Black Eagle and Oriental Turtle Dove, Wutai, January 5th

Savanna Nightjar, Wutai, 28th December 2013

Savanna Nightjar, Wutai, 28th December 2013

Birds seen:

  • Black Eagle 1
  • Crested Serpent Eagle 2
  • Black-eared Kite 6
  • Oriental Turtle Dove 5
  • Daurian Redstart 1 male

We drifted south on the 185 from Maolin to Sandimen, negotiating road works and hundreds of half-marathon runners, before joining Highway 24 and making our way deep into the mountains towards Wutai. Near Sandimen, an emergency stop was required when we spotted an adult Black Eagle soaring close to the road; in keeping with sightings of some other birds this winter, I was surprised to see this montane species so low down at probably only a couple of hundred meters above sea level.

A few raptors were in evidence around Wutai village, with Black-eared Kites omnipresent around the surrounding hills, and a pair of Crested Serpent Eagles seen. The abandoned village turned up few birds except for a splendid male Daurian Redstart. The villages along this road are good for Oriental Turtle Dove, and about 5 were seen. I also spent some time looking for Russet Sparrow but to no avail. This is a rare bird in Taiwan and one that I have never seen, even when I lived in Korea. It’s turning into a major gap on my East Asian list and one I am getting more and more desperate to see.

Last weekend, I saw and photographed several Savanna Nightjars on a steep scree slope beyond the km44 marker on Highway 24. Today we didn’t have time to revisit the area, but I will for sure be heading there again in the next few weeks – watch this space!


Taiwan Thrush and Taiwan Blue Magpie, Maolin, January 4th-5th

Birds seen:

  • Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge 5 groups
  • Malayan Night Heron 2
  • Little Egret 1
  • Emerald Dove 1
  • Taiwan Barbet 15
  • Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 9
  • Bronzed Drongo 4
  • Grey-chinned Minivet 10
  • Black Bulbul 50
  • Taiwan Sibia 15
  • Scaly Thrush 2
  • Brown-headed Thrush 5
  • Pale Thrush 1
  • Taiwan Thrush 2 males
  • Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler 2
  • Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler 4
  • Maroon Oriole 12
  • Grey Treepie 20
  • Taiwan Blue Magpie 9
  • Grey Wagtail 3
  • Olive-backed Pipit 8
  • Striated Swallow 2
  • Vivid Niltava 7
  • Black-naped Monarch 4
  • Plumbeous Redstart 1
  • Grey-cheeked Fulvetta 35
  • White-bellied Erpornis 1
  • Green-backed Tit 1
  • Plain Flowerpecker 1
  • Japanese White-eye 50
  • Yellow-browed Warbler 5

My best-ever birding trip to Maolin showed how incredibly rich in birds the trail behind the De-En Gorge guesthouse can be. There was scarcely a dull moment during a 3-hour mid-afternoon walk around the heavily-forested 4km-long loop, with birds abundant most of the way. The final kilometer of the circuit (when walked clockwise) is a fairly reliable area for Taiwan Blue Magpie. I’ve seen them on 2 of my last 3 visits to this area, and today a pair duly obliged to the delight of my girlfriend for whom it was a “lifer”. My personal highlight was a Plain Flowerpecker calling loudly and showing well in a tree beside the trail, a new Taiwan bird for me and an excellent bird to get on the year list. A Scaly Thrush, an Emerald Dove, a Malayan Night Heron, five separate groups of Taiwan Bamboo-Partridges close to the trail, and a good scattering of Maroon Orioles and Vivid Niltavas rounded off a great afternoon’s birding.

The next morning I was out at first light, and thrushes were much more in evidence than they had been the previous afternoon, with Brown-headed Thrush showing well, a Pale Thrush making an appearance, and many other thrushes remaining unidentified as they slipped away among the trees or were glimpsed in flight. The latter (downhill) part of the trail was the most productive today, with a pair of the ever-skulking Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babblers showing briefly, a Malayan Night Heron flushed, and lots of big, colorful birds (Maroon Orioles, Taiwan Barbets, Black Bulbuls, Grey-chinned Minivets, Taiwan Sibias and Grey Treepies) feeding on fruits in the treetops. The best birds of the day awaited me close to the stream at the bottom, where I flushed a splendid male Taiwan Thrush which perched in the open for a few moments on a bare branch before disappearing into the forest. Then, incredibly, another male Taiwan Thrush popped up, followed by a probable third bird seen briefly. I guess this particular little group has forsaken their usual haunts higher in the mountains in favor of a winter stay in the Maolin Valley. They are rare birds in Taiwan and always tough to get to grips with, therefore an excellent bird for the year list and one I may struggle to see again all year.

Close to the De-en Gorge, I came across a group of at least 7 Taiwan Blue Magpies, which were their usual mix of curious and wary. They are truly comical to watch in flight, as their tails appear impossibly long and heavy. I wonder how many Taiwanese have never seen one of their famous national birds, despite it being readily available to see within easy reach of several major cities?

All in all, a fantastic couple of days in Maolin which has really seen the year list off to a flying start. It’s a perfect spot for some winter birding, and the De-En Gorge guesthouse is a great place to stay with a friendly welcome and excellent local food.

Yellow Tit and White-tailed Robin, Tengjhih National Forest, January 1st

Birds seen:

  • Green-backed Tit
  • Yellow Tit
  • Black-throated Tit
  • Taiwan Yuhina
  • Taiwan Sibia
  • Black Bulbul
  • Japanese White-eye
  • Rufous-faced Warbler
  • Rufous-capped Babbler
  • Taiwan Scimitar-babbler
  • Vivid Niltava
  • White-tailed Robin
  • Steereā€™s Liocichla
  • Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler.

What better way to start the New Year than to take an early-morning drive out to the wonderful and little-visited Tengjhih National Forest? This morning dawned cool and crisp, and it was a pleasure to wrap up in multiple layers and still feel a delicious chill in the air as I cruised out of Kaohsiung on the Ninja. The national holiday today, coupled with a national hangover for most people, meant that traffic was extremely light. A quick stop at Liugui’s 7-11 for coffee, then the air temperature fell still further as I climbed the minor road into the mountains.

Among the first birds to greet me as I stepped off my motorcycle, right at the edge of the village, was a Yellow Tit in a small mixed feeding flock. This is an uncommon and difficult-to-find endemic of Taiwan’s mountains, but the Tengjhih area has been fairly reliable for them so far this winter. As often seems to be the case, it was accompanied by several Green-backed Tits and Black-throated Tits. The first section of track revealed a good selection of the usual birds here, including Taiwan Yuhina, Taiwan Sibia, Rufous-faced Warbler and Rufous-capped Babbler.

Things then went rather quiet as I proceeded along the trail, but a White-tailed Robin in its usual spot in a damp corner was a welcome year tick, and the abundant Steere’s Liocichlas were frustratingly active and skulking as usual. Behind one of the rest platforms, three Yellow-bellied Bush Warblers skulked in bamboo but responded well to “pishing”. This was my first record of this high-altitude species for this site in my five visits since the beginning of the winter; I think they must have recently descended as the weather gets colder higher up.

Not many birds on the back part of the loop, either: there was no sign of last week’s White-bellied Green Pigeons, and unusually little in the way of feeding flocks although several Taiwan Scimitar-Babblers showed themselves, and a Vivid Niltava was my first record for this site.

Overall, a quiet visit but I was pleased to get the tricky Yellow Tit under the belt for the year.