Ah, the benefits of modern communications. On or about December 16, 2014 a critically endangered according the the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN), Siberian Crane showed up seemingly out of nowhere in a northern Taiwan wetland, the island's first ever record of this species. Our guides (who had seen the juvenile bird numerous times) were getting daily updates as to its presence. Many locals were speculating that it might take flight for Siberia any day now as it was exhibiting what is often referred to as "zugunruhe" or migratory restlessness, flapping around exercising its' wings, etc. We were several days away from a possible visit...would it hold on for us to make an unscheduled visit? Being plenty distracted as we were with other daily "lifers" we weren't pushing to change the schedule or anything. (I mean, Siberia, that's on the travel radar isn't it? Wishing away...the photos on Stone's phone did look amazing though.
Meanwhile, we dropped down into the southeastern wetlands for a chance to see a couple of other formerly common, now very uncommon bird species, namely: Black-faced Spoonbill and one of the more elaborately plumaged shorebirds in the world, Pheasant-tailed Jacana. We had seen both of these species on earlier trips to Asia but this was an opportunity for a longer study so we headed to a wetland in the oldest city and former capital of Taiwan, the bustling city of Tainan. First up was the Jacana Eco-education Reservation Area which is primarily staffed by volunteers. The director of the program greeted us warmly and within a few minutes was leading us out to where a rare bird had been seen a few hours earlier. Sure enough after about ten minutes a White-browed Crake waded on blossoming pond lilies very near an assemblage of Jacana. A rather understated bird but a real surprise. Eventually it came within 20 or so meters and we managed a few side-lit shots.
There were many northern hemispheric ducks: Eurasian and Green-winged Teal, Pintail, Shovelers...Garganey were "first of trip" birds for us. Docents had scopes set up for visitors and a few of them spoke good English so it gave our guides a little break from translating. The local rice fields were active with shorebirds and we had a blast counting them up: 24 Pacific Golden Plover, 11 Kentish Plover, 3 Little Ringed Plover, 47 Pheasant Tailed Jacana ( a large number!), "oh there's a Wood Sandpiper and three Long-toed Stint!" Black-winged Stilt were abundant and we picked out a Dunlin molting into alternate...just like home, sort of.
Off to Jiading Wetlands where Stone's photographer friends had shared images of Spoonbills feeding at less than 10 meters the previous day. When we arrived many big lens photographers were lined up on a levee - pulses quickened, Richard found a parking spot very close to the "action" and we hurriedly assembled our gear. In a few minutes we joined the phalanx and soon realized there were Spoonbills alright - back-lit and about 300 meters away. Our fantasy of frame filling shots faded along with the sun. But soon we started looking further around and many other goodies appeared including our best looks ever at Cinnamon Bittern. Gray Herons were dancing like cranes out in the prairie and "first of trip" views of a Tufted Duck, this one female. With the setting sun we headed west into metro Tainan for a lovely stay at a hotel overlooking the canal (Taiwan was colonized by the Dutch for a brief period from 1642-1644). Restaurant lined streets filled with happy diners were a refreshing tone change after several days in the mountains.
The next day began with a warm, humid drizzle but by the time we reached the Cigu Black-faced Spoonbill Reservation to the north skies were lightening up and hope was high. This national reservation is located in the large estuary of the Zengwen River and holds many waders and shorebirds. There is a covered blind to scope from and the staff and volunteers were, as always, engaging and friendly. We counted about 25 Spoonbills, most of the birds at a distance. Among the many Plovers, Stilts and Tringa species (Common Greenshank and Redshank) we picked out a unique looking sandpiper medium in size, sandy brown above, white below with a long up-turned bill yellowish at the base - Terek Sandpiper - Lifer!!