Monday, April 14, 2014

I want Taiwan

It seemed that we were off to a bad start - we booked a hotel at the Taoyuan District which was near the airport. Everyone we consulted was unanimous in suggesting that we should stay in the city of Taipei -where the birding areas are more accessible via public transportation. But as it turned out, it was a wonderful beginning to our two-day birding in Taiwan.

After a seemingly endless 13-hour flight from Los Angeles, we arrived in Taiwan at 5:30 in the morning. We were picked up at the airport by the hotel shuttle and by 6:30 Cynthia and I were at the lobby of the Taoyuan Hotel, wondering what to do next, inasmuch as the hotel does not allow check-in prior to 3:00 pm. Thankfully, the hotel allows luggage storage. We consulted Phyllis, the concierge (and angel incarnate), if there is any park nearby explaining that we are birdwatchers. She suggested Mt. Hutao and even arranged for a taxi to take us there.

Honestly, our expectations were quite low as far as seeing birds at Mt. Hutao is concerned. Since this will be our first visit to Taiwan, we searched the internet even before we left Manila, on the possible places where we could do some birding. Mt. Hutao was never mentioned. Even the birding brochure that the helpful staff at the Visitor Center at the airport gave us did not include this park.

As we got off the taxi, our hopes were dashed even more by the sight of people - lots of them! As we wandered around, we met young ones jogging, old ones walking, some doing their morning tai-chi, a group doing aerobics and others practicing some ballroom dancing!

But we also saw movement in the trees and heard trills and chirps. At last, birds! First there were scads of Japanese White-eyes flitting among the red flowers. Then came our first lifer - the Black Bulbul!

Three different thrushes came to a fruiting tree right next to the terrace - Eyebrowed, Brown-headed, and another lifer, the Pale Thrush.

Following the source of a very loud bird call, we encountered our third lifer, the endemic Taiwan Barbet!

As we rounded the trail, another noisy bird showed up. It was our fourth lifer, the Grey Treepie.

Time swiftly went by and at around 10:30 we walked towards the main road to take a taxi back to our hotel. It was here we got lifer #5 - the Black Drongo.

Thanks to Jo-ann, the hotel supervisor, we were able to check-in at 1:00 pm. As soon as we had our luggage taken to our room, we returned to the lobby to meet Terrence Huang. Terry was introduced to us by our birder friend from HongKong, Wilson Dring, via Facebook (oh, the wonders of social networking). Terry brought us to a small "secret" park. As soon as we got there, Cynthia and I noticed a throng of bird photographers all lined up facing the middle of the park. They were all waiting for some activity from a group of Taiwan Blue Magpies - another endemic and our 6th lifer.

It was at this park that I was able to get even better shots of the Grey Treepie.

During one of the lulls in the Magpie activity, Cynthia and I explored the surrounding area. My wife was looking up at some of the Magpies when I saw something walking not far from her. I waved at Cynthia to get her attention then pointed at the object behind her. She almost shrieked when she discovered that she was standing next to an insouciant Malayan Night Heron. That was our 7th lifer for the day.

Four o'clock in the afternoon. We had our fill of Blue Magpies, so Terry took us to a rice field. While walking along the irrigation canal, we got good looks at lifer #8, the Light-vented Bulbul. 

Soon we met five bird photographers lined up facing some tall grass apparently waiting for something.

"What's in here?" we asked our host.

"Just wait and see," he replied teasingly.

He had barely finished talking when in flew a small bird and perched on a pole a few meters away from us. The sound of camera shutters clicking filled the air. The Siberian Stonechat was lifer #9 for us.

The sun was slowly sinking in the horizon. It was time to go. 

Early the following day, we were picked up by another friend whom I also met in Facebook, Victor Yu. This time our destination was the Shimen Reservoir also in the Taoyuan District. Waiting for us there were Wild Bird Society of Taoyuan Director Zhang Yongfu and his wife, Lisa Lin. They quickly led us to where the Taiwan Whistling Thrush was nesting. It was lifer #10.

Later on our attention was called by the loud vocalizations of a pair of Taiwan Scimitar Babblers. This unexpected species was our 11th lifer.

Once again, Cynthia and I decided to explore the surrounding area. It was here that I saw our 12th lifer - the Crested Goshawk perched on a tree.

For lunch, our hosts took us to a restaurant near the dam. Along the way we saw a Black Kite (another lifer!) soaring but it was too far for us to get a decent photo. It was while we were enjoying our meal when a Taiwan Whistling Thrush suddenly hopped on the fence next to the dining area, I quickly grabbed the camera and sped out to the garden and finally was able to get a picture of this endemic.

That night as we were packing and preparing for our early morning flight tomorrow, I can't help but feel blessed for the way things turned out on our short trip to Taiwan. A million thanks to Terrence Huang and Victor Yu for taking the time off from their busy schedules to bring us to the birding places in the Taoyuan District. 

Thanks to Phyllis at Taoyuan Hotel for her help and assistance in getting us started on our birding activities.

As both Terry and Victor said to us - two days is not enough to get the most of birding in this country. We promised we will return and stay longer.

Taiwan is a wonderful country with beautiful birds and friendly people. See you again, Taiwan.

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