Friday, November 18, 2016

An Awesome Weekend Birdathon 2016

Where do you go for amazing birdlife?
Where do you go for non-stop birding for 24 hours?
Where do you go for awesome fun, birding with like-minded people?

Well I think you've figured that out already...TAIWAN!
The WBCM representatives, aptly named the 'Tropical Trio', consisting of Wilbur Goh(Team leader), Shravan Rao and Lim Bing Yee were ready to rock and...bird! A 24-hour Birdathon was carried out on the 5-6th November, within the  Southern Tainan district, which encompassed birding spots from the Budai/Jiangyun coastal area to the mountains of Alishan. 

Getting to our birding destination was made that much easier with advice given by our friendly and helpful Victor Yu, the main organiser for the Taiwan Birdathon in collaboration with the Tainan local District Authorities. Upon arriving in Taipei on the 4th November, we took the High Speed Rail to Chiayi.  A driver picked us up to go to the Beimen Visitors Centre(in Tainan). We arrived late at night so missed the opening ceremony, took a quick dinner and then we were whisked off to our comfortable accommodation somewhere along the Budai coast.

It wasn't until the next morning at breakfast that we met some of the other International teams joining in the Birdathon. Alfredo and Luis who came from Costa Rica kept us in awe with the stories of beautiful birds there, which I etched in my mind for future possible visit.
We nodded warmly and smiled at the Korean contingent. Although language was a barrier, sharing bird pictures from Korea made instant 'conversation' later while we were on the bus.  An interpreter named Jan(a Tainan Uni Student) was kindly provided for the Korean team.

Once breakfast was over we were all bussed to the Beimen Visitors' Centre. The 25 local teams and other International teams from the USA and my friend Mark Wilkie from South Africa with his team of Expats gathered at the Centre. Prior to flag-off, welcome speeches and photographs were taken. Victor Yu  then gave a briefing of the rules and regulations. By 9.00am we were good-to-go.  Just outside the Centre the first bird to grace our list was a Red-turtle Dove, followed by an Indian Silverbill and Eurasian Magpie. All good stuff to be entered instantly by Shravan in to the e-bird  data base as we went.  We couldn't wait to see more.

Waders were the specialty on the first leg of our Bird-by-bus chase! We were provided with two knowledgeable, local guides Mr Phillip Kuo and Mr Wong.  The bird hotspots within the Budai/Jiangyun area,  consisted mainly of old abandoned but nicely managed salt pans, easily accessible by bus. The familiar Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Black-winged Stilts,White and Grey Wagtails were about and at our first stop the cute Little Grebe was there dabbling away. The Sacred Ibis, an introduced species, was at every turn with Egrets, Cormorants and a few Kentish Plovers at subsequent stops. Naturally, glancing at telephone poles and electrical wires brought forth beauties like the Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongos and the ubiquitous Pacific Swallow. Every bird counted!

We stopped in about five different places in awe of seeing more waterbirds, like the Pied Avocet by the dozen and ducks! The Northern Shoveller and Northern Pintail proved a hit and the Black-headed Gull. Eventually, we came across what we had hoped to see.  Mr Black-faced and Eurasian Spoonbill. Boy did they have huge, black spoony beaks, lovely! By this time our tummies rumbled ready for a splendid lunch. With bellies full we were keen to venture to our next mountainous destination...Alishan(3-hours north-east of Beimen).  Possible endemics, like the Steere's Liocichla and Taiwan Barwing kept our hopes high of more exciting birding to come.

On the journey up, the bus needed fuel so all the birders grabbed the opportunity to exit  for birding.  A perched Crested Goshawk met our eyes and a cheerful, chirpy White Wagtail too. The temperature was a tad bit cooler by then, often feeling reminiscent of the Tea Plantations of  Cameron Highlands. This definitely was tea growing country. It was dark when we arrived at the Alishan Youth Centre(c1800m a.s.l)  Dinner was consumed and a plan to try some owling was made for 8:00pm. Sadly, the owls decided not to come out. To compensate we got a whole, night sky full of glorious, glittery stars and planets which took my breath away.

By 6.00am, at 13 degrees celsius, we walked out to a crisp, inviting morning with a spectacular sunrise. We discovered a railway track in front of the Youth Centre, which we hadn't seen when we arrived. We admired the view of the mountains. The Large-billed Crow gave his salutations but we were hoping for enticing calls from the possible endemics.  A Eurasian Jay cackled loudly with the Daurian Redstart sat prominently for us to see...nice! The colourful Green-backed Tit and Rufous-capped Babbler appeared in a bird wave. It took skills to pick out different individual species and name them. Thank goodness we had Wilbur. Further along the road our team watched for movement in the undergrowth and eventually to our utter delight, two Steere's Liocichla showed themselves-beautiful! Luckily, the Costa Ricans sidled up and saw them too and we continued to bird together.  At this point the gorgeous Taiwan Barwing popped out and to seal the morning, a stunning Collared Bush-Robin capped it all. Yes!
Sadly, our one-and-a-half hours of birding at the Alishan Youth Centre was up. We were aching to bird more but breakfast called and we needed to head back to Beimen.

On our descent we managed to see, two Black Eagles majestically soaring in the distance and two Light-vented Bulbuls chirping away plus the Blue Rock-Thrush. These we did not add to our list as it was past 9:00am, which ended the Birdathon.

We returned to Beimen for a quick lunch and a wind-up of the Tainan Birdathon 2016. It was wonderful to see the promotion of birding amongst the local community through this activity. The International participants had smiles on their faces and looks of contentment. Our final Birdathon count wasn't exactly spectacular compared to the 125-odd seen by some other teams but we had fun. We were presented with souvenirs as a collective group with lots of photos taken by the local paparazzi, who kind of followed us throughout our journey. In turn we presented our token of appreciation on behalf of WBCM to Victor Yu and to our guides Mr Phillip Kuo and Mr Wong for their support throughout the trip. It was a great, all expenses paid event, albeit the return flights which was on our own. We were happy to have visited the well-managed birding sites which Taiwan provides, saw some beauitful birds with a few endemics and met some wonderful people. My team mates were amazing. On behalf of the 'Tropical Trio' team we wish to thank WBCM for allowing us to represent them. If you have the opportunity in the future to join in...go for it!

by Lim Bing Yee
photographs by Wilbur Goh and Lim Bing Yee

1 comment:

  1. Tropical Trio (from Malaysia) have entered their sightings in eBird, with total of 14 species in Alishan, Chiayi County and 50 species in Jiangyun, Tainan City.