To Portuguese sailors in the 16th century, it was Ilha Formosa, “Beautiful Island,” because of its lush forests and the jagged peaks of its mountainous spine.
The island we now know as Taiwan, situated approximately 175 km (110 miles) off the coast of China, has diverse habitats; from tidal estuaries, cultivated fields, wetlands, lowland mixed forests, to montane deciduous broadleaf and coniferous forests.
The island still has beautiful forests and mountains, where the 15 generally recognized (some authors recognize 8 to 10 more) endemic species reside: Taiwan Partridge, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Mikado Pheasant, Styan’s Bulbul, Flamecrest, Formosan Whistling-Thrush, Taiwan Bush-Warbler, Collared Bush-Robin, White-Whiskered Laughingthrush. Steere’s Liocichla, Taiwan Barwing, White-eared Sibia, Taiwan Yuhina, Yellow Tit, and Formosan Magpie.
Although more than 500 species of birds have been recorded, about 300 can be considered to occur regularly, including more than 60 endemic subspecies. Perhaps 10 of these subspecies are candidates for full endemic species status. Seeing the pheasants, partridge and quail requires some luck, especially for the Taiwan Partridge. The blue, white and red male Swinhoe’s Pheasant is unforgettable, as is the sleek blue, white and red male Mikado Pheasant, “King of the Mist.” We will watch for the fairly common Black-browed Barbet and uncommon [Taiwan] Hwamei, likely next to be recognized as full endemics.
The main focus of the tour is on the endemic species and subspecies of Taiwan. A secondary focus is the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Approximately one half of the world population winters in the Tsengwen River estuary, near the city of Tainan.
Taiwan is a safe, welcoming country, with good infrastructure, a strong conservation movement, classic mountain scenery, friendly people, wonderful food and much to offer visitors.
Leaders: Simon Liao, Honourary Chairman, Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan and Jo Ann MacKenzie, Taiwan International Birding Association (Canada)
5 November (Monday), Day 1
Fly EVA Airways at 1:00 a.m., from Vancouver to Taipei. It will be necessary to be at Vancouver International Airport by 10:30 p.m. on the evening of November 4, for flight check-in.
7 November (Wednesday), Day 3
Early morning at Huisun Forest Station. Leaving Huisun after breakfast, we backtrack somewhat, then continue eastward through Puli, the geographic center of Taiwan, and begin to climb again toward Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area (elev. 1200 m (3900 ft.). At Aowanda, we will check Naoliao Creek for Plumbeous Redstart and with luck, the rare Little Forktail, watch for Taiwan Yuhina, Yellow Tit, Hwamei, Fire-breasted and Plain Flowerpeckers, Black-browed Barbet, and after dark, try for Mountain Scops-Owl. Night at Aowanda.
8 November (Thursday), Day 4
In the early morning, we may see Chinese Bamboo Partridge and Rufous-faced Warbler. Leaving Aowanda, we will to climb to Chingjing, stopping on the way in an open area of farm fields that can be productive for raptors. We will arrive at Chingjing in mid-afternoon, and explore a little of the Blue Gate Trail #1 before going to our hotel. Night in Chingjing, elev. 1750 m (5740 ft.)
9 November (Friday), Day 5
We will make an early morning start to the Meifeng area in “high mountain” habitat, to walk the Rueiyan River Trails, nicknamed “Blue Gate Trails”, elev. 2200 m (7200 ft.) Trail #1 is about 3 km, end to end. Local people call them Shueiguan [Water] Trails, because of the water pipes that lie alongside. Possibilities include White-tailed Robin, Swinhoe’s Pheasant and perhaps with much luck, the very shy Taiwan Partridge. We will also be alert for White-eared Sibia, Taiwan Yuhina, Collared Bush Robin, Taiwan Barwing, Steere’s Liocichla, Island Thrush, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, White-browed Shortwing (the wren-babbler and shortwing are both hard-to-see skulkers), Vineous-throated Parrotbill, Eurasian Nuthatch, White-throated Laughingthrush, and others.
In the afternoon, we will continue to look for mountain species. Return to Chingjing for the night.
10 November (Saturday), Day 6
Early morning birding at Blue Gate Trail #2. Then, we will drive higher yet, to the Hehuanshan Forest Recreation Area, elev. 3275 m (10,750 ft.), the highest elevation of the tour, just inside the western edge of Taroko National Park. (“Shan,” means “mountain “or “hill” in Mandarin; in this case, “mountain.”) We will look for White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Flamecrest, Alpine Accentor, Vinaceous Rosefinch, Coal Tit, and Yellow Tit. We will continue eastward through the upper part of the Taroko Gorge, in Taroko National Park, to Tienhsiang looking for Styan’s Bulbul. On the way, we will visit the spectacular Taroko “Marble Gorge.” The gorge is one of the scenic wonders of Asia, created by immense tectonic forces combined with erosion by the Liwu River. We will watch for Brown Dipper, Little Forktail, and Fork-tailed Swift among the hundreds of House Swifts. Night at Tienhsiang, elev. 485 m (1592 ft.)
11 November (Sunday), Day 7
Early morning birding in the Tienhsiang area. We will exit through the park’s East Gate, turn south to Hualien and drive along Taiwan’s scenic east coast, crossing the Tropic of Cancer to Chihpen, with birding stops along the way. Near Chihshiang, we will look for the endemic Taiwan subspecies of the familiar, but here native and wild Ring-necked Pheasant. Night in Chihpen Hot Springs.
12 November (Monday), Day 8
Morning birding in the Chihpen area; mid-elevation, looking for [Taiwan] Hwamei, White-bellied Yuhina, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Maroon Oriole, Black-naped Monarch while watching for such raptors as Black Eagle and Crested Serpent-Eagle. Drive south to Kenting in Taiwan’s tropical “far south.” Night in Kenting.
13 November (Tuesday), Day 9
Birding in the Kenting area, including Kenting National Park and Long Luan Tan (Lake), looking for Ruddy-breasted Crake, White-breasted Waterhen and other wetland species. Endemic Styan’s Bulbul is easily found in the Kenting area. Night in Kuangtselin at a hotel with hot spring pools.
14 November (Wednesday), Day 10
Morning birding in the Tsengwen Dam area, elev. 220 m, (859 ft.), looking for Maroon Oriole, Collared Finchbill, Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler and other species of mid-elevation woodland below the dam. We will also go to the very specialized water-chestnut habitat in the Kwangtien wetland for Pheasant-tailed Jacana. Adjacent dry, post-harvest rice fields may hold Oriental Skylark and Zitting Cisticola. Night in Tainan.
15 November (Thursday), Day 11
16 November (Friday), Day 12
Early morning birding in broadleaf forest in the Kwanghua area; Swinhoe’s Pheasant and Taiwan Partridge are possible. Continue to “high mountain” habitat in Alishan Forest Recreation Area. After reaching Alishan, we will have the rest of the day to look for species we may have missed in montane habitat earlier. Night in Alishan NFRA.
17 November (Saturday), Day 13
Early morning birding, Alishan, and Tataka Recreation Area, 2600 m (8,536 ft.), the highest elevation of the tour, in Yushan National Park for more “high mountain” specialties. The drive will provide our best chance for Mikado Pheasant. Yushan National Park is known as “The ridge of the roof of Taiwan.” We will be within sight of Yushan Peak, also called Jade Mountain. At 3952 m (just under 13,000 ft.), Yushan Peak is the highest mountain in East Asia. We will look for Eurasian Nutcracker, Gray-headed Bullfinch, White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Flamecrest, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, Streak-breasted Fulvetta, Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler and Golden Parrotbill. With much luck, we might come across Taiwan Bush-Warbler (very difficult to find outside of the breeding season). Then it will be time to leave the high mountains and return to lowlands. The post-harvest fields in Huatan, south of Changhua are often productive in fall for migrant and wintering seed-eaters such as Black-faced Bunting, as well as Oriental Skylark, Yellow Wagtail, Zitting Cisticola, and if we are lucky, Siberian Rubythroat. Night in Changhua.
18 November (Sunday), Day 14
After breakfast, drive north to Taipei county, with a stop for a cultural highlight, the Sanshia Temple, noted for its exquisite stone and wood wildlife carvings, including more than 100 different birds. We will stroll along an artisans’ street. Lunch. Continue to Taipei (elev. 6 m; 20 ft.) to the Chinese Handicrafts Mart, for a shopping opportunity. The 4-floor store has a wide range of Taiwan items, from inexpensive souvenirs to fine art at fair, government–approved prices. Supper, followed by a visit to one of Taipei’s famed Night Markets if time permits.
Drive to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to await our EVA Airways departure at 11:55 p.m., to Vancouver; arriving at 7:20 p.m. the same day.