Sunday, June 22, I went on my first pelagic birding trip in Taiwan. We went on a sports fishing boat, and we cruised around the three islets north of Keelung hoping to find some sea birds which we do not usually get to see often.
The boat left the harbor at 6:35 in the morning and headed to the first of the three islands. It was a beautiful day; the ocean was calm and the sky was clear. Schools of flying fishes accompanied us the whole time, demonstrating their remarkable flight ability as the skimmed the surface of the water for 50 meters or more. The first birds we saw were some GREATER CRESTED TERNS flying singly or in pairs. Further out, we began to meet BROWN BOOBIES, usually in small groups of 2 or 3.
On the rocky walls of the first islet lived a breeding colony of BRIDLED TERNS, about 50 birds or so, much fewer than there should be. A couple of BROWN NODDIES were also flying around near the water. BROWN BOOBIES still came and went, so we anchored and waited for something interesting to appear. Sure enough, the highlight of the day's trip came cruising out from behind the rocks -- a BLUE-FACED/MASKED BOOBY, the first official record in Taiwan (the previous was an injured bird)! It only circled once before heading towards the open ocean, but we all got great views of this magnificent bird.
While heading towards the second islet, we met a small flock of BRIDLED TERNS diving for fish, and nearby was a rare WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATER. There was some army camp on this islet, so there were not any birds. We took a break and ate lunch before continuing on.
As we headed towards the third islet, we came across a few BULWER'S PETRELS, all flying individually. Soon, we were in for another treat as a WHITE-FACED SHEARWATER approached us. While passing a stream of floating garbage, we added to our list some more BRIDLED TERNS and two COMMON TERNS.
At the third islet, we saw a huge flock of NORTHERN WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS mixed with some HOUSE SWIFTS. Apparently, they were nesting in the caves and cavities on the wall of the third islet, so this was the first breeding record of NORTHERN WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS in Taiwan! A couple black EASTERN REEF HERONS flew past us, and there was also a male BLUE ROCK THRUSH on the shore.
Just as we were about to leave, we spotted our final pelagic species, a female LESSER FRIGATE BIRD. The captain of the ship steered us towards the bird, and soon we found ourselves right underneath it, giving us wonderful looks at her. As we made our way back to the harbor, we met a couple more BRIDLED TERNS and BROWN BOOBIES.
This trip turned out to be a very exciting and successful one, and I was completely satisfied with the birds we saw. Of the ten pelagic species, all were life birds for me except the Brown Booby and the Greater Crested Tern. There were also some "first" records and some rare species too. Thanks to the typhoon in Japan which blew all these great birds our way!
* heard only
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