Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dasyueshan National Forest, Taiwan - Sep 2011 (pt 1)

After a fine few days based in Taipei (to where we'd return before long), we headed a few hours south along the main rail link to the bustling city of Taichung, our temporary base for what transpired to be a very special part of our trip.

Black-throated Tit - tiny, characterful and very social birds of the upland forest

After checking into the Good Ground Hotel (the arguably even seedier sister-ship to the Good Life, our Taipei choice), we searched all of one minute on the streets outside for a typically delicious, ridiculously cheap vegetarian street cafe, and hit the sack early in anticipation of the following days.

Coal Tit, of the endemic and oddly crested subspecies

But not before a visit from Bruce, our companion for the next few days, who kindly dropped by to discuss routes, logistics and wish-lists for the high forests. The trail of events that led us to hooking up with him, and as a result to some of the best birds and habitats of the trip, goes something like this:

Ferruginous Flycatcher

Way back in the late winter when we were sketching out our round-the-world route and I was flicking through the recently-published The Birds of East Asia (Brazil), it became increasingly important to include Taiwan on the itinerary:

Taiwan Yuhina - a gregarious, fast-moving endemic of mid and high-elevation forest

Firstly because it hosts a mouth-watering array of endemics (about 24*, not including the dozens of endemic subspecies), and secondly, because it would be effectively on our way between Tokyo and Bangkok. It was hard to imagine a more opportune time to drop by and, although somewhat of an unknown quantity, we penned two weeks there into our schedule.

Taiwan Barwing - a clumsy but unobtrusive endemic

Fast forward to Japan, and as with much of the preceding four months, our best intentions of clinical planning for the next country / continent fell by the wayside in favour of, well, enjoying wherever we happened to be. However, some late-in-the-day research provided leads which, if everything worked out, could well see us enjoying the specialities of the central Taiwanese high forests.

Green-backed Tit (of the endemic subspecies)

Thanks to wildlife documentary producer, Taiwan resident and forest-birder extraordinaire Mark Wilkie, that is. Birding Pal (a fantastic online resource for travelling birders, see here) yielded Mark's contact details, and a flurry of emails later he'd scheduled us to travel with and hooked us up with his colleague Bruce, ace Taiwanese wildlife cameraman, award-winning nature documentary director, and one of the loveliest people one could ever meet.

the endemic Taiwan Sibia - common in the forests

(Part two to follow)

*There is some disagreement as to exactly how many Taiwanese endemics there are, and new research comes to light regularly; for these purposes I chose to follow Brazil (2009) with amendments where new information is published. The prevailing academic wind favours an increase in that total, with various subspecies as candidates for 'upgrade' before long.