An eclectic mix of highlights from today’s six hour visit, showing that migration is well and truly under way along the coast of south-western Taiwan.
Easily the highlight was an immature male Siberian Blue Robin in Qigu’s coastal forest. It didn’t give itself up very easily, and spent lots of time hidden in cover, before suddenly running out to feed in the open for a minute or two, only to quickly disappear again. The cacophony of camera shutters was a good indication of when the bird was in view!
Elsewhere in the coastal forest, bird activity was a lot higher than last week. A brief but well-seen Asian Brown Flycatcher – ironically while I was searching for a reported Grey-streaked Flycatcher – took the runner up spot today, while at least five Arctic Warblers generally showed well.
As happens fairly often at this exciting time of year, there was the one that got away. I got on to a small bird with a bright blue crown, back and tail, facing away from me, at about head height in some pines. My first thought was Red-flanked Bluetail. No sooner had this reaction entered my head than the bird turned to face me, for a fraction of a second. At that point, I saw that it didn’t have orange flanks, but a complete pale orange breast extending in a wedge up the throat. Naturally, it then flew off, never to be seen again. I’m wondering if it was perhaps a Hill Blue Flycatcher, a bird I am very familiar with from Thailand but which I assume would be a first for Taiwan …..
A little frustrated at failing to relocate my mystery bird, I left the coastal forest for a circuit of the embankment, where it was business as usual with three White-shouldered Starlings and four Richard’s Pipits still.
The “Long-billed Dowitcher pools” still held plenty of waders, but nothing unusual, although a Gull-billed Tern and three White-winged Terns were perhaps noteworthy.
I spent some time on the south side of the Tsengwen Estuary today. Pools to the south of the embankment, within a kilometer of Highway 17, were excellent, with huge numbers of Long-toed Stints, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, and Black-winged Stilts. Among them, a lone Ruff was a good bird for this part of Taiwan, and a Greater Painted-Snipe with three small chicks was also an excellent sighting.
I continued all the way around the southern embankment, which finally turns inland through some thick pine forest. One can only imagine how many migrants pass through here undetected, but the area is largely unworkable. I wandered along a forest trail, hearing an Arctic Warbler, and disturbing a Malayan Night Heron from a pool, while near the beach a Black-shouldered Kite drifted overhead.
Taiwan tick: Siberian Blue Robin (total 249). Year tick: Asian Brown Flycatcher (total 239).
The 4km-long loop trail behind the De-En Gorge guesthouse in the Maolin Valley is an excellent spot for some low-mid altitude forest birds. This was my first visit to the area since January this year, and despite the bad timing (mid afternoon), a few interesting species were seen.
It’s a reliable location for Maroon Oriole – of the distinctive Taiwanese form that may be an endemic species – which is a scarce and local bird in Taiwan. Woodland along the trail is also a good bet for White-bellied Erpornis, a bird I see extremely infrequently in Taiwan. I saw both of these species today, plus some other birds I usually see here and not often elsewhere – Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge and Bronzed Drongo.
However, there was no sign of any Taiwan Blue Magpies today, to my girlfriend’s disappointment. I’ve seen them fairly reliably in the past along the final third of the trail (when going clockwise). This is an easily accessible site from Kaohsiung for anyone looking for this uncommon and beautiful endemic.
Two big white birds take top honours for an all-day visit to Qigu, Budai, Beimen and Aogu, but there was plenty else to be seen in the area as post-typhoon migration really seems to be picking up.
First stop were the Km 134.5 pools at Budai, where many of today’s 23 wader species were seen, albeit in generally smaller numbers than on my last visit here. Many of the birds have dispersed to neighboring pools where the water levels have become favorable. Pick of the bunch here: 11 Avocets, over 100 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, three Gull-billed and a single White-winged Tern, five Garganey, and high numbers of Sacred Ibis.
I headed north to Aogu, where water levels have fallen slightly but are still a little too high for waders. Nonetheless, bird activity here was noticeably higher than recently – in another month or so it will probably be worth visiting again. Today, Aogu’s best offering was a Green Sandpiper at a reed-fringed pool. This is an uncommon migrant in Taiwan, and one which I see only rarely, as it generally prefers secluded pools and shuns open wetlands.
Heading south again, I had a quick look at the Km 146 area near Beimen. All the usual wader species were here in much-reduced numbers compared to my last visit, plus an Oriental Pratincole.
At Qigu, my first stop was the embankment area where I saw Long-billed Dowitcher on Saturday. No sign of any dowitchers today, but four newly-arrived Black-faced Spoonbills feeding close to the south side of the embankment were a fine sight. Turning the telescope 180 degrees, I could enjoy two Chinese Egrets on the north side from the same spot.
Continuing west along the embankment, several interesting migrants were seen: a Richard’s Pipit, a Blue Rock Thrush, plenty of Brown Shrikes, and best of all a flock of 18 White-shouldered Starlings which departed high to the east. Waders were represented by a lone Whimbrel and two Grey Plovers.
My final Qigu stop was the belt of pine trees north of the Tsengwen river mouth. My personal bird of the day was on the beach here: a winter-plumaged Sanderling. In the forest, good numbers of Brown Shrike, a briefly-seen juvenile cuckoo (probably Oriental), a Blue Rock Thrush, and a Common Sandpiper. A group of photographers were staking out an area under the trees, but nothing seemed to be happening and several of them began to drift away so I didn’t hang around. Finally, offshore about ten Great Crested Terns were lingering, and occasional groups of Common and Little Terns headed south. Unfortunately I was out of time, but it will be worth spending some time checking the passing terns here during the autumn for the rare but regular Aleutian Tern.
Three Long-billed Dowitchers had been reported from this location along the Qigu embankment last week, so on Saturday morning – in a window of only a few hours before a typhoon was forecast to hit southern Taiwan – I drove north to look for them.
I quickly found the area where all the waders were, but unfortunately, the wind was already very strong and birding from the exposed embankment was almost impossible. Among the rice paddies it was a little more sheltered, and after I while I located the three Long-billed Dowitchers among hundreds of other shorebirds. It was hard to get close to the birds without disturbing them, and the wind and light conditions weren’t ideal. Compared to Asian Dowitcher, the main difference on the views I obtained was size. Long-billed is noticeably a lot smaller (body length was similar to the nearby Marsh Sandpipers, whereas Asian Dowitcher is close to Common Greenshank in size). Plumage-wise, there didn’t seem to me to be a great deal to differentiate the two species, at least for these resting and feeding birds (it’s more obvious in flight because Long-billed has a darker underwing). Finally, on the few occasions when the Long-billed Dowitchers wandered into shallower water, the legs could be seen to be more greenish – the legs of Asian Dowitcher are prominently jet-black.
Of course, I couldn’t conclusively eliminate Short-billed Dowitcher as an ID possibility, but the latter species has never occurred in Taiwan, whereas Long-billed is an annual but very scarce migrant and winter visitor.
The other waders here comprised a selection of the expected migrants, including Sharp-tailed, Marsh, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, Mongolian, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers,Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Black-winged Stilt.
Also noteworthy in the rice paddies here was Greater Painted-Snipe. I flushed at least five, mostly from almost under my feet. Two of them did a very strange thing – when flushed they flew out to the middle of a pond, crash-landed in the middle of it, and tried to hide there with just their head and back above the water level. I’ve never seen anything like it. There was also an adult bird with chicks that I was able to observe at a safe distance without flushing.
Elsewhere in the area, I saw very little. Strong winds in the coastal forest made birding difficult, and there seemed to be nothing passing at sea. The only other bird of note in the area was a Richard’s Pipit heard calling and seen briefly in flight along the seaward side of the embankment. Hopefully, Typhoon Fung-Wong will bring us some exciting birds this week.
A 1.5 hour morning visit to this site near Donggang in Pingtung County produced my fifth Asian Dowitcher of the year, following spring individuals at Aogu and Tainan, and two together last month at Budai. I have come to the conclusion that either I am incredibly lucky, or they are not quite as rare in Taiwan as the literature suggests.
Aside from this obvious highlight, small numbers of terns on the mud comprised five different species. Two hulking Gull-billed Terns presided over two Common Terns (year tick), two White-winged Terns, and a handful of the expected Whiskered and Little Terns.
Waders totalled 16 species, mostly in small numbers, including Terek, Sharp-tailed, Broad-billed, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Long-toed and Red-necked Stints, Pacific Golden, Mongolian, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, and Black-winged Stilt.
I rarely get to use my Kawasaki Ninja, as it’s not the most practical choice for birding or everyday use. But with fine weather forecast, this weekend presented a good opportunity to burn some rubber on the mountain twisties and perhaps see a bird or two as well, although the scope stayed at home!
My weekend route of some 700km took me through the hills past Tsengwen Reservoir, then into the mountains at Alishan and higher still to Yushan National Park, then down the long and lonely Highway 21 to Sun Moon Lake, onwards to Puli, and finally to the Wushe area. I returned on Sunday via Sun Moon Lake again, then Highway 3 pretty much all the way back to Kaohsiung.
By far the best birding on this trip was at Tataka, at the high point of the road where Highway 18 becomes Highway 21 (altitude 2,400 meters). A very good area to check for the sought-after Golden Parrotbill is the road around the Km 108.5 marker, the path leading down to the hostel from that point, and the surfaced hostel access road below the main highway. I saw at least eight Golden Parrotbills in this area today. Their hard chipping and twittering calls are quite distinctive and with a bit of patience they could readily be seen in the dwarf bamboo.
Also along the path leading down to the hostel, I enjoyed binocular-filling but all too brief views of a male White-browed Robin, which true to the skulking nature of this species promptly disappeared into the dwarf bamboo and was not seen again.
Bird activity was high at Tataka – unusually for a visit here in the middle of the day – and other birds seen over the course of an hour included Collared Bush-Robin, White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Spotted Nutcracker, Taiwan Fulvetta, Flamecrest, Coal Tit, Green-backed Tit, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Taiwan Yuhina and Asian House Martin.
While the motorbiking was awesome, other birding highlights were few and far between. I spent some time at the Ci-En Tower, overlooking Sun Moon Lake, on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, but there was no sign of any Large Cuckooshrikes, for which this is supposedly a regular site. On both dates, Plain Flowerpeckers were very vocal around the parking lot and the first couple of hundred meters of the trail to the tower – patience finally paid off with some reasonable views. I didn’t see much else here, except a late-afternoon flock of 48 Chinese Sparrowhawks heading south.
Just a scattering of common birds during a dawn visit to Chun Yang Farm, near Wushe, means that I am still waiting for my first Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler, and my first Taiwanese Vinous-throated Parrotbills.
Year ticks:Golden Parrotbill, White-browed Robin (total 234).
Sites visited: Dasyueshan, Beidongyenshan, Chun Yang Farm, Blue Gate trail area.
Birds seen (endemics and other notable birds in bold):
Crested Serpent Eagle
Oriental Turtle Dove
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Asian House Martin
Taiwan Whistling Thrush
Collared Bush Robin
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
The three-day Moon Festival weekend presented me with the ideal opportunity to take a trip “up north” and fill in some gaps on my year list.
It was a highly successful trip, with many of my target birds seen. I particularly enjoyed Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Little Forktail, Brown Dipper and Taiwan Thrush. Notable misses included Mikado Pheasant, White-browed Robin, and Golden Parrotbill (although this species is easier in the Yushan National Park at Tataka). I didn’t see the likes of Taiwan Hill Partridge, Taiwan Shortwing and Taiwan Wren-Babbler either, but then again I didn’t spend any time looking specifically for these birds as I have already seen them this year.
Notes on the sites visited:
Dasyueshan: I spent from the late morning until evening of September 6th, and all day on September 8th here. It is a very well-known birding site, with plentiful trip reports on the internet, but the following up-to-date information may be useful to some:
Km 4: immediately after the bridge, take the minor road on the left. Just around the first bend, turn left and head a short distance uphill. Scrub at the top had at least two singing Taiwan Hwamei at first light, one of which eventually showed well.
Km 15: a minor road heads downhill to the right. Follow it to the river, which is a popular stakeout for Brown Dipper. I found two here without a great deal of effort: one just downstream of the road bridge, and another a hundred meters upstream from the suspension bridge.
Km 23: the Swinhoe’s Pheasant stakeout. I saw nothing here on the first day, but a female Swinhoe’s Pheasant was showing in the road early morning on my second visit.
Km 35: after the main park entrance and parking lot, there is a small shrine on the left and a gated trail beyond. This is forest road 210. The locked gate and warning signs look intimidating, but apparently birders are tolerated here and it is possible to walk around the fence to the left of the gate. I had the place to myself on both of my visits. The first hundred meters of the trail were the most productive, where I logged about five Taiwan Thrushes (several of which flew down to the trail to drink from a puddle), several Taiwan Barwings and Rusty Laughingthrushes, and a Taiwan Whistling Thrush, all during a period of thirty minutes in the late afternoon. Further along, the trail was mostly quiet, but a feeding flock held a Yellow Tit. Judging from the habitat, there are probably plenty of Taiwan Wren-babblers and other undergrowth-dwellers along here; an early morning visit could be very productive.
Km 39: just before a sharp right-hand bend, a gravel trailhead on the right leads down to another locked gate. This is forest road 220, mentioned in some older trip reports as being a good place to try for pheasants. It is possible – but tricky – to wriggle underneath the gate. I was here in the middle of the day and didn’t see many birds, but a Formosan Serow a couple of hundred meters along the trail was a nice surprise.
Km 41: a trail on the right leads through good forest to a waterfall, which is a good place to check for Little Forktail. I have also seen Taiwan Wren-Babbler and Taiwan Barwing along the first section of the trail, but not this time.
Km 42: a roadside waterfall worth checking for Little Forktail.
Km 43-44: Anmashan forest station. Below the road, around the cabins and restaurants, is plenty of good habitat to explore. You can also access a network of forest trails from here. My lunchtime visit produced just a Ferruginous Flycatcher and a Vivid Niltava in trees near the restaurant.
Km 47: the Mikado Pheasant stakeout. I spent four hours here over the two days, in the early morning and mid-late afternoon, without success. However, I did see plenty of high-altitude birds here including Flamecrest (many heard, good views of two birds), Coal and Green-backed Tits, Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler, Taiwan Fulvetta, Vinaceous Rosefinch, Collared Bush-Robin, Spotted Nutcracker, and frequent White-whiskered Laughingthrushes. I’ve seen White-browed Robin in forest below the road previously, but unfortunately not on this trip – photographers stake out a spot beside the road for this species just down from the pheasant site.
Km 50 area: Tienchih Lake and the road summit. A Grey-headed Bullfinch was coming to seed placed by photographers next to the visitor center, and I saw another pair of these beautiful birds on the trail around Tienchih Lake. I walked the 1.7km-long trail down to the large sacred tree, where trailside forest looks good for Mikado Pheasant, and stands of dwarf bamboo might hold Golden Parrotbill from time to time, but I saw few birds except an unexpected migrant Brown Shrike.
Blue Gate Trail area: this is another spot that is well-covered in multiple trip reports. Turn left at the police station at Km 18 on road 14A, and park in the small parking lot on the right after 800 meters before walking the rather muddy trail. I was delighted to get good views of a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher along here, among commoner species.
Back on my scooter, I continued down the steep and bumpy road for another couple of kilometers before parking on the left shortly before a large but old and fully repaired landslide. Just after the landslide, take the right hand fork onto a minor road and follow it through mixed woodland and scrub as far as some tea plantations. On a previous visit this spot has proved productive for Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Brown Bullfinch and Rusty Laughingthrush, but today only the flowerpecker obliged, although I heard – but didn’t manage to see – the bullfinch. I also had close perched views of an Ashy Woodpigeon, which was pleasing as all my previous views of this species have been in flight.
Chun Yang Farm: this site near Wushe holds a range of mid-altitude scrub and forest-edge birds, but it was very quiet when I visited it mid-morning. I saw only Oriental Turtle Dove and Plumbeous Redstart of note, and overhead four migrant Chinese Sparrowhawks, a Crested Goshawk and two Crested Serpent Eagles. A disappointing visit, as I was hoping for Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler and Vinous-throated Parrotbill here. It’s easy to find the farm: from Wushe, take the right fork (road 14), and at Km 83.5 take the minor road on the left. There is an entrance sign saying Chun Yang Farm in English, and a gate, but the gate was open and there don’t seem to be any restrictions on access.
Beidongyenshan: a rather awkward to reach place, but worth the effort. At Km 4 on road 14A, take the left turn signposted Lishan. The road is in terrible condition and is marked by two big recent landslides, which were muddy and a little nerve-racking to negotiate in the rain on a scooter. After 8km, there is a green sign marking a turning on the left. Take this road, and after 1.5km park at the locked gate. It is possible to climb around the gate, and walk a wide and gently climbing track through excellent forest. The best birds were perhaps two Swinhoe’s Pheasants, a male and a female on separate occasions, but views of both were brief. I had much better looks at two flocks of Rufous-crowned Laughingthrushes, a speciality of this site, and two Yellow Tits in one of the few feeding flocks I encountered.
Bird of the afternoon at Beidongyenshan was on my return journey, when there was a smart Little Forktail at the waterfall next to one of the landslides – only the second time I have ever seen this striking bird.
Taiwan ticks: Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Brown Dipper (total 246).
Year ticks: Taiwan Barwing, Ashy Woodpigeon, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Little Forktail, Grey-headed Bullfinch (total 232).
Today’s visit to Budai turned up an unexpected rarity in the form of an adult Common Ringed Plover. According to Mark Brazil’s “Birds of East Asia”, this is an accidental visitor to Taiwan which normally migrates well to the west of the region. The bird was at the pool to the north of the Km 134.5 marker on Highway 17.
Otherwise, it was a standard autumn day at Budai. The pools on the other side of the road to the Common Ringed Plover’s favorite hangout were again full of birds, including a high count of 113 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, 10 Avocets, and a minimum of 50 White-winged Terns among the many Whiskered and Little Terns.
Also in the area, the two Greater Flamingoes were seen again alongside Expressway 61 at Km 276.
Among 20 wader species seen at Budai and Beimen, 3 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were perhaps noteworthy. Long-toed Stints, Marsh Sandpipers and Pacific Golden Plovers were particularly numerous today. The presence of several Brown Shrikes and Eastern Yellow Wagtails was a sign that passerine migration is getting underway.
Finally, I took a short jaunt further north to Aogu where the water levels are still too high for waders, and there was little to be seen.