Trip report: Taiwan, Formosan Endemics (Nov 2004) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Keith Barnes.

Taiwan combines an eclectic mix of phenomenal south Chinese montane birding, 14 endemic species and nearly 60 endemic sub-species – several of which are ripe for splitting – and extraordinary food, ancient culture mixed with a people that could not be more inviting and friendly. A typical island, what it lacks in diversity it more then makes up for in endemicity. On this tour we managed 14 endemics and a host of endemic sub-species in a triplist of 184. Undoubted highlights included a staggering 14 Swinhoe’s Pheasants in one hour. We think this is some kind of world record, and one we don’t think we will ever repeat, but needless to say, we saw these birds exceptionally well. Some of the group also nailed Mikado Pheasant fleeing from the path and Taiwan Hill Partridge, both extremely tricky species. The bevy of endemic babblers were also fantastic including Steere’s Liocichla, Taiwan Yuhina, White-whiskered Sibia, Taiwan Barwing and White-whiskered Laughing-thrush. The striking Taiwan Yellow Tit did not fail to mesmerise, and although we saw it commonly in one locality we never saw it again. As we climbed higher into the cool but crisp mountains the ruby-red neck and throat patch of the Collared Bush Robin became a daily feature and we also got to see the most impressive Kinglet in the world in the form of the spectacular Flamecrest, a surprisingly beautiful bird. As we reached the lowlands of the east coast, we were able to find the increasingly endangered Styan’s Bulbul. Although common, it is unfortunately being hybridised out of existence by the Light-vented Bulbul, which is moving farther and farther south. We eventually caught up with the electric blue Taiwan Whistling Thrush. After a few days of it singing sweetly from the bushes we were able to feast on it in an open riverbed. The final endemic, seen on the first and last days, was the giant Formosan Blue Magpie. This marvellous beast hangs around in imposing flocks of 8 – 15 and they came bounding out of the forest like woodhoopoes on steroids. In the lowland rivers non-endemics specialities included a few Little Forktails and Brown Dippers negotiating their way through the waterways. A major highlight was a large flock of roving Golden Parrotbill that we were extremely lucky to locate in the high mountains, as well as the curvaceous Streak-breasted and Spot-breasted Scimitar Babblers. Taiwan is also famous as a flyway, and migrants formed a significant proportion of our tally including the highly endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, of which we saw over 200 birds, some 25% of the global population and Saunder’s Gull, another threatened species. In the mountains, migrant thrushes featured and we scored with Dusky, Brown-headed, Pale and Eye-browed Thrush which were joined at the fruiting trees on a couple of occasions by the dazzling resident white-headed Taiwan-endemic subspecies of Island Thrush. We finished off with the now famous Malayan Night Heron’s in Taipei Gardens on a bumper-filled tour that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

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