Orchid Island, also called Lanyu, is a small island off the south-eastern coast of Taiwan. It has a tropical climate, and its geography and ecology is considered more closely related to the Philippines than Taiwan. There are many species of plants and animals not found on Taiwan, some endemic to the island. There are aborigines living on Orchid Island, and they live off farming and resources provided by the ocean. Taiwan once considered to establish Orchid Island as the island's seventh national park, but it did not happen due to opposition from the aborigines.
Target birds (birds not found on the main island of Taiwan):
To see photos accompanying my trip reports, visit my home page. This one will appear soon with photos of the island, butterflies, and the Lanyu Scops Owl.
We left Taipei by bus around 8:00 at night and reached Taitung city, on the south-eastern part of Taiwan, at 6:30 in the morning. We took off on a twenty-passenger plane to Orchid Island at 7:30. Within minutes, I was delighted to see a school of dolphins swimming in the surf below. In twenty minutes, we reached Orchid Island. The first bird we saw was a life bird for me: CHESTNUT-EARED BULBUL. It later turned out to be the most common bird on Orchid Island.
After we checked into the hotel at Yehyu Village, we walked to the Lanyu middle school. We did not see much there, a lot of BLUE ROCK THRUSHES and CHESTNUT-EARED BULBULS, a COMMON SANDPIPER, WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN, and BARN, PACIFIC SWALLOWS and NORTHERN WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS in the sky. Luckily, we saw another school of about thirty Bottle-nosed Dolphins swimming very close to shore.
During lunch, it suddenly poured for a couple minutes, then became sunny again. We took a little break and then rented scooters to go look for the Black Paradise Flycatcher. On the way, we saw an OSPREY soaring above and three LARGE INDIAN PRATINCOLES on the shore. We went past Hungtou Village to a bridge surrounded by dense tropical forest. We walked along a dry stream bed under the forest looking for signs of the Black Paradise Flycatcher. Since it was very hot, the only birds active were CHESTNUT-EARED BULBULS and no Paradise Flycatchers. I also caught a quick glimpse at the subspecies of JAPANESE WHITE-EYE endemic to Orchid Island, and brief glances at fleeing LARGE BROWN CUCKOO DOVES, RED-CAPPED GREEN PIGEONS, and a LESSER COUCAL. At dusk, we tried to see if there were any migrating hawks landing to spend the night, but we could not find any.
After dinner, we set off again to find the Lanyu Scops Owl, an endangered species endemic to the island. It has been regularly seen at a number of sites around the island, but we did not find it, only hearing faint hoots in the hills above. I finally saw the Hale-Bopp Comet! However, the clouds were thickening and I could only see a cotton ball followed by a furry tail, not as magnificent as I had expected.
We got up before dawn and waited in the field of the Lanyu middle school for daybreak. Before breakfast, I only saw the same common birds plus a female SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT. After breakfast, we set off on a trip around the island. Our first stop was the same bridge where we searched for the Paradise Flycatcher the previous day. We crawled through the dark, mosquito and tick infested tropical jungle to give the BLACK PARADISE FLYCATCHERS another try. The beginning was disappointing, but while we were resting at a location, we finally heard the melodious singing of a male. Sure enough, we found a female incubating in a nest. The bird was disturbed by our presence and fled further ahead. We followed it and saw it accompanied by its mate; beautiful glossy black with a long flowing tail and bright blue eye ring. Nearby, I finally got some good long looks at the LARGE BROWN CUCKOO DOVES, a male RED-CAPPED GREEN PIGEON, and a couple more LESSER COUCALS. There was also a female PHILIPPINE GLOSSY STARLING, an escapee in Taiwan but probably a vagrant at Orchid Island.
On the rest of the round-island trip, we traveled past interesting rock formations and nice beaches, but no interesting birds. At dusk, we saw some migrating hawks: a JAPANESE SPARROW HAWK, two GRAY-FACED BUZZARD-EAGLES, and three GRAY FROG HAWKS, probably landing for the night. We have seen all of the target birds except the Lanyu Scops Owl by now, and we were determined to find it at night.
After dinner, we stopped at the same owl-hunting location as the previous night. Even before we stopped our scooters, someone had already spotted the LANYU SCOPS OWL perched quietly on a tree branch. We shone our flashlights in its eyes and enjoyed its presence for more than half an hour. I then went with another birder, who also felt one was not enough, to another location, a military campground. On the way, we stopped to buy taro popsicles, and I asked the shop keeper about the scops owls. Pointing to a coconut tree outside, she said one came and called there every night. We entered the area, the campus of Lanyu elementary school, and soon saw the owl she was referring to; it was hooting and others were replying in a distance. It later flew off, and it lead us to another scops owl. After a quick search around the area, we counted at least three or four and heard much more. Very excited, we then decided to visit the military campground anyway. We were allowed in for a short while, but we were only able to hear two hooting and was not able to see any. Slightly disappointed, we returned to the school, where we saw the same owl on the same palm again. After getting a little tired at looking at it just sit there, we saw it suddenly fly down, land on a wire next to a street lamp, and then swoop down to capture a prey, then land in the banyon tree right above our heads! We returned happy and satisfied with our find, and I even got to ride the scooter back to the hotel!
I did not go birding before breakfast this day, and the weather was turning cloudy. After breakfast, we headed down to see the Paradise Flycatchers again. It began drizzling as we reached the bridge, and the forest floor was dark as ever. When we reached the nest location, the female was incubating and the male was singing nearby. As more people arrived, however, the male left. We waited a long time for the male to return, and the female was getting uneasy, flying off every once in a while. Since I already had long looks of the male the day before, I went back onto the road, where I saw about five more LARGE BROWN CUCKOO DOVES and a male EMERALD DOVE. Later, the others reported that the male showed up and helped the female incubate for a while. They also found another partially constructed nest a little distance away that another pair was building. Someone even said they even saw a Gray Thrush! I was disappointed to miss those scenes, but that is just the way birding is. I was also quite concerned that the pairs of birds might abandon the nest with so much disturbance.
We left Orchid Island at noon, and I was able to do a little birding around the airport at Taitung. We saw lots of the endemic TAIWAN BULBUL, a pair of LESSER COUCALS, BROWN and BLACK-HEADED SHRIKES, ORIENTAL SKYLARKS and RED and RUFOUS TURTLE DOVES. Some other people saw the Ruddy-breasted Crake, Siberian Rubythroat, Short-tailed Bush Warbler and Gray-backed Starlings.
* heard only
! endemic species
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