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Taiwan Takes Wing as Bird-Watcher's Paradise

The Fuyuan Forest is thriving thanks to conservation efforts and a growing awareness of nature. Some 50 species make it their home.

October 05, 2003|Annie Huang | Associated Press Writer

HUALIEN, Taiwan — Hearing a husky cry, tour guide Huang Chia-fa looks up into camphor trees glowing in the gentle morning light and spots a maroon oriole darting through the branches.

Deeper into this rain forest in east-central Taiwan, Huang points out a green zosterops busily pecking at juicy red fruit in the thick foliage of a mulberry tree.

This area, called the Fuyuan Forest Resort, in the low mountain range of coastal Hualien County, is a bird-watcher's paradise -- thanks to new conservation efforts and a greater awareness of the importance of nature.

Huang, 46, who works as a mechanic when he's not birding, recalled that as a teenager, he often hunted birds with a slingshot after school. The ones he killed ended up on his family's dining table.

But few children do this anymore in the more affluent Taiwan.

"Boys today don't even know how to use slingshots, and fewer adults catch birds," he said.

To protect the county's natural beauty, authorities have cracked down on random dumping of industrial waste, gravel digging on riverbeds and the use of electric wires to kill fish. Forestry officials have also talked villagers out of trapping wild birds and killing snakes that could disrupt the food chain in the woods.

The result is visible throughout the county.

With the pristine Fuyuan River winding through it, the rain forest features 173 acres of camphor trees, ferns and orchids.

The forest is home to some 50 bird species, including a few rare birds like the maroon oriole. Mountainous subtropical Taiwan has about 150 bird species, including 15 indigenous species.

Looking through binoculars, travelers can easily see multicolored wild birds perching in the woods. Resting at a wooden pavilion, visitors can enjoy the company of butterflies flying around.

Various butterfly species, with beautiful patterns in white, blue, yellow or glowing fluorescence, abound in the warm summer air.

Until a few years ago, rare butterflies were caught and sold as decoration. But conservation officials have restored the rich insects to the area, an hour's drive from the biggest city, Hualien.

Sighting a muller's barbet resting at a hollow in a camphor trunk, Huang quickly set up his binoculars on a tripod and let visitors view the bird sticking its yellow-red-green head out from its nest.

The bird, eyes shifting, was on the lookout before darting away. "It was trying to determine if we would pose a threat," Huang said.

Nearby, a black bulbul was seen perching on a branch, lowering its head to preen its feathers. "Look at its punky hair," he said.

Resort officials say a few rarer birds, such as Taiwan blue magpie, have resurfaced after having retreated to the deeper woods.

The rain forest is also a rich breeding ground for fat, hungry mosquitoes, an annoyance to an otherwise pleasant trip. But the resort provides a natural repellent made of camphor extract that is available at the visitors' center.

Birds are coming back elsewhere in Hualien, a county that offers spectacular scenery with a mountain range running parallel to coasts facing the Pacific Ocean.

On Carp Lake, or Liyu, 12 miles west of Hualien City, tufted ducks, herons and other birds rest in tall reeds or hover above the serene waters surrounded by mountains as tourists pedal rickshaw-like boats to avoid pollution.

More migrating birds, including the endangered black-faced spoonbills, are taking refuge at the marshland where the Hualien River enters the Pacific Ocean, bird lovers say.

After visiting Taiwan in March, Peter Candido, a longtime bird watcher from Vancouver, Canada, said he was surprised to see the variety of species on the island. He was also impressed with the island's wildlife education.

Candido, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at the University of British Columbia, recalled passing by hundreds of schoolchildren at the Tsengwen River estuary in southern Taiwan. The marshland drew a record 300 black-faced spoonbills last winter.

"Local residents have discovered that conservation of wildlife can also be good for the economy," he said.

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