Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guandu nature reserve, Taipei - Sep 2011

And so back to Taipei, for our last couple of days on the island. Having birded pretty much every day we'd been here with expectation-exceeding results (to say the least), we slowed it down a little, enjoyed the city and even finally got around to some essential planning (Thailand suddenly approaching just 48 hours away).

Eastern Cattle Egrets

But not before a final, easy-going session at Guandu, an excellent flagship urban nature reserve, expertly administered by the Wild Bird Society of Taipei. Surrounded on three sides by the the sprawl and industry of the city and on a fourth by the river, Guandu is a rich mosaic of wetland habitats, justifying its IBA status with Birdlife International.

Black-naped Monarch

Habitat management and water level control are obviously priorities, and while the facilities are first-class (a space-age visitor's centre with a airport-style viewing level, two-storey hides, top quality interpretation), it was refreshing to see the birds explicitly coming first. Indeed, the majority of the reserve is off-limits to visitors - selfishly a little frustrating, but an enviably hard-line approach in these times of toothless compromise.

Common Sandpiper

I made two visits to the reserve - on the 13th and the 20th September - the first alone and latter with Amity. On both occasions there was plenty to look at, and on both occasions, there was barely another soul around; essentially perfect circumstances, especially given that the site was a short subway journey away from central Taipei.

Apparently best known for its concentrations of migratory and wintering wildfowl, the timing wasn't good (a month later and it would've been somewhat different); but with plenty of waders, other waterbirds and a good selection of passerines, there was more than enough to wile away several hours on each visit.

Wood Sandpiper

Waders included good numbers of Pacific Golden Plovers, Common Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers, scatterings of Little Ringed Plovers, Long-toed Stints, Black-winged Stilts, Wood, Common and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers; larger waterbirds included hundreds of Egrets (Great White, Little and Eastern Cattle), a Yellow Bittern, and Sacred Ibis numbers into three figures....

.... which constitute an important population of this globally-threatened species. Ironically, this isolated population, originally derived from escapees, is now healthy, self-sustaining and steadily spreading, while on the other side of the world, their 'wilder' brethren are fairing less well.

Passerine highlights included the first Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Black-naped Monarchs and Brown Shrikes of the trip, plenty of mynas and bulbuls to sort through, a good selection of hirundines, four dove species, and sprites including White-eyes and a couple of Phylloscopus warblers (see later post).

Little Ringed Plover

So, our fortnight in Taiwan was finally drawing to a close, and we reluctantly headed south-west, and a few hours over the South China Sea and into SE Asia. We instinctively knew we'd soon miss the place, and reflecting on it here in Malaysia over a month later, it's fair to say we were, and still are, besotted with the island. A place on the Taiwanese coast and an English-teaching position doesn't seem that fanciful after all...

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Black-winged Stilt

Tree Sparrow messing with security