TsaoLing bird whisperer revisited





Writing finally completed – 17 June 04


Ever since I been to TsaoLing over the weekend of 15-16 Nov last year and  got to know that bird whisperer Mr Lin there as well as finding out how rugged and beautiful that place and its surroundings were, I wanted to get back. I also wanted to bring him a present of a clicker and to explain to him the principles in clicker training.


TsaoLing Revisited shanlung's TsaoLing Revisited photoset

When my wife returned from UK after a long sojourn with the excuse of seeing her little brother’s newborn kid, I thought I will take her to TsaoLing.  Then we saw flyers and posters that told of this yearly ritual at the Alishan mountain where a symphony orchestra play their notes and refrains to the first light of dawn together with the aboriginal tribe drumming and chanting during that time, my plans for the Christmas weekend of 25-28 Dec 2004 fell into place.  Alishan was reachable from Tsaoling and in my  last time there, I saw road signs pointing to places reached from Alishan as well.


Needing only a vestige of an excuse to go, I got so many full blown excuses this time to enjoy a wonderful long weekend.


The last time I went to Tsaoling, only Tinkerbell was with me riding shotgun on the perch I made on my little motor scooter.  “Fill her up” will get as much as 70NT worth of gas or about 2 dollars worth.  After going up a high pass and down to Tsaoling, the needle would be at halfway mark without petrol station to fill up again.  Exploring the roads and places there became very dicey not knowing if I can get back to a petrol pump to refill.


It was colder too in late December.  I agreed readily with Joy that hiring a car will be more comfortable and much better for my ease of mind and much warmer for us and Tinkerbell.


Joy asked me what maps did we need.  I told her not to worry as I knew the place there like the back of my hand.  I made several trips to that area, got seriously lost there the last time on the return trip finding out even more windy roads thus giving myself reasonable confidence that I did know that area pretty well. 


TsaoLing Revisited shanlung's TsaoLing Revisited photoset

If the map was of small enough scale to show the entire mountain range there,  it would be too small to show the road systems.  Mountain roads in Taiwan also had this knack  of not appearing as shown on maps and to compensate, roads can appear on mountains even when not  shown on maps.

I told her offhand to take our Chiayi county map book.


So on the morning of 25 December, I filled up the car with gas quite pleased that I got 1000+ NT worth of petrol.  I expected to be at Tsaoling by early afternoon allowing much more time to enjoy that place.


It was a good start as we headed out of Chiayi city.  We brought a stack of favourite CDs we seldom got the chance to listen to.  Tink was happily standing on her traveling basket on Joy’s lap looking out at the passing scenery and experimented more with the words and sounds she knew..  We drove past the towns and started to wind our way up the mountain roads.  I came to a point where the road forked with one heading upwards and the other heading down.  I normally took the other road for another 2 km before it dipped and wound down eventually reaching a bigger road towards Tsaoling.  I reckoned we were at most 45 minutes away and I mentally saw the other road must the the one it joined with later on and taking it should shave much more time allowing us to reach Tsaoling earlier.


That road headed down and down.  After 30 minutes, I was feeling uneasy but proceeded on hoping to reach a junction I recognized.  Joy’s innocent comments that the outside appeared rather flat for a mountainous area did not seat well.  I tried to check the maps and can confirm fairly inaccurate maps would be much better than no maps at all.  While Tsaoling and Alishan were in the Chiayi county, that area was also the junction of two other counties, YunLin and Nantou.  All so fiercely proud of their county that only roads in their respective counties were shown in their county map books, which of course, I did not have.


Looking at the brighter side of life, we did have a lot of nice CDs to listen to and a tank full of gas. 


We reached Tsaoling late that afternoon and I discovered even more systems of roads than I could imagine.  That is why the shot of TsaoLing you see has the sun so low and almost on the horizon.  But if you attribute that shot and its timing to my artistic talent, by all means do so :-)



TsaoLing bird whisperer revisited



We then checked into the hotel.


We  made our way to Mr Lin’s house to renew our acquaintance and to introduce Joy to them.  Mr Lin was a tea oil grower and who drove mini bus to ferry sight seeing tourists in that area.  Not many tourists go to Tsaoling after that huge earthquake a few years ago.  I thought of inviting him and his wife for a nice dinner as well later on.


He and his wife were at home and as delighted to see me as I was to see him again.  His birds were not around which saddened my wife.  He smiled, walked to his open door and called out.  They then posed for a shot at their entrance beside a hand drawn poster in Chinese that roughly translate that it is a halfway house for injured birds and creatures. A minute or so later, the Chinese bamboo partridge, Bambusicola thoracica (thought to be wild grouse before) came bouncing and flapping in from outside followed very closely by the streak breasted scimitar babbler, Pomatorhinus ruficollis (that I called thrush before)  flying in.


Though I have seen them before, it was enchanting to see those wild birds being called into the living room and fussing about him.  Joy was absolutely captivated by that sight.

TsaoLing Revisited shanlung's TsaoLing Revisited photoset


He prepared tea as was almost obligatory in Taiwan. We chatted and he brought out his bird book printed in Chinese but with the scientific names in English, or should I say in Latin, so I can finally know what birds they were.


Below is an URL for Taiwanese birds for all interested.



I was sorry not to see the two small Abroscopus Albogularis white throated flycatcher warbler (referred to as two tiny birds before)  and he told us they did not return a couple of weeks ago.  The beautiful Formosan whistling thrush (that I called blue glossy starling before) , Myiophoneus Insularis , was still around and still very shy.


When I remarked how good he was with birds, he told me that his charm did not work all the time.  There was once an emerald dove (chalcophaps indica ) that he was rescuing but took to his wife.  When he raised his voice against the wife, that dove would fly to his wife shoulder and took her side scolding him.  That dove remained very attached to his wife until it flew off  to return to the wild.  It was such a nice story that I told him I felt sorry the dove wasn’t still around.  He asked me why should I feel sorry as that dove , while no longer staying at home, was nesting in a tree outside.  He  showed me the next morning the nest and said when their breeding season is on, the dove will be there. (how nice to have a wife with me this time to take notes even if she does not believe in walking 5 mincing steps behind me :-) )


I then remembered the clicker I brought with me.  I took it out and showed it to him.  I explained in detail what that was for, as a bridge to communicate our intentions to our charges.  I told him of the process of conditioning the clicker with treats, the timing of the clicker with the bird performing the actions, the breaking of the overall actions to small steps to guide the bird along.  I spoke on the use of clicker and target stick.  How to cue for recalls while sipping the lovely Chinese tea that he brewed.  He was listening to me intently and I being caught in that moment, went on and on.  I then solemnly handed him the clicker and asked him to please accept that as a small token of my admiration.


He showed such delight that I was flattered.


He then went on to click the clicker and handed out treats to that babbler and the partridge near him.  He was musing “ah, that is how it is done” while clicking and clicking away.


I was very much taken back.  I thought of making a move to get the clicker back and explaining again just how it was done.


Then I remembered a story I came across much earlier and I mentally cringed in shame and embarrassment as I reviewed quickly the whole situation in relationship to that story.


There was this learned scholar who decided one day to row a boat on a lake.  He passed by this little island where he heard a chanting of “aiyinga aiyinga aiyinga”.  He knew the chanter was practicing a certain ritual that will bring enlightenment and much supranormal power, including ability to walk on water,  if done correctly.  Feeling charitable that morning, the scholar thought he should give proper guidance.  So he rowed to the shore to find this old man chanting.  The scholar told that old man he got the mantra wrong and it should have been  “aiyinlinga aiyinlinga”.  The old man was delighted to have such eminent scholar giving him attention and immediately corrected his chanting thanking the scholar profusely.  The scholar, pleased with himself then left the island and rowed away hearing the refrain “aiyinlinga  aiyinlinga”.  After a while, he heard “ayinga ayinga” to his great disappointment.  “oh well:, he thought to himself, “I tried but obviously that old man just isn’t as clever as I thought”.  He then heard rapid footsteps behind him and turned his head and saw to his amazement the old man running on the water towards him and shouting away “Master!  Master!  Please return and teach me again the proper mantra”.


I got to clean Tinkerbell’s shit.  I can only feel safe in taking Tinkerbell out with a leash.  Mr Lin’s charges flew about outside and poop outside but came indoor to play with him.  They came when he called out to them.  Tink will come to me when I call, if and only if she felt like it.  There he was, serving tea with his charges fussing around him and him giving his charges head and body rubs.  I felt like the scholar seeing that old man come running on the water.


Lin’s skill was so far beyond me in terms of bonding and recall that no comparison can be made, and yet there I was trying to teach him how to use the clicker to train for bonding and recall?  


I still firmly believe in clicker training.  But I feel powerful as that system is, we may have been so engrossed in it that we forgot the other un-definable elements such as love and patience must be involved . There is this  old Zen saying that perhaps we can bear in mind,  “Do not mistake the finger pointing to the moon as the moon itself”.


That was not the end of my embarrassment yet.  I had the intention of inviting him and his wife to have dinner with us. Then I noticed his wife was not around.  She quietly went to the back, slaughtered a chicken from their flock and prepared a fantastic dinner for us.  She used tea oil which they grew and pressed themselves and meant to be sold to tourists.  When I remarked how tasty that dinner was cooked with that oil, he immediately forced a bottle of that expensive tea oil as a gift on us that I cannot say no to without causing deep offense.



We went back to our hotel after finishing his bottle of a very fragrant Chinese wine.  I have a bottle of Drambuie with his name on it and which will be given and enjoyed with him the next time I am there again.


The next morning, we had our breakfast in the village and was making our way to him. We kept being greeted by the locals who seem to know we had dinner with Mr Lin and going yet again to see him.  I wanted to take photos of him and his bamboo partridge and babbler in the open and in the light.  They showed their wild origins and were extremely shy about being in the open preferring to remain in the shade and under cover.  It took him some time, but eventually they were coaxed out for me to take some photos.


With that, we continued on our way down to the valley floor.  We stopped at the little enchanting Zen temple. Joy wanted to go there ever since she saw the earlier photos.  We shot some sequential flight photos again.


We then went to that area where I had my disastrous encounter with that little toddler girl I wrote about in “Continuation of Tsaoling Bird Whisperer”.


That toddler was not there this time to my relief.  I dared not try that flyabout this time and stuck to simple recalls with some sequential shots of Tinkerbell in flight.


The last time I was here, I had to turn back as I was worried the little bike was on half tank without any petrol station around.  With the car, we continued on into the awesomely beautiful gorge and up again towards Alishan mountain where we planned to stay for the night to greet the dawn the next day.


After checking in a hotel there, we took Tinkerbell with us for a walk into the forest. You may like the photos of Tinkerbell on her Tink carrier.  This Tink carrier can also keep the sun from my eyes. From the crowd of people, it seems we were not the only one interested in watching the sunrise to strains of music. 


Our little quiet spot by the side of the Sisters’ Pond have to be shared with knots of people as they walked through the park stopping to watch Tink go through her recalls.  I do like some of the sequential photos taken here even if they are not as clear as I would like.


Then I noticed big dark shapes above in the trees.  The jungle crows were huge, closer to the size of a BG than a grey.  When I was in NZ and reading through “Mind of a raven” by Bernd Heinrich, perhaps what I seen in the Alishan mountains may have been ravens and not crows.  I did not like at all the way they waited and followed us when we left.  Tink was placed on my arm so my body shielded her as we made our way back to the hotel.


The next morning, we got up at 430 am.  Tinkerbell in her harness and on my shoulder as we made our way to the railway station to take the train to the sunrise pavilion. The hoarfrost was thick and white, crackling underfoot as we walked the 500 meters to that station.  That morning promised to be perfect for sunrise as the air was so clear and the stars thick above us.  Only a sprinkling of people was around also making their way to the station.


As we neared the station,  it was with a sinking heart that I realized I should have taken the carrier as well.  There may not be many people 500 meters away from the station.  But as we all converged, the crowd was a lot more immense .  Even though the station was a good 100 meters away, it was getting crowded.  I looked back to see even more people making their way to the station. Even though they added more carriages, Tink on my shoulder in a very packed carriage would not be a good idea.  We could not drive there as cars are not allowed in that part of the park.


I thought even if we walked that 4 km to that place, there will be so many people there that we spend more time tripping over feet and looking at sunrise over heads of people did not appeal to me.  And Tinkerbell on my shoulder in a crowd of people did not appeal to me at all. 


Regretfully, we had to give up the viewing of sunrise to the strains of native chantings and music. 


Waking up at 430am was a very rare occasion as we tend to sleep late and get up late. I would not know when we would ever get up at such a time to watch any other sunrise.


We hurried back and checked out of the hotel and decided to drive to Tatajia 15 km away and find our own spot to enjoy that sunrise over the mountain tops.  Though it was still dark, the embankments of the road were white with hoarfrost as we slowly drove on.


It was a nice surprise when I came to the spot I earlier thought of.  We then waited outside the car with the distant mountain range in sight.  I left the car CD player on to give us some music as we did not have a symphony orchestra and chanters to accompany our sunrise. It seemed that we would have that sunrise all to ourselves as no other people were around.


The deep dark purplish sky slowly lightened as pink and red slowly diffused in.  The black and white scenery took on more color as the sky brightened. 


Just as I was thinking the sky seemed rather bright and the sun had not pop out, I was surprised when the tops of the distant mountains  were bathed with sunlight.


I thought that to be strange and then I realized why it was so strange.  The only way those mountain tops were covered with sunlight was that the sun was shining on them instead of over them.


Folks, looking to the west is not the best way to watch a sunrise.  The mountain roads twist and turn over here.  If you recalled much of my riding/driving here have been either in heavy fog or in the rain.  The times when we were here when the sun was shining had been during noon when it was high overhead, making it very difficult to use the sun to tell where East was. 


That we were alone facing the West and watching the “sunrise” there  became a lot more understandable.


We got back into the car and drove on further on that twisty road.  We came to a big crowd of  people   looking expectantly upwards and I figured that they must be waiting to catch that elusive sunrise.  We got out of  our car to see all eyes on us.  I guess they had not seen parrot on shoulder that often and sunrises can be seen anytime if you wake up early enough and choose the correct direction to keep your eyes on.


That was how that weekend was spent, and thank you for reading all the way to here.


TsaoLing bird whisperer revisited




With warmest regards

Joy - wife, Tinkerbell - CAG & surrogate ddaughter

earlier emails and photo links on Tink -