By Catherine GERMIER-HAMEL
(edited on Nov. 3, 2017)
Last month, I was invited to take part in a bird watching fam tour organized by Ecotourism Taiwan 台灣生態旅行促(President: Victor YU) with the generous support of the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area Administration, Taiwan Tourism Bureau (Director: Cheng-Neng HSU), as a representative of PlayForest, a Seoul-based collaborative travel platform specialized in nature-based experiences.
As a travel enthusiast and a nature lover, I was particularly looking forward to discovering Taiwan, one of the many islands that are at the top of my wish list. I was equally excited at the prospect of exploring Formosa's culinary diversity. On the other hand, I was not really keen on spending my whole time watching birds since I had always considered this activity to be quite restrictive and obsessive, if not boring. I had even resolved not to bring binoculars (which I had not anyway) even though I was convinced they would have made my birding experience much more enjoyable. But then again, as a tourism marketing specialist, what interested me most was in fact watching bird watchers, and understanding better their different motivations, attitudes, behaviors, and backgrounds.
Our tour group was composed of bird watching enthusiasts from eight Asian countries, namely China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam (although being French I was technically representing Korea), including tour operators, travel agents, bird guides, reporters and media representatives. While all of them obviously shared the same passion for birds and birding, they had many different ways of expressing them. I believe, and I was told, that Asian birders have different profiles and approaches than Western birders. I need to do some research to really fathom what this means but I assume that Westerners have long been THE birdwatchers, which suggest that they have set birding standards they view as universal, and may therefore think they are entitled to some "ownership".
Additionally, and based on what I heard, it appears that some Asian birders are very competitive and more focused on performance and the number of birds they succeed to watch and shoot (with their expensive photographic equipment). More than a simple hobby, birding sometimes appears as a luxury activity and a marker of social status. All members of the group had a Smartphone (well, we live in the 21st century) and a standard camera, which tend to replace the traditional binoculars, but some group members were also equipped with impressive (although I pretended I was not really impressed) lenses. I mean, you almost need a wheelbarrow to carry them (in my case).
The trip lasted 5 days (Oct. 25 to 30, 2017) and led us to many different birding spots on the Treasure Island, including Dasyueshan (Great Snow Mountain) National Forest Recreational Area, Taichung, Aogu Wetlands, Budai, and Alishan in ChiaYi county, Yushan National Park, the Black-faced Spoonbill Ecology Exhibition Hall and Conservation and Management Center in Tainan, as well as Xindian and Sanxia Districts in Taipei. Needless to say that without the highly professional support of our two local bird guides Mei Fong LIAO and Greg GUH, together with the exceptional skills of our bus driver (we had to have a lot of bus during that trip), it would have been impossible to locate the best places to watch the famous, endemic Mikado Pheasant, Swinhoe's Pheasant, or Yellow Tit, and the legendary Black-faced Spoonbill, just to name a few. Check here for more birds in Taiwan.
Although my bird watching experience had been quite limited so far (and it still is, Taiwan had so many things to offer than it is difficult to keep focus on birds only), I truly enjoyed this fantastic adventure, and I mostly took pictures of anything around me, and especially birders, but birds. In some ways, I feel that I am in some ways a member of the Asian bird watching community.
This tour was also an opportunity to attend in Tainan the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2017 Taiwan Birdathon organized by the South West Coast Scenic Area. For 24 hours, a total of 25 teams from Taiwan from Yulin, Chiayi and Tainan. and 5 countries joined this annual international bird watching race with Taiwan birdwatchers. It was very encouraging to see many young people and families with children among the participants.
Stunning landscapes, luscious nature, energizing mountains and hot springs, intoxicating seaside, delicious local food. What else? A little more culture would have been the cherry on the cake but the programme was already quite intense. Most important, I will never forger all the wonderful moments I have shared with my lovely Asian birders who truly welcomed me as their peer.
Eventually, I may have caught the bird watching bug. I am convinced birding can be a fun and inspiring experience to be offered to all tourists and not only crazily passionate birders, as long as it is properly guided and interpreted and accompanied with other (ecotourism) activities. The role of local guides should be highlighted and more training and capacity building should be carried out so that they can accommodate the needs of visitors form overseas. How about starting an Asian Bird Guide Academy?
So the next step will be to get binoculars and attend the 8th Asian Bird Fair to be hosted in Ulsan, South Korea, on November, 17-21, 2017. And in 2018, the Asian Bord Fair will take place in Taiwan.
All pictures can be found here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/4UOIUbbOzC5fwo1A2
Asia Pacific Ecotourism Trends & Sustainable Tourism Development by Gaia Discovery’s publisher Mallika Naguran.