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.

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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

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Trip Repoert - Bee-eaters and Battlefields (Kinmen Island), Taiwan Strait

Guningtou Village, Kinmen. Site of the 1949 Battle of Guningtou.

The little island of Kinmen (Quemoy) lies about 2km off the coast of China's Fujian Province, near the city of Xiamen. It was on this little island that the last battles of the Chinese Civil War played themselves out. The island was occupied by Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Forces in their retreat from the Mainland in 1949.The island still remains under the control of the Republic of China on Taiwan though historically Kinmen is a prefecture of Fujian Province. The military is still very much dug in on Kinmen. The soldiers of the R.O.C. and the P.R.C. still stare at each other across the narrow strait of water that separates them. There are P.R.C. controlled islands just several hundred metres from Kinmen.

The PRC started shelling Kinmen in August 1958 which gave rise to the 20 year long Artillery War which ceased in 1978.The Island has been able to recover from much of the effects of the shellings. Now much of the island is covered by forest which gives way to fields of sorghum and quaint villages.

Marshall Law was lifted in 1993 and in 1995 much of Kinmen was proclaimed a national park. The island in recent years has been open to tourism and has become famous as a great birding destination. Indeed a trip to Kinmen is very much 'Birds and Battlefields'.

Kinmen is at its best during the spring and autumn migration periods and in the winter. In summer though, things quieten down to just the usual residents, with one marvelous exception, the Blue-tailled Bee-eater Merops philippinus arrives and breeds on Kinmen. It was to see this bird that I made a trip to Kinmen.

I arrived at Kinmen Airport at about 16:30 on Friday, 15 August. A minivan from the hotel was at the airport to meet me. I got to the hotel and checked in. By about 17:15 I was ready to go exploring around the hotel with my bins.

My walk produced a lifer for me in the form of a Collared Crow. I also saw Light-vented Bulbul, Magpie, Crested Myna, Tree Sparrow, Oriental Magpie Robin, Spotted Dove, Grey Treepie, Large-billed Crow, Barn Swallow, Long-tailed Shrike and Japanese White-eye. I also came across a bird that I could not positively ID at the time. I thought it was possibly a Masked Laughingthrush, fortunately, I was able to solve the riddle the following day.

I awoke the following morning and went out onto the balcony. There in a tree nearby was another lifer for me, a Hoopoe. Hoopoes are only recorded as a vagrant on Taiwan and I had never been lucky enough to see one. I have seen their African cousin many times before and was very keen to try and see one of the Eurasian variety. I knew they were resident on Kinmen but was unsure as to just how common they were. I was soon to discover that they are very common on Kinmen and must have seen more than forty on the trip. The sight of Hoopoe nesting on the quaint tiled roofs of the traditional stone houses is something I'll never forget.

After breakfast we headed off to the Guningtou Battlefield. The battlefield is very interesting and great for birding. Apart from the battlefield museum there is a wildlife centre in the area with a small but lively wetland. The wetland produced a White-throated Kingfisher and a Chinese Little Bittern for us.

The staff at the wildlife centre was very helpful and marked all the birding sites that they thought we should visit. They also told us the best places to view the Bee-eaters. I also was able to buy a copy of the Kinmen birding guide at the centre. As I glanced through the book I recognised a picture of the unidentified bird from the previous afternoon. It was a dark morph Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach. I have often seen Long-tailed Shrike on Taiwan but was not even aware of there being a dark morph form (Both forms of the Shrike can be seen on Kinmen). Our walk around the battlefield produced Common Pheasant and Greater Coucal.

During the heat of the day we occupied ourselves with exploring bunkers, quaint villages and temples. As it became cooler and evening approached we went off to find the Bee-eaters. They were exactly were they were supposed to be. We had wonderful views of them hawking insects from trees and power lines. As the sun set they settled down for the night in great columns along the power lines.

The next day we headed off to Mashan to stare across the narrow strait of water between Kinmen and the mainland. The Mashan Observation Station is still under military control. Visitors have to surrender their passports on entering. The Observation Station is at the end of a huge bunker complex. It gives one an idea of how complex the subterranean defenses of the island are. The centre also houses the propaganda station. Here, until quite recently, the world's largest (?) speakers would broadcast propaganda to the mainland.

From Mashan we headed off to the August 23 Artillery War Museum. The east side of the island is the best place for Bee-eater. Here Bee-eater is visible along the roadside in great numbers as they hawk insects from power lines. The Artillery War Museum is well worth a visit. It gives one a real idea of what life was like on Kinmen during the 1958-1978 Artillery War.

In the first 44 days of the war the P.R.C. rained down 477 000 shells on the tiny island. Shelling was eventually regulated and the P.R.C. and the R.O.C. Forces being allowed to shell each other on alternate days, Sundays being a day of rest. On Sundays R.O.C. troops had to gather shell fragments that were used to make meat cleavers. The meat cleaver business on Kinmen is still doing well today. There is a Park and a lake (Lake Tai) at the Museum. The area produced Blackbird, Koel, Chinese Pond Heron, Cattle Egret, Yellow-bellied Prinia, White-breasted Water Hen, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Egret, Spot-billed Duck, and other common birds.

We were due to leave the island the following morning but Typhoon Haitang hit Taiwan grounding all air traffic and we were stranded on Kinmen for three extra day’s holiday. The weather was great, so it was a real bonus.

August 2005

Area map. See Quemoy Island(Kinmen) on the Chinese Coast (above 24 on left margin).

Taiwan Map copyright free from Wikimedia Commons.

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Monday 28 July 2008

Birding Locations - Hsitou Forest Reserve, Nantou County

The Bamboo Bridge, University Pond, Hsitou forest. The trees around the pond can be very productive.

Hsitou Forest Reserve is situated in West-Central Taiwan's Nantou County. Hsitou is a national forest reserve at an altitude of 1150m in Taiwan's central mountains.

Hsitou is recognized as one of Taiwan's top birding areas. Hsitou is a very popular weekend get away spot so the best time for birding is during the week or very early morning on weekends. Hsitou is easy to access and can be done as an easy day trip or even a half day trip.

Hsitou is a good spot for Taiwan's low and mid altitude birds. The endemic Steere's Liocichla, White-eared Sibia, and Taiwan Yuhina are common all year round. Hsitou is also one of the better sites for looking for the Taiwan Tit. The endemic Taiwan Whistling Thrush, Taiwan Barbet, Taiwan Scimitar Babbler, Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler, Taiwan Barwing (very common in winter with smaller numbers present all year), Rusty Laughingthrush, and Taiwan Bush Warbler (look in the grassy area behind the hotel) can also be seen. There are Taiwan Partridge and Swinhoe's Pheasant in the area but they are not easy to locate.

Other birds to look out for are Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Pygmy Wren Babbler, White-browed Shortwing, Vivid Niltava, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Eurasian Jay, White-tailed Robin, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Ashy Wood Pigeon, Collared Owlet, Large Hawk Cuckoo (summer), Ferruginous Flycatcher (summer and rare resident), Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Eurasian Nuthatch (mostly winter), Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler, Grey Treepie, Rufous-capped Babbler, Rufous-faced Warbler, Island Thrush (mostly winter), Black Bulbul, Black-throated Tit, Grey-chinned Minivet, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Little Forktail and Large-billed Crow. In winter some of the high mountain endemics can be seen in Hsitou.

About 20km by road from Hsitou there is the Shanlinshi National Forrest Reserve which is part of Hsitou and well worth a visit as it is slightly higher at 1600m.

There are a number of hotels in and around Hsitou. Hsitou is best visited on week days or early over weekends. Open 7:00-17:00. If staying in Hsitou the forest can be accessed anytime. There is a restaurant and food kiosk inside Hsitou and a number of shops outside the entrance.

By car Hsitou is about 50km south of Taichung and easy to access from Taiwan's No.3 National Highway. Exit at Jhushan-Mingjian and follow the Lugu-Hsitou signs to Hsitou. Lugu is about 10km before Hsitou. Lugu's Oolong tea is amongst the finest of all Oolong teas and a great stop for tea lovers.

By bus from Taichung, take the Lienyin Express Bus bound for Hsitou and Shanlingshi. Alternatively, at Jhushan, take the Yuanlin Express Bus bound for Hsitou and Lugu. At Hsitou, there is a bus running between Shanlinshi and Hsitou.

Jhushan is easily accessed by taking the train or bus to Douliou or Linnei and then taking a bus (Taisi Bus Company) to Jhushan from the back of the Douliou station or along the main road in Linnei heading in the direction of Jhushan.

Path through the bamboo woods. Always a good place for tits.

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Birding Locations - Taipei Botanical Garden

The Taipei Botanical Garden (Zhihwu Yuan) is a great place, right in the heart of Taipei City, to spend a few hours birding. If you're hoping to get a look at a Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus, the garden is well worth a visit.

The Taipei Botanical Garden was established in 1896 during the Japanese Colonial period (1895-1945) on Taiwan. The Taipei Botanical Garden is situated on Nanhai Road in the Chung-cheng District adjacent to the National Museum of History.

Apart from the garden being famous for it's Malayan Night Heron, it also offers views of Black-naped Blue Monarch*; Grey Treepie*; Japanese White-eye*; Taiwan Barbet**; Eurasian Tree sparrow; Spotted Dove*; Red Collared Dove; Common Moorhen; Light-vented Bulbul*; Black Bulbul*; White-breasted Water Hen; Pale Thrush#; Scaly Thrush#; Olive-backed Pipit#; Orange-flanked Bush Robin (rare)#; Brown Shrike#; Crested Goshawk*; Little Grebe; Common Kingfisher; Pacific swallow; Striated Swallow; Little Egret; White Wagtail; Black-billed Magpie; Black Bittern (very rare with no recent records).

The Taipei Botanical Garden, being in the heart of Taipei, is very easy to access. It’s close to the Xiaonanmen MRT station and on a number of bus routes. Taking a taxi is also reasonably inexpensive.

The Department of Information, Taipei City Government publishes a book titled, “Birdwatcher’s Guide to the Taipei Region" (ISBN 957-01-7797-7).This book covers the whole region including the Botanical Gardens and nearby Ta-an Park, which is also worth a visit. The book is available through the Wild Bird Society of Taipei. Pageone Bookstore in the well known Taipei 101 Mall stocks the book.

* Taiwan Endemic subspecies
** Taiwan Endemic Species
# winter

Also see:
Taiwan Bird Books

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Birding Locations - The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands, Penghu Islands, Taiwan Strait

Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetland Entrance, Penghu Island

The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands

The Penghu archipelago or the Pescadores as the Portuguese mariners called them is made up of 64 islands and is located in the Taiwan Strait about halfway between Taiwan and the Fujian coast of southern China. This beautiful archipelago is an important stop on the Southeast Asia Migration Routes. Penghu is a county of Taiwan and with its white beaches, coral reefs and calm blue waters is a favourite summer getaway spot for many Taiwanese.

The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands are situated on the main island of Penghu, south east of the county capital, Magong. The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands is an area covering about 50 hectares. It includes a reservoir, a river, ponds, coastal scrub and seashore with mudflats. Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan has a very large hide looking out over some ponds and the mudflats. There are a number of blinds and pavilions throughout the wetland. Common resident birds are Cattle, Little and Great Egret; Grey Heron; Little Grebe; Black-crowned Night Heron; Moorhen; Common Kingfisher; Oriental Skylark; Nutmeg Mannikin; Japanese White-eye; Tree Sparrow; Crested, White-vented and Common Myna; White-vented Bulbul; Spotted Dove; Bustard Quail; Eastern Reef Heron; Kentish Plover and Little Ringed Plover. During summer Oriental Pratincole; Barn Swallow; House Swift and Little Tern are Present. Greater Crested, Roseate and Black-naped Tern* may be seen over the bay.

The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands is best visited during the spring and autumn migration periods(winter is also good). During migration the wetlands play host to Great Cormorant; Intermediate Egret; Chinese Pond Heron; Chinese Little Bittern; Black-faced Spoonbill; Spot-billed Duck; Pintail; Common and Falcated Teal; Eurasian Wigeon; Northern Shoveler; Tufted Duck; White-breasted Water Hen; Osprey; Black-winged Stilt; Common Snipe; Wood, Green, Sharp-tailed, Common, Curlew, Terek and Marsh Sandpiper; Whiskered and White-winged Black Tern; Black-capped Kingfisher; White and Grey Wagtail; Grey, Greater Sand, Lesser Sand and Pacific Golden Plover; Grey-tailed Tattler; Whimbrel; Ruddy Turnstone; Long-toed and Red-necked Stint; Dunlin; Common Greenshank; Common Redshank; Eastern Marsh Harrier; Short-eared Owl; Hoopoe; Red-throated, Olive-backed and Richard's Pipit; Chinese Sparrowhawk; Grey-faced Buzzard Eagle; Eurasian Buzzard; Common Kestrel; Oriental Cuckoo; Brown Shrike; Siberian Rubythroat; Blue Rock Thrush; Red-flanked Bluetail; Daurian Redstart, Common Stonechat; Pale, Dusky and Red-bellied Thrush; Oriental Great Reed, Japanese Bush and Arctic Warbler; Grey-streaked and Ferruginous Flycatcher; Little and Black-faced Bunting,Brambling; White-cheeked, White-shouldered and Red-billed Starling; and Black-headed Gull.

The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands can be reached by exiting Magong on Road 204. After about 4km you'll see the Penghu visitor centre on the left. Just passed the visitor centre turn right into Road 205. The wetland entrance is about 70 m down the road on the left.

Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetland

* Black-naped Tern breed on the old uprights of the Kuahai Bridge that links the island of Paisha to Hsiyu.The terns can be viewed from the new bridge.

Also see:
The Penghu Islands (Pescadores) trip report.

Back to Birding Locations.

Birding Locations

Under Construction !

Birding Locations - Hsitou Forest Reserve, Nantou County 2008-7-28
Birding Locations - Taipei Botanical Garden 2008-7-28
Birding Locations - The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands, Penghu Islands (Pescadores), Taiwan Strait 2008-7-28
Penglai Pubu, Tsaoling, Yunlin County 2008-7-28
Huben/Hushan area, Yunlin County (Fairy Pitta) 2008-7-27

Birding Locations - Penglai Pubu, Tsaoling, Yunlin County

Penglai Pubu/waterfall, Tsaoling

Penglai Pubu (waterfall) is situated about 2KM down Road 149 from the village of Tsaoling (Caoling). Tsaoling is at an altitude of about 800m in West-Central Taiwan. The area offers a good mix of low and mid altitude forest birds, but is not really well known as a birding destination. The area got shaken up quite badly in the big 921 Earthquake in September 1999.There is still a lot of damage in the area, which the local authorities have made into a type of "memorial" come geological display, complete with information boards.

Penglai Pubu is a waterfall that was quite a popular picnic destination before the earthquake. It had a cable way and was very touristy. The earthquake put an end to the cable way, and bustling tourist trade. Now it's a great place to have a walk through some good forest, before coming to the waterfall.

Penglai is a very reliable area to see the endemic Taiwan Whistling Thrush Myophonus insularis. This smallish shimmering deep blue beauty jumps from rock to rock at the base of the waterfall. The rocks below the waterfall are also frequented by the endemic subspecies of Plumbeous Water Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosus affinis, and White and Grey Wagtails.

The forest around the waterfall offers forest birds like Taiwan Grey-cheeked Fulvetta; Japanese White-eye; Grey Treepie; Bronzed Drongo; Black-naped Blue Monarch; Taiwan Scimitar Babbler; Light-vented Bulbul; Black Bulbul; Grey-chinned Minivet; Crested Serpent Eagle; Crested Goshawk; Grey-headed Pygmy Woodpecker; and Large-billed Crow. Penglai is also home to a number of endemic Formosan Macaque or Taiwan Rock Monkey.

Penglai also hosts small numbers of the endemic Taiwan Sibia Heterophasia auricularis and Taiwan Yuhina Yuhina brunneiceps in summer and numbers increase quite a bit in winter. Their distinct call makes them quite easy to find. Don't despair if you don't see them at Penglai because the forests edges around Tsaoling Village are full of them. The area also hosts a number of endemic Swinhoe's Pheasant Lophura swinhoii, but these are never easy to find. Shihpi, a few miles away is also a reasonable Swinhoe’s Pheasant site and Sibia and Yuhina are common.

To get to the Tsaoling area, take the Douliou exit from the No.3 Highway. Once in Douliou, exit the town on the No.149 road and follow the Tsaoling signs. It takes about an hour from Douliou to Tsaoling. A bus runs from the area outside Douliou train station to Tsaoling. There are a number of hotels in and around Tsaoling. Remember that this is rural Taiwan and not much English is spoken in these parts.

Back to Birding Locations.

Trip Report - The Penghu Islands (Pescadores), Taiwan Strait.

Sunset from Hsiyu Island, Penghu Archipelago, Taiwan Strait

The Penghu Archipelago or the Pescadores is made up of 64 islands and is located in the Taiwan Strait about halfway between Taiwan and the Fujian coast of southern China. This beautiful archipelago is an important stop on the Southeast Asia Migration Routes. Penghu is a county of Taiwan and a favourite summer getaway spot for many Taiwanese.

A summer visit to Penghu offered me the opportunity to do some homework before doing a trip during the autumn migration period. Summer is also the best time to view Black-naped Tern and Roseate Tern. Both of these birds had eluded me on Taiwan and I really wanted to see them.

Armed with very little information I landed at Magong Airport on the main island of Penghu. While Taiwan is tropical and mountainous, Penghu has almost a Mediterranean look about it. Penghu has a long history of foreign occupation and the Dutch, Spanish, French and Japanese have controlled these islands in the past.

The first two days were rather frustrating and I was getting nowhere with my birding enquiries. On the third day I hired a scooter and planned a trip of the islands of Penghu, Paisha and Hsiyu which are linked by bridges. I left the small town of Magong and headed for Paisha. About 4km out of town I came across a visitors centre. On making enquiries I was directed to the Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan wetland area about half a kilometer away. I was also given a contact number for a local birder. It looked like things were beginning to happen.

I found Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan very easily and was impressed with what I saw. The area was a large wetland area bordering on the seashore with some great hides. The resident birds being Cattle, Little and Great Egret; Grey Heron; Little Grebe; Black-crowned Night Heron; Moorhen; Common Kingfisher; Oriental Skylark; Nutmeg Mannikin; Japanese White-eye; Tree Sparrow; Crested and White-vented Myna; Light-vented Bulbul; Spotted Dove; Bustard Quail; Eastern Reef Heron; Kentish Plover and Little Ringed Plover. The area must be awesome during the migration periods when the migrants of the S.E.Asia Flyway pass through.

After spending some time walking around the area I moved on. I crossed the bridge to Paisha Island and had lunch. I saw a post office and needing some stamps I went in to buy some. Taiwan brought out a postage stamp and book series on the Chinese Crested Tern and Blue-tailed Bee-eater a few years ago. These were snapped up very quickly by birders and stamp collectors and are rather hard to come by now. While buying the stamps I saw that they had a copy of each book on sale. I asked the "sales clerk" if I could get copies of the books. He replied that I could buy the two on display only as these were all they had.

I answered that I would take them. After I had payed for them and was about to leave the "sales clerk" asked me if I was a birder? I replied that I was and he said that he was a very keen birder. We got chatting and I couldn't believe my good fortune. The "sales clerk" turned out to be the Postmaster of Paisha Island and one of the co-authors of the field guide "Birding in Penghu". We exchanged telephone numbers and made plans to have dinner the following night in Magong.

I carried on through Paisha and came to the very long and famous Kuahai Bridge that links the island of Paisha to Hsiyu. I took the obligatory photograph and began crossing the expanse. I hadn't gone far when I noticed a number of terns. I stopped and glassed them. They were what I had come to Penghu for, they were Black-naped Terns. The remains of the uprights of the old bridge built during the Japanese occupation lay about 30 metres from the new bridge and on each of these uprights were many nesting terns.

I had my dinner with Wang Tian-tai and he gave me a copy of his book. The next morning he took me out in a glass bottomed boat to see the Roseate Terns I was wanting to see. I got to see the terns and had some great views of the beautiful coral reefs and marine life around Penghu before having a great seafood lunch and my trip back to Taiwan.

M.Wilkie July 2005

Also see;
Birding Locations - The Tsai Yuan Jiu Yuan Wetlands, Penghu Islands, Taiwan Strait

Back to Trip Reports.

Threats and Issues

Under Construction !

Nets of Death 2008-7-28
A Brief History of Grey-Faced Buzzard Conservation in Taiwan 2008-7-27

Trip Reports

Under Construction !

Bee-eaters and Battlefields (Kinmen Island), Taiwan Strait 2008-7-29
The Penghu Islands (Pescadores), Taiwan Strait 2008-7-28

About Me

Under Construction !

Nets of Death

A lifeless pair of Tree Sparrows - Taichung County: Photo - C.Lucarda

A common site in rural Taiwan is netting surrounding orchards to protect fruit trees from birds. The growers desire to protect their crop from birds is understandable. Many growers erect heavy netting structures around their orchards or fields in an effort to minimize their losses to birds and some larger insects. Some of this netting has a shade value, too, and is easily visible to birds. However, all too often, one sees cheap light plastic netting very similar to the mist netting used by ornithology researches to catch birds for banding purposes being used. This light loose net appears almost invisible to birds and serves to kill rather then deter birds trying to get at the fruit. Birds unknowingly fly into it and their feet get tangled. The bird then dies an agonizingly slow and painful death of dehydration under the hot Taiwan sun.

Nearly invisible light netting set around fruit trees - Huben: Photo - M.Wilkie

Where does the right of the grower to protect a crop become the right to kill indiscriminately? Where does the grower move from protecting to trapping? Where does the understandable protection of a crop become a license to knowingly kill wildlife? Surely, the erection of nearly invisible netting with the capacity to trap many birds is not a responsible method to “protect” a crop! Regardless of the rights of growers and farmers versus the protection of wildlife and what the various acts do and do not allow, it would appear that for now, thousands and thousands of Taiwan birds will continue to die agonizingly slow deaths under the hot sun as growers ‘protect” their crops.

A lifeless Barred Buttonquail*- Huben: Photo - M.Wilkie

A Grey Treepie* - Taichung County: Photo - C.Lucarda

A Taiwan Barbet* - Taichung County: Photo - C.Lucarda

Death net - Taichung County: Photo - C.Lucarda

Newly erected light netting claims its first victim - Huben: Photo - M.Wilkie

* IUCN listed species- Category: LC. In short, these are species on the watch list.

Back to Threats and Issues.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Taiwan Birding Stories - The Sea Phantom

Matsu Islets

The Sea Phantom

Early one summer's day in 1937 a group of men approached a small rocky outcrop in Shandong, Northeast China. The motley crew of the small boat were a mix of Chinese and Europeans. Some of the Europeans were educated men, men of science. At the rocky outcrop they clambered ashore shotguns in hand. They had come for the sea phantoms. They had learnt that sea phantoms resided on this rocky outcrop and science demanded that specimens of the sea phantoms be got.

For countless generations spanning countless millennia these graceful sea phantoms had returned to these rocks each summer to breed. The phantom was never common and it had had a bad run. Man constantly raided its breeding grounds robbing its nests of eggs and the new generation. Summer typhoons sometimes laid waste its breeding grounds, too. The phantoms had withstood the typhoons but the newer pressure of egg collecting and man expanding his range was steadily taking its toll.

Men of science only found this species in 1863. A naturalist named Schlegel had described it and named it Sterna bernsteni or the Chinese Crested Tern.

On the rocky outcrop the killing began. The graceful white, grey and black phantoms with its bright orange black-tipped bill fell from the sky as they tried to protect their nests. When the guns fell silent the lifeless bodies of twenty-one phantoms were collected from the amongst the bloody mess of butchered seabirds. The men returned triumphant for they now had the skins for specimens to grace the museums of Europe.

Humankind looked for the Sea Phantoms but they were gone. As time passed we came to realise that the massacre on Shandong was probably the last of its kind. Then, a flicker of hope. A claimed sighting. Three birds observed on the sand flats at Beidaihe on 10 June 1978. Humankind looked but nothing. Then, again, another claimed sighting. A small group reported from Ko Libong Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand in July 1980. Humankind looked and again found nothing. Finally, after a decade more, there was another claimed sighting of three in Northern China in September 1991. Again, nothing was found. It would seem that indeed the Sea Phantom had gone.

The Taiwan controlled archipelago of Matsu just off the Fujian coast had for years been the front line in the ROC-PRC standoff. Finally, in the late 90s the islands were opened up and tourism was permitted. The military standoff had in some ways created a measure of protection for birds. There were times that military exercises had taken a heavy toll but at other times it afforded protection to some seabirds. In June 2000, while editing footage for a film on the terns of the Matsu Archipelago, producer Liang Chieh-Teh, and Chang Shou-Hua, Chairman of the Wild Bird Society of Matsu, noticed some smaller terns amongst the Greater Crested Terns that they had filmed. They were puzzled. They spent hours trying to work out what these birds were. Were they the juveniles of the Greater Crested Terns or perhaps one of the other tern species that frequented the area ? Finally, an old picture of something from long ago. No, it couldn't be but yes it was. On Matsu the phantom had survived. There were less than ten but they were Chinese Crested Terns.

Terns of a number of species on a rocky outcrop in the Matsu Archipelago. For over 60 years the Chinese Crested Terns hid amongst them.

The global population of these birds is less than fifty. Since their rediscovery in 2000 we have seen nests robbed by Chinese fishermen. There have also been reports of dynamite fishing around the colony. The Phantom is just holding on and its future remains uncertain. In July 2006 I was asked to join a special expedition to view the birds from a boat. From the tossing deck of a coastguard vessel on choppy seas with trembling hands I lifted my binoculars and met the Sea Phantom.

A poor shot from a tossing deck of a coastguard vessel. A Sea Phantom.

A pair of Chinese Crested Terns, slightly smaller with lighter grey wings, hiding amongst the Greater Crested Terns.

Other birding stories

Birding Stories

Under Construction !

Taiwan Birding Stories:

Taiwan Birding Stories - The Sea Phantom (Chinese Crested Tern) 2008-7-27

Huben Birding Stories
Tales of a birder's adventures in Huben:

Huben Birding Stories - A Good Saturday's Afternoon 2008-7-27
Huben Birding Stories - The Silver Ghost (Swinhoe's Pheasant)2008-7-27
Huben Birding Stories - Mr. Chang and the Shamas 2008-7-27
Huben Birding Stories - The Fairy Temple (Fairy Pitta) 2008-7-27

Huben Birding Stories - A Good Saturday's Afternoon

Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)

I arrived at the bridge leading into Huben village at about 2:30 and was greeted by the calling of the young Crested Serpent Eagle I had seen on Monday. I have seen a young eagle in this area quite a few times over the past two months so it looks as if it's established a territory in this area. I pulled over and watched it circling overhead for a few minutes before carrying on.

Just before arriving at the temple I spotted another Crested Serpent Eagle sitting in a dead tree across the valley. I stopped and watched it for a few minutes. It was a majestic looking mature Eagle. Its crest fluttered in the breeze like plumes on a knight's helmet. I snapped a few long distance shots and moved on.

I parked my motorcycle under the big Bayan tree at the temple and headed off down the track. The usual Light-vented Bulbuls, Spotted Doves, Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Pacific Swallows, and Striated Swallows had all quickly put in an appearance when the calls of a Bronzed Drongo stopped me. As I watched the Bronzed Drongos the calls of some Dusky Fulvettas and Taiwan Scimitar Babblers alerted me to their presence. It wasn't long before some Rufous-capped Babblers were putting on a show just off to my right. Shortly they were joined by the Dusky Fulvettas and Taiwan Scimitar Babblers.

I moved on and was treated to a view of a dazzling Black-naped Blue Monarch. Some Grey-cheeked Fulvetta started calling just out of view. The sharp almost hiss like alarm call showed that they were well aware of my presence. I spotted a single Japanese White-eye fly overhead and land in the top of some bamboo I was standing near. Moments later a flock of about fifteen joined it.

I arrived at a field planted with orange trees. Light-vented Bulbuls and Collared Finchbills were darting between the trees. There were a great number of these birds amongst the trees. Moments later I spotted a pair of Black Bulbul with there blood red bills and legs offset against there jet black plumage. Then something else caught my eye. It disappeared off amongst the trees. I never got a second look but it was a thrush of shorts for sure, probably a Pale Thrush or Dusky Thrush. Moments later I heard the distinct chi-up notes of the call of a Plain Prinia. I searched the scrub near the path and it wasn't long before I had located it. I looked up and the sky was filled with House Swifts.

I moved on and spotted my third Crested Serpent Eagle for the afternoon flying out of a tree across the valley. I then noticed a flock of about fifteen doves in a dead tree across the valley near to where I had seen the eagle. Something about the doves looked odd. They didn't appear to be the usual Spotted Doves or Red Collared Doves that are very common in Huben. I glassed them and to my joy they were Oriental Turtle Doves. This was a first for my Huben list. Oriental Turtle Doves are quite common in the North of Taiwan but down in the central areas they are uncommon to even pretty rare in some places.

It was getting on and I needed to get back. I had a good walk back to the temple and the second eagle was still sitting in the dead tree across the valley. I started off on my motorcycle and just as I was leaving Huben I had fine views of the brilliant green of a Taiwan Barbet. In Mandarin it is called wu-se niao or bird of five colours. A great way to end the day.

Also see:

Other Huben Birding Stories
Birding in the Huben-Hushan Area (Fairy Pitta)
Birding in Yunlin County
Huben-Hushan Bird List
Threatened Birds of the Huben-Hushan area
Fairy Pitta and Huben Bird Gallery
Taiwan Bird Books

Huben Birding Stories - The Silver Ghost

The Silver Ghost

Before dawn I was in Huben. It was still very dark and there was a chill in the air as I turned into the yard of Mr. Chang's traditional Taiwanese house. Multitudes of dogs snarled and yapped. They didn't seem too happy to see me. A large roster came over. He seemed friendlier. It was almost as if he was coming over for a predawn chat before doing his morning duty and waking the neighbourhood. Mr. Chang came out and we headed off up the track following the river. We both bounced around on our motorcycles as we headed for his little wooden cabin further up the valley. Today we had a purpose. We were after the very elusive Silver Ghost of Taiwan's forests.

We reached the cabin and parked the motorcycles. We loaded up and climbed down onto the rocks in the river. To go deep into the Huben forest one has to follow the course of a river or stream. The steep cliffs and thick vegetation make it impossible to get deep into the remote parts of the forest other than by this means.

Streams in Huben are very rocky. Generally, they don't carry very much water but when it rains they become raging torrents. It was still dark as we started on our way. We hadn't gone far when the predawn calling of an endemic Taiwan Partridge started. Mr. Chang responded and the partridge called back. It wasn't too far off but the thick forest shielded it from view. We carried on and dawn began to break. The calls of songbirds surrounded us but it was too dark to see anything.

High in the trees above us a Crested Serpent Eagle greeted the new day with a call. Mr. Chang smiled and called back. The eagle immediately responded. We carried on with the soft calls of the eagle floating to us on the breeze every so often.

It was hard going. Despite the chill in the air I was beginning to build up quite a sweat. Mr. Chang indicated we were getting close. Even the slightest rustle of clothing is enough to startle the Ghost. We moved very quietly. We carefully stepped from rock to rock. The forest was light enough to see a fair distance ahead now. We moved forward slowly. We would stop to listen and scan the area ahead for movement. Mr. Chang's sharp ears caught something. I hadn't heard it but he said he had. The Ghost was near.

We moved on. The river narrowed and vegetation had taken root in the stream bed. We stopped and searched the shadows ahead. One second I was looking at a shadow and the next instant the Ghost stepped forward from out of the shadow. We had seen the Ghost at the same instant. We just smiled and nodded. There it was, the distinct silver-white back, crest and tail contrasted with a dazzling blue of the body and the fire-red head and legs. I started to shake with excitement. I could hear my heart drumming in my ears. The Ghost melted into the vegetation and disappeared. I stood there breathless. There really wasn't enough light for a shot but I took my camera out of its bag and moved forward.

I crept over boulders and moved towards where the Ghost had vanished. I crept forward and once again it stepped out of the shadows. It was very dark but I took a few shots just to capture the moment. In an almost dream-like state I watched the Silver Ghost moving about in front of me.

Swinhoe's Pheasant (Lophura swinhoii) courtesy of Scott Lin.

Robert Swinhoe had discovered the species, which is endemic to Taiwan, in April of 1862. Gould had described the species in the 1863 edition of The Ibis. Even the stuffy Victorian, Gould, was impressed by Formosa's Silver Ghost and stated, "This exceedingly beautiful species is one of the most remarkable novelties I have had the good fortune to describe." Gould had described many species from around the world. He named the species after Swinhoe, Lophura swinhoii. When this majestic species was first revealed to the West, many dubbed the newly described Swinhoe's Pheasant as the world's most beautiful bird. To some, it still is.

The pheasant moved off slowly. It was unaware of my presence and I was able to watch it for about two minutes in all. All too quickly time passed and it melted back into the forest. Mr. Chang and I pressed on. I was euphoric. This was my first Huben male. The Swinhoe's Pheasant is considered a bird of the mid elevation mountain forests. The handful that inhabit the lowland hills of Huben indicate that the species probably did inhabit the lowlands before man turned much of the lush lowland forest into fields and paddies.

We moved on and then retraced our steps hoping to get another view of the pheasant. No luck, so we pressed on again. Just as we came to a steep rise Mr. Chang’s sharp ears had heard something. We stopped and waited. Moments later I heard it too. There were Ghosts in the undergrowth. We waited. Suddenly Mr. Chang pointed. I didn't see anything and then my eyes caught a movement. There was a pair. I watched them moving through the undergrowth and then they vanished. It was time to go back.

We walked back down the stream. Monarchs, Fulvettas, and Bulbuls moved about through the trees. Some Spot-breasted Scimitar Babblers started to call. The Crested Serpent Eagle was calling, too. I was soaking the tranquility up and savoring it.

At Mr. Chang's cabin we made some Oolong tea and relaxed. We talked about Huben and its birds. I mentioned the Malayan Night Heron and Mr. Chang imitated the call. From just outside the window there was an immediate response. We both laughed.

It was time to go and I climbed on my motorcycle. I had only gone a few meters when the Malayan Night Heron flew across the road. I stopped and snapped a quick shot of it in the sun. It had been a very special morning.

Also see:

Other Huben Birding Stories
Birding in the Huben-Hushan Area (Fairy Pitta)
Birding in Yunlin County
Huben-Hushan Bird List
Threatened Birds of the Huben-Hushan area
Fairy Pitta and Huben Bird Gallery
Taiwan Bird Books

Huben Birding Stories - Mr. Chang and the Shamas

Mr.Chang and the Shamas.

I'm walking along one of the many little forest tracks around the temple and as I round a corner I run into Mr.Chang. Mr.Chang is the local birding guide. He was a hunter for most of his life, but when the area became famous for Fairy Pitta and some other birds he was able to reform himself into a Birding Guide. Now, he's the Pitta's most faithful protector. Meeting up with Mr.Chang if he is out checking on the well being of his Fairies is a wonderful stroke of luck, because you get invited to come along.

After about 30 minutes, as we are watching a Malayan Night Heron, I hear a strange call which I don't recognize. Mr.Chang imitates the call and the bird calls back. Off we go in the direction of the call. We stop and Mr.Chang points to a bird in a tree. The light is not that good, but I know that I've never seen this bird before. I see another movement and it appears that there is a second bird partly obscured by foliage perched near by. There are not that many birds in Taiwan with very long tails. I know I'm not looking at a Treepie or a Paradise Flycatcher. I can see a clear white patch on the rump. I get a good look at the bird, and then turn to Mr.Chang. I take out my field guide and Mr.Chang laughs and says it's not in there. I ask what it is and he says he doesn't know, but the pair lives there. I look again and realize that the bird I'm looking at appears to be a White-rumped Shama (which isn't found in Taiwan).

I head back home and have a good look at pictures of White-rumped Shama and conclude that it is indeed the bird in question. I know that the White-rumped Shama is a popular cage bird in China. I guess that this pair must be escapees that have established themselves in the area. Escaped and released cage birds can be a big problem in Taiwan. These birds can displace resident species and in some cases interbreed with them creating hybrids or if they are of the same species, but a different race, they can dilute the genetic purity of the local endemic race. This has been a major factor in the decline of the Taiwan Hwamei.

Also see:

Other Huben Birding Stories
Birding in the Huben-Hushan Area (Fairy Pitta)
Birding in Yunlin County
Huben-Hushan Bird List
Threatened Birds of the Huben-Hushan area
Fairy Pitta and Huben Bird Gallery
Taiwan Bird Books

Huben Birding Stories - The Fairy Temple

The Fairy Temple

“Your Local Patch,” I looked at the heading again. It got me thinking. I had never really thought of having a local patch. Did I have one? Well, I do more birding around the Tian-sheng Gong Temple in Huben than any other place around, so it must be my local patch, and now that I think of it, I really like the idea.

This afternoon at 3:30 I headed out of the small town where I live to my LOCAL PATCH. It takes 15 minutes to get there. I parked my red scooter in the temple grounds, looked up and scanned the sky. I looked and looked, they weren't there. Looking for the resident pair of Crested Serpent Eagle is kind of a "starting to bird now” ritual before I head off into the forest. If I see them soaring above, I feel good and think the birding is going to be good. Well no eagles!

I get into the forest and it's quiet, too quiet. The forest is quiet sometimes. I’ve noticed that it can be very noisy and then silence. When this happens, I’ve often seen one of the small raptors put in an appearance a few moments later. I guess everyone kind of disappears when a Besra or Crested Goshawk is seen looking for a meal.

Well the silence went on for quite sometime, and I didn't see any raptors. When there are no birds around, the low altitude forests of Taiwan can be very uncomfortable places. I think the name low altitude forest is a name that they put in field guides because they don't want to scare birders. The truth is these low altitude forests are a 35 degree in the shade jungle with about a 100% humidity factor and full of starving mosquitoes.

I walked up and up, I was cursing and puffing. All I had seen by the time I got to the top of the hill was a Black Bulbul, a few Chinese Bulbul, and two Grey-cheeked Fulvetta. I turned around and started to walk back down.

I must have been about a third of the way down when I heard was a Fairy Pitta. Now, the area is famous for Fairy Pitta, but I still get blown away every time I see one. Instantly I was transported from the state of birding in the *@#* mosquito jungle to the Utopian state of looking for forest Fairies in low altitude forest. The Pitta was close. I could hear by the call. I stopped to listen and look. The calling stopped. I didn't move. I listen....and wait for the calling to start. I'm standing next to a tree. A moment later there's a movement and the Pitta lands not more than 3metres from me. It has no idea that I'm there. It hops from perch to perch. It must have spent two to three minutes hopping about in front of me before moving off, and so ended the best sighting I've ever had of Taiwan's Forest Fairy.

Also see:

Other Huben Birding Stories
Birding in the Huben-Hushan Area (Fairy Pitta)
Birding in Yunlin County
Huben-Hushan Bird List
Threatened Birds of the Huben-Hushan area
Fairy Pitta and Huben Bird Gallery
Taiwan Bird Books

A Brief History of Grey-Faced Buzzard Conservation in Taiwan

Grey Faced Buzzard: courtesy of Richard Yu

The fall [October] Grey-faced Buzzard migration through Southern Taiwan is amongst the world's largest raptor migrations. In late March and early April Grey-faced Buzzard return and are a reasonably common site in Central-West Taiwan as these birds make their way to roost on Baguashan in Changhua County.

A Brief History of Grey-Faced Buzzard Conservation in Taiwan

The sight of a raptor soaring has inspired mankind through the ages. Nations, armies, corporations, and sports teams have all used the image of a raptor to symbolize their power and strength. Somehow the very sight of a raptor on the wing stirs something deep within us. It is the image of power and the very essence of a predator. It moves effortlessly and with absolute grace. It soars on high, above all, swooping down to kill in an awesome climax of noble grace, cunning speed and ruthless power. To many the eagle and its allies are indeed the ultimate predator and the personification of man’s desires incarnate.

These very virtues of the raptor have put it in direct competition with man and that conflict has played out over the ages in a number of ways and has almost always, if not always, spelt destruction for the free spirit of these noble creatures.

Man has captured raptors to make use of their skills. They have been destroyed when they have competed with us for food; poisoned and hunted when they have taken our livestock. Their feathers have been collected to decorate our costumes and in Taiwan they have fallen victim to those that wish to capture and possess their spirit.

At the southern tip of Taiwan lies the Heng-chun Peninsula. The Heng-chun Peninsula is the most important site for raptor migration in East Asia and is included in the 20 largest raptor migration sites globally. The Heng-chun Peninsula is the Veracruz of East Asia. Twenty-six species of diurnal raptors have been recorded to date with figures as high as 50 000+ birds passing through the peninsula in a day during the peak autumn migration period.

From early to mid October thousands of Grey-faced Buzzards Butastur indicus pass through Heng-chun, Kenting National Park in one of the earth’s most spectacular displays of avian migration. The following is a brief history of the plight and conservation of the Grey-faced Buzzard in Taiwan.

The distribution of the Grey-faced Buzzard is the Eastern Palearctic region with the species wintering in the Indomalayan region. Through its range the species is uncommon and declining but locally abundant on passage. The Grey-faced Buzzard Butastur indicus forms a superspecies with Grasshopper Buzzard-hawk Butastur rufipennis (Afrotropical), Rufous-winged Buzzard-hawk Butastur liventer (Indomalayan) and White-eyed Buzzard-hawk Butastur teesa (Indomalayan).

The species breeds in Japan, Korea, Manchuria and Eastern Siberia. Their winter range includes Southern China, South-East Asia, the Philippines, Celebes and New Guinea. There appear to be two populations. The first population group being found on Japan and the second on mainland Asia. The Japanese population migrates through the Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan to winter in the Philippines. The second population moves south into Southern China and South-East Asia to winter. There is some indication that small numbers of Russian and Manchurian birds also use the island route to winter in the Philippines. Current estimates are that the Japanese population totals about 32 000 pairs with their young of the year.

As the Japanese population moves south in autumn, they enter Taiwan in large flocks in the north-eastern part of the island and follow the eastern side of the north-south mountainous spine of the island. They fly south following mountainous ridges and roosting in river valleys. At the southern tip of Taiwan they pass through the Heng-chun Peninsula in large numbers in the second week of October and often roost close to Man-chou Village (sometimes spelt Manjhou). In the spring they tend to follow the western foothills of the central mountain range northwards in small groups and gather in fairly large numbers from mid to late March in the Baguashan area, Chunghua County, West-Central Taiwan.

Historically, the greatest threat to the Grey-faced Buzzard in Taiwan has been the uncontrolled hunting of the species in the Baguashan and Heng-chun Peninsula areas. Hunting and trapping of Grey-faced Buzzard in the Baguashan and Heng-chun Peninsula areas has gone on for generations. It seemed that locals originally hunted them as a source of food. The species was known to migrate over long distances and it was believed that they must possess great stamina and strength. Even the Chinese common name bears reference to its migration. The species is commonly called “Nan-lu Ing” which translates to “South Road Eagle.” The species began to be seen as a type of “tonic food” that would impart the attributes of strength and stamina to those that ate it.

It would appear that the species was never really hunted to sell as a “tonic food” but rather as what was seen as a traditional “precious gift” to be given to family and friends.

During Taiwan's Japanese colonial period (1895-1945) very little was known about the status of the species in Taiwan. Hachisuka & Udagawa in their Contribution to the Ornithology of Formosa published in 1951 describe only three known specimens taken from Taiwan. It is very clear that the scientific community was not aware that the species migrated through Taiwan in large numbers in the early fifties. By the mid 1960’s the Migratory Animal Pathological Survey (MAPS) * bird banding team was aware of a large migration of Grey-faced Buzzard through Taiwan and that Man-chou villagers on the Heng-chun Peninsula were hunting them but the extent of this hunting was not known and was of little concern. During this period there was a change in the reason for hunting the species. The focus shifted from food to specimens. There was a demand for specimens from the local tourist trade and a growing market in Japan.

The virtues of raptors and the qualities they represent are admired in Japan. The practice of keeping mounted raptors had been a long standing tradition in Japan. A raptor mount was believed to bring prosperity and good fortune into the life of the owner.

With little or no control and a culture of utilizing wildlife resources unchecked, the hunting of raptors for skins to export to Japan grew alarmingly in the late 1960s and continued through the 1970s. To a lesser extent raptors were still hunted and trapped for food, Chinese medicine, falconry, sport and mounts for the local market and tourist trade.

The Grey-faced Buzzard is seldom hunted on the wing. Generally two methods are used to trap or hunt the species in Taiwan. The first method is to put up attractive long bamboo roosting poles with a foot snare in the known area of the roost during the day. In the late afternoon when the Grey-faced Buzzards descend to roost they get caught in the snares. This was the general method used in the Baguashan area. The second is to watch where the Grey-faced Buzzards descend to roost and once darkness falls, to go into the roost area and stun the birds with a spotlight and shoot them with a crossbow like weapon or, in more recent times, a type of gas charged air gun. This method was generally used on the Heng-chun Peninsula. It is known that an experienced hunter can take seventy-eighty Buzzards in a single night.

Between 1976 and 1977, sixty-thousand Grey-faced Buzzard skins were shipped to Japan. Records also show that during the period 1978-1979, another thirty thousand skins were exported to Japan. Grey-faced Buzzards were not the only raptors being hunted. Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela, Besra Accipiter virgatus, Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis, Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus, Oriental Honey-Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus, Osprey Pandion haliatus, Mountain Hawk Eagle Spizaetus nipalensis, and Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus were also being hunted and shipped to Japan.

Grey Faced Buzzard: courtesy of Richard Yu

The first real report of the desperate plight of the species was published in Echo magazine in1979. The report covered the October 1978 hunting of the species around Man-chou village. This was the starting point for the fight to save the species.

The report generated a lot of interest and concern over the hunting of the species. The publicity lead to feelings of hostility by the hunters in Man-chou towards concerned and interested outsiders. The president of the Taipei Bird Club coordinated a meeting in an attempt to ease tensions between the hunters and concerned individuals.

Out of these tensions, Taiwan’s first informal coalition of environmentalists, birders, NGOs and some relevant government agencies was born. At the same time the Japanese also made inquiries over the specimen trade. In August 1978, the Director of the Wild Bird Society of Japan had come to Taiwan to investigate the specimen trade between Taiwan and Japan. His report blamed Japanese specimen traders for providing the incentive for the large-scale hunting of the species in Taiwan.

Pressure was mounting and awareness was growing. In October 1979 a seminar sponsored by the Animal Protection Society was held in Kenting. There was great media interest in the seminar. The seminar lead to the establishment of the Migratory Bird Protection Program.

The media and performing arts played a very important role in creating awareness. National Day is 10 October. As the height of the Grey-faced Buzzard migration falls approximately on the same date, the Grey-faced Buzzard became known as the National Day Bird. This type of publicity coupled with education and awareness campaigns started to have an impact. Reports such as “To protect the eagles at Man-chou” (Wild Bird 1. 1980) by conservationist John Wu Sen-hsiong really highlighted the plight of the species. John Wu Sen-hsiong featured very prominently in the conservation effort and would go on to write the highly regarded “A Field Guide to the Wild Birds of Taiwan” which was published in 1991. Much of his story can be read in Kate Rogers’s “The Swallows’ Return.”

In 1981 the Construction and Planning Administration (CPA) within the Ministry of the Interior was established and tasked with the setting up of Taiwan’s national park system. The same year also saw the establishment of Kenting National Park, Taiwan’s first national park. The establishment of the park as a protected area was a major boost for the conservation effort and would mark the start of a decade of growing legal protection for the species. Another milestone was the hosting of the second East Asian Bird Protection Conference in Kenting National Park in 1983 which placed Taiwan’s conservation efforts under an international spotlight.

Through the efforts of concerned individuals and groups in Taiwan, Japan, and internationally, the plight of the Grey-faced Buzzard continued to be tackled into the next decade. Continuous awareness was raised through ongoing education programs. Activities promoting the conservation of the species were held at schools and temples in the area. The government was persuaded to issue postage stamps and mint coins depicting the Grey-faced Buzzard and Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus** to help raise awareness of the plight of migrating birds.

The Wild Bird Society of Japan and other concerned organizations successfully brought about legislation in Japan that effectively put an end to the importation of raptor skins and the demand for Taiwan’s Grey-faced Buzzard skins faded.

After the close of the Japanese market in the early eighties it appears that the trapping of live raptors for falconry and sale to raptor fanciers increased greatly. Raptors being hunted for sport also increased but overall the levels of hunting were decreasing substantially.

The 90s dawned with the species enjoying full protection from hunting. The efforts of the Wild Bird Society of ROC, now called the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan, and the Conservation Club of Chung Hsing University were very notable. Apart from their actual conservation efforts, these organizations along with many concerned individuals supplied academics like Dr Sheldon R. Severinghaus and Dr Lucia Liu Severinghaus with information needed to study the species and make informed suggestions on how best to conserve it. Indeed, Dr Lucia Liu Severinghaus’s paper “The Status and Conservation of Grey-Faced Buzzard-Eagles and Brown Shrikes Migrating Through Taiwan” (ICBP No. 12. 1991) is very valuable reading for anyone interested in conservation in Taiwan.

Conservation efforts continued into the nineties. In the early 1991 the Wild Bird Society of Chunghua was established. The new society played a vital role in the protection and monitoring of Grey-faced Buzzards during the spring migration period in the Baguashan area of Chunghua County. The Baguashan Birdfair was established as an annual event in March 1991 and promoted raptor watching in the area. The society also did much to raise local awareness through education programs.

Grey Faced Buzzard: courtesy of Richard Yu

The efforts to end the hunting of the species have been largely successful. The story of the effort to save the Grey-faced Buzzard is one that Taiwan can truly be proud of. Today, raptor watching has become a major activity in Kenting and Baguashan. Thousands flock to Kenting every October to watch the raptors passing through. In March the raptor viewing station on Baguashan is packed with raptor lovers. The conservation of the Grey-faced Buzzard in Taiwan stands as an example to the rest of Asia as to what can be achieved when people come together and work to change a culture of exploitation of a species. It clearly shows that attitudes can be changed.

Sadly, some hunting still continues in secret. Lin Wen-horn of the Raptor Research Group of Taiwan and author of “A Field Guide to the Raptors of Taiwan” (YLib, Green Pocket. 2006) estimates that about fifty hunters are still active. This shows that there is still work to be done. Education and awareness must continue and the law enforcement agencies must continue to enforce the law. It is also known that the species is hunted in the Philippines and the Ryukyu Islands.

The sight of thousands of Grey-faced Buzzard and Chinese Sparrowhawk passing through Kenting National Park and Baguashan Scenic Area each year is truly wondrous. Taiwan is indeed blessed to host such awe inspiring natural events. With this blessing comes responsibility and that is to ensure that these noble creatures are given safe passage through Taiwan on their journey to other lands. The migration of birds is the earth’s only truly unifying natural phenomenon. It binds the nations and the continents of the world together in a way that nothing else does and gives a shared responsibility to all of mankind that it is preserved.

By Mark B. Wilkie



* Migratory Animal Pathological Survey (MAPS)
“This bird banding project was a result of an initiative by the United States military and related agencies to investigate possible links between the movements of migratory birds and seasonal outbreaks of various zoonoses (e.g. haematozoa) throughout the Palearctic region, including South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Hong Kong, Taiwan, The Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and India. The eight-year Migratory Animal Pathological Survey program was initiated in 1963 in Japan by the US Military.”
Rebecca L. Holberton, Department of Biology, University of Mississippi, on the book, Migration and Survival of the Birds of Asia.-H. Elliott McClure. 1998.

**Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Barbecued Brown Shrike was considered a local delicacy and was also being trapped in large numbers.

Also see:

Huben Birding Stories
Birding in the Huben-Hushan Area (Fairy Pitta)
Birding in Yunlin County
Huben-Hushan Bird List
Threatened Birds of the Huben-Hushan area
Fairy Pitta Gallery
Taiwan Bird Books


Birdlife International. (2004). Important Bird Areas in Asia. Key Sites for Conservation. Wakefield, UK, H.Charlesworth & Co.

Chun Sheng. (1979). Night Hunting at Man-chou. Echo Magazine, No 5, p84-87. ROC. (In Mandarin)

Ferguson-Lees et al. (2001). Raptors of the World. Helm, London.

Hachisuka, M & Udagawa, T. (1951). Contributions to the Ornithology of Formosa Part II. Quarterly Journal of the Taiwan Museum. Vol. IV.

Lin, W.H. (2006). A Field Guide to the Raptors of Taiwan. YLib, Green Pocket.
Taipei, Taiwan. (In Mandarin)

Liu. et al. (2005). Birdwatching in Taiwan. Wild Bird Society of Taipei. Taipei, Taiwan.
McClure, H.E. (1974). Migration and Survival of the Birds of Asia. SEATO Medical Project. Bangkok, Thailand.

MacKinnon, J & Phillipps, K. (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford, Oxford University Press, UK.

Raptor Research Group of Taiwan: Chen, S.C. (2004/2005) Raptor Watch in Kenting National Park. Kenting National Park Headquarters, Pingtung, Taiwan.

Rogers, K. (2005). The Swallows' Return. A foreigner's history of birdwatching, conservation and culture in Taiwan. TESRI, Taipei, Taiwan.

Severinghaus, L.L. (1991). The status and conservation of Grey-faced Buzzard-eagle and Brown Shrike migrating through Taiwan. ICBP Technical Publication No.12.

Wu, S.H. (1980). To protect the eagles at Man-chou. Wild Bird 1. ROC.

Wu, et al. (1991). A Guide to the Wild Birds of Taiwan Taipei, Taiwan Wild Bird Information Centre and Wild Bird Society of Japan. (In Mandarin)



A big thank you to Lin Wen-horn of the Raptor Research Group of Taiwan for his valuable input and to photographer Richard Yu of Formosa Birding for the use of his photographs. Also, to author Kate Rogers [The Swallows' Return] and her husband Derrick Wilby for all their help and to Ann Chaplin for her continued help and support in securing information in the UK for me. Finally, a very special thank you to Dr. [Scott] Lin Ruey-shing of the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute for his ongoing help and support in this and many other projects.

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