Sunday, 5 June 2016

Eastern Grass Owl

I spent so long deliberating over where to go on Friday that at one point it really looked like I might not get anywhere. In the end, it was mid-afternoon before I finally set off out, and the destination I chose was about as off-beat as they come. I elected to try farm fields around Qi Shan for no other reason than there were historic records of Black-headed Munia Lonchura atricapilla from there, a bird I somewhat comically always end up 'needing' for my year list despite spending ample time in places where it is not uncommon. The preposterous idea that I could try Jhong Liao Shan for Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris was also floating round at the back of my mind, though I knew that the odds of seeing one were practically nil. Needless to say, the historic records did not reflect current circumstances, and I drew a blank with the munias. Jhong Liao Shan offered nothing by way of consolation, just a Collared Scops Owl Otus lettia to file with my growing collection of  'terrible owl photos' that seems to have grown out of nothing in recent weeks.

Despite quite expectedly failing to connect with Eastern Grass Owl, my decision to head out to Qi Shan proved to be the right one as I did unexpectedly succeed in finding the next best thing as I was leaving the area - an Eastern Grass Owl researcher! After umpteen visits to this place, it was reassuring to know that I was by now at least 'hot' (just never hot enough to connect with birds). A very pleasant conversation with this researcher ensued which in turn led to something I had not been expecting nor angling for - an offer to be taken to a site if I were free on Sunday evening (as it was by now already too late for that evening). Obviously, from that moment on, I was quite free on Sunday evening, and the rest of the weekend was really just a matter of waiting for that to come round. When Sunday evening finally did arrive, the visit almost got cancelled due to a heavy afternoon thunderstorm. Fortunately, however, it went ahead, and only minutes after rolling up on site I found myself able to add this incredibly tough bird to my Taiwan List!

Only one bird flushed from the small area we explored, but this was obviously far better than none! There had apparently been four some weeks earlier, but the roost sites are known to vary seasonally somewhat with this species. My only regret was that I had kept the 1.4x converter on my camera as I had been expecting birds (if any at all) to be at range, not to flush from just five metres in front of me as this individual had done! Once this bird had gone, that was it for owls, although there was plenty of evidence to suggest that other individuals had been using this site, including a number of feathers and pellets. We also found the eggs of a Savanna Nightjar Caprimulgus affinis, though strangely flushed none nor heard any as darkness set in.

After about an hour or so after sunset it was time to leave, as this is the peak hunting time for Eastern Grass Owl and (here at least) they hunt at considerable distance from their roost sites (hence any we had overlooked had by now gone). I was obviously elated with this great bird and especially grateful to my guide both for sparing the time to take me for it and, more importantly, for actually getting me it! Out of respect for his wishes, I am not at all willing to disclose the precise whereabouts of this site (so, as frustrating as this may be, there really would be no point in asking). Above photos taken at Jhong Liao Shan 3/6/16 and an undisclosed site, Gaoxiong County 5/6/16.


  1. Thanks for the comment. So happy to finally get a 100% wild one of these! Looking at the kind of habitat it was in, there must certainly be more around.