Trip report: Taiwan: Formosan Endemics (June 2019)

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a custom tour.

Taiwan is a gem of a country that lies off the coast of East Asia. Although its mention evokes huge urban areas and massive populations in the minds of most, Taiwan actually boasts rugged mountains and vast wilderness areas. These support a rich array of wildlife, including dozens of endemic bird species and even more endemic subspecies, many of which are potential future splits. Taiwan is a comfortable place to travel, with modern hotels, world-class roads, and excellent food. Whether you’re an experienced Asia-phile birder seeking out the island’s endemic birds, or a newcomer to this part of the world, Taiwan is an excellent place to visit.

This short trip was a bit unusual in a couple respects. For one, it was during the summer, whereas most birding tours run during the spring season. Although in June, the winter and passage birds were gone, it was if anything better for the endemic birds. This custom trip was also somewhat unusual in its hybrid approach, as we tried to see all the endemic birds, photograph as many birds as possible (as on a “Birding with a Camera” tour), plus to see as much other wildlife as we could manage. We were highly successful on all fronts.

With the endemic birds, we saw all 28 endemic species recognized on the current Clements list, plus several highly likely future splits, and dozens more endemic subspecies, some of which may be elevated to full endemic species in the future. Some of the highlights were stunning views of a pair of Mikado Pheasants at (literally) arm’s length, intimate encounters with Flamecrest, Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler, and all the laughingthrushes, and several excellent sightings of the island’s most elusive endemic: Taiwan Thrush. Taiwan Bamboo Partridge was actually the endemic that gave us the most trouble, but our persistence eventually paid off with great views. One of the outstanding things about Taiwan is that although it has only one or two representatives of many major Asian groups of birds, an unusually high proportion of these are the coolest member of the group! A few examples that I’d argue are Taiwan Yuhina, Firecrest, White-eared Sibia, Steere’s Liocichla, Taiwan Blue-Magpie, and Taiwan Barwing. Taiwan might not have a vast set of endemics, but all of its endemics are very cool birds. Even the drab-looking Taiwan Bush-Warbler boasts one of the coolest songs among Asian birds!

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (6 MB file).