Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lanyu (Orchid Island)

May 14th

Jap. Paradise-Flycatcher
Just back from Lanyu (蘭嶼, Orchid Island) where all the target birds were bagged in record time. Bonuses - excellent weather, fun snorkeling, other good birds (and flying fish, dolphins) on the ferry. A rugged mountainous island sitting 90 km off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. Its flora and fauna, tropical climate and culture at times feels more Filipino than Taiwanese.

As soon as getting off the ferry, and renting a scooter with stunning ease, I headed straight for ‘Flycatcher Creek’. All target birds were found in record time (not always this easy). The local race of Brown-Eared Bulbuls were abundant island-wide, 3 or 4 Japanese Paradise-Flycatchers were seen only in the creek, Philippine Cuckoo Doves were in the creek and elsewhere, Lowland White-eyes were everywhere. The Whistling Green Pigeon made an appearance from the bridge. 

While in the creek, careful listening and a bit of mimicry attracted a Scops Owl that sat for over 5 minutes in excellent light. The endemic botelensis form on Lanyu has historically been lumped in Ryukyu Scops Owl Otus elegans, but it has now been shown to differ morphologically and vocally from the birds in the Ryukyu Islands and is often treated as specifically distinct as (Elegant) Lanyu Scops-Owl.

Also seen on Lanyu.
White-breasted Waterhen, 1 Water Rail, 3 Grey Herons,
Egrets Little and Intermediate.
4 dark morph Reef Herons
10+  Blue Rock-Thrush of the philippensis variety - stunning powdery blue.
10+ Brown Shrike, House Swift maybe other? Pacific Swallow.
Oriental Pratincole - first this year!
Black Drongo, Yellow Wagtail species.

And on the ferry.
1 Bulwer’s Petrel
5+ Little Tern
1 Short-tailed Shearwater. other distant birds.
All were seen close to the most southerly point of Taiwan. The sea was very calm.

Lanyu coast from the lighthouse road.
The main problem birders encounter with Lanyu is transportation to and from the island. Especially in summer and winter, bad weather can mess with flights and ferries for days on end. In summer Lanyu can become quite busy with holidaying students.

Flying: Daily Air ( 07 8014711, 089362489, 089362487, 089362485, Taidung Airport 362675-6, Lanyu 089732278 http://www.dailyair.com.tw/) web have 12 flights daily from Taidung Airport. The small airstrip on Lanyu means the planes are 19-seaters. NT$ 1,300, 20 minutes.

Boat: Ferries run year round from Fugang (富岡, just north of Taidung city); and in summer (April to October) from Hobihu (後壁湖, not far far from Kenting). NT$ 1,000, 2.5 hours.
The main ferry companies are Dafa 金星(大發)輪船公司 089-281477  or (089)281490 http://dafa.okgo.tw/ (Hobihu and Fugang),  興安輪船公司 (Kaishiuan or Farnlin?) 089-281047 http://www.farnlin.com.tw/. and Green Island Star  綠島之星輪船公司 089-280226. Good luck.

For most birders a 1-night stay is adequate. Stay longer if planning diving or insurance against bad birding weather. Accommodation and food on Lanyu is adequate but certainly not 5-star. I suggest staying at one of the small guest houses away from the scruffy main village of Hongtou.

It is easy [update May 2013: may not be so easy now - at minimum you should have an international licence] to turn up at the airport or harbor and rent motor scooters. Cars also available. Contact me if needing help booking any of these items in advance - no guarantees, but will help.

New Birds.

Oriental Pratincole    Glareola maldivarum
Bulwer's Petrel    Bulweria bulwerii
Little Tern    Sternula albifrons
Short-tailed Shearwater    Puffinus tenuirostris
Lowland White-eye    Zosterops meyeni
Ryukyu Scops-Owl    Otus elegans    "Endemic subspecies (O. e. botelensis)"
Whistling Green-Pigeon    Treron formosae    "Endemic subspecies (T. f. formosae)"
Philippine Cuckoo-Dove    Macropygia tenuirostris
Brown-eared Bulbul    Ixos amaurotis    "Taiwan Endemic Subspecies (I. a. harterti)"
Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher    Terpsiphone atrocaudata