Rusty Laughingthrush, Yellow Tit and Striated Prinia, Tengjhih National Forest, April 10th

Trail at Tengjhih National Forest.
Trail at Tengjhih National Forest.

Highlights:

  • Striated Prinia 1
  • Rusty Laughingthrush 1
  • Yellow Tit 1
  • Black Eagle 1
  • Crested Serpent Eagle 5
  • Besra 1
  • Crested Goshawk 2
  • Large-billed Crow 3
  • Eurasian Jay 1
  • Vivid Niltava 2
  • White-tailed Robin 2
  • Grey-cheeked Fulvetta 1
  • Rufous-faced Warbler many heard, few seen
  • Taiwan Sibia many heard, few seen
  • Steere’s Liocichla many heard, few seen
  • Collared Finchbill 1
  • Blue Rock Thrush 1
  • Black-faced Bunting 3
  • Taiwan Hill Partridge was heard calling repeatedly along the trail to Tengjhih National Forest HQ, but could not be seen.

Thursday morning, and I had to be at work in Kaohsiung at 1pm, but a very early start still allowed plenty of time for the 3.5-hour roundtrip drive to Tengjhih and a decent amount of time exploring the trails there.

My initial intention was to try a new site that I had read about, Shanping Arboretum, which lies a few kilometers south of Tengjhih, and like Tengjhih is signposted from Highway 27. The access road from the 27 is somewhat rough in places, and passes through a barren area of scree in what must have been a quite spectacular landslide. Unfortunately, I was turned back after about 3km at the mountain police station. I was not allowed to proceed any further – whether this was because the Shanping Arboretum is closed today, or I was too early, or is never open, was not clear to me. Anyway, I hadn’t wasted much time, so I immediately headed north to Tengjhih.

The narrow road to Shanping Arboretum passed through the site of a huge landslide.
The narrow road to Shanping Arboretum passes through the site of a huge landslide.

I love driving the 18km-long mountain road up to Tengjhih. The early stages of the journey are marked by bright pink roadside flowers, and views down to the winding river far below. As the road climbs higher, any lingering remnants of Kaohsiung’s smog finally disappear, and I can breathe clean air again for a few hours.

Today I drove as far as I could go, to where the old road (and half of an unfortunate village) long ago plunged to the valley bottom in a huge landslide. As soon as I arrived, I heard an unfamiliar song from the low bushes that now grow out of the scree where the landslide took place. I had a pretty good idea about what it could be, and I crept closer and finally got excellent and prolonged views of a Striated Prinia. This is a rather unremarkable looking “little brown bird” of bushy areas, but one that until now had eluded me.

Tengjhih National Forest offers stunning views on a spring morning .... and it's less than two hours drive from Kaohsiung.
Tengjhih National Forest offers stunning views on a spring morning …. and it’s less than two hours drive from Kaohsiung.

Pleased to get a new bird under the belt, I walked up the steep, rough dirt road that now constitutes the only access to the formerly much-visited Tengjhih National Forest proper (in my posts, I refer to the whole area as Tengjhih, but the forest reserve itself is off-limits for the time being). The dirt road is impassable to normal cars and scooters, but you could drive it in a 4WD or dirt bike. I’ve only walked up this way a couple of times, mainly because the abandoned village (the other half of which plunged down the mountain during Typhoon Morakot in 2009) has a really spooky energy to it – in fact the last time I walked through the village, I unwittingly took some of that bad energy away with me which resulted in me crashing my motorcycle on the way back down the mountain.

However, today there was a better surprise in store …. a new trail (or at least, a newly signposted trail) on the left. Unlike other trails in the area, this one actually gets into the interior of some pretty good montane forest. It’s well-graded and about a mile long, following the ridge to the left of the road, and it eventually emerges at the entrance to the main area of Tengjhih National Forest, which is now (permanently?) closed due to the collapse of the access road.

Deserted - and structurally unsound - building at the main entrance to Tengjhih National Forest. This small village is now accessible only by steep dirt track, after the original access road collapsed during Typhoon Morakot in 2009.
Deserted – and structurally unsound – building at the main entrance to Tengjhih National Forest. This small village is now accessible only by steep dirt track, after the original access road collapsed during Typhoon Morakot in 2009.

It’s hard to find birds in mature forest, especially in the tropics – you always hear a lot more than you see. One such bird today was a calling Taiwan Hill Partridge, one of the very few Taiwan endemic birds that I have yet to see. This one was calling repeatedly, not far from the path; I waited where I could see a long section of the trail, but it didn’t come out. Heard-only birds are not countable on my list, but the confirmed presence of the partridge here ensures that I will be coming back to this trail regularly until I see it.

Taiwan Sibias, Steere’s Liocichlas and Rufous-faced Warblers are obviously very common in here, judging from the number of them singing, but I only laid eyes on a few individuals of each species. One bird I did get good view of was a smart Yellow Tit, which is always a delight to see. Two White-tailed Robins and a pair of Vivid Niltavas also showed well. The best bird was awaiting me in scrub back near the start point of the trail – a beautiful Rusty Laughingthrush. I was surprised that this one was alone, watching me suspiciously from a low branch – all my previous experiences of this species have been of flocks.

Another nice bird was a Eurasian Jay, which came close enough to allow for some opportunistic photography.

Eurasian Jay, Tengjhih National Forest, April 10th.
Eurasian Jay, Tengjhih National Forest, April 10th.

Elsewhere in the general Tengjhih area, it was a good day for soaring raptors, including a beautiful Black Eagle at Km 14, and a Besra a little further down the road, plus the expected Crested Serpent Eagles and Crested Goshawks.

Striated Prinia brings my life list to 1,770, and my all-time Taiwan list to 203, while Striated Prinia plus Rusty Laughingthrush boost my 2014 Taiwan year list to 163 species.

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