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