Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Layover in Taiwan

Well as many of you know by now I have moved down to New Zealand! It's been a while since I've posted so just to quickly update, I capped off an Education Degree (specifically teaching high-school-level students) with a final practicum placement in Oliver, BC just before Xmas. It all went well, had a great Xmas with family and friends, then hopped on a Boxing Night Red-Eye across the Pacific. Why NZ? Well there are a lot of good reasons to live in Aotearoa ("The Land of the Long White Cloud") but mainly because my wonderful girlfriend Lisa Jones lives there and is a teacher too! I'll be trying to get some teaching work myself while getting to know her friends and family and probably catching up with a few birds too. I lived in NZ back in 2008 so have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting into. As you'll see from following blog posts, there is still plenty of new and amazing places for me to explore to some great outdoor adventures ahead!

But before you find out what I've been getting up to in NZ, I should first put up a brief summary of my day-long layover in Taiwan. Two years ago on my flight back from Australia to Canada I had a similar layover and a friend-of-a-friend Dustin Wang took me around for some great birding. My China Airlines flight had me stopping over again so I emailed Dustin and he was happy to take me around again. Last time we concentrated on Taiwan endemics that were close enough to Taipei (Taiwan's capital in the north). These birds are mostly in the hills so this time around we decided to bird more around low-lying coastal areas where I had a good chance to pick up a number of lifers since I have never birded Asia apart from a trip to Borneo. Below are some photos and a brief summary of the day.

A distant shot of downtown Taipei as we whizzed north up the expressway. In the middle is Taiwan 101, the 6th-highest building in the world. At the time of its completion in 2004 it was the tallest structure in the world at 509m (101 floors), but in 2010 the Burj Khalifa was finished in Dubai with its whopping 828m and 163 floors.
Our first stop of the day was for this juvenile Siberian Crane--a first record for Taiwan! It's been around for a few weeks much to the delight of local birders and has been relatively confiding. With only three or four thousand of these cranes left in the wild, I felt lucky to catch up with this fellow.
Taiwanese birders admiring the crane. This picture also shows the rich and diverse cultivation common in Taiwanese countryside, even in winter. It's very cool to see that even in the downtown core, almost everyone has a garden and is finding ways to grow their own food.
Just before seeing the crane, this immature Brown Shrike became my first official lifer of the day.
Another lifer shrike for the day--this time a Long-tailed Shrike.
Another shot showing the crane and lowland Taiwanese landscape.
Unfortunately we did not have enough time to stop for too long as our two main birding locations were far apart and the weather was rather abrasive with wind and rain. Still, I was quite charmed by the dramatic coastline scenery of NE Taiwan. For an island-nation of around 24 million, it's amazing how much green space Taiwan enjoys. What also surprised me was that there are no gulls in Taiwan! There are fishing ports everywhere and it seems like a relatively temperate climate but there are only a few places where gulls might occasionally turn up. Even terns seem scarce. Will have to look into this.
One of my most wanted world birds--Eurasian Hoopoe!
Common Sandpipers were one of the few birds to be found along the rough outer coast; bobbing away like their North American cousins.

After missing out on several White Wagtails in BC this year, it was satisfying to see a few here in Taiwan while eating lunch. There were also several Eastern Yellow Wagtails around though I did not manage a photo of them.
And here is the most colourful winter-plumaged wagtail--the unfortunately named "Grey Wagtail."
Dusky Thrush is one of the more common Turdus thrushes in the lowlands of Taiwan in winter. This was a lifer and one I hope to see in Canada one day! Other Turdus lifers in the same area were Pale Thrush (one of the most common birds here it seems--sort of the American Robin of rural Taiwan), and Brown-headed Thrush though I didn't get photos.
Another nice Asian equivalent of a North American regular. This Green Sandpiper in basic plumage--not too dissimilar in looks or call from Solitary Sandpiper but in flight their bright white upper tail feathers are conspicuous.
Here's a crisp-looking adult Brown Shrike.
What I believe to be a Common Snipe (split from Wilson's a decade or so back). Let me know if you think otherwise.
Looks like a Little Ringed Plover to me.
More Taiwanese greenery, not far from one of the larger cities in the world. A Crested Serpent Eagle was whistling a way as I took this photo.
Had to include at least one temple shot. Each Chinese and Taiwanese temple has unique ornaments, with the "Dragon Wall" (gray engravings in front) acting as a sort of signature of the artist. At least that's what I gathered.
I think that building in the distance is the same temple pictured above. We had a nice long walk in this area birding local forests, plantations, and back alleys. It seems that "private property" is a lot more relaxed here as no one seemed to care that we were walking through their chicken coop or up their driveway. Taiwanese people have to be some of the friendliest in the world. Also on this river was my lifer Eastern Spot-billed Duck. Apparently the sedentary Taiwanese population is a future split candidate.
This is where a lot of the shorebirds and wagtails were hanging out. Even though this is all private land, birders were walking all over these fields. It so happens that I visited on a national bird count day. I understand that many birding groups here have adopted the American "Christmas Bird Count" tradition and have set up circles throughout the country. Not sure if we found anything too exciting for their count but I was happy with a few more lifers including Yellow-browed Warbler, Japanese Bush-Warbler, Black-faced Bunting, and Daurian Redstart.
At a nearby sportsfield we scanned for thrushes, wagtails, and pipits. I did not have any fieldguides with me but IDed this as a Richard's Pipit (Dustin knew the Taiwanese name but not the common name) as it has very little streaking on the chest and flanks. If you think this is another pipit please comment below.
Another lifer--Naumann's Thrush
Another Dusky Thrush shot for good measure
I thought this Eurasian Kestrel might be a lifer but it turns out I saw a few in Greece 11 years go. Still a beauty.
I think this was the only slam-dunk endemic bird I saw on this trip, though it's arguably the best-looking one anyway. Unfortunately this Taiwan Blue Magpie was scarfing down some bread when I snapped this pic.
The last photo I took that day was of this confiding Black Kite.
All in all I think we had around 55 species for the day. Not a bad way to spend a Christmas Bird Count, but I was certainly itching to get on that plane to Lisa and New Zealand. As expected, Dustin was a tremendous host and treated me to some great local cuisine including a luffa stew. Yes LUFFA is a food too! Check it out. After 2 layovers in Taiwan I'm up to 85 species for the country. Will have to return some day for a proper visit. 



  1. You saw so many great birds congrats on the amazing lifers!!

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