I had long been interested in visiting Lanyu Island, 65 km east of the southern tip of Taiwan and about 110 km north of the Batan Islands of the Philippines. The 46 square kilometre island, a township of Taitung County, is also known as Orchid Island, for the wild orchids that used to grow abundantly there. Lanyu Island’s climate is tropical, with an average daytime temperature of 26 C (temperature can reach 40 C in summer), and abundant rainfall. The island is covered primarily with tropical forests and mountain rain forests. The highest mountain is 552 m in elevation.
Lanyu is very different from Taiwan. The flora and fauna share the characteristics of both subtropical Taiwan and tropical Philippines. In 1932, T. O. Kano suggested in the Bulletin of the Biogeographical Society of Japan, that the northern end of Wallace’s Line should have been drawn between Taiwan and Lanyu.
The island has about 3100 inhabitants, mostly Yami aboriginal people. Culturally, Lanyu is more akin to the Philippines than to Taiwan. Tourism is developing. Most ordinary tourists go to Lanyu for the coastal scenery with jagged volcanic rock formations.
We stayed 2 nights in Hungtou (‘Red-head’) village, the largest village on the island. Although Hungtou has two hotels, we opted for the Kulu B&B (tel. 089-732584 or 0928-350074); actually, a ‘home-stay,’ as there were 3 basic bedrooms (air-conditioned), shared bathrooms, but no breakfast. For getting around, we rented a van at NT$2000/day from the Tribe Bar (tel/FAX 089-732540; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Motorcycles are also available for the more adventurous, at NT$500/day. We ate breakfast at a hotel, lunch in a tiny noodle shop, and supper at the Tribe Bar where the food was excellent. Giselle is a good cook; ask for her original creation, ‘Fresh Fruit Sunshine Ice Tea.’
Thursday, May 12
We flew from Taipei’s Sungshan Airport on Far Eastern Air Transport to Taitung, on the southeast coast of Taiwan. Flying time was about 45 minutes. Drinks were served, but no food, as the flight was too short. The next leg of the journey was a smooth 20-minute flight on a Mandarin Airlines (a subsidiary of China Airlines) Dornier 228, an 18-seat aircraft. (It is necessary to book seats well in advance. Bad weather can result in flight cancellation.) It was raining when we left Taitung, but sunny on arrival at Lanyu. We were met by Giselle from the Tribe Bar, who drove us to Hungtou, then up a steep grade while dodging village folk, roving pigs and chickens, and erratically parked vehicles, to the Kulu B&B.
After depositing our luggage, we headed out in the van. Almost immediately, we found Brown-eared Bulbul, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove and the local Lowland White-Eye. About 2 km south of town, we came to Tsong Eye Bridge (on the left, just past the Waste Disposal Center and just before a long, low, concrete wall), over what we called ‘Flycatcher Creek’. We scrambled down into the dry creek-bed and walked in about 100 m. We heard Japanese Paradise-Flycatchers vocalizing; we were able to see 2 young males.
Returning to the van and driving back toward Hungtou, we stopped at the Lanyu Primary School to look around. We were interested in the school, both for the birding potential of the short-grass athletic field, and because Simon and I are former teachers. Lawns and short grass are scarce on Lanyu. The school grounds seemed to be alive with Yellow Wagtails and Eastern Yellow Wagtails. Rain began, so we returned to the village, and supper. We intended to go owling after supper, for the endemic botelensis sub-species of Ryukyu Scops-Owl, also called Lanyu Scops-Owl (local name: “Du-du-hu”), but we were rained out. Later, we heard an owl calling from the hillside behind our home-stay.
Friday, May 13
We left Hungtou at 5:30 a.m. to bird our way around the island, a distance of 37 km. Stopping at Tsong Eye Bridge again, we glimpsed a migrant Ruddy Kingfisher. Other species seen on our circuit of the island included more white-eyes, Brown-eared Bulbuls, Philippine Cuckoo-Doves, House and Fork-tailed Swifts, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Whistling Green-Pigeon, a pair of White-breasted Waterhens copulating in a puddle on the road, Pacific Reef-Heron, Cattle Egret, Chinese Pond Heron, Osprey, Lesser Coucal, Gray Wagtail, more Yellow and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, a White-winged Tern, and 2 Little Buntings in the schoolyard in Yehlu village.
We returned to Hungtou for brunch in a tiny noodle shop, and a heat-of-the-day siesta. The wind blew strongly all day, but there was no rain.
After supper, we tried owling again. It was difficult to hear anything in the wind, so we drove to the less windy side of the island. We heard 3 owls, and were very close to one of them in a tree just beside us, but we were unable to see it among the dense foliage and swaying branches. We gave up and returned to Hungtou. Later that night, our home-stay host wakened Simon to say that an owl was perched atop the house across the street. Simon got a quick glimpse before it flew away.
Saturday, May 14
Out at 5:30 a.m. to drive the main road again. Birds included Water Rail running across the road, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, and Brown Shrikes everywhere. Mid-May must be the peak migration period for the shrike.
After lunch, we took the afternoon Mandarin Airlines flight back to Taitung.
To summarize, a side trip to Lanyu Island is well worth the effort and cost, especially if done during spring or fall migration. Besides the specialities of the island, other species of interest may be found. For the island specialities, two half-days and one overnight should be sufficient to find them.
Bird List, Lanyu Island, May 12–14, 2005
The names used are those contained in the 5th edition of Clements Birds of The World: A Checklist, with updates to July 2005
Intermediate Egret, Egretta intermedia – 16
Pacific Reef-Heron, Egretta sacra – 3
Chinese Pond Heron, Ardeola bacchus – 1
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis – 100
Striated Heron, Butorides striatus – 1
Gray-faced Buzzard, Butastur indicus – 1, late migrant
Osprey, Pandion haliaetus – 1
Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus – 1
White-breasted Waterhen, Amaurornis phoenicurus – 2
White-winged Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus – 1
Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Macropygia tenuirostris – 5
Emerald Dove, Chalcophaps indica – 2
Whistling Green-Pigeon, Treron formosae – 2
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Clamator coromandus – 1
Lesser Coucal, Centropus bengalensis – 3
Ryukyu Scops-Owl, Otus elegans botelensis, endemic to Lanyu Island – 1 seen, 5 heard
Fork-tailed Swift, Apus pacificus – 1
House Swift, Apus nipalensis – 2
Ruddy Kingfisher, Halcyon coromanda – 1
Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla flava – 35
Eastern Yellow Wagtail,Motacilla tschutschensis – 20
Gray Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea – 2
Brown-eared Bulbul, Ixos amaurotis – 155
Blue Rock-Thrush, Monticola solitarius – 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher, Muscicapa daurica – 1
Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocaudata – 2 seen, 4 heard
Japanese White-eye, Zosterops japonicus – 20. At this time, the status of the white-eye on Lanyu and Ludao (Green) Islands is not entirely clear. To some authors, including those of the Chinese-language Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan (1991), it is a sub-species of Zosterops japonicus. Others consider it to be Zosterops meyeni batanis, variously called Lowland White-Eye, Batan White-Eye or Philippine White-Eye, of the Philippines.
Long-tailed Shrike, Lanius schach – 1
Brown Shrike, Lanius cristatus – 550
Little Bunting, Embariza pusilla – 2, migrants
Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus – 5