Day 289: Birding With the Paparazzi

Noah returns to familiar land, while learning he’s become a familiar face.

October 16, 2015, Dasyueshan, Taiwan — Wayne Hsu, the Director of Conservation and International Affairs at Taiwan’s Chinese Wild Bird Federation, and Kuan-Chieh Hung, the previous director, met me yesterday evening in Taipei to spend the next three days birding all over Taiwan. Wayne and Kuan-Chieh also contacted half a dozen birders from eBird Taiwan who met us today in Dasyueshan, so we had a big posse for my first day here.

My alarm went off at 4:15 this morning and, literally one second later, Wayne said, “Just so you know, there is a camera crew outside who wish to film us walking out the door.” Sure enough, four guys were waiting in the dark for us to emerge from our hotel room, and they shadowed us for the rest of the day. It was like being the subject of an E! True Hollywood Story with the crew following everywhere, except this was for a Taiwanese television channel and part of a documentary involving the CWBF.

Today’s mission involved two spectacular pheasants, Swinhoe’s and Mikado, that are endemic to the mountains of central Taiwan. We found the Swinhoe’s easily enough at a well-known stakeout, but the Mikado (which translates in Japanese as Emperor, so people sometimes call this bird the Emperor of the Mist) didn’t show. Our group spent much of the day hanging around likely spots, waiting for the Emperor to arrive, until most people left around dinnertime. Kuan-Chieh, Wayne and I stuck it out until near sunset, when a young male Mikado Pheasant suddenly appeared at the appointed spot. It was worth the wait!

For the first time since Norway in early June, I am in a country I have visited before. In 2003, when I was 17, I spent nine days birding in Taiwan on a media trip, and it’s interesting to return here 12 years later. Things have changed since 2003: On that trip I used slide film, and this time I’m carrying a digital camera. A new, much better field guide is available to the birds of Taiwan. Instead of 14 endemic bird species, the country now officially has 26. Gmail, Facebook, and eBird have changed how birders communicate since the last time I was here. The road where I looked for pheasants in 2003 has become inaccessible because of a landslide, and the places we visited today are more reliable bets anyway. The Black-faced Spoonbills I saw on that trip have since recovered from a population collapse. Meanwhile, in the past 12 years, the popularity of birdwatching in Taiwan has taken off. And the birds are just as I remember.

New birds today: 22

Year list: 4844

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