[Hong Kong] Question - Taipei in June?

Question - Taipei in June?

I'm going to Taipei for 3 days in June. Can anyone suggest some places around the citywhere I might see some interesting birds at that time of year. Is it worth visiting Guandu Nature Park then? (I would have to go on a Sunday because it seems that it is closed on Mondays). I probably won't have time to go too far away (plus, my husband gets bored with birdwatching after a short time).

Cheers, Koren


Hi Koren

Yu can try Wulai on the south edge of the city.  There is a report in the last issue of the bulletin from my visit in November with my non-birding girlfriend.

As almost all the birds I saw were residents, it should be possible to see all these species. The place is beautiful and there is fun stuff to do like visiting hot springs and a cable car ride, so maybe you can persuade him

I have  pasted my article below for easy reference.  

A morning in Wulai, Taiwan
27 November, 2006

Over the last few years I have had a good deal of success in booking holidays to good birding areas with my non-birding girlfriends. Past successes have included Cat Tien Nature Reserve in southern Vietnam (where I converted one girlfriend to birding. Three days later she dumped me, but that’s another story!) and Doi Chiang Dao in northern Thailand.  This time my girlfriend Carrie and I spent two nights at the hot springs resort town of Wulai, just 25km south of Taipei, but in a deep river valley surrounded by lush forested hills

We had agreed in advance that this was not a birding holiday so my only birding time was from 0700- 0930 in the morning. Fortunately the Wulai area is popular with Taiwanese birders and is featured in both the Chinese and English birding guides. And I was able to quickly find and bird an established birding trail – with great success!

Our hotel, which was perched about 100m uphill from the river giving wonderful views over the town and across the valley, was on the opposite side of the river from the start of the birding trail. On the way down to the river my first birds of the day were ten Brown-throated Martins perched on some overhead wires, and as I crossed the bridge I found a Little Egret and a White-breasted Waterhen perched along the banks, but no sign of the hoped-for Taiwan Whistling Thrush – one of my major target species.

The trail begins where the Tonghou River flows into the Nanshih River. I followed a road signposted for Siaoyi between a couple of hot springs hotels and a school. Passing the school I heard a loud call that sounded very similar to the familiar Red-billed Blue Magpie. Brilliant! It had to be Taiwan Blue Magpie, like the Whistling Thrush an endemic species found in forests throughout Taiwan, and my top target bird for the trip.  Unfortunately the birds were out of sight up a steep, wooded slope, and I knew that unless I could find a way up there was no way I would see them. More by luck than judgement I happened to take some stairs that were on the birding route described in the book, and although I seemed to be no closer to the magpies, I started to see some very good birds.

First up was a Taiwan Barbet – a species proposed as a split from Black-browed Barbet of Malaysia and Vietnam, and Chinese Barbet (regularly seen by HKBWS members at Chebaling, Babao Shan and Wuyi Shan). It differs greatly in the colours of the head – showing lots of blue and yellow on the crown and throat, unlike Chinese Barbet, which shows a predominantly black and red crown. It was feeding in a fruiting camphor tree, giving me the occasional curious, but unhurried, glance.  

As I was watching the Barbet and keeping an ear cocked for the magpies, four Black Bulbuls landed close-by, giving me wonderful views of their jet-black plumage, blood-red bills, and the grey edges to the wings and tail that are unique to the Taiwan subspecies. The Magpies began calling again and I eagerly climbed the last of the stairs and headed towards them. Before I had gone 20 yards a Grey Treepie swished into a nearby tree – its long tail initially raising my excitement, before I realised it was just not long enough to belong to a Magpie!  However once I got onto it its identity was clear – and just to make sure I understood it gave its distinctive “gagada-gaek!” call, which I know well from the birds that visit Ng Tung Chai every autumn.

However, arriving just behind it was a real Taiwan Blue Magpie – complete with the long, distinctive, white-tipped, droop-tipped, tail of its genus. A great bird, but not a great view, as it was partly hidden behind a branch, and silhouetted against the morning light, preventing me from enjoying the full glory of its purple-blue plumage.

Seeing that the road looped back on itself, I headed on, hoping to get on the right side of the light, but within 20 yards I was stopped short by a pair of Varied Tits (of the striking endemic subspecies castaneoventris) feeding together on the bare branches of a dead tree just a few metres away. I was torn between drinking in the wonderful combination of chestnut, black and white of the Varied Tits and getting better views of the Magpie. Not a bad problem to have, you might think, but matters became much worse when a male Maroon Oriole flew around the clearing calling loudly, flashing a bright red tail – and passing another Taiwan Blue Magpie on the way!

I was still in shock when a woodpecker called, and a female Grey-capped Woodpecker flew in and perched prominently on a nearby branch! Thankfully this is a bird I know well, so after a quick look to confirm its identity, I was able to come back to the main problem of getting good views of the magpie. Fortunately a group of four or five was feeding around a stand of large trees, and I was able to enjoy the deep richness of their purple-blue underparts, wings and back set off against a black hood, white-tipped, pheasant-like tail, hot red bill and bright mischievious eyes. A truly wonderful bird!

Surrounded by this feast of new and beautiful birds a group of Olive backed Pipits and a solitary cettia Bush Warbler (either Manchurian, which is common in HK in the winter, or the very similar borealis race of Japanese Bush Warbler) got pretty short shrift, but Taiwan Scimitar Babbler – newly proposed as a split from Streak-throated Scimitar Babbler owing to its larger size and black rather than rufous-streaked breast, deserved more attention. At least it would have done if two different Chinese Bamboo Partridges had not started their distinctive “pee-ple pray, pee-ple pray!” song on both sides of the road. While they refused to show – a disappointment since they are almost certainly a Taiwan endemic – they distracted me long enough for the Scimitar Babblers to make their escape.

The final good bird in this incredible session was a pair of Bronzed Drongos that flew into another bare tree to check me out. They had the metallic sheen of Hair-crested Drongo, but the forked tail of Black Drongo (although not as deeply forked). They glittered magnificently in the morning sunshine as they made a couple of sweeping attacks on flying insects, before deciding that I was much too boring for birds as cool and glamorous as them, and disappeared!

All this happened in a whirlwind 40 minutes that I will never forget. It was followed by a long slog upriver during which I added Brown Dipper, Plumbeous Redstart, and 30-odd Grey-chinned Minivets, followed by a rush back to the hotel for breakfast.

However, more was to come . . . as I was passing the school a Grey Treepie flew out of a fruiting camphor tree right by the roadside some 30 yards in front of me. Unlike the large mature trees on the slope above, this was a much smaller and denser tree. Although it was filled with movement I struggled to get good views of the birds, until first one Taiwan Blue Magpie, then a Grey Treepie, then a couple more Blue Magpies, and finally all fifteen remaining Blue Magpies left the tree and flew right past my head, giving me unforgettable grandstand views of a truly iconic bird!

Later that day I again saw what I suspect was the same flock as we walked up to the Wulai waterfall cable car station, but distantly on the far bank of the river, where I also added a Crested Goshawk.  At the Dreamland resort, which we reached by a short but dramatic cable-car ride over the falls, I finally caught up with the lovely Taiwan Whistling Thrush. A fine bird in itself, but nothing like as good as the Magpie and the kaleidoscope of birds I’d enjoyed on that truly unforgettable morning!

That afternoon I tried showing a few birds to my girlfriend. She had no interest whatsoever. But at least she hasn’t dumped me!

Useful information

Birding Guidebooks:
I took with me both the Chinese (台湾野鸟地图 2001 ISBN 957-455-054-0) and English (Birdwatching in Taiwan 2005 ISBN 957-98751-9-7) guidebooks. While they were helpful in selecting Wulai over Beitou as a hot springs resort near Taipei, which offered a chance of some good birds, I found them difficult to use for planning my birding day.  The main problems were that no distances are given on the maps, that area maps do not correspond closely with more detailed local maps, and the maps do not clearly mark the specific birding routes.  Once I had my bearings they made much more sense.

One other book I was unable to find was the "Birdwatcher's Guide to the Taipei Region", ISBN 957-01-7797-7. According to Taiwan-based BF member Mark Bruce this shows distances of the trails, and gives good directions for seeing Tawny Fish Owl near Wulai.

More positively, they gave a good idea of the birds you are likely to see and the newer English book illustrates all the endemic species and subspecies, many of which have distinctive, easily recognizable plumages. They also provide contact numbers for public transport companies and some recommended accommodation. HKBWS Library has copies of both which can be borrowed.

“The Lonely Planet Guide to Taiwan” 2004 edition was also helpful in planning the trip.

Endemics and splits
At present Taiwan has 15 recognized endemic species, and almost 60 others which are worthy of consideration as endemic subspecies or full species. There have been recent proposals to split some of these such as Taiwan Barbet and Taiwan Hwamei, while others await further research. A good place to follow developments is the Birding in Taiwan website (, which posts news on taxonomic studies of Taiwanese birds. This is an exciting time as several developments have occurred in the last year, and more are expected soon.

Finally my thanks to Mark Bruce of Bird Forum for providing valuable advice on site guides, planning the trip and helping my investigations into the bush warbler.
Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee