Wildlife Holiday News

Taiwan – Endemics & Winter Birds

An entry to the Naturetrek 2018 Writing Competition. Heather Collett tells of the wonderful, exotic birds she saw on our 'Taiwan – Endemics & Winter Birds' tour.

King of the Mist

We examined the small pile of feathers very closely. The various combinations of black, white and chestnut soon identified their previous owner as a female Mikado Pheasant, who had recently met her demise on that lonely forest trail.

We were in the Dasyueshan area of central Taiwan, and this was our first foray into higher elevation forest, where this avian jewel resides. We had earlier admired the other of the two endemic pheasants – the Swinhoe’s – including a splendid tricoloured male fanning his wings in exuberant display.

I chose a few feathers to keep as mementos. We saw no more pheasants that day but our best chance was still to come…

The sky was clear as we made our way into the mountains. The Yushan National Park was to reveal many treasures – amongst them the exquisite Flamecrest, a frenetic flock of Golden Parrotbills and the vivid raspberry plumage of the male Taiwan Rosefinch. But one gem still remained hidden.

All too soon it was time to make the return journey along the mountain road. We scanned the verges intently, but reached the exit without success. Our hearts sank. Our leader, Richard, told us the pheasant only feeds in the open during rainy or misty conditions (hence its local name “King of the Mist”). It had been misty from midday onwards but now it was clear and sunny again. So, despite driving all the way back up and down once more, the search was doomed.

Those feathers now took on a new significance, as poignant reminders of the one that got away. Later, I drew a frowning face on my checklist, and began packing for the morning’s departure.

It was raining when we took our last drive around some local trails. A lone White’s Thrush was feeding at the roadside, and along another was our second displaying Swinhoe’s Pheasant. This prompted me to half-jokingly remark that the verges on the road to Yushan were now probably packed with Mikado Pheasants, but the hint was unnecessary. There would be one last chance. We were going back.

My adrenaline rose. Various blobs on the road turned into whistling thrushes and Formosan Macaques. Two dark shapes in the distance were receiving intense scrutiny – were they crows? We drew nearer. Now their colours resolved into contrasting tones – one brown, one blue. They weren’t crows. The minibus came to a halt.  Sadly, the male ran for cover but the female remained, and now those feathers I had held sprang to vibrant life. After satisfying views we drove on and soon found another majestic male, who was in no hurry to leave. Cameras whirred as he posed imperiously in his resplendent blue livery. We marvelled at the fine white bands on his tail and his crimson facial wattles, until he finally walked slowly out of sight. We jubilantly began the drive back down, disturbing one more male as we sped along, and I thanked the gods (and Richard) for turning a frowning face into a smiling one.

For more information on our 'Taiwan – Endemics & Winter Birds' tour, click here.