Raptors Over the Big Buddha: Taiwan’s Tri-Mountain Scenic Area

Overshadowed for most of its history by Taipei and Kaohsiung, Taichung’s recent growth spurt has caused it to overtake both Taiwan’s capital and the southern harbor city in terms of population. People are moving to this municipality of 2.9 million people in pursuit of business and employment opportunities and to enjoy a sophisticated urban lifestyle that embraces excellent museums, spacious parks, and a growing metro network.

Thanks to its international airport – which has regular flights to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and other destinations – and an impressive range of hotels and restaurants, Taichung already welcomes a considerable number of visitors from overseas. By contrast, neighboring Changhua County remains something of a terra incognita as far as English-speaking travelers are concerned.

With the exception of Lukang, a wonderfully historic town near the coast, few places in the county appear on “must visit” lists for tourists. This is lamentable because a bit of research uncovers more than enough points of interest to fill a long weekend.

To lift the profile of the entire region, the Taiwan Tourism Administration recently coordinated the creation of the Taichung-Changhua Tourism Union. This destination marketing organization brings together tourism development bodies, travel agencies, representatives of the hotel industry, and transportation businesses. Other participants include hot springs, leisure farms, tourism factories (manufacturing enterprises that open their doors to visitors and offer educational experiences alongside industrial heritage), cultural entities, and local scholars.

The area plays a key role in local food production, and Pear Homeland Leisure Agriculture Zone is among the attractions promoted by the organization. The fruit farmers in this area are renowned for using advanced grafting techniques to grow valuable pear cultivars, usually grown at high altitudes. Other crops cultivated here include persimmons and plums. Visitors can enjoy a range of DIY activities, as well as excellent farm-to-table fare and delightful scenery.

In addition to high-quality rice, Changhua County is known for guavas, grapes, and mushrooms. Over the past two decades, Erlin Township has emerged as the center of Taiwan’s winemaking industry. Nearby Tianwei Township is associated with the production of flowers, shrubs, and decorative trees.

By nurturing the image of the region’s highlights, the Tourism Union hopes to increase the number of tourists visiting the Wufeng Lin Family Mansion and Garden, Mount Bagua Great Buddha Scenic Area, and other fascinating sights.

The mansion, said to be the largest and most completely preserved Qing-era residence on the island, is about 10 km south of downtown Taichung. Built more than 150 years ago by one of the “five grand families” that dominated commerce in the Taiwan of yore, it has been described by experts as “an encyclopedia of traditional architecture.”

Compared to the stunning peaks that crowd Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range, Mount Bagua (Baguashan) is little more than a small hill. The peak is just 97 meters above sea level, but it forms part of a ridge that extends southward for more than 30 km.

When the weather is clear, an expanse of lowland as far as the wind turbines dotting Changhua’s coastline is visible from the plaza in front of the 23-meter-tall Great Buddha. Other attractions within walking distance include the Mount Bagua Skywalk and a Cold War bomb shelter repurposed as a museum focusing on Japan’s takeover of Taiwan in 1895. Admission to all of these sites is free.

Each spring, birdwatchers flock to Mount Bagua to see vast numbers of raptors as they migrate northward from the Philippines, where they spend the winter, to their breeding grounds in Japan, Korea, Manchuria, and Eastern Siberia. Because the terrain offers plentiful food in the form of frogs, insects, lizards, rodents, and small birds, tens of thousands of gray-faced buzzards feed and roost here during their epic passage.

Once hunted for their feathers and skins, these medium-sized raptors are now a cherished element of Taiwan’s avifauna and are protected by the Wildlife Conservation Act as a “rare and valuable species.” According to the Taiwan International Birding Association, the conservation effort in Taiwan “stands as an example to the rest of Asia as to what can be achieved when people come together and work to change a culture of exploitation of a species. It clearly shows that attitudes can be changed.”

In addition to the vultures, birdwatchers can expect to see Chinese sparrowhawks and smaller numbers of other raptor species. In the Mount Bagua area, the Eagle Watching Trail is the best place to see these magnificent creatures. Accessed via Road 139 – coincidentally a highly-rated cycling route – this 1.05-km-long path climbs to a vantage point from which you can see an expanse of central Taiwan. To get the most out of the experience, bring a pair of binoculars.  

Along the trail are information boards about the raptor migration and photos that will help you identify non-migrants like the crested serpent eagle, a raptor often seen in Taiwan’s foothills.

The 2024 Free Buzzard in Mount Bagua: Eagle Watching on Mount Bagua event, held on the weekend of March 16 and 17 at Wunde Elementary School, is an excellent opportunity for birdwatchers from overseas to learn about local ecosystems and to make friends within Taiwan’s birding fraternity.

Birders unable to catch the northward leg of the migration may want to schedule a fall visit to Taiwan when large flocks of raptors arrive from Japan and fly over the island’s eastern half. The best time and place to see predators in autumn is around Manzhou in Pingtung County, near the southern tip of Taiwan, in the second week of October.

For ecotourists, raptor-watching is one of many reasons to visit the Taichung-Changhua region. The Fubao, Hanbao, and Gaomei coastal wetlands are home to dozens of intriguing birds, crustacean, insect, and plant species. 

Mount Bagua is one part of Central Taiwan’s Tri-mountain National Scenic Area. The others are Lion’s Head Mountain, known for its Buddhist monasteries and hiking trails, and the high-altitude agricultural district of Lishan. The former straddles the border that separates the counties of Hsinchu and Miaoli. The latter is in a mountainous part of Taichung, not far from the established attraction of Wuling Farm.


Travelers planning to explore central Taiwan in-depth can gather additional information from the tourism websites listed below.

Taiwan International Birding Association www.birdingintaiwan.com

Changhua Wild Bird Society www.eagle.org.tw

Taichung City taichung.travel

Changhua County tourism.chcg.gov.tw

Tri-mountain National Scenic Area www.trimt-nsa.gov.tw/en/

Back issues of Travel in Taiwan, a bimonthly English-language Magazine sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Administration and filled with detailed articles, can be read online at travelintaiwan.net.

For all kinds of travel information about the country, visit the Tourism Administration’s website www.taiwan.net.tw or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline at 0800-011-765 toll-free within Taiwan.