Some 400 km long and 150 km wide, Taiwan sits adrift mainland Asia in the East China Sea. It’s a small, incredibly mountainous island with several peaks scaling 3,500 m. Taiwan supports an avifauna of over 600 bird species, but a large proportion of these are accidental and vagrant species. Among the resident species, 29 are considered endemic; they are mostly restricted to the mountains. Endemic game birds include the stellar Mikado and Swinhoe’s Pheasants and Taiwan Bamboo Partridges – arguably among Asia’s finest looking species. Taiwan also offers a great selection of restricted-range laughing-thrushes, barbets, thrushes, scimitar-babblers and cupwings. All in all, these make for a veritable smorgasbord of exotic birds.
Between September and April, a slew of overwintering passerines and shorebirds can be found in various habitats. The estuaries of Taiwan’s west coast are vital for many species including the magnificent and threatened Black-faced Spoonbill. Birds of prey and other migrants pass through Taiwan during October and again in April-May on their annual migrations, including the spectacular Narcissus Flycatcher, Asian Stubtail and many others. Taiwan has become a veritable mecca for bird photography over the last decade, thanks to some ridiculously tame birds at convenient hideouts throughout the island.
We strongly recommend even the most hard-core birders tack on a few extra days for cultural excursions. With an ancient culture steeped in Buddism and Taoism, every day is a cultural adventure, and part of the experience is exploring temples or watching folks pray outside shrines before putting on their suits and heading to the tech factories. Taiwanese food is part of the experience: whether it’s bamboo steamed dumplings or beef noodle soup, those with a taste for adventure will leave Taiwan with deep impressions of its ancient culture which pervades a modern technological vibe. Taiwan is a place you will never forget.
All 29 endemics are highly sought after, and most are easily found on a 10-14 day cross-island journey. But given that there has been a split creating a ‘new’ Taiwan endemic every year since 2010, it would be well advised to attempt to see all 70+ endemic subspecies to the island as many of them could be future splits. Some of the taxa that are not currently split that seem good candidate species include Gray-headed (Owston’s) Bullfinch, Brown (Uchidai’s) Bullfinch, Plain (Uchidai’s) Flowerpecker, Vivid (Taiwan) Niltava, White-tailed (Mountain) Robin, White-browed (Taiwan) Robin, Golden (Morrison’s) Parrotbill, and more. However, although not endemic, the small offshore Lanyu Island supports highly range restricted Elegant Scops Owl and Taiwan Green Pigeon. In winter, the estuaries support the scarce Black-faced Spoonbill and in summer, this is one of the few remaining places where one can see the declining Fairy Pitta. Contributor: Keith Barnes/Tropical Birding.
Taroko Gorge - Frequently touted as one of the seven natural wonders of Asia, this spectacular landscape and 1 km high marble cliffs carved out by the Liyu River is worth the trip even if birds were not a consideration.
National Palace Museum - Arguably the greatest collection of Chinese antiquities and art on the planet are housed in this amazing museum in Taipei. Worth spending an extra day on the island to see.
Taipei - A combo of the Taipei 101 (the second tallest building on Earth), the night markets, Longshan Temple, Maokong Gondola and hubbub of one of Asia’s true World cities may be enough to keep some interested.
Dashueshan NR- The key locality for almost all of Taiwan’s montane and submontane endemic birds. Especially good for Mikado and Swinhoe’s Pheasants.
Tsengwen River Estuary / Cigu - Tainan. Between October and April a fabulous estuary filled with thousands of wintering shorebirds, terns and most importantly, plenty of Black-faced Spoonbills.
Lanyu Island - Holds Elegant Scops-Owl, Taiwan Green-Pigeon and several Japanese Paradise-Flycatchers.
Wushe/Hohuanshan - Another mountain locality with a great selection of high altitude birds across the highest pass on the island.
Alishan NP - A magical array of high altitude habitats in one of the islands most magical settings. Particularly good for owls and game birds.
Huben - Between late April and August plays home to a few pairs of Fairy Pitta. Unfortunately probably likely to disappear due to industrial interests and lack of action by the Taiwan government, but currently still one of the best places to try for the threatened ‘Eight-colored-bird’.
Huisun FR - A great low altitude site with Taiwan Blue Magpie, Taiwan Varied Tit, Red Oriole, and many other lower-elevation species.
Ao-Wan-Da NR - A mid-altitude site that is very good for Taiwan Yellow Tit, Dusky Fulvetta and Taiwan Blue Magpie.
National Botanical Gardens Taipei - The best locality on earth to see Malay Night-Heron. Also, Taiwan Barbet and good for thrushes in winter.
Tropical Birding (www.tropicalbirding.com) not only runs set departure birding and bird photography tours, but has an office in Taiwan, with Mandarin speaking staff, making shorter trips and custom tours a serious possibility.
BirdQuest (www.birdquest.com) - Regular set departure tours for several years.
WINGS (www.wingsbirds.com) - Regular set departure tours for several years.
There are very few lodges that cater to naturalists in Taiwan, only one really meets the standard although communication can be tricky as the owners only speak Mandarin.
Most people like to go April when the best chance of getting the endemics and both summer and late wintering specialties is best. But Taiwan is fabulous throughout the year, with possibilities for great birding and photography throughout.
Contributor: Keith Barnes / Tropical Birding (www.tropicalbirding.com)