Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Yilan & Taipei 23 Feb to 2 Mar 2016

We had planned for a birding trip after the Lunar New Year family activities. We decided on Taiwan to enjoy the cooler weather and, from some reports, we chose Yilan county with its coastal wetlands for 3 days and Taipei for 5 days. We planned to start our birding in Yilan which was an hour’s drive from Taipei and seemed easy to explore on our own. Unlike our previous trip in Oct. 2013 to the Dasueyshan and Kenting, we decided not to engage a bird guide and do it on our own with notes from the internet. Yilan is situated in the Northeastern part of Taiwan and is mostly mountains with flat rice fields and coastal wetlands. Birding north of the Lanyang River would be from ponds, fields and drainage channels. The Nanyang Estuary Plains was reported to be an ideal habitat for all kinds of water fowl and wild ducks during the September to May migration. After Yilan we would go to Taipei for downtown birding in the various parks and nearby wetlands.

Grey Heron

Having researched accommodation in Yilan we decided on Toucheng (first town) which is an hour’s drive through the mountain tunnel road from Taipei, and nearby the highland area, Shuanglienpi, which at 400 meters elevation has some wetlands and small lakes, a site we intend to explore. There is a town more popular with visitors, Jiaoxi, famous for its hot springs and spa hotels. One evening we visited, and this town was better established than where we stayed. It was bustling with shops, restaurants full of visitors.  

On 23 Feb morning we took Cathay Pacific to Taipei with a stopover in Hong Kong.  The fare of S$466.40 per pax was a promotional fare worth taking even though we had to transit in Hong Kong.  We had planned to take public transport on this trip and on arrival in Taoyuan Airport at 1.40 pm we proceeded to B1 to buy the tickets for the Kuo Kuang Bus 1819 to Taipei Main Station (TMS) and intended to transfer to either a train or bus to Toucheng.   We bought a 10-day SIM card for NT$500 which served very well for our needs.  Then it was down to B1 to take the Kuo Kuang Bus 1819 (NT$125 per pax) there was a long queue for the 3pm bus.  We got into the 2nd bus and while the journey was within 60 minutes to TMS it was 4.30 pm by the time we arrived, so we took a taxi instead to Toucheng.
Taiwan Barbet 
It was was an hour’s ride through the mountain tunnel Freeway #5 before arriving at Qi Hua Zhen Ju Home Stay, and we were warmly welcomed by Mrs Luo the owner.  The family lives in the unit next to the home stay which has 3 floors, with a lift, which was one reason we chose this place.   Mrs Luo was very hospitable offering to give us lifts to the train station or town whenever we need as it would take at least half an hour to walk to town and there is no public transport as the area is still in its development stage with numerous plots of vacant land at the time of our visit.    The room was spacious and the bed clean and amenities well-stocked. It was a comfortable 3-nights spent at Mrs Luo’s home.

On 24 Feb after a sumptuous breakfast prepared by Mrs Luo the taxi we booked the day before, arrived.  Our 1st destination was Shuanglienpi and on the way the driver stopped at Lung Tan Lake which proved a good location as there were ducks, moorhens and egrets on the lake.  Our next destination was the Lanyang estuary which seemed difficult for the driver to locate.   Nevertheless he understood we were looking for birds so he brought us to the ponds and drainage channels south of Toucheng Town and drove along the roads #2 and #191 where we saw egrets, herons, moorhens and coots. 
Brown-headed Thrush
The weather was not on our side, it drizzled the whole day but we had our rain jackets and umbrella and braved the drizzle to bird in the rain.   Some shrikes and wagtails were also seen feeding in the fine drizzle.   Shuanglienpi was a disappointment, as the only bird we saw in the rain was the Daurian Redstart.  

On 25 Feb we engaged the taxi again since the weather has not changed and this time he drove along the coastal route going to Su’ao and Luodong area and covering Yongzeng Seashore Park, Jhuan River Park where we saw a few more species. It was still raining at 4pm so it was an early finish for the day and we took a lift from Mrs Luo to explore Toucheng Old Town. Earlier in the day, the driver had taken us to Toucheng Train Station where we bought train tickets for our next day’s trip to Taipei. We decided on the 10.44 am route a coastal scenic ride at NT$184 per pax.

Taiwan Scimitar Babbler

On 26 Feb after breakfast Mrs Luo drove us to Toucheng Train station and it was a pleasant train ride passing the mountains and towns before arriving TMS at 12:20 pm.  We walked to the MRT information desk and bought our Easycards at NT$100 each that was not refundable and topped up NT$200 for our rides.  Our next accommodation, Chaiin Hotel is located above the Dongmen MRT station. We took exit 8 to the ground floor and round the Post Office was the entrance to Chaiin.  We were happy with this hotel, the location, spacious room, clean bed and their breakfast selection for western and Asian tastes.  After checking in we went for lunch across from the hotel and it was still drizzling.   As we explored the area, we found Daan Park nearby where many water birds were easily seen in the ponds, the herons, egrets well-used to visitors. We would return with camera another day.

On 27 Feb after breakfast we took the MRT to Siaonanmen Station and walked to Taipei Botanical Garden (TBG).  It was still drizzling, but we managed to take photographs of the Malayan Night herons, Taiwan Blue Magpie and Grey Treepies, they were well used to visitors and feeding in the light drizzle.   After TBG we took the MRT to CKS Memorial Park and checked out the ponds.   The park was crowded with visitors but the garden area had less people. The Malayan Night Heron and a couple of Thrushes were out feeding in the light rain.  After lunch we went to Daan Park and this time the rain had stopped so we had better photos of the birds and a Crested Goshawk was easily seen on a tree drying its wings.

Black-crowned Night Heron
On 28 Feb we visited Guandu Nature Park but were disappointed as there were no waders in the wetlands.  While walking in the tracks near the entrance we heard and had clear views of a pair of Black-naped Monarchs and two Pale Thrushes up the trees.  We left Guandu and had lunch nearby. We took the MRT to Shilin station for a bus to Yangmingshan.  The ride up was tiring as the bus was full and we had no seat and it was a winding road to the bus terminal.   We followed the signs and walked uphill to the Visitor Center and enjoyed some good views along the way but it was hot walking up in spite of the cool air and it was also crowded due to the holiday.   The only bird we found at the car park was a Daurian Redstart, which we came across many times on the trip.   In the late afternoon we took the bus back to Shilin and encountered even more people, especially when walking to the famous night market where we had our dinner in the basement food center.

Taiwan Blue Magpie
On 29 Feb although it was a Monday we found it was quieter when we took the MRT to Xindian.   The weather was sunny and when we took the bus to Wulai it was full, because 29 Feb was a public holiday.  Wulai lies south of Taipei at the northern extremity of the Syueshan range, the altitude being around 200 m rising to 1,000 m.  When the bus arrived at the terminal station we followed signs and walked to the bridge over the Tunghou River. The area was busy and we saw the Plumbeous Redstart easily and further along the river bank a Muscovy Duck was preening itself.  We wanted to take the mountain railway but on enquiring the rail was under maintenance due to damage from last year’s typhoon so everyone was walking uphill. We walked along and heard the Crested Serpent Eagle calling and sure enough scanning the rocky mountain side we saw the raptor perched on a faraway tree.  Another was seen drifting high in the sky looking for prey.   We left Wulai and queued for the bus and instead of Xindian we took the bus to TMS a long ride but it was only NT30.   We were tired and returned to the hotel for a rest.  It was a quick dinner of “meat rice” at Formosa Chang, another nice place for simple local food.
Grey Treepie

For our last day, 1 March, we decided to revisit TBG in the morning and then do some shopping in the afternoon before leaving the next day. The birds we had seen on Saturday 27th were not seen but it was a nice sunny day and we managed better shots of the Taiwan Barbet and Japanese White-eyes.   We also got to see the Collared Scops Owl family of 3 resting on a tree.  The afternoon was spent at Ximenting and an IT Mall at Zhongxiao Xinsheng.

Our self-birding trip yielded 7 lifers.

Pale Thrush

Plumbeous Water Redstart-Juv

                          Link to Yilan and Taipei Bird Photos 

 Birds Seen:

1) Olive-backed Pipit
26) Black Drongo
2) Daurian Redstart27) Grey Wagtail
3) Common Teal28) Taiwan Scimitar Babbler (Lifer)
4) Long-tailed Shrike29) White-breasted Waterhen
5) Light-vented Bulbul30) Common Kingfisher
6) Grey Heron31) Grey Treepie
7) Brown Shrike32) Spotted Dove
8) Eastern Yellow Wagtail33) Oriental Magpie Robin
9. Common Moorhen34) Tiger Shrike
10) Little Grebe35) Brown-headed Thrush (Lifer)
11) Taiwan Blue Magpie (Lifer)36) Japanese White-eye
12) Tufted Duck37) Pale Thrush (Lifer)
13) Cattle Egret38) Eurasian Magpie
14) Emerald Dove39) Crested Goshawk
15) Little Egret40) Black-winged Stilt
16) Great Egret41) Black-naped Monarch
17) Eastern Spot-billed Duck42) Oriental Turtle Dove
18) Black-crowned Night Heron43) Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
19) Common Greenshank44) Plumbeous Water Redstart
20) Black-faced Spoonbill45) Mallard
21) Black-tailed Gull46) Crested Serpent Eagle
22) Black-faced Bunting (Lifer)47) Muscovy Duck (Lifer)
23) Great Commorant48) Collared Scops Owl
24) Osprey49) Taiwan Barbet
25) Hoopoe50) Japanese Sparrowhawk
51) Malayan Night Heron (Lifer)