Taipei is an attractive city, full of friendly people and interesting things to see. It is also, rather to my surprise, a good place for birds - so when we returned from our April 2013 trip into the Taiwanese mountains and our birding friend Bob Du went back to work, I found that there was still plenty, in addition to city sights, for a naturalist to see. Even the manicured lawns around the impressive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall had a surprise or two in store.
In other parts of its range, the Malaysian Night Heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) is a shy bird of deep forests, very difficult to see (the only one I had ever seen was in the middle of Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam). I had heard that things were different in Taipei, where the birds breed in some city parks, but I confess I was startled to see this one stalking about on the lawn of the Chiang Memorial, with no more apparent interest in passersby than a street pigeon. Apparently they even nest there.
So were these. It's really hard to believe that these normally-elusive birds have become so tame here.
The prime bird spot in central Taipei is the Botanical Garden - certainly a good place to see night herons if you miss them elsewhere. However, when Eileen and I finally got there it was too late in the day for much avian activity. It's a very pretty spot, though!
Of course, like any good botanic garden it has lots of distractions, including rhododendrons...
We weren't really birding anyway; this was a stroll through the older part of town, something both my non-birding wife and I enjoyed very much.
There were, though, signs of Taiwanese bird life even here, portrayed in attractive tiles set into the sidewalk.
Here we could step over images of White-breasted Waterhen, Taiwan Barbet and other species.
Less enjoyable (at least for me) were signs of the trade in wild birds. These parrots - an African Grey (Psittacus erithacus) and a male Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus), from Africa and eastern Indonesia respectively - are popular species (and Grey Parrots are being badly over-collected in the wild as a result), so these could be captive-bred birds - though I doubt it.
This Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius philippensis) is an even more wide-ranging species.
This bird, though, appears to be a Chinese Thrush (Turdus mupinensis), a much more localized bird almost entirely confined to central China. If all these birds are coming from the same place, mainland China would seem to be he likeliest source. Perhaps they passed through the far more extensive bird markets in Hong Kong?
Japanese Thrushes (Turdus cardis) breed in Japan and central China, and winter in the Chinese southeast, including Hong Kong - so bird trappers wouldn't have to go far to get one.
This one, though, may be local. It appears to be a Taiwan Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus musicus), a recent split from the very similar Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (P. ruficollis) of the mainland. I couldn't be sure which it was, so I can't be sure of its origin either.
On our last day Bob Du took me out again, to see the most spectacular Taiwan endemic - not in a cage, this time. This park on the outskirts of Taipei is home to a group of Taiwan Blue Magpies (Urocissa caerulea), and a favourite spot for local bird photographers.
In fact there were a number of photographers set up and ready when we arrived.
We didn't have to wait long!
This is a really spectacular bird (as the pictures show), and like many corvids can be very bold if it wants to be. I have seen a number of other colourful Asian magpies, including the closely-related and more fussily-patterned Red-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythrorhyncha - a species frequently seen in Chinese paintings), but I think I would put this one near the top of the heap for sheer style.
Mind you, this one has let his tail get a little ratty.
Definitely a case of saving the best for last! I would have been perfectly satisfied with views, and photos, like these - but that's not enough for more dedicated photographers.
They need the bird in flight. To see the results they get (far better than this rather soft shot), Google "taiwan magpie flight photo" and click on "images". You won't be disappointed, I promise!