Crested Myna and four species of starlings, Cheting (茄萣) area, March 11th

Black-faced Spoonbills at the Yongan Wetland Reserve in Greater Kaohsiung, March 11th.

Black-faced Spoonbills at the Yongan Wetland Reserve in Greater Kaohsiung, March 11th.

Highlights:

  • Red-billed Starling 6
  • White-shouldered Starling 100
  • Black-collared Starling 1
  • Chestnut-tailed Starling 5
  • Crested Myna 4
  • Black-faced Spoonbill 34
  • Sacred Ibis 1
  • Avocet 16
  • Black-winged Stilt 100
  • Common Greenshank 20
  • Common Redshank 1
  • Marsh Sandpiper 1
  • Wood Sandpiper 1
  • Common Sandpiper 1
  • Little Ringed Plover 2
  • Red-throated Pipit 1
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail 1
  • Oriental Reed Warbler 1
  • Long-tailed Shrike 2
  • Common Kingfisher 10
  • Grey-throated Martin 5
  • Barn Swallow 20

This winter, Qigu’s Black-faced Spoonbill flock has been dispersing a little more widely than usual, with the result that good numbers are wintering further south in Greater Kaohsiung. Local media has cited disturbance caused by visitors to the Qigu reserve, and changes in the management of the Qigu fish ponds as possible causes.

Today, I went to check out one of the Kaohsiung wintering areas, Cheting (茄萣), which has been the focus of local media attention because of a proposed new road through the middle of the marshes.

Cheting lies to the west of Highway 17, close to the intersection where the northbound 17 turns sharply left and Highway 28 joins from the right. It’s a huge area covered mostly with commercial fishponds, canals, scrub and industrial wasteland. I never did find the “exact” spot for the spoonbills (or at least, nothing that quite resembled the marshland area pictured in the China Post article).

Getting lost has its advantages, however. On a minor road alongside a canal, there were big numbers of White-shouldered Starlings in the bushes, on the ground and on overhead wires. I guessed there were well over 100 birds in the flock. Closer scrutiny revealed at least 6 Red-billed Starlings among their number. This is a scarce winter visitor to Taiwan, and a bird I have only encountered once before on a remote Korean offshore island.

Also in this area were two Crested Mynas among the abundant Javan and Common Mynas, a singing Oriental Reed Warbler, plenty of Common Kingfishers, and a flock of 18 Black-faced Spoonbills passing overhead. I wanted them to land somewhere and reveal the location of the best marshes, but they seemed to overfly the area completely, heading north.

I returned to Highway 17 and headed back south for a few kilometers, as far as a small village, where I turned west again and tried to navigate a large and confusing area of fish ponds. Roads petered out or were blocked by gates, and there were plenty of locals giving me curious stares. There was no sign of any spoonbills or marshes, but there were some interesting birds to be seen: a beautiful summer-plumaged Red-throated Pipit, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, a Long-tailed Shrike, and a scattering of waders whenever a fishpond had been drained to reveal its muddy basin. These included Common Greenshanks, Black-winged Stilts, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, and singles of Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers and Common Redshank.

My third and final port of call in this extensive area was the Yongan Wetland Reserve, which lies a couple of kilometers west of Highway 17 and is clearly signposted. A small blind offers views across a large, shallow lagoon. There were plenty of birds here, but a rather limited list of species: 16 Black-faced Spoonbills, a Sacred Ibis, 16 Avocets, and plenty of Black-winged Stilts and Eurasian Teal.

Trees in bloom near Yongan Wetlands Reserve, which were full of birds including Chestnut-tailed Starling.

Trees in bloom near Yongan Wetland Reserve, which were full of birds including Chestnut-tailed Starling.

Nearby, some flowering trees attracted lots of birds, including a few Chestnut-tailed Starlings. This attractive bird is introduced in Taiwan, and according to the literature, the Kaohsiung area is a good place to look for it.

As I headed home, I speculated on the chances of seeing a fourth starling species today. I must have manifested the appearance of Black-collared Starling because, just a few kilometers further along, I spotted one on the roadside. This large and beautiful starling is a native of south east Asia and has been introduced to Taiwan, but it is uncommon. In the same spot, there were also 2 Crested Mynas on overhead wires, allowing a direct comparison with the far more common introduced Javan Mynas.

So I didn’t find the Cheting wetland today, but the starlings and Crested Mynas provided more than ample compensation, and a good reason to return to the area soon and try again.

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Yellow Bittern and Sacred Ibis, Yuanfugang Wetland Park, January 23rd

Highlights:

  • Sacred Ibis 15
  • Yellow Bittern 1
  • Pheasant-tailed Jacana 4
  • Garganey 2
  • Brown-headed Thrush 4
  • Dusky Warbler 1
  • Korean Bush Warbler 1
  • Grey-throated Martin 5
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail 1
  • Daurian Redstart 2
  • Black-naped Monarch 1

This small wetland park lies just to the north of Kaohsiung, in Nanzi district. It was my “local patch” last winter and spring when I first arrived in Kaohsiung, when I visited it at least weekly. This area of ponds, mangroves and scrub between Highway 17 and the sea is potentially an excellent migrant trap, but sadly the whole area is difficult to view; the wetland park itself is somewhat overgrown and access is restricted, and much of the most promising habitat lies on military land and is therefore out of bounds to the general public.

However, some of the pools can be viewed through gaps in the fence, and the mangrove part of the reserve is opened to the public on Sundays. Pied Harrier and Long-toed Stint are both on my Taiwan list thanks to this site, and it’s a good bet for the uncommon Crested Myna, as well as the starling triumvirate of White-shouldered (in winter), Black-collared, and Chestnut-tailed.

The rarer starlings and mynas failed to oblige today, however a number of other interesting species were seen during a 2-hour afternoon visit in cool, sunny weather.

The pool and surrounding marshes next to the factory is a relatively easy spot to view. Pheasant-tailed Jacanas are usually to be seen, and today 4 of them fed delicately in the bright green poolside vegetation. Nearby, two Garganey accompanied a small flock of Common Teal. Heading further west along the road, two male Daurian Redstarts disputed a winter territory in front of the factory gates. At the abrupt end of the road (a wide multi-lane highway comes to a sudden end at the mangroves), an earth mound allows the best opportunity to view the inaccessible military land. Today, a Yellow Bittern offered occasional views in thick vegetation at the edge of a pond, and a flock of 15 Sacred Ibis flew south.

At the eastern edge of the mangroves, just inside the reserve, a narrow ditch runs alongside the path. Surrounded by thick scrub, this damp area is a magnet for wintering passerines. A Korean Bush Warbler gave itself up easily, but an incessantly calling Dusky Warbler took much more patience to obtain good views of. Also in here was a minimum of 4 Brown-headed Thrushes quietly feeding in the leaf litter, and a splendid male Black-naped Monarch.

Finally, I skirted the perimeter fence of the military land, peering through the occasional gap to see plenty of common herons and wintering wildfowl. This area has a lot of potential for migrants and rarities, but it’s frustrating that so little of it is accessible or easily viewable. However, it’s well worth a couple of hours in winter, and I will try and visit regularly.

 

 

 

Taiwan Shortwing and Siberian Rubythroat, Tengjhih, January 18th

Map of the Tenjhih trails. My usual route is to walk north on the dark blue trail, then take the brown trail which winds up to the summit, then return south on the westernmost section of the red trail.

Map of the Tenjhih trails. My usual route is to walk north on the dark blue trail, then take the brown trail which winds up to the summit, then return south on the westernmost section of the red trail.

Birds seen:

  • Crested Serpent Eagle 9
  • Black Eagle 1
  • Oriental Honey Buzzard 1
  • Crested Goshawk 1
  • Besra 1
  • White-bellied Green Pigeon 1
  • Taiwan Shortwing 1
  • Siberian Rubythroat 2
  • White-tailed Robin 2
  • Daurian Redstart 3
  • Plumbeous Redstart 1
  • Yellow Tit 1
  • Green-backed Tit 2
  • Black-throated Tit 20
  • Grey-chinned Minivet 2
  • Steere’s Liocichla 50
  • Taiwan Sibia 20
  • Taiwan Yuhina 40
  • Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler 5
  • Rufous-capped Babbler 1
  • Rufous-faced Warbler 2
  • Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler 1
  • Korean Bush Warbler 2
  • Arctic Warbler 1
  • House Swift 1
  • Asian House Martin 2
  • Blue Rock Thrush 1
  • Black-naped Monarch 1
  • Grey Treepie 4
  • Black Drongo 10
  • Japanese White-eye 20
  • Olive-backed Pipit 2
  • Grey Wagtail
  • White Wagtail
  • Pacific Swallow
  • Black Drongo

The promise of another clear, crisp winter’s day lured me once again to the mountains. I was on the road by 7.30am, pausing for a delicious Latte at my usual 7-11 in Meinong. I realised that I must stop here a lot, as the girl in 7-11 remembered my order. Next time, she’ll be brewing my coffee as soon as she sees me pull up outside.

Just outside Liugui, a quick stop was required when I spotted some large raptors overhead. They turned out to be Crested Serpent Eagles, 4 of them, spiralling up in the first thermals of the day. Shortly before the turning to Tengjhih, I had to stop again, this time for an Oriental Honey Buzzard gliding overhead. What a day for raptors it was already turning out to be.

On the road up to Tengjhih, I stopped at Km 5, just before the new bridge. I’ve got new, bright Kawasaki green rim tape on the wheels of my black Ninja, and I wanted to get some photos in the strong morning sunlight while the bike was still clean. There was a big flock of Japanese White-eyes here, and with them – moving through the bushes in characteristically heavy and sluggish fashion – was a single Arctic Warbler. A Crested Serpent Eagle was calling and later seen, and there was a beautiful blue male Black-naped Monarch here, too.

I parked in my usual spot, near the open-air market in the village at Km 14.5. The trail was quiet at first, but a bird perched on a bare treetop branch turned out to be a White-bellied Green Pigeon, a useful year tick. Today was undoubtedly the day of the Crested Serpent Eagle – a group of 4 more of them appeared, calling loudly, making a total of 9 seen today. Briefly accompanying them overhead was a Besra, a Taiwan tick for me. The usual feeding flocks of Taiwan Yuhinas, Taiwan Sibias and Steere’s Liocichlas were easy to find today, the yuhinas seeming to be particularly attracted to the beautiful pink tree blossoms that were in evidence at many spots along the trail. I took a slightly different route for a while, turning left and taking the green trail through some tea plantations, where the bird numbers were lower but did include at least 2 Korean Bush Warblers showing intermittently in an overgrown field.

The pink blossoms at Tengjhih are beautiful and attract flocks of feeding birds, especially Taiwan Yuhinas.

The pink blossoms at Tengjhih are beautiful and attract flocks of feeding birds, especially Taiwan Yuhinas.

Today’s highlight occurred on a short section of the blue trail. The vegetation here is unusually green and lush, and the bushes have been cut back along the trail to create a shady, damp, short-grass verge in places. It’s a reliable spot for White-tailed Robin, and I have also seen Collared Bush Robin here (but not today). My prize bird today was a Taiwan Shortwing, feeding unconcernedly out in the open on the verge, my best-ever views of this normally very retiring species. Naturally, it hopped away every time I almost got a photo of it.

Several hundred meters further on, just after the start of the brown trail, another bird feeding on the verge turned out to be a female-type Siberian Rubythroat – another excessively skulking bird that very rarely shows in the open. A great Taiwan tick for me, and a useful year tick … who knows if I will get the chance to see another one of these enigmatic birds this year.

As it turned out, I saw another Siberian Rubythroat rather sooner than expected …. a first-winter male (with shades of pink on the throat) by the first wooden platform rest area. It didn’t show quite as well as the first bird, but two Siberian Rubythroats showing openly on the same walk is exceptional indeed. Usually, these birds are of the often-heard-but-virtually-never-seen variety.

The now-expected Black Eagle showed near the summit, plus two fly-through Asian House Martins, while a Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler popped out of the bushes in response to my “pishing” calls – this species (and Taiwan Fulvetta) are both reliably summoned in this way.

The descent back to the village on the red trail was quiet until I had almost reached my bike, when a pair of beautiful Grey-chinned Minivets caught my eye, followed by the appearance of a large mixed feeding flock. At least 20 Black-throated Tits and two Green-backed Tits could mean only one thing …. that a Yellow Tit was in the flock somewhere! And, sure enough, there it was. It would be strange to come to Tengjhih and not have at least one sighting of this rare endemic, which seems to be very reliable here.

Driving slowly down the mountain, a Crested Goshawk on a roadside pole, and a female Plumbeous Redstart at Km 10 completed an excellent Tengjhih trip.

Crested Goshawk and Asian Glossy Starling, Kaohsiung, January 2nd

A Crested Goshawk was an unusual sight, soaring high over the Love River near the Jhonghua Road bridge. Asian Glossy Starling, Black-crowned Night Heron and Common Magpie were among the other urban species that found their way onto the year list this week. Brown Shrikes are very numerous as usual this winter, present in every park and patch of waste ground.