Taiwan: Birding with a Camera® (BwC)
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, reaching over 13,000 ft. (4000 m.). Along with its avian riches, Taiwan boasts friendly people, picturesque cultural scenes, and wonderfully distinctive Asian cuisine. The most interesting development in the last decade has been an explosion in interest in birding and bird photography. Taiwanese love photographing endemics, residents, migrants, and especially rare visitors to their island, and there is a fervent community pushing tens of thousands who are passionate about their hobby. This means that many birds are well staked out, used to people and cameras, and thus very cooperative for birders and photographers. It all bodes well for birders with cameras! 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 endemic and resident birds, almost all of which remain easily found in winter, are a suite of migrants that occupy the island in the winter. Millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines flood the island from Siberia and the frozen north, and there are several great spots to catch up with them. 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.
4 - 14 October ($4650; single supplement $550)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 11 Days
Starting City: Taipei
Ending City: Taipei
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Focus: Birding & Photography
Max group size: 8 + 1 leader
Day 1: Taipei
We arrive in this world-class Asian city and head to a downtown hotel. If time allows we may visit the Taipei Botanical Gardens and/or a nearby riverside park for some easy birding and photography. Overnight in Taipei.
Days 2: Taipei to Dashueshan
The plans for this morning are flexible. If fall migration has been good, we may start the day at one of several hotspots where we might see and photograph Daurian Redstart, Brown Shrike, several species of thrushes, and maybe a few buntings too; more open areas ought to yield wagtails and pipits. Another option is to visit a park north of the city where the spectacular Taiwan Blue Magpie is a regular visitor and occasionally bathes in the stream. We then head south towards the start of the amazing road up to Dashueshan. We spend two nights in a town near the start of the road, which allows convenient access to the lower slopes of the park. Time permitting, we may bird a bit this afternoon along the start of the road, where we may see Collared Finchbill, Black-naped Monarch, Bronzed Drongo, Red Collared-Dove, and other common species.
Day 3: Dashueshan (lower slopes)
The Dashuashan area is a veritable birder’s Disneyland, and a favorite haunt of local photographers, who have done an incredible job of making some of Taiwan’s most spectacular endemic birds remarkably tame here. First and foremost among these are the magical pheasants. We’ll start the morning at a regular feeding area for the white-backed Swinhoe’s Pheasant, where we also have a decent chance to get the shy Taiwan Partridge. 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. The general birding is great and we will seek out Rusty and Rufous-crowned Laughing-thrushes, Steere’s Liochichla, Taiwan Yellow Tit, and many of the island’s other endemic species here.
Day 4: Dashueshan area
The morning is flexible – we may head straight back to Dashueshan, or, if we did well yesterday, we may make a side trip to the beautiful Guguan Valley where the beautiful Chestnut-bellied Tit is often easy to see, along with the deep-blue Taiwan Whistling-Thrush, the water-loving Brown Dipper, and various other species. Later in the day, we’ll check into our cabins in the upper part of Dashueshan, where we spend two nights, then head to the end of the road for our first chance at Taiwan’s other endemic pheasant, the regal Mikado Pheasant, at a known feeding area. White-whiskered Laughingthrushes are bold and very entertaining as they bounce around in the open along the edge of the clearings. At night, we’ll try to photograph the beautiful Red-and-white Giant Flying Squirrels that feed near our lodge, and a night drive should get us views of the odd Serow, an ungulate that looks like a mix between a goat and antelope.
Day 5: Dashueshan (upper slopes)
Unless we lucked out yesterday, we’ll spend more time waiting for Mikado Pheasants at known sites before targeting other species of the higher elevations such as the cute, endemic Flamecrest, Colorful Collared Bush-Robin, loud Eurasian Nutcracker, Coal Tit, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, Taiwan Fulvetta, Taiwan Cupwing, Little Forktail, and others.
Day 6: Dashueshan to Changhua
After another morning in Dashueshan we shall head to the coastal wetlands and extensive mudflats of Hanbao. The tides will determine whether we visit these sites this afteroon or the following morning. We ought to be able to see and photograph many wintering shorebirds. Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers, Kentish Plover, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Red Knot, Sharp-billed Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plover, Black-bellied Plover and Pacific Golden Plover should all be about. With luck, Great Knot, Eurasian Curlew, or Bar-tailed Godwit may be found. There may also be some interesting passerines lurking in the scrub including Siberian Rubythroat.
Day 7: Changhua to Wushe
This morning, depending on the tides, we may bird the coastline, or head to the center of the island, where we may visit 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, Chestnut-bellied 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 spend two nights in Wushe.
Day 8: Wuling and Taroko Gorge
Today we travel via the highest road pass in Taiwan giving us more chance at high altitude species like Taiwan Fulvetta, Flamecrest, Collared Bush-Robin, Taiwan Rosefinch, Gray-headed Bullfinch, and Alpine Accentor. 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 the pass, we will enjoy Taiwan’s most scenic road which passes 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 some photographic stops as we progress. We’ll stop for lunch at a site where we should find the endemic Styan’s Bulbul before beginning the long drive back to Wushe Note that road work sometimes closes sections of this road, but there is still plenty to see here even we can’t reach the lower parts of the gorge.
Day 9: Wushe to Tainan
Today we travel down Taiwan’s West Coast. We’ll plan our stops based on what we are still seeking, and could spend more time in the mountains, or head to the coastal wetlands early enough to do some birding there. We may pass by an ornate temple where a Collared Scops-Owl roosts in the eves. We’ll spend two nights in a hotel either in Tainan or in a temple outside of the city.
Day 10: Southern Taiwan
We’ll spend some or all of today in the incredible wetlands of Augu and Qigu. Once there we will enjoy the stunning spectacle of thousands of wintering shorebirds and waterfowl at this internationally important site for wetland birds. We are likely to find flocks of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, several species of ducks, and numerous herons and egrets, which are often close and photogenic. Note: if we were unable to reach Taroko Gorge on day 8, we will likely include a visit to Kenting National Park near the southern tip of the island, which offers another chance at Styan’s Bulbul as well as great scenery.
Day 11: Return to Taipei
Our last morning will be spend either in the fantastic coastal wetlands north of Tainan, or at other sites between Tainan and Taipei. Time permitting, we will stop at the Xitou Nature Recreation Area, where the colorful endemic Steere’s Liocicha is surprisingly tame, and where we have a chance at several other great birds like Taiwan Barwing, White-tailed Robin, and Little Forktail. We’ll reach the Taipei airport by 3pm, allowing time to take evening international flights.
PACE: Moderate. On most days we will need to be up early, usually around 5:30-6:00am, and stay out late, around 5 pm, in order to take advantage of the best birding and light. When possible, we will use the middle of the day to relax or travel between localities, but most days will be full days in the field. There will be at least one outing after dark to search for mammals and owls. Packed breakfasts are the norm, which are preferable to the traditional cold rice porridge and pickles served in many of the hotels! We’ll also have a few picnic lunches, but hot water is usually available to have hot beverages and instant noodles. All dinners and some lunches are sit down affairs, and this is where Taiwanese cuisine shines; those who enjoy Asian food are usually delighted with the smorgasbord on offer. The highest altitude is the pass at Wuling, which is around 10,700 ft (3275 m), but we don’t really stay there long and don’t do much walking, so is not likely to be an issue for most people. All accommodation is at much lower elevation.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Most of the birding is done along roads or easy trails, some of which are slightly inclined. There are no difficult trails. You can expect to walk around 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day. If you struggle with standing still in one place, you may want to bring a portable stool or chair.
CLIMATE: This tour takes place in Taiwan’s autumn. The higher altitude sites are chilly, especially early in the morning (usually 40°-60°F, 4°-16°C), with rain likely at some stage. The climate in the lowlands can be a little humid and warm (usually 60°-86°F, 16°-30°C). Rainfall is highly variable; while this is timed for a dryer time of year, the island has a wet, tropical climate and downpours can still occur at any time.
ACCOMMODATION: 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 and space heaters are provided. Wi-fi is available everywhere except for the nights inside Dashueshan, and cell service is very good throughout most of the trip.
EXPECTATIONS: Taiwan is a compact island, but with the remarkable mountains we will access many habitats and eco-zones. We can expect to see at least 150 species of bird on this trip, and are likely to be able to photograph most of them, with decent shots of 60-90 species, including many great pics of very elegant birds such as pheasants, laughingthrushes, scimitar-babblers, robins, and more. And the remarkable culture of Taiwan is worthy of a few snaps itself.
GEAR: Binoculars are essential. A decent DSLR or micro 4/3 camera is recommended. The light is often low, so a faster lens is best such as a prime 300 or 500mm, however a high quality zoom such as a 100-400 mm lens does very well in most situations. Tripods can be useful in a few places, but they are not required, and can be a hindrance on some of the longer walks. You can always leave your tripod in the car when it is not needed. There is also a myriad of opportunities to take landscape photos and cultural photos of temples and/or people. We’ll look for flying squirrels and owls at night, where a flash can come in handy.
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, EU 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 10; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 11; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks with meals; safe drinking water between meals; tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the afternoon of day 11; 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 the afternoon of day 1 to the afternoon of day 11 in suitable vehicle(s); entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help you keep track of your sightings and photos (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 in 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.