Birder's Guide to Taiwan: 25 Sep - 9 Oct 1997
Section 1 - General information


Thailand


World

 

Overview

This Guide is divided into three sections:

Section 1 - Introduction, logistics, itinerary and general information.
Section 2 - Birding sites.
Section 3 - Systematic list.

Introduction

Taiwan does not come readily to mind in a list of Asian birding hot-spots. Most birders who visit east Asia concentrate initially on better known Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and such like, due mostly to a combination of available literature, language, cost, and the number of bird species likely to be encountered. However, as in many cases of new areas being opened-up to world birders, Taiwan suffers only from not being put on the map. This guide is an attempt to do so. Other than some language difficulties, birding in Taiwan is easy, the country is very safe, has an excellent infrastructure, impressive scenery and most of the endemic species are found easily.

Taiwan has fourteen endemic species recognised currently, including two highly sought-after pheasants - Mikado Pheasant and Swinhoe’s Pheasant. However, with more than 60 endemic sub-species, the potential for new splits in this ornithologically under-studied country is large, with several new species likely to be added, such as the highly distinctive form of the Island Thrush. This guide concentrates on aiding birders interested in finding the specialities of Taiwan; primarily species, and distinctive taxonomic forms, endemic to the island, together with those which are restricted, rare or difficult to find elsewhere due to, for example, access problems. In addition to the endemics, Taiwan has several important species, such as Black-faced Spoonbill and Saunders’s Gull.

Taiwan is a tear-drop shaped island roughly 400 kilometres long and 140 kilometres wide. The Tropic of Cancer crosses the southern third of the island. High mountains dominate the central and eastern parts of the country, with many peaks over 3,500 metres. It is within these mountains that the majority of the endemic species are found. Due to the terrain, only one highway crosses the central mountains, and its passage through the Taroko gorges on the eastern side of the country is a must for its awesome scenery.

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Taxonomy and nomenclature follow Clements (1991), with additions and corrections as published since.

Visas

Prior to my trip, research of travel guides and a browse of travel information on the Internet, seemed to agree that holders of most European, American, and Australian passports required a visa if intending a stay of more than 14 days in Taiwan. However, enquiries at the Taiwan embassy in Bangkok, revealed that British passport holders, no longer require a visa providing their stay does not exceed one month. This may be true, but on arrival you are given a visa only for the length of time you ask for. I was asked for a return ticket to prove my intended length of stay. I would therefore recommend making sure that the date on your return ticket, equals or exceeds your intended date of departure. Visa extensions are one hassle to do without, unless your Chinese is exceptionally good.

On arrival I fell foul of the question “address in Taiwan” on the immigration form. Being completely honest I put down the Anmashan Guesthouse in Anmashan, which was indeed the first night’s accommodation. However, the immigration officer, evidently not a naturalist nor hiker, had never heard of Anmashan nor Anmashan Forest Reserve, and didn’t want to believe it existed. Then followed questions about how I knew this place, who I knew in Taiwan, who had booked it etc. Best to stick to a large well-known hotel in Taipei.

Flights and Getting There

Taiwan is served by numerous airlines daily. Most visitors arrive from either Bangkok, Hong Kong or Japan. Most of these airlines fly into CKS International Airport near Toayuan, 30 kilometres west of Taipei. However a few airlines use the other international airport at Kaohsiung in the south of the island. The international departure tax in October 1997 was US$ 11 (NT$300 - New Taiwan Dollar).

Health

Taiwan is a fairly healthy destination, with no Malaria endemic. Other than the usual traveller’s vaccinations, typhoid and hepatitis inoculations are worth considering. Apparently, ticks on the offshore island of Lanyu, are known to carry Lyme’s Disease, though I never saw one.

Language

The official language is Mandarin Chinese, although many people speak Taiwanese. As Taiwanese has no written form, Mandarin is used for all writing. Although young people speak Mandarin, many of the older generation do not, and consequently cannot read either. Therefore when pointing at Chinese script in guide books and the such like, it’s better to choose a younger person.

Even though English is a mandatory part of schooling, almost no Taiwanese I encountered spoke any English at all. When preparing for your trip, it’s best to assume that, unless you learn some Mandarin, you are not going to be able to communicate with anyone other than in sign language or via a phrase book with written Chinese. Forget also about trying to pronounce the phonetic translations in phrase-books. My attempts of even the most simple requests (like cha for tea) were always greeted with blank stares. This was very frustrating. It is essential to have a good phrase book. I found the food section of the Lonely Planet guide extremely useful. Fortunately, Roman numerals are used throughout Taiwan, so prices are intelligible. I found it very useful to learn to finger-count for buying food and other items from market stalls and roadside vendors.

Money

The official currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (NT$), divided into 100 cents. Coins in circulation are NT$ 1, 5, 10 and 50, with notes of NT$ 50, 100, 500 and 1,000. The NT$ is not an internationally traded currency, and can only be bought on arrival in Taiwan, though they were freely tradable in Hong Kong. Any hard currency can be exchanged, but cash much more easily than travellers cheques. You are not permitted to export NT$ (not that you would able to exchange change them if you did), so keep the receipt from the original exchange if anticipating some left at the trip end. At the time of my visit the exchange rate was US$ 1 = NT$ 28.

As banking hours generally interfere with birding, it is easiest to change sufficient money on arrival. This is especially true in Taiwan, where I encountered difficulty in changing my US$ cash away from the airport. The problem is that only the Taiwan Bank (and some other more obscure banks) are authorised to change foreign currencies, and branches can be found only in major towns. Banking hours are 09:00 - 15:30 Monday to Friday, and 09:00 - 12:00 Saturday. Currency exchanges at the international airport remain open for international flights.
Rather unexpectedly, credit cards are not well accepted, other than for major expenses such as airline tickets, and car rental. No hotels, shops or restaurants accepted credit cards.

Travel and Getting Around

Car Rental and Public Transport. For reasons unclear to me, none of the international car rental companies operate in Taiwan. An e-mail to Avis was answered simply that they do not operate on Taiwan. This makes advance booking more difficult. Although previously, quite some time had to be wasted on a trip to downtown Taipei, two local companies now operate out of the CKS international airport. Collecting a car at the airport is highly preferable, as you can head south directly on the major north-south highway to the central mountains, alleviating the necessity of driving anywhere near Taipei. During my visit I used the cheaper of the two companies at the airport - South East Rental. Unfortunately car rental in Taiwan cannot be considered cheap, though the car I had was almost new and performed well throughout the trip. Prices appear to be based on the business market, rather than tourist or holiday rental.

Although, via a friend, I had made a reservation in advance, on arrival the company new nothing about it. This proved not to be a problem however, as we were informed that car availability is always good. As compensation we were given a group B car (1.8 litre, automatic, Mitsubishi Virage), for the group A price (1.6 litre Lancer). It was interesting to note that the group A cars, the smallest available, did not include any of the "micro" cars that one normally gets in Europe. I would not recommend renting a car with an engine size of less than 1.6 litre in Taiwan due to the amount of mountainous terrain and switchback roads. I found rental procedures in Taiwan less straightforward than in other parts of the world. For my rental, the base price of the rental was NT$ 1,980 per day. On top of that a daily insurance of NT$ 500 was payable. Although not compulsory, coverage without it was almost non-existent, so one is effectively forced to accept it. Even with this coverage, one is liable for the first NT$ 10,000 of damage to the car. Kilometres were limited to 350 per day, but this was wildly in excess of the distances covered. One particularly annoying feature is that you have to leave a signed, blank credit card slip for speeding fines imposed after your departure from the country. This is because roadside cameras feature largely within the Taiwanese Police's efforts to ensure road safety, and the owner of the vehicle is always responsible for the fine, regardless of who is driving. Any fines you pick up are passed to you by the rental company who then debit your credit card directly. There appears to be no way to circumnavigate this. The chances of acquiring a speeding fine in Taiwan seem great. Speed limits on most roads are very low compared to Europe. On main, dual highways the limit varies from 80-100 km/h, but on main single-lane roads the limit is only 60-80 km/h, which is fine when traffic is heavy, but seems ridiculously slow when not. An International Driving Permit is necessary. As the rental agreement conditions were written in Chinese, a "translation" was supplied, which contained some amusing English - much of which was unintelligible.

Following major highways did not present many problems. Although most signs are in Chinese, all the main roads have numbers, which greatly assist in finding one’s way. The most common problem was getting lost inside cities, where a main highway sometimes suddenly disappears into a maze of streets, and you find yourself in a back alley. The best way around this was to simply head in approximately the compass direction required until hitting a recognisable main route again.

Petrol is widely available, except in the central mountains, where it is a good idea not to let the tank drop below half full, as stations are more widely spaced, and mountain roads require more fuel. Petrol stations in more remote areas are not 24 hour, but are open seven days a week. Prices are about 20% cheaper than in Europe.

Much is written about the driving standards within Taiwan, and how westerners should never drive there. However, in reality, anyone who has driven in a variety of countries of the world will encounter nothing exceptional. Compared to the driving of Costa Rica, Venezuela or west Africa, Taiwan is rather tame. Drivers tend to cut you up, not indicate and pass very close, but due to the volume of cars on the road, speed is rarely a problem. The chances of having a small knock would seem reasonable, and the car we drove, although almost new, had several dents in it. Driving in Taipei is very difficult due to not being able to read the road signs. A good street map is required to attempt to drive down-town Taipei, and should be avoided at rush-hour at all cost.
Most of the roads have fairly heavy traffic, especially the north-south Taipei to Kaohsiung road, which is very slow going during rush-hour, and best avoided at those times. The main cross-island Highway 8 from Taitung to Hualien is single lane in many places, and slow going. In fact travel-times in Taiwan rarely exceed 40 km/h due to the terrain, and should be taken into account when planning itineraries. The only tolled road appears to be the Taipei-Kaohsiung highway. Between the airport and Taitung, we passed three toll booths, totalling NT$ 120. We had problems deciding which lane to be in when approaching the toll stations, as all the signs are in Chinese. The green lanes appear to be for vouchers, with the blue lanes for cash. However, one blue lane used made us pull over and walk to another booth with cash. I give up - try it yourself.

Getting around by public transportation is supposedly inexpensive, and reliable. We used taxis twice around Taipei (which were not too expensive), and rented a motor scooter on Lanyu (NT$ 600/day). As most birders rent cars, and I have no personal knowledge of public bus or trains etc., so these are not covered here.

Air Transport. Most visiting birders will have little need to fly within Taiwan, though might consider flying back to Taipei from the south of the island (Taitung or Kaohsiung) if time is tight. However, flying out to the offshore islands of Penghu or Lanyu (see Lanyu birding site information below) is entirely probable.

Boat. Several ferries operate to offshore islands.

Maps. Good maps seem not to exist for Taiwan. It is a good idea to acquire a decent road map before leaving, as they are particularly difficult to find in Taiwan. I used the Nelles Taiwan 1:400,000 scale, which was adequate, though a little out of date with some roads missing and a few roads numbered incorrectly. I also used a 1:500,000 Chinese-version map purchased locally, which was not as clear as the Nelles and would not have been usable on its own unless you read Chinese. It was useful on a couple of occasions for comparing to Chinese characters on road signs.

Romanised spellings of many place names differ between maps and even on signs encountered in the country. As yet there is no official romanisation of Chinese characters in Taiwan, so you can expect to see all varieties of phonetic misspellings. Because of this, I also found problems with the pronunciation of place names. For example, the village of Tayuling, clearly spelt with a T, is pronounced much more like "Dillon" with a D and different ending.

Telephones. Telephones are widespread and easy to use. Most use the NT$ 100 telephone card, purchasable from a variety of grocery shops, bakeries, or railway stations. The widespread Seven-Eleven stores also sell them. A few coin-operated machines, which take a variety of coins, can usually be found alongside the card phones, so if you do not intend to make many calls it's probably not worth buying a card. None of the phones I saw accepted credit cards. The international country code for Taiwan is +886.

Food. Food in Taiwan is decidedly a subject of its own, about which I could write a lot. One overriding impression is the relatively high cost. We ate at a variety of establishments, and found food prices for a basic meal varied anywhere from NT$ 60 (the cheapest we found) to NT$ 1,200. It's definitely noticeable that the apparent "class" of the establishment bears no relation to the price you'll pay. After experimenting with menus quite a lot in the first week, we settled on a standard of fried vegetables, fried bamboo, spicy bean-curd, and variations thereof, as the easiest option. Ordering meat was generally disappointing, as there was no control over which piece of meat was served. The two chicken soups we ordered were both expensive at NT$ 500, and consisted of half a chicken, all legs and neck, swimming in dish-water. This is not to say that all the food was a disappointment; Shrimps were generally good and fresh, though expensive (as all seafood in Taiwan). We mostly ate at simple roadside cafés. Food is not spicy, but rather bland, and it was necessary to specifically ask for chilli and the suchlike to be added. Those who appreciate the cuisine of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will be disappointed with Taiwan.

Obtaining food during the day was no problem. Small shops sell a variety of basic provisions, and supermarkets in larger towns were well stocked. Due to its varied climate, plenty of variety of fruits and vegetables was available en route. In the central highlands, especially around Lishan, pears and apples were available, though expensive, while in the lowlands of the east we purchased guavas, mangos and other tropical fruits. When buying fruits at market stalls be aware that the unit of measure is most likely to be the "catty", which to my ear the locals pronounce much like "kilo", As one catty is only 0.6 kg, the quoted prices for one "kilo" suddenly are not so cheap. For example, two catty of apples in Lishan cost NT$ 150.

As might be expected, it is best to stock-up with provisions at major towns, as more remote areas have poorer selections. Tap water appeared safe to drink. The best local beer is called simply Taiwan Beer, and tastes considerably better from bottles, than cans. Imported beers were fairly widespread (eg. San Miguel). One interesting, but nice, oddity encountered was hot, ready-made coffee in a can. This was not bad at all, and can be found in many roadside stalls, shops and hot vending machines.

Accommodation. One thing all accommodations have in common in Taiwan is hard beds - some almost like concrete. Budget accommodation is very difficult to find, so we kept to the usual, cheap and cheerful hotels offering hot water and a clean bed. Most places we stayed in were NT$ 900 - NT$ 1,200/double. Note that twin rooms (two beds) are quite expensive compared with a double (one double bed), so that sleeping bags and sharing are an idea. This is quite normal in Taiwan, so the hotel clerk will not look at you strangely. Some of the birding sites are close to hot spring resorts which usually have hot water piped into the bathroom - a nice touch. One problem in finding accommodation is the lack of signs in English - use a travel guide or ask using a phrase book.

One quickly notices that roadside motels tend to have high walls or private garages. This is because they are primarily intended as a place to take the mistress or local pick-up for a few hours. However, the management are not adverse to guests sleeping the night, and the couple we stayed in were actually better than the hotels we used, and not particularly higher priced. As the focus of business is around the bed, most seem to have satellite TV in English (a welcome change from Chinese television) together with a good bathroom. Particularly good or bad accommodations we encountered are mentioned in the birding site information below.

Climate and When to go

Taiwan has a rather mixed climate, depending on location, and most birders should plan on encountering rain at some point, especially in the central highlands. Generally there are two seasons; Summer, which is hot and humid, and winter, which is cool and wet (in the north) or cool and dry (in the south). Statistically the wettest time is the summer, which combined with the heat at lower altitudes means that birding is best between October and March, with November to January probably optimal. However, October and March coincide with migration through the country, so take your choice. Either way, expect to get wet in the mountains, and plan a couple of lost days in the itinerary. The typhoon season is mainly the summer months, but can strike into October. If you are unfortunate enough to visit during a typhoon, you can forget about birding for a couple of days, though these typhoons do bring many vagrants and seabirds. Although it can be hot and humid at low elevations, temperatures at high altitude can drop below freezing, so bring clothes for all conditions.

References

Brazil, M.A., 1992, "Finding Birds in Taiwan," Oriental Bird Club Bulletin 16:40-44.

Gardner, N. (1996). Some private notes from a birding trip in October 1996.

Harrison, P. (1983). Seabirds: an Identification guide. Croom Helm.

Howard, R., and Moore, A. (1991). A complete checklist of the Birds of the World.

King, B., Woodcock, M., and Dickinson, E.C. (1983). A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia. Collins. Useful, or essential if not able to obtain the Taiwan field guide.

Lekagul, B., and Round, P.D. (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Saha Karn Co. Ltd., Bangkok.

Lee, Cin-Ty A. (1994). Birding Taiwan (Republic of China). Trip Report from Summer 1994. Available via ABA Foreign Field Note Series N-91. Contains good general information for birding in Taiwan, plus site information for birding at Yushan National Park, Hsitou and Kuantu.

Lehman, P.E., 1993, "Birding in Taiwan," Winging It, July:10. ABA.

Martins, R. (1980). Taiwan: 27 February - 7 March 1980. Unpublished trip report.

Speight, G. (1986). Taiwan: 30 December 1985 - 24 January 1986. Unpublished trip report.

Storey, Robert. (1994). Taiwan a travel survival kit. This was used heavily during the trip (maybe even
more so than the Chinese field guide!). The sections on food, useful words and phrases with their Chinese written equivalents were essential. Maps and text with both English and Chinese characters were very useful for finding specific places. Don't leave home without this or a similar travel guide.

Wheatley, N. (1996). Where to watch Birds in Asia. Only has a few pages devoted to Taiwan. Not really
useful unless you have nothing else.

Wild Bird Society of Japan. (1983). A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan.

Wu S., Yang H., and Tanigucki K. (1991). A Field guide to the Wild Birds of Taiwan. (Chinese edition).
Taiwan Wild Bird Information Centre and the Wild Bird Society of Japan. Taiwan. ISBN-957-9578-00-1. This field guide illustrates, in colour, all of Taiwan’s species, and it is highly recommended to obtain a copy. Unfortunately the text is Chinese, but each species description does include the English and scientific name. Some of the taxonomy is a little dated, and some typing errors have crept in. The book is still in print, and can be obtained in Taiwan at the Wild Bird Society in Taipei (2F, G, Alley 13, Lane 295, Fushing South Road, Section 1, Taipei) for around NT$ 1,000. Alternatively for a much higher price from major bird book suppliers in Europe and the USA.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks go to local birders Dan Chamberlin and Paul Wu Lianheng who helped enormously with trip logistics and whom, along with He Yihsian and Lin Hsiantang, accompanied us in the field at Anmashan and Kukuan. Without them the trip would not have been so enjoyable, nor had such an easy start. I wish to extend my gratitude to Wayne Hsu who supplied a great amount of birding information on Taiwan and its birds, including much of the important site information contained here. Thanks also to Nick Gardner, Tony Clarke, Tommy Chen, Jon Hornbuckle, Rob Goldbach, Rolf de By, Jim Turner, and Cin Ty-Lee who responded to my requests for information.

Itineraries and Personal Experiences

To have a chance of seeing all the specialities of Taiwan it is necessary to stay at least two weeks. Whilst almost all the endemics occur in the central highlands, several of them can be tricky to find, and luck is required with the weather. I have yet to see any trip report with all endemics seen, though we came close, missing only one (which was heard). Assuming luck with the weather, it is possible to see many of the endemics within three or four days, by concentrating on the central highlands. With only a week it would be possible to visit the central highlands, and include some time at coastal estuaries for waders, Black-faced Spoonbill and Saunder’s Gull. With longer, a side trip to Lanyu could be added, and some of the less visited spots. With three weeks a visit to Kenting National Park or the north, for migrants, could be included.

In our original itinerary we had intended to take in some of the coastal estuaries plus Kenting for migrants. This proved to be vastly over-optimistic, as a combination of days lost due to weather, longer than expected driving times, and difficulty finding some of the endemics meant that the two weeks were already filled without including these planned additions. Beware of overfull itineraries! Given another week we could probably have added visits to Kenting, estuaries such as Tsengwen, plus looked for Mandarin Duck and Common Pheasant (the non-feral varieties). Time was just too short

25 Sep 97 - Flight from Bangkok to Taipei. Drive to Anmashan. Overnight in Anmashan.
26 Sep 97 - Birding Anmashan. Drive to Kukuan. Overnight in Kukuan.
27 Sep 97 - Birding Kukuan and Pasienshan. Drive over Hohuan to Lushan. Overnight in Lushan.
28 Sep 97 - Birding Lushan, Wushe and Tsuifeng. Overnight in Lushan.
29 Sep 97 - Birding Wushe. Drive over Hohuan via Taroko Gorges to east. Overnight in Chengkung.
30 Sep 97 - Drive to Taitung. Flight to Lanyu. Birding Lanyu. Overnight on Lanyu.
01 Oct 97 - Birding Lanyu. Overnight on Lanyu.
02 Oct 97 - Birding Lanyu. Flight to Taitung. Drive to Chiphen. Birding Chiphen.
03 Oct 97 - Birding Chiphen. Drive through Taroko Gorges to Tayuling. Overnight in Tayuling.
04 Oct 97 - Birding Tayuling and Hohoun. Drive to Kukuan. Birding Kukuan. Overnight in Kukuan.
05 Oct 97 - Birding Kukuan and Pasienshan. Drive to Hsitou. Birding Hsitou. Overnight in Hsitou.
06 Oct 97 - Birding Hsitou. Drive to Yanmingshan. Birding Yanmingshan. Overnight near Tanshui.
07 Oct 97 - Birding Kuantu. Visit to Taipei. Drive north along coast. Overnight at Shihmen.
08 Oct 97 - Birding Yehliao. Drive to Kuantu. Birding Kuantu. Drive to Chewei. Overnight at Chewei
09 Oct 97 - Flight to Bangkok.

25 Sep 97. We flew Thai International Airlines from Bangkok, which arrived on schedule at 12:00. Experienced our first hassle when the immigration didn’t like our listing of the Anmashan Guesthouse at Anmashan as our address in Taiwan, simply because he had never heard of it. No problems with customs and excise. Being met at the airport by Dan and Paul was a real bonus, as lengthy conversations with the car rental company could be conducted in Chinese. Although Paul had reserved us a car two weeks previously, the company had no record of it. In the end we ended up with a group B car, a Mitsubishi Virage 1.8 Automatic for the price of a group A car. Changed money and quickly headed south. We had to pay our own exit fee from the airport car park (later refunded by the rental company) and immediately had to fill up with fuel as the car was delivered almost empty. With Dan navigating, we easily travelled down the main north-south highway 1 (toll road), arriving at Tungshih around 15:00 where we stocked up with food at a large supermarket. We then found the obscure road out of town to Anmashan, arriving around 17:00 and checked into our previously reserved bungalow. Cloudy and cold with only a few birds visible, but did manage to see Vinaceous Rosefinch and dip on White-tailed Robin around the car park. Joined the communal canteen where for NT$ 90 we were able to partake of the cook’s prepared dinner. Although definitely not haute cuisine, this was almost the cheapest meal we ate in Taiwan. Around 20:00 we drove down the main access road in search of Mountain Scops-Owl, hearing several.

26 Sep 97. Up at 05:30 and drove down to Road 210 just above the park entrance. We spent from 06:00 - 10:00 walking this driveable track, seeing at least four Mikado Pheasant easily. Other birds seen here and nowhere else on the trip included Rusty Laughingthrush and Ashy Minivet. The Taiwan form of White-browed Shortwing was also taped out. Returned to the car for a late breakfast and drove back up the hill to the large car park at the top and walked a short way along Road 230 seeing Streak-breasted Fulvetta but little else. Had my first, and worst, culture-clash here when I threw my soft drink car into the rubbish bin at the car park. This old, rusting steel drum, filled with holes and burnt paper turned out to be a burner for prayer money. An old Chinese man standing around the car park went berserk, ranting-on in Chinese until one of our group removed the can and threw it in a proper rubbish bin (which looked no different). Returned to the bungalow, checked-out and drove a short distance down the hill, where we spent the afternoon walking along another wide track, through a mixture of forest types, looking for Swinhoe’s Pheasant. Although we found a tail feather from an adult male, disappointingly no actually living pheasants was seen. Around 16:00 we left Anmashan and drove down the hill to Tungshih where we ate a rather large and expensive dinner. From here we drove the 30 kilometres to Kukuan and checked into one of the numerous hotels (NT$ 900 for a double). A Mountain Scops-Owl was calling from a tree close to the hotel but could not be seen.

27 Sep 97. Up at first light to a dismal, cloudy start ominously looking like heavy rain to come. We spent the first couple of hours around the hotels and suspension footbridge across the large river flowing through town. This was surprisingly productive, with Taiwan Whistling-Thrush seen easily, as well as Collared Finchbill and Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler. Russet Sparrow was not found. Checked out of the hotel, grabbed a quick roadside breakfast in town and drove the short distance to Pasienshan where we spent the rest of the morning searching in vain for Taiwan Magpie. Around 12:00, the ever-threatening rain started. After further assisting us to arrange flights to Lanyu, and some Kuantu site details, Paul, Dan and the others departed back to Taipei, thereby leaving us without the luxury of translators and feeling very much on our own in a country where we didn’t speak or read the language. This was soon forgotten though, as in the lessening rain we drove back through town and tried the small side road, 3.6 km east of Kukuan, that passes though reasonable forest edge, and like anywhere else in this valley, can harbour the magpie. Again we dipped. The rest of the day was spent in a slow drive, in ever worsening weather, via Lishan, up and over Mount Hohuan, to Wushe. All the higher altitudes were shrouded in fog which made birding impossible and driving difficult. We arrived in Wushe around 17:00, and continued a few kilometres east to Lushan to find the town absolutely packed with tourists. Even the rain wasn’t going to spoil this long weekend, public holiday for the locals. Tried a couple of hotels, securing a room in a quieter-looking location near the river for $NT 1,200/double. This proved to be quiet until around 22:00 when a inconsiderate (seemingly not by Taiwanese standards) bunch arrived and kept everyone up till 02:00.

28 Sep 97. Awoke to more noise from the same guests. After an hour of lying in the pitch dark room waiting for dawn, looked at my watch to discover it was 08:30 - the previous night we hadn’t noticed that the windows were completely boarded-up on the outside. In mattered little however, as the rain had continued all night and was still coming down steadily. Drove to the suspension bridge between Lushan and Wushe, and ogled into the impressive gorge in the rain with the other tourists. Here we did a short walk along the trail by the bridge - another supposed stake-out for the magpie - but not surprisingly didn’t see any in the rain. We did see a couple of White-vented Needletail overhead though, scarce in Taiwan. We then drove into Wushe for some breakfast and, again in the rain, attempted to bird along the road down to the river, not surprisingly seeing little. In the hope that the forest around Tsuifeng would not be in fog, we drove 16 kilometres up the Mount Hohuan road and walked the forest trail there. The rain eased somewhat to scattered showers and foggy spells for an hour or so, and then poured. In between we were very fortunate in seeing two Swinhoe’s Pheasant on the trail, plus a single Taiwan Barwing and a Yellow Tit. At around 15:00 we gave up and went for food in Wushe and back to the same hotel. Noisy again, but not as bad as the previous night.

29 Sep 97. Up early, and as raining in Lushan, continued to Wushe where it was dry, so birded the trail down to the lake. Even though very close to town, the forest was quite productive. White-tailed Robin was common here and Scaly Thrush was seen. Although not having yet seen Taiwan Magpie and several of the higher altitude specialities we decided to push on south and return to the Central Highlands a few days later when hopefully it would be dryer. Left Wushe around 10:00 and drove the cross-island highway through the Taroko Gorge where we spent some time taking photos and admiring the awe-inspiring scenery - thoroughly recommended. Once though the gorges and down to the east coast (where it was still raining!) we headed south, eventually stopping at the Hotel Prince (800 $NT) in Chengkung around 19:00

30 Sep 97. A late start and a beautiful day, blue sky and hot. We drove the last kilometres to Taitung and had breakfast at McDonald’s on the way out to the airport. I must admit, that I never would have thought I’d be glad to see a McDonald’s, but after chicken feet and neck soup it was a definite improvement. We had difficulty in finding the airport, as evidently the only signs are in Chinese. Expecting this problem I had gotten Paul to write “I want to go to Taitung Airport” in Chinese in my notebook - this proved invaluable. The airport and our pre-arranged flight reservations went smoothly and we took the 13:00 Taiwan Airways flight to Lanyu (NT$ 2,100 return) which took off 30 minutes early at 12h30. The 30 minute flight in a small eight seater plane was boringly uneventful. At the Lanyu airfield we were accosted by a local driver who took us into the main village for free as we agreed to stay at his guesthouse (NT$ 1,200) which, just up from the Lanyu Hotel, was one of the better places we stayed (at least it was peaceful.) We rented an almost new scooter for NT$ 600 per day, and rode the few kilometres down to the southern end of the island looking at forest edge and trying to find tracks into the forest which are few and far between, as the terrain is very rugged. Brown-eared Bulbul and Japanese White-eye were common. A brief look at the sea revealed no passing seabirds. After dark we ate in the only reasonable eating establishment near the Lanyu Hotel, and then walked into the school playground behind the hotel to look for Ryukyu Scops-Owl. This proved incredibly easy, as after one burst of the tape one appeared almost beside our heads. A great finish to the day!

1 Oct 97. Out at first light and again headed to the southern end of the island where we had found the possibility to walk up a dry stream bed inside the forest. The main target, Black Paradise-Flycatcher, was not found, but an excellent substitute was Ruddy Kingfisher, a species that had alluded me for years. Whistling Green Pigeon and Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove were also seen. Around 09:00, having seen all of Lanyu’s specialities except the flycatcher we rode round the island (all 34 kilometres of it), stopping at various scenic spots. While admiring the views from the weather station atop one of the highest points we had an encounter with the local village idiot, who became quite aggressive for no apparent reason, causing us to leave hastily. Around 14:00 we returned to the guesthouse to discover that none of the restaurants, even in the Lanyu Hotel, was open, so we bought some pot-noodles and boiled up water in the guesthouse. After a general lounging session we drove up the hill above the village, birding along the road and watching the disappointing sunset. Dinner was taken in the same restaurant as yesterday, where we managed to run up a bill of NT$ 1,200 by including some crayfish in our choice.

2 Oct 97. Spent the early morning walking up the hill to the weather station (no sign of our friend), seeing a few migrants including Chestnut-cheeked Starling - rather scarce in Taiwan. Went for another ride around the island, this time going up to the lighthouse at the northern end of the island, and then caught the 13:20 flight back to Taitung. Parking at the airport proved to be free. From here we drove, via McDonald’s again, to Chiphen, where it was disappointingly raining. Due to it being mid-week, we managed to negotiate a whole suite at one of the numerous hotels for NT$ 1,000. Dinner at one of the street stalls still set us back NT$ 800 for vegetables and rice.

3 Oct 97. The morning started overcast, but a least dry, as we walked the main track up the valley, finding Maroon Oriole and Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, but again no magpie - this bird was proving to be incredibly elusive and frustrating. Chinese Bamboo-Partridge were very common along the trail. We left Chiphen at 10:00 and drove for six hours, again through the Taroko Gorges to Tayuling where we stayed at the hotel/restaurant a few kilometres above Tayuling. Although expensive at NT$ 2,800, views from the balcony were incredible, and Collared Bush-Robin and Vinaceous Rosefinch were feeding in the garden. Although cold due to the altitude it was fairly clear, and not actually raining. Dinner at their restaurant was quite good, and not too expensive.

4 Oct 97. Awoke to fantastically clear blue skies. Immediately drove down to the track next to the Tayuling tunnel, and birded the first couple of kilometres, finding White-browed Bush-Robin and Mikado Pheasant. Annoyingly, my tape recorder decided to die, so no attempt was possible to tape out Russet Bush-Warbler and Mountain Scrub-Warbler, on which we consequently dipped, although supposedly common. After, we drove to the top of Mount Hohuan, where we dined on the boiled corn-on-the-cob and coffee dished out by a few hawkers there, to the company of the friendly Alpine Accentor which have made the car park their home. After a few photos it clouded over, so we drove slowly back to Tayuling stopping on numerous occasions to try, unsuccessfully, to pish-out warblers from the scrub and undergrowth. From Tayuling we continued to Kukuan, where with it being a weekend we had to try several hotels to find a room, eventually paying NT$ 1,000. During the afternoon we tried several forest areas along the highway, both above and below Kukuan for the magpie, but again were unsuccessful. Dinner at one of the many roadside restaurants, where we were a complete novelty for the proprietor, and managed to get a good meal for NT$ 500.

5 Oct 97. An early start at the forest 3.6 kilometres above town added Hwamei and Dusky Fulvetta to the trip list. The next few hours were spent walking the trails within the Pasienshan Reserve, without seeing the magpie. From Kukuan it was four hours to Hsitou, where, with it being a Sunday, it was absolutely heaving with people. Walked the main trail along the stream to the giant cedar tree, but saw nothing of note, as beside the people, the weather was cool and foggy. We stayed at the Phoenix Hostel inside the park (NT$ 900), and ate at the communal restaurant (NT$ 600). Another noisy night from people partying.

6 Oct 97. The main target at Hsitou was the Taiwan Hill-Partridge, so we were out on the same trail before any other guests. However, none was seen, nor heard, though good species encountered included Taiwan Barwing and the Taiwan form of Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler. Although the intention was to have stayed in Hsitou two nights, the better forest on the hills proved difficult to access (trials overgrown), so we decided to head up to northern Taiwan to try some other sites. This proved to be a good choice. From Hsitou we drove into Taichung, where we got very lost simply following highway 3 through town. After an hour of driving in circles we found the north-south toll road, driving north to Nankan where we turned off to take to coast road to avoid driving through the outskirts of Taipei. The target was to drive to the Yanmingshan Park, which after Kuantu was fortuitously sign-posted in English. Had some incredible luck - when driving along the main road near the Yanmingshan visitor centre we had a group of at least ten Taiwan Magpie by the roadside - what a relief. Spent a couple of hours driving the roads around the park admiring the small amount of geothermal activity, and then drove northward along highway 2 as far as the first motel (NT$ 900) we could find to crash.

7 Oct 97. A late start as the pressure of the magpie was off. Our target was to drive to the temple at Kuantu. Other than asking directions a couple of times, we found it quite easily. The market stalls near the temple are an interesting site, selling a broad spectrum of live fish, turtles and terrapins. The polluted waterway behind these stalls is however, not quite so picturesque. Although the day was quite hot, ducks, waders and many other species were found by walking the embankment that runs along the edge of the estuary through a habitat of mangrove edge, pools and grassland. The two vagrant Oriental Stork were seen, as well as a selection of trip list padders. By 13:00 we had covered the area, so left the car at Kuantu and took a taxi into Taipei, to the Shihlin night market area, where we purchased cheap clothes and CDs. In the late afternoon we returned to the car and drove the coastal highway north as far as Shihmen where we checked into a hotel along the highway (NT$ 1,000).

8 Oct 97. Another leisurely start around 09:00, driving to Yehliu where we paid the NT$ 50 entrance fee to see the famous coral formations. Left most of the tourists behind and walked to the lookout at the end of the peninsula. Although this is one of Taiwan’s migration hot-spots, we saw almost nothing, and despite the stiff easterly breeze, the only seabirds in an hour’s sea-watch were three Brown Booby. After lunch we drove back for a couple of hours at Kuantu, and then continued to Chewei, near the international airport and checked into a good motel (NT$ 1,500) along the main highway 4.

9 Oct 97. Drove to the airport, returned car with no hassle and departed on time with Thai International flight at 09"45. All-in-all, a good trip, with all but one of the endemics seen, though a few of the supposedly commoner specialities missed.

Specialities of Taiwan

Specialities of Taiwan fall into three groups. The best sites for observing each species is given in brackets. See the annotated checklist at the rear for further information and suggestions.

Species endemic to Taiwan

Taiwan Partridge (700-2,000 m.) Widespread but local and difficult to see. (Anmashan, Hsitou).

Swinhoe's Pheasant (500 - 2,000 m.) Local. (Anmashan, Tsuifeng, Wushe, Lalashan).

Mikado Pheasant (2,000 - 3,200 m.) Rare and largely restricted to remote areas. (Anmashan, Tsuifeng).

Taiwan Magpie (400 - 1,000 m.) Widespread but highly localised. (Pasienshan, Kukuan, Chiphen, Yanmingshan).

Taiwan Whistling Thrush (200 - 2,000 m.) Common along mountain streams. (Kukuan, Pasienshan, Chiphen, Fuyuan, Taroko Gorge).

Collared Bush-Robin (2,000 - 3,500 m.) Fairly common in the mountains. (Hohuan, Tayuling, Anmashan).

Flamecrest (1,000 - 2,500 m.) Fairly common in the mountains. (Hohuan, Tayuling, Anmashan).

Styan's Bulbul (sea level - 1,000 m.) Widespread and common in east and south.

Taiwan Laughingthrush (2,000 - 4,000 m.) Common at high elevation. (Hohuan, Tayuling, Anmashan).

Steere's Liocichla (2,000 - 3,500 m.) Very common. (Anmashan, Tsuifeng, Wushe, Hsitou).

Taiwan Barwing (1,300 - 2,500 m.) Uncommon. (Tsuifeng, Anmashan, Hsitou).

White-eared Sibia (1,000 - 2,100 m.) Common. (Anmashan, Tsuifeng, Wushe, Hsitou).

Taiwan Yuhina (1,000 - 3,000 m.) Common. (Anmashan, Tsuifeng, Wushe, Hsitou).

Yellow Tit (1,000 - 2,200 m.) Uncommon. (Tsuifeng, Anmashan, Lalashan).

Restricted/scarce species with a good chance of finding in Taiwan

Mandarin Duck. Rare. (Fushan Botanical Gardens).

Oriental Stork. Vagrant, but a pair for several years at Kuantu.

Chinese Bamboo-Partridge. Common. (Kukuan Chiphen).

Black-faced Spoonbill. Winter visitor. (Tsengwen).

Saunders Gull. Winter visitor to several estuaries. (Tsengwen).

Ashy Wood-Pigeon. Common at high altitude.

Slender-billed Cuckoo-Dove. Common on Lanyu.

White-bellied Pigeon. (Chiphen, Wushe, Kukuan).

Ryukyu Scops-Owl. Fairly common on Lanyu.

Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher. Resident on Lanyu.

Maroon Oriole Scarce. (Taitung, Chiphen).

Vivid Niltava. Common at mid and high elevations.

White-tailed Robin. Fairly common. (Anmashan, Wushe, Tsuifeng).

Collared Finchbill. (Kukuan, Wushe).

Brown-eared Bulbul. Common on Lanyu.

Strong-footed Bush-Warbler. Fairly common at higher elevations.

Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler. Fairly common at higher elevations.

Russet Bush-Warbler Fairly. common at higher elevations.

Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler. Fairly common. (Kukuan, Wushe, Chiphen).

Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler. Uncommon. (Kukuan, Wushe, Chiphen).

Streak-throated Fulvetta. Common higher elevations. (Anmashan, Tsuifeng).

Vinaceous-throated Parrotbill. Fairly common. (Kukuan, Wushe).

Golden Parrotbill. Scarce. (Hohuan).

Varied Tit. Local. (Kukuan, Pasienshan).

Vinaceous Rosefinch. Common at high altitude. (Anmashan, Hohuan).

Brown Bullfinch. Uncommon. (Tsuifeng).

Grey-headed Bullfinch. Common higher altitude. (Anmashan, Hohuan).

Section 1 - Introduction, logistics, itinerary and general information.
Section 2 - Birding sites.
Section 3 - Systematic list.