A wide range of birds that live in or pass through this beau­ti­ful is­land make it a must-visit des­ti­na­tion

Bird Watching (UK) - - World Birding - WORDS & PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MIKE WEE­DON

The ge­nius of Dar­win was in the sim­plic­ity and clar­ity of his think­ing. Tiny ge­netic mu­ta­tions will re­sult in slight dif­fer­ences in or­gan­isms’ abil­ity to sur­vive and re­pro­duce. Given enough time, the pres­sures of se­lec­tion will lead to the de­vel­op­ment of dif­fer­ent species. When pop­u­la­tions are iso­lated, such as on is­lands, the ef­fects may be­come mag­ni­fied and ac­cel­er­ated. For in­stance, Dar­win fa­mously noted the rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent bill struc­tures of the ap­par­ently closely re­lated finches of the dif­fer­ent Galá­pa­gos is­lands. In ex­treme cases, where there has been con­sid­er­able iso­la­tion, such as Aus­tralia, New Zealand or Mada­gas­car, there are a large num­ber of en­demic bird species. But on lit­tle is­land groups, like the Bri­tish Isles, which are close to, and for­merly joined to, the con­ti­nen­tal land mass, we have just one (con­tro­ver­sial) en­demic species (Scot­tish Cross­bill) and sev­eral en­demic sub­species. Tai­wan lies some­where in the mid­dle. It is a de­cent-sized is­land, nearly twice the size of Wales, 180km off the south­east­ern coast of main­land China. It has at least 15 en­demic bird species but dozens of en­demic sub­species, sev­eral of which are on the cusp of be­ing given full species sta­tus, or have al­ready been given full species sta­tus by some au­thor­i­ties. There are also sev­eral re­gional en­demics found there. So, Tai­wan of­fers a good chunk of en­demic birds, but ow­ing to its po­si­tion off the Chi­nese coast, it is also a great place for see­ing mi­grat­ing Asi­atic birds. I was there with a small group, last au­tumn, and in a week or so, our bird haul in­cluded nearly 50 birds which were ei­ther full en­demic species or sub­species, or re­gional en­demics. But we also got a fan­tas­tic taste of au­tumn mi­gra­tion, Tai­wan style. Add to that plenty of non-en­demic birds of high cal­i­bre, one or two en­demic mam­mals, fab­u­lous scenery, and spec­tac­u­lar but­ter­flies in pro­fu­sion, won­der­ful peo­ple and fan­tas­tic food (and, yes I am a veg­e­tar­ian!), and you can see it could be very easy to fall in love with Tai­wan. Tai­wan is a long north-south is­land, with the cap­i­tal Taipei in the far north. As most vis­i­tors do, we started our ad­ven­ture here, get­ting our eye in at the botan­i­cal gar­dens. We ar­rived a cou­ple of days af­ter a ty­phoon, so there was a cer­tain amount of tidy­ing be­ing done. But we were soon tick­ing our first en­demic: the at­trac­tive and colour­ful Tai­wan Bar­bet, plus see­ing our first Black Bul­bul (a bul­bul in Chough’s cloth­ing), Grey Treepie (like a small colour­ful Mag­pie), Chi­nese Bul­bul and Malayan Night Heron. The older peo­ple of Taipei clearly love the gar­dens, and were gath­ered in groups do­ing Tai Chi or just walk­ing around en­joy­ing the air. There were also a group of 30 or so pho­tog­ra­phers all try­ing to get a snap of Dark-streaked and Brown Fly­catch­ers as well as a young Crested Goshawk. Over­head, a pair of adults of

this spec­tac­u­lar hawk were dis­play­ing. With our eyes now partly in, we hit the north­ern tip of the is­land, at Yehliu Geo Park. The car park was jammed with coaches, and the paths densely crowded with para­sol-wield­ing, shuf­fling masses. But, af­ter a cou­ple of hun­dred yards, the crowds van­ished and our group ploughed on to the Magic Toi­let, a shaded loo block renowned as a mi­grant stopover, where we added Ja­panese Par­adise Fly­catcher and Arc­tic War­bler to our trip lists. In the early evening, we paid our re­spects to a pair of lo­cal celebri­ties. At the Ching­sui Wet­land at Jin­shan a young our first flock of the one bird I wanted to see above all oth­ers, Tai­wan Blue Mag­pie; a spec­tac­u­lar, blue, black and white, red-billed, long-tailed beauty of an en­demic bird! Tai­wan Scim­i­tar Bab­bler (like a big grumpy, white-throated Wren) was very pleas­ing, too, rather res­cu­ing a rainy sec­ond day, largely on the road. On our third morn­ing we made a tac­ti­cal de­ci­sion to check out the car park area, first thing, at nearby Taroko Na­tional Park. It is cu­ri­ous how of­ten car parks are the best places! This one yielded some of the best birds of the trip, with the small trees drip­ping with en­demics, flocks of them: Tai­wan Yuhina, like a Crested Tit, but un­re­lated, and calls like a Goldfinch; Yel­low Tit, a big, feisty tough guy tit with an open yel­low face and long crest; and Var­ied Tit, of the po­ten­tial split Tai­wan sub­species/species. Then there was the gor­geous Grey-chinned Minivet (like a colour­ful, ar­bo­real, red wag­tail). That morn­ing we rose through the spec­tac­u­lar Taroko gorge, head­ing up into the moun­tains. We stopped off for a cof­fee by a Sa­cred Tree (don’t ask me why it was sa­cred), where we were given honey on a cock­tail stick (don’t ask me why). And, as luck would have it, a group of en­demic laugh­ingth­rush-like bird, the Steere’s Lio­ci­ch­las (don’t ask me how to pro­nounce it), were in the bushes nearby.

We crossed a ter­ri­fy­ing rick­ety bridge by a wa­ter­fall, which pro­duced that moun­tain stream sta­ple, the Plum­beous Red­start, as well as an­other en­demic, namely the Tai­wan Whistling Thrush (which was re­splen­dent in navy blue). But when we reached 3,000m, things got even juicier. Up there, in the pines, we en­coun­tered the renowned Flame­crest, a fancy rel­a­tive of our Gold­crest, with a voice so high I could only hear it with my right ear! There were tame en­demic White-whiskered Laugh­ingth­rush, and even tamer Alpine Ac­cen­tors (Tai­wan sub­species). But the star high al­ti­tude en­demic for some in our small group was the Col­lared Bush-robin, or John­stone’s Robin, a very pretty ash, chest­nut and white en­demic rel­a­tive of the Red-flanked Blue­tail. The forested moun­tains of the Dasyue­shan For­est are fan­tas­tic places for a drive and for bird­ing. Here we got great views of the amaz­ingly colour­ful and dis­tinc­tive en­demic Swin­hoe’s Pheas­ant. The forests near the top pro­duced some lovely lit­tle birds with fancy names, in­clud­ing the Ru­fous-faced War­bler, Grey-cheeked Ful­vetta, Fire-breasted Flow­er­pecker and a tiny, ex­quis­ite rel­a­tive of our Long-tailed Tit, called Black-throated Tit. The next day we were down in the western low­lands, in a world of fish­ing ponds and muddy pad­dy­fields. There were Long-toed Stints, Marsh Sand­pipers and Lesser Sand Plovers. We flushed a cou­ple of tiny Yel­low Bit­terns and saw a flock of 75 Black-faced Spoon­bills, the van­guard of the 2,000 (half the world pop­u­la­tion!) which win­ter in Tai­wan. Then it was down to the south­ern tip of the is­land near Kend­ing. We were in the far south to wit­ness the start of the great rap­tor mi­gra­tion which passes through each au­tumn. We were too early for the Grey-faced Buz­zard pas­sage, but bore wit­ness to the pass­ing of sev­eral hun­dred Chi­nese Spar­rowhawks, plus Ori­en­tal Honey Buz­zards, and such bonuses as White-throated Needle­tail, Ori­en­tal Prat­in­cole and Ashy Drongo, as well as our first views of the en­demic Tai­wan Ma­caque and Tai­wan Green Pi­geon. Tai­wan is a beau­ti­ful coun­try full of fas­ci­nat­ing wildlife. I haven’t even had space here to de­scribe the bat-catch­ing an­tics of a Kestrel; the cu­ri­ous dis­play flight of the Black-shoul­dered Kite; the sub­tle beauty of the en­demic Ow­ston’s Bullfinch or the Grey-capped Pygmy Wood­pecker. And I haven’t been able to con­vey the wealth of food de­lights on of­fer or to do jus­tice to the land­scape. You are just go­ing to have to see, hear smell and taste for your­self. But the last­ing mes­sage, is that this is a land of spe­ci­a­tion in ac­tion. Even the hum­ble, fa­mil­iar Coal Tit has its own Tai­wan sub­species, with an elon­gated crest: ripe for ‘split­ting’. There is no doubt, Dar­win would have loved this place!

Tai­wan Ma­caque, an en­demic pri­mate IN­DIA


Yel­low Tit, Mike’s favourite en­demic species in Tai­wan Tai­wan Bar­bet

Grey-chinned Minivet Siberian Crane had ar­rived in 2014. By au­tumn 2015 it had de­vel­oped a healthy sym­bio­sis with a lo­cal farmer, who dug in the pad­dy­fields while the Crane stood be­side him, look­ing for morsels. Also there were great flocks of mixed herons and egrets, Black Dron­gos, Spot-billed Duck and best of all, a beau­ti­ful fe­male Painted Snipe. For the next few days we would ven­ture south. De­spite hav­ing a pop­u­la­tion of 24 mil­lion peo­ple, most of Tai­wan, away from the western plain, is cov­ered in lovely, forested hills and moun­tains. It didn’t take too long driv­ing through the hills to en­counter Alpine Ac­cen­tor (en­demic sub­species) A clas­sic Tai­wan en­demic, the Swin­hoe’s Pheas­ant (this is a male) The coast at the south­ern end of Tai­wan, show­ing the beau­ti­ful forested hills

Tai­wan Whistling Thrush Here is the bridge over the gorge from where the whist­ing-thrush was seen ...And here is the view from the above bridge, show­ing the Tai­wan Whistling Thrush habi­tat Tai­wan Blue Mag­pie

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