(E) = Endemic
Taiwan is a mountainous island in the South China Sea, about 160 km (100 miles) off the Chinese mainland. The forested beauty of the island led Portuguese sailors in 1590 to name it Ilha Formosa, meaning “Beautiful Island.” The tropic of Cancer passes through the southern part of the island.
Monday–Tuesday, November 7–8 Day 1 Taipei to Huisun
Our EVA Airways flight departed Vancouver at 1 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Nov. 7, arriving at Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, Taoyuan, 50 km west of Taipei, at 5:45 a.m. on Nov. 8. Participants from the U.S.A. had already arrived. We transferred to our comfortable, air-conditioned bus and headed south.
Near Taichung, we picked up our co-leader, Ten-Di Wu and continued on into the Wufeng area, near Tonglin village. We were accompanied for a while by Legislator Yang Chung-Tse and several members of the press, who were interested in our group. The elevation was 200–300m, just high enough for our first endemic species, Formosan Magpie (E). We also saw Black-browed Barbet, Black Bulbul, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, White-bellied Yuhina, Black-naped Monarch, Dusky Warbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, and overhead, Large-billed Crow and Crested Serpent-Eagle. Gray-cheeked Fulvettas seemed to be everywhere. Some of the group tracked down an elusive Malayan Night-Heron.
We continued on to Huisun Forest Station, elev. 770m (2530 ft.), where we had a late-afternoon walk along the gravel service road reached after climbing 180 wooden steps up the hill opposite the office. Two of the group were fortunate to glimpse a Swinhoe’s Pheasant along the road. After supper, Ten-Di called in a Mountain Scops-Owl, which managed to stay concealed in a tree. Night at Atayal Resort, Huisun Forest Station.
Wednesday, Nov. 9 Day 2 Huisun to Chingjing
The earliest risers heard Northern Boobook and Collared Owlet calling in the distance. We repeated the climb up the 180 steps to the gravel road for pre-breakfast birding. One of the first birds was White-backed Woodpecker. The area was very quiet, except for the loud, repeated “oh, WOW!” calls of an unseen male Swinhoe’s Pheasant.
Departing Huisun after breakfast, we drove east to Puli. We stopped at one of the numerous 7/11 convenience stores for lunch items, and continued on to Aowanda (Auwanda, Aowanta, Houwanta) National Forest Recreation Area, elev. 1200m (3900 ft.). We explored the park area about ½ km in from the entrance. Plumbeous Redstarts patrolled narrow, rocky Naoliao creek, both above and below the waterfalls. While we were birding along the road, Judia Tung, of the Nantou Forest District Office, kindly brought us coffee. Thus fortified, we continued our roadside-watch. During our 3-4 hours there, we saw White-eared Sibia (E), Taiwan Yuhina (E), Formosan Whistling-Thrush (E), Plain Flowerpecker, Eurasian Nutcracker, Eurasian Jay, Gray-chinned Minivet and Pacific Swallow.
Leaving Aowanda, we drove a rather nerve-wracking, typhoon damaged road (under repair) to Beidongyang Shan to search again just before dark for Swinhoe’s Pheasant, this time seen by 4 people. Along the trail were Ashy Wood Pigeon and Scaly Thrush.
Continuing on, we reached Chingjing (Chingching, Chinging, Cingjing), elev. 1750m (5740 ft.) well after dark. Our bus was unable to negotiate the steeply curving driveway down to Chingjing Resort, so we unloaded our smaller items and walked down to the hotel. The hotel vans brought our larger luggage. Night at Chingjing Resort.
Thursday, Nov. 10 Day 3 Meifeng
The staff set out a 5 a.m. “birders’ breakfast”, after which we trekked up the hill to the bus. We were joined by Lydia Huang from National Taiwan University’s Meifeng field station. During the trek, in the dawn light, we noticed Eurasian Kestrel, Blue Rock Thrush, Gray Wagtail and Daurian Redstart. After a short drive, we arrived at the upper Ruiyan River Trail, also known as Blue Gate Trail #2, where we hoped to find Mikado Pheasant. The road high above, which had suffered typhoon damage during the summer, was being repaired and large rocks were hurtling down the slope. We had to judge our timing carefully to avoid being hit as we scrambled over the rockfall. We found no pheasants, probably due to the noise and disturbance of the road reconstruction.
Leaving the upper Ruiyan River Trail (Blue Gate #2), we continued across a narrow local road and onto the upper end of the lower trail (Blue Gate #1). Plastic water pipes lie alongside both trails, carrying water down to Chingjiing from the higher reaches of the Ruiyan River. A 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. In spite of the occasionally treacherous footing, we found Eurasian Jay, Brown Bullfinch, Steere’s Liocichla (E), Taiwan Yuhina (E), Collared Bush-Robin (E), Yellow Tit (E), Gray-chinned Minivet, Gray Treepie, Black-throated Tit, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, White-browed Shortwing, Eurasian Nuthatch, Ashy Wood Pigeon, and Black Bulbul
After lunch at the hotel, we drove higher to the Hehuan Shan area, just inside the western boundary of Taroko National Park. Stopping first at Wuling Pass, elev. 3275m (10,750 ft.), the highest road pass in Taiwan, we saw Alpine Accentor and Vinaceous Rosefinch. The accentor seemed equally comfortable foraging among the rocks and beneath parked cars. A little farther on, we discovered a White-browed Bush-Robin moving along a small stream.
Leaving Hehuan Shan, we returned to the upper Ruiyan River Trail to try again for pheasants, but were not successful. Night at Chingjing.
Friday, Nov. 11 Day 4 Chingjing to Changhua
Birders’ breakfast at 5 a.m., then to Blue Gate Trail #1 from 6 to 8 a.m. The group split into several subgroups for a better chance for Swinhoe’s Pheasant (E), and most people were eventually successful. Also seen were Taiwan Barwing (E), Steere’s Liocichla (E), Yellow Tit (E), Japanese Sparrowhawk, White-bellied Pigeon, Plain Flowerpecker, Black-browed Barbet and Rufous-faced Warbler.
Leaving high mountain habitat, we descended to Changhua, where we held a press conference with many representatives of the media. The purpose of the interview with the press was to obtain our views on “H5N1 Bird Flu” which was causing considerable concern in southeast Asia, and why we were not afraid of it. The press conference was followed by a special outdoor lunch of traditional Changhua foods hosted by the students and staff of the adjacent junior high school.
In the afternoon, we went to the historic city of Lugang (Lukang), where we visited the 400-year-old Matsu Temple and had a coffee break while waiting for the appropriate tide for shorebirding. After a while, we continued on to Hambao wetlands, where among species seen were Little Grebe, Cattle Egret, Cinnamon Bittern, Eurasian Kestrel, Common Sandpiper, Northern Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Pacific and Barn Swallows, Long-tailed Shrike, Yellow Wagtail; Richard’s, Red-throated, and American pipits; Black-shouldered Kite, and Common Myna (introduced).
In the evening, we attended a supper hosted by Changhua Deputy Magistrate Jeremy Liu. Night at the Formosa Hotel, Changhua.
Saturday, Nov. 12 Day 5 Changhua to Tainan
The morning began with a trek through some of the fallow fields in the farming area of Huatan Township. In the open rice stubble fields, among the vegetation and wet spots, we found Eurasian Kestrel, Plain Prinia, Brown Shrike, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow Bunting, Nutmeg Mannikin, Yellow Wagtail, Oriental Greenfinch, Chinese Pond-Heron, Common Snipe and several Greater Painted-Snipe. We focused on a small bare patch in a boggy spot and watched as 15 painted-snipes dashed through.
We headed west toward the coast, with a stop at the Puzih (Putzih) River, where there were Pacific Golden Plover, Snowy Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Terek and Common Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilt and many Black-crowned Night-Herons.
The wetlands of Aougu (Aouku, Aogu, Auku, etc.) held many birds: Great Cormorant, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal, Spot-billed Duck, Black-bellied and Pacific Golden Plovers, Dunlin, Black-headed Gull, Eastern Marsh Harrier, and Common Kingfisher. In the uplands, a few of the group spotted Lesser Coucal. A surprise was finding a Crested Serpent-Eagle perched in a dead snag. Seeing this large raptor at sea level was unusual, as the species’ usual habitat is mountain forests.
Farther south, in Tainan, we had an unusual dining experience at Tantsi Noodle House which has stood on the same spot for 110 years. Night at the very comfortable Evergreen Plaza Hotel, Tainan.
Sunday, Nov. 13 Day 6 Tainan area
This day was entirely in lowland habitat. We began in the Yenshui (Yanshui) River area. Winnie picked out 2 rare Asian Dowitchers, a Life bird for almost everyone, including Simon. Also noteworthy were Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Yellow Bittern, and Oriental Reed-Warbler. As our bus moved on to another location, some of the group glimpsed a Ruddy-breasted Crake. We stopped and tried to flush it out of the vegetation for all to see, but the bird would not show itself a second time.
We proceeded to Kwantien (Kwantian, Guantian) in Tainan County where we saw 6 Pheasant-tailed Jacana in the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Restoration Zone, as well as Eurasian Coot, Wood and Green Sandpipers. Also seen here were Japanese White-eye, Oriental Skylark, Yellow Wagtail and two amphibians, a Black Spectacled Toad hopping about on the stone floor of the viewing area, and a Rice Field Frog in a nearby field.
While Pheasant-tailed Jacana is not globally endangered, it is a very rare resident in Taiwan, and illustrates a conservation and co-operation success story. The Pheasant-tailed Jacana Restoration Zone in Tainan County 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.
The Black-faced Spoonbill Reserve in the Tsengwen (Zengwun) River estuary near Chiku (Chigu, Cigu) produced 393 spoonbills, the day’s official count. Our only Saunders’ Gull was also seen there, as well as Eurasian Curlew, Lesser Sand Plover, Great Knot and Red-necked Stint. Slowly driving alongside the canals resulted in finding White-breasted Waterhen, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns and Yellow-bellied Prinia.
Returning to Tainan city at dusk, we stopped at an open field in a park adjacent to Anping (Anpin) Harbour, where we observed more Oriental Skylarks. As it was Sunday, the park area was busy, with model airplanes being flown above the field, and drag-racing and hot-rod spinning attracting a crowd across the street. The skylarks didn’t appear to be disturbed by the noise.
In the evening, the Mayor of Tainan, Mr. Hsu Tain-Tsair hosted a Welcome Party for us. Also welcoming us were Mr. Shieh Ching-Jyh, Deputy Minister, National Science Council and David Chen, President of the Wild Bird Society of Tainan. Night at the Evergreen Plaza Hotel, Tainan.
Monday, Nov. 14 Day 7 Tainan to A Li Shan
We drove north from Tainan toward Chiayi, then turned east. First stop in the morning was near the town of Chung Pu (Jhongpu), elev. 300–400m, where we searched forest trees in vain for Maroon Oriole. Chung Pu is one of the best places to look for this species, but we were not lucky. A Malayan Night-Heron skulked up a gully. For our “7/11 rolling picnic”, we stopped in the small town of Chukuo, and found Collared Finchbill in the shrubbery above the rocky river behind the police station. On the rocks were White Wagtail and Common Sandpiper.
Continuing on, we arrived at A Li Shan National Forest Recreation Area and A Li Shan village, 2200m (7,200 ft.) in the afternoon. The air was cool, and rain threatened. We birded in Chaoping Park, above the village, finding Eyebrowed Thrush, Daurian Redstart, Steere’s Liocichla (E), Collared Bush-Robin (E), Vinaceous Rosefinch and Rufous-capped Babbler. A small Formosan Striped Squirrel foraged energetically in the shrubbery. Rain began, so we retreated to the village and our hotel.
Supper was at Song He Restaurant, followed by a stroll through the village for supplies for the next day’s early “birder’s breakfast.” Night at Sakora Hotel, A Li Shan village.
Tuesday, Nov. 15 Day 8 A Li Shan to Taipei
We departed at 5:30 a.m. to drive higher in hopes of coming across Mikado Pheasants along the road. Even at that early hour, there were many vehicles on the road—non-birding tourists were out even earlier, on an A Li Shan sunrise-viewing tour. There were no pheasants. We stopped at “The Couple Trees” on the Yushan Highway, where we found White-whiskered Laughingthrush (E), Collared Bush-Robin (E), Streak-throated Fulvetta, and heard Pygmy Wren-Babbler. “The Couple Trees” are the only two surviving red cypress trees from a 1963 forest fire. Standing together next to the highway, they seem like a devoted couple, and are sometimes called "Husband and Wife Trees."
We continued higher, into Yushan National Park, to the Tataka (Tatajia, Tatachia) Recreation Area, elev. 2800m (9,192 ft.), stopping along the Shandong Pu Parkway. Some of us walked down the road, attracted by a small troupe of 10 Taiwan Macaques. After a few minutes, Simon called out, “GOLDEN PARROTBILL!” which sent us running back. A large flock of Golden Parrotbills was passing by, accompanied by Flamecrest (E); Coal, Varied and Black-throated Tits. Simon heard a Taiwan Bush-Warbler (E) call once, but no one saw it.
We returned to A Li Shan village and Chaoping Park where we had been the previous day. Almost immediately, a small party of Flamecrest (E) and Coal Tit arrived, giving excellent views.
Leaving A Li Shan, we drove lower, stopping for coffee and tea at Tsejiou. We could hear bird sound on the slope below the tea house, but drifting fog prevented seeing anything.
We continued the long drive to Taipei. We stopped in Sanshia (Sanhsia, Sansia), 22 km southwest of Taipei, to visit the unique Sanshia Tzu Shih temple. Built in 1769, it is one of the best examples of temple art in the world, with more than 100 birds carved into the stone pillars. The temple had been damaged by earthquake (1833) and fire (1895), with repair work after both events. Following Taiwan’s release from Japanese control in 1945, further reconstruction of the temple began, and continues today.
Arriving in Taipei, we had supper in the Kongquan Night Market and strolled through the market. Night at the Howard International House.
Wednesday, Nov. 16 Day 9 Taipei
We visited the Taipei Botanical Gardens in the morning. Malayan Night-herons can usually be found there and the group total of the birds was 5. We had a shopping opportunity at the Chinese Handicraft Center, then were invited to the office of Legislator Yang Chung-Tse. Escorted by Mr. Yang, we went to the National Assembly hall. The National Assembly was not in session that day but we were given an informative overview of the democratic process in Taiwan.
In the afternoon, we visited the Hsieng Tien Temple, a Taoist temple dedicated to Kwan Yu, the male counterpart of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
After supper, it was time to return to Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport for the return flight for our destinations in North America.
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Results: The total bird species for the trip was 161; 148 seen by two or more participants. Eleven (of 15) endemic species were seen, plus 1 seen by a leader only (Taiwan Partridge) and 1 heard by a leader only (Taiwan Bush-Warbler). Endemic species missed: Mikado Pheasant and Styan’s Bulbul.