At this time of year, when birding is in the doldrums, birders often develop interests in other forms of wildlife to bridge the long gap until autumn migration begins. Unfortunately, while at a certain level I can appreciate butterflies, dragonflies, and even plants, I don’t find myself getting excited about them in the slightest. July is therefore a month to be endured, not enjoyed – doubly so in southern Taiwan where the temperature is swelteringly hot 24 hours a day.
My choices this Saturday morning were to stay at home, stay cool, and get bored, or head out and get very sweaty, sunburned, and probably also bored, but at least stand a small chance of seeing a bird or two. I opted to go to Maolin, with two year list targets in mind: Taiwan Blue Magpie and Taiwan Bamboo Partridge. The site is not only quite reliable for these species but is also only an hour or so by scooter from my house in north Kaohsiung.
I didn’t leave the house until 7.45am, so it was already hot (31C/88F and 70% humidity), and judging by the clear blue sky and bright sunshine, things would only get worse as the day wore on. Unfortunately, Maolin doesn’t really offer any respite from the heat, as it is very much in the foothills rather than the mountains. Still, being surrounded by trees rather than concrete does take the edge off the temperatures a little.
After a very hot scooter ride, I parked near the small waterfall just below the De-En Gorge guesthouse (to get there, take the minor road on the right, opposite the fire station, 3.5km from the start of the Maolin valley). In the hills above the De-En Gorge, a network of old concrete communications roads offer easy access to patches of woodland, scrub, and more open areas. In winter, the area is teeming with thrushes, and roving flocks of Taiwan mid-montane resident and endemic birds. However, perhaps unsurprisingly for a hot mid-morning in July, I saw virtually nothing at all along the first 2 kilometers of my walk. But being out and about sure beats sitting at home in my apartment, and it was good to see the area more or less unchanged since my last visit 18 months ago.
Bird activity improved a little along the second half of the trail, and I finally came across a small feeding flock containing half a dozen Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, two White-bellied Erpornis, two Black-naped Monarchs, a male Grey-chinned Minivet, and a pair of Bronzed Drongos. While standing there enjoying the remnants of the flock, a harsh call made me look up just in time to see a Large Cuckooshrike fly in and land in a tree directly over my head. This was unexpected to say the least – this bird is a very scarce resident in Taiwan (although common in other parts of its range), and one that’s been a prominent “gap” on my Taiwan list for quite some time. The bird lingered in the tree for quite some time, giving me fairly good views, while a second individual could be heard responding to its calls but didn’t come into view.
I confess to not feeling especially excited about the Large Cuckooshrike, as I find myself not exactly bubbling with enthusiasm for my Taiwan life list at the moment – I am far more focused on my World Year List (and I’ve seen plenty of Large Cuckooshrikes elsewhere this year). However in July, you take whatever birds you can get, and I left the area feeling somewhat satisfied even though I had missed both of my year list “targets”, and in fact really didn’t see very much else at all.
2016 World Year List: 780
Taiwan Life List: 288