TAIWAN BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Taiwan: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Taipei airport. The burgeoning city of Taipei was transformed in under a generation from a sleepy provincial town into a glistening high-rise metropolis.
Before we leave the city behind we will pay a short visit to the Botanical Gardens where, in spite of the many visitors, Malayan Night Herons go about their business unconcerned – indeed they are now so accustomed to people that one can approach within a few metres! Other species likely here include Little Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red Collared (or Red Turtle) and Spotted Doves, the endemic Taiwan (or Gould’s) Barbet, Chinese and Black Bulbuls, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Japanese White-eye, Eurasian Magpie and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
After this interesting introduction to Taiwanese birding, we will head south to the Daxueshan area (pronounced dah-shwey-shan) for a four nights stay.
Taiwan: Days 2-4 The forested mountains of Daxueshan (also known as Dasyueshan or Anmashan) have almost the full range of Taiwan’s speciality birds and so we are sure to enjoy our stay in this scenic area. Given the poor weather conditions that sometimes prevail in Taiwan’s mountains in spring and summer, simply having additional days in the right habitat greatly increases our chance of success, and we will have more chances of finding most of the species listed below at several of the mountain sites that we will visit.
One of our main targets here will be the spectacular endemic Mikado Pheasant. This species is often surprisingly confiding for a ‘gamebird’ and if we are fortunate we will be able to get quite close to one or two, perhaps watching a female quietly feeding at the side of a road or a male making its wing-drumming display. With persistence, we have an excellent chance of seeing this unforgettable bird either here or at Yushan. We will also have our first opportunity to look for two more of the most exciting and most sought after Taiwanese endemics, the amazing endemic Swinhoe’s Pheasant and the ultra-skulking endemic Taiwan Partridge, both of which sometimes emerge at the roadside.
Other endemic species we will be looking for amidst some beautiful broadleaf, mixed and coniferous forests include another series of endemics: the distinctive Taiwan Shortwing (a form where the male has a dull, female-type plumage, and which is now sometimes split from White-browed), the lovely Collared Bush Robin, Sombre Bush Robin, Taiwan Whistling Thrush, the secretive Taiwan or Alishan Bush Warbler (split from Russet), the pretty little Flamecrest, Taiwan Wren-Babbler (split from Pygmy), the endearing little Taiwan Fulvetta (a recent split from Streak-throated), the noisy Grey-cheeked Fulvetta (a bird restricted to Taiwan after taxonomic revision), the inquisitive Taiwan Yuhina, the noisy Rusty Laughingthrush (another form endemic to Taiwan following taxonomic revision), the striking White-whiskered Laughingthrush, the attractive Steere’s Liocichla, Taiwan Barwing, the smart White-eared Sibia, the beautiful Yellow Tit and Taiwan Rosefinch (split from Vinaceous).
We will also have our first chance to see three other endemic forms, at least one or two of which are likely to be treated as distinct species in the future. These are the drably-coloured Taiwan (or Sombre) Bush Robin (a form which has a ‘feminized’ male plumage and which is surely a good split from White-browed, from which it differs both morphologically and by voice), the beautiful though rather elusive Taiwan Thrush (the local form is sometimes split from Island Thrush of the tropical Pacific region), and the distinctive Taiwan Bullfinch (also known as Owston’s Bullfinch and another endemic form with a feminized male plumage which is surely a worthy split from Grey-headed).
Other birds we may well encounter here include Crested Serpent Eagle, Ashy Wood Pigeon, Oriental Turtle Dove, the restricted-range White-bellied Green Pigeon, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Asian House Martin, Grey-chinned Minivet, the strange Collared Finchbill (a Chinese near-endemic), the smart White-tailed Robin, Scaly Thrush (the breeding form on Taiwan being of uncertain affinities and perhaps representing a distinct species, analogous to the situation on Amami in the Ryukyu Islands), Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler (truly a bird with an extraordinary song, and now a Chinese near-endemic following taxonomic revision), the delightful Rufous-faced Warbler, Ferruginous Flycatcher (probably easier to see in Taiwan than anywhere else), Vivid Niltava (the nominate Taiwan form, which has an orange wedge on the throat, being possibly a separate species from mainland forms), Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Rufous-capped Babbler, perky Black-throated, Coal and Green-backed Tits, Fire-breasted (or Buff-bellied) Flowerpecker, Bronzed Drongo, Large-billed Crow and White-rumped Munia.
Taiwan: Day 5 Today we shall make our way the Wushe region for an overnight stay.
En route we shall visit an area of lowland forest which holds the uncommon endemic Chestnut-bellied (or Taiwan Varied Tit (split from Varied). Whilst searching for this delightful species we should also find the superb Taiwan Blue Magpie, as well as Crested Goshawk, White-bellied Yuhina and Grey Treepie.
Amidst the montane forests of the Wushe region, we shall look in particular for the attractive endemic Rufous-crowned (or Rufous-capped) Laughingthrush, which has now been split from White-throated. We will also have another chance to see some of the species previously mentioned for Daxueshan.
Other species we may well encounter include Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Oriental Cuckoo, White-backed Woodpecker, Large Cuckoo-Shrike, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Jay and the rather uncommon Brown Bullfinch. We are likely to hear Collared Owlet, but we will need some luck to track one down. Away from the forest, areas of cultivation, tea gardens and scrub hold Brown-flanked Bush-Warbler (the local form robustipes may perhaps represent a distinct species), Striated Prinia and Vinous-throated Parrotbill (a Chinese near-endemic).
Taiwan: Day 6 Today, after some final birding in the Wushe area, we will cross the Hehuan Shan pass, at 3275m the highest road in East Asia. As we cross the pass, where there are magnificent mountain views on a clear day (the surrounding peaks rise to 3605m), we will stop to look for Alpine Accentor and the uncommon and furtive Golden Parrotbill.
We will then head down the famous East-West Highway (a road that was a remarkable feat of engineering when first constructed nearly 50 years ago). We will descend until we reach the dramatic Taroko Gorge, a truly awesome chasm of perpendicular marble cliffs carved by the tumultuous Li-Wu river that is undoubtedly one of the scenic wonders of Asia. Here we can expect to find Brown Dipper, Plumbeous Redstart, Little Forktail, more Taiwan Whistling Thrushes and perhaps Silver-backed Needletail.
Eventually, we will reach the east coast at Taroko, where we will spend the night.
Taiwan: Day 7 Today we will explore rivers, paddyfields, rough grassland and patches of scrub in the coastal lowlands. Likely additions to the list include Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Common (or Ring-necked) Pheasant (represented here by an endemic subspecies), Barred Buttonquail, Fork-tailed (or Pacific) Swift, Amur Wagtail and the Taiwanese form of the Bright-capped Cisticola. More importantly, this is a good area for yet another endemic, the Taiwan Hwamei (a split from Chinese Hwamei, but as it completely lacks the eyebrow that gives this species its Chinese name, meaning ‘beautiful eyebrow, the name is not a very good one!). We may also encounter a lingering winter visitor or passage migrant such as Red-throated or Richard’s Pipits, or Black-faced Bunting.
Early on we should encounter hybrid Styan’s x Chinese Bulbuls, for this is one of the areas where the two species meet, but as we travel southwards the birds are clearly pure Styan’s Bulbuls. Supposedly threatened by hybridization with invading Chinese Bulbuls, this endemic species is still very numerous and clearly doing well despite some hybridization in a narrow zone.
Afterwards, we continue southwards to Taitung for an overnight stay.
We will stop for some birding in an area of lowland forest where we have an excellent chance of finding the endemic Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler (now treated as specifically distinct from the members of the Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler complex in mainland Asia), the attractive endemic Taiwan Scimitar Babbler (a recent split from Streak-breasted) and the stunning, red and black Red (or Claret) Oriole (sometimes split from the Maroon Oriole of SW China westwards, with which it should surely never have been lumped, and a species otherwise restricted to parts of Vietnam and adjacent south China). We will also be on the lookout for Taiwan Bamboo Partridge (this endemic form is vocally and morphologically distinct from its mainland cousin, the Chinese Bamboo Partridge, from which it is sometimes split).
We will also make a short stop at the Tropic of Cancer and check the rocks offshore for the delightful Black-naped Tern, which breeds here and should just be arriving back.
Taiwan: Day 8 From Taitung, where Oriental Pratincoles often frequent the grassy areas, we will take a ferry to the small but rugged island of Lanyu, situated to the east of the southern tip of Taiwan, for an overnight stay.
We should see Streaked Shearwaters during the crossing and there is a fair chance for additional seabirds.
Lanyu is not just a fascinating island for birds, but also in terms of its people, who are of Micronesian or Polynesian stock, unlike the aboriginal inhabitants of mainland Taiwan. Local culture is still strong, in spite of past attempts to ‘Sinicise’ the inhabitants, and some of the old-style, largely subterranean dwellings (built to withstand typhoons) still survive, as do many attractive traditional fishing boats.
The island has a number of endemic bird forms, at least one of which merits specific status. During our visit to this unusual spot we will visit some of the remaining forested areas in search of the endemic Taiwan Green Pigeon (sometimes split from the Whistling Green Pigeon of the Ryukyus), Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Brown-eared Bulbul, the superb Japanese Paradise Flycatcher (the Lanyu form may possibly represent a distinct species) and Lowland White-eye (split from Japanese, and here represented by the form batanis).
The flooded taro fields, small rivers and extensive grassy areas hold White-breasted Waterhen, Lesser Coucal and Zitting Cisticola, while along the spectacular rocky coast, complete with strangely-eroded volcanic pinnacles, we should encounter Pacific Reef Egret and the distinctive red-bellied form of the Blue Rock Thrush (a potential split). At this season Chinese Goshawks sometimes migrate over the island and passerine migrants may include Olive-backed Pipit, Oriental Reed Warbler, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, numerous Brown Shrikes and Little Bunting.
As dusk falls we will go looking for the delightful endemic Lanyu Scops Owl (which is vocally distinct from Ryukyu or Elegant Scops Owl and surely merits specific status, as has recently been proposed). The search will surely not be a long one, for this endearing little owl is positively numerous! We also have an excellent chance of finding Northern Boobook (split from Brown Hawk-Owl) in the same area.
Taiwan: Day 9 After some final birding on Lanyu we will take a ferry back to Taitung and then, after exploring a small estuary that sometimes holds migrant Chinese (or Swinhoe’s) Egrets as well as many shorebirds, we will head for the southwest coast of Taiwan, where we will stay overnight in the Beimen area, situated to the north of the city of Tainan. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Taiwan: Day 10 Today we will explore the river mouths, extensive coastal wetlands and farmlands of the Tainan region. This extensive area hosts a great variety of wetland species. Foremost amongst these is the rare and endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, which overwinters in good numbers on this coast and which should still be present in small numbers.
Shorebirds are another big attraction of this part of Taiwan and the star attractions are likely to include the impressive Great Knot (with some already in breeding plumage), Long-toed Stint, Broad-billed and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Grey-tailed Tattler and even the rare Asian Dowitcher (also in its breeding finery), Far Eastern Curlew or even the charming Little Curlew. More widespread species may well include Black-winged Stilt, Oriental Pratincole, Kentish, Little Ringed, Mongolian, Greater Sand, Pacific Golden and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Red-necked Stint, Dunlin, Eastern Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Marsh, Wood, Terek and Common Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstone and possibly Red-necked Phalarope.
Other species that we have a good chance of encountering include Little Grebe, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Eastern Cattle Egret (split from Western), Intermediate and Great Egrets, Grey Heron, Eurasian Wigeon, Slaty-breasted Rail, Common Moorhen, Caspian, Gull-billed, Greater Crested, Common, Little and Whiskered Terns, House Swift, Common Kingfisher, Japanese Skylark (Taiwanese birds are perhaps better allocated to this species rather than Oriental Skylark), Grey-throated Martin (split from Brown-throated), Barn, Pacific and Striated Swallows, Green-headed and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias, Brown Shrike, Black Drongo and the introduced Javan Myna and Scaly-breasted Munia. We may also see the last of the Grey-faced Buzzards that pass through this area on migration to Northeast Asia.
The very rare and critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern has been recorded a few times in April in this area, presumably on passage to its few known breeding areas on tiny islets in the Taiwan Strait (where it arrives and nests very late, only commencing egg-laying in late June), so we can always dream about a truly remarkable stroke of good fortune and the chance to observe this little-known bird!
After spending much of the day in the coastal wetlands, we will head for the foothills of Alishan for a two nights stay.
Taiwan: Day 11 To the east of Alishan the circuitous mountain highway skirts the edge of Yushan (or Jade Mountain) National Park, where the peaks rise to 3997m at the summit of Yushan itself, the highest point in East Asia. In the early morning, the silver sea of clouds that is so typical of the mountains of Taiwan may part to reveal a vista of green ridges and rugged peaks stretching far away into the distance.
Today we will explore this splendid area, concentrating on the birds of the higher montane habitats. If we have not already seen one, the magnificent but sometimes elusive Mikado Pheasant will be high on our want list.
Other target species amidst this attractive habitat of hemlocks, rhododendrons and bamboo include the beautiful Golden Parrotbill (the local form of this Chinese endemic being a possible future split as Taiwan Parrotbill) and Spotted Nutcracker (the very isolated, weakly spotted endemic form owstoni being a potential split as Taiwan Nutcracker). We will also have a last chance to catch up with any other montane species that we have not yet seen.
At lower levels we have another chance for the gorgeous Swinhoe’s Pheasant and a very good chance of seeing the secretive Taiwan Partridge at a known feeding area.
After dark, we are likely to see Collared Scops Owl and to hear Mountain Scops Owl (we would be fortunate to set eyes on this retiring and uncooperative species). We may also encounter Himalayan Owl (split from Tawny).
Taiwan: Day 12 We will spend the morning at Alishan and then head north to Douliou for an overnight stay. We may come across Russet Sparrow, a rather localized bird in Taiwan, and the superb Pheasant-tailed Jacana in its full breeding finery, whilst other species are likely to include attractive Greater Painted-Snipe and Common Snipe.
Taiwan: Day 13 This morning we will explore an attractive wooded valley in the western foothills of Taiwan’s central massif. In addition to some mature deciduous forest, there are some magnificent bamboo groves. This interesting area is home to a healthy population of the gorgeous Fairy Pitta, which at the time of our visit will only recently have arrived back on its breeding grounds. We should enjoy good views of this noisy and beautiful bird, and we also have another chance for the secretive Taiwan Bamboo Partridge and for Taiwan Scimitar Babbler. Other species likely here include Black-naped Monarch and Dusky Fulvetta (a Chinese endemic that seems easier to see here than at other sites in Taiwan).
Later we will head north to Taipei airport, where our tour ends in the early evening.