Illa Formosa - ‘the beautiful island’
"It was a brilliant trip, memorable for so many things, not just the birds."...... Mr & Mrs T, Silsden
''Thank you for your report on the excellent Taiwan trip. I just wanted to thank you for giving us such a thoroughly enjoyable time.
The country is a marvellous experience and the wildlife totally delightful.'' ..... Mr S, Oxford.
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The beautiful island of Taiwan is one of the easiest and friendliest places to watch birds in East Asia. Dazzling species are common in the open woodlands of the upland areas. Taiwan Blue Magpie, Grey-chinned Minivet, Flamecrest, Black-throated Tit and the wonderfully named Steere’s Liocichla (pronounced Leo-SIC-la) simply glow in the trees. All this is set against a backdrop of magnificent mountain scenery, as depicted in the familiar Chinese scroll paintings.
We have chosen this time of year primarily because of the weather. Taiwan gets a lot of rain, especially in the spring and summer when the “Plum Rains” fall. November is drier, when sunshine and clear mountain views are far more likely. In addition, at this time the resident endemics are joined by extra treats for western birdwatchers in the shape of some fabulous wintering birds. These include Red-flanked Bluetail, Eyebrowed and Dusky Thrushes and species that are difficult to see elsewhere, such as the endangered Saunders’s Gull and Black-faced Spoonbill. Another benefit is fewer leaves on the trees, so little gems like Taiwan Yuhina and Taiwan Yellow Tit are easier to watch.
Over eighty of the resident birds are endemic species or races and many of the latter are likely to be split in the near future. So we believe everything is worth a good look, as almost all birds are rare, local or special in some other way, providing high quality birding every day.
Taiwan is a safe, tourist-friendly country, with wonderful national parks, excellent infrastructure, a fascinating ancient culture and delicious food.
From the airport we will go straight to a nearby hotel for the first night. The next morning we will set off south to Changhua, seeing our first Chinese Bulbuls, Red Collared-doves, Pacific Swallows, Amur Wagtails and Long-tailed Shrikes en route. Paddies are home to Oriental Skylarks, Eastern Yellow Wagtails, and Grey-faced and perhaps Yellow Buntings. Nearby is Aogu, the largest zone of estuaries, lakes, rice fields and fishponds in Taiwan. It is the best place to search for Eastern Marsh Harrier, White-winged Black and Gull-billed Terns, Intermediate Egret and Greater and Lesser Sandplovers. The sweet potato fields attract Pacific Golden Plovers, and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints.
A little further south is Tainan, our base for the next two nights. From here we will visit Chiku, a wintering ground of the very rare Black-faced Spoonbill; we can expect up to 300 of these endangered birds. It is a good time of year to find Saunders’s Gull alongside a wide range of wetland birds in this area, including Great Knot and possibly Asian Dowitcher.
Tainan is the old capital, and we will no doubt see the Dutch fortifications, Confucius Temple and other famous local sites as we travel around.
On day five we will leave the developed coastline and head inland to the mountains, via Kwantien Reserve where we will look for Greater Painted Snipe, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, White-breasted Waterhen, and Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns. At various sites in the foothills we will search for Taiwan Hwamei and other specialities.
En route to Anmashan we will break our journey with an overnight stop at a top new site, Fireflies Lodge. An ex-hunter turned conservationist has set up an excellent small hotel near prime habitat. On our last visit, from his forest hides, we had fabulous views of Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, White-tailed Robin and the almost mythical Taiwan Partridge. We hope to repeat all those sightings. Around the same area we have found Striated Prinia, Olive-backed Pipit, both endemic scimitar-babblers and more, making this a must-visit place.
During the ascent of Anmashan we will make birding stops, and perhaps take a tea break at Shihjhuo where they grow the finest tea in Taiwan.
We have two nights in this superb upland area, where many of the endemic birds are found. We will explore bamboo clumps, ancient forest with huge trees and stands of pine. At this time many of the small birds are in mixed species flocks, alive with colour and calls as they feed. We will look for Flamecrest, Taiwan Fulvetta, White-whiskered Laughing Thrush, Taiwan Sibia, Taiwan Barwing, Taiwan Varied Tit, Owston’s Bullfinch and the rufous-bellied race of Nutcracker. Eyebrowed, Pale and Brown-headed Thrushes usually winter here.
At higher levels we can expect the beautiful Johnstone’s Robin, White’s Thrush and Vinaceous Rosefinch, plus have our best chance for Mikado Pheasant (we saw four on one visit). This is where we will find the endemic Formosan Macaque. Weather permitting, we may see the distant peak of Jade Mountain (Yushan), at 12966 feet, the highest peak in East Asia.
Our next stop, for two nights, is where we are very lucky to have special permission to stay at a lovely University Study Centre at Hui-sen. Surrounded by mid-elevation forest, we will keep our eyes peeled for the bright red endemic form of Maroon Oriole, Taiwan Barbet, Oriental Turtle Dove, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk and Japanese Sparrowhawk. Black Eagle, Silver-backed Needletail and Fork-tailed Swift are all possible.
In the pleasant grounds, the strange-looking Malayan Night Heron often stalks on the lawns and groups of Taiwan Blue Magpies feed undisturbed. Vivid Niltavas and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers certainly live up to their names and, with a little luck, Brown Hawk Owls and Collared Scops Owls can be seen.
Mixed flocks, often heralded by Grey Treepies, include Taiwan Yuhinas, Japanese White-eyes, Green-backed Tits, Rufous-faced Warblers, Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, White-bellied Erpornis and Grey-chinned Minivets. Taiwan Barbets, Daurian Redstarts, Red-flanked Bluetails and the crested form of Coal Tit are all likely here. Nearby we will check a mountain stream for Plumbeous Water Redstart, Formosan Whistling-thrush and Little Forktail. This is a very peaceful place to stay, and some of the famous autumn colour from the maples may be lingering, along with a few hardy butterflies, as it is quite sheltered here.
On day ten we will drag ourselves away from the beautiful mountains and head down to Taipei. Our last two nights will be at the excellent Fullon Skenkeng Hotel. From here we have a choice of sites. Where we go depends upon our guide’s local knowledge. There may be rare migrants to search for in Yeliu Geopark, for instance, or we can try to catch up on species we have previously missed.
Throughout the trip we will see many wonderful landscapes, and experience the best of Illa Formosa, with its classic Chinese gardens, brash night markets, and fabulous temples.
CLIMATE AND PACE
We can expect warm weather in the lowlands, but cooler in the uplands. Avoiding the hot and wet spring/summer, we visit at the driest time of year. However, we should nevertheless expect some rain from time to time. Breakfast will normally be taken at about 7.30am, with some optional pre-breakfast forays. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field with short/medium length walks. There are some uphill sections and some steps, but these will be taken at a sensible pace and are optional.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided with one night at the Gueylin Hotel near the airport, one night at the Guaulin Hotel, Changhua, two nights at the Eva Hotel, Tainan, one night at Fireflies Lodge, two nights at Anmashan Mountain Resort, two nights at Hui-sen Forest Resort, and two nights at the Fullon Skenkeng Hotel, Taipei. The accommodation is of a high standard throughout. All rooms have en suite bathrooms. Food throughout is good quality Taiwanese, with some western alternatives at most places. Picnic lunches will be taken some days, on others we will dine at restaurants.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local naturalist, full-board accommodation (starting with breakfast on 29th, ending with breakfast on 9th), soft drinks at meal times, all entrance fees, local transport by mini-bus, international flights and airport taxes.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Taipei using the scheduled services of Taiwan’s national carrier, Eva Air. Outbound flight departs mid-evening; return arrives back early evening. An alternative is to fly from a regional airport with KLM (via Amsterdam), for a small supplement. Outbound flight departs mid-afternoon, returning late morning.
Claret Oriole is a superb looking Taiwanese sub-species of Maroon Oriole.
Taiwan Yellow Tit
click here to see the photographs in our Taiwan Album
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