Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Taipei Botanical Gardens, Taiwan - September 2011 (pt 1)

After three weeks enjoying the myriad sublime and ridiculous delights of Japan, we flew south (via the unique maelstrom that is Tokyo) and arrived in Taiwan on the evening of the 8th. Directly into the lion's den of a central Taipei rush hour, within a minute of looking confused we found ourselves instantly assisted by helpful and uber-friendly locals - a constant theme of the entire fortnight in a country which was to earn a very special place in our hearts.

Taiwan Barbet - endemic species #1

After resting up in our hotel - a friendly but somewhat colourful establishment perhaps better known for it's hourly, rather than nightly, rates - we kept it local for our first full day, and ventured onto the (typically reliable, clean, easily navigable) subway to the Botanical Gardens.

Himalayan Black Bulbul (of the endemic Taiwanese subspecies)

Hitting an urban park with at least a scattering of suitably attractive habitats as soon as possible after arrival has been a running theme of the trip, and where new countries (or even continents) are concerned, it can provide the ideal crash course in local avifauna; exhillirating and challenging, but not entirely overwhelming, and with an essential element of acclimatization.

'notoriously shy' White-breasted Waterhens

No surprises, then, that Taipei's Botanical Gardens - in the heart of the city, very popular with locals, and simmering in the humid sub-tropical heat - should deliver plenty of good birding, a fistful of lifers, and even the first on an ad-hoc hit-list of Taiwan endemics.

Chinese Bulbuls - soon to become the one of most annoying species of the trip

Amity was so overcome with talk of potential splits to the Taiwanese bush warblers, she had to sleep it off pronto

(Part two to follow....)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Red-bellied Rock Thrushes, Sakurajima

A very photogenic and tame little troupe encountered on the shiny, black volcanic rocks of Sakurajima, faithful to the area around the visitor's centre..... one of only a handful of species on the island, which is no doubt as a result of the unstable habitat caused by the volcanic activity.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kyushu, Japan - September 2011

Almost at the end of our three weeks in Japan, we took the always ultra-fast, comfortable, reliable and pleasingly sci-fi Shinkansen (bullet train) - this time from Kobe, south-west through the latter third of Honshu, and through the entirety of Kyushu. Last stop, the island's southern hub of Kagoshima - a cosmopolitan, friendly city, built against lush forested hills on one side and the sprawling blue bay on the other.

Most dramatically, the city overlooks the Sakorajima volcano - sometimes visible, often active, always beautiful, and a fifteen minute ferry crossing away. For us, it banished its semi-permanent cloud halo, spat ash and cloud almost constantly, and generally performed impeccably.

Of birdlife on the volcanic island, tame, numerous and omnipresent Black-eared Kites dominated, exercising hunting skills on land and at sea; Oriental Turtle Doves, White-cheeked Starlings, Ospreys and Eastern Great Tits were also present, but ultimately played second fiddle to Red-bellied Rock Thrushes (see next post).

(This pretty candyfloss pattern was, in fact, typhoon Talas, which blazed a highly destructive trail through our 'home' prefecture - it took several hours journey on the Shinkansen to finally look out across a relatively intact and peaceful view outside.)

From Japan, southbound to the unique and alluring island of Taiwan, and not least its quality and quantity of avian delights....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Honshu, Japan - August 2011

From Australia, to Japan, and three weeks based in Kobe - a bustling city adjoining Osaka, and squeezed between the mountains and the sea on Honshu's south coast. For these three weeks, our mission was to spend plenty of quality time with close family (similarly just-hitched in-laws Lincoln & Julia being the perfect hosts), enjoy the country's cultural highlights, visit various historical / heritage sites, make excursions to special places, and avoid incoming adverse weather*; as a consequence, birding very much took a back seat, with odd sessions dropped in as and when the opportunities arose.

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

Even so, a total of 21 new species were added with little effort, during some memorable diversions into beautiful countryside. Several such sessions into the steep, thickly wooded, lush mountains behind the city - conveniently accessible via two cable cars to their upper reaches - were perfect for hikes into unspoilt forest, despite dramatic weather curtailing / limiting time there.

Eastern Great Tit

Other productive places included Shinto shrines, urban parks, train journeys, and beach jaunts; hardly the venues for maximising species and variety, but for a temporarily otherwise-engaged period of the trip, they did just fine.

Blue and White Flycatcher

Oriental Turtle Dove

White-cheeked Starling

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

Red-billed Leiothrix

Large-billed Crow

*Despite our prefecture being in the path of a devastating typhoon, we luckily had no damages to report; likewise, the regularly violent thunderstorms and torrential downpours left us with nothing worse than regular drenchings....

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bits & (Mega)bats from the Botanical Gardens

A final post from the Botanical Gardens - for exotic and outlandish fauna, almost like a zoo (mercifully minus the bars, cruelty and exploitation of course); and a chance to spotlight two of the more entertaining species of the park, Grey-headed Flying Foxes and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.

A now infamous resident of the park, technically (and poetically) speaking the flying foxes are Megabats, and there are now many thousands in this particular camp. A vulnerable endemic of eastern Australia, they're a wonderfully approachable and entertaining species and we spent plenty of time watching them interact in the winter sunshine.

Rainbow Lorikeets, another colourful park resident

While the Flying Foxes are sadly declining, the park's Sulphur-crested Cockatoos will likely take over Sydney, and then the world, within a few decades. In a pleasing role-reversal of their captive cage-bird trade brethren, these wild, native Australasian Cockatoos simultaneously exploit and mug unweary humans in co-ordinated teams. Respect.

From there, back over the Equator and into the North Pacific....