Thursday, 14 August 2008

Critically Endangered - It's Official !

Yes, it's official! The Eastern Taiwan Strait population of humpback dolphin has been officially classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the Cetacean update of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Now, you're asking why are we going on about dolphins on a birding blog? Well, keep reading and you'll see this does concern birds, too.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recognised the overwhelming threat to these animals and have classified them as Critically Endangered, the highest category of threat-level on the Red List for wild animals before becoming extinct.

What this means is that unless drastic steps are taken to protect this species, they will be driven to extinction !

The reduced flow of freshwater into the humpback dolphins estuarine habitat resulting from the Hushan Dam Project is seen as a major threat to these unique dolphins. The Dacheng (Tacheng) Important Bird Area (IBA), an important wintering site for the vulnerable Saunders's Gull Larus saundersi, falls within this area at the mouth of the Jhoushui River and will also be very negatively impacted by the reduced flow of freshwater.

The Hushan Dam Project is destroying large areas of forest habitat upriver within and around the Huben-Hushan Important Bird Area (IBA). The Huben-Hushan IBA was designated as an IBA by BirdLife International as the area is globally the most important breeding area for the threatened Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha. The IBA is home to several other Red List bird species (See Threatened Birds of The Huben-Hushan IBA Area for more information). The dolphins act as an important umbrella species, and we hope that the new Critically Endangered status of the dolphins will help to protect their habitat which is shared by the birds and many other creatures.

The IUCN refers to the Taiwan humpback dolphins as the Eastern Taiwan Strait humpback dolphin Sousa chinensis and classifies them as a sub-population.

There can be no doubt now over the threat these dolphins face and the need for something drastic to be done to save these unique animals and pull them back from the brink of extinction. The time has come for the Taiwan government to stop dodging the issue of meaningfully protecting these dolphins and to do something concrete to save them. The writing is on the wall now and any failure of the authorities to act will be nothing short of signing the death warrant of this unique population of Taiwanese dolphin.

Our appreciation to the Cetacean Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission for their work in this and our thanks to all at the MFCU and our supporters who have helped bring this about both here in Taiwan and abroad. We eagerly await the government's response to this and trust that they will make a genuine meaningful effort in saving these unique and rare citizens of Taiwan.

Also see:
Summer Dolphin Observation & Surveys - volunteers needed

Press Release: Taiwan’s unique population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins is on the brink of extinction

Matsu’s Fish seizes “Critically Endangered” title, winning international glory for Taiwan

Dolphins Critically Endangered - Media coverage

Save the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins Blog

Stop Hushan Dam Blog

Monday, 11 August 2008

Threatened Birds of The Huben-Hushan IBA Area

Typical Huben-Hushan habitat

Important Bird Areas in Asia
More than one quarter of the world’s bird species are found in Asia. That means that Asia supports over 2,700 bird species. Three hundred and thirty-two of those species are threatened with global extinction. The greatest threat faced by birds is the loss of habitat and as Asia develops suitable habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate.

Birdlife International is the largest global network of non-governmental conservation organizations with a special focus on birds (Birdlife, 2004, p 1). Birdlife International (formerly known as the International Council for Bird Preservation, or ICBP) started to develop the IBA or Important Bird Area program in the mid-1980s. Basically the program identifies a network of globally important areas for the conservation of birds and their habitats using standard, internationally-agreed criteria.

Taiwan has a total of 53 IBAs. For its size, Taiwan has a very high number of IBAs. Only 11 or 21% fall within totally protected areas. 17 IBAs or 32% fall within partially protected areas. That leaves 25 or 47% of Taiwan’s IBAs without any protection. Huben is one of the IBAs without any protection.

Status of the Huben Area
The Huben-Hushan area has been internationally identified as an IBA or Important Bird Area and is listed as one of Asia’s key sites for conservation (Birdlife, 2004, p 94). The details of the Huben IBA are as follows:-

Important Bird Areas in Taiwan.
Number: TW017.
Category: A1.
Admin Region: Yunlin.
Coordinates: 23° 43’N 120° 36’E.
Altitude (highest point): 519m.
Area: 2,200 ha.
Habitats: Artificial landscapes (terrestrial); Forest.
Threatened Species: Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha.
Protected Area Status of the IBA: Unprotected.

A typical Hushan Stream

The Major Threats to the Huben-Hushan Area

Much of the area is threatened by the construction of the Hushan Dam Project. Other smaller development projects, gravel extraction, and irresponsible land-use have also resulted in the loss of valuable habitat within and around the Huben IBA.

Hushan Dam Project

Hushan Dam Project

Threatended Species in the Huben-Hushan Area
1. Taiwan Partridge Arborophila crudigularis (Swinhoe 1864) Endemic to Taiwan.
Threatened Species Category: Globally Threatened Species.
IUCN Red List Category: Near Threatened.
Protection: Legally protected in Taiwan.
Status in Huben-Hushan Area: Resident.

2. Swinhoe’s Pheasant Lophura swinhoii (Gould 1863) Endemic to Taiwan.
Threatened Species Category: Globally Threatened Species.
IUCN Red List Category: Near Threatened.
Protection: CITES appendix 1. Legally protected in Taiwan.
Status in Huben-Hushan Area: Resident.

Swinhoe’s Pheasant. Photo courtesy of Richard Yu

3. Maroon Oriole Oriolus traillii ardens (Swinhoe 1862) Endemic Subspecies.
Threatened Species Category: Nationally Threatened Species.
IUCN Red List Category: Endangered.
Protection: Legally protected in Taiwan.
Status in Huben-Hushan Area: Resident.

Maroon Oriole. Photo courtesy of Richard Yu

4. Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha (Temminck & Schlegel 1850) Summer breeding resident.
Threatened Species Category: Globally Threatened Species.
IUCN Red List Category: Vulnerable.
Protection: CITES appendix II. Legally protected in Taiwan.
Status in Huben-Hushan Area: Summer breeding resident.

Fairy Pitta. Photo courtesy of Richard Yu

Huben-Hushan Species Listed on the Taiwan Red Data Watch List

  1. Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus (Raffles 1822) Resident.
  2. Peregrine Falcon Falco Peregrinus (Tunstall 1771) Rare Visitor.
  3. Slaty-legged Crake Rallina eurizonoides (Lafresnaye 1845) Probably Resident.
  4. Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca (Linnaeus 1766) Resident.
  5. Red Collared-Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica (Hermann1804) Resident.
  6. Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica (Linnaeus 1758) Resident.
  7. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (Linnaeus 1758) Resident.
  8. Ruddy Kingfisher Halcyon coromanda (Latham 1790) Passage Migrant.
  9. Varied Tit Parus varius (Temminck & Schlegel 1848) Rare Visitor.
  10. Golden-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis (Vigors & Horsfield 1827) Probably Resident.
  11. Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula (Franklin 1831) Visitor.

Recent Taxonomic changes concerning endemic subspecies

It should be noted that a number of the endemic subspecies found in the Huben IBA have now been proposed as or raised to full endemic species status and the threats to these new endemics will have to be looked at more closely in the future. New species to be considered are:

Taiwan Barbet Megalaima nuchalis formerly Black-browed Barbet Megalaima oorti nuchalis [BirdLife International/IUCN:- LC]

Taiwan Grey-cheeked Fulvetta Alcippe morrisonia formerly Grey-cheeked Fulvetta Alcippe morrisonia morrisoniana

Rusty Laughingthrush Garrulax poecilorhynchus formerly Rusty Laughingthrush Garrulax poecilorhynchus poecilorhynchus. See Gill & Wright, IOC World Bird List.

Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis formerly Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis erythrocnemis. See Gill & Wright, IOC World Bird List.

Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler Pomatorhinus musicus formerly Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis musicus [BirdLife International/IUCN:- LC]

Huben-Hushan Bird List:
Click here.


Birdlife International, Important Bird Areas in Asia. Key Sites for Conservation (Wakefield, UK, H.Charlesworth & Co, 2004).
Birdlife International website, Data Zone,
Birdlife International website, What's new (2008),
Collar. Spotlight on Taiwan. Endemic Subspecies of Taiwan Birds (Bedford, UK. Birding Asia No.2, December 2004).
Fang, A Guide to Threatened Birds of Taiwan (Taipei, Mao-tou Ying, 2005).
Gill, F., Wright, M. & Donsker, D. (2008). IOC World Bird Names (version 1.6).
MacKinnon & Phillipps, A Field Guide to the Birds of China (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000).
Wu, et al, A Guide to the Wild Birds of Taiwan (Taipei, Taiwan Wild Bird Information Centre and Wild Bird Society of Japan, 1991). (in Mandarin)

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Species accounts - White-eared Sibia

White-eared Sibia (Heterophasia auricularis) - Photo: M.Wilkie

White-eared Sibia (Heterophasia auricularis) - Photo: M.Wilkie

White-eared Sibia [Taiwan Sibia] Heterophasia auricularis (23CM)

A medium-sized Sibia endemic to Taiwan. The "white ears" being a very distinctive feature. The white eye-stripe, eye-ring, and lores end in plumes to form its unique white “ears.” The crown is black. The breast, throat and upper back are grey. The throat tends to be of a slightly darker shade and can appear black in poor light. The underparts are cinnamon, with the rump and lower back being more rufous. The tail is black with greyish-white tipped central feathers. The iris is a dark brown. The bill is black and the feet pinkish.

Status and distribution:
It inhabits mountain forests from 800 - 3000 m where it is common. It is often found at much lower altitudes in the winter.

Feeds on fruit, berries or nectar in the forest canopy. Often single but does gather in small flocks or bird parties. It is very active and can be quite bold.

There rising fi-fi-fi fi-yu call is very distinct and must be one of the most defining sounds of Taiwan’s mountain forests. They also produce a rattling mei, mei, mei-type alarm call.


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Friday, 1 August 2008

Summer Dolphin Observation & Surveys - volunteers needed

An appeal from our friends at Matsu's Fish Conservation Union (MFCU) [Wild Bird Society of Yunlin is a MFCU partner]. The MFCU was established in an effort to save the unique and critically endangered population of humpback dolphins living of Taiwan's central-west coast. This unique population totals around seventy individuals and is in real danger of extinction. For more information on the plight of the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins see the Save the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins Blog. The plight of the dolphins is linked to that of a number of threatened bird species. See Critically Endangered - It's Official ! for more information on this.

August marks the beginning of this summer's sea-based humpback dolphin surveys. Within days, MFCU partner, FormosaCetus Research and Conservation Group, will start this season's sea-based surveys. Other members of MFCU will be conducting land-based surveys and observation in support of the sea-based effort. Volunteers are needed to help with conducting land-based surveys and observation on the central-west coast. If you are interested in volunteering (previous experience isn't a prerequisite as training will be given) for land-based surveys and observation please contact us at: ""

PS - Central Taiwan Birder will be assisting and at the same time recording seabird numbers during the surveys.


Critically Endangered - It's Official !

Taiwan Humpback Dolphin Survey Photos

Save the Taiwan Humpback Dolphin Blog

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Species accounts - Taiwan Blue Magpie

Taiwan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea), the National Bird - Photo: M.Wilkie

Taiwan Blue Magpie [Formosan Blue Magpie] Urocissa caerulea (69cm)

A large azure-blue Magpie endemic to Taiwan. The head and upper breast are black. The tail is very long. The tail feathers are tipped with black and white and the central two white tipped feathers are longer than the rest of the tail. The bill and feet are bright red and the iris is yellow.

Status and distribution:
It inhabits low altitude forests between 100-1200 m and usually at low altitudes in winter. It is generally uncommon, but there are areas where it is locally common. It is absent from the cleared western lowlands.

Social and often flies in a troop one behind the other in a “nose-to-tail train.” Feeds on fruit, small reptiles, insects, eggs, birds, and small mammals.
A social breeder nesting in tall trees, and breeding from April-August.

A harsh metallic ger-kang, ger-kang, and ka-wak, ka-wak.

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Species accounts - Taiwan Yuhina

Taiwan Yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps ) - Photo: M.Wilkie

Taiwan Yuhina Yuhina brunneiceps (13CM)

The Taiwan Yuhina is a medium-sized Yuhina endemic to Taiwan. The distinctive crest is fronted in chestnut edged in black .The rest of the crest being a whitish grey. The lores, cheeks, ear coverts, and nape are white. A black moustachial extends around the ear coverts to the eye. The tail, wings and back are olive-grey. The throat is white with very fine black streaking. The underparts are a whitish-grey with a touch of chestnut on the flanks. The Iris is a dark red and can appear black in poor light. The slightly curved sharp bill is black and the feet are a dull creamy-yellow.

Status and distribution:
A common bird of the temperate forests between 1000-2500 m, and often higher in summer.

Very social and can be quite bold. It frequents the lower forest, often in mixed flocks with other babblers and tits. It feeds on berries, nectar and insects. It sometimes hangs upside down while feeding on blossoms. It’s a co-operative breeder, breeding during May and June.

Chew-me-cheeo or to-meet-you.

Return to species accounts.

Species accounts

Under Construction !

White-eared Sibia Heterophasia auricularis 2008-8-2
Taiwan Blue Magpie Urocissa caerulea 2008-7-31
Taiwan Yuhina Yuhina brunneiceps 2008-7-30