TAIWAN HILL PARTRIDGE, Tengjhih National Forest, April 15th

The start of the trail to Tengjhih National Forest, in the fog.
The start of the trail to Tengjhih National Forest, in the fog.

A cool, foggy and drizzly day in the mountains at Tengjhih, but a red-letter day for me because I finally connected with Taiwan Hill Partridge. This bird is generally considered to be the most difficult Taiwan endemic to see. It is scarce and secretive, and spends its time on the ground in the interior of mountain forests, where dull lighting and its cryptic camouflage make it very hard to spot.

The interior of the forest along the trail to the Tengjhih entrance was very gloomy in the fog today, making viewing conditions challenging, but on the plus side there was not a breath of wind. Therefore it was easy to hear and locate bird calls and movements. Close to the 425 meter marker (distances along the trail are marked by red painted numbers on rocks and logs), I flushed two birds from forest on the left of the trail which – from their size and shape – were almost certainly Taiwan Hill Partridges, but the merest glimpse was not enough to confirm. Frustrating. However, just two minutes and twenty meters further along, I heard scraping sounds coming from the leaves, this time to the right of the trail. Careful stalking finally produced reasonable views of not one, but two Taiwan Hill Partridges feeding quietly on the ground.

Elated with this sighting, I continued along the trail as far as Tengjhih village, seeing two Eurasian Nuthatches (year tick) as well as many of the same species seen last week.

Deserted hotel in the ruins of Tengjhih village - a creepy place in the fog.
Deserted hotel in the ruins of Tengjhih village – a creepy place in the fog.

Returning along the same trail, I once again heard scraping sounds coming from the forest understorey at exactly the same point I had flushed the suspected Taiwan Hill Partridges on my outward journey. I quietly crept closer, and not only did I see a Taiwan Hill Partridge, I even managed to get a few seconds of video of it feeding then looking directly at me before it ran off into the forest. So it looks like there were two separate pairs of birds feeding by the trail in that area. It’s also very close to the spot where I heard Taiwan Hill Partridge calling on my visit last week.

By this time, I was keen to head down from the mountains out of the fog and drizzle, so I drove south along the 27 then the 185 towards Sandimen to check out Saijia Recreation Area, a site that I’d noticed several times recently while driving past and thought warranted a look.

It’s mainly a campsite and aviation park (for hang-gliding and paragliding). There’s also a grass ski slope and – this is what caught my eye – some open parkland with tall mature trees.

The two birds I had in mind were Collared Owlet and Black-naped Oriole, two species which might be found in such habitats in southern Taiwan. I had no luck with either, but I did get great views of a male Maroon Oriole. I also flushed a Malayan Night Heron, which flew into a nearby tree and peered accusingly at me from a low branch:

Malayan Night Heron, Saijia Recreation Area, April 15th.
Malayan Night Heron, Saijia Recreation Area, April 15th.

Taiwan Hill Partridge brings my life list to 1,771 and my all-time Taiwan list to 204. The partridge and Eurasian Nuthatch increase my 2014 Taiwan year list to 166 (I also added Pacific Reef Heron in Kenting last weekend).

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