Sunday, 8 May 2016

Da Xue Shan and its Pheasants!

With no news (besides that of the Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) north or south, I got off the southbound train from my trip to Taipei at Taichung and headed up to Da Xue Shan for the remainder of the weekend. This would be the first time I had birded above 1000 metres this year, and there would certainly be plenty to go at (so much so that I rather hoped I might be able to bring my 400 up from this one trip). It started rather poorly on Friday night with no owls 'lamped' with my new spotlamp, but I remained hopeful that the diurnal cast might bring more reward early morning Saturday, and the listing proper did get underway the following morning with two Brown Dippers Cinclus pallasii down on the stream at the 15K mark (albeit practically nocturnal ones).

The next bird 'hit' (almost literally) was a female Swinhoe's Pheasant Lophura swinhoii standing in the middle of the road at the 23K mark. It was still rather dark at 23K when I came across my first pheasant, and (despite wanting more) I only felt I had time to snap off a few mementos of it as I was eager to get up to altitude before it all got hot and sunny up there.

I was able to connect with one of my bigger targets higher up inside Da Xue San, Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, a pair of which were frequenting the small waterfall just below the police station. My second big target, Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus, I would only hear, though I was at least relieved that I had made the journey up to altitude before this species in particular goes silent and becomes practically impossible to find.

At the 50K mark, I bagged my second pheasant, Mikado Pheasant Syrmaticus mikado, again a female. I wasn't too disappointed with this outcome, though, as I usually see males and do not pay much attention to females, but it has to be said that they are in fact quite beautifully marked when inspected more closely. The only thing I did feel slightly disappointed about was just how easy it was all proving to be. In fact, it was almost embarrassing, as this female was quite happy walking around in front of me at just a few metres' distance (as with the Swinhoe's Pheasant earlier, I had to keep backing off in order to get the whole bird in the frame of my camera).

It looked like I might well be set up to clean up, but things slowed down markedly after this bird, and all that remained that was easy to find were a few similarly fearless Taiwan Rosefinches Carpodacus formosanus (and, of course, any number of habitually inquisitive and tame White-whiskered Laughingthrushes Garrulax morrisonianus).

Knackered from having spent the whole day birding, I passed on owling for the evening and returned to 13K with the intention of having an early night and of spending the following morning searching for whatever there might be at lower elevation. Despite the change of plan, Sunday brought nothing new for the trip list, though I did at least manage to find and photograph a Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei and remove it from my growing 'heard only' list (which I hope to reduce to zero before the year's end). The only other event of note on the mountain had occurred earlier at 23K, where some quite brazen acts of rape had been taking place!

Keen not to come away with nothing new from the day, I pulled in at the cultivated areas on the lower slopes of Da Xue Shan to pick up my Straited Prinia Prinia crinigera for the year, a bird which (minus one for the Red-billed Chough) moved me on to the grand total of 390 for it.

It's never possible to get everything from the higher elevations all within the same trip, and I did miss plenty of birds whilst at altitude. This does mean that another mountain trip will be called for before the end of the year. However, what was missed is fortunately all pretty easy at Ta Ta Jia in summer, so I should hopefully now be able to focus on what (little) remains of the spring migration down on the coast before all of that comes to an end. Above photos take on Da Xue Shan, Taichung County 7-8/5/16.

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