4 Jun 2014

Taiwan : Anmashan National Forest Area and Yunlin County 30th May 2014 to 2nd June 2014

This was a short break, with four of us Hong Kong birders looking for some of Taiwan's mountain birds, many of which just happen to be spectacular endemics. Many Thanks are owed to Meiling Tang, who did most of the preparatory work. As well as Jemi and myself, Abdel Bizid was the companionable fourth member of the "Team". 

This is just a few impressions of the trip, accompanied by photos.

We have the 1991 "A Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan" by WU Sen-hsiong et al.  We've also got Mark Brazil's "Birds of East Asia" which covers Taiwan.  The OUP "Field Guide to the Birds of China" (Mackinnon and Phillipps) also includes Taiwan.  All three books use different English names for many of the birds, with varying degrees of "splitting", too.  So, that's my excuse if I've got some of the English names wrong !

One good thing about flying from Hong Kong is that you get a choice of destinations in Taiwan, all just over an hours flying time away.  It's so easy, I deserve a kick up the backside for not trying Taiwan before.

We were picked up in late evening at Taichung Airport to be guided by well-known Taiwanese guide Kuen-dar CHIANG. It was only about an hour-and-a-half to get to our cabins below the 13km point of the road to Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area.

Out at dawn the next day we headed a few kilometres up the road where a female Swinhoe's Pheasant crossing in front of us seemed a good omen. Further, we stopped near a well-known (known to local photographers, anyway) site where food had been left out for the birds.

An adult male Swinhoes's Pheasant was already pottering about the grass verge, eyeing the five of us and one local with a vaguely expectant air.

The light level was low but even, and cranking the ISO up to 6400 on the 5D Mark III froze movement sufficiently for decent results. (Don't worry, that's as technical as I'm going to get !)

Nearby we also saw a female Swinhoe's Pheasant down a slope.

Also present in the area were Steere's Liochichla 

and a pair of Taiwan Sibias.

We went back to the accommodation in late morning to clear our stuff... 

..and Jemi found a Malayan Night Heron wandering around at the back of the rooms.

Malayan Night Heron is common and widespread in Taiwan's lowlands these days.

The end of the road is at km 49, but shortly before we got there there was another area with birds feeding on the mossy roadside, including Taiwan Rosefinch ( the formosanus race of Vinaceous, - now accepted as a "split" from Vinaceous by the Oriental Bird Club, among others).

….and the "common and confiding" White-whiskered Laughingthrush.  

It's unusual, to say the least, that a "Life Tick" will come right up the the car, but these birds showed no fear of humans at all. This species isn't just confiding, it wants to be your new best friend. Kuen-dar noted that it is feeding of the birds by photographers that has modified their behaviour in the last few years.

We pottered around the summit trails ( they mostly contour, there was no effort involved) in the gathering gloom until it was time to go back downhill to our accommodation at km 43.

We paused for views of another Taiwanese Endemic,  Flamecrest. The light was murky, but we got clear views of the crest.

Being held up by the Flamecrest encounter brought us another piece of fortune, because in the gloom we "Book-ended" our day by getting a second magnificent galliform, Mikado Pheasant.

Mark Brazil wrote an article on Taiwan in OBC Bulletin no. 16 (Nov 1992) in which he said that seeing this Mikado Pheasant "requires…inordinate good luck…".

These days, it seems we can thank photographers for putting food out regularly at certain sites. Such activity may be contrary to National Forest rules, but, anyway, we were very pleased to see the pheasant.

Both the pheasants, and several of the other endemics qualified as "Beer Birds" - that is, birds you might have a beer to celebrate the sighting of.  However, the restaurant at Anmashan doesn't always have beer to sell (Kuen-dar had warned us), so the pheasants were suitably toasted with green tea.

The following day we did more birding around the summit area, and, as it was a Saturday, there were more human visitors around.

Collared (Johnstone's) Bush Robin was seen along the road, usually jumping from the roadway and disappearing into the bushes. But this one near the summit office paused long enough to give decent views.

Also present were a few owstowni race Grey-headed Bullfinches (or "Beavan's Bullfinch") - whatever.

Here's another White-whiskered Laughingthrush, checking the wheel arch of our vehicle for insects.

Having scored the two pheasants on the first day, day two inevitably seemed like a bit of an anti-climax. But the scenery was fine, and there were more birds, including endemics, to look at.

We got decent views of the local endemic race Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler (above) near the summit of Dasyueshan. Taiwan Bush Warbler was much shyer, though.

Downhill on day three (a Sunday), we saw lots of vehicles coming up and found local picnickers at every possible point along the road. 

We stopped near a bridge for Asian House Martins

Nearby, there were some Yellow Tits, an endemic I had particularly wanted to see.

After a late lunch we headed roughly south to Yunlin county, arriving in late afternoon.  

Yes, that's a Fairy Pitta on top of the monument. Some years ago, developers wanted to dig gravel of out the hillsides behind Huben village, and the presence of breeding Fairy Pittas was one pillar of the protest by the locals.  In the end, the developers didn't get their way, although Pitta breeding habitat has also been lost nearby due to the building of a dam in the area.

As the sun set we looked around some tracks near a temple at Huben Village but didn't see much apart from a Taiwan Barbet and Grey Treepies.

The best was was later, as we joined some more Taiwanese birders and another local guide (Mr Chang) to look for Mountain Scops Owl.   Here's the bird he found.. 

The following morning we visited the Lungkuomai Forest Trail which is a rustic sort of park and a breeding site for Fairy Pitta.  For a small town park the variety of birds present was very impressive, including this bathing Black-necklaced Scimitar-babbler; -

And also Taiwan Scimitar Babbler..

And Chinese (Taiwanese) Bamboo Partridge was delightfully noisy, if not actually confiding. The Taiwanese race is sonorivox, seems very different from mainland Bamboo Partridges.

Two fulvettas were present.  Firstly Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, which has been split from the other fulvettas in south China formerly that were all previously known as "Grey-cheeked.." (and now are called things like "Huet's" and "Hainan Fulvetta", to name but two).

And there were Dusky Fulvettas in the park. Taiwan has the nominate race brunnea

In a nearby stream there were bathing Collared Finchbills, of yet another endemic race - cinereicapillus.

Fairy Pitta was what we'd come to see, and we saw three or four individuals….. 

As we left, we saw a Crested Serpent Eagle (with "serpent")….

In 1866, Robert Swinhoe assigned a local Taiwan name for this race of Crested Serpent Eagle : -  hoya.  (According to the Helm Dictionary of Scientific bird Names, by James A. Jobling)

In total, we saw over eighty species, fully two-thirds of which were endemic species or races.

A reference I had mislaid prior to our trip was the Oriental Bird Club's magazine, Birding Asia 2.  This contains a long paper by Dr Nigel Collar titled "Endemic Subspecies of Taiwan Birds - first impressions".  Having found the magazine since we came back, the paper is an interesting outline of  which subspecies the author thought could be elevated to full species status, and which forms should not. Many of the recommendations in this ten-year-old paper seem to have been adopted.

We "dipped" on Taiwan Blue Magpie and the  Taiwan Barwings wouldn't show themselves either, but overall we were very pleased with Kuen-dar's trip and arrangements.

A very memorable three-and-a-half days of birding…Thanks to Meiling and Abdel for being good companions, and to Kuen-dar CHIANG for his expert guiding !


  1. Wow. Looks like I'll have to add Taiwan on to my list of places to visit..................

    1. Yes, Stu., I'm sure there are plenty of flights !

  2. Great post. It's already on my list! Some really beautiful birds there, and variety for 3 1/2 days, as well as photos.

    1. No doubt, Taiwan is a great place for a birding visit !

  3. WOW, is the only word I can come up with.

    1. Thanks John, - I can't beat those pheasants !

  4. Outstanding stuff, John. The pheasants alone are probably worthed the trip.

    1. Mun, absolutely - the pheasants were fabulous...

  5. What an amazing trip! I visited Taiwan back in 2004 (I guess) and didn't see the Mikado Pheasant! Of course, no one was feeding them back then. I'd really love to go back there again.

  6. Ayuwat, you'll have to find the time…..Taiwan is well worth another visit ! We'll go again soon, but probably in the winter.