Trip Report: Taipei (Taiwan), December 12, 1999

Francis Toldi, Burlingame, California, USA;

I was recently in Taiwan on business. Alas, there was little time for birding, or in fact anything but sitting in conference rooms or my hotel in downtown Taipei. Nevertheless, I thought chatters might be interested in some of my impressions on my experiences in the Taipei area. On the same trip I also spent time in Hong Kong, which I will describe in a later post.

There are many fine trip reports available on the web that cover bird trips in Taiwan, not the least of which is fellow chatter Wayne Hsu's superb website. THere is also a great article on birding Taiwan in a recent BIrding Magazine. If only I could have availed myself of those opportunities! Virtually all of the locations mentioned in these materials are not possible for someone with only a couple of free hours. I had to settle for a free afternoon, alone, without a car and without any Chinese language ability.

Some cities are very "birdy" and allow even the casual birder/traveler to find some good birds in the odd available moments. Taipei is not one of those. It is very urbanized (great restuarants, museum, etc!), with few birds visible. On this and past trips I have seen House Swift, Chinese Bulbul and Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the downtown area proper. There are also some low hills accessible by a long, brisk walk from my hotel (Far Eastern Plaza) which have some somewhat less congested areas harboring a few more species (Yellow Wagtail, Pacific Swallow and a couple of others on a prior trip). All in all, meager pickings for the birder.

So is there any chance for someone like me to find some birds? Yes and no. I spoke about the free afternoon with my office colleagues who suggested I take a walk at Yangminshan National Park in the foothills/mountains adjoining Taipei. I had proposed Wulai based on the Birding article and a prior trip report. They are not birders, but said that Wulai is generally pretty touristy, and that I would probably enjoy Yangminshan more. Never having been to Wulai I am not in a position to know, but I did take their advice.

An office colleage took me and a client of ours to lunch at a wonderful rustic mountain restaurant adjacent to the Park (can't recall the name). They left me there and returned to the office. I walked my way back through the National Park to the Park entrance, from where I took a bus back to central Taipei and then a cab back to my hotel. Navigating for the Chinese-impaired was a bit of a challenge, but definitely doable. WIthin the Park I had to rely on my generally good sense of direction (the many trail signs are all in Chinese only), but it wasn't that hard to find my way back.

The Park was absolutely gorgeous: a lush forest with winding stone paths and moss-covered steps, some huge waterfalls with bridges and little shrines nearby. On a weekday afternoon it was not very crowded, although I understand it can be noisy and full of people on a weekend. I had a splendid walk.

So how were the birds? Not too good, I'm afraid. The biggest difficulty was timing. If I had been there in the morning I could have probably found 10-15 species more than the few I saw. In the afternoon the much wilder higher regions were very wet with rainy mist and gusting winds. Just above the restaurant was the best bird of the day, the gorgeous Formosan Blue Magpie, a Taiwan endemic. What a bird! It would have been nice to continue on up into the heights, but I was concerned about the wet and the time, since going that direction was away from the only transportation back that I was aware of.

Continuing through the lower trails, I managed to identify only a few common species, including Japanese White-eye, Chinese Bulbul, Little Egret (in a garden pond), a dove species (probably Rufous Turtle-Dove) and--best bird of the lower regions for me--Black-naped Monarch Flycatcher. There were some twitters of invisible birds, but the wind and overcast skies made the birds furtive. The forest was mostly silent. As it got dark I made my way back to central Taipei.

What do I suggest to the casual birder who happens to be in Taiwan for non-birding reasons? Be bold! Get on the bus and get out there! Wulai is definitely possible for the non-Chinese speaker with a free day, or possibly even half day. Yangminshan is fine for a half day, though the morning would be better. Best yet would be to have extra days for birding on the end, although the difficulties of navigating without language or car would be daunting.

I would be happy to provide more detail to anyone by private e-mail.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; January 2, 2000