|Every year the black-faced spoonbills gracefully fly in to the Tsengwen estuary in Tainan following their long journey from the cold north. Their elegant figures enliven the Taiwan seascape. (photo by Wang Cheng-chi)
||His head raised and still in the whistling ocean wind, the cormorant is a chief element of the scenery at Tainan's Chiku Lagoon. The cormorant is an underwater expert. He slips under the water and with a first class technique gets his catch. (photo by Wang Cheng-chi)
At the beginning of 2005 "birders" from all over the world quietly arrived in Taiwan. At the recommendation of eight major British and US birding tour operators, they were heading for Taiwan's mountains and rivers in search of new birds. At the end of last year as the International Waterbird Conference took place here, many leaders in the international birdwatching community were publicly praising Taiwan's potential as a birdwatching destination, going so far as to compare it favorably with the eco-tourist paradise of Costa Rica.
Although the 15 unique and rare bird species of the island have their own terrific "sales appeal," Taiwan's attraction for birders stems from its location, for it is situated in the middle of a colorful chain of islands on the rim of the Asian continent that has become an important stopover point for East Asian migratory birds each spring and autumn. The many species that come are quite special. Among them the rare black-faced spoonbill and the Chinese crested tern add to the dazzling picture of Taiwan's waterbirds.
From a bird's eye view, the east and west coasts of Taiwan, from north to south--the capes and inlets, the coastal lagoons, the small islands, the man-made fish ponds and the paddy fields--seem studded with restaurants of various shapes and sizes offering a refuge for resting and feeding, and even for settling down and raising a family.
In mid-December of 2005, as blast after blast of cold air moves southward and the large influx of black-faced spoonbills arriving at the Tsengwen Estuary in Tainan County to spend the winter reaches its height, an intrepid group of conservationists, oblivious to the cold, form up into a team and trudge off together to survey every inlet from the Pachang River to the Yenshui River for the fourth time that winter. The team records a total of 803 of the birds, showing a steady yearly increase in the spoonbill population.
Group after group of bird lovers follows the dike on the northern bank of the Tsengwen River to the "Black-faced Spoonbill Sanctuary" in Tainan's Chiku wetlands, where most of the birds stay. This 300-hectare sandbar is the main roosting area for these beautiful guests from afar during their winter stay in Taiwan, and they gather there in the hundreds. Through a high-powered telescope one can see row upon row of snow-white forms stretching out over the water. Some walk around, others poke their beaks into the water in a leisurely search for food. At the end of the ranks two or three birds splash up water and take a bath. Having finished their bathing, they joust with each other and preen their feathers with their long black beaks.
Like the black-faced spoonbill, there are many birds from north China, or from even further away in Siberia, that make the long journey south to winter in this watery expanse. Groups of migratory Caspian terns, with black heads and red beaks, lounge near the spoonbills lending a bit of color to the gray and misty scene. Every now and then a great white egret flies in to take up a spot, calmly stretching out its long neck to survey the surroundings. On another shoal shorebirds, like the cute little common greenshank and the Eurasian curlew with its elongated, downward curving beak, wade into the water on their long slender legs and busy themselves poking the muddy bottom with their pointed beaks looking for something to eat.