Saturday, 17 May 2014

Taiwan - a few birds

Swinhoe's Pheasant can be found on the lower slopes of the mountain forests of Taiwan. Formerly it was common throughout the lowlands too, but development has left little room for them there. There are well-known spots where photographers tempt them out onto the verges to feed on grain. The female is also beautifully patterned, in various shades of brown - more suitable for staying hidden during incubation. 

The Pheasant-tailed Jacana is widespread in south-east Asia, but needs large areas of freshwater with water-lilies. In Taiwan it only hangs on in one small area, which was threatened by a new railway development. Luckily local conservationists started a campaign - ultimately successful - to divert the railway round the jacana's lakes. It is now a reserve popular with local photographers and schoolchildren. Males and females have similar plumage, but only the male incubates the eggs and protects the young. 

We came across this Bronzed Drongo making a nest a few feet up above a farm track. Drongos are an interesting family of fly-catching birds, spread throughout Asia, Australasia and Africa in both open and forest habitats. This small, glossy drongo inhabits forest edge, while a larger and more widespread species, Black Drongo, is also common on the wires above Taiwan's many paddyfields.  

After Swinhoe's Pheasant, the Taiwan Blue Magpie is the island's most colourful and spectacular endemic. They fly through the lowland forest (or forest edge) in small family groups, often descending to the ground to feed. The long patterned tail ends in a characteristic curl. This is the only Taiwan species known to nest co-operatively: the breeding pair are assisted in feeding the young by other members of the group, presumed to be the previous year's young. All of the group help build and defend the nest. 

Up near the tree-line, at about 2600 metres, the White-whiskered Laughingthrush is the most conspicuous and confiding bird. It is a very easy endemic to observe as it approaches the walker hoping for crumbs. Laughingthrushes are not in the thrush family, but belong to the enormous family of babblers which have radiated into 309 species, of 84 genera. Most are in Asia, but some also in Africa. The Wrentit - found in California - has also recently been shown to be a babbler. Of Taiwan's 24 recognized endemics, half are in the babbler family. 

 Here is an endemic robin, also up near the tree-line. Formerly called Collared Bush-Robin, it is now known as Johnstone's Robin. This is the more brightly coloured male. It is instantly recognizable as a robin by its behaviour, so similar to our familiar European species. Interestingly however, it is placed in the genus Luscinia (with the nightingales and Bluethroat) not in Erithacus like 'our' robin. 

Many thanks to group members Ken, John, Richard, Edna and Iain who have all contributed a photo or two to these two Taiwan posts.   

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