Mugimaki Flycatcher, Red-flanked Bluetail and Goldcrest, Qigu, November 4th

Highlights:

  • Goldcrest 1
  • Mugimaki Flycatcher 2 (1 male)
  • Red-flanked Bluetail 1 female
  • Daurian Redstart 6 (3 males)
  • Yellow-browed Warbler 2
  • Arctic Warbler 1

A significant change in the weather on Monday, with much cooler air across southern Taiwan, raised hopes that something good might finally have arrived at Qigu.

Nonetheless – being well used to disappointment at Qigu over the last few weeks – I reined in my enthusiasm, slept a little later than usual, had a leisurely breakfast, and finally arrived at the coastal forest at 9.30am. Initially it didn’t look promising, with no birder’s cars parked at the site – which is usually an indication that nothing much is around.

The first part of the forest seemed quiet, with the only bird of note a female Daurian Redstart. Then, near the pond, a lone Taiwanese photographer (English name Gordon) got me onto a bird he had just found. After something of a team effort, we managed to get reasonable views of a beautiful adult male Mugimaki Flycatcher. It was very mobile and stayed high in the trees, often obscured by branches, making photography difficult even for Gordon’s long lens.

Already the trip was worthwhile, and I wandered off along the eastern shore of the pond, where two male Daurian Redstarts were chasing each other around, and then an ever better bird appeared – a female Red-flanked Bluetail giving great views perched on a fallen log. I went to find Gordon, who managed some excellent shots of the bird.

My favorite area of Qigu coastal forest is also the area that is hardest to access, because it’s the part that’s covered with the most driftwood and damp gullies. It’s about two-thirds of the way through the forest, on the landward side, and today it seemed especially sheltered from the breeze and rich in insects here. In one small area, I quickly found two Yellow-browed Warblers, a second Mugimaki Flycatcher (this one a female), an Arctic Warbler, and outstandingly a Goldcrest, which was calling frequently and keeping to the tops of the pines. I went to fetch Gordon again, who spent an hour or so at the spot and eventually came away with some very satisfactory photos of this difficult-to-photograph species. Goldcrest is a rare migrant in Taiwan, especially so in the south of the country.

Leaving the forest, a drive along the length of the Qigu embankment produced a couple of Richard’s Pipits, another Daurian Redstart, and plenty of extremely distant Black-faced Spoonbills and Caspian Terns on the mud.

At Cheting Marshes, halfway back to Kaohsiung, I spent an enjoyable twenty minutes in the viewing tower, from which large numbers of herons, ducks and other water birds can be easily seen. Perhaps notable were three Garganey, an Avocet, two Whiskered Terns, plenty of Sacred Ibis, a Eurasian Kestrel, and a beautiful Long-tailed Shrike.

Taiwan ticks: Mugimaki Flycatcher, Goldcrest (total 261).

Northern Boobook and Daurian Redstart, Qigu, October 18th and 21st

Northern Boobook, Qigu coastal forest, October 21st.

Northern Boobook, Qigu coastal forest, October 21st.

A couple of fairly uninspiring visits to Qigu coastal forest, the highlight being my second Northern Boobook of the year on 21st, which was fairly flighty but I eventually got good enough views for a record shot.

On the 18th, the long-staying Asian Brown Flycatcher was seen again, plus a male Daurian Redstart, about four Arctic Warblers, and a Eurasian Kestrel. On the 21st – with the notable exception of the Northern Boobook – there was virtually no evidence of migration whatsoever. The weather has been clear, with light north-easterly winds, for a long time – we need a weather system to pass through to shake things up a bit.

The following resident species can usually be found in the coastal forest – the first two in particular may be of interest to birders: Oriental Magpie Robin, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Japanese White-eye, Scaly-breasted Munia, Chinese Bulbul, Tree Sparrow.

Brambling, Qigu, October 14th

Bramblings, Qigu coastal forest, October 14th. Two of the three birds that were present.

Bramblings, Qigu coastal forest, October 14th. Two of the three birds that were present.

A couple of hours spent at Qigu in the afternoon produced three Bramblings in the coastal forest, a personal Taiwan tick. The birds were feeding among the piles of driftwood and showing very well. Otherwise, the forest was extremely quiet – just one Arctic Warbler and two Brown Shrikes provided the only other evidence of migration. The breezy, clear and sunny weather of recent weeks means that migrants have probably been overflying the area without stopping.

Nearby, on the reserve, at least 300 Black-faced Spoonbills showed distantly – but in excellent afternoon light – from the embankment. Accompanying them, nineteen Caspian Terns also back for the winter, two passage Gull-billed Terns, and two Eurasian Curlews.

Just west of the terminus of Expressway 61, a drained lake is currently an excellent place to view very large numbers of common waders and a scattering of terns, with the most numerous species being Dunlin and Red-necked Stint. A scan of the flocks revealed nothing unusual, but several White-winged Terns and a lone Gull-billed Tern were perhaps noteworthy.

Taiwan tick: Brambling (total 259).

Northern Boobook and Striated Heron, Qigu, October 4th

Northern Boobook, Qigu, October 4th.

Northern Boobook, Qigu, October 4th.

Even on quiet days, the coastal forest at Qigu can still come up with quality birds. This morning, a splendid migrant Northern Boobook showed very well, to just a fraction of the number of photographers who were here for the Siberian Thrush on Tuesday.

Another personal Taiwan tick – a Striated Heron – dropped out of the sky in front of me at the pond, but it remained for less than a minute before flying off south. Otherwise, the coastal forest was quiet, with just an Asian Brown Flycatcher and at least eight Arctic Warblers of note.

Elsewhere there didn’t seem to be much happening, although I didn’t spend much time looking. Perhaps noteworthy were a Richard’s Pipit along the embankment, a late Broad-billed Sandpiper among much-reduced numbers of common waders on the south side of the Tsengwen Estuary, and a fly-through Eurasian Kestrel near Highway 17.

This weekend I also spent some time double-checking my Taiwan and year lists, and found a couple of mistakes which boosted each list’s total by one. So my totals are now 258 and 249, respectively.

The nine species I saw in 2013, but not so far in 2014, are: Mikado Pheasant, Bulwer’s Petrel, Pied Harrier, Oriental Plover, Chinese Tawny Owl, Taiwan Varied Tit, Chinese Hwamei, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Eurasian Siskin. Of these, I hope to at least get Mikado Pheasant and Eyebrowed Thrush before the year is out, but I won’t be holding my breath to see the likes of Bulwer’s Petrel, Pied Harrier or Oriental Plover again!

Taiwan ticks: Northern Boobook, Striated Heron (total 258). Year tick: Eurasian Kestrel (total 249).

Siberian Thrush and Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Qigu, September 30th

Immature male Siberian Thrush, Qigu, September 30th.

Immature male Siberian Thrush, Qigu, September 30th.

Highlights:

  • Siberian Thrush 1 immature male
  • Black-winged Cuckooshrike 1
  • Blue-and-White Flycatcher 1 immature male
  • Grey-streaked Flycatcher 1
  • Pallas’s Warbler 1
  • Arctic Warbler 8+
  • White-shouldered Starling 1
  • Richard’s Pipit 4
  • Black-shouldered Kite 1
  • Ruff 1
  • Great Knot 1
  • Bar-tailed Godwit 2
  • Eurasian Curlew 1
  • Terek Sandpiper 2
  • Grey-tailed Tattler 1
  • Pintail Snipe 1

An excellent day at Qigu, with no fewer than six personal Taiwan ticks. I was at the coastal pine forest by 7.30am, where a large crowd of photographers was already assembled for the immature male Siberian Thrush that was first found yesterday afternoon. After a short wait, the bird appeared distantly on the ground before showing well in flight. Later in the morning, it gave very close views as it performed around the baited log that had been set up for it, accompanied by the clicking of a hundred cameras. It was about my fourth Siberian Thrush, but my first in Taiwan where it’s a very rare visitor. What a fantastic bird, both beautiful and elusive, and deservedly one of East Asia’s most sought-after thrushes.

In stark contrast to the thrush, it seems I was the lone observer of a Black-winged Cuckooshrike, which gave reasonable views in the treetops for five minutes before disappearing. It had not been relocated by the time I left, despite several groups of birders looking for it. I managed the poorest of record shots with my camera, but enough to confirm the ID (I think!). Again, it’s a bird I’ve seen before in Thailand but it’s a very good record for Taiwan.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Qigu, September 30th.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Qigu, September 30th.

Nearby, beside the pond, a Pallas’s Warbler showed exceptionally well – even coming down to ground level on several occasions. Arctic Warblers were also fairly numerous and easy to find in this area today. In the same area, I finally caught up with the Grey-streaked Flycatcher that has reportedly been present for several weeks.

Stopping to enjoy the Siberian Thrush once again on the way out, my attention was drawn to several photographers running through the woods. Following them, I was able to get onto the bird they were chasing – an immature male Blue-and-White Flycatcher. It looked rather strange, with a very plain buff-brown head contrasting with bright blue wings, rump and tail. Whenever I see this species, I am always struck by how big it is – it’s a real monster of a flycatcher. Perhaps this was the same individual reported from here last week.

Waiting for the Siberian Thrush at Qigu, September 30th.

Waiting for the Siberian Thrush at Qigu, September 30th.

Elsewhere in the area today, two Bar-tailed Godwits on the mud outside the Black-faced Spoonbill visitor center were a long overdue Taiwan tick, which I was lucky to connect with because just five minutes after my arrival they flew off north. There was also a distant Eurasian Curlew here, my first of the autumn, and two Terek Sandpipers among the more common species.

On the way home, I stopped once again at the pools on the south side of the Tsengwen Estuary, close to Highway 17. The lone Ruff was still present, and most oddly, a Great Knot in very atypical habitat. Finally, I had the rare opportunity to enjoy prolonged views of a small group of snipe on an embankment, one of which was readily identifiable as a Pintail Snipe by it’s “bulging” buff supercilium in front of the eye, noticeably shorter bill compared to nearby Common Snipes, and subtle differences in size and structure.

Taiwan ticks: Siberian Thrush, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Pallas’s Warbler, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Blue-and-White Flycatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit (total 255).

Coastal pine forest at Qigu - a magnet for flycatchers, warblers and other migrants (and rarities) in spring and autumn.

Coastal pine forest at Qigu – a magnet for flycatchers, warblers and other migrants (and rarities) in spring and autumn.

Siberian Blue Robin, Qigu, September 28th

Black-faced Spoonbill monument on the south side of the Tsengwen estuary.

Black-faced Spoonbill monument on the south side of the Tsengwen estuary.

Highlights:

  • Siberian Blue Robin 1 immature male
  • Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
  • Malayan Night Heron 1
  • Greater Painted-Snipe 1 + 3 small chicks
  • Ruff 1
  • Black-shouldered Kite 1
  • Peregrine 1
  • Gull-billed Tern 1
  • White-winged Tern 3
  • Arctic Warbler 5
  • White-shouldered Starling 3
  • Richard’s Pipit 4
  • Blue Rock Thrush 1
  • Oriental Magpie Robin 4

An eclectic mix of highlights from today’s six hour visit, showing that migration is well and truly under way along the coast of south-western Taiwan.

Easily the highlight was an immature male Siberian Blue Robin in Qigu’s coastal forest. It didn’t give itself up very easily, and spent lots of time hidden in cover, before suddenly running out to feed in the open for a minute or two, only to quickly disappear again. The cacophony of camera shutters was a good indication of when the bird was in view!

Elsewhere in the coastal forest, bird activity was a lot higher than last week. A brief but well-seen Asian Brown Flycatcher – ironically while I was searching for a reported Grey-streaked Flycatcher – took the runner up spot today, while at least five Arctic Warblers generally showed well.

As happens fairly often at this exciting time of year, there was the one that got away. I got on to a small bird with a bright blue crown, back and tail, facing away from me, at about head height in some pines. My first thought was Red-flanked Bluetail. No sooner had this reaction entered my head than the bird turned to face me, for a fraction of a second. At  that point, I saw that it didn’t have orange flanks, but a complete pale orange breast extending in a wedge up the throat. Naturally, it then flew off, never to be seen again. I’m wondering if it was perhaps a Hill Blue Flycatcher, a bird I am very familiar with from Thailand but which I assume would be a first for Taiwan …..

A little frustrated at failing to relocate my mystery bird, I left the coastal forest for a circuit of the embankment, where it was business as usual with three White-shouldered Starlings and four Richard’s Pipits still.

The “Long-billed Dowitcher pools” still held plenty of waders, but nothing unusual, although a Gull-billed Tern and three White-winged Terns were perhaps noteworthy.

I spent some time on the south side of the Tsengwen Estuary today. Pools to the south of the embankment, within a kilometer of Highway 17, were excellent, with huge numbers of Long-toed Stints, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, and Black-winged Stilts. Among them, a lone Ruff was a good bird for this part of Taiwan, and a Greater Painted-Snipe with three small chicks was also an excellent sighting.

I continued all the way around the southern embankment, which finally turns inland through some thick pine forest. One can only imagine how many migrants pass through here undetected, but the area is largely unworkable. I wandered along a forest trail, hearing an Arctic Warbler, and disturbing a Malayan Night Heron from a pool, while near the beach a Black-shouldered Kite drifted overhead.

Taiwan tick: Siberian Blue Robin (total 249). Year tick: Asian Brown Flycatcher (total 239).

Maroon Oriole and White-bellied Erpornis, Maolin, September 27th

The 4km-long loop trail behind the De-En Gorge guesthouse in the Maolin Valley is an excellent spot for some low-mid altitude forest birds. This was my first visit to the area since January this year, and despite the bad timing (mid afternoon), a few interesting species were seen.

It’s a reliable location for Maroon Oriole – of the distinctive Taiwanese form that may be an endemic species – which is a scarce and local bird in Taiwan. Woodland along the trail is also a good bet for White-bellied Erpornis, a bird I see extremely infrequently in Taiwan. I saw both of these species today, plus some other birds I usually see here and not often elsewhere – Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge and Bronzed Drongo.

However, there was no sign of any Taiwan Blue Magpies today, to my girlfriend’s disappointment. I’ve seen them fairly reliably in the past along the final third of the trail (when going clockwise). This is an easily accessible site from Kaohsiung for anyone looking for this uncommon and beautiful endemic.

Black-faced Spoonbill and Chinese Egret, West Coast Wetlands, September 23rd

Two big white birds take top honours for an all-day visit to Qigu, Budai, Beimen and Aogu, but there was plenty else to be seen in the area as post-typhoon migration really seems to be picking up.

First stop were the Km 134.5 pools at Budai, where many of today’s 23 wader species were seen, albeit in generally smaller numbers than on my last visit here. Many of the birds have dispersed to neighboring pools where the water levels have become favorable. Pick of the bunch here: 11 Avocets, over 100 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, three Gull-billed and a single White-winged Tern, five Garganey, and high numbers of Sacred Ibis.

I headed north to Aogu, where water levels have fallen slightly but are still a little too high for waders. Nonetheless, bird activity here was noticeably higher than recently – in another month or so it will probably be worth visiting again. Today, Aogu’s best offering was a Green Sandpiper at a reed-fringed pool. This is an uncommon migrant in Taiwan, and one which I see only rarely, as it generally prefers secluded pools and shuns open wetlands.

Heading south again, I had a quick look at the Km 146 area near Beimen. All the usual wader species were here in much-reduced numbers compared to my last visit, plus an Oriental Pratincole.

At Qigu, my first stop was the embankment area where I saw Long-billed Dowitcher on Saturday. No sign of any dowitchers today, but four newly-arrived Black-faced Spoonbills feeding close to the south side of the embankment were a fine sight. Turning the telescope 180 degrees, I could enjoy two Chinese Egrets on the north side from the same spot.

Continuing west along the embankment, several interesting migrants were seen: a Richard’s Pipit, a Blue Rock Thrush, plenty of Brown Shrikes, and best of all a flock of 18 White-shouldered Starlings which departed high to the east. Waders were represented by a lone Whimbrel and two Grey Plovers.

My final Qigu stop was the belt of pine trees north of the Tsengwen river mouth. My personal bird of the day was on the beach here: a winter-plumaged Sanderling. In the forest, good numbers of Brown Shrike, a briefly-seen juvenile cuckoo (probably Oriental), a Blue Rock Thrush, and a Common Sandpiper. A group of photographers were staking out an area under the trees, but nothing seemed to be happening and several of them began to drift away so I didn’t hang around. Finally, offshore about ten Great Crested Terns were lingering, and occasional groups of Common and Little Terns headed south. Unfortunately I was out of time, but it will be worth spending some time checking the passing terns here during the autumn for the rare but regular Aleutian Tern.

Taiwan tick: Sanderling (total 248).

Long-billed Dowitcher, Qigu, September 20th

Three Long-billed Dowitchers had been reported from this location along the Qigu embankment last week, so on Saturday morning – in a window of only a few hours before a typhoon was forecast to hit southern Taiwan – I drove north to look for them.

I quickly found the area where all the waders were, but unfortunately, the wind was already very strong and birding from the exposed embankment was almost impossible. Among the rice paddies it was a little more sheltered, and after I while I located the three Long-billed Dowitchers among hundreds of other shorebirds. It was hard to get close to the birds without disturbing them, and the wind and light conditions weren’t ideal. Compared to Asian Dowitcher, the main difference on the views I obtained was size. Long-billed is noticeably a lot smaller (body length was similar to the nearby Marsh Sandpipers, whereas Asian Dowitcher is close to Common Greenshank in size). Plumage-wise, there didn’t seem to me to be a great deal to differentiate the two species, at least for these resting and feeding birds (it’s more obvious in flight because Long-billed has a darker underwing). Finally, on the few occasions when the Long-billed Dowitchers wandered into shallower water, the legs could be seen to be more greenish – the legs of Asian Dowitcher are prominently jet-black.

Of course, I couldn’t conclusively eliminate Short-billed Dowitcher as an ID possibility, but the latter species has never occurred in Taiwan, whereas Long-billed is an annual but very scarce migrant and winter visitor.

The other waders here comprised a selection of the expected migrants, including Sharp-tailed, Marsh, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, Mongolian, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers,Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Black-winged Stilt.

Also noteworthy in the rice paddies here was Greater Painted-Snipe. I flushed at least five, mostly from almost under my feet. Two of them did a very strange thing – when flushed they flew out to the middle of a pond, crash-landed in the middle of it, and tried to hide there with just their head and back above the water level. I’ve never seen anything like it. There was also an adult bird with chicks that I was able to observe at a safe distance without flushing.

Elsewhere in the area, I saw very little. Strong winds in the coastal forest made birding difficult, and there seemed to be nothing passing at sea. The only other bird of note in the area was a Richard’s Pipit heard calling and seen briefly in flight along the seaward side of the embankment. Hopefully, Typhoon Fung-Wong will bring us some exciting birds this week.

Taiwan tick: Long-billed Dowitcher (total 247).

Asian Dowitcher, Dapeng Bay, September 19th

Asian Dowitcher at Dapeng Bay, September 19th - my fifth self-found individual of this rare species in Taiwan this year.

Asian Dowitcher at Dapeng Bay, September 19th – my fifth self-found individual of this rare species in Taiwan this year.

A 1.5 hour morning visit to this site near Donggang in Pingtung County produced my fifth Asian Dowitcher of the year, following spring individuals at Aogu and Tainan, and two together last month at Budai. I have come to the conclusion that either I am incredibly lucky, or they are not quite as rare in Taiwan as the literature suggests.

Aside from this obvious highlight, small numbers of terns on the mud comprised five different species. Two hulking Gull-billed Terns presided over two Common Terns (year tick), two White-winged Terns, and a handful of the expected Whiskered and Little Terns.

Waders totalled 16 species, mostly in small numbers, including Terek, Sharp-tailed, Broad-billed, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Long-toed and Red-necked Stints, Pacific Golden, Mongolian, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, and Black-winged Stilt.

Year tick: Common Tern (total 235).