We spent a week in Taiwan in January 2005 before flying on to South Korea for the second week of our trip. This report covers only the Taiwan section of the trip, with South Korea covered in a separate report.
Taiwan is a destination for the connoisseur — you won’t rack up a huge list here, but it has a relatively large number of endemic species, most of which are easy to see, and this combined with some stunning scenery has put it on my "want list" for several years.
Until now, however, I have been put off by the high cost of visiting Taiwan, especially the cost of getting there. Having already decided to visit South Korea however, some research quickly highlighted that combining these two countries as part of the same trip using an open jaw ticket available from KLM was both practical and relatively inexpensive.
The amount of time we had in Taiwan was relatively short, and consequently we inevitably missed some species. However, we managed, with huge assistance from local birder Wayne Hsu, to see almost all the endemics as well as the large majority of our target birds. The only endemic we missed was Taiwan Bush-Warbler which is silent in winter, making it very difficult to find.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time here — the birding was good, the weather clear although often cold, and the scenery often stunning. I still hope to make a return trip in April and May one year, though, to try to find the elusive bush-warbler, as well as some summer visiting species such as Fairy Pitta, and possibly even Chinese Crested-Tern!
We are totally indebted to Taiwanese birder Wayne Hsu for the success of this trip. He initially provided me with a great deal of additional information, over and above that already contained on his website, and was very patient with the numerous questions and requests for advice I made at that time. To our delight, however, he then wrote to me a week before our trip to say that he was available during the time of our visit, and would be willing to accompany us on part or all of our trip if we wished. Needless to say, we eagerly accepted his offer, and he ended up doing the whole trip with us. Not only did Wayne’s presence mean that we saw many more birds than we would otherwise have seen —138 species in a week is a very good score for Taiwan in winter - but his assistance with matters such as navigation, finding accommodation, ordering food etc made the trip so much easier than it would otherwise have been. In addition, he kindly reviewed a draft of this trip report, and provided many helpful corrections and additions — thanks again Wayne! Huge thanks are also due to Barry Wright, Graham Talbot, David Fischer, Bjorn Anderson, Bryon Wright, Kevin O’Leary, Richard Eden, Scott Lin and Steve Dark for help and advice provided leading up to the trip.
Sara and I flew with KLM from Cardiff (CWL) via Amsterdam (AMS) to Taipei (TPE). Clive and Eleanor flew with KLM from Edinburgh via Amsterdam to Taipei on the previous day and we met them out there. At the end of our stay in Taiwan we flew with Cathay Pacific from Taipei to Seoul Incheon airport (ICN) for the Korean part of the trip. Our flight times were:
The flights were booked through Airline Network (0800 727747) and cost GBP 833 each including taxes for the entire Cardiff — Taipei — Seoul — Cardiff route — not cheap, but cheaper than doing 2 separate trips!
The flights went very smoothly from KLM’s point of view, but no birding trip these days seems complete without an airline crisis somewhere along the way — ours this trip came when we arrived at Taipei airport on 22.1 for our Cathay Pacific connecting flight to Seoul. We arrived initially at 13:00, and were told that we were too early to check in and that we should return at 14:00. We duly did so, to be told that the flight was now full and there was no room for us!
They tried to fob us off with a flight the next day, via Hong Kong (about 5 hours instead of the scheduled 2 hours) and about GBP 30 in compensation — we were not impressed to say the least, especially as this change in plan would play havoc with what was already a very tight Korean itinerary. We spent about 15 minutes arguing, pleading and begging with the CP representative, to be told to return at 16:10, and they would see what they could do. Bearing in mind that we were due to fly at 16:50, I couldn’t see any way they would get us on the flight, but when we turned up as requested, they had somehow managed to find us 4 seats. And then, just to top it all, when we finally got on the plane, the two seats behind us were empty!!!! Unbelievable!
Hiring a car in Taiwan initially proved to be something of a problem. None of the large international forms operate there, presumably because they don’t want to upset China, so it is necessary to book through a local company. However, finding contact details for these companies proved tricky, mainly because their websites were all in Mandarin. Many birders have previously recommended a company called Central Auto Services, but I struggled to correspond with them by fax.
I found three or four rental companies on the net and e-mailed them all, but didn’t receive a single reply. One of these companies, VIP Car Rental, had also been recommended by various birders, so having tried once to obtain a reply by e-mail I sent them a second mail. From then on, things progressed very smoothly. They replied immediately, and the level of communication henceforth was exemplary.
We eventually hired a large Toyota Premio saloon from them, at a rate of TWD 14,105 (GBP 250) all inclusive for the week. They do not have a location at CKS airport, but delivered it to and from the airport from their Taipei office, at no extra charge. The car was in excellent condition, very comfortable, and with generous luggage space, which was just as well as it allowed us to cater for Wayne when he decided to join us. Their representative met us on arrival at the airport, and again on departure, and was extremely helpful and friendly, and I have no hesitation in strongly recommending this company to other visiting birders. They can be contacted by e-mail at - firstname.lastname@example.org, website - http://www.vipcar.com.tw/
Please note that an international driving licence is required for car rental in Taiwan — a national licence is not sufficient. As VIP do not have a location at the airport, we were requested to bring with us photocopies of both our IDP’s and passports (photo page), which may also be necessary for other companies.
We had read a lot of scare stories about driving in Taiwan, but we really didn’t find it too bad at all. The expressways are a bit of a free for all, with overtaking on both sides and even on the hard shoulder a regular feature, cars will cut you up as a matter of routine, and you can also expect to be overtaken on blind corners on twisty mountain roads, but this is no different to what I have experienced previously in Thailand or Malaysia. Of course, driving in Taipei is inevitably much worse, although we kept this to a bare minimum for the sake of our sanity!
The standard of roads is generally very good, although earthquakes and landslides constantly play havoc with the road network, and you have to be wary of crumbling verges on some small mountain roads. Petrol was (as usual!) cheap compared with the UK at NWD 23 (GBP 0.40) per litre, and was attended service everywhere. Every time we filled up, we were given several bottles of mineral water, which was very handy as it meant we never had to buy any.
Signposting is almost entirely bilingual now, making navigation much easier. One problem here, however, is that the Mandarin place names do not seem to be transliterated into the Roman alphabet on a consistent basis, so you will see a great deal of variation in the spelling of place names, and you will need to use a degree of imagination in interpreting these. For example, we saw the town of Hsitou also spelled as Chitou, Shitou and Sitou. Anyone who has driven in Thailand will be familiar with this problem.
Without going into the semantics of Mandarin pronunciation, there seems to be a trend at present to soften certain consonants in some instances, for example P to B, T to D, K to G, Ts to Z, Ch to Jh etc. So Tayuling has now become Dayuling, Tungshih is now Dongshih, Kukuan is now Guguan etc. Of course, this isn’t always the case - the T sound in Taipei for example is still retained. There is also a tendency now to replace the Hs spelling (pronounced as "sh") with Sh. So, Hsitou becomes Shitou, Tienhsiang becomes Tienshiang etc. You’ll figure it out!!
The main expressways (1 and 3) running down Taiwan’s west coast are all toll roads. Every so often you will arrive at a tollbooth, where you will need to pay a standard toll of TWD 40 (GBP 0.70) — there were perhaps 7 or 8 of these between Tainan and Taipei. There are two ways of dealing with these tollbooths. You can use the lanes with a yellow sign, on the right hand side of the plazas, and pay cash. Cars, trucks, buses etc have to use different lanes when paying cash — if you are driving a car, you need to make sure you use the furthest left hand lanes with a yellow sign. If you use one of the other lanes, you will have to pay the truck or bus toll regardless of what vehicle you are driving. Alternatively, the first time you pay a toll, you can buy a book of 10 vouchers. These enable you to use the left hand blue lanes, handing in a voucher each time. The biggest problem with these plazas is the inevitable lane switching involved in getting into the correct lane — this is bad enough as you approach the booths with vehicles cutting you up left, right and centre, but is worse on exit when all the cars using the right hand yellow lanes swerve over to the faster left hand lanes — it’s like a rolling start at a grand prix!
One other problem to be aware of in Taiwan is the numerous speed cameras lining many roads. The fine is levied on the vehicle owner, in this case the car rental company, who then pass them onto the hirer. When we picked up the car, we were required to leave a blank signed credit card slip to cover future fines, as well as possible damage to the vehicle, but when we returned the car, the rep returned the slip to me unused — I certainly didn’t complain!
Costs & Money
The local currencies is the Taiwanese Dollar (TWD), and the approximate exchange rate against sterling (GBP) at the time of my visit (which I have used in translating costs throughout this report) was as follows:
GBP 1 = TWD 56
We paid the car hire costs by credit card on arrival, but all other expenses were paid in cash. We had heard that changing money was a little difficult away from the big cities, so we changed enough cash for the whole trip in the UK before travelling, although the rate was quite a bit poorer than we could have got on arrival at the airport.
Accommodation and food
We stayed at the following places:
Guesthouse at km 15 at road from Dongshih to Anmashan — NWD 1,000 (GBP 18) per room. Clean and comfortable
Hotel at km 5 on road from Wushe to Tsuifeng — name not known but sign reading "Outdoor Café" outside. NWD 1,500 (GBP 27) per room per night. Very comfortable, extremely friendly staff, and an English language menu!
"Outdoor Café" Hotel, Wushe
"Outdoor Café" Hotel, Wushe
Shenmu Hotel, Alishan — NWD 1,800 (GBP 32) per room per night. Extremely comfortable, and with heated rooms — a real rarity in Taiwan!
Shenmu Hotel, Alishan
International Hotel, Yangmingshan — NWD 2,750 (GBP 49) per room per night. E-mail email@example.com, tel +886 (0)2 2861 7100, fax +886 (0)2 2861 7101. Nice enough, but expensive compared with the others we stayed at — that’s what happens when you get nearer Taipei, and stay in a tourist spa area!
The standard of accommodation was generally very good. One problem, however, is that Taiwanese hotels generally have no heating, presumably because the weather is normally hot. It was very cold most of the time during our visit, so we were very thankful for the big thick duvets supplied, although it certainly didn’t encourage you to get up in the morning!
By the way if, like us, you consider staying your last night near the airport, and read about the very handily located CKS Airport Hotel, don’t waste time trying to book here — even though it still features on many hotel websites, it has now been closed down. The nearest hotels to the airports are in the town of Taoyuan, about 15 km away.
Our hectic itinerary meant that we didn’t always have time to stop for formal meals, so we often relied on the abundant 7Eleven shops for supplies. Most other meals were taken in small restaurants — these were generally open fronted, so we would often sit there in all our thermals and fleeces eating our meals! The menus in these places were all in Mandarin, so we were again thankful for Wayne’s assistance, although it didn’t take long to learn some basic symbols, e.g. rice, noodles etc. These places were very cheap, and a good meal of fried rice, fried noodles, etc for all five of us would normally cost about NWD 400 or 500 (c. GBP 8). Try to pick one where there are local people eating.
No visas needed for UK passport holders — details for other passport holders can be obtained at http://www.boca.gov.tw/english/ Other than the need for an IDP to drive a rental car, red tape seemed to be mercifully absent. Please note that few countries currently recognise Taiwan as an independent country, and therefore for many foreign nationals there are no embassies and only limited consular services.
We were very lucky in having no rain whatsoever during our time in Taiwan, other than some light drizzle briefly during our drive from Tainan to Taipei — many trip reports tell of whole birding days lost because of rain. One big advantage of visiting in winter is that the chances of a typhoon are remote — these can cause havoc during summer months, and if one strikes during your stay, you can basically write off two or three days in the field, could have your itinerary affected by road closures caused by landslides and would be strongly advised to head for the lowlands as quickly as possible. On the other hand it was very cold most of the time we were in the mountains, especially at first light. The biggest weather problem we encountered was on the evening when we drove back from the Taroko Gorge to Wushe — the entire drive was hampered by thick fog, especially between Tienhsiang and Dayuling, and snow and ice on Hohuanshan Pass made crossing this part of the road very difficult. The weather would not have had to deteriorate much further to make this road impassable — it is often closed in winter because of snow and ice, and if that happened while you were on the eastern side, it could really mess up your itinerary.
Health, safety & annoyances
As usual, we ensured that we were up to date with the usual jabs before visiting— tetanus, polio, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, meningitis and diphtheria, but Taiwan is a very healthy country with hygiene levels comparable with Europe or North America. We only encountered mosquitoes once, at Jhushan Botanical Gardens, although these were pretty vicious, and left us all covered in bites. The biggest problem during our visit was from sunburn — we hadn’t really thought of taking sun screen with us on a winter trip, but the clear sunny days and high altitudes resulted in strong sunlight.
Taiwan is a very safe country, with low levels of crime, and we never felt remotely threatened in this respect, although I’m sure that the bigger cities have their share of petty crime. See: http://www.fco.gov.uk/ for up to date advice including information on the health and safety situation.
Books & other publications:
A field guide to the birds of Taiwan - Sen-Hsiong Wu — ISBN 9579578001. All text other than species names is in Chinese, but the illustrations and maps are both very good. Unfortunately, it is only possible to buy this book in Taiwan — fortunately for us Wayne very kindly obtained a copy for us
Field Guide to the birds of China — John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps (Published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-854940-7). The best we could find before visiting — shows all the Taiwanese species, but not the local subspecies, so this needs to be borne in mind. Also a bit of a pain having to hunt for a relatively small number of Taiwanese species among c. 1,200 birds. We didn’t take it with us in the end, as Wayne had got the above book for us, but it was handy for reading up before travelling
A birder’s guide to Taiwan — Dave Sargeant — very useful, especially the maps
Where to watch birds in Asia — Nigel Wheatley. (Published by Helm, ISBN 0-7136-4303-X). Good background info, which formed the basis of planning the trip, but strangely doesn’t mention Anmashan at all.
Taiwan — Storey. (Lonely Planet, ISBN 0-86442-228-8)
http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/9003/birding.htm - outstanding website on birding in Taiwan run by Wayne Hsu. Includes detailed annotated checklist for Taiwan, info on birding sites, downloadable bird calls and songs and a number of trip reports — make this your first port of call
Birds of Tropical Asia v 2.0 — CD-ROM by Jelle Scharringa. Obtainable from Bird Songs International — firstname.lastname@example.org
Taiwan — Oct 2004 — David Fischer
Taiwan — 1.11.04 — 8.11.04 — Simon Tonge
Taiwan — 2.12.03 — 7.12.03 — Gary Babic
Taiwan — 26.10.01 — 5.11.01 — Peter Collaerts
Taiwan — 19.2.01 — 1.3.01 — Garry George
Taiwan — 30.1.03 — 4.2.03 — Jon Hornbuckle
Taiwan — 12.11.03 — 21.11.03 - Ted Floyd
Taiwan — 5.10.00 — 8.10.00 — Graham Talbot
Taiwan — 9.3.01 — 12.3.01 — Graham Talbot
Taiwan — 27.7.01 — 30.7.01 — Graham Talbot
Taiwan — 15.4.99 — 28.4.99 — Barry Wright
Taiwan — 22.5.01 — 18.6.01 — Wayne Hsu
Nelles Map — Taiwan — 1:400,000. Good as far as it went, but a little out of date — a brand new highway (Highway 3) has, for example, been built down the west side of the island, parallel to and inland from Highway 1, but isn’t shown on this map.
Sites visited were as follows (alternative site names and spellings in italics in brackets):
Arrived at Taipei CKS airport, met Clive, Eleanor and Wayne, collected hire car and drove to Anmashan
a.m. Anmashan (Dasyueshan Forest Recreation Area, Ta-hsueh-shan), p.m. Guguan (Kukuan) and entrance road to Pahsienshan. Evening drive to Wushe (Jenai, Renai)
a.m. Peitungyenshan (Bedongyuanshan, Bei Dong Yen), p.m. lowland sites around Wushe - Wanta (Wanda) Dam area
Early a.m. Reiyenhsi (Blue Gate and Continuation / Pipeline trails). Rest of day Hohuanshan (Hehuanshan), and down to Tienhsiang and Taroko Gorge. Evening drive back to Wushe
a.m. around hotel in Wushe, then Peitungyenshan, p.m. drive to Jhushan (Chushan) then on to Alishan
All day Yushan N.P.
Early a.m. Yushan N.P. Rest of day drive to Chiku (Chigu, Cigu, Sigu) to visit the Tsengwen (Zengwun) River Estuary, then up to Yangmingshan
a.m. Guandu (Kuandu), p.m. drive to airport for flight to Seoul
Details of these sites are given in the Daily Account section.
Saturday 15 January 2005
Sara and I arrived in Taipei on time after a long flight, and were immediately met by Clive and Eleanor who had arrived a day earlier. We soon met up with Wayne Hsu, sorted out the hire car with VIP Car Rental, and hit the road. We drove south on the expressway to Dongshih, then followed the minor road up towards Anmashan. We stopped at a cluster of buildings at c. km 15, one of which proved to be a guesthouse, where we crashed for the night.
Many birders seem to have had difficulty finding their way through Dongshih to Anmashan so, with assistance from Wayne Hsu, here are up to date directions on how to get there. From Taipei take Freeway 1 south, then go east on Freeway 4 to the end of the road. From here, take Route 3 to Dongshih, and after the bridge turn right onto Route 8, the old Central Cross-island Highway, towards Guguan.
Keep your eye open for a McDonalds on the left hand side, with a small dirt car park on its left hand side - you will then know that you are on the right road. Continue further along this road, looking out for a 7Eleven shop on a junction on the right hand side. Just before the shop, there is a turn-off to your left which angles sharply back from the main road. Right on this corner, on your left hand side, there is a pillar-like monument, maybe 15 feet tall, with a blue shield bearing the words "China Trust" on it. Turn left here, and look for a junction to the right about 50 metres further. This is marked by a green road sign, and is opposite a store with a green "Clarks" shoes sign. This is the road to Anmashan.
Sunday 16 January 2005
Anmashan had been closed for some time after a landslide swept away a section of the road at km 32.5, but the recent construction of a walkway across the landslide area meant that pedestrian access was now possible. In particular, it was now possible to get to Road 210, at km 35, although we would need to get there by dawn for the best chance of finding Mikado Pheasant.
We therefore made an early start, driving as far as km 32.5 where we parked the car, keeping it well back from construction traffic. We crossed the walkway and walked the 2.5 km from here to the park entrance in near-darkness. As it started getting light we enjoyed our first views of the many COLLARED BUSH-ROBINS we would see at this site. One bird, seen early on the walk when the light was still poor, looked different, and we were fairly sure that it was a WHITE-BROWED BUSH-ROBIN — when we eventually saw one well later in the trip, we became even more certain that our initial identification was correct.
Just as we arrived at the park entrance, a female SWINHOE’S PHEASANT flushed from behind the building, and was seen well as it crossed an area of open ground and disappeared into the trees — getting such a key bird so early in the trip was a huge bonus! Also in this area was an ORANGE-FLANKED BLUETAIL.
The park had not been officially re-opened, so we walked quickly through in case we were challenged, and just around the first corner, turned left onto Road 210 and started our quest for Mikado Pheasant. The first bird seen on this walk was a PYGMY WREN-BABBLER, which gave only fleeting views, but called well. Just then Wayne spotted a pheasant running up a thinly wooded slope on the right of the trail — not a Mikado Pheasant but a cracking male SWINHOE’S PHEASANT. It stayed around for a couple of minutes and showed very well before vanishing into the trees.
As we continued along the trail, we started to get to grips with the commoner birds of these upland forests — GREY-CHEEKED FULVETTA, FORMOSAN YUHINA, BLACK-THROATED TIT, RUFOUS-FACED WARBLER and STEERE’S LIOCICHLA. We continued for about 3 km along this trail until we had run out of good Mikado habitat, before turning around.
A few YELLOWISH-BELLIED BUSH-WARBLERS were calling from the undergrowth and on the return walk one bird finally perched up briefly, before flitting across the path. An ASHY WOOD-PIGEON perched up well for us, and a EURASIAN NUTHATCH was seen, looking very different from the birds we see in the UK.
We arrived back at the road without seeing Mikado Pheasant, which wasn’t a big surprise, as Wayne had warned us that this species had become harder to see at Anmashan recently. We turned left and walked some way up the road, getting as far as km 37.5 before turning back. The lack of both traffic and other people made the birding very pleasant, and we enjoyed our first views of WHITE-EARED SIBIA, FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER, GREY-CHINNED MINIVET, GREEN-BACKED TIT and RUFOUS-CAPPED BABBLER on this walk, as well as the local race of EURASIAN JAY and better views of RUFOUS-FACED WARBLER.
Arriving back at the entrance gate area, we ran into a group of local birders on a field trip, and they kindly put us onto a flock of FORMOSAN BARWINGS behind the toilet block. From here we walked the 2.5 km back to the landslide area, seeing nothing new on the way. On arriving back at this area, the sheer scale of the damage here became apparent — I had naively expected some superficial damage, but the entire mountainside had slid away over a section perhaps 200 metres wide, leaving a virtually sheer wall of rock behind. Just constructing a walkway across this area seemed like a major achievement, and it was difficult to imagine how this road could ever be restored.
Having returned to the car a little tired after a 16 km walk, we drove back down to km 23.5, where a large wooden viewing platform had been constructed next to a large fruiting tree. This tree had been attracting Island Thrushes in recent weeks, and the large crowd of photographers gathered there confirmed that a male and three females had been there just 20 minutes previously.
While we waited anxiously for the thrushes to make a return appearance, we enjoyed the sheer spectacle of hundreds of birds flying into and around this tree — one tree held over a dozen VIVID NILTAVAS, while flocks of WHITE-EARED SIBIAS and FORMOSAN YUHINAS exceeded 100 and 50 individuals respectively, and at least half a dozen BLACK-BROWED BARBETS were also seen.
Eventually, after waiting for maybe 30 minutes, a superb male ISLAND THRUSH flew in and started feeding on fruit — well worth the wait. Satisfied with a very good morning’s birding, and an impressive start on our list of target birds, we returned to our guest house to check out, and drove down to Dongshih for lunch, stopping just once on the way for views of ASIAN HOUSE-MARTIN and BLACK DRONGO.
From Dongshih we drove eastwards on the old central cross-island highway as far as Guguan. This road previously continued to Lishan and on to the Taroko Gorge and the east coast north of Hualien, but after being closed for several years, a further major landslide last year has again closed the road a few kilometres east of Guguan, and it now seems very unlikely that it will ever open again.
Wayne knew of a good site in Guguan town where Formosan Magpie might be found. To get here, follow Route 8 past the tourist area of Guguan and turn left down a steep road that crosses the river and up the other side. The road leads right to a hotel called the Wenshan Hotel, on a small plateau overlooking the town, although I don’t think it has an English sign. In front of the hotel is a small park where the magpies apparently nest, but a walk around here produced only PLUMBEOUS WATER-REDSTART and a flock of JAPANESE WHITE-EYES.
We followed the road past the hotel for perhaps 100 metres, to where we could scan the wooded hillside above us, and Wayne heard a VARIED TIT singing. Before long we had found the bird perched on the top of a tall tree, and while we were watching this, Wayne noticed two FORMOSAN MAGPIES fly up to the top of a tall tree on the horizon. Tickable views, certainly, but very distant and the light was poor, so not quite the magpie experience we’d hoped for.
We returned down to the town, and across the bridge up to the highway, and just as we reached the junction a FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH jumped up onto a concrete post right next to the car, before dropping back down. Very brief views, but at point blank range!
We turned left and drove as far as we could before reaching the end of the road, where we parked and walked around for a while. We heard DUSKY FULVETTA calling but couldn’t see the birds, adding only GREY TREEPIE, BRONZED DRONGO, SPOTTED DOVE and HOUSE SWIFT, as well as more WHITE-EARED SIBIAS.
We returned the way we had come, stopping at a 7Eleven for some food, and views of CHINESE BULBUL and BROWN SHRIKE, then continued to the turning for Pahsienshan Forest Recreation Area. The entrance road wound up along an almost dry riverbed, and we had only travelled a short distance before Wayne called that he had seen a FORMOSAN MAGPIE. We piled out of the car, and sure enough a flock of these cracking birds were feeding in the streambed. They flew up into nearby trees and bushes, and gave superb views for about 5 minutes at very close range — much more satisfying!
We also saw COMMON KINGFISHER and GREY WAGTAIL here, and if it wasn’t for the magpies I might have thought that I was back home in Wales! Having seen the magpies, and with it being late afternoon, we decided not to pay the entrance fee to enter the park. We also decided to abandon our original plan of staying tonight at Huisun Forest, a good magpie spot, and opted instead to press on to Wushe.
A couple of hours later we arrived at the town, and having bought some supplies, continued along the road out of town towards Hohuanshan. At km 4, on a bend to the right, Wayne pointed out the turn-off to the left towards Lishan that would tomorrow take us to Peitungyenshan — a few hundred metres further along, around km 5, we saw a hotel on the right, and decided to stop here for the night.
This proved to be a very nice place, with very comfortable rooms and extremely friendly and hospitable owners, and I would recommend it strongly to visiting birders. It is the first hotel you will see after you pass the Peitungyenshan turning, and has a parking area in front of it. The name sign was in Mandarin, but a sign outside read "Outdoor Café" in English.
Anmashan — Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Black-browed Barbet, h Mountain Scops-Owl, h Collared Owlet, Ashy Wood-Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, h Eurasian Nutcracker, Grey-chinned Minivet, Black Drongo, Island Thrush, h Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Vivid Niltava, Orange-flanked Bluetail, White-browed Bush-Robin, Collared Bush-Robin, Eurasian Nuthatch, Green-backed Tit, Black-throated Tit, Asian House-Martin, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, Rufous-faced Warbler, Steere’s Liocichla, h Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Formosan Barwing, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, White-eared Sibia, Formosan Yuhina, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Guguan — House Swift, Spotted Dove, Brown Shrike, Formosan Magpie, Grey Treepie, Bronzed Drongo, Formosan Whistling-Thrush, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Varied Tit, Chinese Bulbul, Japanese White-eye, h Dusky Fulvetta, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, White-eared Sibia, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Pahsienshan — Common Kingfisher, Formosan Magpie, h Black Bulbul, Grey Wagtail
Monday 17 January 2005
Our destination this morning was Peitungyenshan. To reach this site, turn off the Wushe — Hohuanshan road at km 4, to the left towards Lishan. After 7 — 8 km, there is a narrow paved road to your left (where the road bends to the right), marked by a green sign with Mandarin writing. 2 km along this road it is blocked by a gate — there is room for perhaps 2 cars on the left just before the gate, but don’t block the road as it is used regularly by farm traffic. From here you can continue walking along this road which climbs steadily for c. 5 km through good forest.
Dawn saw us driving along this road, seeing FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH along the way, before arriving at the gate in the hope of finding a Taiwan Partridge, which are often found in this area at first light. However, despite hearing something rustling away in the undergrowth, we couldn’t see anything.
We started walking along the road, hard work as we were still aching from yesterday’s walk, and soon disturbed a flock of 3 SWINHOE’S PHEASANTS, which wandered off into the undergrowth. Two of the birds were females, but the third looked like an immature male. WHITE-TAILED ROBIN was seen along this road, and before long we found our first YELLOW TITS — Wayne had been surprised that we hadn’t seen this species along the road at Anmashan, and as a few other birders seem to have struggled with this species, it was one I had been worried about, but they seemed quite common at this site at least.
Birding was, however, a little slow along this walk — WHITE-EARED SIBIA, EURASIAN JAY and BLACK-BROWED BARBET were common, and BLUE SHORTWING, WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER and TAIWAN PARTRIDGE were all heard, but otherwise birds were few and far between. A White’s Thrush flushed behind me, seen by Clive and Eleanor, but unfortunately I missed it.
Eventually, after a 5 km walk, we arrived at a farm area, where we saw STEERE’S LIOCICHLA, and got superb views of YELLOWISH-BELLIED BUSH-WARBLER feeding like a Phylloscopus warbler. A WHITE-BELLIED GREEN-PIGEON was perched in a tree overhead, and CHINESE BAMBOO PARTRIDGE were heard calling.
Having rested a little, we started walking slowly back down birding as we went. GREY-CHEEKED FULVETTA, COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN, GREEN-BACKED TIT and BLACK-THROATED TIT were seen, and SPOT-BREASTED SCIMITAR-BABBLER, PYGMY WREN-BABBLER and BROWN BULLFINCH were all heard, before we got good views of a WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER feeding on a horizontal branch.
WHITE-BELLIED YUHINA and GREY-CAPPED PYGMY WOODPECKER were new for the trip, and WHITE-TAILED ROBIN, YELLOW TIT, BLACK-THROATED TIT, NUTHATCH and EURASIAN JAY were again recorded before we found a GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER to complete a clean sweep of Taiwan’s woodpeckers for the morning.
This was quickly followed by the morning’s second WHITE’S THRUSH, but this time I got great views of it as it flapped off into the trees. Back at the entrance gate, we returned to the hotel for lunch, seeing PACIFIC SWALLOW and CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE along the 8km stretch back to the main road.
After lunch, we decided to do some lowland birding, and headed for the area around Wanta Reservoir. We passed a junction where the road to the left headed for Aowanda and parked a little further along on the left hand side. From here we walked into an area of small fields and allotments, finding CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE, PACIFIC SWALLOW and PLAIN PRINIA.
Some trees around a small pond held a large flock of CHINESE BULBULS, and among these we found a few COLLARED FINCHBILLS. A BROWN-THROATED SAND-MARTIN hawked over the fields, and several WHIITE WAGTAILS also flew over. A raptor was found perched in a tree, and was eventually identified as a CRESTED GOSHAWK, and a pair of WHITE-BELLIED GREEN-PIGEONS flew overhead. Finally, back at the car, a large flock of FORMOSAN YUHINAS were found feeding in low bushes.
From here we took the entrance road towards Aowanda (Ao-wen-da, Ou-wan-ta) Forest Recreation Area, again finding FORMOSAN YUHINAS en route, as well as BLACK BULBUL, JAPANESE CROW and GREY-CHEEKED FULVETTA. Just before we arrived at the entrance gate, we crossed a small concrete-banked stream, and pulled over for a quick look. Good decision, as we immediately found a LITTLE FORKTAIL feeding a few metres away, and it gave very good views.
We stopped at the entrance for a comfort break, but decided not to go in, due to the late hour and high entrance fees, although we enjoyed views of EURASIAN JAY, JAPANESE CROWS, GREY TREEPIES and FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKERS in this area, before heading back to our hotel.
Peitungyenshan — h Taiwan Partridge, h Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Black-browed Barbet, White-bellied Green-Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Formosan Whistling-Thrush, White’s Thrush, h Blue Shortwing, Collared Bush-Robin, White-tailed Robin, Eurasian Nuthatch, Green-backed Tit, Yellow Tit, Black-throated Tit, Pacific Swallow, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, Steere’s Liocichla, h Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, h Pygmy Wren-Babbler, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, White-eared Sibia, White-bellied Yuhina, h Brown Bullfinch
Wushe — Crested Serpent-Eagle
Wanta Dam — House Swift, Spotted Dove, White-bellied Green-Pigeon, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Common Cattle-Egret, Japanese Crow, Brown-throated Sand-Martin, Pacific Swallow, Collared Finchbill, Chinese Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Plain Prinia, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Formosan Yuhina, White Wagtail
Aowanda — h Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Eurasian Jay, Grey Treepie, Japanese Crow, Little Forktail, h Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Tuesday 18 January 2005
We started this morning birding the famous Reiyenhsi reserve, generally referred to by Western birders as the Blue Gate / Continuation (Pipeline) trails. We took the main road up to Tsuifeng, turning left at the police station at c. km 18. We followed this narrow road downhill for c. 1 km, before pulling into a small parking area on the right just after a sharp left hand bend.
There is a large board with a picture of a Mikado Pheasant in front of you, the "Continuation Trail" leads out of the right hand side of this parking area, while the "Blue Gate Trail" can be found by going back out of the entrance and crossing the road. This road down from Tsuifeng continues until it meets the road from Wushe to Lishan (from which Peitungyenshan is accessed), but it is apparently very poor quality, and much damaged by earthquakes and landslides.
We got here early again and started out along the Continuation Trail in the hope of finding a Mikado Pheasant. This trail has been severed after 1.5 km by another massive landslide, with most of the best Mikado habitat inaccessible on the other side, although this species had been seen recently at around 1 km and 1.5 km from the parking area.
The Mikados apart, other birders have reported that this trail is also among the best for Taiwanese endemics but, unfortunately, we were far less successful, with the birding very quiet indeed during our walk. Along the Continuation Trail we found a few COLLARED BUSH-ROBINS, a single WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH and some FORMOSAN BARWINGS and STEERE’S LIOCICHLAS, as well as a male SWINHOE’S PHEASANT, but little else, and certainly no Mikado Pheasants.
The highlight was probably a huge flock of ASHY WOOD-PIGEONS, probably around 100 birds in all, apparently picking up grit along the side of the trail. A walk along the Blue Gate Trail, almost as far as the end of the trail, and then back to the parking area was even more disappointing, producing only WHITE-EARED SIBIAS and EURASIAN JAYS as well as some of the commoner species seen already this morning.
Somewhat disappointed, but relieved that we had already seen most of our target species elsewhere, we arrived back at the car by 10:00, and started our drive up to Hohuanshan. We stopped at all the rest areas along the way, most of which were productive. The first rest stop, Yuanfeng produced excellent views of a FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH, quite unusual at this altitude, as well as a small flock of GREY-HEADED BULLFINCHES.
It was much colder by the time we had climbed up to the next stop at Kunyang, where we enjoyed watching the extremely confiding WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSHES around the car park, and a good flock of STREAK-THROATED FULVETTAS around a rubbish dump near the toilet block. Also here was a NORTHERN WREN.
The next stop was at Wuling, at the top of the pass, where there was plenty of snow and ice to enthral the many tourists, and we eventually enjoyed extreme close-up views of half a dozen ALPINE ACCENTORS at this spot — a few biscuit crumbs attracted one bird as near as 1 metre away.
There was also a lot of snow at the next stop at Hehuan Mountain, but no birds here, so we pressed on down the eastern side of the pass to the next stop, called Siaofongkou, which was empty of tourists. I had been getting worried about our lack of success in finding FLAMECREST, but we soon found a good-sized flock among the stunted pines here, mixed in with larger numbers of COAL TITS.
A little further along we came across a restaurant on a bend on the right hand side of the road, and stopped for lunch. While waiting for our food, we scanned the gardens from the veranda, finding a few BLACK-FACED BUNTINGS and COLLARED BUSH-ROBINS, while both ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVES and ASHY WOOD-PIGEONS flew over. After lunch we continued on the long drive towards Taroko Gorge. A brief roadside stop produced an EURASIAN KESTREL and extremely distant views of a NUTCRACKER, and having joined the old cross-island highway at Dayuling (Tayuling) and turned right, a further stop in the village of Guanyuan produced GREY-CAPPED PYGMY-WOODPECKER, GREEN-BACKED TIT, COAL TIT, VIVID NILTAVA and FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER.
By now we were starting to get very worried about the time — the main birding reason to come this far east was to find Styan’s Bulbul, and it was already mid-afternoon with still some distance to travel to get us into range of these birds. Just one more very brief roadside stop at the village of Shenmu, therefore, for STEERE’S LIOCICHLA, FORMOSAN BARWING and YELLOW TIT, and we pressed on to the town of Tienhsiang, the nearest area to Wushe and the main birding sites in central Taiwan where Styan’s can be found.
By the time we got here it was 16:00, with just a little over an hour of daylight left. We first visited a spot that Wayne has found good for the bulbuls, but no luck at all. Next, we drove into the town, parking in the car park on the right just before the road crossed over the river. The trees between the car park and the road are apparently often full of bulbuls in the morning, but there wasn’t a bird in sight when we got here. We wandered around for a while, finding PLUMBEOUS WATER-REDSTART, WHITE WAGTAIL, GREY WAGTAIL and ASIAN HOUSE-MARTIN, before I heard some calls coming from behind me, and found a mixed flock of bulbuls. Most birds seemed to be Chinese x Styan’s hybrids, but at least 2 birds were seen which looked like pure STYAN’S BULBULS.
Many reports confirm quite correctly that there is extensive hybridisation in this part of the Styan’s range, and also indicate that hybrids do not show evidence of their mixed origins until two or three generations have elapsed. There is therefore some suggestion that this may not be the best place to add Styan’s Bulbul to your list, and that it would be better to continue deeper into their range in order to find purer birds.
However, Wayne Hsu (pers comm) informs me that nowhere within the Styan’s range are hybrids now absent. Clearly, the two species are very closely related, and there must be some doubt as to whether Styan’s is even a valid species. Interestingly, the Chinese Bulbuls found in Taiwan are also an endemic subspecies — the theory seems to be that Chinese Bulbuls originally colonised Taiwan, and evolved into Styan’s Bulbuls.
Subsequently a second wave of bulbuls invaded the island, displaced the Styan’s from the western part of the island and evolved into a separate subspecies, but were kept apart from the Styan’s in the east by the high mountains. The construction of roads across these mountains is believed to have provided a conduit for Chinese Bulbuls to cross-over into the east, where they now both outcompete and extensively hybridise with Styan’s.
Sadly, it seems that unless urgent action is taken, this species may well soon be hybridised out of existence — a very similar situation to that seen with Black-eared Miner in southern Australia which has virtually disappeared through hybridisation with the more dominant Yellow-throated Miner, and with both Madagascar Little Grebe and Alaotra Grebe in Madagascar, both critically threatened by Little Grebe, and in the case of Alaotra Grebe, possibly already extinct.
We watched the bulbuls for perhaps a minute, just enough time to confirm the identification features, before they flew off and could not be relocated. We also failed to find any more of these, and so must feel lucky to have found this bird at all. We just had enough time to drive down through the stunning Taroko Gorge, and appreciate this spectacular sight, before the light faded and we started on the long drive back to Wushe.
Clive was driving, and I soon fell asleep in the back, waking up two hours later expecting to be nearing the hotel. To my dismay, we had not even reached Dayuling — the temperature had plummeted and the fog was so thick we could barely see the front of the car, reducing our speed to a crawl. I took over from Clive for the final spell, and started the ascent up to Hohuanshan.
Thankfully, as we climbed the fog thinned somewhat, but a further hazard awaited us as we approached the summit, as ice had formed on a steep stretch bringing traffic to a standstill. The road was blocked by stranded trucks, but we eventually managed to find a way around them and, on our second attempt, managed to get up the icy hill — pretty scary, as we had to just accelerate hard to get past the ice, without being able to see what was in front of us because of the fog.
We continued over the top of the pass, and down the other side, hampered by snow, ice and fog before eventually arriving back at our hotel at 21:00, 4 hours after leaving the Taroko Gorge, and very thankful to be back. Had we been unable to get over the pass, as seemed likely at one point, I am not sure what we would have done. It might have been possible to continue along the old cross-island highway from Dayuling to Lishan, and then taken the minor road from there to Wushe, past the entrance to Peitungyenshan. However, I have no information about the state of that road, or whether it too might have been affected by ice. The alternative would have been to stay overnight on the east side and attempt to get over in the morning.
Tienhsiang — Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Asian House-Martin, Chinese Bulbul, Styan’s Bulbul, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail
Wednesday 19 January 2005
Our original plan had been to spend the majority of our time in the Wushe area. However, we had now seen most of the endemics and specialities with the one glaring exception of Mikado Pheasant, which seemed to be difficult in this area. Wayne had, however, heard good recent reports of this bird being seen in Yushan National Park to the south, so we decided to relocate down there this morning.
Before then, however, there was time for some more local birding. Clive and I started off around the hotel, where we enjoyed good views of SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT, DAURIAN REDSTART, FORMOSAN YUHINA and PALE THRUSH, before we heard some CHINESE BAMBOO-PARTRIDGES calling from down the hill. We trotted down a narrow road that descended from near the hotel and were lucky to be rewarded with a couple of these birds. The first dashed across the road, but the second stood on the roadside calling for perhaps 5 minutes or more, and gave superb views from 50 metres away.
We were now joined by Wayne, and set off for Peitungyenshan for one last attempt at Taiwan Partridge. We saw COLLARED FINCHBILL, FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH and GREY WAGTAIL en route, and after parking by the gate and walking we saw STEERE’S LIOCICHLA and WHITE-TAILED ROBIN, before hearing a TAIWAN PARTRIDGE calling from quite near the road. It was answered by at least two other birds calling from further away, but refused to come into view, and we reluctantly moved on.
We added GREEN-BACKED TIT and BLACK-BROWED BARBET, before hearing some birds rustling around in bamboo very near the road. We tracked the birds’ movements until one started calling, confirming that they were TAIWAN PARTRIDGES, but seeing them was a totally different matter, even though they were no more than five metres away. Eventually first Wayne then I got the briefest of glimpses of one of these birds, before they moved further away. It had taken over 30 minutes to get this brief glimpse, but sometimes you have to take whatever you can get!
Blue Shortwing was heard calling a few times from down the slope below us, but couldn’t be seen. There seemed to be more bird activity this morning than two days ago, and we soon saw GREY-CHINNED MINIVET, FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER, WHITE-EARED SIBIA, BLACK-THROATED TIT and YELLOW TIT, before it was time to return to the hotel.
Back on the Lishan road, we had one further stop to watch a CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE, where we also added CRESTED GOSHAWK, DAURIAN REDSTART, JAPANESE CROW, GREEN-BACKED TIT, WHITE-EARED SIBIA and STEERE’S LIOCICHLA, as well as a large flock of COLLARED FINCHBILLS.
We arrived back at the hotel, collected Sara and Eleanor and checked out before starting the long drive south through Puli and around Sun Moon Lake, before heading west through Jiji to the town of Jhushan. The Tropical Botanical Gardens in this town currently have a resident Malayan Night-Heron, and a Forest Wagtail, a rare vagrant to Taiwan and a Taiwanese first for Wayne, was also present. Clive and Eleanor had already seen the heron at Taipei Botanical Gardens, and I had intended visiting there on our last morning, but if I could see it here, it would make the end of the trip much less complicated!
We found the gardens, and wandered around for a while, seeing many BLACK BULBULS and a few STRIATED SWALLOWS, before Wayne stumbled across the FOREST WAGTAIL at the far end of the gardens. We watched it for a while, before I wandered off to try to find the heron. I searched for a while without success, before arriving back at the entrance. As I set off for another circuit of the gardens, Wayne called over from behind the information centre just inside the entrance. We walked over to him, and there, just 20 metres in front of him, was a superb immature MALAYAN NIGHT-HERON! It proved to be a very confiding bird, and gave great views at short range until we eventually decided to leave it alone and press on for Alishan.
We drove along the expressway for a while, then turned inland for the last winding 1.5 hour long climb up into the mountains, arriving at Alishan long after it had got dark. We found our way down to the hotel area, and selected the hotel nearest the entrance (I believe it was called the Shenmu Hotel, although there is no English sign), which proved a good choice and a very comfortable base for the next two nights.
This was a rather strange set-up — all the hotels and restaurants were set inside the Alishan Forest Recreation Area complex, and couldn’t be accessed unless you paid a park entrance fee (a total of TWD 950 — GBP 17), which was a little annoying. The entrance fee entitles you to a 24 hour visit - if you wish to leave the area temporarily, e.g. to go out on a birding trip, get them to date stamp your tickets when you leave, or you’ll have to pay again when you return!
Wushe — Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Pale Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Daurian Redstart, Formosan Yuhina, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Peitungyenshan — Taiwan Partridge, Black-browed Barbet, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Japanese Crow, Grey-chinned Minivet, Formosan Whistling-Thrush, h Blue Shortwing, Daurian Redstart, White-tailed Robin, Green-backed Tit, Yellow Tit, Black-throated Tit, Collared Finchbill, Chinese Bulbul, Steere’s Liocichla, White-eared Sibia, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Grey Wagtail
Jhushan — Malayan Night-Heron, Striated Swallow, Black Bulbul, Forest Wagtail
Thursday 20 January 2005
Our main target this morning was Mikado Pheasant, which is often found feeding at the side of the road at dawn in Yushan National Park. We therefore followed Route 18 east from Alishan into the national park, starting to scan the sides of the road at around km 83 — the pheasants are often found on the flat areas right by the roadside, or on grassy slopes above the road, marking the sites of old landslides.
Our first sweep along this section of road was unsuccessful for pheasants, although PALE THRUSH, ASHY WOOD-PIGEON and BLACK BULBUL were seen. We reached the visitor centre area at Tatachia (Tataka, Tatajia), and turned around for a return sweep. A flock of VINACEOUS ROSEFINCHES were seen near km 87, but unfortunately they didn't stay around long enough to give us prolonged views — a shame, as we failed to find any more of these birds here, and had previously dipped at Hohuanshan.
A little further along, at km 86.5, we spotted a WHITE’S THRUSH on the ground at the side of the road. We stopped for a look, and then Clive noticed a pheasant creeping away up the slope below some bushes — a female MIKADO PHEASANT just 10 metres away! Elated we continued to km 83, then turned around again.
No further views of pheasants so we proceeded back up to Tatachia, where the road numbering changes to Route 21. Tatachia represents the end points of both these routes, and so the km marker posts also reach a maximum here (c. km 90 on Route 18 and c. km 150 on Route 21), and descend in numbers in both directions away from here, which is a little confusing.
We continued past Tatachia on Route 21, seeing WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH, ALPINE ACCENTOR, JAPANESE CROW, COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN and STEERE’S LIOCICHLA, eventually reaching km 140, with no more pheasant sightings. Again, we turned around and drove back towards Tatachia, and got as far as km 145 when Eleanor and Wayne, on the right hand side of the car spotted a male MIKADO PHEASANT just in the process of disappearing into roadside vegetation. They both saw it well, Clive who was driving saw it briefly, and I, on the other side of the car, didn’t see it at all — very annoying!
We waited for a while, but it didn’t reappear, so we drove a little further, but at km 147.5 came to a halt as 3 more female MIKADO PHEASANTS were seen on the grassy roadside. We drove past them, and turned around, just in time to see them vanish into the scrub. Again, we parked up and waited, and this time got our reward — just a few minutes later something startled them and they flushed from cover. One flew up and away, but the other two landed in plain view — one perched in a small tree and the other landed right at the side of the road, both directly opposite where we were parked! We enjoyed unbelievable views of these outstanding birds for about 15 minutes, before they eventually decided to drop back down into cover and disappeared — fabulous birding.
We also saw STREAK-THROATED FULVETTA and YELLOWISH-BELLIED BUSH-WARBLER in this area, before returning to Tatachia. We drove about 1 km beyond the visitor centre, and parked in the large car park on the right — I think the area is called Santungpu. We took the tarred road that leads steeply uphill on the right hand side of the main road (as you approach Tatachia). After a short steep climb, the road reaches a T-junction with a famous ancient hemlock tree — we turned right here along the road signposted Lu-Lin Villa Road.
We were hoping to find White-browed Bush-Robin along here but for now we would have to be happy with excellent views of FORMOSAN BARWING. After perhaps a couple of kilometres (maybe a little less), a short narrow side-trail led off the road to the left, to an area with benches overlooking a very scenic valley — we sat down here for a break, and were immediately rewarded with great views of EURASIAN NUTCRACKER, one of which fed on the ground right in front of us. To my eyes, they looked very different from the birds I’ve seen in Europe, being less flecked with white overall, but with almost all white faces.
We returned down the road to the hemlock, enjoying fantastic views of a flock of FLAMECRESTS, a few of which seemed to be displaying — these really are top quality birds. We also saw WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH and EURASIAN NUTHATCH along here, with more FLAMECRESTS, FORMOSAN BARWINGS and EURASIAN NUTHATCHES in the hemlock itself.
From here we took the left hand fork for a short distance, and soon got lucky when Wayne first heard then found a large flock of GOLDEN PARROTBILLS in a patch of bamboo below us. The birds came flooding up the slope, right past us and across the road, and gave unbeatable views along the way — not as easy bird at all to find, and we were really lucky to get such great views.
We soon came out of good woodland into an area that had previously been burnt, and where then woodland had been replaced with scrub, and so we returned to the car via the visitor centre, hoping for more Rosefinches, but had to settle for more NUTCRACKERS, ORANGE-FLANKED BLUETAIL and COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN. We returned back to Alishan to meet up with Sara, have some lunch, and rest for a while.
Mid-afternoon, we decided on a return visit to Yushan N.P. for another attempt at White-browed Bush-Robin, but as we were loading the car, Wayne heard a Pygmy Wren-Babbler calling from nearby. We were standing at the side of the road looking down the slope, when we suddenly felt the ground moving up and down beneath us — an earthquake! Wayne later checked it out, and confirmed that an earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter Scale had hit, with its epicentre very near Alishan. A strange and interesting experience.
We returned up to Yushan N.P., where Sara enjoyed her first views of the spectacular mountain scenery. Arriving at Tatachia, we scanned the car park for a while in the hope of finding Vinaceous Rosefinches but instead saw only WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSHES, COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN and a great little flock of STREAK-THROATED FULVETTAS — the latter birds were feeding along the edge of the concrete, and one bird practically walked over our shoes in its search for small insects.
From here we decided to walk down the now abandoned Shenmu Road, a rough forestry track blocked after only a few hundred metres by yet another landslide, but which is often good for birds. The walk down didn’t produce much, but on the way back we finally came across a nice WHITE-BROWED BUSH-ROBIN. This species is often more shy than the Collareds, but this bird was very confiding, hopping along the path in front of us for some time, at a range down to perhaps 5 metres. Having seen it well, we were all fairly certain that this was what we’d seen at Anmashan, but we nevertheless very grateful for these much better views.
We waited around until after dark, then drove along Routes 21 and 18 in the hope of finding a Tawny Owl, which would be a lifer for Wayne. After about 30 minutes, a large owl flushed from a roadside tree, but unfortunately flew across the road and disappeared, not to be relocated. It was probably a Tawny Owl, but the views weren't good enough to be certain, which was a shame. We also tried calling in Mountain Scops-Owl at a patch of forest near Alishan, but again with no success, so we eventually gave up and returned to the hotel.
Yushan N.P. — Mikado Pheasant, Ashy Wood-Pigeon, Eurasian Nutcracker, Japanese Crow, White’s Thrush, Pale Thrush, Orange-flanked Bluetail, White-browed Bush-Robin, Collared Bush-Robin, Eurasian Nuthatch, h Coal Tit, Flamecrest, Black Bulbul, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Steere’s Liocichla, Formosan Barwing, Streak-throated Fulvetta, Golden Parrotbill, Alpine Accentor, Vinaceous Rosefinch
Friday 21 January 2005
Today would be a very long travelling day, but we had enough time for a short return visit to Yushan N.P. in the hope of more Mikado Pheasants. Sara and Eleanor elected for a lie-in, so Wayne, Clive and I set off alone before dawn. The girls’ judgement proved to be correct — no pheasants at all this morning, and the only new bird added for the trip was OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT, although it was nice to get additional views of GREY-HEADED BULLFINCHES. We got back to the hotel by 09:00, (having talked our way back into the complex despite our date stamp being out of date), checked out, and drove down to Tainan County (3 hours), stopping just once on the way for a BLACK EAGLE near the village of Longtou. We arrived at Tainan late morning, and found our way to the famous Tsengwen (Zengwun) River Estuary — this was tricky at first, until we saw the first road sign for the reserve (white writing on dark background), from which it was a simple matter of following the signs. Please note that the Taiwanese refer to the whole area in which the Tsengwen Estuary is situated as Chiku, although the spelling of this place varies hugely (Chigu, Cigu, Sigu etc). This is an excellent area for birding, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it justice. Fortunately, we had only one target bird, BLACK-FACED SPOONBILL, and these proved very easy to find. We drove past the visitor centre to the first hide, walked in, and immediately saw a flock of c. 250 of these birds in front of us — perhaps 20% of the world population in just one flock, with a further 45% elsewhere in Tainan County — sobering stuff! There were plenty of other birds in this area — we scanned for a while, adding KENTISH PLOVER, GREY HERON, BLACK-HEADED GULL, GREAT EGRET, CASPIAN TERN, LITTLE TERN, GULL-BILLED TERN, CURLEW SANDPIPER, MARSH SANDPIPER and BLACK-WINGED STILT.
The above map of Chiku was obtained from http://mail.tnssh.tn.edu.tw/~bfsa/www/ After enjoying the birds for a while, and buying some merchandise from the local representatives of the Wild Bird Society of Tainan, it was time to press on. We cruised the surrounding salt pans for a while, adding RED COLLARED-DOVE, GREENSHANK, DUNLIN, PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER, RUFOUS-NECKED STINT, COMMON REDSHANK and COMMON TEAL, before hunger took over, and we set off to find a restaurant. Wayne found one that looked quite promising at the side of the road, but when we went in to enquire we encountered a very unexpected snag — food wasn’t a problem, but the fact that we were required to hire one of their young ladies at the same time was something of a hitch! Needless to say we moved on! A little further along we came across a large pond behind a dyke at the side of the road, and we pulled well over and got out for a scan. We were glad we did, as in addition to the COMMON TEAL, EURASIAN WIGEON, NORTHERN SHOVELER, NORTHERN PINTAIL, PIED AVOCETS and various herons and egrets, we got excellent views of a single BLACK-FACED SPOONBILL. Not only was this much closer and in better light than the Tsengwen birds, it was very nice to find one of our own. Unfortunately, this was to be the end of our birding today, as the afternoon and evening was spent on the long drive up to Taipei. At one point we thought we might make it from Tainan to Taipei in as little as 4 hours, but then we hit heavy traffic around the airport turn-off, and then missed our junction in Taipei, requiring a diversion into the city itself, before we eventually found our way into the suburb of Yangmingshan, in the hills north of the city. We dropped Wayne off at his home in Yangmingshan, then continued up the hill to look for a hotel. The first one we tried was full, but we found room at the International Spa Hotel, which we reached at 20:00, after a long and tiring day. The hotel was nice, although a little expensive — Yangmingshan is a hot spring area, very popular with the Taiwanese, which pushes the prices up. More of an inconvenience was the all-pervading stink of sulphur, which got a little nauseating after a while, and prevented Eleanor from sleeping all night.
Yushan N.P. — Japanese Crow, Pale Thrush, Collared Bush-Robin, White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Steere’s Liocichla, Olive-backed Pipit, Grey-headed Bullfinch
Longtou — Black Eagle
Chiku — Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Common Teal, Red Collared-Dove, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Rufous-necked Stint, Dunlin, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Pacific Golden-Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Little Tern, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Common Cattle-Egret, Black-faced Spoonbill, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Saturday 22 January 2005
Our last morning in Taiwan and we opted to spend it at Guandu, north-west of Taipei. We collected Wayne from near his home, and set out on the relatively short drive to this area, arriving shortly after dawn. We drove around to the south side of the reserve, seeing BLACK DRONGO, COMMON MYNA and CHINESE BULBUL along the canals lining the road.
We started off in the south east corner of the reserve, following a short path to a large blind. In this area we added DAURIAN REDSTART, WHITE-VENTED MYNA, CRESTED MYNA, RED COLLARED-DOVE, SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA and ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE in the garden area leading up the blind.
From here we continued along the road around the reserve to the south west corner, where a short circular boardwalk leads around a patch of woodland, and skirts an area of marsh. This area produced NORTHERN SHOVELER, COMMON TEAL, YELLOW-NIBBED DUCK, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, BROWN SHRIKE, ORIENTAL GREAT REED-WARBLER, GREY HERON, PLAIN PRINIA, VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL, and a superb pair of STREAK-BREASTED SCIMITAR-BABBLERS. However, no sign, unfortunately, of the Manchurian Bush-Warblers that are often in this area, although Wayne heard a SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT here
Back near the entrance we added SPOTTED DOVE and YELLOW-BELLIED PRINIA to the list, then returned to the road, and climbed up onto the dyke to view the wetland beyond. Nothing special here, although we saw more YELLOW-NIBBED DUCK.
From here we returned eastwards, then followed the road northwards beyond the reserve area and into an area of rice paddies beyond. This is obviously a popular area with local birders as during the next few hours we saw several cars cruising up and down this road with binoculars pointing out of the window.
This area of paddies was an excellent birding spot. By parking and walking down into the paddies and following the network of low raised earth banks between fields we found BLACK-FACED BUNTING, GREAT EGRET, GREY WAGTAIL, YELLOW WAGTAIL (race taivana), CHESTNUT MUNIA, WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING, LESSER COUCAL, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and CHINESE POND-HERON.
Back on the road, we added INTERMEDIATE EGRET, GREEN SANDPIPER and WOOD SANDPIPER on the other side of the road, as well as more WHITE-CHEEKED STARLINGS. We dropped down into the fields and paddies on that side and walked around, and quickly found the first of a series of DUSKY THRUSHES. While we were enjoying views of this bird, another thrush came into view, this time a BROWN-HEADED THRUSH, and the two posed side by side for a while.
Walking further produced some JAPANESE WHITE-EYES and DAURIAN REDSTART, followed by some fly-over BLACK-COLLARED STARLINGS and more DUSKY THRUSHES. One of the Duskies didn’t look right, however, and when we got closer we saw that it was in fact a NAUMANN’S THRUSH. We ended up seeing several of each of these birds in these open fields, sometimes in the same binocular views.
We returned to the car, finding COMMON KINGFISHER and WHITE WAGTAIL in the drainage ditch in the middle of the road, and made one last visit to the circular boardwalk area, in the hope of finding the Manchurian Bush-Warblers, but no luck, adding just NORTHERN PINTAIL and EURASIAN WIGEON to our lists, before it was time to return to the hotel.
Back at Yangmingshan we dropped Wayne off with our sincere thanks for the excellent job he had done for us, returned to the hotel to check out, and made our way to the airport for our flight to Seoul in South Korea and the start of the second part of this two-country trip.
Guandu — Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Yellow-nibbed Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Common Teal, Common Kingfisher, Lesser Coucal, Oriental Turtle-Dove, Spotted Dove, Red Collared-Dove, Common Moorhen, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Chinese Pond-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Brown Shrike, Eurasian Magpie, Black Drongo, Brown-headed Thrush, Naumann’s Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Daurian Redstart, White-cheeked Starling, Black-collared Starling, Common Myna, White-vented Myna, Crested Myna, Chinese Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Plain Prinia, Japanese White-eye, Oriental Great Reed-Warbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Scaly-breasted Munia, Chestnut Munia, Black-faced Bunting.
The letter 'h' denotes that the bird was heard but not seen. Please note that many of the common birds may be under-recorded in this list — I stopped writing them down after a while!
Taiwan Partridge (Arborophila crudigularis) h Peitungyenshan 17.1, Peitungyenshan 19.1. ENDEMIC SPECIES
Chinese Bamboo-Partridge (Bambusicola thoracica) h Peitungyenshan 17.1, h Aowanda 17.1, Wushe 19.1. Endemic race sonorivox
I must admit to being very confused as to what it is going on with this species! Firstly, there seems to be some uncertainty as to whether White’s Thrush (Zoothera aurea) is a species distinct from Scaly Thrush (Zoothera dauma) — Clements (5th edition - 2004), and Clement & Hathway (Helm Thrushes guide — 2000) lumps them, whereas Howard & Moore (3rd edition) splits them.
Even if the split is accepted, there seems even more uncertainty as to which birds occur in Taiwan. MacKinnon & Phillipps (2000) and de Schauensee (1984) both state that race horsfieldi is resident, with races aurea and toratugumi wintering. Clements 5th edition (2000) states that horsfieldi occurs in Japan, confirmed by "A check-list of the birds of Okinawa prefecture with notes on recent status including hypothetical records" - Bulletin of Okinawa Prefectural Museum, Volume 22, pages 33-152, 1996 (see http://www1.accsnet.ne.jp/~ikecho/OKINAWA/Okinawa3c.html)
Clement & Hathway, however, not only split horsfieldi as a separate species, Horsfield’s Thrush, but also show it as endemic to Indonesia (which also agrees with Howard & Moore 3rd edition), and believe that the classification of Taiwanese birds (and those in Japan) as this race is an error.
Clement & Hathway also state that aurea occurs in Taiwan in winter, and believe that race toratugumi is synonymous with aurea. Things then get even more confusing. On one hand they state that "Breeding birds in … Taiwan … have previously been separated into the race affinis, but whilst it is recognized that birds in this area require further investigation they are here considered inseparable from nominate (dauma) birds."
Further on, they state "… birds taken in Taiwan and previously separated as hancii and affinis are here considered synonymous with aurea …". I am therefore totally confused as to whether these affinis birds are aurea or dauma!
Finally, under the section on Horsfield’s Thrush, they state "There are no recent breeding records of any White’s Thrushes (Z. dauma group) on Taiwan, where the race aurea is known to be an uncommon or rare winter visitor", which appears to contradict their earlier statement about "breeding birds in Taiwan". The following web address http://www.wbst.org.tw/exchange/communication/showtopic.asp?c=list&serialno=0208170002 shows a a photo of a recently fledged juvenile taken at Huisun Forest, Taiwan in July 2002 by a Hong Kong birder, which would seem to indicate that breeding had taken place.
From information I have received subsequently, the best conclusion I can reach is it appears that birds belonging to both dauma and aurea groups occur in Taiwan — the former as a rare breeding bird, and the latter as an uncommon winter visitor.
Island Thrush (Turdus poliocephalus) Anmashan 16.1 Endemic race niveiceps
Taiwan Bush-Warbler (Bradypterus alishanensis). Apparently very common in the mountains, and easily found in spring and summer when they are singing, but extremely difficult in winter when they do not. Often found in areas of grass and short scrub. Found in higher area of Anmashan and Yushan N.P., and on Hohuanshan
Rusty Laughingthrush (Garrulax poecilorhynchus). Possible at Reiyenhsi, but Wayne told us that the most reliable area he knows for these birds is at Fushan, which we didn’t have time to visit.
Hwamei (Garrulax canorus). A lowland bird, often common along the road near our hotel in Wushe, but none singing during our visit. Also possible in the Wanta Dam area, below Wushe
Manchurian Bush-warbler(Cettia canturians). Often found at Guandu
Red-billed Starling (Sturnus sericeus). A lowland bird, but no particular hot spots.
A few other important birds, such as Saunders’ Gull and Baikal Teal were not looked for, as we would be going on to South Korea where they were much commoner.