Our very knowledgeable guides brought us much good fortune, at times extraordinarily so. We spent a fair amount of time waiting and wishing for a glimpse or longer of three endemic ground birds: The Taiwan Hill Partridge, Mikado and Swinhoe’s Pheasants to magically appear out of the forests. There are a few well known locations along the mountain roadways where a patient watcher might see one of these birds cautiously peaking out or moving from one side to the other. On one weather-perfect day we spent a couple of hours in such a “pursuit”. Soft sounds from the forest enchanted us into a dreamlike state after the first half-hour or so. We must have been at least partially invisible to (or ignored by) the woodland critters as they would carry on about their business sometimes approaching within a few feet of us. A Collared Bush-robin perched within feet, a Taiwan Whistling-thrush darts out of the woods and displays momentarily to another we can’t see.
Squirrels were busy stashing food bits and chasing each other through the trees when suddenly alarms calls went off as a very large bird courses just over the tree tops. We break cover to get a better look from a wide curve in the road where the forest canopy opens up. The raptor careens back our way still frustratingly blocked by the woods. We get bits and pieces and then it banks back our way again. It’s huge! Mostly brownish on top, lighter underparts, barred tail, sort of “accipiter” like in shape – “Mountain Hawk Eagle!” Wow! Not common anywhere, a vagrant in Taiwan. Our guides looked at a partial slightly blurry photo Noreen managed to get to cinch the ID. Things got quiet again – back to waiting but not so long before Stone made a quiet sound and first one, then two Swinhoe’s Pheasant slowly and gracefully approached. Snap, snap went the cameras and soon, as if it all was a fantasy, they disappeared back into the forests.
Afterwards, as if coming out of a happy dream, we meandered up the road to an area where a deep ravine plunged away from the far side of a short stone wall. Another Swinhoe’s Pheasant, this one a female, was feeding only a few meters away. Soon, an immature male joins. Lively but muted chatter broke out among a few other birders in the area and Richard motioned excitedly for us to come look: three Taiwan Partridge were feeding deeper in the brush and even closer! A bit too close for my lens to focus on and too steep to step back and see them but, as luck would have it, they fed for several minutes, long enough to change the lens and click a few narrow focus but nice images. We’ve been hearing this species deep in the forest and glimpsed them scooting away but had given up hope we would actually get to study them…and so close…Woo-hoo!!
We descended Dasyueshan Forest Road to about 1500 meters stopping near a small road-side temple where “offerings”, primarily of food, could be seen neatly arranged on a table. While Stone visited the open air temple to pay respects we scouted nearby getting poor looks at White-bellied Pigeon (Treron sieboldii), better looks at Flamecrest (Regulus goodfellowi) and even better looks at endemic Taiwan Yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps).
Rejoining Stone we ducked through an opening in a forest road gate. Richard explained that a sign on the gate indicated the road to be closed but that simply meant closed to “tourists” but birders are welcome “because they contribute scientific information”. Lucky for us! The road was muddy and deeply rutted but fairly easy to traverse the sides. After a few minutes a 4WD truck with some forestry workers came through smiling and waving to us. We made our way to a forest opening. Another small flock of Yuhina, several White-whiskered Laughingthrush, another Flamecrest and then the high pitched whistle of our “target bird” – Yellow Tit (Parus holsti) – we had seen this bird numerous times before but always at a distance high in the canopy. This individual was also in the canopy but in trees slightly down hill from us and coming closer. Great binocular views and eventually we were even able to get some nice portraits of it singing. The offerings evidently worked – thanks Stone!