Golden Parrotbill and White-browed Robin, Yushan (Tataka), September 13th

Another spot visited on this trip was Wushe, where this view of the lake at 5.45am was the highlight. Not many birds seen, though.

Another spot visited on this trip was Wushe, where this view of the lake at 5.45am was rather more impressive than the limited number of birds seen.

I rarely get to use my Kawasaki Ninja, as it’s not the most practical choice for birding or everyday use. But with fine weather forecast, this weekend presented a good opportunity to burn some rubber on the mountain twisties and perhaps see a bird or two as well, although the scope stayed at home!

My weekend route of some 700km took me through the hills past Tsengwen Reservoir, then into the mountains at Alishan and higher still to Yushan National Park, then down the long and lonely Highway 21 to Sun Moon Lake, onwards to Puli, and finally to the Wushe area. I returned on Sunday via Sun Moon Lake again, then Highway 3 pretty much all the way back to Kaohsiung.

By far the best birding on this trip was at Tataka, at the high point of the road where Highway 18 becomes Highway 21 (altitude 2,400 meters). A very good area to check for the sought-after Golden Parrotbill is the road around the Km 108.5 marker, the path leading down to the hostel from that point, and the surfaced hostel access road below the main highway. I saw at least eight Golden Parrotbills in this area today. Their hard chipping and twittering calls are quite distinctive and with a bit of patience they could readily be seen in the dwarf bamboo.

Also along the path leading down to the hostel, I enjoyed binocular-filling but all too brief views of a male White-browed Robin, which true to the skulking nature of this species promptly disappeared into the dwarf bamboo and was not seen again.

Bird activity was high at Tataka – unusually for a visit here in the middle of the day – and other birds seen over the course of an hour included Collared Bush-Robin, White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Spotted Nutcracker, Taiwan Fulvetta, Flamecrest, Coal Tit, Green-backed Tit, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Taiwan Yuhina and Asian House Martin.

Early morning mountain view near Chun Yang Farm, Wushe. Still no Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler or Vinous-throated Parrotbill ....

Early morning mountain view near Chun Yang Farm, Wushe. Still no Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler or Vinous-throated Parrotbill ….

While the motorbiking was awesome, other birding highlights were few and far between. I spent some time at the Ci-En Tower, overlooking Sun Moon Lake, on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, but there was no sign of any Large Cuckooshrikes, for which this is supposedly a regular site. On both dates, Plain Flowerpeckers were very vocal around the parking lot and the first couple of hundred meters of the trail to the tower – patience finally paid off with some reasonable views. I didn’t see much else here, except a late-afternoon flock of 48 Chinese Sparrowhawks heading south.

Just a scattering of common birds during a dawn visit to Chun Yang Farm, near Wushe, means that I am still waiting for my first Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler, and my first Taiwanese Vinous-throated Parrotbills.

Year ticks: Golden Parrotbill, White-browed Robin (total 234).

Dasyueshan and the Wushe area, September 6th-8th

Warning sign at Dasyueshan Km 47 .... these were the only Mikado Pheasants I saw despite spending around four hours at the stakeout.

Warning sign at Dasyueshan Km 47. Unfortunately this was as close to Mikado Pheasant as I got, despite spending around four hours at the stakeout.

Sites visited: Dasyueshan, Beidongyenshan, Chun Yang Farm, Blue Gate trail area.

Birds seen (endemics and other notable birds in bold):

  • Swinhoe’s Pheasant
  • Little Egret
  • Cattle Egret
  • Crested Serpent Eagle
  • Chinese Sparrowhawk
  • Crested Goshawk
  • Ashy Woodpigeon
  • Oriental Turtle Dove
  • Spotted Dove
  • Emerald Dove
  • House Swift
  • Taiwan Barbet
  • Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
  • Brown Shrike
  • Black Drongo
  • Spotted Nutcracker
  • Large-billed Crow
  • Green-backed Tit
  • Yellow Tit
  • Coal Tit
  • Black-throated Tit
  • Barn Swallow
  • Pacific Swallow
  • Asian House Martin
  • Plain Prinia
  • Collared Finchbill
  • Chinese Bulbul
  • Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler
  • Rufous-faced Warbler
  • Rufous-capped Babbler
  • Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush
  • Rusty Laughingthrush
  • White-whiskered Laughingthrush
  • Taiwan Hwamei
  • Steere’s Liocichla
  • Taiwan Barwing
  • Taiwan Fulvetta
  • Morrison’s Fulvetta
  • Taiwan Sibia
  • Taiwan Yuhina
  • Flamecrest
  • Eurasian Nuthatch
  • Javan Myna
  • Taiwan Whistling Thrush
  • Taiwan Thrush
  • Collared Bush Robin
  • White-tailed Robin
  • Plumbeous Redstart
  • Little Forktail
  • Ferruginous Flycatcher
  • Snowy-browed Flycatcher
  • Vivid Niltava
  • Brown Dipper
  • Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
  • Tree Sparrow
  • White-rumped Munia
  • Grey Wagtail
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail
  • Vinaceous Rosefinch
  • Grey-headed Bullfinch

The three-day Moon Festival weekend presented me with the ideal opportunity to take a trip “up north” and fill in some gaps on my year list.

It was a highly successful trip, with many of my target birds seen. I particularly enjoyed Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Little Forktail, Brown Dipper and Taiwan Thrush. Notable misses included Mikado Pheasant, White-browed Robin, and Golden Parrotbill (although this species is easier in the Yushan National Park at Tataka). I didn’t see the likes of Taiwan Hill Partridge, Taiwan Shortwing and Taiwan Wren-Babbler either, but then again I didn’t spend any time looking specifically for these birds as I have already seen them this year.

Late afternoon sunlight streaming through the trees on Forest Road 210, Dasyueshan.

Late afternoon sunlight streaming through the trees on forest road 210, Dasyueshan.

Notes on the sites visited:

Dasyueshan: I spent from the late morning until evening of September 6th, and all day on September 8th here. It is a very well-known birding site, with plentiful trip reports on the internet, but the following up-to-date information may be useful to some:

Km 4: immediately after the bridge, take the minor road on the left. Just around the first bend, turn left and head a short distance uphill. Scrub at the top had at least two singing Taiwan Hwamei at first light, one of which eventually showed well.

Km 15: a minor road heads downhill to the right. Follow it to the river, which is a popular stakeout for Brown Dipper. I found two here without a great deal of effort: one just downstream of the road bridge, and another a hundred meters upstream from the suspension bridge.

Km 23: the Swinhoe’s Pheasant stakeout. I saw nothing here on the first day, but a female Swinhoe’s Pheasant was showing in the road early morning on my second visit.

Km 35: after the main park entrance and parking lot, there is a small shrine on the left and a gated trail beyond. This is forest road 210. The locked gate and warning signs look intimidating, but apparently birders are tolerated here and it is possible to walk around the fence to the left of the gate. I had the place to myself on both of my visits. The first hundred meters of the trail were the most productive, where I logged about five Taiwan Thrushes (several of which flew down to the trail to drink from a puddle), several Taiwan Barwings and Rusty Laughingthrushes, and a Taiwan Whistling Thrush, all during a period of thirty minutes in the late afternoon. Further along, the trail was mostly quiet, but a feeding flock held a Yellow Tit. Judging from the habitat, there are probably plenty of Taiwan Wren-babblers and other undergrowth-dwellers along here; an early morning visit could be very productive.

Km 39: just before a sharp right-hand bend, a gravel trailhead on the right leads down to another locked gate. This is forest road 220, mentioned in some older trip reports as being a good place to try for pheasants. It is possible – but tricky – to wriggle underneath the gate. I was here in the middle of the day and didn’t see many birds, but a Formosan Serow a couple of hundred meters along the trail was a nice surprise.

Formosan Serow, Dasyueshan forest trail 220, September 8th.

Formosan Serow, Dasyueshan forest road 220, September 8th.

Km 41: a trail on the right leads through good forest to a waterfall, which is a good place to check for Little Forktail. I have also seen Taiwan Wren-Babbler and Taiwan Barwing along the first section of the trail, but not this time.

Km 42: a roadside waterfall worth checking for Little Forktail.

Km 43-44: Anmashan forest station. Below the road, around the cabins and restaurants, is plenty of good habitat to explore. You can also access a network of forest trails from here. My lunchtime visit produced just a Ferruginous Flycatcher and a Vivid Niltava in trees near the restaurant.

Km 47: the Mikado Pheasant stakeout. I spent four hours here over the two days, in the early morning and mid-late afternoon, without success. However, I did see plenty of high-altitude birds here including Flamecrest (many heard, good views of two birds), Coal and Green-backed Tits, Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler, Taiwan Fulvetta, Vinaceous Rosefinch, Collared Bush-Robin, Spotted Nutcracker, and frequent White-whiskered Laughingthrushes. I’ve seen White-browed Robin in forest below the road previously, but unfortunately not on this trip – photographers stake out a spot beside the road for this species just down from the pheasant site.

Km 50 area: Tienchih Lake and the road summit. A Grey-headed Bullfinch was coming to seed placed by photographers next to the visitor center, and I saw another pair of these beautiful birds on the trail around Tienchih Lake. I walked the 1.7km-long trail down to the large sacred tree, where trailside forest looks good for Mikado Pheasant, and stands of dwarf bamboo might hold Golden Parrotbill from time to time, but I saw few birds except an unexpected migrant Brown Shrike.

Blue Gate Trail area: this is another spot that is well-covered in multiple trip reports. Turn left at the police station at Km 18 on road 14A, and park in the small parking lot on the right after 800 meters before walking the rather muddy trail. I was delighted to get good views of a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher along here, among commoner species.

Back on my scooter, I continued down the steep and bumpy road for another couple of kilometers before parking on the left shortly before a large but old and fully repaired landslide. Just after the landslide, take the right hand fork onto a minor road and follow it through mixed woodland and scrub as far as some tea plantations. On a previous visit this spot has proved productive for Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Brown Bullfinch and Rusty Laughingthrush, but today only the flowerpecker obliged, although I heard – but didn’t manage to see – the bullfinch. I also had close perched views of an Ashy Woodpigeon, which was pleasing as all my previous views of this species have been in flight.

Tea plantations downhill from the Blue Gate trail, near Wushe.

Tea plantations downhill from the Blue Gate trail, near Wushe.

Chun Yang Farm: this site near Wushe holds a range of mid-altitude scrub and forest-edge birds, but it was very quiet when I visited it mid-morning. I saw only Oriental Turtle Dove and Plumbeous Redstart of note, and overhead four migrant Chinese Sparrowhawks, a Crested Goshawk and two Crested Serpent Eagles. A disappointing visit, as I was hoping for Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler and Vinous-throated Parrotbill here. It’s easy to find the farm: from Wushe, take the right fork (road 14), and at Km 83.5 take the minor road on the left. There is an entrance sign saying Chun Yang Farm in English, and a gate, but the gate was open and there don’t seem to be any restrictions on access.

Beidongyenshan: a rather awkward to reach place, but worth the effort. At Km 4 on road 14A, take the left turn signposted Lishan. The road is in terrible condition and is marked by two big recent landslides, which were muddy and a little nerve-racking to negotiate in the rain on a scooter. After 8km, there is a green sign marking a turning on the left. Take this road, and after 1.5km park at the locked gate. It is possible to climb around the gate, and walk a wide and gently climbing track through excellent forest. The best birds were perhaps two Swinhoe’s Pheasants, a male and a female on separate occasions, but views of both were brief. I had much better looks at two flocks of Rufous-crowned Laughingthrushes, a speciality of this site, and two Yellow Tits in one of the few feeding flocks I encountered.

Bird of the afternoon at Beidongyenshan was on my return journey, when there was a smart Little Forktail at the waterfall next to one of the landslides – only the second time I have ever seen this striking bird.

Taiwan ticks: Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Brown Dipper (total 246).

Year ticks: Taiwan Barwing, Ashy Woodpigeon, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Little Forktail, Grey-headed Bullfinch (total 232).

A few record shots …..

Young Taiwan Thrushes at a puddle on Dasyueshan forest road 210, September 6th.

Young Taiwan Thrushes at a puddle on Dasyueshan forest road 210, September 6th.

Female Swinhoe's Pheasant at Dasyueshan Km 23, September 8th.

Female Swinhoe’s Pheasant at Dasyueshan Km 23, September 8th.

White-whiskered Laughingthrush on the road at Km 47, Dasyueshan, September 8th.

White-whiskered Laughingthrush on the road at Dasyueshan Km 47, September 8th.

Male Vinaceous Rosefinch at Dasyueshan Km 47, September 6th.

Male Vinaceous Rosefinch at Dasyueshan Km 47, September 6th.

Spotted Nutcracker at Dasyueshan Km 47, September 8th.

Spotted Nutcracker at Dasyueshan Km 47, September 8th.

Grey-headed Bullfinch at Tienchih Lake, Dasyueshan, September 8th.

Grey-headed Bullfinch at Tienchih Lake, Dasyueshan, September 8th.

 

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd. This photo shows the extensive breast band, orange legs and bill base, and distinctive build and head profile.

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd. This photo shows the extensive breast band, bright orange legs and bill base, and distinctive head profile.

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd. Here the extensive white forehead can be seen.

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd. In this photo, the extensive white forehead is obvious.

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd. In this shot, the wide white neck collar and broad white supercilium can be seen well.

Common Ringed Plover, Budai, September 2nd. In this shot, the wide white neck collar and broad white supercilium can be seen.

Today’s visit to Budai turned up an unexpected rarity in the form of an adult Common Ringed Plover. According to Mark Brazil’s “Birds of East Asia”, this is an accidental visitor to Taiwan which normally migrates well to the west of the region. The bird was at the pool to the north of the Km 134.5 marker on Highway 17.

Otherwise, it was a standard autumn day at Budai. The pools on the other side of the road to the Common Ringed Plover’s favorite hangout were again full of birds, including a high count of 113 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, 10 Avocets, and a minimum of 50 White-winged Terns among the many Whiskered and Little Terns.

Also in the area, the two Greater Flamingoes were seen again alongside Expressway 61 at Km 276.

Among 20 wader species seen at Budai and Beimen, 3 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were perhaps noteworthy. Long-toed Stints, Marsh Sandpipers and Pacific Golden Plovers were particularly numerous today. The presence of several Brown Shrikes and Eastern Yellow Wagtails was a sign that passerine migration is getting underway.

Finally, I took a short jaunt further north to Aogu where the water levels are still too high for waders, and there was little to be seen.

Taiwan tick: Common Ringed Plover (total 244).

Aogu Wetlands: a beautiful spot, but somewhat lacking in birds today.

Aogu Wetlands: a beautiful spot, but somewhat lacking in birds today.

26 wader species and Gull-billed Tern, Beimen/Budai/Qigu, August 27th

View in my scooter's mirror of the wetlands at Km 134.5 on Highway 17, which today were absolutely teeming with egrets, terns and passage waders.

View in my scooter’s mirror of the wetlands at Km 134.5 on Highway 17, which today were absolutely teeming with egrets, terns and passage waders.

Waders (26 species, extremely approximate counts in most cases):

  • Ruff 1
  • Eastern Black-tailed Godwit 94
  • Whimbrel 3
  • Temminck’s Stint 2
  • Long-toed Stint 30
  • Red-necked Stint 400
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper 30
  • Curlew Sandpiper 150
  • Dunlin 3
  • Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 1
  • Terek Sandpiper 1
  • Wood Sandpiper 150
  • Common Sandpiper 2
  • Grey-tailed Tattler 1
  • Marsh Sandpiper 300
  • Common Greenshank 60
  • Common Redshank 150
  • Greater Sandplover 4
  • Mongolian Plover 10
  • Kentish Plover 300
  • Little Ringed Plover 100
  • Grey Plover 1
  • Pacific Golden Plover 300
  • Turnstone 40
  • Pintail Snipe 1+
  • Black-winged Stilt 300

Other birds (highlights):

  • Gull-billed Tern 1
  • White-winged Tern 1
  • Whiskered Tern
  • Little Tern
  • Sacred Ibis 18
  • Cinnamon Bittern 1
  • Yellow Bittern 1
  • Eurasian Wigeon 1
  • Tufted Duck 1
  • White-breasted Waterhen 1
  • Long-tailed Shrike 4
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail 3

It’s no surprise that my favorite times of year for birding coincide exactly with the peak periods of wader passage, in April/May and August/September. Shorebirds have started passing through Taiwan in huge numbers, making for some spectacular birding at coastal marshes. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but personally I’m never happier than when I’m peering through my telescope at vast flocks of feeding waders, looking for the scarcities among them.

Today I started once again at the Km 134.5 marshes alongside Highway 17, where an early good find were two Temminck’s Stints creeping around at the edge of the wetland. The pools here were absolutely teeming with birds today, notably a nice flock of 92 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits (but, unlike last week, there were no Asian Dowitchers among them). Terns aplenty on the mud included a lone Gull-billed for a short while before it flew off west, and a juvenile White-winged among the abundant Little and Whiskered Terns. However, nearby there was no sign of the two Greater Flamingoes at “Flamingo Pools” (alongside Km 276 on Expressway 61).

Male Ruff (right hand bird) on flooded fields near Km 146 at Beimen. This is a scarce passage migrant in Taiwan.

Male Ruff (right hand bird) on flooded fields near Km 146 at Beimen. This is a scarce passage migrant in Taiwan.

Today I spent a fair amount of time at the excellent area of flooded fields in the vicinity of Km 146-147 on Highway 17. Almost every field had flocks of Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Wood Sandpipers, Common Redshanks and Black-winged Stilts, with small numbers of plenty of other species among them. The prize here was a male Ruff, a scarce migrant in Taiwan. Also here were three snipes, at least one of which showed characteristics of Pintail Snipe. This is an expected passage bird in Taiwan but one which until today I had not yet satisfactorily seen.

My final halt was Qigu, where one field held enormous numbers of waders including an excellent count of 40 Turnstones, plus my first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper of the autumn. This was a common passage bird in the spring; I imagine that their autumn passage period has yet to properly get underway. Along the seawall loop around the Qigu marshes there were relatively few birds, but those I did see plugged some gaps in the day list: lone Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler and Grey Plover, and several Whimbrels.

Southern Red Bishop? Qigu, August 27th.

Southern Red Bishop? Qigu, August 27th.

Southern Red Bishop? Qigu, August 27th.

Southern Red Bishop? Qigu, August 27th.

While watching some waders, I was distracted by an unfamiliar song coming from the banks of the canal behind me. The protagonist was a small and very colorful bird, which seemed to be aggressively holding territory, chasing off any Japanese White-eyes and Scaly-breasted Munias that dared come too close! It looked to perhaps be a Southern Red Bishop, but in other photos I’ve seen of this species they normally seem to have a red collar (not an all-black face and breast). It’s obviously an escaped cagebird, but I would welcome any comments as to its identification.

Taiwan ticks: Ruff, Pintail Snipe (total 243).

Taiwan Hill Partridge, Tengjhih National Forest, August 23rd

Highlights:

  • Taiwan Hill Partridge 6 (2 groups, 2+4)
  • Besra 1
  • Black Eagle 4
  • Eurasian Jay 6
  • Striated Prinia 1
  • Vivid Niltava 2

The attractive Taiwan Hill Partridge is often considered to be the toughest Taiwanese endemic bird to find. Today, I got lucky twice along the trail between the end of the road at Km 18, and the old Tengjhih National Forest HQ.

The first birds were a pair that showed on the ridge above the path near the 225 meter mark (distances are red-painted on rocks at random points along the trail). Several hours later, on my return journey, I encountered a group of four – perhaps including the earlier pair – at around the 275 meter mark.

Predictably, it was tough to get good views. Quiet stalking resulted in prolonged head-and-neck views of one bird in the first pair, but little more than glimpses of the second group as they worked their way through the undergrowth and eventually burst into flight.

Some tips on finding Taiwan Hill Partridge at Tengjhih:

  1. Get onto the trail early. A steady trickle of hikers from mid-morning onwards at weekends is likely to push the birds further away from the path. Also, in midsummer the excruciatingly noisy cicadas increase their chorus as the morning progresses, making birding by ear very difficult.
  2. Pick a calm day. On both occasions today, I first located the birds by creeping along the trail and listening for them scraping the leaf litter as they search for food. When there is a breeze, these sounds are easily drowned out by the rustling of the trees.
  3. Focus on the area between about 200 and 500 meters along the trail. They seem to particularly like the ridge to the right of the path as you walk towards the HQ.

Another good bird today was the Besra, soaring over the end of the road at Km 18 and occasionally attacking the Striated Swallows that mobbed it. Also here, a Striated Prinia was singing in the usual area of the landslide. In the clearing about 50 meters along the HQ trail, a pair of Vivid Niltavas were observed carrying food and probably have a nest nearby.

Finally, a group of six Eurasian Jays was a good count for this uncommon bird, and a total of four Black Eagles were seen at various times during the morning.

Cicada at Tengjhih National Forest. This noisy creature is not your friend when you are trying to listen for Taiwan Hill Partridge feeding in the leaf litter.

Cicada at Tengjhih National Forest. This noisy creature is not your friend when you are trying to listen for Taiwan Hill Partridge feeding in the leaf litter.

Greater Flamingo and Asian Dowitcher, Budai, August 19th

IMG_3510

Very poor digiscoped record shots of today's rarities: Greater Flamingo and Asian Dowitcher.

Very poor digiscoped record shots of today’s rarities: Greater Flamingo and Asian Dowitcher.

Despite being a tedious two-hour scooter drive from Kaohsiung, the Budai area keeps drawing me like a moth to a flame because of the excellent numbers of passage waders to be seen there.

Naturally, on arrival I first headed to what seems to be the current prime location for flocks of shorebirds, pools beside Highway 17 at Km 134.5. It didn’t take long to find two Asian Dowitchers, my third and fourth self-found individuals of this species this year. They were loosely associating with about 10 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits. Taking photos with my Canon G12 held against the eyepiece of my scope produces barely passable record shots, plus the dowitchers were fairly distant and feeding constantly, and it took more than 30 attempts to even get a blurry shot of the closest bird with its head out of the water. The least bad of my various tries are shown above – my shots are not going to win any awards but at least the bird is identifiable.

Next up, I spent several hours exploring back roads looking for suitable wader habitat. Unfortunately, the water levels at most pools are generally too high for waders at the moment. However, a wrong turning found me on the service road of Expressway 61, heading south, and at Km 276 I spotted some good-looking pools on the right hand side of the road.

Birding at Budai's "flamingo pools", alongside Expressway 61 at Km 276.

Birding at Budai’s “flamingo pools”, alongside Expressway 61 at Km 276.

A quiet minor road runs alongside the pools, and I set up my scope here to look at the two very large, pink birds that I had first spotted from a great distance while driving alongside the Expressway. Sure enough, they were the long-staying Greater Flamingoes, which have apparently been in the area – though not always easy to find – for many months. The origin of these birds must surely be dubious at best, but they sported no rings and looked good feeding heads-down in authentic salt-pan habitat.

My third and final productive spot was a farming area alongside Highway 17, between Km 146 and 147. Minor roads on both sides of the highway run alongside shallow pools with varying water levels, and drier rice paddies with sun-baked mud. Huge numbers of waders were here, including good numbers of the two passage waders I most associate with this type of habitat, Wood Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint. I didn’t have enough to time to painstakingly search through the flocks, but in future it will definitely be worth spending a couple of hours doing so.

Taiwan tick: Greater Flamingo (total 241).

Slaty-legged Crake, Alishan, August 17th

Early morning below the village at Km 61, halfway up to Alishan.

Early morning below the village at Km 61, on the road up to Alishan.

A girlfriend-friendly hiking and sightseeing trip to Alishan/Yushan produced one of those completely out-of-the-blue birding moments. On Saturday night, we stayed at Tea Homestay, in the small village at Km 61 on Highway 18. It’s about halfway between Chiayi and the top of the road at Tataka in the Yushan National Park, and on several occasions in the past it has proven to be a pretty good spot from which to launch an early-morning birding trip to the higher parts of the mountain.

However, not surprisingly this time my girlfriend ruled out a 4.00am wake-up call and a drive up the mountain in the dark for a shot at Mikado Pheasant along the higher parts of the road. So at the rather more civilised hour of 6.00am, while she slept, I instead found myself enjoying the rather splendid scenery and early morning calm in the vicinity of the guesthouse.

The surroundings seemed good for Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler, and with this rather nondescript but still-needed bird in mind I set off along the minor road that heads down the mountain, immediately below the Km 61 village. Coming up the mountain on Highway 18, the entrance to this road is about a hundred meters before a gas station on the right.

No bush-warblers were seen, but a male Maroon Oriole, some Collared Finchbills and Rufous-capped Babblers, several flocks of White-rumped Munias and a singing Striated Prinia made for some enjoyable early-morning birding.

The unremarkable spot beside the minor road below Km 61, where a Slaty-legged Crake popped out of the ditch at my feet.

The unremarkable spot beside the minor road below Km 61, where a Slaty-legged Crake popped out of the ditch at my feet.

The day’s highlight was still to come. At the point pictured above, I heard a strange call from next to the road. Peering into the undergrowth, I saw nothing, but a movement in my peripheral vision made me look down. There, right next to my feet, was a beautiful adult Slaty-legged Crake. It must have hopped out of the roadside ditch, and was now standing on the road literally three feet away from me. I don’t know which one of us was the most surprised. We eyeballed each other for a full five seconds, but as soon as I had gathered the presence of mind to slowly reach for my camera, naturally the bird quickly scampered into the bushes – never to be seen again.

Birding surprises don’t come much bigger than that. Slaty-legged Crake is a secretive and seldom-seen resident of lowland Taiwan, so to find one at least 1,000 meters up a mountain was unexpected to say the least. Along with Blue-breasted Quail, Eastern Grass Owl and Black-chinned Fruit Dove, it’s one of those enigmatic Taiwan residents that before today I reckoned I would have virtually no chance of connecting with during my time here.

Other birds seen during several short hikes at mid-high elevations during the weekend: Dusky, Taiwan, and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, White-tailed Robin, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Vivid Niltava, Eurasian Nuthatch, Green-backed Tit, Coal Tit, Flamecrest, Rufous-faced Warbler, Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler, Taiwan Yuhina, Steere’s Liocichla, White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Spotted Nutcracker and Large-billed Crow.

Lifer: Slaty-legged Crake (total 1,789). Year tick: Coal Tit (total 220).

Golden-headed Cisticola and Savanna Nightjar, east bank of the Gaoping River, August 15th

Highlights:

  • Savanna Nightjar 1
  • Cinnamon Bittern 3
  • Green Sandpiper 1
  • Lesser Coucal 1 heard
  • Golden-headed Cisticola 1
  • Zitting Cisticola 1
  • Little Ringed Plover 1
  • Common Sandpiper 2
  • Grey-throated Martin 40

A brief stop here on the way home from Dapeng Bay was very worthwhile, with several uncommon bird species encountered.

A very productive spot is a short stretch of a Gaoping River tributary, on the east (Pingtung) side of the river less than a kilometer north of the old railway bridge. A fast-flowing section of water has several bushy riverine islands with muddy edges, adjoining grassy meadowland. It’s only a small area but bird diversity and activity always seems high here.

On arrival, the first thing I noticed were several large fish in the road, a full 10 feet higher than the current water level. Further inspection revealed that the bushy islands had clearly been swamped by a huge volume of water recently, and a low bridge formerly used by trucks has completely disappeared. The recent very heavy rains must have created some quite spectacular flash flooding here.

Two scarce birds showed before I even got off my scooter: a Savanna Nightjar flushed from the roadside, and a Green Sandpiper on a muddy island shore. The latter species is a scarce passage migrant in this part of Taiwan, greatly outnumbered by Wood Sandpiper.

No fewer than three Cinnamon Bitterns were seen during my short visit: a male and a female flew over, a few minutes apart, and another female showed well in the open at the edge of one of the islands.

A Golden-headed Cisticola gave good views as it sang constantly from a bushtop throughout my visit, while a song-flighting Zitting Cisticola completed the Taiwan cisticola “double”.

Nearby, an unseen Lesser Coucal sang from a thick bush. This particular individual has had its territory significantly degraded by the flood waters, which have more or less stripped bare the bushes on the main riverine island.

White-winged Tern and Terek Sandpiper, Dapeng Bay, August 15th

Highlights:

  • Terek Sandpiper 1
  • Ruddy Turnstone 1
  • Grey-tailed Tattler 5
  • Red-necked Stint 8
  • Common Redshank 10
  • Common Greenshank 12
  • Mongolian Plover 15
  • Kentish Plover 15
  • Pacific Golden Plover 80
  • Black-winged Stilt 8
  • Common Sandpiper 1
  • White-winged Tern 1
  • Whiskered Tern 2
  • Yellow Bittern 1
  • Little Egret c.20

After a week of near-continuous torrential rain and relatively cool temperatures, summer has returned to southern Taiwan with 33C(91F) highs, baking sunshine and high humidity.

Today I set out early for Dapeng Bay, which is around a 50-55 minute drive from my home in north Kaohsiung. Thankfully, despite the abundant recent rainfall, the wader pools in the north-eastern corner of the bay had normal water levels. I spent about two hours watching these pools, and wandering south along the cycle path that borders the eastern edge of the bay.

Eleven shorebird species were seen, showing that autumn migration is well and truly under way. Best among these were a single Terek Sandpiper, a Ruddy Turnstone, five Grey-tailed Tattlers, and higher than usual numbers of Common Redshank and Common Greenshank. A flock of about 80 Pacific Golden Plovers circled the pools for a while; eventually some of them landed on the mud.

A near full summer-plumaged White-winged Tern flew through the area, heading east, and two Whiskered Terns settled on the mud for a time.

Finally, a good post-breeding build-up of Little Egrets will be worth keeping an eye on for Chinese Egret, which I saw here regularly in the spring.

Cinnamon Bittern and Broad-billed Sandpiper, West Coast Wetlands, August 9th

Highlights:

  • Avocet 1
  • Eastern Black-tailed Godwit 2
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper 40
  • Curlew Sandpiper 50
  • Dunlin 5
  • Red-necked Stint 80
  • Marsh Sandpiper 25
  • Common Greenshank 2
  • Common Redshank 7
  • Common Sandpiper 3
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Mongolian Plover
  • Kentish Plover
  • Little Ringed Plover 1
  • Cinnamon Bittern 2
  • Yellow Bittern 2
  • Whiskered Tern 3
  • Little Tern
  • Long-tailed Shrike 4

It’s been raining a lot in southern Taiwan recently. Over the last four days, parts of Kaohsiung have experienced more than London’s entire annual rainfall. Consequently, I’ve been unable to get much birding done. The mountains are potentially very dangerous, with rock falls and even major landslides common during wet weather, so locations such as Tengjhih are currently best avoided.

Saturday dawned rainy as usual, but I was completely fed up with being indoors so I decided to go out anyway. I headed north, as the forecast for Chiayi was slightly better than for the southern counties of Taiwan. It rained most of the way, but as I neared Budai, in northern Tainan County, the weather improved slightly. An area of pools at Km 134.5, along Highway 17, is always worth a look and so it proved today. Shorebird migration was much in evidence, with fourteen wader species showing well here, including Avocet and Eastern Black-tailed Godwit as well as good numbers of Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpipers.

This was as good as it got for today. Further north, at Aogu, the water level was too high for wading birds – a quick loop of the seawall revealed just four Long-tailed Shrikes of note. Similarly, at Qigu, further south near Tainan, there was no mud at all for passage waders. Finally, nearer Kaohsiung, the rains have transformed Cheting Marshes from an almost completely dried-out dust bowl to a lush reed-fringed marsh. Unfortunately, it was raining hard so I didn’t spend much time here, but it should be worth a look as the autumn wader season progresses.

The only other birds of note today were fly-overs: two separate Cinnamon Bitterns, including one at exactly the same spot – Km 123 on Highway 17 – where I found a dead one a few months ago.

Cheting Marshes: from dried-out dust bowl to lush marshland in just three months.

Cheting Marshes: from dried-out dust bowl to lush marshland in just three months (photo taken August 19th).