This evening we would end up in a downtown Taipei hotel but first Stone and Richard had a special treat in mind. We headed to the north coast to the fishing village (a small city, really) of Jinshan noted for its Qing-era architecture. It was near noon when we arrived in the bustling village center so first order of business was lunch - Yay! Stone had a friend who ran a small cafe on the main pedestrian street and we were soon enjoying lovingly prepared seafood, wonderful desserts and coffee.
After lunch we drove over to Shi Tou Shan Park where there was a rumor of Eurasian Hoopoe being present. The park was dominated to the south by a very large castle-like building which was used as a convention center but was closed during our visit. We searched the large grounds in a counter-clockwise direction. Many large trees were interspersed with shrub like plantings, picnic areas and paths. It was "birdy" too and we noted Oriental-turtle and Spotted Dove, Javan Myna, Black-faced Bunting, a couple of Grey Treepie, Formosan Blue-Magpie..the list soon grew. Another birder shared that he had seen Hoopoe about 15 minutes earlier but it had flown out of the area. Add a couple of Swallow species, Tree Sparrows, Black and Light-vented Bulbuls, "Oh there's a Pale Thrush" and now a new one: Dusky Thrush (Turdus eunomus), listed as a "scarce migrant" in Taiwan and another "lifer" for Noreen and I.
The happy search continued but we were starting to have our doubts about any Hoopoe love. There's a male Daurian Redstart - gonna miss them when we're back in America. Won't likely be seeing Red Turtle Dove this summer either unless we visit a zoo. Then, just when we were giving up hope, there it is: tucked into some high grass at first and then it moves a bit more into the open and Wow! Unmistakable alright! Largish pink bird with barred black and white wings and tail, long decurved bill and a long tufted crest giving it a crazy-cool looking ice-hammer head. A low, undulating flight style shows off the barred wing patterns as it moves from place to place probing the ground for invertebrates and scoring often. Joined in by a couple of other birders now we followed it from a respectful distance, still somewhat paparazzi like, trying to get a better angle. At one point it flashed open it's crest like a big fan - totally cool - what a bird!
The strange visitor from Siberia
We approached the Qingshui wetlands near Jinshan and were still several hundred meters away when we saw it...you really couldn't miss it...it was HUGE! Absolutely dwarfed the herons and egrets that were the only other "large" birds present. Cranes are large in general but Siberian Cranes are particularly so with wing spans up to 230 cm and weighing up to a whopping 9 kg. By comparison, the largest of the two Sandhill Crane sub-species (the Greater), which breeds in the Sierra Valley in California, never reaches 5 kg.
Qingshui are modest as wetlands go, not more than a 100 acres in all surrounded by a few plots of rice and development. Still, the crane has been there since mid-December so the site was working out so far for this wayward giant youngster, a much celebrated first ever record for the Island.
Siberian Cranes are listed as Critically Endangered with approximately 3,200 birds worldwide, 95% of this species winters in an area of China threatened by the Three Gorges Dam. There are only about 10 individual wild birds in Western Siberia. Concerns regarding extinction of this species is very high. This was a very big deal to have one end up in Taiwan and people seemed to appreciate the gravity of the situation.
The crane was surrounded by over 50 admirers, many large lens photographers and a volunteer from the Taiwan Wild Bird Society. The bird basically ignored all of us. Information on the species had been posted and people kept back so that their viewing and photographing would not cause alarm to the crane or any of the other wading birds. It was a real Crane love fest. The crane was quite successfully foraging. This consisted of digging it's bill into aquatic vegetation and the mud snagging polliwogs and aquatic invertebrates. Once in a while it start energetically wing flapping and hopping and the camera shutters would whirl with excitement hoping to catch the bird taking off in flight. But the crane never did actually fly, just stretching and exercising perhaps getting ready for a big departure to join a crane group on a risky nearly 200 km trip across the Straights of Taiwan to the mainland. And then, with luck all the way to a small area in the Russian Arctic to join up with it's kind. And with more luck perhaps it will mate and have young.
Update: As of May 17, 2015 the young Crane has survived and is still at the Qingshui wetlands in Taiwan. A recent story can be found here: