Birds of Taiwan Photos

Here are some of the bird photos I’ve managed to grab over the last year since I’ve been living in Taiwan. They are mainly opportunistic shots taken with my Canon G12, and as a result the quality is very variable. Nonetheless, I hope to keep adding to them over the course of the next year.

Taiwan Barbet. This common endemic can be quite approachable and often sits prominently on dead tree branches. The difficult part is getting good enough light to bring out its spectacular colors.

Taiwan Barbet, Kaohsiung City. This common endemic can be quite approachable and often perches prominently on dead tree branches. The difficult part is getting good enough light to bring out its spectacular colors.

Oriental Plover, Green Island. I encountered this bird on a grassy coastal headland during a weekend camping trip to Green Island, off the east coast of Taiwan. It's a rare passage migrant in Taiwan.

Oriental Plover, Green Island. I encountered this bird on a grassy coastal headland during a weekend camping trip to Green Island, off the east coast of Taiwan. It’s a rare passage migrant in Taiwan.

White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Dasyueshan. A common and often very tame endemic, found only at high elevations. Certain individuals become very accustomed to humans and can often be found hopping around at people's feet and even feeding from the hand.

White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Dasyueshan. A common and often very tame endemic, found only at high elevations. Certain individuals become very accustomed to humans and can often be found hopping around at people’s feet and even feeding from the hand.

 

Vinaceous Rosefinch, Dasyueshan. Now widely considered a Taiwanese endemic, and renamed Taiwan Rosefinch according to some authorities. Resident in high mountains, the female is rather nondescript but the male is a spectacular deep red bird.

Vinaceous Rosefinch, Dasyueshan. Now widely considered a Taiwanese endemic, and renamed Taiwan Rosefinch according to some authorities. Resident in high mountains, the female is rather nondescript but the male is a spectacular deep red bird.

Taiwan Sibia, Dasyueshan. A common endemic of mid-elevation mountains, it is an active bird usually found in treetops and can be difficult to capture on camera.

Taiwan Sibia, Dasyueshan. A common endemic of mid-elevation mountains, it is an active bird usually found in treetops and can be difficult to capture on camera.

Swinhoe's Pheasant, Dasyueshan. One of Taiwan's two special pheasants, this bird is an uncommon resident of mid-elevation mountain forests. They are fairly reliably seen at a stakeout at Km 23 on the road to Dasyueshan, which is where I took this photo early one morning.

Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Dasyueshan. One of Taiwan’s two special pheasants, this bird is an uncommon resident of mid-elevation mountain forests. They are fairly reliably seen at a stakeout at Km 23 on the road to Dasyueshan, which is where I took this photo early one morning.

Mikado Pheasant, Yushan National Park. This is usually reckoned to be the hardest of the endemic pheasants to find. A good place to try is Highway 18 between Alishan and Yushan, where birds sometimes emerge from the forest to feed on the grassy verges at first light. This is where I grabbed a snapshot of this male just before it disappeared into the trees.

Mikado Pheasant, Yushan National Park. This is usually reckoned to be the hardest of the endemic pheasants to find. A good place to try is Highway 18 between Alishan and Yushan, where birds sometimes emerge from the forest to feed on the grassy verges at first light. That is where I grabbed a snapshot of this male just before it disappeared into the trees.

Spotted Nutcracker, Yushan National Park. A widespread montane Eurasian species, this bird is usually easy to find around Tataka Visitor Center in Yushan National Park (altitude 2,500m).

Spotted Nutcracker, Yushan National Park. A widespread montane Eurasian species, this bird is usually easy to find around Tataka Visitor Center in Yushan National Park (altitude 2,500m).

Collared Bush Robin, Yushan National Park. This attractive endemic is common in high mountains, and a few individuals seem to descend to lower levels in winter.

Collared Bush Robin, Yushan National Park. This attractive endemic is common in high mountains, and a few individuals seem to descend to lower levels in winter.

Maroon Oriole, Tsengwen Reservoir. This striking resident of low-mid elevation forests is usually considered to be scarce and local in Taiwan, although it can be easily found at Maolin and I regularly come across it in other areas, too.

Maroon Oriole, Tsengwen Reservoir. This striking resident of low-mid elevation forests is usually considered to be scarce and local in Taiwan, although it can be easily found at Maolin and I regularly come across it in other areas, too.

Taiwan Blue Magpie, Huisun. One of Taiwan's most attractive, and certainly its most charismatic, endemic species. Birders usually connect with this often hard-to-find bird at Huisun, where I took this photo, but there are other reliable sites e.g. Maolin.

Taiwan Blue Magpie, Huisun. One of Taiwan’s most attractive, and certainly its most charismatic, endemic species. Birders usually connect with this often hard-to-find bird at Huisun, where I took this photo, but there are other reliable sites e.g. Maolin.

Black Eagle, Tengjhih National Forest. An uncommon and beautiful raptor of high mountain forests. I took this photo in Tengjhih where I see this species with some regularity.

Black Eagle, Tengjhih National Forest. An uncommon and beautiful raptor of high mountain forests. I took this photo in Tengjhih where I see this species with some regularity.

Scaly Thrush, Tengjhih National Forest. A classic East Asian species that is an enigmatic vagrant to Western Europe. When I was growing up, this was one of the birds I dreamed about seeing. It's good to report that they are fairly common - but usually shy - winter visitors to Taiwan. This individual was unusually confiding and allowed a very close approach.

Scaly Thrush, Tengjhih National Forest. A classic East Asian species that is an enigmatic vagrant to Western Europe. When I was growing up, this was one of the birds I dreamed about seeing. It’s good to report that they are fairly common – but usually shy – winter visitors to Taiwan. This individual was unusually confiding and allowed a very close approach.

White-tailed Robin, Tengjhih National Forest. A jewel of a bird that's not uncommon in  shady areas of mid-elevation forests in Taiwan.

White-tailed Robin, Tengjhih National Forest. A jewel of a bird that’s not uncommon in shady areas of mid-elevation forests in Taiwan.

Savanna Nightjar, Wutai. A nocturnal inhabitant of dry areas, scree slopes and dry, rocky river beds. It is rare to find one at its daytime roost, but they rely on camouflage and therefore usually allow a close approach.

Savanna Nightjar, Wutai. A nocturnal inhabitant of dry areas, scree slopes and dry, rocky river beds. It is rare to find one at its daytime roost, but they rely on camouflage and therefore usually allow a close approach.

Collared Finchbill, Wutai. A common resident of farmland and scrub in hills and low mountains. It's not a full endemic species but Taiwan is probably the easiest place in the world to see it.

Collared Finchbill, Wutai. A common resident of farmland and scrub in hills and low mountains. It’s not a full endemic species but Taiwan is probably the easiest place in the world to see it.

Steere's Liocichla and Taiwan Sibias, Tengjhih National Forest. Two for the price of one! These birds were coming to drink at a leaking pipe by the roadside. They are both common endemic species of mid-high elevation mountains.

Steere’s Liocichla and Taiwan Sibias, Tengjhih National Forest. Two for the price of one! These birds were coming to drink at a leaking pipe by the roadside. They are both common endemic species of mid-high elevation mountains.

White-bellied Green Pigeon, Tengjhih National Forest. A fairly common resident of mid-high mountains, these attractive pigeons are often found in pairs and small parties in flowering and fruiting trees.

White-bellied Green Pigeon, Tengjhih National Forest. A fairly common resident of mid-high mountains, these attractive pigeons are often found in pairs and small parties in flowering and fruiting trees.

Taiwan Bulbul, Kenting. While still abundant on the Kenting peninsula, this endemic species is seriously threatened by habitat loss and interbreeding with the introduced - and increasing - Chinese Bulbul.

Taiwan Bulbul, Kenting. While still abundant on the Kenting peninsula, this endemic species is seriously threatened by habitat loss and interbreeding with the introduced – and increasing – Chinese Bulbul.

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Golden-headed Cisticola and Lesser Coucal, Gaoping River, March 27th

View across grassland on the east bank of the Gaoping River, on an unusually smog-free sunny day.

View across grassland on the east bank of the Gaoping River, on an unusually smog-free sunny day.

Highlights:

  • Golden-headed Cisticola 2
  • Lesser Coucal 1
  • Pheasant-tailed Jacana 1
  • Black-shouldered Kite 1
  • Purple Heron 1
  • Chinese Pond Heron 1
  • Green Sandpiper 1
  • Long-toed Stint 4
  • Marsh Sandpiper 1
  • Pacific Golden Plover c.10
  • Wood Sandpiper 14
  • Common Sandpiper 2
  • Little Ringed Plover 2
  • Common Greenshank 57
  • Black-winged Stilt c.60
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail 1

Today I spent a very enjoyable and productive few hours birding at several locations along both the east and west banks of the Gaoping River. With temperatures hitting 30C (86F) by late morning, and clear smog-free skies, it was as close to a summer day as one can expect in late March.

On the Pingtung (east) side of the river, just north of the old railway bridge, there’s a fast-flowing stretch of river with pools and islands. More or less the first bird I saw was a Lesser Coucal, flying past me then disappearing into a dense patch of scrub, from where it started to sing. This is only the second time I have seen Lesser Coucal in Taiwan, so it was a very useful year tick.

Waders on and around the riverine islands included a Green Sandpiper (year tick), and a lone Marsh Sandpiper, keeping company with plenty of Wood Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks and Black-winged Stilts.

A few hundred meters south, past the railway bridge, a Black-shouldered Kite watched over the grassland from a bushtop.

Getting on the scooter, I drove back across the enormous Gaoping River bridge, then north up the west bank of the river as far as the Railway Bridge Marsh Park. A long and hot walk around the trails produced a Purple Heron and a breeding-plumaged Pheasant-tailed Jacana, but the real highlight was on the return journey close to the railway bridge: 2 singing Golden-headed Cisticolas. Their song is a curious wheeze followed by a “chip” note, which is delivered from a bush or in flight, and I got good views of both singing birds. Finally, one of the “little brown jobs” that had thus far eluded me finds its way to my Taiwan list.

I rounded off an excellent morning by setting up the scope under the bridge to look at the riverine islands, where 4 Long-toed Stints were the best of a small selection of waders.

Golden-headed Cisticola takes its place as my 157th bird species in Taiwan this year, and my 198th in Taiwan overall.

An early morning trip to Kenting

The southernmost point of Taiwan.

The southernmost point of Taiwan.

There’s a lot you can do in a day when you don’t have to be at work until 5.30pm. Today, I decided to go to Kenting. The weather forecast was good, and I wanted to get Taiwan Bulbul and perhaps – with luck – a few other species on the year list.

I left my house in Kaohsiung at 6.00am, which was early enough to avoid the worst of the manic rush hour. If you think you’ve seen crazy driving, try hitting the southbound Highway 17 at around 7.15am – as I did on a trip to Dapeng Bay recently – neck and neck with 50,000 scooter commuters all racing to their shifts in the industrial zone.

Another hazard to driving to Kenting on a lightweight scooter is the gusty crosswind along the exposed coastal road south of Fangliao, even on days when it’s calm in Kaohsiung. And it was certainly windy today.

View from one of the trails in the Sheding Nature Park.

View from one of the trails in the Sheding Nature Park.

My first stop was somewhere I have never visited before: Sheding Nature Park. Just before Kenting town’s main strip, take a left turn through the archway, and follow the winding road uphill through attractive forested land for about 4km. The trees here resemble giant Bonsai trees, bent into shape by the almost constant winds. The nature park itself has several trails, and pavilions from which migrating raptors can be observed in spring and fall. I walked the main loop trail, hoping to see a Taiwan Green Pigeon, which is regularly recorded here. No pigeons for me today, but the walk was scenic and very enjoyable even though I saw few birds. The only semi-notable species were 4 Brown-headed Thrushes on the meadow at the entrance, a Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler, and plenty of sightings of Taiwan Bulbul.

The trails at Sheding Nature Park pass through attractive limestone caves and tunnels.

The trails at Sheding Nature Park occasionally pass through attractive limestone gorges and tunnels.

My next port of call was Taiwan’s southermost point, signposted at a right hand turn just past the Eluanbi lighthouse complex. Even on a Tuesday morning there were plenty of daytrippers here, making the short walk to the point for their photo opportunity by the monument. Almost no birds showed themselves, apart from a lone Black-tailed Gull passing along the shoreline, and of course, many Taiwan Bulbuls in the bushes. I soon got fed up with being asked to take photos of Chinese tourists, so I cut my losses and made my way to Longluan Lake, near Hengchun.

Taiwan Bulbul, Kenting, March 25th. While still abundant on the Kenting peninsula, this endemic species is seriously threatened by habitat loss and interbreeding with the introduced - and increasing - Chinese Bulbul.

Taiwan Bulbul, Kenting, March 25th. While still abundant on the Kenting peninsula, this endemic species is seriously threatened by habitat loss, and interbreeding with the introduced – and increasing – Chinese Bulbul.

I spent a couple of hours around Longluan Lake, exploring small roads and trails. I drew a blank with Taiwan Hwamei, which is regularly seen here. Quite a lot of effort produced only a Crested Serpent Eagle, 4 Tufted Ducks (year tick), 3 Indian Silverbills (year tick, introduced species in Taiwan), and a marsh that despite its promising appearance held only small numbers of ducks and waders including a drake Garganey and 3 Wood Sandpipers.

Birding some marshland near Longluan Lake, which promised more birds than it delivered.

Birding some marshland near Longluan Lake, which promised more birds than it delivered.

By now it was starting to get seriously hot, so I headed back north. One of the best things about driving to Kenting is the excellent Three Fools cafe, on the seaward side of Highway 1 just south of Fangliao (between Km 447 and Km 448). They have good coffee, wonderful smoothies, and a cool and breezy terrace with ocean views. So I stopped for an hour here before resuming my drive back to the city.

Longluan Lake, near Hengchun.

Longluan Lake, near Hengchun.

Brown Bullfinch and Taiwan Blue Magpie, Wutai and Maolin, March 22nd-23rd

We took off to the local mountains for the weekend, in order to make the most of what seems likely to be the last spell of cooler weather before the intense heat and humidity of summer is upon us.

It wasn’t really a birding visit, but naturally I always had my binoculars to hand. The loop trail at Maolin, behind the De-En Gorge guesthouse, produced some of the local specialities including Maroon Oriole, Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge, wintering Yellow-browed Warbler, and distant views of the local flock of Taiwan Blue Magpies.

The next morning, we drove south to Wutai, where a walk down to the abandoned village near Km 45 produced some interesting birds: a flock of 8 Brown Bullfinches, 3 White-bellied Green Pigeons, Collared Finchbill, and a Fork-tailed Swift passing overhead.

Finally, we stopped in Shenshan, just down from Wutai, so the girls could get their shopping fix. Meanwhile, I birded around the village. There was a brief moment of excitement when I finally spotted some sparrows on overhead wires, but disappointingly they turned out to be Tree Sparrows …. therefore my search for the elusive Russet Sparrow continues. Also in the area, plenty of Oriental Turtle Doves and still a few Brown-headed Thrushes around the gardens and allotments.

Black-shouldered Kite and Ring-necked Pheasant, Qigu, March 20th

Highlights:

  • Black-shouldered Kite 1
  • Ring-necked Pheasant 1
  • Oriental Magpie-Robin 2
  • Terek Sandpiper 1
  • Eurasian Curlew 1
  • Red-necked Stint c.30
  • Caspian Tern 83
  • Black-faced Spoonbill c.60
  • Korean Bush Warbler 1
  • Arctic Warbler 1

What I like most about Qigu – apart from having some quality alone time under its big skies looking at big flocks of waders – is that it usually turns up a few oddities on every visit. This is what keeps birding interesting, and this is why a visit to Qigu is almost always worth the tedium of a 3-hour roundtrip scooter ride from Kaohsiung.

Today I focused my attention on the Lighthouse Pools, where the star bird was a smart Black-shouldered Kite. This is a recent colonist from the mainland, and I bird I never tire of seeing, despite having seen hundreds of them (or the almost identical White-tailed Kite) in Europe, Asia and North America. The latest taxonomy favors reverting to its former name of Black-winged Kite, and keeping the name Black-shouldered Kite for the Australian species. However, I am slow to change my habits so out of sheer obstinacy I will continue to refer to the Eurasian species as Black-shouldered Kite in trip reports.

The other star bird of the day was heard-only: a male Ring-necked Pheasant calling from dense vegetation around the northern Lighthouse Pools, then later from the pine and scrub belt on the seaward side of the road there.

While wandering through the scrub trying to get a glimpse of the pheasant, I came across a Korean Bush Warbler and an Oriental Magpie-Robin. There was also an Arctic Warbler calling, but I didn’t see it. This coastal belt of trees will probably repay regular observations during peak migration periods in April and May.

The more open pools directly inland from the lighthouse held little apart from a scattering of common waders, and good numbers of Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias, and Zitting Cisticolas, in the grasslands surrounding the pools. I checked every cisticola carefully, but there was no sign of any Golden-headed Cisticolas – finding one of these is getting to be an obsession.

A few hundred yards inland, a partially drained fish pond held plenty of Dunlin and a minimum of 30 Red-necked Stints, a sign that wader passage is starting to get underway.

From the Black-faced Spoonbill center, about 60 of the star birds were actually visible for once, and at reasonable range, too. Nearby, the Caspian Tern flock was much reduced from my last visit but still held 83 birds. There was a Eurasian Curlew on the mud, and the creek directly in front of the center had a single Terek Sandpiper, perhaps the same overwintering bird I saw in the same area on a previous visit.

Despite the long drive, I will try and visit Qigu regularly in April and May; it’s a great birding area and will surely turn up some really good birds during peak spring migration season.

Temminck’s Stint and Grey-faced Buzzard, Gaoping River corridor, March 18th

Grassy hills north of Highway 22 and west of Highway 21, location of an unsuccessful search for Striated Prinia.

Grassy hills north of Highway 22 and west of Highway 21, the location of an unsuccessful search for Striated Prinia.

Two “little brown jobs” (birder slang for small, nondescript brown birds) that have so far eluded me in Taiwan are the Striated Prinia and the Golden-headed Cisticola. Neither is a full endemic species, so they don’t seem to receive a lot of attention in trip reports. As a result, it can be hard to find English-language information about where exactly to look for them.

Most available information suggests that the Striated Prinia is a bird of low hills to mid elevations, where it is found in grassland, scrub and secondary growth. So I headed to just such an area this morning to try my luck, a range of hills north-east of Kaohsiung, bordered by Highway 22 to the south, and Highway 21 and the Gaoping River to the east.

The habitat looked great, and was fairly overflowing with prinias: mainly Yellow-bellied Prinias, and a handful of Plain Prinias, but no Striateds. It wasn’t a wasted trip, as I was fortunate enough to encounter an early migrating flock of Grey-faced Buzzards, numbering around 20 birds. Among many common species here were 2 Taiwan Scimitar-babblers, 2 Rufous-capped Babblers, a female Daurian Redstart, and a Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker.

Grey-faced Buzzards, March 18th.

Grey-faced Buzzards, March 18th.

I had a hunch that my other target bird, Golden-headed Cisticola, probably occurs in the riverside grassland along the Gaoping River. So I headed south along Highway 21 to check out the Railway Bridge Marsh Park, which covers quite a large area of the west bank of the river directly underneath and to the south of the railway bridges.

A Chinese-language-only sign at the entrance had lots of pictures of birds that one can presumably see in the area, including a tantalising image of a Great Bittern, and – yes! – a picture of a Golden-headed Cisticola. So I optimistically set out through the grasslands, encountering millions of Plain Prinias, but precious little else.

Railway Bridge Marsh Park: looks great for Golden-headed Cisticola, but I didn't score.

Railway Bridge Marsh Park: looks great for Golden-headed Cisticola, but I didn’t score.

A quick binocular scan revealed a scattering of feeding waders on the riverine islands and sandbars, so I set up my scope for a closer look. Finally, a little luck came my way: at least 8 Temminck’s Stints (Taiwan tick) on the nearest of the vegetated islands, furtively creeping along on the edge of the mud in their charismatic fashion. Nearby, 6 Long-toed Stints occasionally allowed for direct comparison as they wandered into the same scope view. Excellent!

Also here: an Intermediate Egret, 6 Spot-billed Ducks, and the usual assortment of common waders (Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover).

So 0 for 2 in terms of my main targets today, but 5 additions to the year list made it a very worthwhile morning and boosted my year’s total so far to 147.

Spotted Redshank and Red-throated Pipit, Cheting Marshes, March 16th

The viewing tower at Cheting Marshes.

The viewing tower at Cheting Marshes.

Today I invested a bit of effort into researching the exact location of Cheting Marshes, and discovered that they are in fact a few kilometers to the north of where I spent my time last week. They cover the area inland from where Highway 17 finally starts to run alongside the coast, and are in effect boxed-in by Highway 17 to the south and west.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived, early on a sunny Sunday morning, is the popularity of this site. There were already plenty of photographers in position on the viewing platforms overlooking the marshes, and on the wooden tower which offers panoramic views of the area. Tents and stands were being set up alongside the road, presumably for the Kaohsiung Wild Bird Society, although they still weren’t open by the time I left.

There wasn’t a great deal for the photographers to look at, as the marsh is very dry at the present time. The majority of it is covered with flat, sun-baked mud, probably as a result of the dry season (it hardly rains at all in this part of Taiwan between November and April). Just a few pools remain, close to the viewing tower and at the far western end of the reserve.

At this late stage of the dry season, most of the Cheting Marshes reserve is sun-baked mud.

At this late stage of the dry season, most of the Cheting Marshes reserve is sun-baked mud.

I took a short walk along the southern then the eastern shore of the reserve. The most obvious birds were Eastern Yellow Wagtails on the dry ground and among the patches of vegetation; more than 100 were counted. Among them, on the ground or in flight overhead, were a handful of Oriental Skylarks and 3 Red-throated Pipits. On the wires, among the mynas, Tree Sparrows and Black Drongos, I saw 2 Long-tailed Shrikes, 1 Brown Shrike, and a Chestnut-tailed Starling. Grey-throated Martins, and Barn and Pacific Swallows, swooped over the marshes. In the tall grasses resided abundant Plain Prinias and singing Zitting Cisticolas.

In the absence of anything exciting, the photographers were most interested in a large mixed flock of Grey Herons and Great Egrets, whose occasional forays into flight were marked by the loud clicking of camera shutters.

Patches of water here and there produced only Common Teal, Little Grebe, and a smattering of waders: Common Greenshank, Kentish Plover, and a lone Wood Sandpiper.

I drove to the western end of the reserve, where there is a small parking lot. A small group of photographers were hunkered down at the water’s edge to take photos of a Common Kingfisher and a Yellow Bittern; both of these usually shy birds were right out in the open, not more than 15 feet from where the photographers were sitting.

Common Kingfisher, Cheting Marshes, March 16th.

Common Kingfisher, Cheting Marshes, March 16th.

Further away, a deeper channel held plenty of common ducks, including about 20 Garganey. This attractive and uncommon dabbling duck is always good to see; mid-March must be peak passage time for them as they head through Taiwan on their way to more northerly breeding grounds.

Through my telescope, I finally got my only year tick of the morning: a group of 4 Spotted Redshanks preening and roosting among the numerous Black-winged Stilts. Number 142 for the year list.

I called in briefly at Yongan Wetlands Reserve on the way back to Kaohsiung. This is where the Black-faced Spoonbills were hiding today, with more than 80 of them visible from the viewing blind, and not a photographer to be seen!