The sun rose on our first morning in Taiwan. It was going to be a hot and humid day, with a chance of thunderstorms later in the afternoon. Having already added two new birds to my list, just by travelling from the airport to our hotel, I was anxious to get out and find some more birds.
The top of my list for birding sites in Taipei was the Taipei Botanical Garden (台北植物園), where my research told me Malayan night-heron was a slam dunk. The Garden is located just a 5 minute walk from the Xiaonanmen subway station. There is no entry fee, and the Garden is conveniently open from 4am to 10pm. It’s as if they’re specifically targeting birders with that early morning opening. Upon reaching street level at the Xiaonanmen station, I pointed out two Javan mynas to Melanie. This species, like many of the mynas, was introduced to Taiwan and managed to sustain a population within in the country.
We had no sooner walked through the gate then I found my target bird. Just to the right, in a closed off portion of the garden, stood a Malayan night-heron! If only all lifers were this easy. The Malayan night-heron prefers dark, damp forests over marshes and wetlands. All of the Malayan night-herons I would see during my time in Taiwan were foraging on the ground, away from water, picking through leaf litter or grass clippings. These night-herons also seemed unusually acclimatized to humans, and you could walk up to them very close without flushing them.
A little ways from the entrance was an intersection of trails. I stopped here for a moment to take some notes, and in so doing spotted a Taiwan barbet, black bulbul, and several light-vented bulbuls flitting around in the trees. It was a literal buffet of lifers: almost every hint of movement in the vegetation revealed another species I had never seen before.
The intersection had three branches, each of which would meander through the Garden and eventually take me back to where I started. In times like these, I find it’s always a safe bet to go up the middle. This path took us towards the Bu-Zheng-Shi-Si Yamen (臺灣布政使司衙門), the Office of Provincial Administration Commission. Originally built in 1887, when Taiwan was declared a Chinese province, the Yamen (“Imperial bureau”) housed the administrative functions of the regulatory authority Bu-Zheng-Shi-Si. The Yamen was later dismantled and parts of the structure were rebuilt at different sites, including the Botanical Garden.
A small stream flowed through the Garden, and near the Yamen there was a small footbridge overlooking the water. A tall bush grew close to the bridge, and it was dripping with birds. The vast majority were Japanese white-eyes, but several light-vented bulbuls were also foraging there, as well as a single black bulbul which had completely molted its head feathers. A short distance downstream I noticed an oriental magpie-robin sunning itself on a huge palm leaf.
Nearby was a large greenhouse, which housed the Garden’s more predatory plants. Although the greenhouse was locked, through the windows we could see scores of pitcher plants, likely several different species, covering the whole of the interior. Many visitors were lining up near one window, which had several large pitchers growing right against the glass. The greenhouse also had several flower beds nearby, and a small pond with lilypads. Eurasian tree sparrows and light-vented bulbuls were feeding around this area, and I also was able to photograph several dragonflies near the pond, including a crimson dropwing and a crimson-tailed marsh hawk.
We continued on through the Garden. I was looking for one of the Garden’s star features, the Lotus Pond. We eventually stumbled onto it – the pond was entirely covered in lotus plants. Only a few blossoms were in bloom (it was mid-August after all), but the leafy parts of the plants dominated the pond, and the area looked more like an overgrown field than a tranquil pond. A little egret and two Eurasian moorhens were making good use of the cover provided by the lotus plants. A common kingfisher briefly buzzed by the area, quickly disappearing into some heavier vegetation around the edges. On one side of the Lotus Pond there is a small pavilion with benches, so we decided to take a break there and have a quick snack.
As we approached, we noticed several photographers camped out in the corner of the pavilion, all of them looking at a large tree nearby. I couldn’t see anything in the branches, so I went over to see what was so interesting. It turned out to be a Taiwan barbet nest, and as I watched, an adult barbet emerged from the cavity, flew off, and was followed by a juvenile barbet that stuck its head out of the hole, intermittently calling to the adult for food.
As we all took turns getting photos, I noticed three juvenile white-breasted waterhens foraging near the edge of the pond. The waterhens resembled skinny chickens with long necks. Watching these birds move and run around, it’s easy to see how birds evolved from dinosaurs. Take away the wings and add some forelimbs, and you’ve got a small dinosaur instead of a rail. A group of six grey treepies also put in an appearance, scattering the Eurasian tree sparrows that were foraging in the area.
Having spent the whole morning touring the Garden, it was time to check out some other sites nearby. Whether you’re in Taipei for a few days, or you only have a few hours to spend, the Taipei Botanical Garden is a must-see location. No birding trip to Taipei is complete without a stop here.
After a short break for lunch, it was on to the Xingtian Temple (行天宮) and Hua Jiang Wild Duck Nature Park.
Day List: 13
Lifers of the Day (8): Javan Myna, Malayan Night-heron, Taiwan Barbet, Black Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-robin, Grey Treepie, White-breasted Waterhen
Taiwan List (to date): 15
Life List: 512