During this four-day school holiday (IASAS), I planned a birding trip with Robert Waltner and George and Lois Blanks, all teachers of Taipei American School, to see some high-altitude birds of Taiwan.
We left Taipei American School at 4:00 in the afternoon and headed towards Ilan. On the twisting mountain road, we got beautiful views of the sunset. When we arrived in Ilan two hours later, we ate dinner at a pizza restaurant, then headed directly to Chilan Forest Recreation Area in the mountains. As soon as we stepped out of the car, the cool mountain air surrounded us, and we immediately heard a couple of SPOTTED SCOPS OWLS and a chorus of tree frogs.
After we checked into our room, which was a neat wooden lodge, I headed to the forest path with a flashlight in hand to check out the forest's night life. The first creature I saw was a beautiful Golden Emperor moth under a street lamp. After I entered the dark jungle path, toads of all sizes hopped lazily about on the path. Within minutes, I found the first FORMOSAN GIANT FLYING SQUIRREL. Its eyes shone like brilliant lamps as I shined my flashlight on it. Heading further up, I heard two mysterious bird calls, probably JAPANESE GREEN PIGEONS. Soon, I began hearing dozens more flying squirrels and again, the scops owls. While I saw two more flying squirrels, I was unable to locate any owls. When I was about to return to our hotel, an owl began calling so close by that I decided to search for it carefully. The dense trees made it very difficult to track the source of the sound, even though it was at the very edge of the forest. As I was scanning the trees with my flashlight, a flying squirrel glided over my head and crashed into a tree! The sky had turned clear and starry, and I decided to wake up early tomorrow to search for the Hale-Bopp Comet.
I woke up at 4:00 in the morning and took a short walk outside. The sky was still full of stars, but I could not find the comet! The Big Dipper was the only thing I recognized, but I thought I'd rather see a Brown Dipper instead. I heard far less SPOTTED SCOPS OWLS than earlier in the night; but in turn, I heard a number of COLLARED SCOPS OWLS.
We left at 6:00 for a forest trail at Tsuyuan), just as a thin moon appeared over the horizon. As we left Chilan, we were first met by a flock of BAMBOO PARTRIDGES flying across the road, then we saw a family of FORMOSAN ROCK MONKEYS, also called the Formosan Macaque, right by the side of the road. We finally arrived at the trail at 7:30. There we saw a RUFOUS TURTLE DOVE, INDIAN BLACK EAGLE, FORMOSAN LAUGHING THRUSHES, GRAY-SIDED LAUGHING THRUSHES, GRAY TREEPIES, GRAY-THROATED MINIVETS, GREEN-BACKED and COAL TITS, EURASIAN NUTHATCHES, a pair of COLLARED BUSH ROBINS, two LITTLE FORKTAILS, and lots of FORMOSAN YUHINAS and RED-HEADED TITS. We even heard a COLLARED PYGMY OWLET.
Our next stop was Wuling Farm, where we saw similar kinds of birds plus a EURASIAN JAY, a flock of TREE PIPITS, two BAMBOO PARTRIDGES, and a couple cute FORMOSAN FIRECRESTS.
After we ate instant noodles for lunch, we drove past Lishan towards Hohuanshan to see some high-altitude birds. All the forests in the area around Lishan were cleared for fruit orchards and vegetable farms, so we came across nothing but a CRESTED GOSHAWK who just happened to be soaring past.
We arrived at Hohuanshan in the afternoon, where it was much cooler at an elevation higher than 3,000 meters. Almost immediately, we saw a dozen of the fearless ALPINE ACCENTORS and a pair of FORMOSAN LAUGHING THRUSHES hopping among the tourists. We then discovered a gorgeous male VINACEOUS ROSEFINCH and a small flock of STREAK- THROATED FULVETTAS and some more FORMOSAN FIRECRESTS. We were also lucky enough to catch sight of a GOLDEN WEASEL, or the Chinese Mink, as it appeared in the open for a short second.
We woke up at 5:30 and left for a nature reserve near Tsueifeng at 6:00. We got there at 7:00 and set off to search for woodpeckers and pheasants. It was another sunny day, but we were on the shaded side of the mountain. Along the forest trail, I saw lots of FORMOSAN YUHINAS, RED-HEADED TITS, and an unusual flock of EURASIAN SISKINS. I also came across two STREERE'S LIOCICHLAS, WHITE'S GROUND THRUSHES, VIVID NILTAVAS, WHITE-EARED SIBIAS, RED-HEADED TREE BABBLERS, WHITE-THROATED FLYCATCHER- WARBLERS, and a couple BEAVAN'S BULLFINCHES. We also heard another COLLARED PYGMY OWLET.
Along the trail, I scared off quite a few chicken-like birds, some were BAMBOO PARTRIDGES, but there was one which I strongly suspect to be a female pheasant. While walking quietly, I happened to notice the rustle of dry leaves below the road. I looked over the edge, but there was only one small area of the ground exposed; the rest was covered by dense undergrowth. Even though I saw nothing, I continued to stare at that open spot with my binoculars. Sure enough, two female SWINHOE'S PHEASANTS popped into view, clearly identified by their red legs.
After the excitement, I continued further on the trail. Just when I was ready to turn back, I came across a large mixed flock of birds including GRAY-CHEEKED FULVETTAS, FORMOSAN YUHINAS, RED- HEADED TITS, and a YELLOW TIT. When I was about to leave the birds, I discovered a female WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER. On the way back, I soon saw another female WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER drilling a hole on the trunk of a dead tree. CRESTED SERPENT EAGLES and LARGE-BILLED CROWS soared above as I walked back.
Our lodge at Tayuling had a wonderful view of the starry night. I got up at 2:00 in the morning hoping to see the comet, for I had not seen it in the past two mornings. Again, all I could see was the Big Dipper and hundreds of millions of stars. However, I could not see anything that even resembled a comet! I stayed up until 4:00 before I finally gave up. There were some other people up, probably also comet-watchers. However, they probably drove higher up onto Hohuanshan, where it is higher and more open, for a better view.
We spent most of the morning driving back down to Ilan. When we finally got to Ilan at 10:00, we went to the Wu Wei Keng Waterfowl-Protecting Park to see some water birds. In the park, there were mostly SPOT-BILLED DUCKS and EURASIAN WIGEONS. There were also a few NORTHERN SHOVELERS and GREEN-WINGED TEALS along with GREAT and INTERMEDIATE EGRETS and some GRAY HERONS. In the rice paddies around the park, we discovered MOORHENS, LITTLE GREBES, LITTLE-RINGED PLOVERS, WOOD SANDPIPERS, a WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN, a DUSKY THRUSH, and a RED-BELLIED THRUSH.
* heard only
! endemic species
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