My girlfriend Jenna and I had booked and paid for a short break in the Philippines. However, with Typhoon Hagupit bearing down on the islands, we were forced to abandon our plans at the last minute and stay in Taiwan. On the plus side, I now had time for a three-day birding trip focused on mopping up some of the few remaining Taiwan specialities I still needed to see. My route took me up the beautiful east coast, through Taroko Gorge, across the high mountains at Hehuanshan, then through Wushe and back to Kaohsiung via Sun Moon Lake and Yushan National Park.
A short summary of sites visited and birds seen during the trip:
December 7th: Orchards near Dulan in Taitung County, at approximately Km 140 along Highway 11.
A short walk around the Lehuo Shoudo Moli homestay grounds and surrounding farming roads produced an excellent range of lowland species, including abundant Taiwan Bulbuls. Plenty of wintering thrushes were mainly Brown-headed Thrushes, but with at least one Pale Thrush among them. A nice selection of raptors included three each of Oriental Honey Buzzard and Crested Serpent Eagle, as well as an Osprey heading north.
December 8th: Hehuan Mountain summit.
Finally, I got my chance to see Alpine Accentor in Taiwan. The subspecies here is endemic to Taiwan and is a tough bird to see, necessitating a visit to very high mountains which can be hard to access. One of the best sites to connect with this bird is at Hehuanshan summit car park in winter, when a handful of Alpine Accentors forsake the bitterly cold peaks and seek out an easier existence among the cars and tourists at the viewpoint.
I found just one Alpine Accentor here, feeding unobtrusively along the roadside. It was incredibly tame and allowed an approach to within two feet or so. Other birds in the general area (mainly around the Hehuanshan visitor center a little lower down) comprised two Taiwan Rosefinches, a few White-whiskered Laughingthrushes, a Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler and six Asian House Martins.
December 9th: Chunyang Farm, near Wushe.
My third visit to this site in search of Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler. Today I left nothing to chance, arriving at the site at 6.00am when it was still pitch dark. It was a cold morning and the birds took a while to get going, but by 7.00am bird activity was high and I finally found my target species. About 1.5km along the main asphalt road through the farm, I heard Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler’s distinctive song. The bird was a real skulker and it took some time to get a glimpse even though it was singing constantly. It was also heard to call, a dry trrt and trrrt-trrrt, similar to Dusky Warbler.
Although the verdict is not yet unanimous, Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler is now considered to be a full endemic species by many authors – not just a subspecies of the Chinese mainland form. As such, it is something of a personal milestone, being the last remaining Taiwan endemic bird for my list after nearly two years on the island.
Other excellent sightings at Chunyang Farm this morning included a pair of Snowy-browed Flycatchers, one Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler seen well (and others heard calling), six Rusty Laughingthrushes, and two Dusky Fulvettas.
Driving from Puli to Huisun later, I made a lucky stop at the river bridge along Highway 21 (almost directly under the freeway), where a flock of 15 Vinous-throated Parrotbills in tall grass were a long overdue Taiwan tick.
December 9th: Huisun Forest Park.
An afternoon here in search of Varied Tit for the year list. Birding at Huisun is very pleasant, with lots of birds to see, especially around the lower level main car park and trailheads.
Taiwan Blue Magpies were easy to find today, in fruiting trees next to the car park and around nearby buildings. Huisun is also a reliable site for Swinhoe’s Pheasant, and today there was a fairly tame party of four including an adult male at the base of the Duhchuanling Trail.
Varied Tits were vocal in the same area, with one bird finally seen well although they were surprisingly hard to catch sight of in the tall trees. I also saw a pair of Snowy-browed Flycatchers, along the first fifty meters of the Sihwufong Trail – at this altitude probably wintering birds rather than residents.
During the trip I also birded the Blue Gate Trail near Wushe (very quiet with little of note apart from common birds), the Ci-En Pagoda near Sun Moon Lake (again no sign of any Large Cuckooshrikes, but I did see Plain Flowerpecker which seems reliable here), and a very quiet walk in Yushan National Park, on the trail just off Highway 18 at Km 99.
Lifer: Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler (total 1,792). East Asia tick: Alpine Accentor (total 878). Taiwan tick: Vinous-throated Parrotbill (total 271). Year tick: Varied Tit (total 264).