Asian Dowitcher and terns, Tainan area, May 10th

Highlights:

  • Asian Dowitcher 1
  • Gull-billed Tern 1
  • White-winged Tern 4
  • Greater Crested Tern 5
  • Ruddy-breasted Crake 1
  • Little Bunting 1
  • Chinese Sparrowhawk 1
  • Black-shouldered Kite 2
  • Arctic Warbler 2
  • Brown-headed Thrush 1

Other waders seen: Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Avocet, Whimbrel, Grey-tailed Tattler, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater Sandplover, Mongolian Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper.

Migrants continue to trickle northwards along the Taiwan coast, and some interesting oddities were seen during a four hour visit to the Qigu and Tainan marshes this morning. The showery weather of the last few days has probably helped to ground a few migrants; for example it was notable that Brown Shrikes were very numerous today.

In terms of rarity, the outstanding highlight was an Asian Dowitcher on a pool just inland of the coastal belt of woodland, on the southern (Tainan) side of the Tsengwen estuary. At first, all too briefly, it was close to the road associating with three Avocets and a couple of Marsh Sandpipers. However, a passing scooter soon flushed it to the far side of the pool, where it showed well but rather distantly. Unlike the full breeding-plumaged individual I found at Aogu last weekend, this bird was only just starting to moult into summer plumage, and had a rather strong head pattern with a distinct supercilium; it was also up to its belly in water and for a brief moment I wondered if it could be a Long-billed Dowitcher, but it soon wandered into shallower water where its black legs could be seen. The thick, all-black and “drop-tipped” bill is also a giveaway even at long range.

Two self-found Asian Dowitchers in just seven days is lucky indeed, but I couldn’t help wanting to trade at least one of them for a Nordmann’s Greenshank, the only East Asian shorebird I still haven’t seen. Such is birding!

Elsewhere, the coastal pine forest at Qigu produced two Arctic Warblers and a Brown-headed Thrush, in other words similar birds to last week but minus the rarities. A migrant Chinese Sparrowhawk flew north along the coast, a year tick for me, while two Black-shouldered Kites were in the area. Today, I drove the full length of the levee road around the Qigu marshes, where the best bird was a superb Little Bunting beside the road, my second rare migrant bunting species this week after Tuesday’s Tristram’s Bunting at Donggang.

There weren’t many waders on Qigu marshes today; the water level was high, limiting the amount of exposed mud. However, a Gull-billed Tern here was a Taiwan tick for me. Offshore, Greater Crested Terns fished in the mouth of the Tsengwen Estuary, while further around the levee on a reedy pool, I disturbed a Ruddy-breasted Crake which gave me a five-second view before it disappeared into cover. A flooded rice paddy held a big mixed flock of breeding-plumaged Broad-billed, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints.

The bird I enjoyed the most today is a fairly common passage migrant in Taiwan: White-winged Tern. There were three of them with Whiskered Terns at fishponds next to Highway 17 near Cheting, and another overflew the Tainan marshes. It’s a dazzling bird in its spring plumage, and one I cannot imagine ever getting tired of seeing.

Taiwan ticks: Gull-billed Tern, Little Bunting. Year ticks: Chinese Sparrowhawk, White-winged Tern.

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