Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bird Watching in the Wendi Wetlands 在塭底溼地賞鳥

This is a prime bird watching area. From fall to spring, when it's not raining there are always some bird watchers from Taipei here every weekend.

Before the Han came to Yilan, this area was originally a swamp. Settlers cleared and drained it and turned it into rice paddies. However, unlike the south, where farmers can get three crops of rice per year, here they only get one crop due to the cooler weather. The rest of the time the fields are fallow. In winter the fields are empty of vegetation, but the rains fill the paddies with a thin layer of water, recreating wetland conditions which are perfect feeding grounds for many types of birds.

Starting in October, migratory birds start to arrive in this area. Some are just passing through on the way to areas farther south, while others spend the winter here. In all bird watchers have spotted more than 170 species of birds in the area - an impressive number for such a small place. These include some big birds (cranes, egrets, herons, ducks) as well as many smaller wetland birds and song birds. Some of the endangered black spoonbills pass through here on the way to nesting grounds in the south. And occasionally a small group of black spoonbills will spend the entire winter here, attracting a horde of excited bird watchers every day.

There are three types of migratory birds here. Some spend the summers in places farther north (Siberia, Korea, Hokkaido, Manchuria) then fly south to spend the winter here. Other birds (such as geese) spend the summers in places to the north, then fly through here on their way to winter feeding grounds in the south (such as the Philippines or Vietnam). A third kind of migratory bird spends the summers in Taiwan then flies south to spend the winter in tropical regions.

Because the little roads between the rice paddies are so narrow, getting around by bicycle is ideal. Also, a bicycle is quiet so it won't scare away the birds. But a car or scooter is also ok. There are a
couple of good bicycle paths nearby (see my posts about Coastal Cycling Path and the Dezikou River Bike Path) so you can take a spin after you've gotten your fill of bird watching.

Because the birds move around, it's impossible to predict where they will be on a given day. But from October to April you can always find some interesting birds here. If you have a camera with a long lens, you can get some great shots of birds here as there is no vegetation to obscure them.

To get here, go down the main street of Jiaoxi (road 9) and turn onto the street next to the post office. (The scallion pancake stand on the right is locally famous, by the way. On weekends it attracts long lines.) Turn right at the dead end at the end of the street. Take the first left, after the convenience store and next to the steamed bun shop (which also attracts long lines of customers). Cross over the railroad tracks and just keep going straight for a few kilometers until you see an enormous metal sculpture of a giant shrimp on your right. (This area used to have lots of shrimp farms.) Turn right at the shrimp and cross over the bridge. The street on the other side of the bridge is called Wendi Road 塭底路. The rice paddies on the right side of the street (toward the mountains) constitute the Wendi Wetlands. Just turn off Wendi Road as soon as you can and start to explore the little roads amoung the rice paddies until you find a place with lots of birds.

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