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)