Trip Report Yangmingshan National Park, Taiwan
February 28th, 2006
I recently took a business trip to Japan and Taiwan and due to late appointments on a Friday in Taipei I had to stay over on a Saturday there. Since I had the whole day to wait until my flight I decided to make the best of it and see if I could get a few photos of the native wildlife there.
I have been to Taipei before and knew about a National Park that was supposedly right next to the city so after doing a little research I was able to determine that the park is called Yangmingshan and is located right outside the city of Taipei. So, early Saturday morning, I got a cab to the main bus/train terminal in Taipei city and caught route 260 to the entrance to the park. Its about a 30-45 minute bus ride depending on the traffic and being Saturday morning it didnt take long to get out of the city and start winding up the mountain road that leads to the park entrance.
Taipei Taiwan is located just north of the tropics and the vegetation is very lush and tropical looking, Taipei city is surrounded by mountainous regions that reach as high as 3000m and in stark contrast to the huge, crowded city below.
Unfortunately, the weather wasnt about to cooperate with my one day of exploration in Taiwan and the day started out cold, windy and drizzly, it got worse as we climbed up the mountain in the bus, full of locals coming back from some early morning shopping or other chores in the city. I should also note that it was Chinese New-Years eve, so there was an even more brisk bustle than usual in the city as folks were either preparing to leave to visit friends and family elsewhere (a tradition here) or preparing for a New-Year celebration (also a tradition). The sounds of large firecrackers were heard throughout the day, even up on the side of the mountains.
I arrived at the park entrance around 8:00 AM and got my bearings, all of the sighs here are in Chinese only, luckily there are pictures, maps and arrows so you can kind of figure out where you want to go. I started off down the main trail toward the park entrance as the weather continued to do its best to make be as cold and damp as possible.
Heres what it looks like there toward the entrance to the park:
I hiked around the area quite a bit, I had hoped to find a couple of herps even though it was the end of January, the temperatures earlier in the week had been up to the low seventies so it wasnt out of the question but today wasnt going to be my day. Other than the consistent calling of frogs from somewhere high up in trees and some tadpoles in a little pond there were no signs of reptiles or amphibians. I didnt give up however as I walked the extensive network of paths and roads in the area however there really wasnt much of anything in the area. I chased a few flitting birds that never got close enough to ID and also tried to find the frogs that were calling from the tree canopy but to no avail. After several hours of searching I was going to give up, it was wet, cold and also there was a lot of traffic heading into the area now. I started walking back toward the bus stop where I was dropped off earlier, I still had many hours left before I had to head to the airport and I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed that there was a side road that went down toward the valley below and noticed that there seemed to be a trail that led off along the side of the mountain. I decided to do a little exploring, everything else in the are had been paved but this was an actual dirt path, it turned out to be a fairly long path that wrapped all the way around the side of one of the peaks in the area and I ended up being alone for several hours, better yet, within a few minutes of leaving the well-traveled paths I had been walking for the past several hours, I started noticing signs of life, also, the weather had lifted slightly, the wind died down and the rain/drizzle actually let up, my hopes started to rise that Id see something of note before my long plane ride back home.
This is what the area looked like, as you can see, its fairly tropical in appearance, lots of tree ferns and a wide variety of plants.
I was walking slowly, listening to sounds of the forest starting to come alive, as soon as the rain stopped, the birds started calling and the same frogs started calling even more, while I never was able to find one, they sure seemed plentiful! Anyway, I was walking slowly and I heard something large move to my left and up the side of the slope, a branch broke and there was some commotion, I froze to listen, then I heard a grunt, and another grunt, sounded very pig-like, the best I can describe it. I was a little concerned as I was aware there were boars that live here and I had no idea what their reaction might be, another grunt and more twigs breaking, I got down low to the ground and peered into the underbrush but couldnt see anything. Even though the weather had lifted slightly it was still rather dark due to the heavy overcast plus the thick canopy over my head. I kept looking, there was definitely something moving and grunting and since I was convinced it was a boar I kept looking low. Finally, something moved and caught my eye, but it wasnt on the ground, it was in the trees
Monkeys! It turned out to be a large troop of them, very wary of my presence, staying far away but foraging in the mid-level of the canopy and then I saw what I guess was the leader, he was on the ground, about 50 yards from me, staring at me and grunting, I guess communicating with the rest of his troop. I tried my best to get a clear shot of him but in the low light and from that distance I just couldnt do it. This was the best shot I was able to get
I watched them for about 15 minutes, they were very aware of me, all you would see would be a quick glimpse of a pink face from behind a tree or branch and then a flash of movement. They slowly worked their way up the slope and away from me and I then headed on.
The path wound around the side of the mountain and when I got around a corner I was able to see parts of Taiwan city below, heres a shot from the side of the mountain.
The first bird that I was able to get a good shot of was this one, clinging to a piece of bamboo, I am pretty sure its some sort of flycatcher but I cant ID it (yet).
As I said earlier, as the weather broke, the animals started to come out, I glimpsed some sort of squirrel and a rat-like animal scurry across the path. These guys were foraging at eye level along the side of the trail, I followed them for quite a while but never got any real clear shots, all of the animals I ran into seemed to be very wary and aware of my presence.
This bird is called a Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, FYI
The path eventually led to a clearing and to a very strange sight
At first I thought I may have run into a pack of feral dogs but they didnt seem the least bit interested in me
good thing, I wouldnt have had anywhere to go if they had been aggressive
I walked around the perimeter of the parking lot, it started to sprinkle again, I was about to turn back when I saw these little flock of about 7-10 birds heading my way, they were large, I thought at first they were crows however as they got closer I could see the long tails and knew right away they were some sort of Magpie, however, as luck would have it, I was about to meet one of the Taiwan endemic species, the Formosa Blue Magpie, and quite a spectacular bird at that
Along with the Magpie was a smaller troop of these Grey or Himalayan Treepies
It was now starting to rain again, it was about 3:30 PM and I decided to head back up the trail and get the bus back to town so I could pick up my bags and head for the airport. On my way back, I heard what sounded just like a flock of parakeets, extremely noisy and coming from a tree a couple of hundred yards away. Unfortunately I wasnt able to get any closer than that and had to snap some photos from extra-long distance. They turned out to be birds called Light-vented Bulbuls.
I ran into this larvae on the way back up the trail...
I got back to the bus stop around 5:00 PM and was back at my hotel, picking up my bags by 6:00, a quick change of clothes as the ones I had on were a little damp and I was off to the airport and on my way home.
Not too bad for a really crappy weather day, perhaps next time it will be a little better and Ill find some more interesting species