Birding in Taiwan

 

 
Birding Stories

 

David Stirling

 

Macdonald Burbidge

 

 

 

 

 

Dr.Rob Butler

 

 

BIRDING TAIWAN
 

May, 2005:  THE QUEST FOR THE FAIRY PITTA

Macdonald Burbidge

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 brief views.

            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 intrigued.

            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.

”Photo provided by Public Affairs, Office of the President.”