Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Endemic species in BOLD
Taiwan is a mountainous island in the South China Sea, about 160 km (100 miles) off the Chinese mainland. The forested beauty of the island led Portuguese sailors in 1590 to name it Ilha Formosa, meaning “Beautiful Island.” The tropic of Cancer passes through the southern part of the island.
Monday–Tuesday, May 1–2 Taipei to Aowanda
Our EVA Airways flight departed Vancouver at 2:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on May 1, arriving at Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, Taoyuan, 50 km west of Taipei, at 5:45 a.m. on May 2. Participants from Australia had already arrived; they, and Simon, met us when we cleared arrival formalities. We transferred to our comfortable, air-conditioned bus with our very capable driver, Mr. Hsu, and headed south.
Our first stop was in the Wufeng (Wufong) area, elevation 200–300m, near Tonglin village in Taichung County. Wu Ten-Di was waiting for us, having spent some time on previous days “staking out” a Fairy Pitta. We were lucky; after some effort, we saw 2 beautiful, jewel-like pittas. We also saw Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler, Plain Prinia, Brown Shrike, Rufous-capped Babbler, Black-browed Barbet (endemic-to-be), Gray Treepie, Black Bulbul, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Besra.
We kept an eye on the overcast sky. The rainy season had begun the previous week, and had arrived with a vengeance. There had been unusually heavy rain for days, and we were pleased to have a break in that pattern on our first morning in Taiwan. However, rain was threatening again, and caught up with us as we returned to our bus.
Near Tonglin, we had lunch on the broad covered porch of the rural, riverside Yufeng Leisure and Recreation Area, and watched for more birds as we ate. A White-backed Woodpecker flew by, alighting on a distant dead tree, where we were able to get a telescope view.
After lunch, it was raining heavily as we began to drive toward Huisun Forest Station, where we were to try for Swinhoe’s Pheasant and to spend our first night. However, on the way, Simon received a phone call telling us not to come, that the visitors’ area was being closed immediately. The rain had caused so much mud and rock to come down the mountain that conditions had become dangerous. An abrupt change of destination, to Aowanda (Auwanda, Aowanta, Houwanta) National Forest Recreation Area, was arranged with the help of Judia Tung, Deputy Coordinator, Nantou Forest District, who happened to be with us for the day. Aowanda is a lovely park, and we intended to go there anyway, but not until the next day. The unfortunate loss of Huisun meant much reduced chances of finding Swinhoe’s Pheasant.
It was still raining when we arrived at Aowanda, elev. 1200m (3900 ft.), but in spite of poor visibility due to rain and mist, Judia showed us a FORMOSAN MAGPIE on the nest and 3 others nearby. As we checked in at the office, we watched a live video camera view of a Green-backed Tit on its nest. Other birds seen during the remaining hours of daylight were TAIWAN YUHINA, Gray-cheeked Fulvetta, Gray-chinned Minivet, and Rufous-faced Warbler. A Red-bellied Squirrel foraged in the trees near our cabins.
Two or three Mountain Scops-Owls began to call from trees in the visitors area after dark, and continued all night. A Collared Owlet briefly joined in. Other than the owls, the park was very quiet, as it was mid-week.
Wednesday, May 3 Aowanda to Chingjing
Pre-breakfast birding around the buildings; some of the group had close-up views of Bamboo Partridge in the visitors’ parking lot near our cabins. A TAIWAN PARTRIDGE called from a distant mountainside. After breakfast, we walked to the three sets of waterfalls on Naoliao (Nauliau) Creek; Galloping (Flying) Falls, Twin Falls, and Adjacent (Sweeping) Falls. The heavy rain of the previous day had all three sets of falls thundering spectacularly. We were fortunate that Lai Ming-Horng, a researcher from the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI) was at Aowanda, studying Little Forktail. He showed us a family group of forktails at the Galloping Falls, the uppermost of the three.
For the rest of the morning, we watched Naoliao Creek (FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH, Plumbeous Redstart) and the trees at our favourite birding spot in the park, about 100 m in from the main gate. Birds seen included Black-browed Barbet, White-bellied Yuhina, Gray-cheeked Fulvetta, Oriental Turtle-Dove, Vivid Niltava, and WHITE-EARED SIBIA.
Leaving Aowanda, we ate a picnic lunch on the bus. A roadside stop at km 15 along the Wushe-Aowanda Road produced (Taiwan) Hwamei (an endemic-to-be) and Collared Finchbill. Another stop at km 9.5, an open area of farmland, was good for raptors: Besra, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Black Eagle, Mountain Hawk-Eagle and Oriental Honey-buzzard, as well as Striated Prinia.
As we continued on toward Chingjing (Chingching, Chinging, Cingjing), the rain resumed. We stopped for a coffee-break in the town, then continued on to the upper end of Blue Gate Trail #1 to look for Swinhoe’s Pheasant, but without success. The “Blue Gate” Trails (so-called by foreign birders because both trails have a blue entrance gate) are formally named Shueiguan Road (Waterpipe Road), and comprise part of the Rueiyan River Trail system. The flexible water pipes that lie alongside the service road/trail carry water from the Ruiyan River high above, to the communities below.
Backtracking into town, we checked into the Chingjing Resort, elev. 1750m (5740 ft.).
Thursday, May 4 Meifeng area
The staff set out a 5 a.m. “birders’ breakfast”, after which we trekked up the steep hill to the highway where our bus was parked overnight. We were joined by Lydia Huang from National Taiwan University’s Meifeng field station. The Blue Gate Trails (elev. approx. 2200m, 7200 ft.) always have wet, muddy places because some of the water pipes leak. However, the rains had made the puddles bigger and deeper, requiring some ingenuity to get around them. Those of the group wearing waterproof boots simply walked through the ooze. The group split up for a better chance for SWINHOE’S PHEASANT on Blue Gate Trail #1, but only Simon and Chris were successful. Between rain showers, we saw YELLOW TIT, Black-throated and Varied Tits, WHITE-EARED SIBIA, STEERE’S LIOCICHLA, Vivid Niltava, Eurasian Jay, Rufous-faced Warbler and Gray-chinned Minivet. Pygmy Wren-Babbler and White-browed Shortwing called from dense cover, refusing to come out.
We returned to the hotel for lunch. We delayed going out again because of the resumption of heavy rain. It let up at last, and we returned to Blue Gate #1, where Andrew had brief glimpse of SWINHOE’S PHEASANT.
Friday, May 5 Chingjing to Tiensiang
Birders’ breakfast at 5 a.m., then back to Blue Gate Trail #1. Our last chance for Swinhoe’s Pheasant for those who had not seen it was thwarted by a truck and dog on the trail—an unusual occurrence. We gave up on the trails and concentrated our birding along the highway edge where the conditions were more open. Chris glimpsed two Island Thrushes in flight, and Sally spotted a Rusty Laughingthrush.
At mid-morning, we drove higher on Highway 14 and turned east on Highway 8, to the Hehuan Shan area, just inside the west end of Taroko National Park. Our first stop produced WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler and Vinaceous Rosefinch. At the next stop, at Wuling Pass, (“Big Wind”) elev. 3275m (10,750 ft.), the highest road pass in Taiwan, we saw Alpine Accentor. At the Mt. Hehuan stop, we walked into a grassland valley and found White-browed and COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN, Winter Wren and Gray-headed Bullfinch. Continuing on to the Siaofenglou Visitor Center beside the TESRI High Altitude Experimental Station, we watched the conifers for FLAMECREST and Coal Tit, and the scrubby grasslands for TAIWAN BUSH-WARBLER - one of the latter glimpsed and another only heard.
We continued east, and down, to the Eagle Roost for lunch followed by birding stops at Shenma (the “Pilu Sacred Tree”), and Tsuen where we found Ferruginous Flycatcher, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, House Martin, Besra and Rufous-faced Warbler.
Not long after, we had a lengthy wait where traffic had been stopped because of road work. Of course, we were alert for birds during the wait. We saw Plumbeous Redstart along the river far below, and Barbara spotted another Little Forktail.
Late in the afternoon, we reached Tiensiang. Night at the Tiensiang Youth Activity Center.
Saturday, May 6 Tiensiang to Lanyu Island
After an early breakfast, we continued eastward through the spectacular Taroko Marble Gorge, well ahead of the Saturday tour busses. House Swifts were abundant, with some Fork-tailed Swifts mixed in with them. Stopping at the main park Visitor Center near the east gate, we had good looks at STYAN’S BULBUL, which are found only in the exteme east and south of Taiwan.
Exiting Taroko National Park, we turned south on Highway 8. We spent an hour at the Houyen Butterfly Resort, looking for Maroon Oriole, well-seen by Marilyn and Jo Ann, but only glimpsed by others. The many species of butterflies in the park were beautiful, and well-worth the visit even if the oriole did not show itself well.
At Chihshang, we had lunch at the popular Home Town Lunch Box restaurant, where Taiwan’s best quality rice is served (with other items) in bamboo boxes. We had dessert a little farther down the highway; delicious, sweet, juicy fresh pineapple purchased from a roadside vendor.
Arriving at Taitung, we drove to the airport to await our Daily Air, 3:30 p.m. flight south-southeast to Lanyu Island. We would be on Lanyu for only one night, taking only what we would need for a brief stay. All 18 seats on the aircraft were filled for the 20-minute flight.
Arriving on Lanyu (Orchid) Island (so named for the wild orchids that used to grow in abundance there), we drove to Hongtou village and checked into the Lanyu Hotel, which had seen better days, but was the best accommodation available.
With Simon and Barbara on a motorcycle leading the way and the rest of us in a van, we drove south to “Flycatcher Creek” for a challenging trek in a rocky, dry creek bed for Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher. We saw 3, and some Brown Cuckoo-Doves. Returning to the road, Brown-eared Bulbuls, Lowland White-Eyes flew by; and Whistling Green-Pigeons perched in trees along the creek.
After supper, we scouted some locales at the edge of Hungtou village for Ryukyu “Lanyu” Scops-Owl, Otus elegans botelensis. Having no success, we drove south to an abandoned building well off the road, where a large group of university students from Taipei had already gathered. The noisy crowd appeared to be there for a Saturday-night party, but actually, was there for owling also. After a while, and some unusual owl-calling by a local resident, we saw three of these small owls, an subspecies endemic to Lanyu Island.
Sunday, May 7 Lanyu Island to Kenting
In the morning, we drove around the island, finding Watercock (dashing across the road), Pacific Reef Heron, Blue Rock Thrush, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Common Tern, Oriental Reed Warbler, Common Sandpiper, Brown Shrike, Brown-eared Bulbul, Gray Heron (unusual in May) and Yellow Wagtail.
Instead of returning to Taiwan island by air, as we had come, we boarded the ferry for the 3:30 p.m. sailing. The vessel was full of returning weekenders, many of whom were outside on the upper deck, intent on watching for flying fish. Our focus was on flying seabirds, though, as little is known about pelagic birds between Lanyu and Taiwan islands. The ferry (foot passengers only, no vehicles) is well-equipped but rather small and fast, with limited outside deck space, therefore not ideal for pelagic birding. Nevertheless, in spite of the speed, choppy sea and spray, most of the group saw Streaked and Wedge-tailed Shearwater (several of each). Less easy to see were a lone Bulwer’s Petrel, a small party of Red Phalarope, and a few non-seabirds in flight.
After 2.5 hours, we docked on the Eluanbi Peninsula, on the west side of the Taiwan’s south end. We were met by our bus and continued to the Kenting Youth Activity Center for the night. The facility is charmingly built in the style of old China, but with modern conveniences.
Monday, May 8 Kenting to Kwang Tselin
The day began with early morning birding at Long Luan Tan (tan = lake), with good results: Chinese Pond Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Ruddy Crake, Water Rail, Common Snipe and Zitting Cisticola. Following breakfast, we proceeded to Eluanbi Park within Kenting National Park, where we found Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Black-naped Monarch and more STYAN’S BULBULS. We also saw a lizard, a brown-and-yellow SWINHOE’S JAPALURA.
Leaving Taiwan’s tropical “Far South”, we proceeded north to Inda Eco-Farm, the only remaining reliable place in Taiwan for Black-naped Oriole; we saw two, and a Malayan Night-Heron.
Heading north and climbing again, we arrived in the hot springs area of Kwang Tselin (Guan-Zi-Ling), and the Toong Mao Spa Resort, for the night. The hot spring baths were a treat!
Tuesday, May 9 Kwang Tselin to Tainan
We ate our early-morning, box breakfast on the way to Tongshan, to bird the road to the Tsengwen Dam. An open area along the road provides a “look-out” for raptor-watching, and it was an extraordinary morning: Imperial Eagle, Chinese and Crested Goshawks and Crested Serpent-Eagle. We saw a male and female Maroon Oriole, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Collared Finchbill, and a late Arctic Warbler. Two Fairy Pittas called from the distance.
Descending to the lowlands again, we arrived at Kwantien (Guantian) Wetland, for Pheasant-tailed Jacana. The jacanas were conspicuous with their long tail plumes; we saw 8, along with a very good find, Swinhoe’s Snipe (thanks, Sally and Andrew!), Greater Painted-Snipe, Oriental Pratincole, Little Grebe and Little Egret.
At Sihcao wetland, near Tainan, we were met by bird photographer Ong Long-Shin. Sihcao is his “home patch”. He led us to a spot where we saw a Yellow Bittern on a nest, with chicks. Other species included Cinnamon Bittern, a party of late-lingering Black-faced Spoonbills, Pied Heron (rare), Marsh and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilt, Spotted Redshank, Red-necked Stint, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater and Lesser Sandplover and Gray-tailed Tattler. Night in Anping, a suburb of Tainan.
Wednesday, May 10 Tainan to Chiayi
With Mr. Ong, we to Chiku (Chigu, Cigu) where we relocated a Chinese Egret, found the previous day, as well as Whimbrel, Snowy and Black-bellied Plover, Little Tern, Terek Sandpiper, Gray-tailed Tattler, and Great Knot. At Sihcao again, we found Far Eastern Curlew and Long-toed Stint. A tour of some of the Sihcao ponds was provided by members of the Tainan Wild Bird Society.
Leaving the Tainan area, we continued north to Jhongpu (elev. about 350m). No Maroon Orioles were to be found this time (we usually do find one or two there), but we saw White-bellied Pigeon, Bronzed Drongo, Black Bulbul and Crested Serpent-Eagle.
We arrived in Chiayi for the night, and browsed through the busy Night Market after supper.
Thursday, May 11 Chiayi to A Li Shan
Heading to higher elevation again, east of Chiayi, we stopped at an obscure spot near Thaushan village, at about 1200m elevation to look for Rusty Laughingthrush. After a while, we were successful in locating two of these secretive laughingthrushes. Undisturbed by our presence, birds preened quietly in a patch of sunlight that penetrated the hillside foliage; a perfect view for us. Also in the area were Dusky Fulvetta, Rufous-faced Warbler, Red-capped Babbler and WHITE-EARED SIBIA.
Continuing on up into the A Li Shan mountain range, we encountered drifting fog, the reason that A Li Shan is sometimes called “White Mountain.” We stopped for a tea break at Tian Lung Tea Shop, after which, rain began again. Farther up the mountain, we glimpsed a FORMOSAN FERRET-BADGER scurrying through the roadside vegetation; this normally nocturnal mammal is seldom seen. Continuing on, we stopped to bird the forest road to the Youth Activity Center, at 2170m in A Li Shan National Forest Recreation Area. Best bird was a male Island Thrush, seen by all, and a Life Bird for Simon! Moments later, fog drifted in and the bird was gone.
After lunch in A Li Shan village, we checked into the Council of Agriculture Guest House. In mid-afternoon, the rain had become merely showers as we drove higher, to the Tataka Recreation Area. Vinaceous Rosefinch, WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH, Ferruginous Flycatcher and Brown Bullfinch were near “The Couple Trees.” We continued along the Yushan Highway, finding MIKADO PHEASANT, first a skittish pair on the mountainside, then 2 more males and a female, as well as White-tailed Robin.
Triumphant, we returned to A Li Shan village for supper. We hoped to hear owls after dark, but were not successful.
Friday, May 12 A Li Shan to Changhua
In the morning sun, we found Brown Bullfinch and COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN near our Guest House. We drove to Chaoping Park, above A Li Shan village, where we found FLAMECREST, STEERE’S LIOCICHLA, TAIWAN YUHINA, Gray-headed Bullfinch, Green-backed Tit, Varied Tit, Vinaceous Rosefinch, Taiga Flycatcher, Ferruginous Flycatcher and Eurasian Jay.
Fog began to drift in and out as we returned to Tataka Recreation Area, making viewing sometimes frustrating. Patience paid off, though, with Golden Parrotbill, TAIWAN BUSH-WARBLER, Yellowish-bellied, Russet and Japanese Bush-Warblers; Dusky Warbler, Eurasian Nutcracker and Streak-throated Fulvetta.
We took a newly-reopened short-cut road to the lowlands, to Changhua, with a stop at the Bagua Hill hawk lookout, where the Gray-faced Buzzard Bird Fair takes place in late March each year. There were no migrating hawks along the ridge so late in May, but there were an Oriental Cuckoo and a Gray-spotted Flycatcher in the trees; Golden-headed Cisticola and Vinous-throated Parrotbill in the shrubs.
Saturday,May 13 Changhua to Taipei
Leaving Changhua, we drove north to the small city of Sanshia (Sansia, San-hsia, San Hsia, San Xia, XanXia) in Taipei County, to visit the Tsu-Sze Temple, one of the most magnificent temples in Taiwan. The 237-year-old temple is popularly known as Sanshia Bird Temple, for the hundreds of birds carved in stone and gilded wood panels. After lunch, we drove south-east to Wulai, hoping to find Brown Dipper in the Tonghou River, but saw only FORMOSAN MAGPIE, FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH and Plumbeous Redstart in the rain.
We continued on to Taipei where we had a shopping opportunity at the Chinese Handicraft Center before checking into the Royal Host YMCA Hotel.
Sunday,May 14 Taipei
The first morning stop was to Yangmin Shan National Park; but unfortunately, wind and rain made viewing almost impossible. Within the park we toured the former summer palace of Chiang Kai-Shek (1887–1975). Chiang was President of Taiwan from 1950 to 1975. After lunch, we got out of the rain and wind by visiting the spacious grounds of Chaing Kai-Shek’s former “city” home in the suburb of Shalin, now a public park. On Sunday afternoon, there were more people than birds. We had a tour of part of the world famous National Palace Museum, still undergoing extensive renovations. Late in the afternoon, we relaxed at a hot spring spa followed by supper, both hosted by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.
After supper, it was time to return to Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport for homeward flights.
Results: 13 (of 15) endemic species seen; 1 heard only (TAIWAN PARTRIDGE). TAIWAN BARWING was missed.
The total bird species for the trip was 185; 180 seen by more than one person, 1 seen by only one person, 4 heard only.
Simon Liao and Jo-Ann Mackenzie