May, 2005: THE QUEST FOR THE FAIRY PITTA
Princeton, British Columbia, Canada
The Fairy Pitta is a brilliant and elusive bird with long legs and
eight colours—blue, yellow, red, brown, black, white, azure, and
green — which breeds in some forested regions of southern Japan,
Korea, China and Taiwan. It was the prime goal of the birders
with whom we shared a trip to the island of Taiwan, and our
BIRDING IN TAIWAN group spent a good deal of time seeking it,
listening to it calling in the depths of forest thickets, and
playing its call on a recorder. Eventually we were rewarded with
Taiwan is about the size of Vancouver Island, BC, and
is located a hundred miles off the coast of China. Approximately
23 million people live there, mostly along the narrow belt of
coastal plain on the western shore, along with fish farms, rice
paddies, banana, mango, pineapple and betel nut plantations, and
the densest concentration of industry I have ever seen. The rest
of the island, as far as we could see on a nine day trip, consists
of steep jagged mountains, thickly forested — a glorious haven for
birds, monkeys, butterflies and flowers. While we were there the
Tung trees were in bloom, so the hills were covered with great
patches of white, like snow, and which covered the ground like
snow when the petals fell. But real snow is very rare and
confined to the very tops of the peaks, since the island lies
across the Tropic of Cancer, and is therefore classed as tropical.
It was the first time I had ever been to the tropics, so I was
We discovered that the Taiwanese are extremely
interested in conservation, and in attracting tourists to the
island, especially to see their colourful birds. The forests have
been heavily logged in the past, but about thirty years ago
virtually all logging ceased, and much of the interior of the
island is set aside as conservation areas. We found that the
Taiwanese are immensely and justly proud of their island, and of
the way they have preserved its natural beauty.
We graciously received by the Taiwanese. We were
interviewed a couple of times by the press, photos of us looking
at birds were displayed on the front page. We were also received
by the president of Taiwan, Mr. Chen Shui-bien, in a luxurious
room decorated with motifs from the natural flora and fauna, in
the government building.
Taiwan is a wonderful place to see gorgeous
butterflies, and we once counted twelve different species all
feeding on a single plant. We also enjoyed seeing Taiwan
Macaques, monkeys which were once on the verge of extinction, but
have bounced back.
We saw many different birds in the forests and on the coastal mud
flats and rice paddies. The names were exotic; Styan’s Bulbul,
Formosan Whistling-Thrush, Collared Bush-Robin, White-whiskered
Laughingthrush, Formosan Magpie (brilliant blue), and many more.
Our Taiwanese tour leader Simon Liao and his wife
Linda Kao were superb in organisation, bird lore, and
conviviality. Another star was co-leader Ten-Di Wu, who spoke
little English, but whose verdict on a species was unarguable. He
pointed out to us a great many birds we would have missed if left
to ourselves. The bus drivers were agreeable and expert.
Finally, the trip was expertly organized in Taiwan by Simon Liao
and Ten-Di Wu, and in British Columbia by Jo Ann MacKenzie; she
and her husband Hue were great sources of information before and
during the trip.
In short, a very arduous trip for an old duffer like me, but one I
wouldn’t have missed for the world. I don’t keep a bird list, but
my wife Wilda and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole ambience of a
fascinating island. As an introduction to a tropical forest and
to Asian culture, it would be hard to better it. And the birds,
animals and flowers will remain with me forever.
by Public Affairs, Office of the President.”