Monday 25 November 2013

A trip to the heart of Asia (9-16/11/2013)

My maiden trip to the beautiful island of Taiwan has left quite an impact on me – both emotionally and physically. This trip was not a pure birding trip but a promise that I made to my better half that we would go for a long vacation just to get away from it all. And away we went - an 8-day guided tour of the entire island of Taiwan. We had quite a memorable experience but it was also rather taxing. The itinerary, as with most tours of this nature, is all about quantity and not quality. We were taken to as many tourist locations as possible within the 8 days and with very little time to rest and truly soak in the sights and sounds of this amazing country.

Taichung City

Taipei 101 Tower

Love River (Kaohsiung City)

Hualien Town

Chiufen Old Town

Wen Wu Temple (Sun Moon Lake)

European Court Garden (Sun Moon Lake)

Countryside (Taitung District)

Taroko National Park

Yehliu Geo Park

The renowned Taiwanese night markets were one of the things my wife was looking forward to in the trip and at the end, she was certainly not disappointed. In fact, it is safe to say she had a very enjoyable and memorable trip. My only qualm about the night markets were they can sometimes be quite crowded.

As for me, I am a simple man with simple needs. Give me a chance to do a little birding in a foreign land and I will be a very happy man. Although I did not have much opportunity to bird, I am quite satisfied with the results in the end.

The very first bird that I managed to photograph in Taiwan simply blew me away. I did not imagine I would be able to see Black-billed Magpies at the outskirts of Taipei City. But I did and the magpies were just foraging on the compound of a popular tourist destination – the C.K.S. Memorial Hall. They seemed to be accustomed to human presence and that in turn provided me with some good photographic opportunities. And my birding excursion in Taiwan was off to a very good start.  

The Japanese White-eye is another species that was regularly encountered within townships throughout the trip. As usual, these active little birds were a nightmare to photograph.

The Styan's Bulbul, an endemic to Taiwan, was regularly encountered along forested areas. It looks quite similar to the commoner Light-vented Bulbul and thanks to Dave for correcting my such earlier error and giving me another lifer for the trip!

I managed to see a few species that reminded me of home like these Eurasian Tree Sparrows behaving very much like how they would behave.

Egrets were also regularly seen during the trip and because I have had plenty of egret time back home, I only stopped once to shoot an egret – a lone Great Egret foraging at the edge of the Love River.

The birding highlight of the trip took place in the least expected locality – a Buddha Memorial Center in Kaohsiung. I do not consider myself a religious person but when of all places I came across a fruiting tree here, I guess it is high time I start to renew my faith in religion.

As expected, the fruiting tree was a center of bird activity and I was a simply overwhelmed – just like a kid in a candy store. I did not do much home work before my trip here and without the aid of a printed field guide, I was struggling to identify some of the bird species that were present. A little woodpecker foraging on the tree trunk turned out to be a Grey-capped Woodpecker. I was a little disappointed as I was hoping for it to be a new species for me.

The Collared Finchbill was a lifer and I took quite a number of shots of this interesting species. Unfortunately, it preferred to stay slightly concealed by the vegetation and I was not able to obtain a single clean shot.

The Black Bulbul with its striking colouration and unmistakeable character was quite easy to identify.

The Light-vented Bulbuls are the equivalent of the ever-common Yellow-vented Bulbul back home. Not surprisingly there were quite a number of them present at the fruiting tree. In fact, I think the majority of the birds were of this species and they are ones who usually come the closest to where I was standing.

The presence of a brownish thrush got me all excited but after much scrutiny, it turned out to be an Eye-browed Thrush – a species that I have recorded before back in Malaysia.

The star bird of this fruiting tree was the Grey Treepie. It arrived at the feast half way through my observation and basically stole the limelight from everyone else. It is a beautiful bird indeed and I fell for its charms immediately.

At another tourist destination, the Sun Moon Lake, I almost mistook this Oriental Turtle-dove for a Spotted Dove and I was lucky to be able to obtain this record shot without the aid of my telephoto lens.

This was the closest I came to seeing an owl in Taiwan…

There is a small bird aviary at Sun Moon Lake and here, a number of Blue Peafowls are kept. However, captive birds are not quite my cup of tea. It also took some effort for me to explain to my tour guide the difference between shooting captive birds and wild birds.

The star bird of Taiwan is undoubtedly the Taiwan Blue Magpie. It is a good enough reason to plan for a pure birding trip here in future if given the chance and hopefully, capture one of these stunning birds in their natural habitat.