Saturday 20 July 2013

Near the hotel, Taipei

I often bird straight out of my hotel even on some weekend breaks away. I seem always to do so when it is the first day after a long haul flight and I am too jet lagged to do much else.

This was the case today when I stepped foot out of my hotel in the Tianmu district of Taipei at the start of an eastern tour which will take in the cities of Taipei, Manila and Saigon, and the island country of Palau. 

Although each of the four countries to be visited are close to each other, no bird guide covers more than one of these and no tourist guide book does either.  My first decision was not to buy all eight guide books necessary for full coverage!

I have a newly minted copy of Mark Brazil's "Birds of East Asia" for Taiwan and "Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand and the Central and West Pacific" for Palau left over from last year's big summer trip to the Pacific. I am not carrying any general guide (sorry, Lonely Planet).

The two bird guides should cover at least 50% of the birds seen in Philippines and Vietnam. The internet will have to do the rest!

One final comment before we go on to the birding: I notice most trip reports in these countries involve extensive travel to far flung national parks. My interest is not in getting as many endemics and other lifers as possible in as short a time as available. With the exception of Palau this part of the world is new to me and instead I want a basic grounding and understanding of the bird families. 

I also want to see and record just what is possible close to the cities. I hope this might be useful for those birders passing through without the time required for the long journeys out of town.

Chinese bulbul photographed through my bedroom window

When I woke up this morning and drew back the blinds, there was my first bird of the tour. And it was new to me. This is a Chinese bulbul resting on a phone wire. It didn't take me long to find out it is common in the district I am staying in.

After asking in reception, I headed to the nearest park off Zhongshan North Road (section 6). They had told me at reception it was small and I said I am sure it will have birds anyway. We were both right.

adult Himalayan black bulbul 

Of course the park's trees held several more of these Chinese bulbul. There were also a smaller number of another bulbul (and another lifer). This was Himalayan black bulbul.

juvenile Himalayan black bulbul

The young ones caused me identification problems. They don't look too close to the adults and there no pictures or description of them in the guide. Thanks are due to local ornithologist Professor Bruno Walthers for help by email on this one.

Japanese white eye

Darting about the trees was a small warbler like bird which on closer inspection turned out to be a white eye I had seen in Japan last summer: Japanese white eye.

spotted dove

The predominant dove wasn't new to me either. I had seen spotted dove in Auckland, New Zealand also on last summer's trip. 

Tree sparrow 

Another commonality with Japan is the abundance of tree sparrow and the complete absence of house sparrow.

jungle myna 

So far last year's trip had been more useful than I had imagined and so it continued for a while. The two myna bird species seen were jungle myna and common myna. Like on a couple of the south pacific islands I visited, these are unwanted introductions.

Barn swallow 

The parallels didn't quite end there. There were plenty of swallows about and many were nesting. According to my guide book, the choice here is barn swallow or pacific swallow (the same choice as I had on Vanuatu). What I identified this time was barn swallow.

local temple

At the back of the local park was a stream which I was able to follow on foot thanks to some excellent walk ways created by the city parks department. 

local waterway 

At first the only birds I saw were young Chinese bulbul and tree sparrow (lots of them both). I began to doubt whether this different habitat had any different birds. It did.

white wagtail (Amur wagtail)

The odd Amur wagtail was about. Apparently it breeds in Taiwan. Sometimes English bird names aren't very helpful.

little egret

A single little egret was spotted too.

white-rumped munia

Further downstream were two birds which I recognised as relatives of Indian silverbill that I see in Saudi Arabia but I didn't know what they were. This proved to be a helpful observation since white-rumped munia is on the same page in the bird guide and so averted the need to wade through the book. 

Taiwanese blue magpie

On trees near the stream at one point was a small flock of large birds (65 plus cms). I had vaguely thought they had the jizz of magpies and so it proved. This was another lifer: Taiwanese blue magpie.

Grey treepie

On the same tree at one stage (before the magpies moved off) was another bird with a long tail. Thanks to Professor Bruno Walthers who again in correspondence helped to identify it as a Grey treepie. Actually I failed to identify this one partly because of a slightly doggy picture in the guide book.

Only one bird (excluding pigeons)  was seen but not photographed and it is a shame. The bright green Taiwan barbet was seen twice. The second sighting was quite long but in the wrong place. It was on a tree right next to a building marked "diplomatic quarter" with guards and CCTV. I didn't think it was good idea to linger and photograph.

one type of terrapin

As well as birds I came across what I believe are two different types of terrapin.  I'd like to know what they are. 

another type of terrapin

Despite jet lag, I was quite happy with results of this morning's walk. Tomorrow should be a bit more serious. I am part of a group of four visiting Wuhai which is a known birding spot. 

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