Sunday, January 29, 2012


Namaxia, and more Sihcao.

Visited good friends in Namaxia (formerly ‘Sanming’) Area in northern Greater Kaohsiung - a beautiful valley badly damaged by Typhoon Morakot in 2009. Except during heavy rain, the new road northwards (#21) from Jiaxian to Namaxia is in excellent condition. We explored on bicycle further up the valley...

Though scared by landslides and excessive hunting, bird life was quite good. In addition to the 2 new birds below, there were plenty of Japanese White-eyes, Treepies, Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, Barbets, Collared Finchbills, White-backed Woodpeckers, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Bronze Drongos, and both Scimitar-Babblers.

Previously overlooked, I mention two species of Wagtail below. In the lowlands I have encountered M.f. thunbergi (plexa) and M.t. taivana. Tricky taxonomy, but still easier to deal with than shore birds!

New birds in Namaxia, Kaohsiung:

Mountain Scops-Owl    Otus spilocephalus    "Endemic subspecies (O. s. hambroecki)"
Rufous-capped Babbler    Stachyris ruficeps    "Endemic subspecies (S. r. praecognita)"

New birds in Sihcao, Tainan:

Black-bellied Plover (aka Grey Plover)   Pluvialis squatarola
Terek Sandpiper    Xenus cinereus
Caspian Tern    Hydroprogne caspia
Saunders's Gull    Saundersilarus saundersi
Western Yellow Wagtail    Motacilla flava    
Eastern Yellow Wagtail    Motacilla tschutschensis
Zitting Cisticola    Cisticola juncidis

New (and rare) bird in Jacana Reserve, Tainan.

Baikal Teal    Anas formosa  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New hill, old haunt.

This morning I explored a new place, Jhungliao Mountain (large hill by Taiwan standards) Kaohsiung County. Will certainly be back.

Freeway #3 passes under it, near where Kaohsiung becomes Pingtung. There is a section of ‘Moonworld’ on the north side, and a distinctive  long bridge on the south side where crossing the Gaoping River. On top there is a small village, small fields (little farming allowed to prevent erosion), and many communication-related transmitters.

The best way up it is via road #40 (need to confirm that!) that starts on #21 just south of Qishan Town. Be aware if continuing on down into Yenchao - there are many small roads to ensure you get lost. Bring a GPS (SatNav) gadget.

There were plenty of treepies, monarchs, lack bulbuls, serpent eagles and collared finchbills to be seen as well as a single maroon oriole and blue rock-thrush. I suspect it should be good for raptors - a great view over the Kaohsiung area and Gaoping River. Was irritated not to be able to identify a browinsh colored flycatcher, just didn’t match anything likely perfectly. Will twist and turn on it in bed tonight...

Afterwards, a visit to the small but nice Pheasant-tailed Jacana Reserve. Many thanks to a stranger for pointing out the latest sandpiper...I really struggle to get excited about IDing them. Bird of the day the Jacanas (below, in summer plumage) - not any sandpiper. Lots of locations north of Tainan City, not just the main reserve, have easy to find Black-faced Spoonbills. Over 1500 reported in the general area.

The best way to get to the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Reserve (at Hulipu/Guantien) by car is: from Freeways #1 or #3 turn onto Expressway 84 (the section between #1 and #3), exit at Xizhuang, turn right (East) on #171, after about 1 kilometer take the road to the left (signposted in English), the reserve will on your right-hand side after about 1 km.

Closed every Monday, and for the last few days of every month from the 25th.

New birds seen at Jhongliao Mountain, Kaohsiung.

Crested Goshawk    Accipiter trivirgatus    "Endemic subspecies (A. t. formosae)"
Black-faced Bunting    Emberiza spodocephala  
Barred Buttonquail    Turnix suscitator    "Endemic subspecies (T. s. rostratus)"

New Birds seen at Pheasant-tailed Jacana Reserve, Tainan.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana    Hydrophasianus chirurgus
Wood Sandpiper    Tringa glareola

New birds seen at Sihcao, Tainan.

Peregrine Falcon    Falco peregrinus

Friday, January 13, 2012

Taroko - more than scenery

I haven’t yet been to some of the best habitats (mid to high mountains) yet but starting to make inroads on some of the best species that are to be found there.

On Wednesday and Thursday I was in Taroko Gorge guiding some nice hikers - and a TV documentary crew (also nice). Had a couple opportunities to use my binoculars. Some good birds that can be seen there (in addition to those below, I did see): Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Gray-chinned Minivet, Vivid Niltava and Plumbaceous Redstart.

Taroko Gorge, located in Hualien County on Taiwan’s east coast, is one of Taiwan’s best scenic areas. Every visitor to Taiwan should go there for the scenery, hiking to suit all levels of ability - and some nice avian wildlife! The gorge that most people visit is only a small part of Taroko National Park that encompasses rugged mountain ranges over 3,000 meters high.

The hike we were doing (Jhuilu/Zhuilu aka Vertigo) was on a high hillside and cliff above the popular first 20km part of the gorge.

The best places for bird watching in Taroko Gorge:

Liwu River mouth. Access possible from Xincheng (Sincheng) Village - go north on Zhongshan Road, past the high school.
On the good paths behind the National Park visitor center. Fitter people can continue up the steep paths towards Dali. Have seen Blue Magpies here.
Shakadang Trail. Average birding, but very, very pleasant.
The road leading up to Bulowan (Leader Hotel) from the main road can be excellent in winter for higher elevation species moving down slope - such as the White-eared Sibia (pictured below).
Lyushuei-Heliou Trail. A very nice 20 minute hike that can throw up nice birds (and butterflies) at either end.
The 4-6 hour Wenshan-Lyushuei Trail can be good.
The trails from Huitouwan (163.4 km mark, 5km west of Tienxiang). Consider the longer, flater, and suspension-bridge-rich trail to Meiyuan or Jhucun, or up to the biodiverse Lotus Pond area.

A surprise bonus bird was the local sub-species of the Ring-necked Pheasant. Had great views of a flushed male from my window seat on a train speeding south of Hualien City. Bird of the trip!

I will comment on other locations (higher in the gorge, around Hualien), better for birding, in later posts.

Have an assistant in Taroko who can provide affordable accommodation and transport.

New birds seen in the lower part of Taroko Gorge:

Ring-necked Pheasant    Phasianus colchicus    Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (P. c. formosanus) (from train south of Hualien)
Gray-capped Woodpecker    Dendrocopos canicapillus
Varied Tit    Sittiparus varius    "Endemic subspecies (S. v. castaneoventris)"
Black-throated Tit    Aegithalos concinnus
Taiwan (Styan's) Bulbul    Pycnonotus taivanus    Endemic species
Formosan Whistling-Thrush    Myophonus insularis    Endemic species
White-eared (Taiwan) Sibia    Heterophasia auricularis    Endemic species
Jungle Myna    Acridotheres fuscus (at train station northern Taidung County)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Across the river

Made a brief foray to the area north of Anping, Sihcao. Plenty of waders including 30+ Black-faced Spoonbills (pictured below). When scanning a ditch for bitterns, I was delighted to see the stunning Oriental Magpie-Robin.

It was also nice to run into several other birders and photographers. The local bird watching scene is quite well developed, and there is a growing awareness among the population at large of environmental issues.

New birds seen in Sihcao, Tainan City.

Green-winged Teal Anas crecca
Striated Heron    Butorides striata  
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On or off the list?

No birding today (really!) but did run into a flock of  Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana) in the Anping area. While not on the official Taiwan list, it is an established exotic - not sure what kind of tick it should be.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Some hills.

Wednesday and Thursday found me in the greater Maolin area with a client in search of culture, butterflies, plants - and birds. Not the best of weather - cool and a bit damp at times, a pity it is usually lovely down there at this time of year. Nevertheless a few good birds were added to the list.

Maolin is a valley in southern Kaohsiung County (close to Pingdong County) most famous for it’s wintering Purple Crow Butterflies (Euploea). It is also a good destination for low-elevation bird hunting and as a base for trips to Tengjhih for mid to high elevation species. Note, Tengjhih FRA is not yet open to the public but the road (through various good habitat) up there is passable. This part of Taiwan was hit hard in 2009 by Typhoon Morakot , many visible scars and reconstruction work.

On the way to Maolin we visited Meinung - the southern center for the Hakka people. The farm fields between Meinung Town and the Yellow Butterfly Valley turned up Little Ringed Plovers and a thrush I think (not listed below) was a Grey-backed Thrush. The best way by car to Maolin is to take Freeway #10 to the end at Qishan (Cishan), follow #28 through Meinung, to the big purple bridge that takes you across to the edge of the mountains and a short section of #27 before Maolin Valley proper. Just before the intersection for this bridge (shaped like a butterfly) is the small Xinwei Forest Park, good for birds including sometimes the Black-naped Oriole (not seen this time unfortunately) and raptors.

An excellent place to stay in Maolin is De-en Valley Guesthouse, run by a friendly aboriginal family known for their enthusiasm for protecting environment. Their son, ‘Big Head’ 0989579751, speaks English and guides guests around the area. The road approaching their homestay, on the south side of the main valley, is the best I know for viewing nightjars. Be sure to walk the, bird-rich, 4km-long farm road that starts just behind their house. On the hillside behind Maolin Village there is a good loop path for viewing butterflies - and if lucky Blue Magpies.

In the light rain we visited the ever-attractive Wutai admiring slate carvings and looking for Russet Sparrows. No sparrows seen, but Olive-backed Pipit and Oriental Turtle Dove ticked off. Note the road to Wutai is passable but vulnerable to landslides.

Birds of the trip would have to be the Nightjars and Black Eagle for their fantastic close proximity.

New birds seen in Maolin:

Little Ringed Plover    Charadrius dubius (seen near Meinung)
Black Eagle    Ictinaetus malayensis   
Savanna Nightjar    Caprimulgus affinis    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (C. a. stictomus)"
Maroon Oriole    Oriolus traillii    "Endemic subspecies (O. t. ardens)"
Bronzed Drongo    Dicrurus aeneus    "Endemic subspecies (D. a. braunianus)"
Black-naped Monarch    Hypothymis azurea    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (H. a. oberholseri)"
Gray Treepie    Dendrocitta formosae    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (D. f. formosae)"
Large-billed Crow    Corvus macrorhynchos
Collared Finchbill    Spizixos semitorques    "Endemic subspecies (S. s. cinereicapillus)"
Plumbeous Redstart    Rhyacornis fuliginosa    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (R. f. affinis)"
Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler    Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis    Endemic species
Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler    Pomatorhinus musicus    Endemic species
Gray-cheeked Fulvetta    Alcippe morrisonia    "Endemic subspecies (A. m. morrisonia)"
Gray Wagtail    Motacilla cinerea
Nutmeg Mannikin    Lonchura punctulata

News birds seen in Wutai:

Oriental Turtle-Dove    Streptopelia orientalis    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (S. o. orii)"
Olive-backed Pipit    Anthus hodgsoni

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anping morning.

After the school run this morning I was able to escape to Anping, a coastal suburb of Tainan City. In a two hour window I saw some of yesterday’s species as well as a few new good birds.

The boardwalk/cycle-path on the south bank embankment of the Yenshui River is a good birdwatching destination for visitors to Tainan without access to their own transport. Species likely to be seen include: Whimbrel, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Redshank, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Heron, Egrets (Great, Intermediate, Little, Cattle), Black-crowned Night Heron, Bitterns (Cinnamon, Yellow), Black-winged Stilt, Sacred Ibis, Moorhen, White-breasted Water Hen, White-vented Bulbul, Tree Sparrows, Japanese White-eye, Black Drongo, Shrike (Brown, Long-tailed), Doves (Red Turtle, Spotted Turtle), and Mynas (Common, White-vented).

The easiest way to find this area is to walk north a couple minutes from the Anping Fort or Treehouse area. Following the embankment westward will bring you to the coast past several mudflats. A group of established Azure-winged Magpies are often to be seen in the park area on the south side. Expect the occasional semi-feral (but not aggressive to humans) dog.

Bird of the day the curlew - great views.

New birds seen in the Anping Area:

Eurasian Curlew    Numenius arquata
Spotted Redshank    Tringa erythropus
Striated Swallow    Cecropis striolata
Long-billed Plover    Charadrius placidus
Blue Rock-Thrush    Monticola solitarius

Monday, January 2, 2012

Oh go to Aogu!

The day started damp with light rain as I drove north from Tainan. On arriving at Aogu at 10am the weather was dry and cool - perfect for a full day my first full day of birding this year.

Most birds were seen from the road running alongside the South, West and North levees, the roads and viewpoint in the center were relatively unproductive.The inner section of the reserve is not yet officially open to the public, some creative navigation is needed to get around the closed entrance.

Aogu is a wetland jutting into the sea in Chiayi County. Originally farmland reclaimed from the sea, it is now being being turned into a wildlife reserve and forest recreation area.

It is easily accessed from Chiayi or Tainan. The very empty and fast Expressway #61 (or an extension of it) starts near the Black-faced Spoonbill reserve in Qigu (Chigu, Cigu).  If driving north, exit at the sign for Dongshr, follow the road alongside the highway for a couple kilometers, turn left at the bilingual sign for Aogu Wetlands. Coming south on #61, the exit for the Wetlands are well signposted in English. Be aware some of the roads in the middle of the reserve are unsurfaced. I suggest following the circular road - clearly marked as a cycle route.

East-west Expressway #84 now links inland Tainan County (Yujing etc) with Freeways #1 and #3, with Guantien (Pheasant-tailed Jacana Reserve, exit Xizhuang). When finished it will link up with #61 at Beimen. Very useful for birders in a hurry - but not many other people!

Be sure to pick up the free maps at tourist information counters: entire Taiwan, and 4 regional maps.

Several possible candidates, but the bird of the day must be the Pacific Reef-Heron - obviously the dark morph, generally uncommon and rare on Taiwan’s west coast I think. Only one seen but it behaved very well at close range.

The list below is fairly typical. Aogu is best in winter and migration time. Happy to guide visitors there - if short on time coming from Taipei, meet me at the High Speed Rail station in Chiayi. 

Birds seen in Aogu Wetland:

Common Shelduck    Tadorna tadorna    
Eurasian Wigeon    Anas penelope    
Eastern Spot-billed Duck    Anas zonorhyncha    
Northern Shoveler    Anas clypeata    
Northern Pintail    Anas acuta    
Garganey    Anas querquedula    
Green-winged Teal    Anas crecca  
Common Pochard    Aythya ferina   
Tufted Duck    Aythya fuligula    
Greater Scaup    Aythya marila    
Little Grebe    Tachybaptus ruficollis    
Great Crested Grebe    Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant    Phalacrocorax carbo    
Cinnamon Bittern    Ixobrychus cinnamomeus   
Gray Heron    Ardea cinerea    
Purple Heron    Ardea purpurea    
Great Egret    Ardea alba    
Intermediate Egret    Mesophoyx intermedia
Pacific Reef-Heron    Egretta sacra    
Cattle Egret    Bubulcus ibis
Black-crowned Night-Heron    Nycticorax nycticorax   
Sacred Ibis    Threskiornis aethiopicus    
Black-headed Ibis    Threskiornis melanocephalus   
Eurasian Spoonbill    Platalea leucorodia    
Black-faced Spoonbill    Platalea minor   
Black-shouldered Kite    Elanus caeruleus
Eurasian Kestrel    Falco tinnunculus
Common Moorhen    Gallinula chloropus    
Eurasian Coot    Fulica atra   
Pacific Golden-Plover    Pluvialis fulva   
Greater Sand-Plover    Charadrius leschenaultii  
Snowy (Kentish) Plover    Charadrius alexandrinus  
Common Ringed Plover    Charadrius hiaticula    
Black-winged Stilt    Himantopus himantopus    
Pied Avocet    Recurvirostra avosetta
Common Sandpiper    Actitis hypoleucos    
Green Sandpiper    Tringa ochropus    
Common Greenshank    Tringa nebularia   
Marsh Sandpiper    Tringa stagnatilis   
Common Redshank    Tringa totanus
Whimbrel    Numenius phaeopus  
Ruddy Turnstone    Arenaria interpres    
Great Knot    Calidris tenuirostris    
Sanderling    Calidris alba
Red-necked Stint    Calidris ruficollis
Dunlin    Calidris alpina
Curlew Sandpiper    Calidris ferruginea   
Common Snipe    Gallinago gallinago    
Black-headed Gull    Chroicocephalus ridibundus   
Whiskered Tern    Chlidonias hybrida   
Red Collared-Dove    Streptopelia tranquebarica    
Spotted Dove    Streptopelia chinensis   
House Swift    Apus nipalensis    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (A. n. kuntzi)"
Common Kingfisher    Alcedo atthis  
Brown Shrike    Lanius cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike    Lanius schach
Eurasian Magpie    Pica pica
Bank Swallow    Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow    Hirundo rustica
Yellow-bellied Prinia    Prinia flaviventris    
Plain Prinia    Prinia inornata    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (P. i. flavirostris)"
Japanese White-eye    Zosterops japonicus  
Javan Myna    Acridotheres javanicus    
Common Myna    Acridotheres tristis
Black-faced Bunting    Emberiza spodocephala
White-rumped Munia    Lonchura striata

Also birds from yesterday - Rock Pigeon, White-backed Woodpecker, Black Drongo, Light-vented Bulbul, Little Egret, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Daurian Redstart.