On our first morning after arrival, via Mumbai we drove south to Dongshih on mega highways, and finally reached smaller roads, climbing up through orchards and then ever less tropical-feeling forests. 43km of very windy roads later, we finally reached the An-Ma Shan Hotel high in the Dasyueshan Forest, about 1400. A bit of a trundle about the huts turned up a nice opening selection of montane endemics – Taiwan Barwing, White-eared Sibia, Steere’s Liocichla, Rufous-crowned Laughing-thrush and other bits and bobs.

Birding alone (Julia very unwell), Simon added Taiwan Wren-babbler, Black-throated Tit and a few other odds and sods, and was then dispatched uphill to check the Mikado Pheasant site before dusk.

No joy with the pheasant (although lots of very noisy Japanese photographers there!), but excellent views of White-whiskered Laughing-thrush, plus Flamecrest, Collared Bush-robin, Taiwan Yuhina and so on.

Grim evening meal – authentic Taiwanese food is not to our liking. This week we have mostly been eating watery, flavourless cabbage and steamed dough buns. Slimy, wet, tasteless.

April 11th

Julia really ill! REALLY! She just about crawled out of bed at 0500 for a pheasant drive – fat chance was her view – but we scored after just 500m with a male Mikado Pheasant right on the road! Gulp! Mega tick time – and a nice mood lifter for Julia. But she is SICK..... A few other items ticked, and then she simply had to retreat to bed once more.

And no more did she emerge until about 1530 – and a quick wander turned up many (but not all - L) of the birds Simon had found earlier. She managed another pheasant twitch in the evening too, when we descended some 20km to try for Swinhoe’s – no joy, alas, but she caught up with the Sibia, and we found Formosan Macaques, Asian House Martin, Vivid Niltava, Ferruginous Flycatcher and Beavan’s Bullfinch.

April 12th

Vinaceous Rosefinch, Nutcracker of the very dark owstoni form, the local Jay race, White-backed Woodpecker, White-browed Bush-robin, Taiwan Bush-warbler, Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler (which has the most incredible song) - but again all for Simon only. Onwards to Huisun, via Taichung.

Simon went out for a recce walk in the afternoon – oh dear! SWINHOE’S PHEASANT – male! Also Taiwan Blue Magpie, Taiwan Partridge and the delightful Malayan Night-heron on the lawns towards dusk. But he got very lost, and ended up climbing 3km of steep road, having taken a wrong turn on the trail. A sweaty dusk watch with (a slightly better) Julia turned up Himalayan Black Bulbul (surely a split?), Pacific Swallow and a high-flying Silver-backed Needletail.

April 13th

Julia much improved, but far from OK....but she gamely got up at 0500, and we duly ticked off the Magpie and the Night-heron, and saw some smart Amur Wagtails, before breakfast.

We then retraced Simon’s steps from the night before, but from the opposite end. Julia managed like a trooper. Alas, no gamebirds, but we did add Varied Tit, Black-naped Monarch, Grey Treepie, Taiwan Barbet and White-bellied Erpornis.

Further down the road, we duded out on coffee and passion fruit juice and coffee ice-cream at the coffee garden (and bought some coffee beans), and actually saw some nice birds in the garden – Bronzed Drongo, Collared Finchbill, Japanese White-eye and an unIDed warbler...

Back for lunch and a snooze (Julia improving but not there yet), and then another hike in the afternoon – still rather quiet in the forests, with (alas) no pheasants or partridges again, but we did chance on a nice family party of Taiwan Scimitar-babblers just before dark.

April 14th

After a brief look around it was up and away downhill, to drop in at Huben for a site tick – this is the famous Fairy Pitta site, but alas we’re about a week early (at least).

Some internet trawling had found a likely looking motel on the outskirts of Chiayi - we found the hotel no problem - interesting! After a rest and a spot of shopping, we headed off for the coast, aiming first for the town of Budai. It was very frustrating, driving around massive rice paddies and fish ponds and salt pans, sometimes with birds obviously present, but simply no chance of stopping on busy roads! We did see Little, Caspian, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns flying about, and Night-herons going over, plus lots of egrets.

Finally, we struck shorebird gold with a really, really good semi-dried pan, which had simply loads of waders on it – and what a great variety! Get ready.....lifers for us both in the form of Red-necked Stint and Long-toed Stint, plus Sharp-tailed Sand (right next to the Long-toed – excellent jizz comparison there!), Wood Sand, Greenshank, Broad-billed Sand, Red Knot, Greater Sandplover, Kentish Plover, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, and lots of Pacific Golden Plovers – wadergasm!

But our prime quarry eluded us, so there was nothing for it but to do another 30km south towards Tainan, and aim for the “nailed on”site of Cigu. The satnav did its thing once more, and we even found some brown signs which guided us home....there was the observation deck, and there were two indolent-looking white blobs.....scope up.....focus. Bingo! Two BLACK-FACED SPOONBILLS – rarer than Pandas, highly desirable, and mega! High fives all round, lots of smiles, bad digiphoned photos, and away back to Chiayi – one last moment to report: 250+ Oriental Pratincoles (lifer!) over a petrol station – emergency birding stop and much amusement for the pump attendants.

April 15th

“Interesting” breakfast at the love motel – actually one of our better ones – and away from Chiayi quite early, and up to Alishan. Highlights were mainly at the high pass itself, where we scored with a Nutcracker feeding young, Yellow-bellied Bush-warbler, Taiwan Fulvetta and Taiwan Bush Warbler, and further down, various stops produced decent montane birds, such as Collared Bush Robin, Taiwan Shortwing, Taiwan Wren-babbler, Steere’s Liocichla in numbers, White-whiskered Laughing-thrush, and the other usual suspects.

But it was soon time to head downhill and follow that insistent American woman on the satnav to Guanghua.

Once checked in at Firefly Lodge, darkness was almost upon us, and we enjoyed a comedy trip to see the fabulous 1000s of fireflies just up the road, in the back of Mr Liu’s truck, filled to bursting with about six Taiwanese families, complete with over-excited children! Luckily fireflies are not easily flushed....but Flying Squirrels are. Fortunately, everyone got off before the trip to look for the latter – it was just the two of us! And we scored at once. Fantastic views of the critters were had, and we even witnessed one “flying” some 30m between trees. Brilliant.

April 16th

Up for 0600, and Mr Liu drove us up to his hide in the woods, and left us there for two hours. On cue, a Taiwan Hill Partridge arrived to feed, followed by squirrels, White-tailed Robins, Steere’s Liocichlas and others.....but no Swinhoe’s! Dip! Ouch!

Undeterred, we enjoyed our breakfast, and had an enjoyable hour around Guanghua village (Plumbeous Redstart, Indian Black Eagle, Besra, Striated Heron, Common Kingfisher, Oriental Turtle Dove and (finally) Rufous-capped Babbler for Julia, taking in something like a typical Taiwanese rural scene, away from the big touristy areas. Nice one.

We’d decided to redo Anmashan – Julia had just missed so many things, or seen them poorly when feeling like death, and it was our favourite place anyway, so why not? Much more fun than thrashing poor patches of smashed up scrub for dubiously endemic (sub)species in the foothills and lowlands, we reckoned.

And uphill we went – into cloud! And rain! Heavy rain! While we did see a few bits and bobs on the way up, it was clear that our main effort would have to be saved for the next morning.

April 17th

And what a morning! We woke at 0445 to a still, if overcast sky, and by 0530 we were 8km downhill, parked by the forest gate, and exploring Trail 210. Not much to see (except a Nutcracker), but lots to hear (including Taiwan Wren-babbler and Taiwan Shortwing), although sadly no pheasants. Julia now getting desperate....

We had arranged for the gate to be open specially for us at 0630, and we duly descended some more, Julia wringing her hands at the lack of a Swinhoe’s (remember there was some serious marital strain here, Simon having fluked one at Huisun) – until a superb male Swinhoe's Pheasant appeared, walking right down the middle of the road! Point blank views, swearing, high-fives, more swearing and some rapid blurry photos – success!

Happy, but never satisfied, we descended to the “stake out” point at km23, and (bingo!) there was another male, even tamer and more resplendent, feeding right out in the open on the verge. Unbelievable. Pheasant duo completed properly.

Well, what else could the morning do for us? Plenty, it turned out. Some unfamiliar calls turned out to be a new species, Black-necklaced Scimitar-babbler, which eventually gave itself up, and we also saw more Yellow Tits, lots of White-eared Sibias, Julia’s first Rufous-crowned Laughing-thrushes, our first Rusty Laughing-thrush, a White-backed Woodpecker and at least one Taiwan Whistling Thrush. But the best of Session 1 was still to come – at the waterfall just below the hotel, a speculative stop produced what we wanted – a cracking Little Forktail on the rocks, giving a superb show. Three new species for the trip list today, and five for Julia!

A quick coffee and recharge break, we tried unsuccessfully for Taiwan Wren-babbler outside our room (where there was a brief Taiwan Hill Partridge), and then headed uphill into yet more murk, but very little rain, to seek out some high altitude species. At the first car-park, the same very tame Nutcracker appeared, but was trumped by about 20 ultra-tame White-whiskered Laughing-thrushes, feeding from the hand and posing at six inches. Higher still, the visibility was almost zero, but we did manage to find Julia a couple of Vinaceous Rosefinches, plus lots of Collared Bush-robins and various now familiar but achingly gorgeous other passerines. You tend to get so blasé about something like a White-eared Sibia or a Steere’s Liocichla, birds which are abundant now, but which you’ll probably never see again after tomorrow!

April 18th

Our last day in Taiwan – and the morning was used to full effect before the drive to the airport, despite continuing murk and some rain! We rose early, and took our chances at the top of the road, finally nailing Taiwan Bush-warbler which Julia hadn’t seen, and getting good views of Vinaceous Rosefinch. Our final target “up the hill” awaited us before breakfast, in a forest gully just down the hill from our room: a staked-out Taiwan Wren-babbler, which did what it said on the tin and showed excellently in the low, shady vegetation. Result!

Having checked out, we drove fairly slowly down the hill, stopping for a few final Taiwan forest birding moments, and then turned off at about km12 to explore the back road snaking down to the river in the valley bottom. A couple of false starts, a Taiwan Whistling-thrush and a helpful local farmer later, and we were enjoying a pair of Brown Dippers from a bridge – like a Bonxie crossed with an Ant-thrush (Simon decided).

The last throw of the dice was at km5, where some “rubbish habitat” including bamboo and fruit trees produced the liquid warbling song of Taiwan Hwamei, and some diligent staring finally turned up good views of our last endemic of the trip.

Freeway, got lost looking for petrol, airport, flight, arrived Hong Kong 1900, taxi to plush hotel in Tin Shui Wai, bed. Taiwan but a memory.


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Mikado Pheasant - the holy grail (Pt.1) of the Taiwanese forests....
....and Swinhoe's Pheasant - Pt.2!
How silly were these views?   Anmashan Hotel
Atmospheric Taiwanese forests
Dasyueshan Mountains
Collared Bush Robin   Little Forktail
Odd-looking Nutcracker (owstoni)   Steere's Liocichla
The exquisite and very tame White-whiskered Laughing-thrush
Rufous-faced Warbler   Taiwan Yuhina
Vinaceous Rosefinch   Julia+2 clear a landslide
Fried egg and chopsticks   Another yummy Taiwanese breakfast
The fabulous (and endemic) White-eared Sibia
Formosan Flying Squirrel   Formosan Macaque
Malayan Night-heron   Taiwan Blue Magpie
Taiwan Whistling-thrush   Brown Dipper
Black Bulbul   White (Amur) Wagtail
Downtown Chiayi   In the Chiayi Love Motel
Mr Liu's Firefly Lodge, Guanghua   Tea-picking at Guanghua
Julia at Huisun   Simon at Huisun
Plumbeous Redstart   Our hut at Anmashan

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