Taiwan Photo Journey

Taiwan is one of the world’s most underexposed ecotourism destinations. The Taiwanese explore their island in droves, but westerners tend to think of it as a concrete megalopolis with little wilderness. Nothing could be further from the truth, with some 60% of the original forest cover remaining, making Taiwan one of the wildest and least altered lands on Earth—a stark contrast to many of its neighbors. Despite its tiny size, the towering mountain ranges that dominate its spine are tall and spectacular. Lying on the tropic of cancer, the coastal lowlands are distinctly warm and muggy, and as the peaks reach up towards 13,125 ft. (4000m), concentric vegetation bands give way to temperate coniferous forest and alpine tundra, giving the island amazing habitat diversity. In addition to stunning landscapes, Taiwan boasts friendly people, stunning culture, and a wonderful distinctive cuisine.



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All visitors, no matter what their particular bent, are in for a great experience. The wild interior holds some high quality endemic birds, including two pheasant species, as well as a host of laughingthrushes and the snazzy Flamecrest. Added to the wealth of resident birds are a suite of migrants that occupy the island on passage between Siberia and tropical Asia from September to March. In addition, many of the birds have been habituated at a series of feeding stations and are tame and are easily photographed, making it a dream Asian photography destination. Asian birds are notoriously hard to get pictures of, but not in Taiwan!

Day 1: Taipei. We arrive in the world-class Asian city and head to a downtown hotel. If time allows we may visit the Taipei Botanical Gardens for some low-key bird photography. Overnight in Taipei.

Dashueshan offers both pheasants and magnificent mountain scenery
Dashueshan offers both pheasants and magnificent mountain scenery (Keith Barnes)

Days 2-4: Dashueshan. We spend three days in the amazing Dashuashan area, a veritable bird photographer’s Disneyland. Photographers have done an incredible job of making some of Taiwan’s most spectacular and skittish birds remarkably tame here. First and foremost amongst these are the magical pheasants. Both the white-backed Swinhoe’s and the regal Mikado are regular at stakeouts along the road. Camera setups are easy, and the birds themselves are bold and unafraid. There are also a few feeding areas for the much-more-skittish Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge and Taiwan Partridge, another two gamebirds found nowhere else on Earth. Fruiting Idesia trees are another phenomenon we hope to encounter, with up to 15 bird species gorging themselves on their photogenic red berries, including the dashing Taiwan Sibia, Taiwan Barbet and ever perky Taiwan Yuhina. We overnight in the hotel in Dashuashan.

Incredible close-ups of Swinhoe's Pheasants make this a remarkable photo tour
Incredible close-ups of Swinhoe's Pheasants make this a remarkable photo tour (Keith Barnes)

Day 5: Dashueshan to Wushe. After another morning in Dashueshan we will make a trip to the center of the island. The afternoon will be spent either at the nearby Ao-Wan-Da forest or Huisun Forest depending on the conditions. Both areas hold broadleaf woodlands, and there we seek to photograph Taiwan Yellow Tit, Taiwan Varied Tit, and the sensational Taiwan Blue Magpie. The scenery here is also exceptional, and we may have stops for a few landscape photography possibilities. We will overnight in Wushe.

Day 6: Wushe. Today we travel via the highest road pass in Taiwan in order to search for the highest-altitude endemics, including Taiwan Laughingthrush and Collared Bush-Robin. Here there are also some great opportunities for scenic shots. Sometimes there is a dusting of snow around which may enliven our photo-ops. After we traverse Hohuanshan, we will enjoy Taiwan’s most scenic road and through one of Asia’s seven natural wonders, Taroko Gorge. This winding journey through vertical marble cliffs along the side of a deep, steep-sided gorge is not to be missed, and we will make many photographic stops as we progress. We will overnight in Wushe.

Taiwan Sibia
Taiwan Sibia (Keith Barnes)

Day 7: Augo and Tainan. Today we travel down Taiwan’s East Coast to the incredible wetlands in Augo and Tainan is likely to give us many more bird and scenery stops. Once there we will enjoy the stunning spectacle of thousands of wintering shorebirds and waterfowl at this internationally important site for wetland birds. Overnight in Tainan.

Day 8: Return to Taipei. After another morning photographing wetland birds we return to Taoyuan International Airport where the tour comes to an end.

Some great cultural spots allow for some colorful photo shoots
Some great cultural spots allow for some colorful photo shoots (Keith Barnes)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. We will spend full days in the field. As for all wildlife photography we will need to be up early, around 6 am, and stay out late, around 5 pm, in order to use the first and last light, the best light. Where possible we will use the middle of the day to rest up, download full memory cards, or travel between localities. However, on overcast days, it is still possible to shoot during the middle of the day, and the light in Taiwan at this time of year is seldom ‘too harsh’ to be useless. So, if we encounter any interesting or convenient subjects in the middle of the day, we will be sure to use them. There may be some optional outings after dark to search for flying squirrels or frogs; these are normally done after dinner and seldom last for more than an hour (typically between about 7 and 8 pm).

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. There will not be much hiking at all on this itinerary. Most of the subjects and hides are photographed close to the road. However, you will still have to be able to lug your own gear around for a few hundred yards to the various set-ups. We will spend a lot of time seated and waiting for subjects to appear at feeding stations.

CLIMATE: This tour takes place in Taiwan’s winter. The higher altitude rainforest sites at Dashueshan and Hohuanshan are cool (usually 40°-60°F, 4°-16°C), with rain likely at some stage. At Hohuanshan the temperatures can drop below freezing. The climate in the lowlands can be a little humid and warm (usually 60°-78°F, 16°-26°C). Rainfall is highly variable, but the island experiences a lot of rain year round and downpours can occur at any time.

ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent, all have private, en-suite bathrooms, and full-time hot water. Electricity is available everywhere 24 hours a day. At higher altitudes the interior of the rooms is chilly, but warm blankets are provided.

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: There will not be a lot of walking, we tend to head to known stake-outs where we wait for the various subjects to attend feeding stations. If we find flowering or fruiting trees, we will spend time at these localities also, waiting for the birds to come to us.

GEAR: Because the light is low, and we’ll be spending times in forests, a faster lens is best, as is a tripod and shutter release. Using a prime 300 f2.8 or 500 f4 on a tripod would be ideal. There are also a myriad of opportunities to take landscape photos and also there are some opportunities for cultural photography of temples and/or people. Macro photography and nocturnal photography will be limited as there are only a handful of subjects we target.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and most European countries. For other countries, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help. Travel requirements are subject to change; it’s a good idea to double check six weeks before you travel.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 7; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 8; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks with meals; safe drinking water between meals; photo tour leader with audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 8; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person specifically on arrival day and departure day respectively (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 1 to day 8 in a suitable vehicle; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help you keep track of what you have photographed (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters at hotels (if you require their services); international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; airport-hotel transfers on days that fall outside the prescribed arrival and departure days; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.