- Common Myna JAN 1
- Feral Pigeon
- Spotted Dove
- Cattle Egret
- House Swift
- Little Egret
- Grey Heron
- Red Collared Dove
- Grey Treepie
- Black Drongo
- Brown Shrike
- Eastern Buzzard JAN 2
- Eastern Spot-billed Duck
- Plain Prinia
- Pale Thrush
- Arctic Warbler
- Tufted Duck
- Taiwan Bulbul
- Blue Rock Thrush
- Brown-headed Thrush
- White-shouldered Starling
- Japanese White-eye
- Little Grebe
- White Wagtail
- Pacific Swallow
- Striated Swallow
- Common Teal
- Tree Sparrow
- Eurasian Kestrel JAN 3
- Black Bulbul
- Common Sandpiper
- Crested Serpent Eagle
- Javan Myna
- Crested Goshawk
- Black-eared Kite JAN 4
- Grey Wagtail
- Black Eagle
- Steere’s Liocichla
- Eurasian Jay
- Rusty Laughingthrush
- Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge
- Rufous-faced Warbler
- Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler
- Dusky Fulvetta
- Vivid Niltava
- White-tailed Robin
- Asian House Martin
- Taiwan Yuhina
- Taiwan Sibia
- Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler
- Black-faced Bunting
- Rufous-capped Babbler
- Asian Stubtail
- White-backed Woodpecker
- White-bellied Green Pigeon
- Green-backed Tit
- Eurasian Nuthatch
- Black-throated Tit
- Taiwan Thrush
- Taiwan Barbet
- Yellow-browed Warbler
- Grey-chinned Minivet
- Yellow Tit
- Morrison’s Fulvetta
- Daurian Redstart
- Bronzed Drongo
- Common Pochard JAN 6
- Eurasian Coot
- Yellow Bittern
- Common Kingfisher
- Red-throated Pipit
- Eastern Yellow Wagtail
- Eurasian Magpie
- Northern Pintail
- Northern Shoveler
- Eurasian Wigeon
- Great Egret
- Marsh Sandpiper
- Common Greenshank
- Black-winged Stilt
- Common Moorhen
- Grey-throated Martin
- Oriental Skylark
- Grey Heron
- Black-crowned Night Heron
- Chinese Bulbul
- Scaly-breasted Munia
- Whiskered Tern
- Black-faced Spoonbill
- Caspian Tern
- Sacred Ibis
- Great Cormorant
- Greater Scaup
- Pacific Golden Plover
- Black-headed Gull
- Barn Swallow
- Black-necked Grebe
- Long-tailed Shrike
- Black-shouldered Kite
- Wood Sandpiper
- Grey Plover
- Kentish Plover
- Mongolian Gull
- Saunder’s Gull
- Black-tailed Gull
- Eurasian Curlew
- Spotted Redshank
- Intermediate Egret
- Oriental Magpie-Robin
- Common Redshank
- Eurasian Spoonbill
- Purple Heron
- Asian Glossy Starling JAN 7
- Black-naped Monarch JAN 11
- Grey-capped Woodpecker
- Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler
- Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler
- Maroon Oriole
- White-rumped Munia
- Large-billed Crow
- Japanese Thrush
- Grey-faced Buzzard
- Oriental Honey-Buzzard
- Olive-backed Pipit
- White-bellied Erpornis
- Plumbeous Redstart
- Common Snipe JAN 13
- Little Ringed Plover
- Green Sandpiper
- Emerald Dove
- Yellow-bellied Prinia
- Chestnut-tailed Starling
- Savanna Nightjar JAN 17
- Blue-breasted Quail
- Oriental Stork
- Pacific Reef Heron JAN 18
- Siberian Stonechat
- Red Knot
- Mongolian Plover
- Red-necked Stint
- Long-toed Stint
- Great Crested Grebe JAN 20
- Richard’s Pipit
- Curlew Sandpiper
- Little Tern
- Azure-winged Magpie
- Ferruginous Duck
- Pheasant-tailed Jacana
- Malayan Night Heron JAN 28
- Oriental Turtle Dove
- Manchurian Bush-Warbler
- Taiwan Blue Magpie
- Dusky Thrush JAN 29
- Black-collared Starling
The De-en Gorge Loop Trail (a 4km walk on communications roads behind the De-En Gorge guesthouse) is always a wonderful spot for birds, that occasionally produces a real surprise.
Today that surprise was in the form of an adult male Japanese Thrush. I had been trying to catch a glimpse of some Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babblers I could hear calling in a patch of scrub and woodland, when a thrush started persistently “chacking” in the same area. Something about the tone of the call made me want to take a closer look – I had a hunch that this bird was something other than the usual suspects Pale Thrush and Brown-headed Thrush. After much careful stalking and manoeuvring, I was able to locate the bird from the flicking of its wings every time it called. It was facing me on a low twig only about six inches off the ground, and although my view was partially obscured I immediately saw that it had a black upper breast contrasting with a white belly that was covered in black spots. I am moderately familiar with Japanese Thrush, having seen small numbers of them on migration in Korea, and I knew straight away that was what it was. I shifted position slightly and had a partial glimpse of the head, which seemed all black but with a clear view of a striking yellow-orange bill. I couldn’t see any eye ring, but my view of the head was poor.
I didn’t get any better views, as the bird suddenly flew further back into the forest, not to be seen again. Japanese Thrush is a rare migrant in Taiwan and I hadn’t heard of it overwintering here, but I guess it’s not all that unexpected given that its closest known wintering grounds are just across the water in SE China.
While I was peering at the Japanese Thrush, I could hear an Asian Stubtail calling, and after a patient wait I finally obtained some excellent views. Later, I saw another one further along the trail. Learning to recognize its call – a loud and distinctively wet sounding ticking – is the key to finding one. Once located, it seems they can fairly easily be lured into view by “pishing”.
Other specialities of the area seen today: Maroon Oriole, White-bellied Erpornis, Black-necklaced and Taiwan Scimitar-Babblers, Vivid Niltava, Plumbeous Redstart at the waterfall just before the entrance to the De-En Gorge guesthouse, and a nice range of raptors including Oriental Honey Buzzard, Grey-faced Buzzard, Crested Goshawk, and numerous Crested Serpent Eagles.
Taiwan tick: Japanese Thrush (total 277).
With just a few hours of daylight left in 2014 – and with almost no chance of adding another bird to the year list – it’s time for a summary of what was a fantastic year’s birding in Taiwan.
My birding year took me almost all over Taiwan, but as my main form of transportation is a scooter, I was generally restricted to the southern half of the country – mainly the counties of Kaohsiung, Tainan, Pingtung, and Chiayi. I ended the year with 265 bird species seen. This included all the recognised endemic birds with the exception of Mikado Pheasant.
A measure of the quality of this year is that I only saw seven species in 2013 that I did not see again in 2014. These were Mikado Pheasant, Bulwer’s Petrel, Pied Harrier, Oriental Plover, Chinese Tawny Owl, Chinese Hwamei and Eurasian Siskin.
My full year list is shown below. The number in brackets after the species name is the approximate number of occasions I saw the bird during the year (C= common, FC = fairly common). Sites where I saw each bird are also listed where relevant:
- Swinhoe’s Pheasant (2) – Dasyueshan, Huisun.
- Ring-necked Pheasant (3) – northern Kaohsiung, Qigu, Guantian.
- Taiwan Hill Partridge (3) – Tengjhih.
- Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge (FC)
- Eurasian Wigeon (C)
- Mallard (2) – Yuanfugang, Cheting.
- Northern Pintail (C)
- Gadwall (2) – Aogu, Cheting.
- Eastern Spot-billed Duck (FC)
- Northern Shoveler (C)
- Garganey (FC)
- Eurasian Teal (C)
- Tufted Duck (FC)
- Common Pochard (FC) – Cheting, Budai.
- Streaked Shearwater (1) – Lanyu island ferry crossing.
- Wedge-tailed Shearwater (1) – Lanyu island ferry crossing.
- Brown Booby (1) – Lanyu island ferry crossing.
- Lesser Frigatebird (1) – over Highway 9 in Taitung County.
- Little Grebe (C)
- Black-necked Grebe (2) – Budai, Aogu.
- Greater Flamingo (2) – Budai.
- Sacred Ibis (C)
- Black-faced Spoonbill (C)
- Eurasian Spoonbill (2) – Cheting.
- Great Bittern (2) – Cheting.
- Yellow Bittern (FC)
- Cinnamon Bittern (FC)
- Black-crowned Night Heron (C)
- Malayan Night Heron (5) – Maolin, Sajia, Qigu, Taitung County, Kaohsiung City.
- Striated Heron (1) – Qigu.
- Chinese Pond Heron (2) – Guantian.
- Cattle Egret (C)
- Grey Heron (C)
- Purple Heron (3) – Qigu, Aogu, Cheting.
- Great Egret (C)
- Intermediate Egret (FC)
- Little Egret (C)
- Chinese Egret (4) – Qigu, Dapeng Bay.
- Pacific Reef Egret (3) – Kenting, Taitung.
- Great Cormorant (FC) – Aogu, Budai, Yuanfugang.
- Osprey (5) – Yilan, Aogu, Qigu, , Budai, Taitung County.
- Peregrine (4) – Yilan, Qigu, Maolin.
- Eurasian Kestrel (FC)
- Oriental Honey-buzzard (FC)
- Black-eared Kite (FC) – Tsengwen, Maolin, Wutai.
- Black-shouldered Kite (FC) – Gaoping River valley, Cheting, Qigu, Budai, Aogu.
- Black Eagle (FC) – Tengjhih.
- Crested Serpent Eagle (C)
- Grey-faced Buzzard (FC)
- Besra (2) – Tengjhih.
- Crested Goshawk (C)
- Chinese Sparrowhawk (3) – NW Kaohsiung hills, Qigu.
- White-breasted Waterhen (FC)
- Common Moorhen (C)
- Eurasian Coot (C)
- Ruddy-breasted Crake (2) – Guantian, Qigu.
- Slaty-legged Crake (1) – Alishan.
- Barred Buttonquail (1) – Aogu.
- Black-winged Stilt (C)
- Pied Avocet (FC) – Cheting, Budai, Aogu.
- Pacific Golden Plover (C)
- Grey Plover (FC)
- Greater Sandplover (3) – Cheting, Budai.
- Mongolian Plover (FC)
- Common Ringed Plover (1) – Budai.
- Little Ringed Plover (C)
- Kentish Plover (C)
- Ruddy Turnstone (4) – Dapeng Bay, Qigu, Budai.
- Pheasant-tailed Jacana (5) – Guantian, Yuanfugang, Gaoping River valley.
- Greater Painted-Snipe (5) – Guantian, Qigu, Cheting.
- Common Snipe (FC)
- Pintail Snipe (2) – Beimen, Qigu.
- Swinhoe’s Snipe (1) – Guantian.
- Spotted Redshank (4) – Budai, Cheting.
- Common Redshank (C)
- Common Greenshank (C)
- Grey-tailed Tattler (FC)
- Terek Sandpiper (FC)
- Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (FC)
- Marsh Sandpiper (C)
- Green Sandpiper (3) – Gaoping River valley, Aogu.
- Wood Sandpiper (C)
- Common Sandpiper (C)
- Great Knot (2) – Dapeng Bay, Aogu.
- Red Knot (1) – Aogu.
- Sanderling (1) – Qigu.
- Dunlin (C)
- Curlew Sandpiper (C)
- Broad-billed Sandpiper (FC)
- Red-necked Stint (C)
- Long-toed Stint (C)
- Temminck’s Stint (2) – Gaoping River valley, Budai.
- Asian Dowitcher (4) – Aogu, Budai, Dapeng Bay, Qigu.
- Long-billed Dowitcher (1) – Qigu.
- Eastern Black-tailed Godwit (FC)
- Bar-tailed Godwit (2) – Qigu.
- Ruff (2) – Beimen, Qigu.
- Eurasian Curlew (FC)
- Whimbrel (FC)
- Oriental Pratincole (FC)
- Heuglin’s Gull (1) – near Aogu.
- Mongolian Gull (2) – Budai.
- Black-tailed Gull (1) – Kaohsiung harbor.
- Black-headed Gull (5) – Dapeng Bay, Budai, Aogu, Qigu.
- Great Crested Tern (4) – Dapeng Bay, Qigu.
- Caspian Tern (FC)
- Gull-billed Tern (5) – Qigu, Budai, Dapeng Bay.
- Common Tern (1) – Dapeng Bay.
- Little Tern (C)
- Black-naped Tern (3) – Lanyu, Taitung County, Kenting.
- White-winged Tern (FC)
- Whiskered Tern (C)
- Lanyu Scops Owl (2) – Lanyu.
- Northern Boobook (2) – Qigu.
- Short-eared Owl (1) – Cheting.
- Savanna Nightjar (FC)
- Ashy Woodpigeon (1) – Blue Gate Trail, Wushe.
- Feral Pigeon (C)
- Red Collared Dove (C)
- Spotted Dove (C)
- Peaceful Dove (2) – Zuoying, Kaohsiung.
- White-bellied Green Pigeon (5) – Tengjhih.
- Taiwan Green Pigeon (2) – Lanyu.
- Philippine Cuckoo-Dove (1) – Lanyu.
- Emerald Dove (FC)
- Lesser Coucal (2) – Gaoping River valley.
- Oriental Cuckoo (3) – Yuanfugang, Aogu, Qigu.
- Fork-tailed Swift (3) – Kaohsiung, Wutai.
- House Swift (C)
- Common Kingfisher (C)
- Ruddy Kingfisher (1) – Qigu.
- Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker (C)
- White-backed Woodpecker (1) – Yushan.
- Taiwan Barbet (C)
- Fairy Pitta (1) – Huben.
- Black-winged Cuckooshrike (1) – Qigu.
- Grey-chinned Minivet (FC)
- Brown Shrike (C)
- Long-tailed Shrike (FC)
- Black-naped Oriole (1) – Kaohsiung.
- Maroon Oriole (C) – Maolin, Tsengwen, Tengjhih, Zhiben.
- Black Drongo (C)
- Bronzed Drongo (FC)
- Black-naped Monarch (C)
- Asian Paradise-Flycatcher (1) – Qigu.
- Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher (2) – Lanyu.
- Eurasian Magpie (C)
- Azure-winged Magpie (1) – Tainan.
- Taiwan Blue Magpie (6) – Maolin, Huisun, Southern Cross-Island Highway.
- Grey Treepie (C)
- Large-billed Crow (FC)
- Spotted Nutcracker (FC) – Yushan, Dasyueshan.
- Eurasian Jay (4) – Tengjhih.
- Coal Tit (4) – Yushan, Dasyueshan.
- Varied Tit (1) – Huisun.
- Black-throated Tit (C)
- Green-backed Tit (C)
- Yellow Tit (FC) – Tengjhih, Dasyueshan.
- Eurasian Nuthatch (3) – Tengjhih, Yushan.
- Grey-throated Martin (C)
- Asian House Martin (FC)
- Barn Swallow (C)
- Pacific Swallow (C)
- Striated Swallow (C)
- Oriental Skylark (C)
- Zitting Cisticola (C)
- Golden-headed Cisticola (3) – Kaohsiung, Gaoping River valley.
- Yellow-bellied Prinia (C)
- Plain Prinia (C)
- Striated Prinia (5) – Tengjhih, Wutai, Alishan.
- Collared Finchbill (C)
- Chinese Bulbul (C)
- Taiwan Bulbul (C)
- Brown-eared Bulbul (C) – Lanyu.
- Black Bulbul (C)
- Oriental Reed Warbler (4) – Yuanfugang, Qigu, Cheting.
- Arctic Warbler (FC)
- Yellow-browed Warbler (FC)
- Pallas’s Warbler (1) – Qigu.
- Dusky Warbler (1) – Tengjhih.
- Middendorff’s Grasshopper-Warbler (1) – Lanyu.
- Korean Bush-Warbler (3) – Tengjhih, Yuanfugang.
- Taiwan Bush-Warbler (1) – Alishan.
- Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler (C)
- Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler (1) – Chun Yang Farm.
- Rufous-faced Warbler (C)
- Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler (FC)
- Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler (5) – Maolin, Tengjhih.
- Rufous-capped Babbler (C)
- Taiwan Wren-Babbler (1) – Yushan.
- Taiwan Hwamei (4) – Kaohsiung, Dasyueshan, Dapu (Tsengwen Reservoir)
- White-whiskered Laughingthrush (FC)
- Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush (2) – Tengjhih.
- Rusty Laughingthrush (6) – Tengjhih, Dahansan, Alishan, Chun Yang, Dasyueshan.
- Steere’s Liocichla (C)
- Taiwan Barwing (1) – Dasyueshan.
- Taiwan Fulvetta (FC) – Yushan, Dasyueshan.
- Dusky Fulvetta (4) – Tengjhih, Alishan, Chun Yang.
- Morrison’s Fulvetta (C)
- Taiwan Sibia (C)
- Taiwan Yuhina (C)
- White-bellied Erpornis (5) – Maolin.
- Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (FC) – Tengjhih, Yushan, Blue Gate Trails.
- Plain Flowerpecker (5) – Sun Moon Lake, Maolin.
- Golden Parrotbill (1) – Yushan.
- Vinous-throated Parrotbill (1) – Puli.
- Japanese White-eye (C)
- Lowland White-eye (C) – Lanyu.
- Flamecrest (FC) – Yushan, Dasyueshan.
- Goldcrest (1) – Qigu.
- Asian Glossy Starling (FC) – Kaohsiung.
- Crested Myna (2) – Cheting, north Kaohsiung.
- Javan Myna (C)
- Common Myna (C)
- Black-collared Starling (1) – north Kaohsiung.
- Red-billed Starling (2) – Cheting.
- White-shouldered Starling (FC)
- Chestnut-tailed Starling (FC) – Cheting, Budai, north Kaohsiung.
- Pale Thrush (C)
- Brown-headed Thrush (C)
- Taiwan Thrush (2) – Maolin, Dasyueshan.
- Eyebrowed Thrush (1) – Tengjhih.
- Scaly Thrush (3) – Tengjhih, Maolin.
- Siberian Thrush (1) – Qigu.
- Taiwan Whistling-Thrush (6) – Tengjhih, Wutai, Yushan.
- Oriental Magpie-Robin (C)
- White-rumped Shama (1) – Tianliao.
- Taiwan Shortwing (1) – Tengjhih.
- Daurian Redstart (C)
- Plumbeous Redstart (FC)
- Siberian Rubythroat (2) – Tengjhih.
- Red-flanked Bluetail (3) – Tengjhih, Qigu.
- Siberian Blue Robin (1) – Qigu.
- White-tailed Robin (FC)
- Little Forktail (1) – Wushe.
- Collared Bush-Robin (FC)
- White-browed Robin (1) – Yushan.
- Blue Rock Thrush (C)
- Asian Brown Flycatcher (3) – Qigu.
- Grey-streaked Flycatcher (1) – Qigu.
- Mugimaki Flycatcher (1) – Qigu.
- Ferruginous Flycatcher (2) – Yushan.
- Snowy-browed Flycatcher (3) – Blue Gate Trails, Chun Yang, Huisun.
- Blue-and-White Flycatcher (1) – Qigu.
- Vivid Niltava (FC)
- Brown Dipper (1) – Dasyueshan.
- Tree Sparrow (C)
- Russet Sparrow (1) – Alishan.
- White-rumped Munia (C)
- Scaly-breasted Munia (C)
- Indian Silverbill (2) – Gaoping River valley, Yuanfugang.
- Alpine Accentor (1) – Hehuanshan.
- Eastern Yellow Wagtail (C)
- White Wagtail (C)
- Grey Wagtail (C)
- Richard’s Pipit (FC)
- Red-throated Pipit (FC)
- Olive-backed Pipit (FC)
- Brambling (1) – Qigu.
- Grey-headed Bullfinch (1) – Dasyueshan.
- Brown Bullfinch (2) – Tengjhih, Wutai.
- Vinaceous Rosefinch (FC)
- Little Bunting (1) – Qigu.
- Tristram’s Bunting (1) – Donggang.
- Black-faced Bunting (FC)
Lifers (new birds) I saw in 2014: Swinhoe’s Snipe, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Taiwan Hill Partridge, Greater Painted-Snipe, Fairy Pitta, Russet Sparrow, Taiwan Bush-Warbler, Lanyu Scops Owl, Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher, Taiwan Green Pigeon, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Lowland White-eye, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Lesser Frigatebird, Slaty-legged Crake, Northern Boobook, Heuglin’s Gull and Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler.
- Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush 4
- Yellow Tit 2
- Maroon Oriole 1 male
- Black Eagle 1
- Vivid Niltava 1 male
- White-tailed Robin 3
- Green-backed Tit 5
- Black-throated Tit 30
- Grey-cheeked Fulvetta 1
- Rufous-capped Babbler 2
- Rufous-faced Warbler 15
- Steere’s Liocichla 15
- Taiwan Sibia 5
- House Swift 30
- Striated Swallow 30
- Crested Serpent Eagle heard
- Taiwan Barbet heard
- Striated Prinia heard
Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush can be a particularly tricky Taiwanese endemic bird to see. Visiting birders usually see it in the north-central mountains at Dasyueshan – which is where I’ve had my only previous sighting – or one of the other mountain locations in the north. Further south, reports of this species are few and far between.
It had crossed my mind that there was a possibility to see this bird at Tengjhih, but I considered it an outside chance at best. So it was quite a surprise to encounter a group of four of these lovely birds, high in trees along the trail to the Tengjhih National Forest park headquarters. Two of them showed fairly well – including a preening bird in full view for a time. Much better than my previous sighting at Dasyueshan in dense fog.
Otherwise, bird activity was a lot higher than on my last Tengjhih visit in early June. Several post-breeding flocks of birds were roving through the forest and edges, including Yellow Tit and a good count of 5 individual Green-backed Tits. Oddly, no Taiwan Yuhinas were seen – usually it’s one of the commonest birds here. A male Maroon Oriole along the road near park headquarters was a surprising find at this altitude, a male Vivid Niltava sang from a bare tree branch at Km 18, and a superb Black Eagle passed low overhead near the Km 15 village.
Year tick: Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush (total 217).
This is not entirely related to Taiwan, but working on my East Asian bird list the other day had me thinking about my favorite East Asian birds of all time. These are the critically endangered birds that I may never see again, those I worked the hardest to see, or simply the ones that remind me of a particular favorite place or great birding trip.
So, seeing as it’s summer and real birding is in short supply right now, I decided to take a virtual birding trip through the last eight years and put together a list of my favorite East Asian bird sightings. I had originally planned to compile a “Top 20” list, but with more than three times this number of species on my original draft, it was impossible to reduce it to 20.
Here are my Top 50 birds:
Japanese Night Heron: Endangered. One of those unexpected birding moments was finding one standing beside a concrete drainage channel at Taejongdae in Busan, at the very south-easternmost tip of South Korea, one April morning. It’s a very rare migrant in Korea.
Oriental White Stork: Endangered. A rare winter visitor to South Korea, but its size, coloration and preference for open marshes can make it conspicuous where it occurs. A group of five birds seen at Seosan, a regular wintering site.
Storm’s Stork: Endangered. Seen on several occasions along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. This bird was one of the outstanding highlights of the narrow and bird-rich forest along the river, which is sadly much encroached-upon by palm oil plantations.
Giant Ibis: Critically endangered. Tmatboey in northern Cambodia is the last remaining place to find this spectacular and elusive bird, which seems like a relic from another era. We spent several days walking through the forest, checking the damp “trapaengs”, but it wasn’t until the last afternoon of our stay that we were finally able to enjoy incredible views of a pair.
White-shouldered Ibis: Critically endangered. In the same area as the Giant Ibis, but easier to find as it has regular roosting sites.
Lesser White-fronted Goose: Vulnerable. Each year, 1 – 5 of these rare birds overwintered among 10,000 Greater White-fronted Geese at my local patch in South Korea, Junam Reservoir. They always presented a special challenge to locate among the vast goose flocks.
Swan Goose: Endangered. Seen regularly in small numbers each winter at Junam Reservoir, South Korea.
Baikal Teal: Vulnerable. A beautiful and unpredictable East Asian duck, which wintered in highly variable numbers at Junam Reservoir, South Korea. Sometimes up to 3,000 were present during winter, but at other times just low single-figure counts.
Baer’s Pochard: Critically endangered and likely to become extinct in the next 10-15 years. An adult drake overwintered at Junam Reservoir, South Korea, in 2010/2011. Due to the catastrophic speed of its decline, this is a bird I feel I am unlikely to ever see again.
Scaly-sided Merganser: Vulnerable. A speciality of South Korea that winters in small numbers on cold, fast-flowing rivers.
Steller’s Sea Eagle: Vulnerable. One of the world’s most spectacular birds of prey, small numbers (probably less than 10) overwinter each year in South Korea. Fairly conspicuous at its regular wintering sites. For me, this bird is synonymous with the partly frozen river mouths of the east coast of Korea on bitterly cold mid-winter days.
Eastern Imperial Eagle: Vulnerable. Accidental visitor to South Korea. An overwintering bird at Junam Reservoir, South Korea, in 2010/2011.
White-rumped Falcon: An inconspicuous and uncommon bird of dry deciduous forest in Southeast Asia, which I finally saw in northern Cambodia in 2012 after looking for it without success at Doi Inthanon in Thailand many times over a five-year period.
Taiwan Hill Partridge: One of the most difficult Taiwan endemics to see, it was most satisfying to find my “own” birds (away from the usually visited stakeouts) at Tengjhih National Forest in southern Taiwan.
Siamese Fireback: One of the world’s most subtly beautiful chickens, and one of the first really good birds I saw in SE Asia, at the excellent Cat Tien National Park in southern Vietnam in March 2006.
Mrs Hume’s Pheasant: A speciality of the grassy mountain forests of north-west Thailand, this bird can be hard to find even at its best-known stakeout, Doi Chiang Dao. I’ve seen it there on three out of perhaps fifteen visits. It’s a real stunner when seen well.
Swinhoe’s Pheasant: This Taiwanese endemic is well staked-out at several sites in the mountains of central Taiwan. I’ve seen it at one of these spots, at Km 23 on the Dasyueshan road, and also very well at the Huisun Forest reserve.
Mikado Pheasant: Probably the harder of the two Taiwan endemic pheasants to find. My only sighting to date was of a male on the verge of Highway 18 between Alishan and Yushan, where it is regularly seen but usually only very early in the morning.
Bengal Florican: Critically endangered. The world’s rarest bustard. Seen several times in the grasslands of Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province.
White-naped Crane: Vulnerable. Up to 150 birds overwinter at Junam Reservoir in South Korea, despite the constant degradation of habitat and increase in human disturbance there.
Red-crowned Crane: Endangered. Large flocks winter close to the DMZ in northern South Korea, but my first and most memorable sighting of this species was a single bird in the south of the country at Junam Reservoir.
Oriental Plover: A rare and enigmatic migrant in East Asia. One on a grassy headland on Green Island, Taiwan, in April 2013.
Asian Dowitcher: A rare and range-restricted East Asian wader. Seen in winter in coastal Thailand, and I also found lone migrant birds at both Aogu and Tainan on the Taiwan coast in spring 2014.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Critically endangered, and along with Baer’s Pochard and Giant Ibis, a likely candidate for imminent extinction. Seen at Pak Thale in Thailand, its most famous recent wintering site, in December 2012. Still hoping to find a migrant in Taiwan sometime.
Relict Gull: Vulnerable. A rather odd and little-known gull that winters in tiny numbers in South Korea. Seen on the Nakdong Estuary in Busan.
Chinese Tawny Owl: Like most owls, hard to find. Seen only once, close to Tataka in the Yushan National Park, Taiwan.
Spot-bellied Eagle Owl: This bird reminds me of many enjoyable evenings spent drinking beer while keeping half an eye open for owls in the grounds of Malee’s Bungalows in Chiang Dao, Thailand. Just once have my “efforts” been rewarded with a dusk fly-through view of this imposing species.
White-fronted Scops Owl: Excellent views of a day-roosting pair at the well-known stakeout in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand.
Lanyu Scops Owl: A classic endemic owl, the hard part is getting to its remote home island, but once you’re there in good weather conditions this species is not difficult to locate.
Fairy Pitta: Vulnerable. All of my East Asian pitta sightings probably warrant a place on this list, but Fairy Pitta is one of the most memorable of all due to its rarity and the quite exceptional views I enjoyed at Linnei Park, Taiwan.
Giant Pitta: One of the most difficult-to-see members of a notoriously elusive family. My only Giant Pitta was located by my bird guide during a night walk in forest next to the Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo, where we had views down to a few feet as it roosted in a low tree. It was the first Giant Pitta my guide had ever seen, although he had spent more than 300 days guiding in the area – he was almost as excited as I was about this probable once-in-a-lifetime sighting.
Great Hornbill: Like the pittas, most of the spectacular hornbills arguably warrant a place on the Top 50 list. The Great Hornbill is the most beautiful of all, and one that I’ve seen on several occasions in Kaeng Krachan and Khao Yai, Thailand. The sound of its enormous wings beating overhead, or the sight of one perched in an ancient forest tree, are a reminder of former times when human pressures on the land were far less intense.
Bornean Bristlehead: Endemic to the island of Borneo, this scarce bird is high on the target list for any birder visiting the Danum Valley, where I encountered flocks of this rather odd species on two occasions during my five-day stay.
Jerdon’s Bushchat: This is a sought-after Southeast Asian species that I first saw from a boat on the Mekong river in Laos in 2006 – an excellent “seen from a boat” tick! More recently, I have seen it again at a regular stakeout near Tha Ton in northern Thailand.
Japanese Robin: This charismatic bird is a rare migrant in South Korea. Along with the spectacular Narcissus Flycatcher, it was the most hoped-for bird on the best April mornings for migrants at Taejongdae, South Korea.
Taiwan Thrush: The true thrushes are one of my favorite bird families, and I have been lucky enough to see most of the regular East Asian species. It was hard to choose just a couple of species for this list, but the stunning Taiwan Thrush, with its all-white head, is hard to beat. Its unpredictability and rarity add to its allure. I’ve encountered it on just two occasions in Taiwan.
Siberian Thrush: Another thrush that makes the grade is the beautiful Siberian Thrush, which I have seen on a few occasions in spring close to the lighthouse and in the wooded valley at Taejongdae, South Korea.
Green Cochoa: A beautiful, highly sought-after, very uncommon and difficult to find bird of hill forests in northern Thailand. It’s one of my “lucky birds” that I seem to see more than most other birders. The classic site is Doi Inthanon, but I’ve also encountered it at Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.
Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler: Vulnerable. This unremarkable-looking East Asian endemic lives mainly on remote islands. It makes this list because of its rarity, and the fact that it reminds me of a highly productive May visit to watch migrant birds on Gageo island, off the southwest coast of South Korea.
Narcissus Flycatcher: No one who has seen a spring male Narcissus Flycatcher could remain unmoved by the experience. Field guide plates cannot do justice to its beauty, and the depth of the yellow and fiery orange is simply amazing. I saw this bird several times in April at Taejongdae, South Korea.
Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher: Like Narcissus Flycatcher, this is a bird whose beauty in the flesh exceeds any field guide plate or photo I have seen. Two males on Lanyu Island, off the coast of Taiwan, were one of the highlights of my trip there.
Japanese Waxwing: An unusually late winter visitor to South Korea, usually arriving in mid-winter and staying until May in numbers that fluctuate widely each year. I found flocks of this beautiful bird on several occasions at Junam Reservoir.
Giant Nuthatch: A speciality of the montane pine forests of northern Thailand, especially at Doi Chiang Dao, where it seems to be becoming harder to find.
Yellow Tit: A contender for the cutest Taiwanese endemic bird, but it’s also one of the least common, and one of the few that are classified as Near Threatened – in this case due to illegal capture for the cage bird trade. It’s not too hard to find at Tengjhih National Forest in winter, and at one or two other sites in the central mountains.
Grey-headed Parrotbill: A speciality of Doi Chiang Dao in northern Thailand, where noisy feeding flocks can sometimes be seen especially behind the DYK substation. Like most parrotbills, it is charismatic, uncommon and unpredictable, and this bird has an especially smart and clean-cut appearance.
Cutia: A prize Southeast Asian bird that I’ve seen only once, in montane forest on the upper slopes of Lang Biang mountain in Vietnam.
Red-faced Liocichla: One of the birds I’ve spent the most time trying to find, I put in around 25 hours in the field over a three-day period before finally securing my first sighting of this spectacular laughingthrush at Doi Angkhang, northern Thailand, in June 2006. On subsequent visits to the area, I have found it much more easily.
Taiwan Blue Magpie: Beautiful, charismatic, and often tricky to find, the Taiwan Blue Magpie is a strong contender for the most appealing Taiwanese endemic bird. I’ve encountered it at the classic site, Huisun Forest, but also regularly at the Maolin valley near Kaohsiung, and in the southern mountains on the Pingtung/Taitung border.
Daurian Jackdaw: A winter visitor in small numbers mainly to the northern part of South Korea. When present it’s easy to spot and very distinctive among flocks of wintering Rooks. It was one of my most wanted birds for many years after a failed “twitch” from the UK to Holland in the mid-1990s, so it was good to finally lay that ghost to rest in South Korea in 2010.
Ochre-rumped Bunting: Many of South Korea’s buntings have a claim to a place on this list, including the range-restricted Grey Bunting and rapidly-declining Yellow-breasted Bunting, but it’s the rare Ochre-rumped Bunting that makes the grade.
The super-hot Taiwan summer is in full swing and birding activity is low, so beach weekends have taken over from birding trips – at least until wader passage starts up again in August.
One local year tick I finally saw today was Peaceful Dove, also known as Zebra Dove. Kaohsiung has a small introduced population of these tiny doves, including a few pairs along the Love River, barely half a mile from my house. Urban pigeons, even cute ones like the Peaceful Dove, don’t get the pulse racing ….. which is probably why it’s taken me until July to go and see them.
I’ve also been hard at work compiling my East Asian bird list. Up until now, I’ve had separate lists for Southeast Asia, Korea, and Taiwan. I thought it would be interesting to combine them, which also provided a timely opportunity for some list housekeeping: the weeding out of any recently “lumped” species, and the incorporation of the latest splits.
The result was a respectable pan-East Asian list of 866 species. Thailand is the country where I’ve seen the highest number of birds, although I don’t keep a Thai list on its own. In rough order, next is South Korea, then Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysian Borneo (Sabah) and Vietnam, with only around 10 additional species added during mainly non-birding visits to Indonesia and Laos.
Year tick: Peaceful Dove (total 216).
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.