Blue-breasted Quail, Oriental Stork and Siberian Stonechat, Pingtung, January 17th-18th

Pineapple fields at Jiadong - ideal Blue-breasted Quail habitat. It's impossible to see one among the pineapples, but it is sometimes possible to flush one from the long grass at the edge of the pathways.
Pineapple fields at Jiadong – ideal Blue-breasted Quail habitat. It’s impossible to see one among the pineapples, but it is sometimes possible to flush one from the long grass at the edge of the pathways.

Following a very precise piece of gen from Steve – probably Taiwan’s premier bird lister – I found myself standing in the middle of a pineapple field in rural Pingtung County, early on Saturday morning. “Check the grassy path margins”, I had been told. “I never fail to see Blue-breasted Quail there, although you’re likely to get flight views only, and it may take most of the day to even get those”. Twitching quail of any kind is a risky business at best, with a low chance of success. These tiny birds are notoriously secretive, sticking to thick ground cover and almost never appearing in the open.

Nonetheless, Steve’s gen turned out to be perfect. After only an hour of wandering around, I flushed a female-type quail from some long grass at the edge of a pineapple field. Its size, lack of contrasting blackish flight feathers, and sandy colored underparts with no chestnut vent, were enough to ID the bird as a Blue-breasted Quail. This is one of Taiwan’s most retiring and elusive resident birds, seemingly restricted to the far southwest of the country, and particularly partial to hiding in pineapple fields.

I returned to the site the following afternoon to try for better views. This time, I was about to give up and had almost got back to my scooter when I flushed an adult male Blue-breasted Quail. This one showed rather better than yesterday’s female; its slaty-blue underparts, plain wings, and chestnut vent were all seen well as it flew past me.

What a fantastic lifer, and most definitely a bonus bird that I wasn’t expecting to see in Taiwan. A strong supporting cast in the pineapple fields included a female Siberian Stonechat (Taiwan tick), and a total of six Savanna Nightjars flushed from the bare paths among the pineapples.

The majority of the weekend was spent near Hengchun, in a beach house we rent on the coast there. The Oriental Stork that has been present for a couple of weeks showed well on open marshes just outside of Hengchun town – a real five-star world bird that I have only seen once before, in Korea in winter. A Purple Heron at this site was also noteworthy.

Finally, I stopped off at Dapeng Bay on the way back to Kaohsiung, to grab a few more waders for the year list. Foremost among the twelve wader species seen was a Red Knot – an uncommon passage and wintering bird in Taiwan, and only my personal second or third record in this country.

Overall, a fantastic weekend of birding, even though I didn’t actually spend that much time birding this weekend.

Lifer: Blue-breasted Quail (total 1,793). Taiwan ticks: Oriental Stork, Siberian Stonechat (total 280).

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