Sunday, December 30, 2012

The End?

Japanese Robin. Source
The end?
Time to update on the last couple weeks over Christmas - will these be the last birds of the year?

Thanks to the Taiwanese birdwatcher for pointing out the Japanese Grosbeak among the Chinese Bulbuls at Taipei Botanical Garden. Note to self: check out the Chiang-kai shek Memorial/Liberty Square - sounds better than imagined.

We joined local photographers at Yehliu (Taiwan's Flamborough Head) for great views of a very rare Japanese Robin and vagrant Rufous-bellied Niltava

Not far away, at the Youth Activity Center in Jinshan, we went to inspect a rather dark-breasted Red-throated Thrush, lots of debate on what exactly it was. Resisted the temptation to drag ourselves to Wuling farm for Japanese Waxwing, Guandu for Black-backed Kingfisher, or Hua-jiang Bridge for a Bean-Goose. Instead (slow) endemic hunting in the usual spots was on the menu.

At the mammal-rich Lotus Pond, Taroko Gorge, a Black-faced Bunting cruelly raised my hopes of a Yellow-breasted. That, and the Baer’s Pochard reported in my neighborhood may a treat for the new year.

Happy New Year!

New Birds:

Rufous-bellied Niltava  Niltava sundara
Red-throated Thrush    Turdus ruficollis
Japanese Grosbeak    Eophona personata
Japanese Robin    Erithacus akahige

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2 Weeks to go...

Breakfast birding at Wushe.
Scattered showers of cold rain at the start of December made birding difficult at times. The absence of a Mikado Pheasant (first trip in a while without) was made up for by an abundance of stunning Vivid Niltava, fearless Swinhoe’s Pheasant, and playful Yuhina.

Counting down the weeks and looking out for any possible ticks.

Eleven months, but finally I’ve bagged the last of the endemic subspecies - the Plain Flowerpecker. Having alluded me for so long I was determined to ensure I would - in the end - have proper views (ensuring no confusion with female Fire-throated). I had information on another reliable location for it - and then in one morning I got it at two locations (at our guesthouse near Wulai and at the start of the Blue Gate Trail).

Unlike last year, thrushes of various species seem common this winter. In Taroko Gorge (Tienxiang precisely) the previously overlooked Grey-backed Thrush were taking in the splendid scenery.

I made a mad rush hour dash (not fun) across Taipei City to the Huajiang Wild Duck Park for an excellent lifer - Siberian Bluethroat. By the time I got to the spot (freshly trampled by bird photographers) light was fading and I was feeling feeling desperate/silly, when the famous female popped up at very close range. Fantastic - and because of the bad photography light, I was completely alone! Sadly no glimpse of exotic Orange-cheeked Waxbill - or any bird as darkness fell.

A damp Yehliu produced nothing remarkable, will revisit in the next few days before and after another endemics tour over Christmas. Coastal sites near Tainan have been satisfactory, (Temminck’s Stint in Sicao was good) but not coming up with the much-desired rare flycatchers or Japanese Robin.

I abandoned my tea-sipping in-laws in Kaohsiung City to visit Weiwoing Park for the easy Zebra Dove. This is an established exotic, only to be found in the Kaohsiung City area. Weiwoing Park is next to the MRT station of the same name.

White's Thrush (split from Scaly): where previously I had lumped the two together. In recent weeks I have had several good views of both to be able to confidently observe the differences in size and coloring.

This is the season again where the (Taipei-based) Central Weather Bureau cannot really believe the weather in the south can be so different - and thus randomly add some "clouds, possibility of rain" to southern forecasts. Taipei residents: go southwards in winter - the weather is often perfect down here!

Birds desired in these last couple weeks: American Wigeon; any swans; Smew; other uncommon ducks; Horned Grebe; various high-seas birds (not very likely!); White-tailed Eagle; Northern Goshawk; Greater Spotted Eagle; Upland Buzzard; better views of any crakes; Oriental Plover (a bit late); Nordmann’s Greenshank (must have been somewhere in front of me this year); any gulls or terns that may inspire; Black-chinned Fruit-Dove; various owls; Black-backed Kingfisher (one in Guandu I hear); a Wryneck on Taiwan-proper would be very nice, better views of Cuckoo-shrikes; Asian Stubtail, Goldcrest; better views of most Phylloscopus and Locustella warblers; migrating flycatchers especially Verditer; rare robins, thrushes - Siberian, Japanese, Red-throated; Chestnut-tailed Starling; Hawfinch; Black new or fresh. A Pangolin would be nice.

New Birds:

White’s Thrush  Zoothera aurea
Gray-backed Thrush    Turdus hortulorum
Plain Flowerpecker    Dicaeum concolor    "Endemic subspecies (D. c. uchidai)"
Zebra Dove  Geopelia striata
Bluethroat    Luscinia svecica
Temminck's Stint    Calidris temminckii

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Photographing Endemics

When the Mikado behaves.
Endemic Bird Photography - in November.

Spring is the most popular time for seeing the endemics. However, there is nothing particularly wrong with other seasons - and early winter should be considered too. A couple of the key birds are very quiet, but the reduced foliage (better views), and winter visitors makes up for this.

In November I made three 3-day trips to the Dasyueshan area with clients photographing the endemics. Despite encountering unseasonable rain several times, a good array of birds were seen and photographed. Below is a list of birds seen with an indication of how many of the 3 trips each species was seen on. About half of these species were photographed to varying degrees of success. The Formosan Blue Magpie, and Black-faced Spoonbill were found at other locations. I hope this is useful for anyone planning a trip there.

Highlights for me were: the pheasants (Swinhoe’s, Mikado) showing well, the elusive Island Thrush on two trips (km mark 23.5), Siberian Rubythroat (near km 4, would love to twitch the Bluethroat in Huajiang), the larger mammals. Still have not encountered the Plain Flowerpecker (the only endemic subspecies not seen this year!) may put some effort into getting it in this last month!

Taiwan Hill Partridge (heard only, 2), Bamboo Partridge (heard only, 3), Swinhoe’s Pheasant (3), Mikado Pheasant (3), Little Egret (2), Black-crowned Night-Heron (2), Striated Heron (2), Malayan Night-Heron (1), Black Eagle (1), Japanese Sparrowhawk (1), Besra (1?), Crested Serpent Eagle (1), Doves - Spotted/Red Collared/Rock, Ashy Wood Pigeon (2), Fork-tailed Swift (2), Common Kingfisher (3), Taiwan Barbet (3), Grey-chinned Minivet (2), Brown Shrike (2), Long-tailed Shrike (2), Black Drongo (3), Ashy Drongo (1), Bronzed Drongo (2), Black-naped Monarch (3), Eurasian Jay (2), Gray Treepie (3), Eurasian Nutcracker (3), Large-billed Crow (2), Oriental Skylark (1), Barn Swallow (2), Coal Tit (3), Green-backed Tit (3), Yellow Tit (0!), Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler (2), Yellow-bellied Bush-Warbler (2), Rufous-faced Bush-Warbler (3), Black-throated Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch (3), Eurasian Wren (1), Brown Dipper (1), Collared Finchbill (3), Light-vented Bulbul (3), Black Bulbul (3), Flamecrest (1), Arctic Warbler (2), Other Phylloscopus Warbler (1), Zitting Cisticola (1), Striated Prinia (1), Yellow-bellied Prinia (2), Plain Prinia (3), Vinous-throated Parrotbill (1), Vivid Niltava (2), Siberian Rubythroat (2), White-browed Bush-Robin (1), Collared Bush-Robin (3), Daurian Redstart (3), Plumbeous Redstart (3), White-tailed Robin (2), Little Forktail (1), Stonechat (1), Pale Thrush (1), White-browed Shortwing (1, also heard), Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush (1), Rusty Laughingthrush (1), Taiwan Hwamei (3), White-whiskered Laughingthrush (3), Taiwan Liocichla (2 or 3), Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler (1), Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler (3), Taiwan Wren-Babbler (Cupwing) (1), Rufous-capped Babbler (3), Taiwan Barwing (2), Taiwan Fulvetta (3), Dusky Fulvetta (2 or 3), Gray-cheeked Fulvetta (3), White-eared (Taiwan) Sibia (3), Taiwan Yuhina (3), White-bellied Erponis (1), Japanese White-eye (3), Myna sp, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (3), Gray Wagtail (3), Richard’s Pipit (1), Vinaceous (Taiwan) Rosefinch (2), Eurasian Siskin (2), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (3), Indian Silverbill (1), White-rumped Munia (3), Scaly-breasted Munia (2), Gray-capped Woodpecker (3), White-backed Woodpecker (1), House Swift (1?), Scaly Thrush (2), Eye-browed Thrush (3), Formosan Whistling-Thrush (2, also heard), Spot-billed Duck (1), White-bellied Pigeon (1), White-rumped Shama (1), Asian House-Martin (1),

Mammals: Macaque (3), Serow (2), Muntjac, (2), Golden Weasel (1), Ferret-Badger (1), White-faced Flying Squirrel (2), Formosan Giant Flying Squirrel (1), Striped Squirrel (3), Owston's Long-nosed Tree Squirrel (2). Oh yes - a strange sort of ‘steel wire’ worm...will update here.

New Birds in Dasyueshan:

Eurasian Siskin    Spinus spinus

Other places other birds:

New Birds in Sicao, Tainan (when chasing more exotic Japanese Robin, Verditer Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Flycatcher...and failing) in or near the small coastal forest on the north and south of the Tsengwen River estuary. A much lower point was the fact I tried to twitch a Daurian Crow in Puli. Bad!

Eastern Marsh-Harrier    Circus spilonotus
Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus
Black-browed Reed-Warbler    Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Taichung Metropolitan Park.
Not a big fan of heavily-manicured dog-ridden city parks, but found some wilder bits on the western edges (facing onto Freeway # 3 sort of). Will visit this area on Dadu 'Mountain' again. Just south of Taichung airport - has flights from Hong Kong, very handy if wanting to get into the best areas quickly. Lots of thrushes (Eyebrowed, Dusky, Pale, Brown-headed - and a possible Japanese) around.

Naumann's Thrush    Turdus naumanni

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kinmen in the Fall.

Kinmen in the Fall.

Sorghum processing - letting the traffic do the hard work!
Simple message: Go to Kinmen! As well as great birding - good travel facilities, historical sites, and traditional architecture (NOT usually a feature of Taiwan) are big attractions. A good destination for the not-very-serious bird-watcher in need of other peaceful distractions. Be sure to stay in a traditional homestay, and (if you have a Chinese visa ready) pop over to Xiamen, China for some wild life.

Lots of good birding sites, but if only wanting one - then I suggest the traversable path between the Shuangli Nature Center, along the edge of Ci Lake, to the sea embankment.

Follow this by a scoot of the nearby Nanshan ‘Forest’ Road. And then after this I would suggest Lingshui Lake on Little Kinmen and the various reforested areas, ponds, and sorghum (to make vile Kaoliang) fields. At the very quiet and tranquil Lingshui Lake It is breathtaking to suddenly spot the skyscrapers in bandit-territory.

Guesthouse - traditional while being modern.
This was not a birding orientated trip, but before breakfast (6-8am) over two mornings I was able to escape and see a few decent birds: Greater Coucal, Hoopee, Duarien Redstart, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Common Magpie, Tree Sparrow, Chinese Bulbul, Richard’s Pipit, Common Kingfisher, various egrets, Whimbrel, various waders, Crested Myna, Long-tailed Shrike, Collared Crow, Moorhen, Little Grebe, swallows & martins, Plain Prinia, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Chinese Blackbird, various common doves, Japanese White-Eye, Black-winged Stilt, White Wagtail, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Grey Heron, Far-Eastern Curlew, White-breasted Waterhen, Caspian Tern, Kestrel, Pied Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Yellow Bittern, Great Cormorant, White-throated Kingfisher, Oriental Skylark, Oriental Greenfinch, Stonechat, Black Drongo, Black-collared Starling, Common Pheasant.

This lists a couple birds seen at other locations while not distracted with flora/bunkers/knives/kaoliang/butterflies/peanut candy/more rotten kaoliang/nice buildings.

Unfortunately I was not able to visit Kinmen over the summer, thus did not tick off the Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

New Birds:
Herring Gull    Larus argentatus  unsatisfying views
(Eurasian) Sky Lark    Alauda arvensis

Me and my Spoonbill

Me and my Spoonbill

Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Image from Wikipedia (anyone want to donate one?)
For some time I have assured those that understand this ‘sport’ that the only bird I would actively twitch was the Spoon-bill Sandpiper. So when reports (at first I didn’t believe) started coming in that there was one in Qigu (just 20 minutes north of my home) there was no stopping me.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a critically endangered (a population of fewer than 2500 mature individuals) small wader which breeds in northeastern Russia and winters in Southeast Asia. The main threats to its survival are habitat loss on its breeding grounds and loss of tidal flats through its migratory and wintering range. Extensive efforts are being made to avoid its extinction. Its most distinctive feature is its spoon-shaped I need to say that?

It was first reported on October 15th and then again on the 16th in a pond in Sangu 500 meters west of the ‘seafood restaurants’. A couple hour’s searching on the 17th afternoon and I found it in a pond with hundreds of other waders about 200 meters to the south (just west of #71, behind an ice factory). It was reported in the area on the 18th, but not seen by me again on visits on the 18th or 19th.

Along with the Island Thrush, Fairy Pitta, and reliable pheasants, a major highlight of the year (so far).

Spoon-billed Sandpiper    Eurynorhynchus pygmeus
Little Stint    Calidris minuta

General Nature Tour

Working the trails.
Nature only - 16-day round-the-island.

Just spent 16 days co-guiding a natural-history group from the UK. The focus (if possible to really say that) was on birds, butterflies, dragonflies, moths, flora (fern knowledge expanded!), amphibians...and generally having a very nice time!

Non birding highlights (in addition to excellent human company) were cavorting Ferret-badgers at Anmashan, and a deceased Crab-eating Mongoose in near Nanren Mountain Lake.

Long-legged Jalapura - will check.
A couple memorable comments from the very well-traveled-for-nature guests:

“Outside of the UK and maybe parts of the US and Japan, I have never encountered so many local people caring about and observing nature.”

“...a good mix of Taiwanese seen out observing nature - groups, individuals, couples, families...not just older men in anoraks”

“...interpretation signs not dumbed down...”

“What a conker!”
After dinner - back to work on the moth light!

New birds:

Mountain Hawk-Eagle    Nisaetus nipalensis

Matsu Fall Migration

Matsu Fall Migration

September 20th to 25th I joined Taipei Wild Bird Society again for a 4-day trip to Matsu for fall migration (that’s birds coming from the north heading to warmer places further south).

Despite being a bit early for many birds (a week or more later may have been better) and encountering wet weather one day (NE front and distant typhoon) it was a very pleasant and rewarding trip in good company. Many thanks to the inspiring ‘Teacher Luan’ (阮錦松) and his team.

As with the Spring migration, and Summer Tern trips we took the overnight Taima Ferry from Keelung to Dongyin for the first day’s birding, Day 2 and 4 were on Nangan and Beigan, flying to Taipei from Beigan. Plans to land on Gaodeng Island on the Day 3 were canceled due to heavy seas.

Favorite spots:

The scruffy area near the distillery on Dongyin. Several lurking wonders will be found next time.

On Dongjhu (the eastern Jhuguang Island) the best birdy location was a mosquito-infested area behind another Chiang kai-shek statue. Suggested route: from harbor, walk up hill birding towards the village, instead of turning right into village continue up the hill, at the big letter wall (see picture) turn left. This area was busy with warblers, cuckoos and more. Don’t forget the recycling center!

Some excellent photos of birds taken on this trip can be seen on the Flickr page of David Irving.  

The Crew - Mr Luan in rear in red-checked shirt
next to, equally brilliant, Miss Su.

2013. The bird society have provisionally planned a spring migration trip for late May and fall migration late september. Both are recommended. Expect good organization, welcoming Taiwanese people, and excellent Matsu food. The main language will be Chinese, but expect to survive very well if depending on English. The focus is usually 90% on looking for birds and 10% on the many excellent historical/scenic sights along the way. Contact the Bird Society directly, or me if needing assistance booking. If available I may be able to co-lead - not confirmed yet.

Birds seen: Green-winged Teal, Little Grebe, Yellow Bittern, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Pacific Reef-Heron, Cattle Egret, Chinese Pond-Heron, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Chinese Goshawk, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Common Moorhen, Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Sand-Plover, Greater Sand-Plover, Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Wood Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Black-tailed Gull, Black-naped Tern, Great-crested Tern, Spotted Dove, Red-collared Dove, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Himalayan (Oriental) Cuckoo, Fork-tailed Swift, House Swift, Common Kingfisher, Dollarbird, Eurasian Hoopee, Bull-headed Shrike, Brown Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Black-naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher, Eurasian Magpie, Barn Swallow, Great Tit, Light-vented Bulbul, Dusky Warbler, Pallas’s Leaf-Warbler, Yellow-browed Leaf-Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Eastern-crowned Leaf-warbler, Oriental Reed-Warbler, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Plain Prinia, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Stonechat, Grey Bushchat, Blue Rock-Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Scaly Thrush, Japanese White-eye, Crested Myna, Red-billed Starling, White-cheeked Starling, Yellow Wagtail (Eastern and Western), Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Richard’s Pipit, Pechora Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Yellow-browed Bunting, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, Eurasian Tree Sparrow,  

New Birds:
Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus
Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike Coracina melaschistos
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi
Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana

And two (weak) new species for the Taiwan (well Matsu anyway) list probably. Both ID-ed by Mr Luan. Look forward to seeing if accepted. I’m counting them as I saw the relevant field marks fairly well.
Hartert’s Warbler Phylloscopus reguloides goodsoni
Kloss’s Warbler Phylloscopus davisoni ogilviegranti

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three Northern Islets

Pengjia, seen from path to lighthouse.
I sensibly resisted the temptation to make a claim
on behalf of any additional foreign power!
Just back from an excellent trip with Taipei Bird Society to some islands north of Taiwan: Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼); Huaping Islet (花瓶嶼); and Mianhua Islet (棉花嶼). Pengjia Islet (I would call it more an ‘island’ rather than ‘islet’) was visited a few days earlier by the Taiwan (ROC) president Ma Ying-jeou where he made comments about territorial disputes in the region - and in particular the Tiaoyutais (aka Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands 釣魚台). By my standards of ‘overwhelming common sense’ these islands I visited, third of the way to the Tiaoyutais, are undeniably part of Taiwan. Not contested.

Sometimes known as the “Three Northern Islets (北方三島)”, access is heavily restricted - we had special permission to land on the largest (covering over 1km2) of the islands - Pengjia. A small number of personnel from the Coast Guard, Customs (managing the very nice lighthouse), and Weather Bureau are comfortably based there. The establishment of a national marine park has been mooted.

Brown Booby
We traveled the roughly 33 nautical miles (56 km) from Keelung by fishing boat in 3 hours. We carefully circled the two smaller islands (Huaping and Mianhua) getting fantastic views of Boobies. We only had a couple hours on Pengjia in the blazing sun. Am sure many more species could have been found with a bit more time...and much less sun.

The bird of the trip for me is certainly the Brown Booby. Great views several times especially at Mianhua cliffs.

Birds seen on or near these islands:

Bulwers Petrel - around 3 or 4 seen
Short-tailed Shearwater - 1 seen fairly well
Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel - just about-tickable view of 1
Brown Booby - around 50 at several locations, fantastic views at Mianhua
Grey Heron - 1
Little Egret - several
Cattle Egret - several
Crested Serpent-Eagle - 1 at Keelung Harbor
Chinese Goshawk - 1 seen on Pengjia, thousands reported in Kenting today.
Peregrine Falcon - 1 recorded, forget where

On our mighty craft!
Grey-tailed Tattler - 3 on Pengjia (was hoping they would turn out to be Wandering T.)
Wood Sandpiper - 1 seen by others
Whimbrel - 2 or 3
Red-necked Phalarope - over 20 at different times on the sea.
Snipe species?
Brown Noddy - 3 seen. Pleased!
Bridled Tern - several
Black-naped Tern
Rock Pigeons - several on Pengjia.
Eurasian Magpie - reported by others
Barn Swallow - several
Pacific Swallow - at least 1
Gray-streaked Flycatcher - 2 gave good views
Blue Rock-Thrush - several gave good views
White-shouldered Starling - several on Pengjia
Yellow Wagtail - several, forgot to check race
Gray Wagtail - at least 1
Also Light Vented Bulbul, Jap White-eye, Common Myna, Tree Sparrow recorded

Not visible on Google Maps.
China and Japan on edges.

New Birds:
Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris
Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma monorhis
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus

Birding site links.

Walami Trail, Hualien County.
Some links to regional/international birding sites I like to peruse. Absolutly NO particular meaning in the order listed!

E. A./A. Flyway
BirdLife International
Bird Forum
John & Jemi Birding Hong Kong
Birding Bejing
Birding Mongolia
Birds Korea
Dig Deep
Global Flyway Network
Oriental Bird Club
Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Birding in Hokkaido
Wild Watch Japan
A Birder in the Philippines
Beijing observations
China Bird Watching Network
Craig B (or to me Hehuan Rosefinch)
Talking Naturally
Birding in Thailand
Traveling Birder (seems to be out of action)
Xeno-canto Bird Sounds
Hong Kong Wild Bird Forums
Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST)
BirdLife Australia
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL)
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)
National Audubon Society
Nature Society Singapore (NSS)
Waterbird Society
Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP)
Yamashina Institute for Ornithology
Usually reliable images
Also fairly reliable
Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ)
Avibase - Bird Checklists of the World
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)