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Old Friday 11th May 2012, 07:58   #1
chowchilla
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Taiwan, May 2012- 台灣, 2012年5月.

Taiwan is a place I've wanted to visit for some time and this year I finally had the opportunity to do so. As a birding destination, there is a lot to offer, as there are many endemics and lots of other avian goodies which in some cases are difficult to find in other countries. The country is densely populated: 22 million people; the same as Australia, but in a substantially smaller area. However, some 60% of the country is forest (it seemed like more!) and a lot of habitat remains in mid and high elevation areas. This is where you will find the vast majority of endemics.

For the record, I used Mark Brazil's usually excellent Birds of East Asia as a field guide. I also used it as a guide to how many endemics there actually are in Taiwan. Historically, the number was about 16 or something like that. According to Mark Brazil's guide, it may now be as many as 33! He has treated some as separate species and commented on likely future splits. Using the book as a guide, I will acknowledge all likely splits for consistency even if some aren't subsequently split.

The only Asian birding I have done before was a week in Malaysia back in the mid 90s, so even relatively common birds seen on this trip would often prove to be lifers. This was also the first ever bird tour I have done, to test the waters and see if birding this way was to my taste. I organised my tour through Birding2Asia and the bird guide was Stijn de Win who is based in the Philippines and Thailand and offers a variety of tours in Asia.

Now, if you live in Cairns as I do, you will be all too aware of the paucity of international connections from this neck of the woods. As a consequence, I landed at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport just after midnight on the 30th April after more than 20 hours travel, including transfers, via Brisbane and Hong Kong. Completely knackered, I checked into the Novotel at the airport and crashed until late morning when I had to check out. I had a short wander about outside the hotel and was surprised at the complete lack of birds. Only five minutes standing outside Cairns' international terminal would yield you a dozen species at least!

I was picked up from the lobby a few hours later by Stijn. We drove back to the airport to pick up another tour guest from the terminal. As we got out of the car, I spotted our first bird for the trip, Feral Pigeon in a distant flock. Ever eager to get my list underway I decided this would be bird number 1 (yes I know some people wouldn't count it...). As we travelled back out of the airport, we had four Eurasian Magpies around the airport buildings which would prove to be the only ones of the trip as Stijn predicted. This may be split as Oriental Magpie in the future. Driving to the hotel, we saw a lot of Black-crowned Night Herons in flight (these would prove to be very common throughout the country); Black Drongos and Javan Mynas; 2 Red Turtle Doves and several Barn Swallows. After dinner I immediately headed for bed, still feeling very tired but excited about the prospects of what lay ahead.

I will keep a running total of new species added on a daily basis. Lifers are in bold.

1) Feral Pigeon.
2) Eurasian Magpie.
3) Black-crowned Night Heron.
4) Black Drongo.
5) Javan Myna.
6) Red Turtle Dove.
7) Barn Swallow.

Last edited by chowchilla : Friday 11th May 2012 at 08:16.
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Old Friday 11th May 2012, 12:27   #2
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Day 1.

As we stepped out of the hotel early on the morning of the 1st of May, there were lots of Asian House Swifts flying between the buildings. This proved to be a common urban bird in Taiwan. As we drove south, a Sacred Ibis flew over the tollway, an introduced species and only seen again on the final day of the trip heading for the airport.

We stopped off for petrol en route to our first birding hotspot. As we did so, we clocked several species around the petrol station itself: Tree Sparrow, which are everywhere; Grey Treepie, a common species in the lowlands; Striated Prinia, also a common lowland species and Striated Swallow, common over much of the country.

Eventually we turned off the tollway and started heading into the hills. In the foothills of Anmashan at about K12 on the road to the summit of Daxueshan, we were surrounded with a mixture of forest, scrub, bamboo thickets and farmland. it was a hot day and birding initially was quite slow. We could hear lots of stuff which Stijn patiently identified for us but most of which remained stubbornly hidden.

Eventually we started to tick off some species. First up was a fly over Crested Goshawk, a species we recorded regularly on this trip. This was followed by a pair of Black Bulbuls in a roadside tree. In the land below the road we spotted several more species: a Collared Finchbill flew up onto overhead wires; a pair of Oriental Cuckoos flew out over the valley and disappeared into the trees. They then started calling, something they never do in Australia. I recently recorded this species on my garden list; nice to see them in their breeding grounds! Bronzed Drongos appeared on the roadside wires. This species replaces Black Drongo in forested areas. Then Stijn heard Partridges calling. Our first endemic! Eventually we got on to a pair of Taiwan Bamboo Partridge in a clearing below the road, giving us excellent views before they headed for cover. A short while later, another flew up on to a low wall beside the road giving us belting views from mere metres away. It seemed to take it several seconds to realise we were standing right beside it as it dropped off the wall into cover.

On the slope rising steeply above the road was dense cover that eventually produced a stunning male Black-naped Monarch and a pair of Taiwan Scimitar Babblers which gave us the runaround initially but eventually gave good views. Our second endemic.

Other species started to show well: the pretty Rufous-faced Warbler; soaring Crested Serpent Eagle; a small party of Grey-cheeked Fulvetta; and Oriental Turtle Doves flew over. All good stuff, but hardly setting the pulse racing. However, then we got on to a truly fantastic endemic down a side track after hearing their calls. Rusty Laughing Thrush were moving through cover and eventually gave good views. This proved to be one of my favourite birds of the trip. Another species that eventually gave good views was White-bellied Erpornis. This was once classed with the Yuhinas. Even though it's been reclassified, I don't really see the point of the change in names.

Throughout the time we were at this site, we could hear another endemic calling all around us namely Strong-footed Bush Warbler. We eventually had brief but hardly tickable views of what proved to be a very skulky species. Later that evening at dusk, we would return to this site and have them showing well all around us. One flew past Stijn's face so close it practically tried to fly up his nose!

We continued on up into the mountains. Stijn took a side road to another narrow valley with a small river full of little waterfalls and rapids. This beautiful scenic location quickly produced a beautiful little bird on the river as Plumbeous Redstart showed well above the waterfalls. Our main quarry however was Brown Dipper. We weren't so lucky this time however, as the species failed to show. A flyover Little Egret was added to the list, as was a rather more impressive Black Eagle soaring overhead. This proved to be common over the mountains, and several birds were seen during the trip.

A pair of Grey-chinned Minivets gave brief distant views high up on the hillside but nothing much else was stirring so we moved on up into the mountains. At around K23 in mid-elevation forest, we got out and scanned the surrounding trees. Two endemics fell in quick succession: Taiwan Sibia and Taiwan Yuhina, two species that are very common and easy to find. A bit further up the road we heard a Large Hawk Cuckoo calling. None of us could see it even though it was quite close. Then I happened to look up just as it flew directly over my head and across the road showing its strongly marked underside and tail. I was the only one to see this species even though we heard many more in the mountain forests throughout the trip.

Another call that we kept hearing eventually revealed itself to be a Steere's Liocichla a colourful endemic that proved common in these mid elevation forests. White-tailed Robin was seen several times by the side of the road, another common species. A bit further up the road still, and we encountered a small part of Black-throated Tits, a stunning little bird belonging to the Long-tailed Tit family and common throughout Taiwan's hills and mountains. As the light was failing we heading back down the road towards our hotel stopping only briefly to watch another endemic high up on an exposed branch, a beautiful Taiwan Niltava. We saw this species several more times.

Back in town after dark and we weren't done yet: as we got out of the car we could hear and eventually see, several Savannah Nightjars flying around the town buildings, a species that has adapted readily to town living and frequently uses the roofs of houses for roosting.

A good start to the trip but hard work at first. The skulkier species proved difficult to see and this would prove to get even harder later on...

8) Asian House Swift.
9) Sacred Ibis.
10) Tree Sparrow.
11) Grey Treepie.
12) Striated Prinia.
13) Striated Swallow.
14) Crested Goshawk.
15) Black Bulbul.
16) Collared Finchbill.
17) Oriental Cuckoo.
18) Bronzed Drongo.
19) Taiwan Bamboo Partridge.
20) Black-naped Monarch.
21) Taiwan Scimitar Babbler.
22) Rufous-faced Warbler.
23) Crested Serpent Eagle.
24) Grey-cheeked Fulvetta.
25) Oriental Turtle Dove.
26) Rusty Laughing Thrush.
27) White-bellied Erpornis.
28) Strong-footed Bush Warbler.
29) Plumbeous Redstart.
30) Little Egret.
31) Black Eagle.
32) Grey-chinned Minivet.
33) Taiwan Sibia.
34) Taiwan Yuhina.
35) Large Hawk Cuckoo.
36) Steere's Liocichla.
37) White-tailed Robin.
38) Black-throated Tit.
39) Taiwan Niltava.
40) Savannah Nightjar.

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Old Friday 11th May 2012, 15:36   #3
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Sounds like a good start - looking forward to hearing more. btw oriental Cuckoo has been split I believe.

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Old Friday 11th May 2012, 16:01   #4
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Thanks Mike. Once I figure out how to 'resize' pics I'll post them. What's the situation with Oriental Cuckoo? Is the Aussie one now split from the Asian one?

EDIT: I think you might be referring to the Himalayan Cuckoo. I asked Stijn about this as Mark Brazil's book implies that it also occurs in Taiwan. Stijn reckons this isn't the case, though I'm not sure why.

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Old Saturday 12th May 2012, 01:17   #5
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What a great "Day 1". Can't wait for the next episode.

btw The BBBC (The Beijing Birds and Beer Club) prefers Morrison's Fulvetta (to "Grey-cheeked Fulvetta"); Swinhoe's Bush Warbler (to "Strong-footed Bush Warbler"); and Blyth's Cuckoo (to "Himalayan Cuckoo", as it believes that "Himalayan" is a misnomer for a species whose range extends all the way from the Himalayas to Taiwan).

I understand that the related-species that winters in Australia (and Indonesia) is the more northerly-breeding Horsfield's Cuckoo - aka "Oriental Cuckoo".

Blyth's - aka "Himalayan" - winters only as far south as Indonesia and the Philippines.

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Old Saturday 12th May 2012, 06:05   #6
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Thanks Shi Jin. We have Horsefield's Bronze Cuckoo here in Aus too. That's not the bird you're referring to is it?

If it's actually the name for Oriental then it will never be adopted in Aus. The confusion would be endless! Anyway, Stijn is convinced that Himalayan or whatever it's called this week doesn't occur in Taiwan, which is good enough for me.

For the record, I will stick to the names in Mark Brazil's guide to avoid endless confusion. I have already checked the IOC and Clements lists and there is plenty of variance in the names on both which gives me a headache just thinking about it, so seeing this is my report I'm ignoring them both. Anyone who visits Taiwan birding is more than likely to be carrying Mark Brazil's book, so best if they see the names as written in the guide.

Now, my jetlag is still monstrous and I have already missed out two species from Day 1!

First up was Dusky Fulvetta which was heard at mid-elevations and briefly seen at one point, but hardly tickable. Rather less forgivable is the complete omission from my trip list of Swinhoe's Pheasant! We saw two males on the first day.

I remember well seeing two males at the well-known stake-out on the main road, in the company of several Red-bellied Tree Squirrels. They will come to the food put out by locals, as will the squirrels, and allow close observation from the other side of the road.

Anyway, I should point out that they are fantastic birds and well worth seeing. I just wish I could show you my pics.
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Old Saturday 12th May 2012, 08:10   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chowchilla
I had a short wander about outside the hotel and was surprised at the complete lack of birds. Only five minutes standing outside Cairns' international terminal would yield you a dozen species at least!
welcome to Asian birding lol
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Old Saturday 12th May 2012, 08:12   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chlidonias View Post
welcome to Asian birding lol
It was certainly much harder going than Aussie birding!
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Old Saturday 12th May 2012, 09:24   #9
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Day 2.

Dawn saw us out of the hotel and back up the road to Anmashan. Spotted Dove was added on the wires and Chinese (white-vented) Bulbul just about everywhere.

We got out at K23 and had a look around. Many of yesterday's birds were present including the ubiquitous Taiwan Sibia calling all around us and Taiwan Yuhinas in little feeding parties. In amongst one of these parties was our first Eurasian Nuthatch; much darker on the underside than those found in Europe. We then spotted another group of Rusty Laughing Thrush by the side of the road. I then noticed another bird with them and momentarily had a brain fart; I simply couldn't figure out what I was looking out when suddenly Stijn said, 'Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler!' It was the same bird I was looking at and I'd barely raised my bins just as it flew across the road into cover. This bird is a notorious skulker and I'd just had a full view of it for several seconds without clicking as to what it was! Apart from brief glimpses of bits of tail and wing, the bird refused to show properly again. Stijn reckoned they were less responsive to tape in May, and so it proved to be today and on subsequent days as well.

A little further up the road and we encountered several Eyebrowed Thrush sitting some way in from the road and partially concealed by foliage. We all had good scope views however. Movement high in the trees turned out to be several White-bellied Green Pigeon which flew into a bare tree allowing good uninterrupted views.

The mist began to descend and visibility grew poor. As we drove on, we could barely see 5 metres in front of the car and progress was slow, especially as it was a Taiwan holiday and the road was busy with vehicles looming out of the mist on the twisting mountain road. Thankfully, Taiwanese drivers are fairy courteous however, and were mostly proceeding with similar caution.

Every now and then we had pockets of clarity amongst the banks of mist. It was in one of these that our next endemic flew off the road as we rounded the corner, a Taiwan Whistling Thrush. Being in the back, I missed this bird entirely as well as one seen later.

Eventually, we reached a high bridge over a chasm in the rock face and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of Asian House Martins which apparently nest up here. At a waterfall by the side of the road, we stopped to scan the little cataracts for a very special bird which duly showed after some searching through the mist. A Little Forktail gave good views as it flitted in and out of cover by the falls. Nearby, an almost absurdly confiding group of White-whiskered Laughing Thrush pottered about by the side of the road, allowing us to within a couple of metres. Yet another endemic in the bag.

At the summit car park we got out and headed for a trail leading off it. It was very misty and bitterly cold. For someone used to tropical living, it felt like a million degrees below zero and I started to shiver. I was inadequately dressed for this trip as I was under the (obviously false) impression that it was a 'bit chilly early morning' and not cold mid-morning as was the time now. This feeling of discomfort was magnified by the difficulties of birding this trail in the poor visibility and I felt miserable. I hate the cold. Anything below 25C is uncomfortable for me and I was in shorts and sandals! I can honesty say this was the low point of the trip for me. Needless to say, I wore my long pants, socks and trainers and fleece in the high mountains thereafter!

The trail was heavy going. There were clearly some good birds to be had as we could hear them all around us. Grey-headed Woodpecker, Taiwan Shortwing, Flamecrest, Yellow-flanked Bush Warbler and Coal Tit could all be heard, but not seen. Eventually the Coal Tit gave us brief but adequate views as if feeling sorry for us. Then something hopped on to the path: a female Collared Bush Robin; a nice addition and we would see many more in time including the beautiful male. Oddly, Mark Brazil calls this bird Johnstone's Robin. As far as I can tell, he is the only one who does.

The weird rising call of the Yellow-flanked Bush Warbler was the commonest call we heard. One eventually was nailed in a bush giving reasonable, but not great views. Flamecrests were frequently calling from the pines and giving tantalising views of their tails and such as they moved restlessly through the high branches. Only one showed well enough for all of two seconds for me to clock the features of the head of this beautiful bird. This was followed by a female Taiwan (White-browed) Robin on the track and a view of the underside of a Ferruginous Flycatcher up on the wires. I had far better views of both species at Wushan in good light.

Throughout our time on the trail we had construction vehicles going past us in both directions forcing us off the track, often when we had just gotten on to a good bird. The noise and disruption meant that coaxing shier species to show went from difficult to almost impossible. We had to work very hard to get brief but tickable views of Taiwan Bush Warbler and Taiwan Shortwing. The calls of these two birds are indelibly etched on my memory as we must have heard dozens but seen only a couple.

Back at the Car Park, we sought shelter and a hot coffee in the summit visitors centre along with a bit of lunch. Warming up we knew we had cracked some good endemics with sheer bloody persistence. As we sat out the front, the mist suddenly cleared and we could see across the car park for the first time. A Large-billed Crow appeared in the sky calling and a single Green-backed Tit popped out of a bush. We decided to investigate further whilst conditions were good. As we headed across the car park, we saw a a bird fly down onto the adjoining road which turned out to be a cracking male Collared Bush Robin. Giving stunning views as it behaved just like a Bush Chat by repeatedly cocking its tail, I realised I'd left my camera in the car! I ran back to grab it just as it flew into the shade of a tree.

The excitement wasn't over however: leaning over a barrier, we could see activity around a pile of builders rubble. Two species were pottering about here: a pair of Owston's (Beavan's) Bullfinch and a pair of Vinaceous Rosefinch; both at close quarters and giving terrific views. This was relief after the hard slog of the trail and featured two of my favourite birds of the trip, especially the Bullfinch which can easily be missed.

Shortly afterwards, we had two British birders appear from the direction of the main road. They were looking for Golden Parrotbill and Ashy Woodpigeon. We were too having missed them on the trail. They headed off onto the trail nonetheless in search of both species. We don't know how they faired as we never met up with them again.

We headed back down the road, having reasonable views of much of what we saw yesterday, but our main quarries were the Golden Parrotbill and Mikado Pheasant. We drove down and back up the road three times hoping to encounter either species in the thick mists that were once again gathering, to no avail. Eventually we decided to call it a day at this altitude and try again tomorrow.

On the way back down, we stopped off once more at the Swinhoe's Pheasant stake out, this time hoping for the far more elusive Taiwan Hill Partridge. There were plenty of Taiwanese photographers waiting too, and soon a male pheasant appeared giving great views once more. This was joined by the attendant squirrels; several White-tailed Robins, Steere's Liocichla and several other species we had seen before but no Partidge. We eventually decided to move on. Once again heading off the side road into the next valley for another crack at Brown Dipper. No sign of them at the first site so we drove on. At the bridge over the river itself we got out and scanned. Immediately we found no less than three Brown Dippers on the river, all at close range. One didn't move from its rock perch for the twenty or so minutes we were there and was only about 10 metres away. There were also similarly confiding Plumbeous Redstarts here as well. Another Black Eagle went over and shortly afterwards a pair of Silver-backed Needletails in the company of Asian House Swifts was a nice addition to the list. And so ended day 2.

41) Swinhoe's Pheasant (from yesterday).
42) Spotted Dove.
43) Chinese (White-vented) Bulbul.
44) Eurasian Nuthatch.
45) Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler.
46) Eyebrowed Thrush.
47) White-bellied Green Pigeon.
48) Asian House Martin.
49) Little Forktail.
50) White-whiskered Laughing Thrush.
51) Coal Tit.
52) Collared Bush (Johnstone's) Robin.
53) Yellow-flanked Bush Warbler.
54) Flamecrest.
55) White-browed (Taiwan) Robin.
56) Ferruginous Flycatcher.
57) Taiwan Bush Warbler.
58) White-browed (Taiwan) Shortwing.
59) Large-billed Crow.
60) Green-backed Tit.
61) Beavan's (Owston's) Bullfinch.
62) Vinaceous Rosefinch.
63) Brown Dipper.
64) Silver-backed Needletail.

Please note: I find the English nomenclature endlessly confusing. Whilst I'm trying to be consistent here, there are alternate names for many species according to the IOC and Clements, as well as Mark Brazil's guide; complicated further by the alternate names for the many potential splits.

If as a result I am not as consistent as I'd like to be, please don't give me a hard time over it.

Last edited by chowchilla : Saturday 12th May 2012 at 09:37.
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Old Saturday 12th May 2012, 10:28   #10
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Great report Chowchilla. following it with interest even though i have no idea what the birds you are seeing look like!
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Old Sunday 13th May 2012, 00:45   #11
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What an incredible day!

Thanks for sharing.

Shi Jin
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Old Sunday 13th May 2012, 02:25   #12
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If a day like that counts as hard going then Australia really is the Lucky Country when it comes to birding!

Shi Jin put the state of play on Oriental Cuckoo taxonomy much better than I would have done - no Oriental Cuckoo is not same same Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo. The brain ache caused by keeping track of the names is the reason I don't keep a global life list.


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Old Sunday 13th May 2012, 03:28   #13
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Thank you folks!

Mike I found it hard going because I was freezing cold which I absolutely hate and getting a single bird must have taken over an hour in at least two cases as the birds could be incredibly hard to see in the poor conditions coupled with their natural skulkiness anyway.

It was certainly a great relief to get on to the Shortwing as I recall; unbelievably hard work but worth it.
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Old Sunday 13th May 2012, 04:16   #14
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Day 3.

This was our final day at Anmashan with a few more birds to try and crack before moving on.

As we headed out of town, White-rumped Munias flew off the road in a small flock. Various Doves, Drongos, Bulbuls and so on already seen were readily visible on the way up. Suddenly Stijn applied the brakes: right by the side of the car a mere few metres away was an immature Malayan Night Heron feeding on something in the roadside drain. It allowed us to sit and watch it for several minutes as it plucked titbits out of the water (we'd had heavy rain overnight). Great stuff!

We eventually continued on and barely 100 metres up the road we encountered two birds at once: an adult Malayan Night Heron doing the same as the youngster and a male Swinhoe's Pheasant crossing the road! Stijn said he'd never seen the Pheasant this low before; we were still in farmland. Neither allowed us to get nearly as close as the other bird, but we were able to watch both for a full minute at least from the car at a discreet distance.

We drove on. As we climbed, the forest once again closed in around us. I continued to marvel at how much forest remains on this little island. A real lesson to Australia here on how to manage forests and other wild habitats.

Several kilometres up the road we encounted a large party of Rufous-crowned Laughing Thrush which put on a bit of a show in the roadside trees and bushes, chasing each other around and exploring every nook and cranny of the forest in their progress. This is a group I could really take to: we'd seen three species already, all endemic to Taiwan and all utterly different from one another in appearance. They're birds with character too. good value all around.

At mid-elevation, we passed through some mature forest with huge trees ideal for woodpeckers. This was in fact where we would get out and try for these birds. No sooner had we shared this notion, then a Grey-headed Woodpecker flew off the road almost from under the bonnet of the car. Being in the front today, I enjoyed fantastic albeit brief views of this great bird as it flew into the forest and disappeared, reminding me very much of Green Woodpecker when it flies, being mostly green on the back itself with a yellow rump. I love woodpeckers; we have none in Aus which means that I need my fix of them whenever I'm abroad. Taiwan has three species and I'd just had excellent views of this one.

We got out a bit further up the road and had a look for more woodpeckers, not least since those in the back hadn't had nearly such good views. We were also looking for White-backed Woodpecker. It started to rain heavily and we eventually retreated to the car. Despite searching long and hard for these species, we were destined not to see them today, or even hear them for that matter.

Higher up the mountain and we were hoping for that elusive Pheasant. This time we had rather better luck as we encountered not one but two male Mikado Pheasant by the side of the road. If anything I think this is an even more beautiful bird than Swinhoe's. It has an amazing stripy tail and its body is a colour that cannot really be described. A shade of blue that needs a new name. Mikado perhaps.

Buoyed by our success we were feeling lucky, if the weather held out. Around another corner and we were to have some of the best luck of the trip as not one but two Taiwan Hill Partridge stood in the middle of the road. One ran into the forest straight away, but the other one just stood their apparently wondering what to do for a full minute at least. Fantastic stuff! Stijn had never had such good views of this species and we knew just how lucky we'd been. No need to wait for hours at the stakeout then!

A short way up the road and another endemic fell. As we rounded a corner, I finally got good albeit brief views of a Taiwan Whistling Thrush as it flew off the road. What a great day this was turning out to be!

Well it couldn't last could it? Alas no... we got out to bird at different altitudes and were repeatedly beaten back by heavy rain; furthermore the mist once again descended and we were enveloped so completely that the edge of the world could have been a few metres away and we wouldn't have known it.

Nonetheless we managed a few more good birds during the course of the day, mostly during patches where the weather gave us brief respite. First up was Taiwan Fulvetta, which gave tickable but ultimately unsatisfactory views, followed by a Eurasian Jay which eventually gave good views high in the trees.

At various points, little feeding parties of birds appeared out of the dense mist. The ubiquitous Taiwan Yuhina was ever present, and we saw quite a lot of Black-throated and Green-backed Tit. The latter looks remarkably like Great Tit but with a green back. Various other species already seen on this trip gave us misty views during the course of the day including another Vinaceous Rosefinch right by the side of the car.
Eventually however we did add something else new as one of our party got on to a Yellow Tit. I eventually got on to the bird and enjoyed superb views of this, one of the loveliest Taiwan endemics. Just as well as I never saw this bird again.

Another crack at the woodpeckers further down the road really would end abruptly this time as the mother of all rain-showers saw us running for the car. Note to self.... buy an umbrella tomorrow...

We spent our last night in town before moving on tomorrow. I wrang out my sopping clothes and went to bed. So ended day 3.

65) White-rumped Munia.
66) Malayan Night Heron.
67) Rufous-crowned Laughing Thrush.
68) Grey-headed Woodpecker.
69) Mikado Pheasant.
70) Taiwan Whistling Thrush.
71) Taiwan Hill Partridge.
72) Taiwan Fulvetta.
73) Eurasian Jay.
74) Yellow Tit.

Last edited by chowchilla : Sunday 13th May 2012 at 04:23.
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Old Sunday 13th May 2012, 09:37   #15
Shi Jin
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Amazing!!

This is an off-the-scale gripping report.

If I'd have been tagging-along for those 3 days, my BBBC (Beijing Birds and Beer Club) List would have increased by 28 species no less... taking it close to 900.

That said, I'm not bitter and twisted, so would like to award it 5 stars - birdforum's highest accolade.

But if you go to Lanyu Island and clean up there also, I may be tempted to remove them.

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Old Sunday 13th May 2012, 12:55   #16
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Thank you Shi Jin.

I regret to inform that my budget didn't stretch to going to Lanyu, though it would've been nice. Still, plenty more goodies on the mainland yet to come including lots more endemics.
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Old Monday 14th May 2012, 05:41   #17
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I should stop reading the trip reports on Birdforum, it makes me want to visit everywhere!
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Old Monday 14th May 2012, 06:37   #18
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Thanks Chlidonas. I know what you mean; I have about a dozen destinations at least I'm thinking of based largely on what I read here!
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Old Monday 14th May 2012, 07:55   #19
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Day 4.

We checked out of our hotel first thing and headed off for our next destination. The weather looked grim and no sooner had we hit the open road then the heavens opened. Despite driving through heavy rain however we managed to add White Wagtail and Common Myna to the trip list from the car.

After a couple of hours, we arrived at the Huisun Forestry Station, a mid-altitude site renowned for Taiwan's National Bird. The rain had stopped and we got out and wandered about the Car Park for our main quarry. Within minutes, several Taiwan Blue Magpie flew into the trees around the Car Park. They were surprisingly difficult to observe for such a large showy bird due to the poor light and their restlessness. If they appeared nervous in our presence, it quickly became apparent as to why as we could see a nest in the main tree they were in.

I was really looking forward to seeing this bird and the poor conditions were a disappointment as they always seemed to be against the leaden sky. Still, I'd had reasonable views and we moved on to a short trail leading off the Car Park. It wasn't long before we got on to the first of three Pygmy Grey-capped Woodpeckers in the low trees, making them much easier to observe. Woodie number two in the bag. I also realised that I hadn't added the ubiquitious Japanese White Eye to my trip list (I guess I just hadn't noticed them in the lowlands), and so took time to have a look at the ones which were now passing through the trees. We also had our first decent views of Taiwan Barbet here despite having heard them numerous times before. I've seen Black-browed Barbet in Malaysia from which I believe this bird was recently split.

In a low bush, we all more or less simultaneously got on to a leaf warbler which turned out to be an Arctic Warbler; the only phyllosc of the entire trip. Without much else along this stretch, we returned to the car and drove on.

Further down the road we were looking for another bird that we needed at this site as we probably wouldn't otherwise see it. After about 10 minutes, one of our group got onto a 'strange bird' in a pine. It was a female Maroon (Red) Oriole, the bird we were looking for! After a couple of minutes it took off and it was then that we noticed a male join it from a concealed perch and they both flew away never to be seen again. Too bad we didn't get looks of the male perched up as these are real stunners. These would prove to be the only ones we would see on the entire trip.

As we returned to the car, we noticed that we had Pacific Swallows flying about to add to the hirundines seen. We stopped briefly to admire the amazing gorge scenery at this location, and further on, encountered the second family group of Magpies that live here. It was starting to rain quite heavily however though at least I now had the aforementioned umbrella. I've never birded with an umbrella before. I don't know why I felt so self conscious using it but the team leader had one, so common sense prevailed!

At the top of the road, we parked up and ran for shelter under the porch of a tourist building. The rain felt like a tropical downpour of the sort we get in Cairns mid-summer. The mist descended and obliterated any view we may have had of the hills and mountains surrounding us. It continued to rain, and rain, and rain. Every now and then, it let up a little and we had improved visibility. At one point, we could see the third group of Magpies that live here, fly across the valley, showing off their amazingly long tails. We also noticed an adult Malayan Night Heron feeding out on the lawn, apparently oblivious of the drenching it was receiving.

Our sole objective at this spot was to find Taiwan Varied Tit. We would not find it anywhere else so this was our only chance. Whenever the rain eased up, we headed out around the Car Park (the easiest place to see them we were told) and at one point around the main trail. At times the rain came back so heavily it became pointless to keep searching so we keep returning to the porch. This kept on happening. We had arrived mid-morning full of confidence that we would have everything in the bag by lunchtime. Indeed we'd had the other birds we came here for in quick order, but the Tit remained stubbornly invisible in the appalling conditions. Thank God we weren't trying to locate it in this weather down some muddy forest trail...

We broke for lunch; the place we were sheltering opened and served coffee which we duly ordered to try and revive our spirits. Replete, we set off again to find this pesky Tit. Other birds were showing quite well at times. Gorgeous Grey-chinned Minivets were common here. The Taiwan Blue Magpies occasionally checked in on us to see how we were doing. Not very well was the answer... Stijn said he'd never failed to locate this bird here and couldn't believe how hard it was proving despite the weather. Just every now and then, we heard tell-tale squeaks from the tree tops that could only be this bird. Occasionally we would see a tantalising movement in the tree tops which had to be this bird, but nothing remotely tickable.

Even by Tit standards, this bird is remarkably restless. They move from tree to tree with a speed that means that by the time you've raised your bins, they've moved to the next tree and the one after that! We simply couldn't get on to the fleeing shapes and the rain remained heavy and at times even more torrential than before lunch if that was possible. The trees afforded some shelter as did my swanky new enormous Taiwanese Burberry umbrella (well it was tartan...). Seriously.... I was beginning to wonder if this would be the weather for the rest of the trip. Furthermore would we even see this bird at all?

After about four hours of searching, Stijn got on to the upteenth 'shape' high in a pine tree. Just as he was about to say where it was, it flew up to the very tip of the next tree and stayed there. So it couldn't have been a Tit surely. I raised my bins... I focused on a Taiwan Varied Tit which remained in place for at least 10 seconds, enough time for me to study all its features, possibly a world record for this bird.

With no time to lose, we piled back into the car and were gone within minutes. We all felt a massive relief to finally get what would prove to be one of our toughest birds of the trip. As we drove back out of the valley, the rain fell unrelentingly. It's in precisely this sort of weather that Taiwan can have massive landslides. The evidence was all around us on the precipitous hillsides. Sometimes prime birding destinations have been cut off by them as they've taken out roads, so we hoped this wouldn't happen to us...

En route south, the rain finally relented and it even looked as though it might start to clear up. We stopped briefly to admire a Lesser Coucal sitting on a roadside post drying its wings. Further on, we stopped so I could take a picture of a humungous golden statue of Buddha on the far hillside that must have stood at least 50 metres high. This proved to be a fortuitous stop as there were open fields between us and the statue that quickly yielded Plain Prinia and Grey-throated Martin on the wires; Common Moorhen in the ditches and (Eastern) Cattle Egret flying over. Another brief stop at a 7-11 gave us our first Brown Shrike of the trip, on a roadside bush, and four distant flying Herons that we deduced must have been Grey Herons.

Eventually we arrived at our next site, a University Experimental Farm well known for one special bird: Vinous-throated Parrotbill. The rain had started again but was fairly light, and yet in stark contrast to the last site we located and had good looks at this species within minutes of arriving. They were to be found flitting about in the tea bushes that covered the steep slopes. The trick was to get yourself into a position to observe them without slipping and tumbling down the hillside. Fortunately none of us came a cropper and after the disappointment of missing its Golden relative, these birds were a real pleasure to get so easily.

There were plenty of other birds here too: Taiwan Hwamei could be heard singing from every bush and eventually showed fairly well. The song reminded me of a slightly more varied version of a Song Thrush. Going over were lots of Swifts and amongst these were Pacific (Fork-tailed) Swifts, new for the trip. I also eventually got tickable views of Rufous-capped Babbler amongst the tea having had unsatisfactory glimpses of them before now. Nothing else new was added and with the light fading, we moved on to the Homestay where we were to stay the next two nights.

After having showered and had dinner I was in my room and ready for bed. Suddenly there was a knock on my door. It was Stijn; he had heard a calling Collared Scops Owl near the road. I hastily donned my clothes and three of us headed up to the road. Within only a few minutes we saw the Owl fly out of the tree and out the back. Not great views but at least we'd seen it. To add to this, there were Mountain Scops Owls calling further down the hillside. Not a bad end to a tiring but rewarding day!

75) White Wagtail.
76) Common Myna.
77) Taiwan Blue Magpie.
78) Pygmy Grey-capped Woodpecker.
79) Japanese White Eye.
80) Taiwan Barbet.
81) Arctic Warbler.
82) Maroon (Red) Oriole.
83) Pacific Swallow.
84) Taiwan Varied Tit.
85) Lesser Coucal.
86) Plain Prinia.
87) Grey-throated Martin.
88) Common Moorhen.
89) (Eastern) Cattle Egret.
90) Brown Shrike.
91) Grey Heron.
92) Vinous-throated Parrotbill
93) Taiwan Hwamei.
94) Pacific (Fork-tailed) Swift.
95) Rufous-capped Babbler.
96) Collared Scops Owl.
97) Mountain Scops Owl -included here for the sake of completeness, despite only being heard.

Last edited by chowchilla : Monday 14th May 2012 at 08:05.
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Old Tuesday 15th May 2012, 07:13   #20
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Day 5.

Dawn at the homestay revealed that our accommodation was perched high up on a steep valley and with the mists cleared afforded astounding views of the forested mountains surrounding us.

This morning we were heading for the well-known Blue-Gate trail where we still needed to try and 'mop up' a few endemics. The trail was muddy and flooded in places but at least the weather remained dry for the duration of our visit. It didn't take us long to get on to one of the birds we were looking for either as a pair of Taiwan Barwing showed well in a low tree. The illustration simply doesn't do this bird justice. Watching the trees around the Barwings revealed a hub of avian activity but nothing new.

As we considered pressing on, we suddenly heard a call I became familiar with in Malaysia. A Collared Owlet had started up from close by. The alarm calls from the surrounding birds saw us focussing high in the trees on the other side of the track. Almost immediately I spotted the Owlet looking straight down at us from its lofty perch. Before I could get anyone on to it however, it flew higher up into the tree to a point where it remained completely concealed, with the frantic squawks of smaller birds being the only hint of its presence. We needn't have worried however as another started calling from the other side of the track and much closer. So close in fact that we realised that it was in a small tree right beside us. Everyone got views of this bird at least as it sat close to the trunk, watching us initially, but then turning its back and ignoring us completely so it seemed.

We moved on. All around us were the calls of Taiwan Wren Babbler which stubbornly failed to show. We had heard heaps of these at Anmashan as well. They are serious skulkers and our failure to locate them here despite sterling efforts to do so meant we were running out of places to see it. By means of compensation however we did get on to no less than seven Brown Bullfinches as they flew over. A good species to get.

With nothing more to be had at this site we moved on. We headed higher up into the mountains; so high in fact that we ended up above the tree line at the Hehuan pass in the Taroko National Park. We were here for one bird in particular which could often be found in the Car Park at the top.

As we got out, we scanned the Car Park to no avail but we did spot about two thousand locals enjoying the 'bracing' high altitude air and cold. Fortunately I was better prepared with extra layers knowing we were coming up here, but I still felt the cold nonetheless. As a distraction, there was the spectacular vistas to be had here as the mists cleared to reveal endless mountains in every direction.

We walked around the back of what looked like a hotel with no guests. The mountainside fell away to our left and we scanned the slopes below. In a group of bushes just below us I heard an all too familiar sound which soon revealed itself as it flew out of cover as a Winter Wren, or whatever the Old World version is called these days.

More surprising was an Eastern Yellow Wagtail which popped up on to a low bush and positively glowed in the sunlight. This was a bird of the tschutschensis race, but I wonder if the species itself is a good one? This bird must have been a migrant being at this altitude. Stijn later revealed this as his bird of the trip as he regarded it as pretty unusual to see one up here.

Seeing these birds was all very nice but our target bird was still eluding us. As we headed back to the car, numerous Collared Bush Robins hopped about in front of us but didn't allow close approach. Rather more confiding were the White-whiskered Laughing Thrushes that took food from the hands of tourists or pecked around their feet.

We drove further up the road away from the hordes to see where our bird may have gone. After about 1 kilometre we pulled over and got out to scan the high cracks that rose sheer out of the landscape. A forbidding landscape for any small bird one might think and yet there atop the highest, windiest but thankfully closest, crag was a singing Alpine Accentor. I never saw this species in Europe and it was great to finally catch up with it. Another was spotted further down the hillside shortly afterwards. Stijn reckons that they've moved away from the Car Parks and on to territories to breed where they are less disturbed. Makes sense.

After lunch we returned to the Blue Gate track but it was now very quiet and our attempts to add Taiwan Wren Babbler to the trip list failed even though they were calling all around us. As we drove slowly back to the Homestay, Stijn heard one right by the road on a steep bank and so we squeezed the car into a space at the corner of the precipitous switchback road and got out. Despite virtually nothing for it to hide in, this bird stlll gave us the runaround. After about twenty minutes, I saw it flit between two stunted bushes but still couldn't get a tickable view. It took the better part of three quarters of an hour before I finally got a view in my bins of the whole bird for all of a second. Taiwan Wren Babbler was in the bag. I would have liked a better view, but quite frankly I figured that seeing the bird at all was a bloody miracle.

Back at the homestay we decided to explore the steep slopes below the hotel mainly because we kept hearing Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler calling there. As you may recall, I had brief but unsatisfactory views of this species at Anmashan. They were clearly common here and at one point we had three calling birds around us. Amazingly, and despite much persistence on our part, we didn't so much as see a movement from these birds. There were also calling Taiwan Scimitar Babblers further up the slope, and Taiwan Hwamei here and there. Taiwan Bamboo Partridges could be seen pottering through the tea bushes below us and White-bellied Green Pigeon showed well in the surrounding trees. Many of Taiwan's commoner endemics were all around us including Taiwan Sibia, Steere's Liocichla and of course Taiwan Yuhina. Black Eagle and Crested Serpent Eagles went over and sure enough, there were Taiwan Wren Babblers here too. Not a bad little spot all told but with the light fading we once again called it a day.

98) Taiwan Barwing.
99) Collared Owlet.
100) Brown Bullfinch.
101) Winter Wren.
102) Eastern Yellow Wagtail.
103) Alpine Accentor.
104) Taiwan Wren Babbler.

Last edited by chowchilla : Tuesday 15th May 2012 at 07:22.
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Old Thursday 17th May 2012, 07:21   #21
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Day 6.

This morning was spent birding at Beidongyushan which I think is also known as the Pipeline Trail.

There was plenty around but nothing new for much of the morning, though we did get on to Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler yet again. I suspect this bird hates me as the other two got good views of it, whilst once again I only got fleeting glimpses. To compound things we did get on to a new bird a bit later on namely a Snowy-browed Flycatcher calling up the slope which resolutely refused to show. Likewise Dusky Fulvetta of which I would've liked better views.

My luck did change however as by late morning we heard a White-backed Woodpecker calling and then saw it fly into a tall tree. I got onto it almost immediately and had excellent views as it moved along a horizontal branch. The others couldn't see it however before it flew off. The third and final woodpecker was in the bag, for me at least!

Another White-backed Woodpecker was seen, again only by me a bit later, but no matter how hard we tried, we added nothing new this morning. The walking here was pretty gentle and yet I felt really tired. I hadn't been sleeping very well and the lack of new stuff suddenly made me feel like I just wanted to sit down, or better still lie down.

The result was that as we got back into the car and drove on, I promptly fell asleep. Now I don't sleep easily anywhere other than my own bed so no one was more surprised at this than me and I awoke with a start as Stijn yelled out 'Oriental Pratincole!' flying over the car as we headed down the tollway. Needless to say I missed it... I managed to stay awake long enough however to see another a short while later with its unmistakable flight silhouette.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving. We eventually left the tollway and headed back into the mountains. Our destination would be the town of Alishan close to the Yushan National Park. In order to get there we had to drive through the National Park itself. Just after we entered the park however, we found the road ahead barred and a sign in Chinese telling us the road was closed due to a landslide. We had just passed a massive landslide on the way up that had completely taken out the road about two years ago. It had taken them this long to clear it and reconstruct the road such was the scale of it. We had no alternative but to turn around and head all the way back north retracing our steps for about 50 kilometres before we could head west and back onto the tollway, then south and up the main route to Alishan. Needless to say this cost us quite a lot of time so just as well we weren't planning to do more birding today.

We arrived at our hotel fairy late and found eateries were closing up for the evening. Fortunately we found one place that was prepared to stay open however and had a nice dinner before retiring.

105) Snowy-browed Flycatcher -heard only; included here for completeness.
106) White-backed Woodpecker.
107. Oriental Pratincole.

Last edited by chowchilla : Thursday 17th May 2012 at 07:23.
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Old Saturday 19th May 2012, 15:53   #22
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Day 7.

The day started cool and clear. The clearest weather I'd seen yet on the trip. We got up early enough to grab some breakfast from a food outlet before heading up into the National Park. As we walked over to get our food, we spotted a Eurasian Jay feeding on something in a pine by the steps we were climbing. We couldn't have been more than a few metres from it as it completely ignored us, so preoccupied was it with its own breakfast.

Heading up the mountain we passed the mother of all landslides to date. So bad was it, they were building a bridge out over the chasm to bypass it but the temporary road that we used passed right under it. I just hoped that all the rain we'd had would not send the whole lot crashing down over the road any time soon. A lot of other work was being done on the road further up as well and we had to thread our way past construction vehicles, some of which seemed perched precariously close to the edge.

Eventually we reached the main track into the park and almost immediately we had a female Mikado Pheasant on the road ahead, the first female pheasant of any kind we would see all trip. A short while later, we stopped again for a Taiwan Bamboo Partridge which picked its way across the road ahead of us.

We stopped a little further up to admire the view on this gloriously clear day; we really were very high up and this was a stunning part of the world no doubt. As I was looking down the valley, one of our group spotted a couple of Pigeons flying over the ridge above our heads. He only got a brief glimpse of them but it was not unreasonable to speculate from the brief view we had that they were Ashy Woodpigeon. Alas we never saw them again and couldn't entirely rule out White-bellied Green Pigeon.

At the head of the trail we would be taking, we parked and got out. There was quite a lot of activity on the trail ahead and we got onto quite a lot of stuff in short order that we'd seen before only this time we weren't seeing silhouettes in poor light but birds in glorious technicolour, lit as they were by bright sunshine. I was able to reacquaint myself with Black-throated Tit, Taiwan Yuhina, Steere's Liochichla, Collared Bush and White-browed Robins, Flamecrest, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler and Coal Tit all over again, but in far more relaxed and comfortable circumstances and showing them at their best. As we came around to the end of the trail, an all too familiar call was heard just below us in a bush: a Taiwan Wren Babbler. This was clearly going to be one of those days, as the bird flew out of cover and hopped about in the open, along a concrete plinth before dipping back into cover. It was a 'wow' moment as this notorious skulker suddenly decided it liked being in the open.

We decided to head up some steep steps to the road as we wanted to cover as much ground as possible, not least because our target bird was often seen in this area, namely Golden Parrotbill. In short order we got on to a cracking pair of Taiwan Fulvettas showing far better than any we'd previously seen and only a couple of metres away. It was whilst we were admiring these birds that Stijn, called out 'Golden Parrotbill'! We looked up to see him pointing right at our feet. They had been concealed in vegetation as we approached the Fulvettas and we were practically standing on them! No sooner did we panic and try and get on to them, then they took off and flew up across the road with us in hot pursuit. They disappeared into the forest on the rise above the road and couldn't be refound. I had just seen these two tiny birds fly out from under my feet and disappear almost in an instant. Hardly satisfying views...

We nonetheless didn't give up on seeing them and Stijn reckoned that they might return as this was a very reliable place for them. As we waited we were at least able to enjoy a pair of Ferruginous Flycatchers visiting a nest, and a pair of beautiful Vinaceous Rosefinches foraging their way up the steps towards us, feeding on grass seed as they came closer and closer. So unafraid of our presence were they that they came within a metre of where we were standing, too close even for bins.

Whilst watching these birds, Stijn once again got on to the Golden Parrotbills, as they flew into a bush right beside us. As befits these restless birds, no sooner was our attention diverted by them, then they flew out across the steps into another bush, but instead of immediately moving on, they stayed and we all got stunning close up views of these normally very restless birds stripping bits of bark off the bush, presumably for nesting material. This provided a rare opportunity to get fantastic views and we made the most of it.

Climbing up to the road we were already in a celebratory mood when we all heard, then saw a Spotted Nutcracker fly onto the top of a pine tree by the side of the road. We saw another a short while later but much closer, sitting on a telegraph pole. This curiously unspotted (except around the head) subspecies may one day be split I dare say, though Mark Brazil's guide makes no mention of this.

In good weather this really was a terrific spot and with two good birds in the bag we headed off. We drove to Huben. The original plan was to head straight for the CengWen Estuary and bird there tomorrow morning, but buoyed with confidence we decided to head straight for the Fairy Pitta seeing as it was more or less on our way. As it turned out, doing this just about saved us from missing this bird altogether.

After a couple of hours driving, we arrived back in the much hotter and more humid lowlands. It felt like being back in Cairns! We parked by a garishly coloured temple decked out with a basketball court by the main entrance. Stylish. It was here that we saw the first feeding station we had encountered on the trip. Birds were coming to Pawpaw halves laid on the concrete barrier by the side of the road. Chinese Bulbuls and Collared Finchbill seemed to particularly like this feast. They were soon joined by the stunning Taiwan Barbet which allowed ridiculously close approach. Amazing stuff.

As we headed out to the main road, we passed an adult Malayan Night Heron under the trees and again really close. These birds aren't shy at all! We headed up the road and soon found ourselves on a rougher side track running alongside a small gully. This, Stijn confidently said, never failed to produce Fairy Pitta. He played the tape. Nothing. We moved on up the track and repeated this process. Still nothing. Stijn stated that if they were here they would almost certainly have responded by now. We moved further up the main road to another gully. Still nothing. Then another further along. Nope, no Pitta here either. This was worrying. This was the only site we had for this bird and they either weren't calling or simply weren't here, more likely the latter.

Back in the car and we were heading back to a place we'd passed a few kilometres back called the Pitta Cafe or something similar. A giant cardboard Pitta at the entrance greeted us and left us in no doubt what their main reason for being was. As we walked in, we heard a Pitta calling! We whirled around to be confronted with a film of Pittas playing in a side room. Our main reason for being here was to see if they had any idea where the Pittas were.. To cut a long story short, they had no idea either, but they knew a man who did. This it transpired was a local bird guide who could show us the bird. Stijn decided we would hire him. It didn't look like we were going to find the bird on our tight schedule otherwise. Only trouble was, he wasn't around today so we would have to wait until tomorrow. We had been planning on getting the Pitta today and driving on to the estuary, but we all were quick to agree that the Pitta was our main priority right now so we agreed to meet him back here first thing tomorrow.

Before we left, I couldn't help noticing the annual Pitta counts on a board by their reception desk. About five years ago, some thirty five or so Pittas had been located in the area. I don't know if that was pairs or individuals, but clearly there were quite a lot around. This figure grew smaller with each subsequent year until this year when there were only four! Whichever way you look at it, this appeared to be a bird in decline, at this site at least. I mused as to whether they would disappear altogether here in just a few short years...

Before we left, a quick scan of the neighbouring river produced two trip ticks, a Little Ringed Plover flying down stream and a Grey Wagtail in the company of some White Wagtails. We checked into a hotel in town in anticipation of what the morning would hopefully bring.

108) Golden Parrotbill.
109) Spotted Nutcracker.
110) Little Ringed Plover.
111) Grey Wagtail.

Last edited by chowchilla : Saturday 19th May 2012 at 16:08.
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Old Tuesday 22nd May 2012, 05:31   #23
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Day 8.

May as well finish this thing...

Dawn saw us back at Huben and outside the Pitta Cafe where we met our guide. He spoke no English and my Chinese is bad at best; nonetheless, you don't need great fluency when the purpose of all parties being there is already clear in everyone's mind.

He gestured for us to follow him in our car and we headed up a hillside road away from the sites we tried yesterday. The first place we got out yielded nothing. We got out at the second site, a rather promising looking gully with lots of bamboo. There was a large group of elderly Taiwanese nearby on the road itself doing some rather 'noisy' morning exercises. We hoped they wouldn't scare our target away. We needn't have worried, the guide played the call once and a Fairy Pitta immediately responded. What's more, it flew out of cover, over our heads and straight into a bamboo thicket on the other side of the track where it called again. We tried to see it but needn't have worried again as it flew back out and landed in shade on a tree branch back on the other side of the track, but in full view! What a fantastic bird! It stayed there for several minutes as if posing, looking ever alert for the intruder it had heard earlier.

Fully satisified with the start we made, we thanked the guide and headed off. One of the birds of the trip for sure! I wonder however, considering their rapid decline how much longer birders will be able to see this bird in this area. We drove south; quite a long drive in fact as we were heading to virtually the southern tip of the island for probably the easiest endemic of the lot (apart from the effort it takes to actually drive there). We noted en route, Eastern Great Egret in the fields; no doubt seen before but not noticed!

After about three hours, we arrived at Longluan Lake in the Kending National Park and within about 5 seconds had seen the bird we came for as Styan's Bulbuls were all around us. It was very open here and they were perched on low bushes and marsh vegetation everywhere. This species may well be hybridised out of existence by the introduced Chinese Bulbul one day. We quickly added other birds here too: Zitting Cisticolas were 'zitting' all around us, though not showing nearly so well. On the lake itself we found a single Eastern Spotbill Duck, a pair of Mallards and another Grey Heron. Perched on a post we found a young accipiter that we eventually decided was a Chinese Sparrowhawk. In the long marsh vegetation we spotted at least four Formosan Sika Deer. This animal had been extirpated in the wild and these animals must have been part of the reintroduction programme that had seen them back in the wild for the first time in many years.

Driving further south still towards the Southernmost tip, we missing the turning and found ourselves driving north again on the Eastern side of the island. We stopped and got out as we weren't even sure we were facing north but sure enough we'd rounded the tip and missed it completely unless the mountains we could see ahead were a whole new bit of Taiwan not previously discovered... Whilst re-orientating ourselves, we had several Oriental Skylarks around us and the pleasant surprise of easily the best ever views we'd had of a pair of Taiwan Scimitar Babbler sitting near the top of some low bushes.

We turned around and soon found ourselves at the Southernmost tip of the island to do a bit of seawatching that only yielded what were probably Common Terns, but we were able to get fantastic views of a Black-naped Monarch nestbuilding right beside the busy path to the Southern tip. We also found a Pacific Reef Heron on the rocks.

We drove north. Our final destination for this trip was the Cengwen Estuary on the West coast. We stopped briefly to check out a pair of Black-eared Kites seen out of the right side of the car. Stijn said these were pretty rare in Taiwan, so a good bird to have. This bird is usually merged with Black Kite so I'm not sure it really counts as a new tick but good to have nonetheless.

After a couple of hours we arrived on site. As we drove towards the reserve itself we found ourselves surrounded by flooded fields, not just rice paddies, as well as large fish ponds. We stopped to admire a large group of Black-winged Stilts when suddenly we spotted something a whole lot better. Close by the car were a pair of Greater Painted Snipe just sitting there in full view! This is one of my major bogey birds. I missed them by seconds in The Gambia, way back in '86 and have missed them constantly in Aus too (although I now hear that the Aussie bird has been split so would be another new tick!); now they were right in front of me making no effort to fly or run away. Bloody brilliant!

After admiring these birds at length and fully satisfied, we drove on until we spotted some waders in another flooded field. There was good variety here and all at close quarters. Several Wood Sandpipers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Greenshank a solitary Red-necked Stint, and best of all, two Long-toed Stint surprisingly distinctive amongst the other birds. After several minutes, something spooked them and off they went so we drove on.

At another stop we decided to follow a track between the fields as we could see some activity in the distance. these turned out to be mostly Black-winged Stilts, some of which appeared to be nesting, but there were also a couple of Pacific Golden Plover. On a distant branch we got on to a smart-looking Long-tailed Shrike, but that was it for this spot.

Further down the road we stopped again as we found not two, but no less than six more Greater Painted Snipe. There was a lot more activity here too. Going over in large numbers were both Whiskered Tern and lots of White-winged Black Terns looking stunning in their full summer plumage. 50 or so of those going over was quite a sight. We also had a Cinnamon Bittern here flying right and a distant hovering Black-shouldered Kite.

At the reserve we found the main hide closed for the day so snuck around the side of it and looked out over the main lake. Any faint hopes of a solitary lingering Black-faced Spoonbill were quickly quashed as this was where they were nearly always seen but clearly they'd all gone. A real pity but not a really big surprise. We did however see several Terek Sandpipers feeding manically on the mud; Grey-tailed Tattlers in flight; a solitary Grey Plover and two flyover Little Terns.

Today was a real boost to the trip list and made such a refreshing change from trying to get glimpses of skulky endemics in dense mountain forest. We were due to fly home tomorrow but not without a quick final look around this area in the morning.

112) Fairy Pitta.
113) Eastern Great Egret.
114) Zitting Cisticola.
115) Eastern Spotbill Duck.
116) Chinese Sparrowhawk.
117) Mallard.
118) Oriental Skylark.
119) Common Tern.
120) Pacific Reef Heron.
121) Black-eared Kite (or Black Kite if you prefer).
122) Black-winged Stilt.
123) Greater Painted Snipe.
124) Wood Sandpiper.
125) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.
126) Red-necked Stint.
127) Long-toed Stint.
128) Greenshank.
129) Long-tailed Shrike.
130) Pacific Golden Plover.
131) Whiskered Tern.
132) White-winged Black Tern.
133) Cinnamon Bittern.
134) Black-shouldered Kite.
135) Terek Sandpiper.
136) Grey-tailed Tattler.
137) Grey Plover.
138) Little Tern.

Last edited by chowchilla : Tuesday 22nd May 2012 at 08:43. Reason: Put 'White-whiskered' instead of 'White-winged' Black Tern!
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Old Tuesday 22nd May 2012, 06:35   #24
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Day 9.

The final day saw us exploring the area a bit more thoroughly. The bird activity on and around the flooded fields had largely diminished. Perhaps the tide was out and waders had dispersed. Nonetheless, the Painted Snipe were still present and were to be admired one last time. Apart from two Dabchicks on a large pond, there wasn't much else.

At the reserve, we scanned the water and mud in front of the hide once more, adding Common Redshank, Kentish Plover and Whimbrel to the trip list. A Curlew Sandpiper flew over, but that was it for the main lake. We decided to explore the rest of the reserve. A terrific summer plumage Greater Sandplover was found at one spot and a similarly dapper looking Lesser Sandplover at another. These birds don't really colour up much before leaving the Cairns Esplanade so it was really nice to see them in full summer regalia.

A quick scan of the sea revealed several fly-by Crested Terns. We scrutinised them for Chinese Crested Tern but no such luck, though at this range could we really be sure despite the odds? A small party of Scaly-breasted Munia were a trip tick as were a flock of about 12 Tufted Duck flying over. Despite much searching of the backwaters of this site, that was going to be it for this trip. We were too late for most wildfowl and of course the Spoonbills, and a few waders were curiously absent, but overall we'd done pretty well.

We headed into town and had lunch at a 7/11 (these are everywhere in Taiwan and very convenient if you want a quick easy snack plus coffee) before beginning the long drive north, and mused over our 'bird of the trip'. I knew what mine was straight away (Greater Painted Snipe) but the 'collective' consensus was Taiwan Hill Partridge, one of the toughest endemics to normally get but of which we had had unfeasibly fantastic views.

Overall this had been a fantastic trip. Looking at the list of 33 endemics and possible endemics, we had seen 32, missing only the possible split of the Island Thrush, namely Taiwan Thrush. This is a scarce bird with no reliable sites that we knew of (unless someone could enlighten me?) and nowhere easy to find. Most people just see them more or less by chance. Well I certainly wasn't going to lose sleep over it. I'm not a hard-core birder and don't expect to see everything. I was very tired but exhilarated at what I had seen and that was what mattered.

We stopped off again just shy of the airport to kill a bit of time as we were early. We used the opportunity to do a final update of our trip list, plus to toast Stijn with coffee for doing such a fantastic job of finding us some very tricky birds. And that was it!

Taiwan is a fascinating country, and not just for its birds. The people were mostly very friendly, helpful and courteous even when they spoke no English. They often went out of their way to help us. Taiwan's roads are excellent and enabled us to get around easily. Nearly all road signs are bilingual, so don't worry if your Chinese isn't up to scratch. You'll need good directions for finding some sites however, such as the Experimental Farm which is up an improbably narrow and steep little side track.

If you want the endemics, you can visit any time really. If you want the Pitta then May onwards is your best bet. You need to be here earlier though to catch the Spoonbills; we may have caught a late lingering bird I suppose if we'd headed for the Cengwen Estuary first but my understanding is that they had all gone before our arrival date.

As for food (my favourite subject), I discovered a whole new love for bamboo shoots on this trip, which are often served as a side dish in restaurants. Unlike the horrible little strips you get in tins in the west, fresh bamboo shoots are something else entirely and are completely delicious. I also reacquainted myself with my love of the fatty pork dishes the Chinese do so well. Not chewy at all; just melts in the mouth. The Chinese regard the fat of the pork as the best bit and I agree. Well enough of food, I'm making myself hungry!

So if you're looking for a tourist destination with almost no tourists; lots of new endemics for your 'life list' or just a taste of the Orient, you could do worse than come to Taiwan. Thank you to those of you who persisted with this trip report, I hope you enjoyed it.

139) Dabchick.
140) Common Redshank.
141) Kentish Plover.
142) Whimbrel
143) Curlew Sandpiper.
144) Greater Sandplover.
145) Lesser Sandplover.
146) Crested Tern.
147) Scaly-breasted Munia.
148) Tufted Duck.

Last edited by chowchilla : Tuesday 22nd May 2012 at 06:41.
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Old Tuesday 22nd May 2012, 07:47   #25
Shi Jin
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Really enjoyed reading your report of what was clearly a brilliant trip.

Thank you.
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