Sunday, October 20, 2013

Birding Taiwan October 2013

Swinhoe's Pheasant
We eventually made our trip to Taiwan this October after thinking about it for a while and reading various trip reports about the easy birding at Dasyueshan for the endemic pheasants. We wanted to do a self-drive trip but for first time birding in Taiwan, we had doubts on directions and getting accommodation reserved at the Forestry website   
After reading a recent trip report from a UK group complimenting local guide Kuen-dar Chiang, we decided to do the trip with a guide. We contacted Kuen-dar in early September and got a reply with a proposed itinerary for the two places we want to go, Dasyueshan and Kenting (for the Grey-faced Buzzard migration); a yearly event held at Manhjou during their National Day, October 10th. He also was able to make all the accommodation arrangements and recommended we fly direct to Taichung and return from Kaohsiung to cut down on road transfers. We found Cathay Pacific offering this routing and on 8th October, flew via Hongkong and arrived in Taichung at 2 pm. Kuen-dar met us and to our relief the weather was fine, as with sheer luck, we had just missed typhoon Usagi. 

Our first stop was Guguan for the night and to check out some lower level species with a target to see the Taiwan Blue Magpie. We checked into the Dragon Valley Spa Hotel and started birding at 4 pm. We saw the White Wagtail, Plumbeous Water Redstart and Grey Wagtail feeding in the river far down the ravine but no Blue Magpie that late afternoon. Next morning we started 5.30 am in search of the Blue Magpie but they were not flying and it was the same birds seen yesterday although the Brown Dipper was sighted in the morning mist.
Taiwan Scimitar Babbler

A stop at the nearby forestry office was more rewarding with Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Varied Tit, Taiwan Barbet, Black Bulbul, Taiwan Scimitar Babbler and an obliging Rufous-capped Babbler, were some of our sightings.
Rufous-capped Babbler
After breakfast we drove to Heping on our way to Dongshih's Dasyueshan Forest Road (formerly road No.200) and the ascent up the mountain. We stopped at KM7 for lunch at a fruit farm with a homestay and Pacific Swallows, Straited Swallows were feeding on insects in the air. After lunch we headed up to the bird watching deck at KM23 where the Swinhoe's Pheasant appeared on cue together with Long-nosed Squirrel and the White-whiskered Laughingthrush (locally called the "iPhone" bird as they come close looking for food).

After the thrill of seeing the Swinhoe's so close, we continued to the Tourist Service and Ticketing Booth at KM35 where we stopped for a short look around. As it was quiet, we continued to the Visitors Centre at KM43 to quickly check-in to our lodge and continue our birding.
A Pair of Mikado Pheasants

As soon as we approached KM42 the Mikado Pheasant was already visible crossing the road and we had good views of both male and female birds. Kuen-dar then decided to try for the Rose-finch and we took a walk near a car-park before the summit. There were only the "iPhone" birds amusing the visitors at the car-park.
Collared Bush Robin

Steere's Liocichla

With the 2 pheasants in our bag it was the "small birds" that we were looking out for the next day at the summit, KM48, also known as "Siaosueyshan" where we spent the full day looking for specialties like Nutcracker, Flamecrest and Rosefinch. Indeed the next morning we were quite relaxed and up early on our own checking the gardens around the lodge. Although we heard the Wren Babblers we could only see it darting between bushes in the morning mist, however we had good views of the Steere's Liocichla feeding on fallen insects near the lights.
White-whiskered Laughingthrush

Rusty Laughingthrush

White-backed Woodpecker


At the summit, Siaosueyshan, we watched a documentary at the visitor center then walked up to the highest point the Tianchih at KM50 where we saw the Nutcracker very high in the treetops. Lunch was at the restaurant and we birded along the trail 230 and it was rather quiet with occasional bird waves of Taiwan Yuhina and Black-throated Tits. As it was 10-10 their National Day there were many visitors trekking and picnicking at the park also. On 11th we had an early start at 5.30am to the summit and after a long time saw the Flamecrest feeding in the pine tree tops, then it was down to KM42 to look for the Hill Patridge and were lucky to see one bird with the Mikado pheasants but it quickly moved off and never came back into view. Back at the KM43 for our breakfast and then check-out, we drove around, and at KM32 we got the White-eared Sibia and at the waterfall two Little Forktails were feeding. A glimpse of the Eurasian Jay up in the trees and further down we saw Nuthatches in a bird wave. We checked into the home-stay at KM7 and birded in the lower levels and in the evening had dinner in Dongshih. On our last day at Dasyueshan 大雪山 we started early at 6 am and drove up to KM23 for the Hill Patridge but had no luck, instead the Swinhoe's Pheasant and White-eared Sibia and a pair of White-backed Woodpecker came to a tree near the deck.  The surprise of the morning birding was seeing a group of 12 Rusty Laughing Thrushes. We then drove down to check out a trail at KM7 for the Taiwan Huaimei and while it was calling loudly in the bushes we did not get a good view of it.  At 11 am it was time to start the 6-hour drive to Kenting, it was 4 hours on the free-way with another 1.5 hours coming off at Xinqi Township. We arrived at the raptor watch site at Manhjou at 5pm when Gray-faced Buzzards were seen coming in to roost in the trees. 
On Sunday, we left the home-stay at 6am for Kenting National Park and the early birds on the wires were Styan's Bulbuls, Grey Treepies, and near the temple, the White-bellied Green Pigeons feeding on the fig tree. We drove further into the park and walked up to the watch-tower where it was windy. A big group of volunteer raptor counters,  raptor watchers and photographers were already there. Each time a flock appeared; sounds of excitement and lots of clicking from the cameras.
Grey Treepie

Styan's Bulbul

White-shouldered Starling
Because it was very windy some flocks were turning back to the trees. By 11.30 am it was getting hot and too crowded and we left as the raptor count on the tower would also end at 12 noon. It was time for lunch in town. We returned to Manhjou in the afternoon where we visited the few booths one of which the Wild Bird Society of Taipei and bought t-shirts and stickers while Kuen-dar chatted with his old friends, some volunteers who came to do the raptor count. We stayed two nights in Hengchun, an old town in Kenting and left for Kaohsiung for one more night at which really impressed with its service, which included free laundry and all day free coffee and ice cream with free snacks!
The following morning, 15th October, we flew home via Hong Kong very pleased with our 7 days birding and glad to have Kuen-dar not only to guide us but also arranging the accommodation and taking us to sample some traditional Taiwanese street food. Kuen-dar is an experienced English-speaking bird guide and his preferred contact is via