RE-TERN TO TAIWAN
Vancouver, BC, Canada
In July 2006 my wife Gloria and I, together with Jo Ann MacKenzie, had the opportunity to return to Taiwan at the invitation of Simon Liao, President of the International Taiwan Birding Association, to attend a conference on the Chinese Crested Tern, held July 18-20 in the Matsu Islands. For Gloria and me this was the second trip to Taiwan following our visit on a birding tour in March 2003. The purpose of this Conference was to raise awareness about the critically endangered and poorly known Chinese Crested Tern: http://www.birdingintaiwan.com/chinesecrestedtern.htm, rediscovered after several decades and found to be breeding on a few small rocky islets in the Matsu Archipelago, a few kilometers off the Chinese mainland.
Upon our arrival in Taipei, we participated in a press conference attended by Speaker of the House Wang Jin-Pyng, Minister of Transportation and Communication Kuo Yao-Chi, Legislator Yang Cheng-Tse, Legislator Tien Chiu-Chin and other dignitaries. Shortly thereafter we flew to Nangan, one of the two large Matsu islands and the location of the Conference; there we boarded a boat, joined by Minister Kuo and Legislator Yang, and headed out to try and see Chinese Crested Terns prior to the start of the conference. As we approached the steep rocky islets, more and more terns of several species began to appear: Bridled Terns, Greater Crested Terns, and a few Black-naped Terns. As the boat bobbed and motored slowly back and forth off the island, hundred of terns wheeled around or sat on the rocks with their chicks, while we struggled to hold our binoculars steady and tried to find the birds we had come for. Suddenly Simon Liao cried “There! Chinese Crested Tern!” and the rest of us tried frantically to locate the bird. Eventually we all had looks at two adult birds and a single chick, high on the slope of the island, and I managed some distant but recognizable photos. Great cheers from the group at seeing one of the world’s rarest birds! What a fitting start to the Conference!
A Successful Tern Sighting! Taiwan Tourism Bureau
The conference opened with welcoming remarks from Speaker Wang, Minister Kuo, Legislator Yang and other officials, after which followed my talk on “The Chinese Crested Tern and Ecotourism in Costa Rica and Taiwan” and Jo Ann MacKenzie’s on “Birding in Taiwan; Ecotourism on a Beautiful Island.”
The following day we again had an opportunity to go out to see the tern colony, accompanied this time by Speaker Wang and assorted TV and newspaper reporters. This trip was also successful, and following analysis of my pictures, I discovered that I could distinguish a pair of Chinese Crested Terns with their chick, as well as four other adult birds, for a total of seven individuals.
Chinese Crested Terns – 3 adults and a chick
At the Conference we were very pleased to see Lin Maw-Nan, Vice Chairman of the Taiwan International Birding Association and many other enthusiastic members of TIBA. We also enjoyed seeing other interesting sights in the Matsu Islands, such as the traditional fishing village of Cinbi on the island of Beigan, and the impressive Matsu Temple on Nangan. It was then time to bid farewell to the Matsu Islands, and return to Taiwan for some birding in the mountains.
Travelling with Simon Liao and Ko Chin-Ye, we first stopped at the Kuantien wetlands, where we had good looks at several Pheasant-tailed Jacanas nesting there; two Lesser Coucals were also a highlight. On our way into the mountains toward Alishan National Scenic Area, we noted two Crested Serpent Eagles, a Crested Goshawk, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Black-naped Monarch, Ferruginous Flycatcher, and the endemic White-whiskered Laughingthrush and Black-browed Barbet as well as a variety of other species.
Very early one morning at the Alishan Township, Ko Chin-Ye and I went birding around the hotel and railway station, where we had good looks at several other endemics: many Steere’s Liocichlas were active, as well as Taiwan Barwings, Collared Bush-Robin, several Flamecrests and Taiwan Yuhinas.
On our way to Yushan National Park, we rejoiced at seeing two immature Mikado Pheasants feeding at the side of the road – one of three remaining endemics I had not yet seen. At Tataka Visitor Centre, a Little Forktail flew across the highway and stopped briefly while we were talking with a group of nature photographers. Proceeding to Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area, we checked in to our cabins, and went birding near the entrance, where we sat on the new benches dedicated to Jo Ann. Here we saw the endemic Yellow Tit. After dark we went owling to look for Mountain Scops-Owl. Though we heard two of them, as well as Brown Wood-Owl, we did not see either species. Determined, I arose at 3:30 the next morning to try again for the Mountain Scops-Owl while it was still dark. After hearing the characteristic double-noted call, I started to imitate its whistle, and it seemed to respond; suddenly, the owl flew under a parking lot street lamp to capture a moth! A few moments later, the event was repeated – success! As dawn arrived, the moths quickly disappeared and I glimpsed the owl one last time, flying down the steep slope nearby. Later, along a trail to several waterfalls, we noted one or two Formosan Whistling-Thrushes, another endemic species.
Our next stop was Chingjing and the Rueiyan River Major Wildlife Habitat Trail, know to birders as Blue Gate Trail No.1. En route, we noted a Silver-backed Needletail and a Fork-tailed Swift among House Swifts. Upon checking in to the Chingjing Resort, we went birding in the afternoon along Blue Gate Trail No. 1, one of the best known sites for mountain species in Taiwan. Here we hoped to catch a glimpse of the elusive Island Thrush; the distinctive Taiwan subspecies niveiceps is a good candidate for future elevation to species status. To our delight, we found there were 3 or 4 pairs nesting along the trail, and had good looks at males singing their varied, squeaky song from treetops. This song was totally unlike that of other thrushes I have heard; interestingly, however, its laugh-like alarm call was almost identical to that of the American Robin, another Turdus thrush. Other good birds along this trail included a flock of 12 White-throated Laughingthrushes, a pair of Rusty Laughingthrushes, Ashy Wood-Pigeons, Rufous-faced Warbler, White-tailed Robin and the endemic White-eared Sibia. Later, around the Resort grounds, I noted my first Vinous-throated Parrotbills.
Our plans to proceed on through Taroko Gorge and the east coast were thwarted by Typhoon Kaemi, and we then headed back to Taipei. However, we were pleased to visit Wulai, a wonderful forested resort area south of Taipei. On the day after Typhoon Kaemi passed through, the trails here were covered with a variety of butterflies and dragonflies, which we enjoyed photographing. We also saw the endemic Swinhoe’s Brown Frog, Rana swinhoana.
Finally, after a visit to the Taipei Botanical Gardens where we found a Malayan Night-Heron tending a nest and a pair of Black-browed Barbets feeding a young one, we had to bid good-bye to Taiwan and return to Vancouver.
Gloria and I wish to thank Legislator Yang Cheng-Tse and his office staff, as well as Simon Liao for a very successful conference to raise awareness of the Chinese Crested Tern, and for being such excellent hosts during our stay in Taiwan.
On this trip we saw 10 of the 15 endemic bird species, and in addition heard Taiwan Partridge. Birding in the summer proved to have its own rewards, despite the heat and humidity – the birds were actively singing in the mountains and were thus easier to find. Also, summer is the only time for a good chance of seeing Chinese Crested Terns in Matsu. Visitors at this time, however, should plan a flexible schedule to allow for the possibility of tropical storms.