Monday, December 31, 2018

Glorious Morning in Alishan Taiwan

This mountain range in Taiwan, is made well-known through a Chinese love song about a young lady from mountain tribe in Alishan. We visited a site which is was formerly a railway station stop. CNN story on Alishan Railways and its importance as cultural heritage for Taiwan which can be read HERE. The birds in this area were fast-flying and disappeared into the forest so getting good pictures even through my hand-held camera was difficult. As frustrating as I was, the breath-taking scenery of Alishan with the swirling clouds, passing fogs, blue skies, green pines and fir tree, as below considerably lessened my frustration:- 

It seems this Konishii variety of Fir tree is planted at elevation of 1300 to 2000m. This tree is found in subtropical evergreen, coniferous and mixed broad-leaved forests. Wood is strongly resistant to rot, is not eaten by termites and is used in constructing buildings, bridges, ships and lamp posts, and in furniture manufacture (as described in signboard above). More about this variety of Fir can be read HERE.  
Green-backed Tit

With Miss Juliana Sims from Kuching, Sarawak
Taiwan Barwing - the only shot I could get from my camera before it disappeared
Collared Bush-Robin, male
When there are no passing fogs
No raptors flying by 
Valley below
The morning fog begins to cover half of the Valley
Part of the Abandoned Railway tracks winding into the forest
No train would be passing through these tracks

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Alishan and its winged beauties



Taiwan Rosefinch was one of the species we saw at Alishan. Seeing this Rosefinch really made my day since I had lasting memory of its picture from Lee Keen Seong's write-up and pictures from Team Wild Bird Club Malaysia's inaugural participation at Daesyushan Bird Race 2016. 
Crested Goshawk
Alishan was part of the Bird Race routes promoted by Taiwan under the Chinese Wild Bird Federation. Read Lee Keen Seong's article at Wild Bird Club Malaysia's website HERE
White-whiskered laughingthrush 
Family mart at the bus station in Alishan where we had our mid-morning break. It was a cold 8 degrees Celsius when 
we arrived for our first mountain birdwatch session at Alishan after leaving Chiayi town at 5.30a
m, Tuesday morning. Collared Bush Robin both male and female were active that morning, as were the White-Whiskered Laughingthrushes. Hearing the latter reminded me so much of the Spectacled and Malayan Laughingthrushes of Malaysian highlands. White-whiskered laughingthrush was the friendliest avian species that morning, hopping along the roadside and feeding on insects in close proximity to us birdwatchers. 

Collared Bush Robin, male perched on top of stone indicator beside the road 

Collared Bush-Robin
Bush-Robin was very accommodating that morning
Collared Bush-Robin looking puffy and fluffy 
The picturesque road along which we birded that cold morning
The White-Whiskered Laughingthrush at the entrance to the road above

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Birding in Huben and Meeting with An Owl

Orange grove in a temple in Huben, Taiwan was where we started our morning to look for birds on our second day of birdwatching in Huben, Taiwan. Black bulbuls were flying around and perched on some of the trees, their songs mixed with those of the prinias, Taiwan barbets and Light-vented (Chinese) bulbuls. The orange grove reminded me that Chinese New Year 2019 was just around the corner, and the celebration of which would not be complete without Mandarin oranges symbolising the golden taels used as currency in imperial age.
Our next star bird was to be the Collared Scops Owl (Otus Lettia). Arkive website described this owl species as declining in population across Europe. Imagine looking for owls in a Taoist temple. Collared Scops Owl to be specific. Temple's mural paintings depicted stories from religious text, and a pair of owl was featured in one of these paintings, with writings directly translated to mean "Double perfect pair". Accurate description of the Collared Scops owl which is known to mate for life. The monogamous lifestyle of this owl species cannot even be emulated by some human beings, some of whom are celebrities whose infidelity and adulterous affairs make headline news worldwide.

We had local Taiwanese meat dumplings with noodles and vegetables for lunch, before making our way to the mountains. There were many stalls alongside the road in town selling local snacks such as rice cakes with black sesame. We bought some of these crunchy rice cakes for our afternoon tea in the mountains.
The three deities on the temple are known to be forbears of fortune, luck and longevity

Friday, December 21, 2018

Fairy Pitta Inn

Taiwan Barbet (looks similar to our Black-browed Barbet)
This quaint inn in Huben, Taiwan had a giant wooden sculpture of Fairy Pitta in its front lawn, to remind birders that it is indeed home to this unique pitta species. It was also our accommodation for 2 nights as we went looking for birds throughout the southwest coast and mountainous regions of Taiwan. My last trip to Taiwan was to Taipei and that was in 2008 for a work-related event. I have heard and read so much about the popular home-stays in Taiwan, and this Fairy Pitta Inn was a comfortable, quiet and cosy home-stay. The inn had a lovely courtyard where we had our alfresco breakfasts and at night, it got quite chilly when the winds blew in from the hills. Very tempting to go out and search for owls but we had to get up early at 4.30am every morning for our birdwatching trips to the Big Snow Mountain (Daesyushan) and Aogu wetlands. Fairy Pitta inn is run by a lovely couple, Mr and Mrs Chen Jia Hong, and we were the only occupants during those 2 nights there. A lively Japanese husky puppy named "Five Dollar" lived in this inn with the young couple. Mr Chen Jia Hong is one of the top eBirders in Taiwan so it was a real delight to have him accompany us in our birdwatching sessions led by our Taiwan sifu, Schumi Wu. We were joined by lady birder friend of Schumi's whom they call "Big Sister" and Mr Chien, a generous host who treated us to a buffet dinner at a hotpot Shabu-Style restaurant in town. Jia Hong brewed coffee for us on our last day in Fairy Pitta, the lovely aroma wafting into the courtyard which was still dark, before sunrise. Pity we couldn't order any meals from the Pitta cafe since we were out birding whole day, having our dinners in town and it was already bedtime by the time we reached the Inn. We manage to have bubble tea on our last night:) Bubble tea originated from Taiwan and the variety of flavours was astounding. Inn is named after a migratory pitta which only turns up in the right season. Fairy Pitta is categorized as vulnerable according to IUCN website HERE.

Mrs Jia Hong with her owls-themed design.
Towels and door curtains etc were for sale

This checklist of birds was made from wood!
Giant Wooden Fairy Pitta anyone?
Glutinous rice dumpling and pork ball soup for breakfast
Frog on a concrete pond - love hearing them croak at night

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Chiayi Taiwan Birdwatching During Post-Fair tour

Grey-capped Woodpecker. Much larger than our Sunda Pygmy. Spotted at the end of our morning excursion to Goddess Mazu temple in Chiayi County. A pair was seen and heard in a park where our coach was parked at. Belongs to Picidae family, and is one of the 4 species of woodpecker described and illustrated in A Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan (Hsiao, Mu-chi and Li, Cheng-Lin, Wild Bird Society of Taipei). Got a copy of this 2015 Field Guide, which came with a WBST bookmark magnifier, which is very handy since the name of each bird is really in small text. 
White-backed woodpecker which is larger than this Gray-capped, was seen later during our trip to Alishan mountains. The White-backed was heard earlier before it was seen flying behind trees and climbing further up tree trunk. Frustrating for me since I wasn't able to get a good picture of this fast-moving woodie, with my camera. Could only marvel at the sight of the White-backed woodpecker for the precious few minutes when we were in Alishan as it flew off towards the other side of the mountains. Sunda Pygmy woodpecker was sighted during 2016 day trip organised by Wild Bird Club Malaysia to Sepang Goldcoast which can be read HERE. More pictures of the Gray-capped Woodpecker in action, as below. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

King and Queen of Hearts comparison with Montane Bird Pairs

Lesser Shortwing, female
Lesser Shortwing, male
A pair of Lesser Shortwing were quite confiding when they appeared out of nowhere from the mossy undergrowth, to perch on a low branch (as above). They behaved very mouse-like, hopping around on the ground. The male Shortwing flipped its tail upwards and downwards whilst perched, before disappearing into the thick undergrowth. eBird Photo and Sound Quiz on eBird Malaysia has featured this montane species before as part of a 20 Multiple Choice Questions from likely birds in the area which are calculated from eBird checklists submitted. The Quiz can be customized to a specific location i.e. within Malaysia and is a fun tool for practicing bird identification and exploring photographs of birds from eBird checklists. Just sign up as eBird user to play this Quiz. Play the Quiz HERE.   
  
Mr and Mrs Lesser Shortwing were not the only impressive pair of species that day in Genting Highlands. Also making a grand appearance that sunny Saturday in Ulu Kali were a pair of Snowy-Browed Flycatcher. The female SB Flycatcher was the first to appear followed by the male Snowy-Browed Flycatcher below who appeared more shy. The Large Niltava was actually the first pair of birds to make an appearance in Ulu Kali that morning. Reminder to self that although the temperature in Ulu Kali is cool when the mountain wind blows, there is a high likelihood of getting sun-burnt at an altitude of 1,000m above sea-level:( Siberian thrush and my 2017 birdwatching experience at Ulu Kali can also be read HERE.   
Snowy-Browed Flycatcher, female
Snowy-Browed Flycatcher, male
  
There will always be a King and a Queen of Hearts in every deck of cards, so for me to observe both "King" and "Queen" pairs of Snowy-Browed Flycatcher, Lesser Shortwing and Large Niltava was like hitting jackpot of a different kind in Genting Highlands. 

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