Trip Report to Taiwan and Lanyu Island by Sue Bryan
May 23rd – June 3rd 2018
An independent birding trip to Taiwan was proposed by our birding friend Nick Watmough to cover all the endemic birds during the half-term break. However due to personal reasons Nick had to drop out and John and I decided to go as neither of us had been to Taiwan before. We decided to organise the trip ourselves with the help of Richard Foster who booked some of the accommodation and a guide for the Fairy Pitta. We booked flights and a hire car and we both did our homework about where we needed to visit using various trip reports. However Avis cars let us down rather badly at Taipei airport and refused to let us have our booked and paid-for car, citing that our UK licences were not valid in Taiwan and we would have to fly back to the UK to obtain an international driving permit, even though our UK licences have been accepted as international in the many countries that we have driven in before. A frantic phone call was made to Richard Foster of www.TaiwanBirding.com who put us in touch with a local guide and driver Patrick Lee [email protected] who was prepared to show us around the island for the next nine days.
Guide Patrick Lee
May 23rd Gatwick – Hong Kong
May 24th Hong Kong – Taipei, Taiwan
May 25th Taipei – Yizhu – Dashueshan
Mat 26th Dasyueshan
May 27th Gonguan – Xianxi –Hanbao- Syuejia
May 28th Alishan –Shizhuo
May 29th Budai – Pintung University – Kenting NP
May 30th Lanyu Island
May 31st Lanyu Island – Kenting NP
June 1st Xi Tou – Zhushan
June 2nd Yingge – Shimen Reservoir – Hong Kong
June 3rd Hong Kong - Gatwick
International flights to Taipei www.ebookers.com on Cathay Pacific £512 each
Costs Accommodation, Guide, Food, Ferry, Pitta Guide, Petrol totalled £1368 each
No visa required for UK citizens
We used an ATM machines throughout our stay for cash which were to be found in all built-up areas, especially in 7/11 shops.
Taiwan lies on the Tropic of Cancer and so has a tropical climate. In May and June the lowlands are hot and muggy with temperatures in the mid-thirties most days. However with a mountain chain running down the spine of the island and 15 peaks that reach over 3000 metres, the temperate coniferous forests offer some relief to the hot climate below.
Taiwan has a central mountain chain running down the spine of the island covered in temperate forest and a large coastal plain on its western flanks. Miles of man-made fish-ponds offer good habitat for waders during Spring and Autumn passage.
After a night in a hotel at Gatwick, John and I flew to Hong Kong.
John and I arrived during the day in Hong Kong and after admiring the city we flew to Taipei where upon arrival we struck disaster as Avis cars refused to let us have our booked and paid-for hire car citing that our UK driving licences were not valid in Taiwan. After a long session of the Avis staff being intransigent and unhelpful, I rang Richard Foster who had been really helpful with the planning of the trip. He arranged for a local guide and driver who would contact us.
We took a taxi to our hotel and birded the Taipei Botanical Gardens in the afternoon and waited for Patrick Lee to contact us. Thank heavens for smart phones and the social media messaging services! Patrick offered to drive and guide us around the island for the next nine days.
After leaving our bags in the Ferrary hotel room, we caught a taxi to the Botanical Gardens.
It was good to have some heat and sun after leaving a dull and poor summer in England as we birded the gardens and were soon adding to our life lists and watching endemic birds. Taiwan Barbet (E) was the first endemic bird to show as we saw Spotted Dove, Light-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie Robin, Eastern Cattle Egret, Asian Glossy Starling, Malayan Night Heron, Japanese White-eye, Crested Myna and Black-crowned Night Heron. John and I enjoyed the nice easy laid-back birding after our long flight and seemingly disastrous start to our holiday.
Patrick contacted us and we agreed a price to drive and guide us for the nine days that we required. We caught a taxi back to our hotel and found a nice restaurant to have an evening meal.
After breakfast Patrick turned up at our hotel and we loaded our bags and showed him our ‘wants’ list plus all the endemics. We discussed the change of itinerary and let Patrick sort out cancelling and re-booking accommodation more suitable for the birds that we wanted to see. We headed through the Taipei city traffic, stopping off at a city park where we added Taiwan Blue Magpie (E), Grey Treepie, Common Myna, Crested Serpent Eagle and Peregrine.
I had an annoying gap in my wader list and Patrick had noted it and so we drove to Yizhu where he knew a Grey-headed Lapwing was still lingering from its Spring migration. Patrick was very savy to all the latest information and was constantly asking friends and websites for updates using his smart phone. We arrived at Yizhu and after watching Plain Prinia, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover the Grey-headed Lapwing was exactly where he thought it would be. We were lucky it was still there. It was exceptionally hot and heat shimmer was an issue for photography. We also noted Javan Myna, Long-tailed Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow, Little Tern and Red Turtle Dove.
We motored back to Dasyueshan where we stopped at the 23km marker as we climbed up the mountain. Here we saw one of John’s much wanted lifers in the form of Swinhoe’s Pheasant (E). It was a juvenile male but we were assured that we would see more tomorrow. The birding was good as we added more endemics. Taiwan Whistling Thrush (E) and Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush (E) were added as well as Vivid Niltava, Black-throated Tit and White-tailed Robin.
We continued up to the top of the mountain where Patrick had booked us a cabin and after having a meal in the restaurant we went out looking for flying squirrels. We soon found one and were fascinated by it as it posed for our cameras.
We were up early and were soon on the road. The endemics soon added themselves to our list. White-eared Sibia (E), Steer’s Liocichla (E) Taiwan Bush Warbler (E) Nutcracker, Green-backed Tit, Collared Bush Robin (E), Flamecrest (E), Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler and Large-billed Crow were all added without too much pain but we could not find the expected easy Mikado Pheasant at the top. Patrick decided to drop back down the mountain and we were instructed to be at the 43km for 7.30am.
At 7.30am we parked the car and waited at the 43km spot. Twenty minutes later, Patrick spotted a pair of Mikado’s Pheasants (E) walking at a slow pace down the mountainside. It seemed ages before they crossed the road in full view.
We were very pleased with our views and returned back up to the top for some more birding where we added Himalayan Cuckoo, Taiwan Yuhina (E), Taiwan Fulvetta (E), Silver-backed Needletail, Taiwan Pygmy Wren Babbler (Cupwing) (E). We drove back down the mountain a bit and joined the photographers all waiting for the Little Forktail. It put on a very good showing gathering food for its young in the nest. We also added White-bellied Pigeon and Plumbeous Redstart here.
Back at the cabin area we sat in the shade to avoid the heat of the day and ate our picnic lunch. We watched Rufous-faced Warbler, White-whiskered Laughingthrush (E), Rusty Laughingthrush (E), Yellow Tit and Morrison’s Fulvetta (E).
After lunch Patrick drove back to the spot where many people were gathered as food was being put down to attract the partridges and pheasants despite the signs saying not to. Here we had good but very shady views of Taiwan Hill Partridge (E) and Swinhoe’s Pheasants (E).
Our brilliant day was ended by adding White-backed Woodpecker and bird of the trip for me a delightful pair of the amazingly small Collared Owlets that obviously had young nearby somewhere.
We started our day in a rough scrubby area at the back of Gonguan after crossing a bridge. Here Black Bulbul and Grey Treepie were sat posing for photographs to be taken. Here in the vegetation we added White-bellied Erpornis, Chestnut-bellied Tit (E), Black-naped Monarch, a lurking Taiwan Scimitar Babbler, (E), Grey-chinned Minivet and White-rumped Munia.
The birding was good as we motored on and stopped for a Crested Goshawk flying overhead as we made our way to Xianxi where we saw a Great Egret. Later at Hanbao we admired all the passage waders present but failed to find the lifers that John wanted to see. Luckily I had seen them in Hong Kong many years ago. However we enjoyed views of Great Knot, Lesser Sandplover, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and a leucistic Kentish Plover. A Sacred Ibis flew away from us as we watched Grey-throated Martins along the distant bank.
I had asked Patrick to look at my list again and he noted a gap in my crake list and so we motored to Syuejia where we added Slaty-breasted Crake which seemed difficult in the heat of the day but eventually we spotted one lurking underneath some vegetation that then ran out and onto the mud. We also added Black-shouldered Kite here as well as Little Grebe.
Patrick then drove to Beimen where he had been told about a rare Chinese Crested Tern but unfortunately even though we had the best information we failed to find it. We were not the only disappointed birders there! However we added a few trip ticks in the form of Chestnut-tailed Starling, Lesser Crested Tern, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern and Common Kingfisher.
We had a long drive in front of us and Patrick drove three and a half hours back to Alishan where John and I spent the night on top bunks in a men’s dormitory. Luckily by the time we arrived there all we wanted to do was sleep! It was a good move by Patrick as it put us in the best position for an early start the next morning.
Leaving the dormitory early we watched Collared Bush Robin (E), White-browed Shortwing and White-browed Bush Robin but it took a while before we located some Golden Parrotbill. White-Whiskered Laughingthrush (E) also put in an appearance as we were waiting. We posed for some photos along with Taiwan Macaque in the glorious sun and admired the views at the top of the mountain before being driven back to the hostel where John and I wandered around failing to find Barwing (E). Patrick reappeared and located one high up in deep shade. It was difficult to see in the dark but with some patience we had good views of it.
We drove half-way back down the mountain where we had lunch at Shizhuo in a 7/11 and noted Asian House Martin. Further down we stopped to admire two Collared Finchbill sitting on wires.
Once we arrived in Douliu where we had kept the reservation of one of my pre-booked and paid-for hotels we wandered around a park area where we saw Rufous-capped Babbler and White-browed Laughingthrush.
After taking photos of the pitta sign and a quick shower in our hotel, we enjoyed a wonderful sushi meal in a Japanese restaurant.
Before we left the UK Richard Foster had kindly booked Mr.Pitta at Douliu to show us the Fairy Pitta. We had agreed to meet him at 6am outside the pitta cafe at Douliu. However at 6am Mr. Pitta had not arrived and so Patrick spent some time revising our plan assessing our ‘wants list’ which John and I were intrigued with. I was eager to visit Lanyu Island which initially John had not been keen on but since we were doing so well on the endemics we now had time to do. Patrick booked our tickets and I was delighted. Whilst we were waiting we spotted a Maroon Oriole, an endemic sub-species and potential future split.
The Fairy Pitta logo
I have seen several pittas before and was dressed ready to go grovelling for a stake-out on the forest floor. Mr.Pitta eventually arrived on his motorbike apologising as he could not get it started. The plan was for us to follow him in the car as he rode along the road and up a track-way. After a couple of miles he stopped and we got out of the car. The Fairy Pitta flew in immediately and sat at the top of the tree singing!!! How easy was that for a world tick?
We could not believe our luck as we were prepared for an all day visit and within seconds we had seen it. Photography was difficult because the bird was so high in the tree. Luckily I could phone-scope it. We also saw Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler (E) at this spot, another endemic. Mr. Pitta arranged with Patrick to help us try and find Taiwan Bamboo Partridge, a bird that is often missed by birders on trips because of their liking for lurking in deep vegetation and although they can be heard are very rarely seen. However after a long stake-out listening to a bird calling we gave up and shifted to another area where we had heard them calling earlier. Luck was on our side as we walked through a shady wooded area as we saw 3 Bamboo Partridges (E) running ahead of us before flying off into deep vegetation. Patrick was astounded by our run of luck.
We thanked Mr. Pitta who was willing to give us more of his time but after discussions with Patrick and settling our bill, we decided to move on and visit the coast at Budai to give us some more wader and coastal birds. Before setting off we noted a Japanese Wagtail sat on a wire.
We arrived at Budai in the heat of the day and walked along a bund at one of the extensive fish ponds (they go for miles here). We enjoyed watching many wader species and added Whiskered Tern, Intermediate Egret, White-winged Black Tern, Pied Avocet and Greenshank that were new for our lists whilst Caspian Terns flew over our heads.
Patrick suggested stopping off at Pintung University on our way south, as he knew of a Savannah Nightjar that returned there every year to nest. We followed him and crept around a corner where the bird was nesting and quickly took a couple of photos and then left it in peace. We walked around the grounds of the university and noted Black-naped Oriole, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker and watched Black Kite soar overhead. However we were all fascinated by the action of an Eastern Cattle Egret that was walking around a JCB moving a woodpile as it disturbed insects and lizards. It was proving a good food source for the Eastern Cattle Egret.
We still had quite a drive to go and motored to the southern tip of Taiwan where we could stay at the homestay of one of Patrick’s friends. We arrived in time to do the final birding of the day and saw Taiwan Bulbul (Styan’s) (E) and Taiwan Hwamei (E). It had been a fantastic day and we had certainly packed a lot of birding in. Patrick was proving to be an excellent guide and driver and fun to be with.
I was looking forward to today as I had wanted to do the Lanyu Island extension from the start. Tropical Islands are very romantic and often have a few extra species to add to lists. I love sea journeys as they give extra opportunities for seeing seabirds too. The weather was fantastic and although John is not a good sailor he was happy to accompany me on the trip. We set off from Kenting harbour and found our way up to the outside top deck of the ferry. We watched Flying Fish skim across the water as we sailed on the South China Sea in brilliant sunlight. Bulwer’s Petrel and Short-tailed Shearwaters were admired but were too quick for my camera.
Sue on Lanyu Island
John and I enjoyed the ferry ride and after a few hours arrived on Lanyu Island. Patrick went in search of a car whilst John and I enjoyed the sun. We admired the Black-naped Terns flying around the rocks. We were soon underway and Patrick took us for a ride over the top of the island stopping to admire Lowland White-eye, Blue Rock Thrush and Pacific Swift first. We wandered into a forest where we soon added Philippine Cuckoo Dove and Brown-eared Bulbul which were everywhere. Whistling Green Pigeon took a little longer to find but we found it eventually.
Blue Rock Thrush
We went for some lunch during the heat of the day as it was in the high thirties making it difficult to go birding in. We enjoyed our prawns and fried rice and waited for it to cool down. We returned to the forest and after a long search Patrick located a Ryukyu Scops Owl. Patrick’s local knowledge paid off as he knew some favourite trees for the owl. I was really pleased about the owl as I had missed it on Okinawa last year, but it may be soon split again.
Forest on Lanyu Island
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher
We drove to another small valley and we watched a pair of Japanese Paradise Flycatchers. We were as thrilled as Patrick was as he had now shown us all the Taiwanese Endemics plus the Lanyu specialities bar the Island Thrush which is virtually impossible to find. He celebrated in style!
Our return drive to our hostel accommodation was very buoyant as we had all enjoyed our day. We saw a White-breasted Waterhen as we drove to freshen up back at the hostel before a meal in a very interesting restaurant overlooking the sea as the moon rose.
Patrick was not finished yet as he had gleaned some information about a Northern Boobock. We drove to the spot after playing tourist for a while taking photos and hacked our way through the vegetation to where the owl was supposed to be. Patrick’s keen eyes soon found the owl at roost. We also enjoyed views of a pair of Japanese Paradise Flycatchers feeding young here too.
As we were driving back to catch the ferry our mobile phones starting making an unfamiliar sound. I looked at mine, as flashed across the scene was a Presidential Alert. I needed Patrick to interpret. It said that there was an earthquake happening!! Being at the coast with sheer cliffs with danger of falling rocks signs didn’t seem a good place to be!
However we survived to tell the tale and made our way back to the ferry after stopping to watch a Pacific Reef Heron.
Lanyu Island with an earthquake warning!
Earthquake warning on my mobile phone
Lanyu Island with an earthquake warning!
We caught the ferry back to Taiwan, watching Bulwer’s Peterels and Aleutian Terns as we sailed.
Sue and John in neoprene!
It was certainly a magical experience and the sea had an amazing array of fish for us to look at. Even John enjoyed the experience! We thanked Patrick for letting us enjoy the opportunity and certainly made for a lovely day.
We drove back to Douliu stopping to admire a Pacific Swallow sitting on a wire before having a celebratory meal in another Japanese Restaurant.
We started our day in a very busy tourist park where Patrick was hoping to show us Scaly Thrush. Despite an extensive search we could not find one. We added Ferruginous Flycatcher to our trip list though. A pair of White-tailed Robins were busy feeding young as a White-eared Sibia hunted for food on a tree trunk. We also had much better views of Steer’s Liocichla. A Taiwan Whistling Thrush kept us busy trying to get the best photo but in the humidity I needed a rest!
We continued our search but the park was getting busy and it was not our type of birding. After John had had a drink we asked to leave.
Richard Foster had sent me a message to go to the temple at Zhushan, not my usual haunt since I am a cultural heathen. However there was a Collared Scops Owl present up in the ceiling of the temple which they were very proud of. Patrick drove us there.
Collared Scops Owl
We were made very welcome with a cup of tea and we were even allowed to take our optics inside. I returned to the car for my telescope. I scanned the highly decorative ceiling but could not locate the bird. There were so many crevices to look into. However after some discussion Patrick put my telescope onto the bird. It was still difficult to locate exactly where the bird was sitting and there was not enough light for my camera. However I did manage a phone-scope picture of it.
We drove to Longtan for yet another delicious sushi meal where we spent the night.
John had requested to take a day out on our holiday to visit a ceramics museum that had been recommended to him by a friend. Patrick drove us there and I noted an Asian House Swift flying over the city streets. We visited the museum before driving to Shimen Reservoir. Here there was nothing on the water but we did note Oriental Turtle Dove and enjoyed a last walk in the wooded perimeter of the reservoir watching a pair of Taiwan Barbets excavating a nest hole before our flight home.
Our time was done and Patrick drove us to the airport. We thanked him very much for rescuing our holiday at such short notice and being an amazing guide and driver. We enjoyed his company and his commitment at finding the birds that we wanted to see. He certainly paid a lot of attention to our needs. Well done Patrick! We would also like to thank Richard Foster for all the effort he also put into helping us.
1. Perny’s Squirrel Dremomys pernyi 26/05/18 Dasyueshan
2. Pallas’s Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus 24/0518 Taipei Botanical Garden
3. Maritime Striped Squirrel Tamiops maritimus 26/0518 Dasyueshan
4. Red-and-White Flying Squirrel Petaurista alborufus lena 25/05/18 Dasyeshan
5. Taiwan Macaque Macaca cyclopsis 25/0518 Dasyueshan
6. Reeve’s Muntjac (island race) Muntaiacus reevesi micrurus 25/05/18 Dasyueshan