Thursday, December 17, 2009


Taiwan (November 13-26, 2009)

Taiwan Blue Magpie
(photo courtesy of Seow Boon Eu)

Feeling somewhat more reassured with my new camera, a Nikon P90 with a x24 zoom and fast multi-frame shots for photographing flying and running birds, I headed to Taiwan with a fellow birding enthusiast.

We learned that Taiwan has the world's second-highest concentration of bird species and home to a good number of prettily feathered endemic birds. My "secret" wish was to at least be able to see the Taiwan Blue Magpie and a glimpse of the Mikado Pheasant would be a huge bonus. I didn't see the male Mikado but am convinced I saw a hen and two chicks at Yangmingshan, crossing a footpath during a sudden cloud-sweep of the hill that we were at.

Taiwan Blue Magpie @ Yangmingshan

A model of the Mikado pheasant
@ Tataka Park (Yushan)

Visits to Taipei's Botanic Gardens, Da'an Park (a short walk from the famous eatery Ding Dai Fung restaurant, which serves the most delicate of xiao long bao, a savoury juicy meat bun) and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park were eye-openers. In these green lungs of this congested and crowded capital, a good number of birds was easily seen. The most delightful bird to spot and photograph with relative ease was the supposedly hard-to-spot Malayan Night Heron. But we saw it at these parks plus at another public park in Yangmingshan. They were almost "tamed", unafraid of humans and could be photographed with two metres!

Malayan Night Heron
@ Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park

Malayan Night Heron @ Da'an Park

Water and Lowland Birds in Taipei County

Black Crown Night Heron @ Botanic Gardens

White-breasted Water Hen

Common Moorhen

Little Egret

Intermediate Egret

Gray Heron @ Guandu Nature Park

Common Kingfisher and Squirrel
@ Da'an Park

Common Kingfisher @ Da'an Park

White-breasted Water Hen (top) and
Black Crown Night Heron
@ Botanic Gardens

Cat wants a Black Crown Night Heron
for dinner

Chinese Bulbul feasting on Autumn fruits
at Guandu Nature Park

Red Turtle Dove@ Guandu

Golden Back or Oriental Dove @ Guandu

Crested Goshawk @ Botanic Gardens

Brown Shrike @ Guandu (migrant)

Brown Shrike @ Botanic Gardens

Grey Threepie @ Da'an Park

Magpie Robin @ Da'an Park

Other birds in Taipei
Montane Birds
  • Alishan: Owing to the havoc created by the powerful Morokot Typhoon in September, the narrow-gauge train service from Chiayi to Alishan has been indefinitely suspended while repair works are underway. For birders that is a blessing in disguise as many tourists skipped Alishan leaving the picturesque mountain parks nearly unpopulated. We had many trails and parks all to ourselves during our four-day stay there. Bad for the local tourism industry, of course. When the 7-Eleven and Starbucks outlets are closed, you can imagine how poor the business was. At the temple grounds I saw at close range a female Plumbeous Water Redstart, which hopped about undisturbed by neither human nor vehicular traffic. Further on, I spotted the male bird at the First Sister Pond. It stood on a wooden stump and made frequent swift flights to snatch insects flying in the air or on the water surface. A short stroll away at the Jiaoping Park, the place was practically hopping with flocks of birds. I was shown the Collared Bush Robin and the Steere's Liocichla by my fellow birder. At a quiet neck of the woods, I was pleasantly surprised to see the endemic Taiwan Barwing. There were also Grey Wagtail, Spotted Nutcracker, Mountain Crow, Water Pipit, Japanese White Eye, Green-backed Tit and the ever present Chinese Bulbul.
Collared Bush Robin

Steere's Liocichla

Plumbeous Water Redstart (Female)

Plumbeous Water Redstart (Male)

  • Tataka (Yushan): After taking in the breathtaking sunrise at Yushan, we made our way to Tataka Nature Park, where we had hoped to spot the Mikado Pheasant. No such luck as the ranger's friendly Husky, insisted on leading the way up the forest trail near the Visitors' Centre. After we managed to trick it to go back and not accompany us, and after much walking, we were attracted to a flock of White Whiskered Laughing Thrush feasting on forest fruits. However, our accidental discarding of our apple core drew them out of the trees. One bold bird came out to check out the apple core, made alot of bird calls to his mates and lo and behold, at least three of his pals came out and snatched bits of the apple core. Back at the Visitors' Centre, a small flock of orangey Brambling caught our notice as they scatched the grass for seeds and insects. They look like sparrows, only more brightly coloured... and they are cute.
Our unexpected but friendly guide

White Whiskered Laughing Thrush

Views from the Top: Be it at dawn or dusk, Alishan and Yushan offer some spectacular natural attractions. The sunrise at Yushan is fleeting in its beauty as the sun peeps over the summit, afterwhich it is no longer safe to look at it. But the forests and valleys are then swept by golden sunlight while some parts remain purplish in the shadows. On a good day, where there is no strong wind currents, Alishan offers the always impressive "sea of clouds" at the end of the day. See how the light changes the colours of the clouds as the sun slowly sinks in the far horizon. As the air turns chillier with the setting sun, the orange hues turn into shades of mauve, purple, bronze and dark pink. A wonderful time for some scenic photography. During the day, a walk through the conifers is likely to reward one with a picturesque show of light and clouds. Shafts of light pierce through small gaps in the swirling clouds, giving the air a magical feel. Out of the woods, when the day is good, the sky is clear and blue, with not a whiff of cloud anywhere. But in an instance, the azure sky can turn gray with rain-laden clouds. That's the thrill and wonder of Nature in all her power and glory.

Sunrise at Yushan

Twilight at Alishan

A sight to take one's breath away

An Oddity: Sakura with blossom and
fruit at the end of November

Wulai: About an hour and a half away from Taipei is Wulai, a mountainous nature reserve, complete with rivers, forests, lots of birds and a street with sumptious local foods. From Taipei just hop onto the subway line that ends at Xindian, then catch the only bus service to Wulai outside the subway (MRT) station. There's a Wulai tourist information counter at the station, so you can ask for the bus number and get maps as well.

I saw many lifers here and some of these I managed to get photos of:

Taiwan Barbet

Brown Dipper (rear) and
Plumbeous Water Redstart (Male, front)

Varied Tit (female)

While walking on the main road towards Neidong, we heard the melodic scream of some birds. Not knowing which bird, we imitated the call and after some minutes three Crested Serpent Eagles flew out from the forest on the opposite river bank and circled above us at quite a low height. They must have come out to inspect who had intruded into their space.

One of the trio of Crested Serpent Eagles
which came out to check us out

One of the eagles (partially hidden)
peering down at us
(photo courtesy of Seow Boon Eu)

There's a really beautiful waterfall, which can be seen at the end of Lovers' Walk. The waterfall seems to emerge from a hole in the mountain.

And to round it off, this scene thilled me to bits when a hungry dog came a begging for some of the food left for Kitty.

* Every bird, except for the dogs and cats, I saw in Taiwan was a lifer for me... Yippee!

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