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TAIWAN and OKINAWA 2004 , April 24th - May 9th

...with Adam Rowlands

This was the second Birdwatching Breaks tour to the North Pacific islands of Taiwan, Okinawa and Amami Oshima. Birding proved to be extremely successful with all the endemic birds (except Amami Woodcock) being recorded. On Taiwan we were rewarded with scarce migrants notably Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Asiatic Dowitcher and Pechora Pipit. We were also fortunate to find a flock of Black-faced Spoonbills as the main wintering flock had departed at least a week before our arrival. On the Ryuku Islands of Japan we encountered both Okinawa Rail and Okinawa Woodpecker roosting in trees at night. On Amami Oshima we enjoyed tremendous views of White-backed Woodpecker of the endemic race feeding young, together with Ruddy Kingfishers, Lidth's Jays and good views of Ryuku Scops Owls.

The tour was a great success for everybody involved. I am much indebted to Mr Deng for driving us safely around Taiwan. The birding skills and company of Mu-Chi Tsai and Victor Wei-Daw Yu in Taiwan, Mamoru Tsuneda in Amami Oshima and Mamoru Kudaka on Okinawa were a considerable asset. Yenhui Hsu acted as an excellent guide during our time on Taiwan as did Junko Oshima on Okinawa and Amami Oshima providing good company throughout the Japanese part of the tour. Without their local expertise and knowledge the tour would not have been the enjoyable and rewarding success it turned out to be.

We recorded very few mammals apart from Taiwan Macaque. Snakes were numerous in the Ryuku Islands where we recorded Lesser Habu plus various others on the night drives. Needless to say frogs and other reptiles were in abundance plus a wealth of colourful butterflies.

April 24th/25th: London - Bangkok - Taipei - Taoyan

A long travelling day from Europe to Asia with EVA the national carrier of Taiwan. The flight went smoothly, despite delays on departure and the re-fuelling stop in Bangkok. On arrival in Taiwan our local guides and driver met us. Short journey down to Taoyan for a night’s stay.

April 26th: Shrmen Reservoir and environs - Puli.

Weather: Overcast, light drizzle during morning.

We left the hotel at 0600 and drove to the reservoir area where we met with a local birding guide. Almost instantly rewarded with our first endemic, with several Taiwan Whistling Thrush. Dusky Fulvetta gave good views in response to Tsai imitating their whistled calls. Good numbers of Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Light-vented and Black Bulbuls, Japanese White-eye and several Black-browed Barbet, White-bellied Yuhina and Black-naped Monarch. Several calling Fairy Pitta in the wooded hillsides around the reservoir remained hidden in the dense under storey. We visited the nursery area and birded the access road, which produced relatively brief views of Taiwan Magpie, another endemic, and good view of Crested Serpent Eagle circling overhead. We also saw Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler and heard the very elusive Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler and Oriental Cuckoo. Visited the mausoleum of Chiang Kai-shek where we were entertained by the elaborate changing of the guard ceremony. Common Kingfisher and Night Heron were the only birds of interest, sharing the ornamental pools with introduced Brazilian Terrapins and Black Swans. Tachi town produced nesting Barn Swallow and following this we stopped en route for a buffet lunch and then on to Puli rice fields, an area of small agricultural plots. A relatively dry area produced prolonged telescope views of Barred Buttonquail, Oriental Turtle Dove, Brown Shrike (of the distinctive form luscionensis), Zitting and Gold-capped Cisticolas and Black-faced Bunting. A wetter area of paddies provided a pair of Painted Snipe, Ruddy-breasted Crake and flight views of Cinnamon Bittern. At dusk we moved in to the Apollo Hotel at Puli.

April 27th: Ao Wan Da National Park – Highland Experimental Farm.

Weather: Overcast, light drizzle became heavy rain during afternoon.

Out at 05:00 to arrive at the Ao Wan Da National Park for 06:30. The car park area produced Pacific Swallow, Varied Tit, Grey-chinned Minivet and our first views of Chinese Bamboo Partridge. The endemic White-eared Sibia proved to be abundant and extremely vocal throughout the forest and Taiwan Yuhina also showed well. Several Plumbeous Redstart were very obliging on the rocky streams, with at least one pair feeding fledged young. Tsai and Peter W were fortunate to see a Swinhoe’s Pheasant, but it was quickly lost in the dense undergrowth on the edge of the path. However, Rufous-capped Babbler was more obliging in response to Tsai’s whistled imitations of its monosyllabic call. Grey-capped Woodpecker showed well, foraging close to a feeding flock that contained Yellow Tit, another endemic. We also saw Silver-backed Needletail, Rufous-faced Warbler, Bronzed Drongo Eurasian Nuthatch, Black-throated Tit and an obliging Taiwan Magpie. We ate a picnic lunch back at the car park, from which we were distracted by a singing male Vivid Niltava and a pair of Chinese Bamboo Partridge and then made our way to a narrow stream. Despite a torrential downpour we managed to locate a Little Forktail here. Checked in the Chingging Hotel with birding to commence again at 1530. We spent the afternoon birding the tracks through forest and agricultural fields around the Highland Experimental Farm. A Pygmy Wren-babbler was singing as we left the main road. The rain eventually gave way to a dank mist and the agricultural fields and forest edge produced singing Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, Black-faced Bunting, Brown Bullfinch calling from the canopy, Plain Prinia and our first Steere’s Liocichla. The forest tracks produced White-tailed Robin and Rufous-faced Warbler.

April 28th: Reng Yen Shee - Hohuan Shan

Weather: Overcast and cool with prolonged light drizzle at midday

Left the hotel at 0530 to visit the forest track of Reng Yen Shee. Shortly after setting off, we were enjoying good views of another endemic, Taiwan Barwing. Ashy Wood Pigeon and Silver-backed Needletail were seen in flight and the pigeons’ deep, resonant calls could be heard from the forest, along with the “brain-fever” song of Large Hawk Cuckoo and the calls of Eurasian Jay. Several Grey-chinned Minivet included a pair nest-building in a forked branch close to the track. Many White-browed Shortwing singing along the track and several gave fleeting views. The endemic form in Taiwan, with brown plumage overall, may prove to be a separate species in due course. A pair of Ferruginous Flycatchers performed very well. Snowy-browed Flycatcher was heard and glimpsed and at least two Vivid Niltava were singing. At least two White-tailed Robins were seen, along with brief Black-throated Tit and Rufous-faced Warbler. Steere’s Liocichla were heard frequently, but proved very difficult to see, as did Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler and Pygmy Wren-babbler, which remained invisible. Other forest species included Taiwan Yuhina (which responded well to pishing!), White-eared Sibia, Green-backed Tit, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Grey-cheeked Fulvetta. After this we headed for the Houhan Mountain, stopping for lunch on the approach to the summit at the Yuan Fueg Pass. This area produced our first Vinaceous Rosfinch, Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler and Collared Bush Robin, along with exceptionally tame White-whiskered (Taiwan) Whistling Thrushes coming to food. Streak-throated Fulvetta and Flamecrest were heard, but proved impossible to find. We carried on up to the summit, which produced Alpine Accentor and Vinaceous Rosefinch in the car park and on our descent we picked up Flamecrest and eventually tracked down a visible Taiwan Bush Warbler after several singing birds failed to reveal themselves. We also located several more Ferruginous Flycatchers, but the audible Oriental Cuckoos always remained distant and out of sight.

April 29th: Bei Dong Yen – Tsung Yang.

Weather: Bright, warm and sunny spells

Left hotel at 05:00 for Bei Dong Yen, a road through the forested grounds of a University horticultural research station. We drove the track looking for pheasants. Luck was with us as a pair of Swinhoe's Pheasants fed alongside the track, allowing good views. The song of White-tailed Robin proved this species was numerous along the access road and we were rewarded with several views. We disembarked from the vehicle further along the track and made our way on foot, only to be rewarded with further views of a male Swinhoe’s Pheasant limping along ahead of us. The forest produced Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Nuthatch, Rufous-faced Warbler, several groups of White-throated Laughing-thrushes provided good views and Yellow Tit finally revealed itself to those of the group who had missed the previous individuals. At least two Spot-breasted Scimitar Babblers were lured into view and provided several fleeting views. The only Fork-tailed Swifts of the trip were recorded over the agricultural fields at the summit and a Taiwan Magpie in this area was a surprise find. Raptors began to display as the temperature rose, with good views of Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk and Black Eagle and a bonus in the form of an Upland Buzzard. A White-backed Woodpecker was heard and seen briefly in flight. On our descent, some of the group got brief views of Taiwan Hill Partridge, which ran into cover, but a number of other calling birds would not reveal themselves. A calling Collared Owlet also refused to show itself. We ate lunch at the entrance of the Bei Dong Yen track and then headed towards Wushe to pick up fuel. En route we bumped into Besra and our first Collared Finchbills. In the afternoon we visited some agricultural fields and secondary forest at lower elevation at Tsung Yang. This area also produced Taiwan Hill Partridge for the fortunate few along with a number of Chinese Bamboo Partridge. The agricultural fields held good numbers of Oriental Turtle Dove, a dozen White-bellied Pigeon, our first Vinous-throated Parrotbills, Collared Finchbill, a vocal Striated Prinia, Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler and a luscionensis Brown Shrike. The secondary forest and scrub held Black-naped Monarch, Bronzed Drongo and a freshly fledged party of Rufous-capped Babbler were seen here. A small group of elusive Rusty Laughing Thrushes frustrated the group as did a Hwamei which Tsai glimpsed in flight and heard. A Steere’s Liocichla allowed prolonged telescope views here, a great relief following the almost continual calling of birds from dense cover that remained unseen. A Grey Wagtail was picked up on call flying over.

April 30th: Reng Yeng Shee - Changhua – Ju Shee

Weather: Bright, humid and warm. Sunny periods, but overcast at midday.

Another 05:00 start for our last attempt at Mikado Pheasant, with a return to the Reng Yeng Shee trail. A Pygmy Wren Babbler could not be coaxed into view, but a male Vinaceous Rosefinch provided good views. A couple of brief views of partridges were thought to have involved Taiwan Hill Partridge. This species was heard calling, but the birds were only seen briefly. Somewhat dejected when we reached the 3km post with no reward we turned back. At the last ravine near the 2km post we realised our luck was about to end and at that moment a male Mikado Pheasant strutted slowly across the ravine. A wave of elation was felt by the whole group, and shortly afterwards we were treated to our best views of Yellow Tit and Brown Bullfinch. After posing for photographs alongside the Mikado Pheasant on the entrance sign for the trail, we descended from the mountains. En route we saw a perched Crested Goshawk in a roadside conifer. Our next destination was the fishponds, rice fields and estuarine foreshore in the Changhua area. Here we met up with a local guide also called Tsai. Our first stop was a tidal river where we found Little Grebe, Spot-billed Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers and Long-toed Stint. We transferred to the paddies where we found Oriental Pratincole, two female Painted Snipe, Pacific Golden Plover, Richard’s Pipit, many Little, Cattle and Intermediate Egret. A Pechora Pipit was a very good find here, allowing prolonged telescope views as it foraged along the margin of a paddyfield. Moving on to a network of ponds the wader watching was awesome, with flocks of up to 300 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Red-necked Stint and Curlew Sandpiper and smaller numbers of Whimbrel, Grey-tailed Tattler, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Whiskered Tern. The undoubted highlight was a winter-plumaged Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a very scarce migrant in Taiwan and a real bonus bird. Other birds in the area included Lesser Coucal, Plain Martins, Long-tailed Shrike and Yellow Wagtails of the form taivana. The estuary here and at Ju Shee produced Kentish Plover, Lesser and Greater Sandplover and Terek Sandpiper. Ju Shee also produced at least 11 Black-faced Spoonbill, which gave good views after we pursued them across the mudflats, together with a Black-shouldered Kite (a recent colonist of Taiwan), Oriental Skylark, Zitting and Golden-capped Cisticola, Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinia and a brief Oriental Reed Warbler. At the end of the day, somewhat exhausted, but also elated by a truly excellent day’s birdwatching we retired to our hotel at Doulan.

May 1st: Pillow Hill – Bajan Shee - Tainan

Weather: Hot and sunny.

We met another local guide, Mr Chan, in the forested hillsides at Pillow Hill. He led us on a steep gully through bamboo down into a damp gorge. Here we were rewarded with a Ruddy Kingfisher and an Emerald Dove incubating. Fairy Pittas could be seen moving about in the middle storey above us, but remained hidden for most of the group. We met up with local government staff, involved in a campaign to protect the habitat for the population of Fairy Pittas. A perched Chinese Goshawk eating a lizard diverted our attention and we enjoyed good views of Fairy Pittas foraging on a stream bed – true jewels of the forest! Crested Serpent Eagle and Bronzed Drongo were also present. We looked for Maroon Orioles around the temple, but with no success. Stopped at the visitor centre and watched an interesting film on pittas and other species occurring at Pillow Hill. From here, we drove to an estuary where Chinese Crested Tern has been seen during the spring and autumn. We found Greater Crested, Caspian, Common and Little Tern, Great Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler and our first Eurasian Magpie for the whole group, but drew a blank with the very rare Chinese Crested Terns. Continuing towards Tainan we were able to stop at a petrol station, which held a nesting pair of Chestnut-tailed Starling in a roadside telegraph pole and good views of a Cinnamon Bittern. Our next destination was an extensive area of fishponds, which were rich in waders. Squeezing the bus down some narrow roads we found many Avocet, Spotted Redshank, Red-necked Phalarope, Black-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Redshank, a Broad-billed Sandpiper and four Asiatic Dowitcher. Enjoyed lunch in a restaurant in Tainan before the long drive to Kenting where we checked into our hotel.

May 2nd: Kenting National Park - Kaoshiung - North Pacific Ocean

Weather: Warm and sunny

Greeted by our first Taiwan Bulbul on wires outside the hotel at 05:30, which completed the Taiwanese endemics. We then drove into the nearby Kenting National Park and headed out along the Shedding Nature Trail to a raptor watchpoint. Not a great deal of activity here, but good numbers of Taiwan Bulbul in the park. Grassland at the entrance to the park held singing Oriental Skylark, Richard’s Pipit and a fly-over Pacific Golden Plover. We left the area at 09:00 and drove north to Kaoshiung to join the ferry to Okinawa. A protracted wait for the small vessel which took us across the harbour to the ferry. Few birds in the harbour apart from flocks of fishing Little Egrets, including birds dip feeding in flight in the wake of departing boats. Set sail at 12:50, delayed by about one hour. Seabirds began to be found as we rounded the southern tip of Taiwan and came north up the east coast, with fewer birds as we moved out into open ocean from 17:00 onwards. The highlights included small groups of Streaked Shearwater, occasional Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Bulwer's Petrel and an adult Brown Bobby.

May 3rd: North Pacific Ocean - Naha - Hentona.

Weather: Cloudy and warm.

The boat made up time during the night voyage, so making our way on deck at 06:30 we had already passed the southern Ryuku Islands in darkness. We encountered a few flocks of Sooty Terns and a single Bulwer’s Petrel and just before arrival at Naha we picked up an adult Long-tailed Skua. Arrived in Naha at 14:10, immigration procedure was protracted and we left the boat at 15:30, meeting Junko our interpreter. Picked up our rental car and spotted a Peregrine flying amongst the dockside buildings. Headed along toll road to Hentona and checked into the hotel where we met Mr Kudaka, an expert on the wildlife of the Yamburu forest in the north of Okinawa. En route we saw Pacific Reef-egret, Brown-eared and Light-vented Bulbuls, Japanese Wood Pigeon and Oriental Turtle Doves. After dinner, we travelled out night birding at 20:30 for three hours locating Brown Hawk Owl, Okinawa (Pryer’s) Woodpecker at it’s nest hole and several Ryuku Scops owl calling.

May 4th: Yambura Forest and environs, Northern Okinawa.

Weather: Heavy downpours, intermittent showers and sunny spells

Met up with our guides at 0530 for an early morning exploration of Yambura Forest an exceptionally rich area for wildlife. Birding the roadside produced good views of Ryuku Minivet, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Varied and Great Tits and Japanese Bush Warbler (eventually), along with frustratingly brief views of Okinawa Woodpecker and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. Returned to the hotel at 07:30 for breakfast and then out again at 09:30. We were caught in a heavy downpour along a forest trail after enjoying good views of a pair of Ryuku Robin feeding young. Several Ruddy Kingfisher and Whistling Green Pigeon were heard calling. The rain closed in just as we heard a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher calling and we abandoned this excursion to enjoy lunch at a JAL Resort at 12:00. This site had a pair of Blue Rock Thrush nesting in the building (a common habit of the chestnut-bellied form in northern Okinawa) and many Brown-eared Bulbul in the grounds. Headed back out at 13:30 and visited several forest sites including one that held a frustratingly difficult to see Japanese Paradise Flycathcer and a steep trail which held another obliging pair of Ryuku Robin. Birding until 16:30 when we returned to the hotel to rest and eat before an excursion night birding at 19:45. Searched the forests from roads in a light drizzle, locating endemic frogs including a fine Ishikawa’s Frog and Ryuku Tip-nosed Frog. The undoubted highlight came in the form of an Okinawa Rail roosting in a tree. We all enjoyed this bird in awed silence, before returning to the hotel in a state of tired elation once again.

May 5th: Okinawa - Amami Oshima (forest and paddies).

Weather: Heavy rain in morning and afternoon.

We left Hentona at 0600 for the journey down to Naha and Okinawa airport. Internal flight departed at 1030 passing over the Amima Island chain to arrive at Amima Oshima at 11:30. Junko introduced us to Mr Tsunada, our birding guide on Amami. Checked in at our hotel in Naze and headed out to a forest park at 13:45. The forest produced our first Lidth's Jay and a pair of obliging White-backed Woodpecker of the race owstoni feeding well-grown young with large grubs at the nest. Headed back to the hotel to gain some rest and eat before another evening excursion at 20:00. Despite almost constant drizzle we managed to locate Ryuku Scops Owls perched in trees and calling birds showed how abundant this species is on the island. We also located several roosting pairs of Whistling Green Pigeon and a pair of Oriental Turtle Dove. Back to base by 23:00.

May 6th: Amami Forest – Ose Beach – Suryi River Forest – Kamiya National Forest

Weather: Warm, cloudy with sunny spells

Starting at 06:30 we visited the nature observation forest again and enjoyed further views of the White-backed Woodpecker at their nest hole. We split into two groups to explore the forest trails where we found Varied Tit, Lidth’s Jay, Ryuku Minivet, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker and some of the group glimpsed another Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. From here we travelled to the coast where we found Osprey, Grey-tailed Tattler, a pair of Kentish Plover with young and a distant Pacific Reef Egret. We enjoyed lunch at the Amami Cultural Heritage Centre, an impressive building in architectural terms. We then drove to forest sites in search of the extremely elusive Amami Thrush. A steep track held at least a couple of birds which many of the group managed to see, but unfortunately the birds would not settle for long and we were unable to gain prolonged views. It was very lucky to see this endemic, which is thought to number less than 100 pairs. We returned to the hotel for 17:00, resting and eating before our final night excursion at 20:00. We searched many tracks for Amami Woodcock, but were unable to locate this species. Mr Tsunada believes that the increased traffic in the forests at night, as a consequence of “cowboy” night safaris, have increased disturbance and caused the woodcock to move deeper into the forest. Ruddy Kingfisher and Lidth’s Jay at roost, together with numerous calling Ryuku Scops Owl provided the main interest.

May 7th: Amami Oshima - Okinawa - Taipei.

Weather: Sunny with broken cloud

A travelling day back to Taiwan via Okinawa. Checked out of the hotel and onto the airport for the internal flight to Naha in Okinawa, recording another Peregrine en route. A long wait here, saying our farewells to Junko before our departure with China Airlines to Taiwan. Transferred to central Taipei for our final two nights.

May 8th: Wulai, Paishi River - Guan-du – Tatung University
Final species total 199
Weather: Overcast and warm.

Left the hotel in the company of Victor, another local guide. We arrived at Wulai, an area of forest bisected by fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls, at 07:30. The riverbed produced Plumbeous Redstart and Taiwan Whistling Thrush and eventually a Brown Dipper perched on a rock. The forest produced our first Plain Flowerpecker, Taiwan Blue Magpie, Black-naped Monarch and several Maroon Oriole (a great relief after missing this distinctive crimson race at Pillow Hill). Black Eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard overhead was a bonus. We then moved to Guan-du Nature Park, an area of marshes and pools close to Taipei city. The mangroves here held a large colony of egrets and Night Herons and the reed beds provided brief views of Little Bittern in flight. The overcast conditions had caused significant numbers of Plain Martin to forage low over the reed bed. Muddy sections held breeding Black-winged Stilt and small parties of feral Black-headed Ibis. Lunch taken at the impressive Nature Centre, with a Brown Shrike visible from the balcony. From here we travelled across Taipei to the Tatung University where were met by a Dean who had studied the complexes nesting tiger bitterns. He took us to two Malayan Night Heron nests, both of which contained well-grown young and we enjoyed fantastic views of this typically very difficult to observe species, providing a fitting finale to a memorable and productive tour to Taiwan and the Ryuku Islands.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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