(E) = Endemi
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.
The 5-day field trip followed the 2005 Waterbird Society conference, held in Tainan, Taiwan, Nov. 24–27. As there had been a field trip during the conference to see the wintering Black-faced Spoonbills at Chiku, the post-conference trip did not go there. This extended field trip, organized by Birding in Taiwan and the Taiwan International Birding Association, began with our departure from Tainan and concluded in Taipei.
Nov. 28: We began with a day of wetlands, with Wu Ten-Di as our chief bird guide. While Pheasant-tailed Jacana is not globally endangered, it is a very rare resident in Taiwan. So, after leaving Tainan in our bus in the morning, we visited the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Restoration Zone at Kwantien, in Tainan County, which illustrates a conservation and co-operation success story. It was constructed in 2002 by the combined efforts of the Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan and many volunteers, to replace the jacanas’ original habitat in Taiwan, a natural wetland at Hulupi, which was to be destroyed to make way for a high-speed train project. In due course, when the Hulupi wetland was drained, the jacanas found and accepted the new 15-hectare replacement site at Kwantien, 2 km away, and appear to be thriving there. The Kwantien Pheasant-tailed Jacana Restoration Zone property is rented from the land-owner, the Taiwan Sugar Company; the rent is paid by the high-speed rail consortium.
Also noted at the Kwantien site were Greater Painted-Snipe, Eurasian Coot, Nutmeg Munia, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Oriental Skylark, Zitting Cisticola and many Light-vented Bulbul, which was one of the most common species on the trip.
From Kwantien, we went to Aougu and then to Hambao for more shorebirding. In one of the fallow fields at Hambao, we found a rare Oriental Plover, only100m from where another had been seen in May. Other species for the day included Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, Gray and Purple Herons; Great, Little and Cattle Egrets; Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow Bittern, Sacred Ibis (introduced), Spot-billed Duck, Eastern Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Kestrel, Black-winged Stilt, Pacific Golden-Plover, Black-bellied, Little Ringed, and Snowy Plovers; Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank; Wood, Terek, Curlew and Common Sandpipers; Saunders’ Gull, Caspian Tern, Long-tailed Shrike (singing), Siberian Stonechat, and Crested Myna.
We continued the short distance to historic Lugang for the night. We said good-bye to Ten-Di, as he would not be able to be with after this day.
Nov. 29: The morning began with a visit to the old section of Lugang and the 400-year-old Matsu Temple, dedicated to Matsu, Goddess of the Sea. We strolled through a quiet backstreet where old homes and artisans shops had been restored.
In the afternoon, we drove inland to Huisun Forest Station, elevation 770m (2350 ft.) With a few hours of daylight remaining, we found Daurian Redstart on the road, then climbed the180 wooden steps opposite the office to the gravelled service road to look for birds of mid-elevation forest. We found Gray Treepie, Large-billed Crow, Vivid Niltava, Black-browed Barbet, Gray-capped Woodpecker, and the first endemic species, WHITE-EARED SIBIA (E). Dusk is a prime time to encounter Swinhoe’s Pheasants also, but we weren’t lucky.
After supper, some of us tried owling, but no owls were heard. Night at the Atayal Resort, Huisun Forest Station.
Nov. 30: Our designated assembly time was 6 a.m, but some of the group were out at 5:00, in time to hear distant Mountain Scops-Owl and Collared Owlets, and to see a passing Malayan Night-Heron. The group split into two, to better our chances of finding SWINHOE’S PHEASANT (E). The first group up the 180 steps, onto the service road and around the bend, had better luck than the second group. However, the second group had excellent looks at FORMOSAN MAGPIE (E) on the roof of our resort building. After a while, the 2 sub-groups joined; each group had encountered the same feeding flock of YELLOW TIT (E), FORMOSAN MAGPIE (E), Green-backed Tit, White-bellied Yuhina, Gray Treepie, Rufous-capped Babbler, Maroon Oriole, Gray-chinned Minivet, and Black Bulbul. We also noticed large black-and-yellow cross-striped spiders, Nephila clavata, on very large orb webs which appeared to be triple-layered, as well as another orb-weaving, multi-coloured cross-banded spider, Argiope versicolor.
After breakfast, we left Huisun, backtracked to the west a little, then turned east again. Northeast of Puli, at Wushe, we turned off the main highway and headed south, toward Wanta Reservoir and Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area, one of the gems of Taiwan’s park system. (Along the way, we glimpsed Brown Dipper along the river below, and Collared Finchbill in some scrub during a roadside photo stop.) It isn’t necessary to go very far into the park; half a kilometre or so is enough. We stopped and parked the bus just before little Naoliao Creek, which flows under the road. There is good birding along the creek above the road: Plumbeous Redstart, and sometimes Little Forktail, but there was no forktail while we were there. The group split up again, some climbed the many wooden steps above the scenic waterfalls, and others remained below, watching the trees along the road. Most of our 4 hours there were spent watching the trees between the park entrance and the creek. Some of the birds seen during our Aowanda visit (but not all birds seen by everyone) were Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Ashy Wood-Pigeon, Oriental Turtle-Dove, House Swift, Gray-capped and White-backed Woodpeckers, Pacific and Striated Swallows, Black-backed Wagtail, Gray-chinned Minivet, Black Bulbul (many), FLAMECREST (E), FORMOSAN WHISTLING-THRUSH (E), Eyebrowed and Pale Thrushes, Vivid Niltava, Daurian Redstart, Black-naped Monarch, Gray-cheeked Fulvetta, Green-backed and YELLOW TIT (E), Varied Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Japanese White-eye, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, and Eurasian Siskin. The group that climbed the stairs above the waterfalls also saw TAIWAN MACAQUE (E), Taiwan’s only monkey.
After leaving Aowanda NFRA, we drove higher, to Chingjing, elev. 1750m (5740 ft.); night at Chingjing Resort.
Dec. 1: After a very early “birders’ breakfast”, we boarded our bus for the short drive to the Ruiyan River trails, dubbed “Blue Gate Trails” by foreign birders. We were joined by Lydia Huang from National Taiwan University’s Meifeng field station. Plastic water pipes lie alongside the Ruiyan River Trails, carrying water down to Chingjiing from the higher reaches of the Ruiyan River. The local name for these trails is Shuiyen (Water) trails, because several of the pipes leak, resulting in water and mud puddles, some of them ankle-deep. We avoided the water and mud as much as we could. We began by walking some of Blue Gate Trail #2, looking unsuccessfully for Mikado Pheasant. We continued on to Blue Gate Trail #1. Some of the birds observed were: Yellow-bellied Bush-Warbler, Vinaceous Rosefinch, SWINHOE’S PHEASANT (E) glimpsed, TAIWAN YUHINA (E), Steere’s Liocichla (e), WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH (E), TAIWAN BARWING (E), YELLOW TIT (E), WHITE-EARED SIBIA (E), Eurasian Jay, White-browed Shortwing, White-bellied Pigeon, Black-throated and Green-backed Tits. We also noticed a short trail of small, muddy animal tracks on a section of water pipe, perhaps those of Formosan Yellow-throated Marten.
After lunch, we drove higher, to the Hehuan Shan (Hehuan Mountain) area, just inside the western boundary of Taroko National Park. Our first stop was at Wuling Pass, at 3275m (10,750 ft.) the highest road pass in Taiwan, where an Alpine Accentor foraged on a rocky outcrop and beneath parked cars. At the next stop, Mt. Heuhuan Lookout, some of the group discovered a FORMOSAN WOOD MOUSE (E) foraging in discarded food wrappers near a garbage can. We made a third high elevation stop at the Siaofenglou Visitor Center, to watch a grove of coniferous trees (successfully) for FLAMECREST (E), Coal Tit and Winter Wren. While there, we also visited the adjacent High Altitude Experimental Station of the Endemic Species Research Institute before returning to Chingjing.
Dec. 2: Before leaving our hotel, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Siberian Rubythroat and Steere’s Liocichla (E) were seen in the vegetation on the hillside. Repeating our short drive of yesterday, we had 2 early morning hours—our last hours in the field—on Blue Gate Trail #1. Again, we split into small parties for a final chance for SWINHOE’S PHEASANT (E); success for most of the group. Others only heard a bird running away through the dried leaves on the forest floor. Additional species of the morning included Pygmy Wren-Babbler, COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN (E), Strong-footed Bush-Warbler, and an unidentifiable needletail.
It was time to make the long drive to Taipei, arriving in mid-afternoon. There was some shopping time at the Chinese Handcraft Mart, followed by a Taiwanese foot massage for some while others explored a little of a night market. It was a stimulating end to a successful 5-day field trip.
In total, 136 bird species were observed, plus the needletail which could not be fully identified.