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Okinawa Rail

Okinawa Rail

TAIWAN AND OKINAWA, JAPAN

17–28 May 2020
Okinawa extension to 1 June 2020

Taiwan’s diverse habitats including lush forests along its jagged, mountainous spine, are home to twenty-nine endemics including such sought-after species as Mikado and Swinhoe’s Pheasants, Taiwan Blue-magpie, Taiwan Barbet and Flamecrest, plus nearly 60 endemic sub-species that may attain full species status in the future. Also an extension to Okinawa, for Okinawa Woodpecker, Okinawa Rail and all the birds found on Lanyu Island, Taiwan.

Day 1 Overnight flight from London to the capital, Taipei.

Day 2 On arrival in the late afternoon, we will head through the capital to Xindian where we will spend the night.

Day 3 We will make a pre-breakfast start and drive south for 30 minutes to Wulai, where we will spend a couple of hours looking for our first six Taiwanese endemics: Taiwan Barbet, Taiwan Scimitar-babbler, Taiwan Whistling-thrush, Taiwan Blue-magpie, Morrison’s Fulvetta and Chestnut-bellied Tit (split from Varied Tit). Other, more widespread species may include the range-restricted White-bellied Pigeon, Oriental Turtle-dove, Pacific Swallow, Light-vented Bulbul, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey Treepie and Swinhoe's White-eye. We will then return to Xindian for a late breakfast before setting off for a four-hour drive down the east coast of the island, stopping for lunch en route. After checking into our hotel in Hualian, we may have time to look for the endemic Styan’s Bulbul and at dusk we will visit an area of the town where Savanna Nightjar can be seen.

Day 4 In the unlikely event that we failed to see Styan’s Bulbul yesterday evening, we will have another opportunity this morning before breakfast. The east and south coasts are the only places now where you can find pure Styan’s Bulbuls, as Light-vented Bulbuls have spread from the west coast of Taiwan and the two species are now interbreeding, with a bewildering array of different hybrids. After packing up, we will head first north then west through the stunningly beautiful Taroko Marble Gorge. This is one of the scenic wonders of Asia, created by immense tectonic forces combined with erosion by the Liwu River. Brown Dipper and Plumbeous Redstart can be found on the river whilst Pacific Swifts mingle with the numerous House Swifts. Eventually we will reach the highest mountain pass at Wuling at around 3300 metres. Here we should find the endemic White-whiskered Laughingthrush and Taiwan Rosefinch hopping around in the car park looking for leftover scraps of food! Nearby, both the endemic Taiwan Bush Warbler and Collared Bush-robin can be found along with the Taiwanese race of Alpine Accentor and Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler. The total drive time today is four-and-a-half hours and we will stop for a picnic lunch en route, arriving at our overnight base of Cingjing by late afternoon.

Day 5 Another pre-breakfast start will see us looking for another three endemics – Taiwan Bamboo-partridge, White-eared Sibia and Black-necklaced Scimitar-babbler – as well as Rufous-capped Babbler. After breakfast and packing up, we will return east towards Wuling pass looking for any birds we may have missed yesterday plus two more endemics: Flamecrest and Taiwan Fulvetta. We will then return west to the lowlands at Huben, which will put us in a very good position for tomorrow morning’s birding.

Day 6 Today we will make another early morning start, not for an endemic bird this time, but for a spectacular one with a restricted range. In the bamboo thickets around Huben Ecovillage, the stunningly beautiful Fairy Pitta can be found and, although never easy, this is one of the best places within its range to see it. We will have the support of a local expert but patience and field craft are required. Other birds we may encounter here include Asian Emerald Dove, Black Bulbul, Black Drongo, the stunningly beautiful sub-species of Maroon Oriole, Collared Finchbill and Dusky Fulvetta. Around the village, Spotted Dove, Red Collared-dove and Crested Myna can be found, although the latter is gradually being driven out by the introduced Common and Javan Mynas. We will then head one-and-a-half hours south to Kwanghua where a hide has been set up to watch for the endemic but extremely shy Taiwan Partridge. Another endemic, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, also visits this feeding station. After dinner we will have the opportunity to make a nocturnal excursion for Collared and Mountain Scops-owls and Red-and-white Giant Flying-squirrel. Overnight at Firefly Lodge, Kwanghua.

Day 7 We will make a further visit to the hide if Taiwan Partridge is still needed but otherwise we will bird around the accommodation where the endemic Steere’s Liocichla and Rusty Laughingthrush can both be found. We will then make the short journey to Alishan and Yushan National Park, known as ‘the ridge of the roof of Taiwan’, where a further array of birds can be found including five more endemics: the stunning Mikado Pheasant, the cryptically marked Taiwan Barwing, the minute Taiwan Cupwing, the beautiful Taiwan Yellow Tit and Taiwan Yuhina. There are many other birds in this beautiful mountainous area and we will look for the endemic sub-species of Eurasian Nutcracker, Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, Vivid Niltava, Ferruginous Flycatcher, the Chinese sub-species of Coal Tit, two more species of tit – Black-throated and Green-backed – and the endemic owstoni sub-species of Grey-headed Bullfinch. We will be able to see Yushan Peak, also called Jade Mountain, which, at 3952 metres, is the highest mountain in eastern Asia. Overnight in Alishan.

Day 8 We will have the opportunity to spend another morning birding in this beautiful area before making the longish drive north to Dasyueshan National Forest in the Anmashan mountain range, stopping for lunch en route. Before winding our way up into the forest, we will stop in the valley to look for Taiwan Hwamei, a species that is gradually disappearing as it is now interbreeding with the introduced Chinese Hwamei. The song of both species is much prized, so Chinese Hwamei is frequently kept as a cage bird and, of course, escapes! By now raptors should be soaring above us, with Crested Serpent-eagle, Black Eagle and Crested Goshawk the commonest, and Besra occurring around the forest edges. As we head up into the forest in the mountains we will have more opportunities to see Swinhoe’s Pheasant, as the no-feeding policy is widely ignored and the birds have become extremely tame around the car parks and forest trails at the 23km mark. Other birds may include Ashy Wood-pigeon, the diurnal Collared Owlet, the endemic race of White-backed Woodpecker, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Asian House-martin, Grey-chinned Minivet, Rufous-faced Warbler, Bronzed Drongo, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Brown Bullfinch. One of the last endemics we will look for here is Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush, which moves through the treetops in noisy family groups. Eventually we will reach our very comfortable cabins at the Snow Mountain Resort, where we will spend the next two nights. After dinner we will listen to Mountain Scops-owls calling, although they are rarely seen. Another possibility is Himalayan Owl, but we will need to be very lucky to see this endemic sub-species.

Day 9 Before breakfast we will head straight for the car park at the top of the mountain, as the only restaurant here does not provide early breakfasts for birders. Around the car park we hope to find what may be the highlight of the tour for many people: the stunningly beautiful Mikado Pheasant. They are extremely tame here and the only problem is photographing them with long-lens cameras, as they are often too close! White-whiskered Laughingthrushes are equally tame and it is nice to enjoy the spectacle without the crowds of sightseers who will arrive after breakfast. Returning for breakfast we will find Taiwan Whistling-thrushes around the restaurant whilst the Chinese sub-species of Eurasian Nuthatch can be seen from the spectacular viewing platform. We will spend the rest of the morning generally birding up and downslope from the accommodation depending on the weather and cloud cover. The summit lake area can hold Golden Parrotbill whilst Eurasian Wren, White-tailed Robin, White-browed Bush-robin and Taiwan Shortwing occur along the level walking track from the summit car park. After lunch back at the restaurant (no compromise for western tastes!), we will again head up or downslope depending on what we want to see and the weather. Taiwan Thrush breeds here but is notoriously elusive and only reliably seen in winter at favourite fruiting trees, whilst the endemic race of Scaly Thrush, in common with all Zoothera thrushes, is very shy. Little Forktail can be found around a roadside waterfall and Oriental Cuckoo and Large Hawk-cuckoo can be heard calling but can be difficult to see.

Day 10 This morning will be a repeat of yesterday morning with pre-breakfast birding. After breakfast and packing up, we will head back downslope, stopping en route at a site for Malayan Night-heron. Time permitting, we may make a visit to the coast to look for passage waders and increase our tour list, with Long-toed and Red-necked Stints, Great Knot and Grey-tailed Tattler all possible. Overnight in Taoyan, close to the international airport.

Day 11 Sadly, after breakfast, for those not taking the extension it is time to say goodbye to Taiwan with a direct morning flight back to London, arriving in the afternoon. Those on the extension will take a morning flight to the island of Okinawa in Japan to look for many exciting and endemic birds.

DETAILS OF THE EXTENSION TO OKINAWA TO FOLLOW SOON

General Information At this time of the year, Taiwan can be warm to hot and humid at low elevation and chilly at altitude, especially at night. Some rain is likely. We will sample Taiwanese cuisine and, although this is primarily a birdwatching tour, we will, on occasion, dip into Taiwanese culture. Only a general degree of fitness is needed for this holiday, although the heat can be tiring at times in the lowlands and the far south and there will be occasional steep steps and paths to negotiate at altitude.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.

Mikado Pheasant

Mikado Pheasant

Recommended books available from NHBS