27 December 2012

2012 FLASHBACK: Formosan Pheasants...TAIWAN (May)


After the madness of spring migration at Magee, watching warblers in the company of thousands of other joyful birders, I WAS to switch to something entirely different; I say was as China, and more specifically, the Chinese government, put paid to these plans. My original intention was, after a long spring season in the US, to have some downtime-a whole week in fact-watching cool Asian birds on the island of Taiwan, or "Formosa" (meaning beautiful), as the Portuguese called it. However, what was originally planned as a week had to be seriously cut back-to a mere few days-when the Chinese government closed a key site for my Sichuan tour that followed directly after my Taiwan time. So instead of a leisurely week mopping up the island's endemics, I had just two days chasing around with now-Taiwan resident, Keith Barnes, before I had to jump ship to the Chinese mainland early to do some last minute scouting for a Sichuan tour that had been put seriously off kilter with the actions of the government!

Keith very generously donated his time to show me some of "his" beautiful island, where we focused on the cloudforests of Da Xue Shan, as he reckoned, quite accurately as it turned out, we could rack up endemics at pace there, even in the limited time available. We arrived to truly awful weather. Apparently the climate had been balmy up until that day, when the heavens opened and remained open, and pouring, for my entire time on the mountain. Keith's phone packed up due to water damage, and his mood darkened with each new, ever more intense, wave of rain, but we ploughed on and got quite the list of birds (over 20 endemics!) Of course, my main targets were the kings of the mist, the gaudy pheasants that the mountain is famed for. Da Xue Shan supports two endemic pheasants, both of which had become easy in recent times due to two feeding stations set up for them by the local rangers. However, Keith and I were horrified to discover bright shiny new signs warning that feeding of birds was now prohibited, and would be accompanied by a hefty fine! I would have been prepared to pay the fine ordinarily, but it was simply too steep to contemplate doing. Nervously, we approached one of these feeding areas at the given time, 4pm, and walked straight into the real "king of the mist" a male Mikado Pheasant, who clearly had trouble reading the signs and was wandering the area searching for any scrap of food it could find! It was extremely approachable, and extremely beautiful decked out in deep, glossy blue, and sporting a bright scarlet eye patch....

The following morning, and after having bumped into a further 2 male Mikados as we descended towards our lodge the previous afternoon, we were to try for another pheasant, at another former feeding area (which also boasted another prominent sign warning against feeding them). Would this one be so oblivious of the changing nature of the feeding area, and be put off by the blatant lack of sustenance there? I waited in the dull light of dawn, which revealed another gloomy day of rain interspersed with heavy mist and fog was to be upon us once more. With the dingy weather my mood darkened and my pessimistic streak rose prominently to the surface, being very far from  what could be described as "contained"! For some reason, Keith though, was positively upbeat, and optimistic that the Swinhoe's Pheasants would be oblivious of the ever-changing park rules, immune to park bureaucracy, and turn up anyway. I hoped beyond hope he was right; I had dreamed of this pair of delectable Asian pheasants for many long years, and did not relish the other option: scouring trails for a brief glimpse of a glamorous tail disappearing into the bush at high speed. While I sat there mentally biting my nails to a nub, Keith looked coolly on, without a whimper of despondency in him. This quickly turned to knowing satisfaction when a gorgeous male Swinhoe's Pheasant walked out from the forest and stood stock still on the roadside. TWO magical pheasants in two days, the two undoubted top draw endemics of Taiwan, in just two whirlwind days on the island. I was more than happy, and left with memorable memories, captured to flashcards to enjoy time and again when I look back at two wet, wet days on Formosa, which really is a very beautiful island....


Next up, the Chinese mainland awaited...and Sichuan with its lure of tasty cuisine, and even tastier birds...

1 comment:

Island Rambles Blog said...

Wow you have some great birding going on there...love the Mikado...can't wait to see the blogs coming up on China as we will be going there.