Saturday, 17 May 2014


In April I led the Ornitholidays tour to Taiwan, a friendly and fascinating country with superb mountain forests. In this first blog, I'll deal with a few aspects of the country; and soon follow it up with another blog of the bird life that we encountered. This photo shows a scene from the mountains of Dasyueshan, where we spent three nights. The higher altitudes - up to 3000m - are clothed in mixed coniferous forests - cyprus, hemlock, and spruce - while lower down there is a greater variety of deciduous trees including many rhododendrons just coming into flower. Up here is where we saw the majority of the endemic species. (Click on any photo to enlarge).

The Taiwanese are very efficient at land-use in the lowlands. Rice is widely cultivated, often on a small scale without much mechanization. The lowlands on the west side of the country are also where most of the factories producing the 'Made in Taiwan' goods are produced. In April, the weather becomes warm and humid: a prelude to the monsoon rains that follow in June and July. 

Here a gardener tends his patch of vegetables on the outskirts of the capital Taipei. We stopped here to watch three endemics: Taiwan Whistling Thrush, Taiwan Scimitar Babbler, and the country's national bird: Taiwan Blue Magpie. However, most of the 24 endemics that are currently recognized live up in the mountain forests. As more DNA work is done on relationships, many more of the 60 or so endemic subspecies will be elevated to species status. 

Here's a typical urban scene: the town of Dongshi that was established as a timber centre as it is situated below Dasyueshan's mountain forests. Barn and Striated Swallows are totally at home in these settings, and find places to nest above the streets. Sometimes they can be seen hawking for insects at night thanks to the street-lights. 

Not all is rampant materialism in Taiwan. There are many ornate temples, like this Tao temple on the forest edge at Huben. There are also many Buddhist temples: and an easy relationship between the two religions. Adherents observe each other's festivals and visit each other's temples. The decoration inside some of the temples and on the roofs is wonderful:

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