Birding Hotspot

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 Hukou WetlandChenglong WetlandHuben VillageCaoling   

 Aogu WetlandBudai Salt Pan WetlandAlishan National Scenic AreaAlishan Forest Recreation Area(Zhaoping Park)Guanghus(Dingbenzi)Tefuye,Dabang VillageLijia   

 Beimen WetlandCigu WetlandSihcao WetlandXinhua TimberlandGuanzilingFuyou Temple(Xiangong Temple)Zengwen Reservoir Scenic spot   

Birding in Taiwan
Biodiversity is high in Taiwan. Taiwan is an island located between the edge between the west coast of the Pacific Ocean and the continent of Eurasia. The area is small, only about 36,000 square km, with a shape elongated in north-south direction and unique geomorphology. The coastline is about 1000 km with sandy and muddy shores on the west and rocky shore on of east. On the Tropic of Cancer, the warm and wet climate supports great richness in plant and animal species. In addition, The Central Mountain Range resides in the middle of the island with more than 200 peaks that are higher than 3000 meters (10,000 feet). This great variation of topography and elevation provide various climate zones along with latitude and altitude, such as tropical, subtropical, temperate, and boreal, and alpine climate zones and associated animals and plants. It is the geography that makes Taiwan a high biodiversity country.
The west coast of Taiwan is composed of sand bars, lagoons, salt mash, aqua-cultural ponds, wind-forest, and mangroves; provides various ecosystems and attracts numerous wild bird species in thousands. The wetlands of the Yunlin- Chiayi -Tainan seashore, which is located at the most west part of the west coast of Taiwan, are important step stones of the bird migration route between Asia and Australia.
The wetlands from north to south are Hukou, Aogu, Putzih Estuary, Haomeiliao, Beimen, Qigu (Cigu), and Sihcao. All are paradises for birds and birders. The most well-known bird is the Black-faced Spoonbill of Qigu. It not only attracts many birdwatchers from all over the country and even from all over the world. Recently, the distribution of the Black-faced Spoonbill has extended further north and, therefore, produced additional excellent birding areas.

South-West Coast National Scenic Area

The west coast of Taiwan has an extremely rich ecosystem that includes alluvial sandbanks, lagoons, salt flats and mangroves that have ever since attracted countless waterfowls and migratory birds.  In particular, the South West Coast National Scenic Area, which includes the northern end of the Hukou wetlands, Aogu Wetland, Puzixi Estuary, Budai Salt Field, Haomeiliao, to Beimen lagoon, Qigu wetlands and the southern tip of Shitsao, are main habitats for wintering migratory birds. It is also the middle point of Australasian Flyway - truly a paradise for birdwatching.

The South West Coast National Scenic Area not only has Taiwan's largest sandbanks, lagoons and wetlands, it is also known for distinctive religious ceremonies, the fishery industry culture, as well as locations involving the early history of Taiwan and other of sightseeing landmarks for ecotours, religious and cultural tours. More than that our delicious local cuisine keeps visitors enchanted from leaving.

Birding the Chiayi, Tainan, Yunlin Region

By Mark Wilkie

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer on the Pacific’s Ring of Fire lies the leaf-shaped mountainous island of Taiwan. On a clear day from the busy streets of Chiayi or Douliu you may glimpse the high peaks to the east floating like giant castled-islets among a sea of clouds. Yushan, at 3952 meters, the roof of East Asia. To the north and south, 100 peaks more than 3000 meters high form the backbone of Taiwan. From Alpine tundra, descending all the way down to tropical lowland beaches, Taiwan showcases almost every climatic zone on the Asian continent. This gives rise to one of the highest counts of biodiversity per square kilometer on the planet...making Taiwan a unique living laboratory.

Taiwan; compact, developed and inexpensive. Good infrastructure coupled with a very low crime rate make navigating Taiwan relatively easy. With around 670 species recorded on Taiwan and her surrounding islets, Taiwan is the perfect destination to begin exploring East Asia’s avifauna.

Southwestern Taiwan encompasses some of Taiwan’s richest birding habitat. In three hours one can drive from coastal wetlands across the lowland plains and up into the high peaks. Since 2012, Chiayi County has joined with Yunlin County and Tainan City to host the annual Taiwan Birdathon. The success of the annual Taiwan Birdathon has secured it a place as one of the leading events on the Asian birding calendar. Chiayi, gateway to some of Taiwan’s best birding, is expanding its commitment to avitourism by hosting the 9th Asian Bird Fair. Let’s explore some of the birding hotspots in this region.

To the west, the area is bordered by the Taiwan Strait. Stretching from Tainan City in the south, northward to Yunlin County is the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area. The Southwest Coast National Scenic Area is a central-government designated tourism area and includes several birding hotspots.

Tainan City is known as Taiwan’s cultural capital. Tainan is home to Taiwan’s oldest temples and forts. Taijiang National Park is located a short distance northeast of central Tainan City. Taijiang National Park was established to protect the area’s rich biodiversity and to preserve its historical sites and traditional fishing culture. The national park includes four important wetlands: Zengwun Estuary Wetlands, Qigu Salt Field Wetlands, Shicao Wetlands, and the Yanshuei Estuary Wetlands. The area is best known for its wintering Black-faced Spoonbills. Zengwun Estuary and Qigu lagoon and surrounding fish ponds offer the best spoonbill viewing. 

The spoonbills arrive in October and remain until late April. In recent years a small number of spoonbills have remained during the summer months. Other species include Black-winged Stilt, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Kestrel, Caspian Tern, Black-naped Tern, Saunders’ Gull, White-winged Tern, Great Cormorant, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Chinese Egret, Common Greenshank, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Kentish Plover, Pied Avocet, and Common Redshank. Several duck species winter in the park and include Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, and Common Teal. The area has a reputation for rarities and in recent years Falcated Duck, Baikal Teal, Black Stork, Oriental Stork, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and Blue-winged and Hooded Pitta have turned up. 

Shicao Wetlands are a good location to seek out Little Tern, Great Crested Tern, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Eastern Marsh-Harrier, Osprey, Eurasian Kestrel, Oriental Pratincole, Brown Shrike, Kentish Plover, and Black-winged Stilt. Black-faced Spoonbill are also present in winter and Oriental Stork, Black Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Chinese Egret, and Nordmann's Greenshank have been recorded.

Beimen Wetland is an important bird area north of Taijiang National Park located on the Jishuei Estuary. Beimen Wetland includes estuaries, shoals, fishing ponds, lagoons, mangroves, beaches, and salt pans. Beimen is a good location to view Little Tern, Saunders' Gull, Eurasian Curlew, Brown Shrike, Pied Avocets, and Black-winged Stilt. Black-faced Spoonbill, Chinese Crested Tern, and Peregrine Falcon have been recorded.

The Zengwen Reservoir is a large reservoir situated on the upper reaches of the Zengwen River on the borders of Tainan City and Chiayi County. The surrounding forest provides good habitat for many low to mid elevation forest birds. Endemic Taiwan Hwamei, Taiwan and Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler, Taiwan Barbet, and Morrison’s Fulvetta can be found here. The reservoir is also a good location for Russet Sparrow and Black Kite. In late April to June small numbers of Fairy Pitta breed in the area.

Finally, no trip to Tainan’s birding hotspots would be complete without a visit to the Pheasant-tailed Jacana Ecological Education Center in Guantian. Local water chestnut ponds provide valuable habitat for Pheasant-tailed Jacana and other waterbirds. The surrounding sugarcane fields and farmland is a good location to find the endemic race of Common Pheasant.

Chiayi County has some truly wondrous birding on offer. Just north of Beimen across the county border from Tainan is Budai Salt Pan Wetlands. Thousands of gulls and terns winter in Budai. Most common are Black-headed Gull and Whiskered Tern but among them are many other gull and tern species. Keep your eyes open for Saunders' Gull. The wetlands provide habitat for about a hundred species and Budai is known for producing vagrants. Several firsts for Taiwan have been found here. Black-faced Spoonbill and Oriental Stork are sometimes present. 

Aogu Wetlands and Forest Park is located in the northwestern corner of Chiayi County. Birders simply refer to this 1470 hectare important bird area as Aogu. Aogu is situated on the south-side of Beigang Estuary. The area consists of farmland, salt-water marshes, fresh water marshes, sand dunes, fishing ponds, levees, and man-made forest. Aogu is good anytime of the year but truly puts on an absolute glut of birds during winter and spring and autumn migration. Around 160 species have been recorded in Aogu. A typical winter’s morning would include thousands of ducks. Common species seen are Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, and Common Teal. Among the Tufted Duck a few Greater Scaup lurk, and if you’re lucky a Baer’s Pochard could be spotted. Gadwall and Garganey are also sometimes seen. Small numbers of Eastern Spot-billed Duck are resident. A few Falcated Duck have been present for several winters now. Others like Baikal Teal have appeared some years. The ducks explode into flight when an Eastern Marsh-Harrier comes swooping in. Common Kestrel, Eastern Buzzard and Osprey are all common in winter. Black-shouldered Kite, Little Tern, Common Pheasant, and Painted Snipe are all breeding residents. Multitudes of plovers and sandpipers dart about the mudflats among the Eurasian Curlew, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilts, Grey Herons, Egrets, and Cormorants. Among the Black-faced Spoonbill you might pick out a Eurasian Spoonbill. With a bit of luck, an Oriental or Black Stork may be present. If the birding gods are really smiling on you a crane or rare goose could put in an appearance. Along the water’s edge Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow Bittern, and Common Kingfisher wait patiently for a meal. Caspian Terns wing up and down the waterways while Long-tailed and Brown Shrikes perch along the power cables waiting to strike. If it’s waterbirds or migrating passerines you’re after; Aogu won’t disappoint!

Alishan Forest Recreation Area lies in the central mountains about 75km east of Chiayi City. Above 2000m in elevation, the average annual temperature is a cool 10°C. There’s a lot more to Alishan than birding. Be warned; at times it can get really busy. In March Alishan turns pink as the cherry blossoms. One of the world’s last functional mountain railways runs from Chiayi City up to Alishan. The 86km long railway climes to an elevation of 2016m and passes through 50 tunnels and over 77 bridges. The railway opened in 1912 as a logging railway but is now a major tourist attraction. 

Alishan’s forests make it a birder’s paradise. Taiwan has 27 endemic bird species and 56 endemic subspecies. 22 endemic species and many of the endemic subspecies can be found in and around Alishan. Alishan is the place to go to seek the elusive Swinhoe’s Pheasant or stunning Yellow Tit. No visit to Taiwan is complete without a stay in Alishan.

North of Chiayi County lies Yunlin County. In the southwestern corner over the Beigang River from Aogu are the Hukou Wetlands of Kouhu Township. The Hukou Wetlands are similar to Aogu and many of the same species can be seen. Aogu has been developed specifically for birding while Hukou doesn’t have as much birding-specific infrastructure yet. However, very good birding can be had in Hukou and the area is always well worth a visit. 

Huben Village in Linnei Township lies in foothills of the central range just north of Douliu City, the Yunlin County capital. Huben is most famous as an important breeding area for the Fairy Pitta. In late April the migratory Fairy Pitta arrive. The Fairy Pitta are best seen from late April through to early June. Huben is a good location to find low elevation forest birds and over a hundred species have been recorded. Endemic Bamboo and Taiwan Partridge, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Taiwan and Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler, Taiwan Barbet, and Morrison’s Fulvetta can all be found in Huben. Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, and Besra are all resident. Oriental Honey-buzzard is often seen and Black Eagle is a rare visitor. Huben can be a great place to spend the night on route to some of southern Taiwan’s birding locations.

The Caoling-Shihbi area of Yunlin County is one of Taiwan’s best kept birding secrets. Just an hour’s drive from Douliu City, the area offers really good mid elevation (1000-1800m) forest birding. 18 of Taiwan’s endemics are found here and with easy access and short traveling time the area is perfect for day trips. Several hotels provide accommodation for those looking to spend a bit more time in the area. If you’re pushed for time and want a shot at some of Taiwan’s forest endemics the Caoling-Shihbi area is the place to head to.
Southwestern Taiwan encompasses some of East Asia’s richest birding habitat. There are few places on the planet where in the morning you can watch Black-faced Spoonbills in tropical coastal wetlands and in the afternoon search for the regal Mikado Pheasant in his domain above the sea of clouds from your car parked on the roadside at 2500m above sea level surrounded by 3000m + peaks. Thank you for joining with us at the 9th Asian Bird Fair in Chiayi. We wish you all the best as you explore the avifauna of Chiayi, Tainan, and Yunlin. Now get out into the field and tick those birds! 

Birding in Monsoon Island, Taiwan

Tourism Department and Hospitality Management, Kainan University; Ecotourism Taiwan  Liang Li Liu

The winter and spring seasons in Taiwan are quite distinct. During the winter months from September to November each year, a variety of water birds arrive to spend the winter here or are in transit with the cold north winds. Many of these water birds are from Japa, Korea, China, and Siberia. When the seasons change, warm humid winds from the South blow in together with the summer migratory birds that come to Taiwan for breeding their next generation. There are cuckoos, Oriental Pratincole, and Fairy Pitta. These various species of birds visiting the island of Taiwan throughout the seasons attract a lot of birdwatchers. Many hope for rare migratory birds to appear occasionally, and sometimes storms bring in surprise sightings every season.

Birders in Taiwan have an extended period and opportunity for two to three different seasons to explore the fish ponds, windbreaks, coasts, and various wetlands by the sea. In these habitats, birders can enjoy seeing wild birds flying in from all parts of the Asia-Pacific region, and can even get a chance to discover rare stragglers and other fascinating birds that can be brought in due to severe weather changes. Apart from the seasons, the topography of the coast, such as Yehliu Geopark, Cigu and Dayuan windbreaks, Baguashan, Sheding and Gangkou in Kenting, Sanliaowan, Tianliaoyang, and Aogu Wetlands, provides good places where migratory birds can stay and big potential to see rare birds. 

It is worth mentioning that the two major birds of prey are the most important transit types in Taiwan during the months of September to October, and from April to May. These two species attract the attention of raptor lovers each year. One is the Chinese Sparrowhawk, whose numbers totaled more than 180,000 in September 2018. The other one is the Grey-faced Buzzard, which totaled nearly 60,000 in October 2018.   

The back and forth movement of migratory birds through Taiwan is good for observers. Aside from these, there are 27 endemic species of birds and 56 subspecies which are very unique. The total 83 species account for 13.26% of all the 626 species on Taiwan. The appearance of these birds is significantly different from that of other countries or regions, especially since these species are not difficult to be found. However, birdwatchers need to reach higher altitudes since more than half of the birds reside in higher elevations. It is true that Taiwan has the potential to attract international birdwatching tourists because of the easy accessibility of some of the middle and high altitude sites such as Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area, Hehuan Mountain National Forest Recreation Area, Yushan National Park, and Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area.

The birds in Taiwan can be categorized as resident birds and the endemic species. In addition to these, there are the migratory birds, transit birds, spring birds, wintering birds, stragglers, and so on. The abundance and diversity of wild birds in Taiwan has attracted birdwatchers from all over the world and reinforced the related wildlife ecotourism market.

Migratory birds

Black-tailed Gull (photo, LiangLi Liu) 
water birds (photo, LiangLi Liu)

Transit birds

Chinese Sparrowhawk (photo, LiangLi Liu)
Gray-faced Buzzard(photo, Liang-Li Liu)

Spring birds

Oriental Pratincole (photo, LiangLi Liu)
Plaintive Cuckoo (photo, LiangLi Liu)  

Wintering birds

Black-faced Spoonbill (photo, LiangLi Liu)
Pied Avocet (photo, LiangLi Liu)

Endemic species

Mikado Pheasant, endemic species. (photo,Liang-Li Liu)
Swinhoe’s Pheasant, emdemic species. (photo, Liang-Li Liu)

Fig1. (Birding Center of Asia).( material origin: Google Earth, routes and photos, LiangLi Liu) 

Table1. 27 endemic bird species and conservation status in Taiwan

* English Editor: Maia Tañedo