Taiwan: Formosan Endemics & Migration - Birding Tour
This Taiwan tour is like no other on the market. Most bird tour companies enjoy a leisurely 12-14 day tour around mainland Taiwan to see the endemics, but our tour delivers that and much, much more. We start with an optional pre-trip foray to the Matsu archipelago, where we are located right along the mainland Chinese coastline, and we will explore the small islands here for four days for the migrant treasures that pass through at this time of year. We can expect good numbers of buntings, including Little, Black-faced, Chestnut, Yellow-breasted and more. The scrubby hillsides hold potential for Narcissus, Grey-streaked and Asian Brown Flycacthers, and if we are lucky, perhaps a rarer Mugimaki or Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Shorebirds can also be found, and we will target those and keep our ears and eyes out for other migrants including thrushes and warblers. After returning to mainland Taiwan we spend a day at a famous migrant trap north of the city – Yehliu. The main tour will focus on the late wintering birds, resident species, and endemics. In addition to the stunning landscapes Taiwan boasts friendly people, rich culture and a tasty cuisine, so all visitors, no matter what your particular bent, are in for a great experience. Lying in the South China sea on the tropic of cancer, the coastal lowlands are distinctly warm and muggy, but with over 15 peaks that reach above 3000 m, the interior of the island comprises a series of concentric vegetation bands that terminate in temperate coniferous forest and arctic-like alpine tundra at the highest limits. The Taiwanese bird list now stands at an impressive 550+ species. Although many of these are rartities and a regular tour is likely to yield around 210 species. What few birders know about Taiwan is that it has a host of fascinating endemic birds. The application of the Phylogenetic Species Concept (PSC) has seen what was once considered only 15 endemic species swell to over 29, and the number keeps growing. This means that Taiwan becomes more and more important for listers with a global birding agenda. But Taiwan is a fabulous birding destination in its own right, even for those less focused on listing.
Main Tour: 21 - 30 April ($3950; single supplement: $550)
Extension: 16 - 21 April ($2600; single supplement: $400)
Main Tour; 22 April - 1 May ($4250; single supplement: $650)
Extension: 17 - 22 April ($2800; single supplement: $480)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 10 Days (15 Days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Taipei
Ending City: Taipei
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Max group size: 9 + 1 leader
*This itinerary is often run in a slightly different order than listed below, but all sites will still be visited.
Day 1: Arrival
The tour begins at Taoyuan International Airport. We’ll spend one night in a nearby hotel. No birding is planned for today.
Day 2: Shimen to Tainan
We start the day by exploring the lowlands and relatively developed west coast. A stop at Shimen may reveal the electric blue Formosan Whistling-Thrush and the impressive Taiwan Blue Magpie, before we head farther south to the coastal wetlands of Tainan. By this afternoon we will be enjoying the stunning spectacle of wintering shorebirds and waterfowl near Tainan. Our main quarry will be late Black-faced Spoonbills that may still be hanging around. The spoonbill is not the only rare bird here. Other migrants that we will look for include Red-throated Pipit, Oriental Reed Warbler, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Spot-billed Duck, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Hen Harrier, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser and Greater Sand-plovers, Pacific Golden Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Asiatic Dowitcher, Gray-tailed Tattler, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Dunlin, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Great and Red Knots, and Common and Spotted Redshanks. The night will be spent in Tainan.
Day 3: Tainan to Alishan via Pingtung County
After more coastal and wetland birding, we will head north to Alishan County. In the afternoon we go to an incredible blind that regularly delivers both Swinhoe’s Pheasant and Taiwan Partridge. After dark – if the weather is good and energy levels permit – we might do a night-walk for owls and flying-squirrels, as this area is great for both. We have one night in Alishan.
Day 4: Alishan to Wushe via Yushan NP
We’ll depart early so that we can be at the magical Yushan National Park at the crack of dawn. Although this will be our first time in the mountains, and there will be loads of new birds, our main quarry this morning will be the incredible Mikado Pheasant. Other wanted specialties here include Golden Parrotbill and the distinctive local owstoni form of Gray-headed Bullfinch. After the morning is complete, we will head through to the Chingjing area of Wushe township and visit one of a myriad of sites that should deliver us some mid-altitude birds. Exactly where we go will depend on what we have seen already, but Ao Wan Da or Huisun forest reserves are good options.
Day 5: Wushe area
Today we have a full day to explore this wonderful area. We will go over the highest road pass in Taiwan, looking for high altitude endemics, including the White-whiskered Laughingthrush and Collared Bush-Robin. The pass also holds Alpine Accentor and Taiwan Rosefinch. We’ll then continue down into the scenic Taroko Gorge to see the endemic Styan’s Bulbul and admire the scenery. After lunch, we’ll bird our way back to Wushe, stopping to look for birds like Taiwan Bush-Warbler, Taiwan Yuhina, the moustached White-eared Sibia, the tail-less Taiwan Wren-Babbler, Steere’s Liocichla, and Taiwan Barwing. Joining the endemics in the mixed species parties are Vivid Niltava, Black-throated Tit, and Brown Bullfinch. The newly split endemic Taiwan Thrush, with its snow-white head, will be another target, but it is always a tricky bird to find.
Day 6: Wushe to Dashueshan
After a final morning exploring the Wushe area, we head to the impressive Dashueshan, which literally means ‘Big Snow Mountain’. This area is also one of the best general birding areas in Taiwan. We will enjoy three nights here.
Days 7-8: Dashueshan
Local photographers have done an incredible job of making some of Taiwan’s most spectacular yet normally skittish birds remarkably easy to see here. First and foremost among these are the spectacular pheasants. The white-backed Swinhoe’s Pheasant is regular at stakeouts along the road. The pheasants are called “the kings of the mist” in local parlance, a celebration of their elegant plumage and secretive nature. The birds themselves are bold and unafraid, and you will not likely find easier pheasants anywhere in the world to photograph and enjoy at leisure. The common but shy Taiwan Partridge is also frequently heard and often seen along this road. Although the game birds are the stars, we have the opportunity to search more many of the interior forest species including some recently split taxa such as the noisy Taiwan Bamboo Partridge, furtive Taiwan Shortwing, scarce and stunning Taiwan Thrush, dapper little Taiwan Cupwing, inquisitive Taiwan Fulvetta, spectacled Flamecrest, and stunning Steere’s Liochichla, as well as a bevy of tits, babblers, drongos, and other flock species. The mixed broadleaved forests ought to reveal some garrulous laughing-thrushes including hopefully Rufous-crowned and Rusty Laughingthrushes. Night drives here can be interesting, and as well as owls, we will search for Red-and-white Giant Flying Squirrel, Taiwan Serow and maybe even a Hog-nosed Ferret-Badger.
Day 9: Dashueshan to Huben
On last morning in Dashueshan will give us another shot at any montane endemics we may still be missing; the stunning surroundings of this magnificent area make it a pleasure to explore. The day draws to a close in the western lowlands of Daoliou County.
Day 10: Huben to Taoyuan
Our main quarry this morning is the spectacular Fairy Pitta. Other species occurring here include the secretive Malayan Night Heron, Rusty Laughingthrush, Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler, and many more. After a morning in this area, we head back to Taoyuan International Airport, where the tour draws to a close. We’ll arrive by late afternoon, in time for most international connections.
Day 1: Arrival
After arrival in Taipei (arrival at Taoyuan before 5 pm required) we will make our way through to Keelung Port where we will eat dinner and board the ferry for the Matsu archipelago, located along the migrant-laden coast of mainland China. We overnight in comfortable cabins on the ferry, which arrives at the two square km Dongyin Island the following morning (sometimes it makes a stop at another island en route). Migration birding can be fickle, but we hope for good conditions during our stay.
Days 2-3: Dongyin
With two full days to explore Dongyin we will hit all the main spots hoping for some great birds. The variety of buntings can sometimes be amazing, with Little, Black-faced, Chestnut, Japanese Yellow, Yellow-breasted, and Yellow-browed all possible. The scrubby hillsides hold potential for Narcissus, Gray-streaked, and Asian Brown Flycacthers, Common Rosefinch, Oriental Greenfinch, and if we are lucky, perhaps a rarer Mugimaki or Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Shorebirds can also be found: Little Whimbrel, Red-necked Stint, and Terek Sandpiper are frequent visitors, and while targeting those, we’ll keep our ears and eyes out for other migrants. We overnight on the tiny islet where we may see the spectacular blue bioluminescence that makes the rocky coastline sparkle by night.
Day 4: Dongyin to Nangang
Today we take a two hour ferry journey from Dongyin to the larger Nangang island. With additional shorebird habitat and some slightly different habitats we hope to find some different birds.
Day 5: Nangang to Taipei
After some last minute birding, we transfer from Nangang to Taipei’s Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei via a short flight. We will swing over to the Botanical Gardens where we hope to catch up with the resident Malayan Night-Heron, Light-vented Bulbul, and Japanese White-eye, as well as our first endemic, Taiwan Barbet. The city parks may be holding thrushes or other good passage migrants. We head over the hills north of Taipei for the night, where we enjoy an evening of Dim-sum, and maybe some of the unique Taiwanese dumplings.
Day 6: Yehliu to Taoyuan
We will spend the morning birding the Yehliu Peninsula which is the best migrant trap on mainland Taiwan. What may be around is impossible to guess, but over the years Yehlui has hosted many unusual birds, and is a regular stopover for for Siberian Rubythroat, Asian Stubtail, and more. We have some other spots to try depending on how our luck holds at Yehliu, before heading to Taoyuan International Airport, where we meet up with those joining our main tour.
PACE: Moderate. For all birding we will need to be up early, around 5-5:30am, and stay out late, around 5:30pm, in order to take advantage of the best birding hours. Where possible we will use the middle of the day to relax, or travel between localities, but many days will be full days in the field. There will be a few optional outings after dark to search for owls, 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). The ferry from the main island to Matsu (extension only) lasts at least 10 hours (more if there is no direct ferry), but bunk beds are available so that it can pass surprisingly quickly and comfortably. “Convenience store” 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: Mostly easy. There is a fair amount of walking involved, and one should be comfortable birding for 6-7 hours a day and walking around 2 miles (3 km) per day. Almost all the birding is done from roadsides or easy trails, but there are a couple of small exceptions. Reaching the blind at Chiayi Firefly involves walking about 300 ft (100 m) down a steep and slippery trail, and some of the Fairy Pitta stakeouts on the last 2 days may require short walks on more difficult trails – a walking stick can come in handy.
CLIMATE: This tour takes place in Taiwan’s spring. The higher altitude sites are cool (usually 40°-70°F, 4°-21°C), and we’ll spend a short amount of time at a pass where the temps can get down to near freezing. The climate in the lowlands is humid and warm (usually 60°-85°F, 16°-29°C). The amount of rainfall varies a lot from tour to tour, but at least some can be expected.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good on the main tour: all have private, en-suite bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24 hour electricity. Internet is widespread, but not available at the remote Dashueshan. At higher altitudes, the interior of the rooms is chilly, but warm blankets are provided. On the extension, the first night is spent on a ferry where bunk beds in shared cabins are available, and bathrooms are also shared; elsewhere on the extension the accommodation is decent to very good with private bathrooms and hot water.
PHOTOGRAPHY: If you are a casual photographer, you will enjoy this trip. Nowhere in Asia are birds more cooperative and easier to take pictures of, and because as birders we are visiting many places where once-scare and skittish birds are fed, there is plenty of opportunity to indulge in some shooting without costing us any species. If you are a serious photographer, our Taiwan: Birding with a Camera® Tour (BwC) will likely be a better option.
WHEN TO GO: We time our set-departure tour for when wintering birds are departing and many summer birds are arriving. Simultaneously, the residents are breeding, so it makes it a great combo. But if you were planning a custom tour and were only interested in residents and endemics, then anytime from March – September works, and if you fancy the best of the migrants and wintering birds, then October to November and March to early April also work.
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, 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 9; and night of day 1 to day 5 of the extension; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 10; Dinner on day 1 to lunch on day 6 of the extension; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks with meals; safe drinking water between meals; Tropical Birding full-time bird tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 10; 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 arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 10 (evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 6 of the extension) in a suitable vehicle; the extension includes two ferry trips from Keelung to Dongyin (8-hours), and Dongyin to Nangang (2-hours), and a flight back from Nangang to Songshan in Taipei, entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (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; excess baggage fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.