The crane! The crane!
Cranes are popular birds in the far east with an important place in Chinese, Korean and Japanese art and culture as symbols of peace and harmony, so when they show up unexpectedly in places where they aren't normally seen it can be a big deal. On December 7 during this year's trip to Taiwan, with University of Minnesota student Bailey McKay, we had the good fortune of seeing four wintering Red-crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis) in the agricultural fields around Jingshan. The sighting was easily made from the roadside with binoculars and a spotting scope gave excellent looks at this beautiful bird. A single adult plumage individual was in a grassy field along a river filled with Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) and other waders. A short drive around the corner from this bird revealed three more individuals (2 in adult plumage and 1 in juvenile plumage, see photo left. I know it isn't the greatest photo but the birds were very far away.). This was a big surprise as it was only the third record for Red-crowned Crane in Taiwan and the first such sighting in four years. Prior to the last sighting four years ago there were no records of this species for over 60 years! All previous sightings were of solitary individuals making this year's sighting the largest known wintering population of Red-crowned Cranes in Taiwan to date.
Local birders were already on the scene when we arrived at this site. In Taiwan birding is a major pass time and a half a dozen birders with 2,000 dollar spotting scopes and a 600 mm lenses on a 10 mega pixel digital camera is not an unusual occurrence, particularly in the winter when there are many different vagrant and transient migratory birds. Typically the first person to spot a rare bird are on their cell phones and within the hour birders from around the island are packing their gear and on the way. Our presence at the crane site attracted a lot of attention even by non-birders and soon after our arrival a line of locals had formed waiting to catch a glimpse of the cranes through Bailey's spotting scope (see right photo). One never knows what will turn up in the winter in Taiwan! Taiwan is a great place for these rare vagrant migrants and a great place to meet many enthusiastic, friendly birders.