger johnstoniae 1 Continuation Trail 9th May, 2 at km21 en route to Mount Hohuan 9th May

White-tailed Robin Cinclidium leucurum 2 Huben 8th May. 4 seen many heard Blue Gate /Continuation Trail 8th and 9th May

Ferruginous Flycatcher Muscicapa ferruginea 2 Blue Gate trail 8th May. 1 Continuation trail 9th May. 1 Mount Hohuan 9th May

Snowy-browed Flycatcher Ficedula hyperythra 1 Blue Gate trail 9th May

Vivid Niltava Niltava vivida 3 Blue Gate/Continuation trail 9th May

Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 1 en route Wushe to Taipei 9th May

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea 1 Continuation trail 9th May

Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus 1 Continuation trail 8th May

Yellow Tit Parus holsti 1 Continuation Trail 8th May

Black-throated Tit Aegithalos concinnus A total of 20 daily Blue Gate/Continuation Trail 8th/9th May

Plain Martin Riparia paludicola 3 en route Wushe - Taipei 9th May

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Singles seen in scattered locations both days

Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica 1 Huben 8th May. Small numbers seen on route Wushe - Taipei 9th May

Striated Swallow Hirundo striolata 3 Huben 8th May. Small numbers seen in lowland areas 9th May

Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus Small numbers seen at all forested locations 8/9th May

Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris 12 in lowland area en route 9th May

Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 1 in lowland area en route 9th May

Gray-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris 5 Blue Gate/Continuation trail 9th May

Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 1 Huben 8th May, 1 Blue Gate/Continuation trail 9th May

Chinese Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 20 Huben 8th May

Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler Cettia forttipes 4 heard, 1 seen en route to Mount Hohuan 9th May

Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler Cettia acanthizoides 3 heard on route to Mount Hohuran 9th May

Taiwan Bush Warbler Bradypterus alisanensis 4 heard 2 seen on route to Mount Hohuan 9th May

Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis 20 seen daily Blue Gate/continuation trail 8th/9th May

Flamecrest Regulus goodfellowi 1 Mount Hohuran 9th May

Taiwan Laughing Thrush Garrulax albogularis 3 Mount Hohuran 9th May

Steere's Liocichla Liocichla steerii Common at Blue Gate/Continuation trail areas 8/9th May

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis 1 Huben 8th May

Pygmy Wren Babbler Pnoepyga pusilla 2 heard 1 seen Continuation trail 8th May. 4 heard Blue Gate/Continuation trail 9th May

Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyris ruficeps 1 seen many heard Huben 8th May. Many heard Blue Gate/Continuation trail 8/9th May

Grey-cheeked Fulvetta Alcippe morrisonia Common Blue Gate/Continuation trail 8/9th May

Taiwan Barwing Actinodura morrisonianna 3 Continuation trail 8th May.1 Blue Gate trail 9th May

White-eared Sibia Heterophasia auricularis 40 daily Blue Gate/Continuation trail 8/9th May

Taiwan Yuhina Yuhina brunneiceps Common Blue Gate/Continuation trail 8/9th May

Vinous-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis webbianus 1 Huben 8th May

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker Dicaeum ignipectus 10 Heard 2 seen Blue Gate/Continuation trail 8/9th May

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Common at lower elevations

White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 Huben 8th May.1 en route to Taipei 9th May

Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris 5 near the top of Mount Hohuan 9th May

Vinaceous Rosefinch Carpodacus vinaceus 3 at Km 31 Mount Hohuan 9th May