Birding in Taiwan, February 24–26, 2006
While on a business trip in Taipei, I was able to add on a few days birding. I had contacted Simon Liao through his website (www.birdingintaiwan.com) and he suggested a minimum of three days so I could include the mountains and have a better chance of seeing the endemics. So on a Friday morning at 4.30 a.m. I was picked up by Simon from my hotel in Taipei. We were later joined by Ten-Di Wu. Right away Simon said he had changed the itinerary. The week before a trip to the famous Blue Gate Trails had proven very quiet with few birds on the trails as they had dispersed to lower altitudes following some cold weather. Instead we would go further south for the endemics, with the added bonus of a recently discovered stake-out for Mikado Pheasant...
We left Taipei in a light drizzle, but as Simon predicted things brightened up once we came into the foothills south of Taipei. We reached our first stop, Jiou Jiou near Wufeng, just after sunrise and quickly added my first lifers: Grey-Cheeked Fulvetta, Chinese Bamboo Partridge (heard only here but seen well later in the trip), Hwamei, Dusky [Gould’s] Fulvetta and Black-browed [Muller’s] Barbet (these last four all likely to split and become Taiwan endemics very soon). But the main goal at this location was the Formosan [Taiwan Blue] Magpie and it proofed rather elusive. We drove around and saw two other very likely splits well after luring them with tapes: Streak-Throated and Spot-Breasted Scimitar-Babblers. While stopping for a fly-by Besra, Ten-Di noticed a Formosan [Taiwan Blue] Magpie (E) in a far tree. We had good enough views for a lifer, but I was happy to see them later in the trip in the gardens of the hotel at Huisun Forest Station. We had seen our target and decided to move on to Huisun. On the way out we were lucky in finding two Collared Finchbills right beside the road.
Arriving around lunch time at Huisun Forest Station, initially the birding was a bit slow, but we did add Varied Tit, Grey-chinned Minivet, Blue Rock Thrush (philippensis) and White-Eared Sibia (E). Huisun is the place to try for the Swinhoe’s Pheasant. The plan was to walk the trail late in the afternoon for a first chance and early the next morning for a second. At 5pm we started walking down the trail. Simon had warned me to be ready for a 1 second view. So the occasional rustling in the undergrowth of Pale Thrushes certainly kept me on my toes. Close to the end of the trail we suddenly saw a pheasant fly across the road in front of us. It turned out to be a group of at least one male and three female Swinhoe’s Pheasant (E) who speny at least half a minute (!) walking nervously on the trail. We had excellent views and came back to the hotel very happy, ready for our celebratory beers! After dinner we tried for owls, hearing Collared Scops-Owl and Brown Wood-Owl, but they weren’t tempted by our tapes to come any closer.
The next morning we all of a sudden had plenty of time as we could skip the ‘pheasant trail’ thanks to our success the previous afternoon. Before breakfast we picked up two very confiding Malayan Night-Herons on the grass around the hotel. And on our way out of the park we were lucky in seeing a Formosan [Taiwan] Whistling Thrush (E) and a pair of Maroon Orioles. We now had a longer drive ahead of us to get to the mountains in the south where we would spend our second and final night.
We arrived around midday at A Li Shan and on our first stop added some exciting mountain birds: Taiwan Yuhina (E), Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler and White-Browed Bush-Robin. A few further stops around Tataka Recreation Area added White-whiskered [Taiwan] Laughingthrush (E), Streak-throated Fulvetta and Collared Bush-Robin (E). Now it was time for what could be the highlight of the trip: the Mikado Pheasant stakeout! When getting to the place I was rather disappointed it was right along the main road and the traffic on this busy Saturday kept rushing past. In addition it was getting rainy and misty so we could hardly see more than 10-20 metres from the car. As we waited for one and then two hours, five other cars of keen birders joined the queue. I was worried this wasn’t the ideal situation to see this elusive species. But then after two hours, Ten-Di heard a noise and silently pointed across the road. And indeed out of the mist a beautiful male and two female Mikado Pheasants (E) appeared. We had stunning views! This was indeed the highlight of the trip and how appropriate that this bird’s Taiwanese name is ‘King of the Mist’!
So another successful afternoon for pheasants! We drove for another 40 minutes to arrive at A Li Shan National Forest Recreation Area. The place was absolutely packed with tour-buses as the park is famous for its blooming flowers and this was the first day of the flower season. Given our late itinerary change, I was very impressed with Simon’s connections that he managed to find us a room!
The next morning we walked among the many tourists (why they already were up and about in the mist and rain just to watch flowers at 6.30 a.m. I don’t know). But the birds didn’t mind and soon we added the key endemics we needed here: the beautiful Flamecrest (E), Steere’s Liocichla (E) and Taiwan Barwing (E). The final mountain endemic that was a good possibility was the Taiwan Yellow Tit. Of the other three endemics on the island, two are very difficult to see especially out of season (Taiwan [Hill] Partridge and Taiwan Bush-Warbler) and one (Styan’s [Taiwan] Bulbul) you can only see on the east coast and the far south. To find the tit we went out on a forest road looking for a flock. We soon found a flock, but it took some neck-breaking scanning of the treetops to indeed see a beautiful little male Yellow [Taiwan] Tit (E). The flock also held an Eye-browed Thrush and White-backed Woodpecker which got the local Taiwanese bird watchers running as it is quite rare on the island.
We now had seen everything we could hope for in the mountains and headed back for the airport. A stop in the foothills added a wonderful male White-tailed Robin and some rice fields near Huatan added one female and two males of Greater Painted-snipe.
After a cup of coffee at Simon’s house, a taxi took me back to the airport – a Cattle Egret and Black-Crowned Night-Heron made it 77 species for the trip.
This was a very successful trip having seen 12 of the 15 current endemics and a further 31 endemics subspecies (five of which are very strong contenders to be split very soon). Of the 77 species, 39 were lifers for me.
Simon and Ten-Di were very friendly and helpful and had excellent knowledge of where to find the birds. On top Simon was very good in making sure we stuck to our tight schedule and big compliments to his decision to change the itinerary and go through the trouble reorganising the trip just a couple of days beforehand!