For me, one of the most exciting (and hardest) parts of experiencing a new place is always becoming familiar with the local birds. No matter that I've notched 250+ species in East Africa, since I've moved to Taiwan it's been rather slow going. Sometimes species overlap, but there are differences in taxonomy and naming protocols not to mention completely new habitats, elevational gradients, local variations, and pockets of particular species.
Taiwan has an enormously vibrant community of avian enthusiasts, but a relative lack in English language reference materials. The Taipei Wild Bird Society has published some materials (and the first English-language field guide to the birds of Taiwan is dropping in October!!!), but for new-comers and non-birders alike, I decided to put together a very brief field guide of some of the more common species that I see around our home in Dashe District, Taiwan.
Feel free to download the guide for personal use either by clicking on download icon on the file embedded above or via Google Drive.
Collared Finchbill, (Spizixos semitorques), from a photo taken at Poseidon's Pools in Pingtung, Taiwan
I returned for the second time to this area near Gaoshu in Pinging County, Taiwan today to check the water levels and time the various segments of the trip. The weather was muggy and overcast though the rain held off except for a few raindrops.
I brought along a variety of toys with me this time: binocs, my telephoto lens, fly rod, and my watercolors. It's tough to bird by ear along a river because of all the noise from the water, but I did hone in on a Collared Finchbill (a new bird for my life list), which inhabits a rather specific ecological niche - the ecotone between woodland, forest, and cultivation below 1,500m.
It's a great location and is only 45 minutes from our apartment, making it an enticing place to visit on hot days. Tomorrow I'm taking a small group of middle school students from MAK out for a hike along the river up to the pools and back. Looking forward to getting to know the 海神宮 area a little bit better every time.
I had the opportunity to head back up into the mountains on Monday through Majia village to the Shalawan waterfall area with my fly rod in tow. Having seen several good 8-10" fish in this pool above the waterfall earlier in the season, I hoped to snag a bite or two, but the fish stayed at the bottom all afternoon. The water was incredibly clear and I could easily spot them on the bottom a good 15' down without sunglasses. It also didn't help to have two wild girls running through the water and climbing around on the edges of the pools, but then again, fishing was not the primary goal for the trip and the place is so spectacular it was hard to be too upset!
If you haven't made the trip to Shalawan, the drive alone is worth the time even without the short hike at the end. The access road climbs along the contours of the river valley below, snaking eastward and upward toward the northwestern flanks of Beidawushan北大武山 the southernmost 3000m peak on Taiwan. There are several good blog guides to the area. We used Taiwan's Waterfalls the first time we visited, but Follow Xiaofei also has some great photos and videos of the area. Incidentally, if there are any birders out there, I've seen and heard Plumbeous Redstarts around the pools above the waterfall every time I've been there (August & October 2015, March 2016).
This video showed up in my FB feed a couple of weeks back. The timing is so good; I still laugh every time that I watch it. If you bird, or live with a birder, there are probably a few lines in here that you'll identify with.
After being serenaded for the past several nights, I finally managed to get a nice recording of this individual, perched atop an antenna on our apartment building.
The Wushanding Mud Volcanoes are a really cool example of a relatively rare geological phenomenon. We live in Dashe District, just about 10-15 minutes down the road from this park, which is run by the Kaohsiung city government. To get there, you turn left off of Route 22 at the sign for National Kaohsiung Normal University. When you get to the university's gate, however, instead of entering, continue uphill to the left and follow the road as it snakes uphill. A little ways on there is another right-hand turn which is signposted in English, and then you simply follow the road as it climbs up to the top of the hills. There is a recently constructed office there with clean restrooms. This building is where you are required to sign into their register/guestbook. No entrance fee. The volcanos are a very short, flat walk from the parking area/office. We got there around 9:45 AM on a Friday morning and there were a few other visitors, but it was relatively quiet and empty.
Anna was not feeling great this morning, so we stayed in and read for most of the day. This afternoon we decided to get out and do a little exploring and road birding.
One of the cooler experiences was coming upon a Crested Serpent-Eagle perched on a palm at the edge of a pineapple field while two others circled overhead calling. Not sure why this one was perched and allowed up to approach, but it appears that the eagle's right eye had some sort of infection.
We had a brief but enjoyable trip to Palawan, where we stayed at the Astoria on the eastern side of the island overlooking the Sulu Sea. The resort is a long but scenic drive an hour north from Puerto Princessa, which is a fairly rural area.
Most of the birds that I managed to ID were present around the resort itself, the rice fields at the Karst Mountain, or on the mudflats at the port in Sabang where we waited for the boats to the Subterranean River. Not being very familiar with the area's birds, I saw and heard many that I wasn't able to identify. The few that I was able to make a positive ID on were the ones that sat still long enough for me to snap a photo to identify later:
Particularly excited about the Aurora sub-species of the Olive-Backed Sunbird, which is a Palawan distinctive, the dark phase Eastern Reef Egret, and the group of Black-winged Stilts at Karst Mountain which are fairly uncommon.
I learned some more small bits of Tagalog as well - I originally thought that the word tagak applied to only Little Egrets, but then realized that the term is used to describe a variety of egrets and herons.
Anong klaseng ibon iyan?
'What kind of bird is that?' is a useful phrase that I should have learned earlier, although I don't always understand the response.