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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
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.
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!
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
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
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!
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!
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
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
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.
Continue to Hong Kong