Thursday 28 January 2016

Taiwan - Jan 2016 : Part 2

Day 3:

After a rough day, we were praying for good weather. Waking up to find a blue sky above was amazingly reassuring and up lifting. Right after breakfast we encountered a bird wave right outside our lodge, quite a few Grey-cheeked Fulvetta (endemic) were found and amongst them was a single Yellow Tit (endemic) as well as numerous Rufous-faced Warblers. Interestingly, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta is one of the most recent split that became one of the 27 Taiwanese endemics. Although similar they do look and sound different to the Huet's Fulvetta we have in Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Clear morning after a night of rain!

Grey-cheeked Fulvetta (endemic)

Yellow Tit (endemic)

Outside the wooden lodges, we saw a flock of birds feeding on the cherry trees and it turned out they were Taiwan Barwings (endemic)! This time they gave great views, all very close and showed off their brilliant markings on their wings and tails. A wonderful endemic indeed!

Taiwan Barwing (endemic)

We soon got on our car and decided to head up to Tianchi, we knew the weather will be much better up there today and we probably have a higher chance to see a few of the higher altitude birds there. On our way up, just around 45K I swerved my car suddenly to the left and stopped the car! I so very nearly ran over a pair of Mikado Pheasants! I parked the car in a better position and we all got out of the car to enjoy amazing views of this amazing species yet again. The pair took their time and in the end stood there for as long as we wanted, it was like the pair were protesting our presence that we were interrupting a breakfast date, hence they "stopped performing" altogether. So, we decided to give them some privacy and left them in peace.

Us photographing the pair of Mikado Pheasants by the road

Mikado Pheasant - the couple coming out for a morning stroll

Up at Tianchi's carpark at 48K, weather was as good as it could be. We took a bit of time to walk towards Tianchi, not a lot of bird activity to be honest but a very nice change of scenery to the constant rain the day before. A few Eurasian Nutcracker (endemic subspecies owstoni) dropped by and sang from the tree tops, this species is limited to higher altitude in Taiwan. Views at Tianchi was great, but nothing much was seen around the small pond. So we decided to head back down to the car park.

Spotted Nutcracker (owstoni)


At the carpark we saw a lot of White-whiskered Laughingthrushes, which were becoming a bit of a nuisance. A local birder stated that they are a dominant species here and will likely scare away any other species in the area. We waited for a while for them to go somewhere else, when they finally did things picked up slightly in form of a male Collared Bush Robin! A stunner to look at under the bright morning sun! One of the most handsome endemics in my opinion!

Amazing weather overlooking the carpark

Collared Bush Robin (endemic)

An Eurasian Wren (endemic subspecies taivanus) made an appearance as well. A very widespread species worldwide, Wrens are usually more northerly distributed, and in Taiwan you can only find them at higher altitudes.

Eurasian Wren (taivanus)

Seeing that there wasn't much else around, we headed back down to the lodge to check out. We were to drive to Sun-Link-Sea Forest (杉林溪) where we will be staying for two nights. After we got all our luggage we drove down towards 46.5K where it is a stakeout for White-browed Bush Robin. When we got there only one birder was there, we waited alongside for a short while, quite a few Taiwan Barwings (endemic) were there as well as numerous White-whiskered Laughingthrush (endemic). Suddenly, a small chat fluttered about on a nearby rock, and sure enough a very smart looking White-browed Bush Robin (endemic subspecies formosanus) arrived! It was yet again a very bold bird, coming in within a meter or so to our feet. We observed the bird for a short while and got some very decent photographs. A Taiwan Fulvetta (endemic) also paid a short visit but didn't stay long, it was too quick for me to take any proper record shots.

Taiwan Barwing (endemic)

White-browed Bush Robin (formosanus)

On the way down Long spotted a bird of prey perched on a tree as we passed a bridge. I quickly parked the car and we walked back onto the bridge to see what it was. It turns out to be a Crested Serpent Eagle (endemic subspecies hoya), perched on a branch not so far away at eye-level! What a majestic bird to look at up close.

Crested Serpent Eagle (hoya)

Back down at the 23.5K birding platform, a crowed congregated in the nice weather. Birds were much more active today and we were instantly hit by a bird wave! Numerous Black-throated Tits, Yellow Tits, Green-backed Tits (endemic subspecies insperatus), White-eared Sibias, Eurasian Nuthatches and Vivid Nilavas (endemic subspecies vivida). After the bad weather the day before, all the birds were in a feeding frenzy. The Swinhoe's Pheasant did not want to show at 23K, so we decided to start our drive to Shanlinxi just around 1pm.

Black-throated Tit

Yellow Tit (endemic)

Green-backed Tit (insperatus)

White-eared Sibia (endemic)

Eurasian Nuthatch

Vivid Niltava (vivida)

On the way we heard close calls of Rufous-faced Warblers from our car, so we parked and waited to see if this quick species will come out to greet us. This is a very common species in Taiwan where you hear them constantly, their "ringing" call echoes throughout the day, but most of the time you don't see this tiny little warbler. We soon got a pair in sight, I played a burst of recording which got them excited as they circled us in interest. Out of the many shots I got one that I felt was a good representation of this pretty warbler.

Rufous-faced Warbler

The drive up to Sun-Link-Sea Forest was made difficult by the very thick fog on the way up. As I had a headache, my Father had to drive up the infamous twelve Chinese zodiac hairpin turns to reach our destination. Fortunately, things cleared up soon as we got higher up. We checked into the hotel, which we found quite comfortable.

Sun-Link-Sea Forest and Recreation Area entrance

Hotel room - quite comfortable for our standards

After dinner, we saw that the sky had cleared up and stars were shining bright! I grabbed my camera and managed to get a wonderful shot of the starry night. A perfect ending for the day.

Amazing starry sky

Day 4:

We woke up early to bird near our hotel before breakfast. We walked along the river and wooden lodges, there wasn't a huge amount of birds but some good birds were seen, including a flock of very confiding Black-throated Tits, they hung on the trees like little christmas decorations. Again, the birds were crazy about the cherry blossoms. We were well entertained for quite some time.

Birding near the wooden lodges

Black-throated Tit

Nearby, a Leere's Liocichla (endemic) skulked in the undergrowth. This species seems to be quite shy at this site, I only managed to get one clear shot of one. I have always felt they were one of the more under rated endemics, in fact I find them very pretty and I like their loud whistles. We also heard Taiwan Wren Babblers calling up the hill but were way too far away.

Steere's Liocichla (endemic)

After breakfast, we drove up to the park shuttle station and got ourselves one way tickets to Songlongyan Waterfall (松瀧岩瀑布). No cars are allowed behind the point of the red bricked houses, so you must purchase the shuttle bus tickets or you can walk up hill. The bus ride didn't take long, when we got off we immediately surveyed the stream. This location is known for being one of the easiest place to find Little Forktails. We only found a couple of Plumbeous Redstarts (endemic subspecies affinis) initially, but they proved to be quite good models as these were not shy at all.

Red bricked houses

Near the bus station at Songlongyan Waterfall

Plumbeous Redstart (affinis) - male


We walked along the stream to find the Little Forktail (endemic subspecies fortis), and soon we got the bird in sight! A very small black and white bird hopped around the rocks, tail wagging constantly. The bird came quite close at one point! This had been one of those birds I have wanted to see for a very long time, and when you finally see it you know you are not disappointed. A Grey Wagtail followed close by.

Little Forktail (fortis)

Grey Wagtail

We moved on to visit the waterfall and the caves next to it, views were spectacular and the water cascaded elegantly down to a crystal clear pool. A sight out of paradise and not to be missed by travellers or birders alike.

Songlongyan Waterfall

We began the walk back down hill, following the stream along the way. We looked out for Dippers but saw none. The walk was largely uneventful, it wasn't until we got to the medicine garden did we encounter any bird, the fog came along with it! A single Black Eagle soared majestically in the mist, the silhouette is hard to mistaken for anything else. Within the medicine garden we found a wonderful male Red-flanked Bluetail, although we get these in Hong Kong as well, this one was particularly bold and showed well, I usually get very skittish ones in Hong Kong...Cherry blossoms were as beautiful as always here.

Scenery on the way

Entrance of Medicine Garden

Black Eagle - soaring in the mist

Red-flanked Bluetail - male

Just opposite the medicine garden was a glass greenhouse with gardens outside. There, my Father spotted a dark blue bird perched behind some wooden railings. A Taiwan Whistling Thrush (endemic) it was! Having seen this bird at Wulai before Long and I were familiar with it, but it was a lifer for my Father. I later sneaked behind the rails and took one clear shot before it flew off.

Garden outside the glasshouse

Taiwan Whistling Thrush (endemic)

Further down hill, we encountered a bird wave. Mostly Taiwan Barwings that fed on the cherry trees. Other birds included Grey-cheeked Fulvettas and Taiwan Yuhinas. Suddenly, a few loud yelp announced the presence of a few Eurasian Jays (endemic subspecies taivanus), one came out of the covers briefly but never came down for a decent photo.

Taiwan Barwing (endemic) - one of their party trick is to hang like this while feeding

Eurasian Jay (taivanus)

We walked into the Yan-an trails shortly, not much were seen but Long spotted a single male Swinhoe's Pheasant along the trail! It was a shame that I could not manage a clear shot of it, but seeing one in such "wild" settings felt different to Dasyueshan. We went for lunch shortly afterwards.

Location where we spotted the Swinhoe's Pheasant

After lunch we decided to take a walk to Qinglong Waterfall (青龍瀑布), it's a short walk from our hotel and when we got near to the top of the waterfall, we notice a few small birds at the stream. Quick look with binoculars revealed two Brown Dippers. So we hurried over to a viewing platform and found the pair feeding in the torrent! The pair gave amazing views and were extremely entertaining.

Rapids and stream above Qinglong Waterfall

Brown Dipper - feeding and resting

Three Little Forktails also made an appearance. They too were making an effort to feed against the raging waters. After we had took enough photos, we walked further down to take a good look at the waterfall. Yet another very majestic fall not to be missed! We decided to call it a day and headed back up to our hotel.

Little Forktail (fortis) - standing against the current

View of Qinglong Waterfall from view point

To be continued...


  1. Hi Matt: I think you have incorrectly labelled Eurasian Nuthatch above. I think it should be Spotted Nutcracker.

    1. Indeed, thanks for your correction, mis-labelled!