Our decision to fly to Taiwan and look for the endemic birds in late June was inspired by Ping Ling’s recent birding weekend to Daxueshan. She even introduced us to Liao Mei-Feng, one of the top bird guides in Taiwan. I swear she knew the calls of just about every resident species in Taiwan. She picked us up at the Taoyuan Airport in her Honda CRV and we spent the next nine days driving up and down the central lowlands and mountains in search of the 28 endemic birds that lived here.
A number of small resorts and homestays at Baling town provide accommodation for tourists to Lalashan. They are fully booked during the cherry blossoms season in February, a good time to photograph birds with a backdrop of the pink flowers.
By the time she dropped us off at the airport we had seen 27 endemic species and I managed to photograph 24 of them, more than what I had hope for. We would have got the easy Chestnut-bellied Tit at Basianshan on the last day if not for the rain. But on the whole it was a super trip. For sure it will not be possible without her local knowledge, experience and skill. A big thank you to Mei-Feng for her tenacity and be at the right place at the time. It was almost like she had pre-arranged with the pheasants and partridges to come out to meet us.
Tits are very curious birds. They can be easily attracted by the calls of the Collared Owlet. An uncommon endemic, they can be found in mixed montane forests. One of the earlier endemics that we ticked off.
Photo opportunity are around every corner and turn along the twisting mountain roads. Photo: Liao Mei-Feng.
After the side trip to Yilan for the Fairy Pitta, we made our way to Lalashan Nature Reserve, the home of the ancient sacred trees. I have birded here on my own before but it is so different with someone who knows the place well.
The lush green valley inside the Lalashan Reserve, with a giant Redwood Cypress tree in the distance.
This is where we got the rare endemic Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush, Ianthocincla ruficeps, thanks to the alertness of my wife. Mei-Feng was over the moon as she did not expect to find this laughingthrush here. Just as well as we did not get to see them again during the trip.
We stayed in a small family guest house that overlooks the Baling Valley. A bubbly lady ran the place and is known for her vinegar fruit drinks. We don’t have a choice of what to have for dinner. Her husband insisted that we must have their popular deep herb infused fried chicken. Who are we to refuse? It was very flavourful but I would prefer it to be a little less well done.
Flocks of Yuhinas and Tits visit the trees in front of the balcony of our guesthouse in the morning. We enjoyed staying in this cosy and friendly place.
Taiwan Yuhina, a common endemic, comes in flocks and sometimes as part of a bird wave.
A very attractive Black-throated Tit is another common resident of the mixed mid level forests.
Wild lilies and orchids add colour to the dense and dark forest.
One of the 22 giant Redwood Cypress that the reserve is famous for. Most are over 2,000 years old existed before Christ. Photo: Liao Mei-Feng.
The Rusty Laughingthrush move in family groups foraging among the undergrowth. A common endemic, that have lost fear for humans, often coming close to path in the reserve.
A newly fledged Rusty Laughingthrush waiting for the parents to bring back food.
White-tailed Robins are common in the mossy forests. The subspecies in Taiwan is the montium. Residents of Indian Subcontinent and China and uncommon resident in highlands of Thailand and Malaysia.
Lalashan in Fuxing District is a mere two hours drive from the airport. Many of the resorts at Baling Town can arrange pickup from the airport.
Reference: Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia
Mu-Chi Hsiao. A Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan.