What to expect


This is an indication of what you can expect on a standard scheduled birding tour. It also gives you a feel for custom birding tours and other nature tours - where the pace and focus is entirely up to you!


It is impossible to predict everything perfectly. If you have any further questions, please do get in touch.


Costs, money and payment:

The price I quote you is for all essentials in Taiwan: all meals, snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, accommodation, entrance fees, transport, fuel/tolls, services of the leader etc. No surprise extra costs or omissions.


What is not included: flights to Taiwan, accommodation before and after the tour (if applicable), alcoholic drinks (though Richard may be minded to buy you a couple here and there), laundry (only available in some places), souvenirs (don’t worry, shopping only possible if requested!), personal medical insurance.


The local currency is the Taiwan Dollar NT$ (US$ 1 ≒ NT$ 30, 1 ₤ ≒ 40NT$). It is best to change money at the airport (rates are fine) on arrival as we do not usually visit anywhere else convenient to change. Richard is happy to do casual money changing on the tour at official rate. ATMs are found in many places. There is no problem using large denomination, such as NT$1000, banknotes.


When booking I ask for a deposit of approximately 15% paid via PayPal (most people find it easy to use). Full payment is due before, or on, arrival. I can furnish details of either a UK, Rep. of Ireland, or Taiwan bank account. Happy to take cash in any sensible currency: TWD, USD, GBP, Euro etc. Prices are normally quoted in US$ for convenience, if you wish I can work with with other currencies.


Most scheduled tours have 2-6 participants (maximum 6 unless otherwise advertised). If we take your booking, the trip is guaranteed to run.


Accommodation.

Accommodation is always in a location convenient to the birding destination. We stay in a variety of places ranging from small hotels, Forestry Bureau lodges, to family-run guesthouses. What is guaranteed are comfortable and clean rooms, with en suite bathrooms (hot water), and air conditioned where appropriate. Conventional western-style beds and bathrooms. On scheduled birding tours the accommodation is double occupancy - 2 beds. Note: at Dasyueshan the main Anmashan hotel and cabins are not heated, but have heated beds - ask Richard about borrowing an additional electric heater. Free WiFi is usually available in the accommodation, and in the vehicle when moving between sites. If you have any special requests or questions please tell us in advance.


Food.

Our vehicles are always loaded with a variety of familiar items: breads, pastries, cheese, chocolate, fruit (typically bananas, apples and the like), nuts, crackers, biscuits, granola bars, Marmite, jam, butter. Tea, coffees, fresh milk, soft drinks, hot chocolate, soups and hot water in flasks. When convenient we stop at 7-11 convenience stores which give us a chance to replenish supplies of food and ‘junk’. Happy to stock up on any food or snack that keeps you happily birding!


Main meals are usually Chinese-style, based around rice, noodles or some kind of ‘dumpling’ with fresh vegetables, fish, and pork featuring heavily. Usually not spicy, we try to have a variety of styles each day, and can make accommodations for most dietary needs. Most meals are eaten as a group, and with chopsticks - but don't worry forks, spoons and other options are close by!


Taiwan Beer is available and fairly cheap in most places, often other options possible. Most places we stay, and many places along the way have safe (boiling and cold) water dispensers. Additionally most rooms will have a kettle provided.


Transport.

The default form of transport are 9-seater vans. New, fully serviced, and comfortable. Drivers have clean records, are careful, and responsive to requests to drive in a ‘different manner’. Please note: some of our mountain destinations involve lots of bendy roads. Roads are almost always in excellent condition, well marked, with railings etc. Excellent freeways allow easy travel on the west coast lowlands.


On occasion we make use of the excellent High Speed Train. If Lanyu (Orchid Island) is on the itinerary we prefer the ferry from either the southern peninsula or Taitung over the flights from Taitung. Matsu - overnight ferry or flights. Kinmen and Penghu, flights.


Where do we go?

Most people fly into Taipei International Airport (a.k.a Taiwan Taoyuan, TPE) which is about 40 minutes outside Taipei City proper. If not wanting to stay downtown, I can book a suitable hotel not far from the airport.


We explore various places on the west side of Taiwan. For the best mountain endemics we almost always include Dasyueshan (a.k.a. Anmashan) in central-west Taiwan - about 2 hours drive from the Taipei region. Depending on what’s still needed we then visit the Wushe area (re. Hehuan Mountain, Chunyang Farm, Blue Gate Trail, Beidongyen Mountain, Aowanda Forest), Greater Alishan (re. Guanghua, Tataka), Sanlinxi (a.k.a. Sun Link Sea). For certain low-elevation forest birds we will visit Maolin in the south, or Wulai just south of Taipei. For shorebirds our favorite locations are near Budai or Aogu Wetland in the southwest, sometimes Yilan. The southern tip, Kenting, is good for fall migration, Taiwan Bulbul and in summer ferries to Lanyu. Yehliu and nearby can have interesting migrants.


Elevation is not usually a problem on this tour. Most of the important birding is done  between 100 and 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). The highest we stay is at 2,100 meters. We may visit Wuling Pass (Hehuan) at 3,100 meters - but little exertion is required.


If wanting to extend your trip (pre or post tour), consider Taipei City for history and culture, Taroko Gorge for amazing scenery and some pretty good nature, and the east coast for slower paced distractions. We can arrange extensions to Hokkaido, Okinawa, Palau and SE China.


Weather.

Sitting on the Tropic of Cancer, Taiwan has a subtropical climate, but at times can feel tropical, and at other times rather temperate - with some snow at highest elevations in winter. In July, the warmest month, the island's temperature goes up to 27°C average. In the winter, the coldest average temperature for the north is about 15°C in February while that for the south is around 19°C in January. Don’t forget, the hills and mountains will be cooler year-round - in all seasons warm clothing will be needed for locations such as Dasyueshan.


In terms of pleasant weather, the best time to visit Taiwan is spring and fall, but there is nothing wrong with winter (our ‘cold’ is very mild when compared to Europe or North America). Summer, while hot and humid in the lowlands, is usually fine for endemics.

Note, in winter weather conditions vary quite a bit between the north quarter (around Taipei) and areas further to the south. Taipei can be relatively cool, damp and overcast - while just 50km south we often have 6 months of “British Summer” loveliness.


Summer is warm and humid, and there is a greater likelihood of afternoon showers - but not a whole season of rain as in South or SE Asia. Taiwan regularly gets typhoons in the summer and autumn that can interfere with plans. The infrastructure here can cope very well with most of these storms - that bring very heavy rainfall, especially to mountain areas. Forecasting is good, and we usually have a few days to re-schedule to unaffected areas. Almost all summer tours run as planned, unaffected by inclement weather. Only some trips will have a couple days where rain makes things difficult, or where we have to change location due to rain or road conditions. Only once have we had to cut short a tour due to a typhoon. Safety is our utmost concern. If you have any questions or concerns please get in touch.



Pace and conditions.

Scheduled birding tours timing and itinerary move at a moderately fast pace, dictated almost entirely by ornithological considerations. The best birdwatching is usually first thing in the morning so most days we start early around 5-6am. Most breakfasts and lunches are in the form of a picnic, or very convenient restaurant, so as not to lose too much birding time. Any walking is usually at a gentle pace, on good surfaces (rarely need rain boots), at moderate elevation (500-2,000 meters). There are usually options to take a break when tired/hot/cold/burned out...it doesn’t have to be all hard work!


In summer may use the heat of the day (and quietest birding time) to travel to new locations, otherwise longer journeys are scheduled for the evening. Some evenings there are options for night birds (and mammals). A bird list is compiled most days. Note, in a couple locations dinner must be consumed before 7pm.


Yes, I do use playback - but in a moderate and appropriate manner. I endeavour to ensure every participant gets the view of the bird they desire, not just a fleeting glance. Having a harmonious and mutually helpful group of birders means a lot. A lot of birding is done at known, or on-the-spot discovered, hotspots alongside trails or roads. A couple established feeding stations and bird-hides may be visited.


Birds to be seen?

See above for a summary. On scheduled birding, and most custom ‘birding’ tours it is assumed the focus is on seeing the largest number of species of quality birds possible. In order of importance: accepted endemics (especially the pheasants); likely splits; potential splits; other endemic subspecies; non-endemics seen easiest in Taiwan; regional highlight birds; any ‘megas’ (Baer’s Pochard, SBS, Scaly-sided Merganser etc); specialist east Asian waders or other migrants. On a 10-14 day tour expect to see around 200 species including all, or almost all, endemics. Photo opportunities are often good, do bring along your camera but be prepared for lens envy - local photographers have serious gear. Please note, ‘birding tours’ move at a pace where it is not always possible to have time to set up tripods and work on getting that 50th perfect photo.


What else will we see?

On birding tours expect 100% birds, birds & birds - but even for the most hardened global birder there will be moments where the scenery and butterflies will impress. For those interested, and when convenient, I am happy to point out notable flora, fauna, insects, herps, and human culture. Some areas are noted for their high-grade tea, geology, and history. Taiwan can surprise you in many ways.


Delighted to assist in individual interests as long as these do not detract from the stated targets of the group. The leader has the final say. It is expected that all participants have been on birding-only trips before and know what to expect. Everyone on tours has different skills, knowledge and experience - this is not a problem as long as there is enthusiasm and mutual respect.


Who are you?

Taiwan Birding is owned and managed by Richard Foster - born and bred in Co. Fermanagh N.Ireland. I’ve been living in Taiwan over 20 years and for the last 7 years I’ve been guiding foreign visitors into beautiful and interesting parts of Taiwan. I speak and read Chinese [fairly] fluently and have been accused of “knowing every road and trail” of my adopted home. Most tours are guided by me, at times I will be assisted by others from Taiwan, Canada and the UK.


Worries & hassles.

Most visitors find Taiwan a very safe and sensible place. Politically stable, free, democratic, uncorrupt, tolerant - and warmly welcomes the relatively few foreign visitors that make it here. No particular crime issues to worry about, police are to be trusted and usually very helpful.


There are venomous snakes and wasps - but very rarely encountered. Leeches are close to non-existent (leave those leech socks at home). Despite various places having signs warning about bears - you are very unlikely to see one (NO record of any human ever being attacked). The feral dogs seen in some suburban areas are not intimidating, and have never been found to have rabies. No malaria, and [almost] no dengue. Tips #1: Take care crossing roads - never assume drivers will obey the rules. #2: Never stroke ‘cute’ hairy caterpillars.


Clients MUST have travel insurance to cover medical emergencies - be ready to show proof. We are rarely more than an hour or two away from very good (and reasonably priced) medical services. Taiwan has effective emergency rescue services. In an emergency email or phone: my cell phone number from overseas (+886) 938337710 [in Taiwan call 0938337710], phone or leave text message. Alternative emergency contacts 0972369644 or 0937340718. Excellent phone reception almost everywhere.


Most passport holders do not need visas for Taiwan. Usually no immunizations needed. No departure tax. Entry to Taiwan is usually smooth and without hassle. Now possible to fly directly to China - if you already have a visa. The arrival card asks for a hotel name and address, either make one up or use this one: New Plaza Hotel, No.77-1, Shiangyang Road, Fengyuan.


If you have a health problem that may hamper involvement in any aspect of the tour, or about which we should be aware for your safety, please advise us in advance - with full privacy assured. Regular stops made at clean, western-style, toilet facilities. Participants should be able to complete gentle walks of up to a couple hours at a time, and meet the simple schedule of the tour. We reserve the right to send home persons unable or unwilling to conduct themselves in a manner compatible with the satisfactory safe operation of the tour. No smoking permitted in vehicles, accommodation, or near other clients/other people. Otherwise common sense prevails!



What to bring.

Binoculars. Camera. In summer clothes for hot to cool conditions (up high it may drop below 10 deg C). In winter, clothing for warm to cold (approaching freezing at night at high elevations. Raingear. Comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. Your medical insurance details.


Taiwanese electrical sockets are USA-style 2 flat-pin 110v. Richard may have adaptor to borrow.


The current best field guide in English is Mark Brazil’s Birds of East Asia. We will have this and various other guides (birds and other nature) in the van for you to borrow. Tell me in advance if wanting a more detailed field guide to any aspect of Taiwan’s nature. I will provide maps of Taiwan (better than those sold overseas), and checklists. While primarily in Chinese (important labels etc in English), the painted field guide published by Taipei Bird Society in 2014 is excellent - I will have copies of this along with pretty good photo guides.


Taiwan:

Taiwan lies 130 km from China, and a bit further from the nearest Philippine and Japanese islands. Less than 400 km long and 150 km wide, at 36,000 sq. km Taiwan is a bit larger than Belgium, almost twice Wales, and a bit smaller than the combined areas of Maryland and Delaware. The Tropic of Cancer crosses the island, and the mountains reach elevations of nearly 4000 m. Most of the population of 23 million live on the western coastal plain leaving the mountains largely unpopulated. A middle income country, little visible poverty. Has a blend of unspoiled, traditional Chinese culture with the influence of colonial Japan, and the native Austronesian culture.


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