I joined Filip Verbelen for a week in Taiwan, the main aim being to see Fairy Pitta, his last of the family (!). We saw it well and nearly all the other specialities, with the notable exception of Chinese Crested Tern which seemed too difficult logistically to attempt on a short visit and the best season for it is July to August (more than 10 pairs in this year!). The only disappointment was failure to see a male Mikado Pheasant. For general comments on birding in Taiwan, see the report of my short winter visit in 2003.
As might be expected, there were some differences in the avifauna, with winter visitors such as Siskin, redstarts, thrushes and phylloscopus warblers missing, the pitta (which arrives in late April) present and flycatchers more in evidence
We hired a car from a local company in Taipei and paid extra for it to be brought to the airport. Driving was straightforward, except in Taipei which we more or less avoided. The roads were generally good, but quite expensive tolls were charged on parts of the freeways. Route 14, the mountain road from Wushe over Hohuanshan Mountain to the coast was very winding for a long way. English signs were sometimes difficult to find.
Wet in the mountains with rain and low cloud most of the time – worse than during my winter visit; variable in the lowlands with a fair amount of rain but some sun.
Scott Ruey-Shing Lin, [email protected], his wife and co-workers at Huben, were all very helpful; Wang Jeng-Jyi [email protected] helped us at the Spoonbill site; Rich Hopf, Scott and Wayne Hsu provided useful information, incorporated in this report, and Filip was an excellent companion.
May 19 Arrived at CKS airport, Taipei at 08.50 on a fine day, met by Filip and after finding our way out of the airport with difficulty, quickly drove the 200+ km to Nantou. Here we dined and met Scott Lin, who had volunteered to help us determine our itinerary and later show us the pitta. Drove to Wushe (without Scott), in the foothills at 1250m, and booked in to a cheapish hotel. Drove back to the petrol station on the edge of town and walked down the steep road 50m before it, towards the lake, seeing Collared Finchbill, Liocichla and White-throated Spinetail.
May 21 Up at 05.00, drove to the pipeline trail via Km 18. Only walked c.3km as rocks were being washed down by the rain and the trail was blocked: no pheasants but taped out Pygmy Wren-Babbler. Drove up road to Km 27, stopping for Collared Bush-Robin, Taiwan and Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warblers, Flamecrest and Vinaceous Rosefinch. Back down to Meifeng Farm where drove around in the rain, only seeing Ashy Wood-Pigeon and White-tailed Robin of note. Then back down to Wushe to get below the cloud level: White-throated Laughingthrush, Grey-cheeked and Dusky Fulvettas and displaying Finchbills near the lake. At 2.15 left for Huben near Linnei, south of Nantu – Scott’s lowland study site. Found, with difficulty, the hostel where the researchers stay, seeing a close Malayan Night-Heron when taking the wrong road. Scott showed us a barely visible Fairy Pitta in a tree nest, before proceeding to a local restaurant where we had a good meal.
May 22 Up at 05.00, drove to a temple across the river with Scott and taped out a Fairy Pitta which gave excellent views when perched c.5m up a tree. Then walked down a stream in a gully, looking for Taiwan Partridge, but the partridges rarely called. Returned to the temple to shelter from the rain and consume green tea. Then crossed the river and spent the rest of the morning walking in gullies: 2 Taiwan Partridges were seen, not by me, plus a pair of Bamboos and a Pitta, along with an assortment of lowland birds such as Streak-breasted and Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babblers. After lunch decided to go to the coast to see Black-faced Spoonbills, some of which were still present, unusually late for these winter visitors. It took 90 mins to reach Chigu, Tainan County, where we checked the saltpans for waders and were surprised to find an Asian Dowitcher in full breeding-plumage. Wang Jeng-Jyi , the Chairman of the local branch of the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan, took us to the spoonbill site where we had excellent views of 40 birds feeding and in flight. The final stop was a ploughed sugar-cane field where a few pairs of Oriental Pratincole were nesting. Easy drive back to Huben, for a meal and a few beers.
May 23 The first dry day, awoken by Mountain Scops-Owl calling in the night but couldn’t get up despite it being a tick. Returned to the gullies and eventually had reasonable flight view of a Taiwan Partridge, after which 3 called vociferously but would not show. Good view of a feeding Pitta was some consolation. Found Scott and his wife at the temple and went with them to the Wu River valley, a site for the scarce Hwamei, where we also saw Vinous-throated Parrotbill. After an early lunch, we bade farewell to the very helpful couple and drove to Anmashan, the other well-known area for mountain birds. Reached here in mid-afternoon and did Track 210: a long walk with little reward except Collared Bush-Robin until late-on when a singing Brown Bullfinch was followed by an obliging female Mikado Pheasant. Drove up to Snow Mountain Resort, at 2200m, only just in time to secure a room and dinner before reception closed. Accepted an invitation to join a group from Taipei celebrating with whiskey and VSOP brandy; staggered to bed at 10 pm.
May 24 A little late getting up, Nutcrackers were in the car park and we left at 05.40 for Track 220: saw Little Forktail but no Mikados. Tried 210 again – good views of Vivid Niltava, Rusty Laughingthrush, Yellow Tit and Shortwing but still no pheasants. Then drove down to Dongshe for petrol and photo’d Collared Finchbill on the way back. Drove up to the top – low cloud but obliging White-whiskered Laughingthrush and Yellow-bellied Bush-warbler. Tried trails behind the resort: good forest but too late for birds.
May 25 A fine morning for a change, started on 210 with good views of Collared Bush-Robin and Brown Bullfinch, while a pair of Beavan’s Bullfinch flew by. Drove back to the resort, stopping for a Swinhoe’s Pheasant on the road, only to find we had missed breakfast, but managed to scrounge some food from man in the kitchen. Checked the woodland below the resort, seeing White-backed Woodpecker. Little of note at the top so back down to 210 for another Mikado-less 90 mins, before we had to leave to return to Taipei. Stopped just below the NP entrance to watch a massive movement of 1000s of large Euploea butterflies (crow butterflies) migrating from the south to the north of Taiwan. (They overwinter in the south, but what we saw was probably not the immediate offspring of this population, according to Dr. Yen, Shen-Horn.) Reached Taipei at 3 pm to drop-off car and took bus to CKS airport for my flight to Manila. Filip stayed another day and saw the Taiwan Magpie at Yangmingshan NP near Taipei.
Huben village (Yunlin county, central Taiwan)
This is the main breeding area for Fairy Pitta, a scarce summer visitor to Taiwan. It arrives around April 21 and sings from then till mid/late May, so this is the time to see it. 38 active nests have been located this year! It is also the best site for Taiwan Partridge, the most difficult of Taiwan’s endemics to see.
Turn left at the Linnei exit off Rte 3 freeway, heading south, drive into Linnei and just before the first 7-11 store on the left (there is an earlier one on the right), turn right to Huben and continue for a few km to a fork after a big bridge. Take the left fork for c.2km to the community centre/hostel opposite a bus-type shelter on the right by the river.
There are a number of trails in the woods up the road from the community centre, especially near the temple reached by crossing a bridge over the river.
The two popular areas visited by birders are Anmashan forest recreation area and Reiyenhsi Reserve near Tsuifeng, above Wushe.
Anmashan is reached by driving on Route 8 to Tung Shih, then turning north. It is not easy to find the turn but if coming from the west, continue on the main road along the outskirts of town, past a Big Macs and petrol station, through about 4 sets of lights and turn left on a minor road, and right after a short distance, This road goes alongside a high wall on the right, through a couple of villages and then climbs up to Anmashan. The entrance gate is reached at Km 35 and just beyond it is Track 210, one of the two jeep tracks good for birding. The other is 220 a further 4km on the right. Higher up is the resort where you can stay, and eat Chinese meals at specific times. In the week the main road is quiet as it does not go anywhere, unlike the road above Wushe. Anmashan used to be very good for Mikado Pheasant, but apparently they have become rare due to poaching.
The main birding spots at Reiyenhsi Reserve are the Blue Gate Trail, an abandoned logging road on the left of Route 14 at Meifeng, Km 15.5, and the higher part of Route 14. The trail continues for a few km before reaching a tarred road (which climbs up to Rte 14 at Km 18), then continues on the other side of the road for a long way – the Pipeline Trail, the best area for Mikado Pheasant.
The higher part of Rte 14 on Hohuanshan Mountain seems best for certain species such as Flamecrest, Vinaceous Rosefinch and Golden Parrotbill, which birders rarely see at Anmashan, in the breeding season at least, although Wayne told me afterwards that they can be seen at the higher parts of Anmashan (near and in Track 230).
Shihmen Reservoir is a popular tourist destination fairly close to the
international airport, so it should be on most maps and the roads should be
fairly well posted. Look (and listen!) for the pittas on the road that goes
around the reservoir or any of the trails in the vicinity. There is a
nursery on that road where a pair has been seen nesting in past years.
Taxonomy, names and sequence follow Clements, JF (2001) Birds of the World: a Checklist, with a few modifications to names, notably changing the outdated Formosan to Taiwan. Endemic species to Taiwan are highlighted in capitals.
Little Grebe, Podiceps ruficollis
Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
Great Egret, Ardea alba
Little Egret, Egretta garzetta
Yellow Bittern, Ixobrychus sinensis
1 Wu River Valley.
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
Malayan Night-Heron, Gorsachius melanolophus
2 or 3 Huben.
Black-faced Spoonbill, Platalea minor
40 in fish-ponds near Chigu.
Oriental Honey-buzzard, Pernis ptilorhynchus
2 below Amnashan.
Crested Serpent-Eagle, Spilornis cheela
Crested Goshawk, Accipiter trivirgatus
TAIWAN PARTRIDGE, Arborophila crudigularis
A few flushed at Huben – I only saw one well in flight, several heard. 1 flushed briefly off Pipeline Trail; heard occasionally in mountains.
Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Bambusicola thoracica
Seen well at all 3 main sites and prolonged views of 1 on the road below Amnashan.
SWINHOE'S PHEASANT, Lophura swinhoii
Only 1 full male, running across Blue Gate trail, 2 or 3 females Pipeline Trail and a sub-adult male on the road twice at Anmashan.
MIKADO PHEASANT, Syrmaticus mikado
A female with 2 young and 1 or 2 others on Pipeline Trail, and a calling female with chick observed for some time on 210, Anmashan.
Barred Buttonquail, Turnix suscitator
Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus
Oriental Pratincole, Glareola maldivarum
3 or 4 in flight and perched at a breeding site - a ploughed field near Chigu.
Pacific Golden-Plover, Pluvialis fulva
Black-bellied Plover, Pluvialis squatarola
Snowy Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus
Mongolian Plover, Charadrius mongolus
Greater Sand-Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii
Asian Dowitcher, Limnodromus semipalmatus
1 in breeding plumage found by us with other waders in a salt pan near Chigu – only recorded once or twice a year on Taiwan.
Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia
Little Tern, Sterna albifrons
A few with the marsh terns and spoonbills near Chigu
Whiskered Tern, Chlidonias, hybrida
500-1000 flew towards the sea near Sincheng, several feeding near Chigu.
White-winged Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus
A few with the above.
Ashy Wood-Pigeon, Columba pulchricollis
Oriental Turtle-Dove, Streptopelia orientalis
Spotted Dove, Streptopelia chinensis
Red Collared-Dove, Streptopelia tranquebarica
Emerald Dove, Chalcophaps indica
White-bellied Pigeon, Treron sieboldii
Heard at Blue Gate trail.
Oriental Cuckoo, Cuculus saturatus
A few calling at Huben, 1 seen.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Cuculus sparverioides
Commonly heard in the mountains.
Mountain Scops-Owl, Otus spilocephalus
1 heard at Huben.
Collared Owlet, Glaucidium brodiei
1 heard Blue Gate Trail.
Fork-tailed Swift, Apus pacificus
House Swift, Apus nipalensis
White-throated Needletail, Chaetura caudacutus
A few at Wushe.
Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis
Black-browed (Muller’s) Barbet, Megalaima oorti
Grey-capped Woodpecker, Dendrocopos canicapillus
White-backed Woodpecker, Dendrocopos leucotos
2 at the resort Anmashan and on Blue Gate Trail.
Grey-faced (headed) Woodpecker, Picus canus
1 near the top at Anmashan.
Fairy Pitta, Pitta nympha
3 seen and others heard on the first morning at Huben and one watched feeding on the second morning. One nesting in the fork of a tree was said to be unusual.
Oriental Skylark, Alauda, gulgula
A few near Sincheng.
Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica
Striated Swallow, Hirundo striolata
Pacific Swallow, Hirundo tahitica
Plain Martin, Riparia paludicola
White Wagtail, Motacilla alba
Grey-chinned Minivet, Pericrocotus solaris
Collared Finchbill, Spizixos semitorques
A few at Wushe, below Anmashan and in Wu River Valley – don’t know how I missed this last time.
STYAN'S BULBUL, Pycnonotus taivanus
2 or 3 near the coast at Sincheng, north of Hualien. Several hybrids in the town east of Taroko Gorge.
Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbul, Pycnonotus sinensis
Black Bulbul, Hypsipetes leucocephalus
FLAMECREST, Regulus goodfellowi
2 or 3 at Km 27 on Rte 14.
Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes
TAIWAN WHISTLING-THRUSH, Myophonus insularis
4, including 1 feeding young, near Taroko Gorge and 1 at 220 Anmashan; heard at Huben.
White-browed Shortwing, Brachypteryx montana
1 seen and 2 heard Blue Gate trail, Meifeng.
Yellow-bellied Prinia, Prinia flaviventris
Plain Prinia, Prinia inornata
Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler, Cettia fortipes
Yellowish-bellied (Verraux’s) Bush-Warbler, Cettia acanthizoides
The extraordinary song betrayed its presence on Rte 14 and at Anmashan.
TAIWAN BUSH-WARBLER, Bradypterus alashanensis
Commonly heard in the mountains and easily taped out.
Oriental Reed-Warbler, Acrocephalus orientalis
Rufous-faced Warbler, Abroscopus albogularis
Japanese White-eye, Zosterops japonicus
Vivid Niltava, Niltava vivida
Common on 210 Anmashan.
COLLARED BUSH-ROBIN, Tarsiger johnstoniae
1 at Km 27 on Rte 14 and several on 210 Anmashan, including young.
White-tailed Robin, Cinclidium leucurum
Fairly common at all 3 sites.
Little Forktail, Enicurus scouleri
2 trail 220 Anmashan.
Black-naped Monarch, Hypothymis azurea
Ferruginous Flycatcher, Muscicapa ferruginea
2 on 220 Anmashan.
White-throated Laughingthrush, Garrulax albogularis ruficeps
2 above the lake at Wushe.
Rusty Laughingthrush, Garrulax poecilorhynchus
3 at 210 Anmashan.
Taiwan Hwamei, Garrulax (canorus) taewanus
4 Wu River Valley.
WHITE-WHISKERED LAUGHINGTHRUSH, Garrulax morrisonianus
STEERE'S LIOCICHLA, Liocichla steerii
Black-necklaced(Spot-breasted) Scimitar-Babbler, Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis
Several at Huben.
Taiwan(Streak-breasted) Scimitar-Babbler, Pomatorhinus (ruficollis) musicus
Several at Huben.
Taiwan(Pygmy) Wren-Babbler, Pnoepyga (pusilla) formosana
Commonly heard in the mountains, 2 seen. With its distinctive song, a good split.
Rufous-capped Babbler, Stachyris ruficeps
TAIWAN BARWING, Actinodura morrisoniana
Surprisingly elusive with only one sighting in the mountains.
Taiwan(Streak-throated) Fulvetta, Alcippe (cinereiceps)formosana
Dusky Fulvetta, Alcippe brunnea
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Alcippe morrisonia
WHITE-EARED SIBIA, Heterophasia auricularis
TAIWAN YUHINA, Yuhina brunneiceps
White-bellied Yuhina, Yuhina zantholeuca
Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Paradoxornis webbianus
A party of 5-10 at Wu River Valley.
Black-throated Tit, Aegithalos concinnus
Coal Tit, Parus ater
Green-backed Tit, Parus monticolus
YELLOW TIT, Macholophus holsti
2 seen well at the start of 210 Anmashan and a few glimpses elsewhere.
Eurasian Nuthatch, Sitta europaea
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Dicaeum ignipectus
Long-tailed Shrike, Lanius schach
Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus
Bronzed Drongo, Dicrurus aeneus
Eurasian Jay, Garrulus glandarius
Grey Treepie, Dendrocitta formosae
Black-billed Magpie, Pica pica
Eurasian Nutcracker, Nucifraga caryocatactes
2 at Anmashan resort and near the top of the road.
Large-billed Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos
Crested Myna, Acridotheres cristatellus
Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus
Nutmeg Mannikin, Lonchura punctulata
Brown Bullfinch, Pyrrhula nipalensis
One singing at 210 Anmashan on 2 visits and 2 on 220.
Grey-headed (Beavan’s) Bullfinch, Pyrrhula erythaca owstoni
A pair in flight at 210 Anmashan.
Vinaceous Rosefinch, Carpodacus vinaceus
A single calling female-type Km 27 Rte 14.
Mountain Scops-Owl, Otus spilocephalus is probably not uncommon but as always, difficult to see.
Ryukyu Scops-Owl, Otus elegans occurs on Lanyu Is, off the SW coast.
Tawny Fish-Owl, Ketupa flavipes rare but is said to frequent a lodge near Taipei.
Northern Boobook (Brown Hawk-Owl), Ninox japonica rarely seen - claimed from the start of the Blue Gate Trail. In Taiwan, it seems that there is an uncommon resident population and an uncommon migratory population. The residents inhabit mainly the peripheral hills of the Central Mountain Range.