Sunday, 27 November 2016

Booted Warbler

A cracking weekend this one, with a tick for my Taiwan List from it (yet another warbler), as well as a very tough year tick (also a warbler). The plans for the weekend had been laid out in skeletal form earlier in the week, when I received a request for help in identifying an unidentified warbler (which turned out to be a pretty straightforward Booted Warbler Iduna caligata) seen the week before somewhere in Ilan. It was impossible to miss the fact that the bird was in very heavy wing moult, meaning that, wherever it was, it would likely remain in that area until this process had been completed (which from the looks of the bird was still at least a couple of weeks away). I managed to prise the exact location out of the finder on the understanding that I would not disclose it, or at least be very discerning about to whom I did disclose it (as the finder wished to keep the site off the radar of any photographers), conditions to which I agreed. As it turned out, the site was nothing more than a minute patch of weeds out in the paddies, perhaps not big enough to support such a bird for any length of time. As it was, though, still an awfully long way to travel up just on spec (and with the forecast for the weekend looking none too pleasant), I asked a trusted local birder to first check out the place to see whether or not the bird had gone. I was on the Jiu Xue River when the news came back positive, meaning that, come what may, Saturday morning I would be either on my way up to or already in Ilan! I had learnt from Cai Zhi Yuan earlier in the day that he and Yan Xiou Chin had plans to visit Gui Shan Dao on Saturday morning and knew they would be kind enough to offer me a lift up should I ask for it. I had procrastinated a bit about doing this for a while, but did so when my 'news' came back positive, as this bird was in such a tiny patch of habitat that it ought to be a dead cert and possible to pick up in the first two hours of the morning before the boat was due to sail. After a bit of a mix up with the pick up in Taichung, a steady drive up, and a twenty minute or so wait for there to be sufficient light in the day, I found myself out in the paddies in Ilan early Saturday morning staring at a moulting adult Booted Warbler!

Although the bird was easy to find, it was more of a challenge to photograph as it spent most of its time in the most tangled areas of branches and weeds. I was happy with what I had on my camera, though, when it was time to head for the boat, but less so when I received a phone call advising me that this would be cancelled just as we were pulling into Wu She Harbour. We spent a bit of time at other spots in Ilan (picking up a nice but 'surplus to requirements' Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus at Diao Bie Ci as we received news of it just as we were driving past it), but, with nothing new seemingly 'in', we elected to return once more for the Booted Warbler late morning.

Astonishingly (as the boat had been cancelled), late morning turned out to be hot, sunny, and what's more still when we were back at the Booted Warbler site, conditions which not only encouraged the bird out into the open but also encouraged it to sing. I did fare much better with photographs late morning, but sadly never quite managed to get the one I wanted with the raised crown and more upwards-pointed bill, i.e. a more 'classic-looking' Iduna posture. 

The conditions in the afternoon were also appropriate for Locustella, millions of which winter in Ilan's reedbeds! It was a fantastic relief, then (after having battled with these things recently in both Tainan and in Au Gu), to throw a tape into the reedbed at Xia Pu and get a stonking adult Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola pop straight out (literally within seconds) for a look at all the commotion. Although I didn't manage to photograph this individual (it was much too fast for that anyway), I was treated to very clear views of the solidly black-streaked back and jet black tertials (sufficient to eliminate the more usual and numerous Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella ochotensis), a rather clean white throat and upper breast (sufficient to age the bird as adult), and saw a surprisingly rich reddish base colour to the crown and mantle (sufficient, together with the small size, to suggest that it probably belonged to the minor population). Either way, this was a very tricky one to pick up for my year list, one which I do see annually but had been giving me problems thus far this year! With job done in Ilan, we headed up to Fu Long to spend the night there with a view to checking out Tian Liao Yang the following morning. After a quite literal 'wild goose chase' (and back to Ilan) early doors Sunday, a disappointing Tian Liao Yang produced just four Eurasian Skylarks Alauda arvensis and a couple of Rustic Buntings Emberiza rustica. This was in the hour or so that the rain stopped, though by lunch time it was coming down in buckets which clearly signalled that the game was over and prompted the retreat home.

Despite the weather and a the disappointment of the boat being cancelled, the Booted Warbler was just outstanding and the supporting cast really not to be sniffed at either. What a nice way to perhaps draw a curtain on my trips north for this year (as most birds are now 'in'), and thanks so much to Cai Zhi Yuan and Yan Xiou Chin for the kind offer of a lift up there this weekend to get at these birds in a bit more comfort than usual! Above photos taken at various locations, Ilan County, and Tian Liao Yang, Taipei County 26-27/11/16.

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