Sunday, April 30, 2017

firefly (螢火蟲) watching - Tucheng (土城) Tung Blossom Park (桐花公園) [Travel in Taiwan 170429: Stardust]


Have you tried watching fireflies at night? The idea sounds ordinary but imagine the feeling when you get surrounded by these insects that emit light. In photos, they look like green circles but on a dark forest they shine like stars that fell down from the sky.

Travel Buddy Swamy joined me on this adventure.
Swamy's DSLR camera.

In an effort to experience this surreal starry night, Travel Buddy Swamy and I went first to Taipei's Daan Forest Park. The city government reintroduced the fireflies to this place which is considered to be the lungs of the capital and once a home of these glowing insects. Urbanization and noise from the city caused the firefly population to dwindle until it disappeared in the eyes of the Taiwanese. Nowadays, the insects have returned and they are waiting for your arrival. 



firefly LED lamps at Daan Park

You can find the fireflies near the amphitheater.  There is a small pond there where you can see the insects.


Where to find these fireflies in Daan Park? They are located in the pond near the amphitheatre. Firefly LED lamps were also set up by the park administration as not to disturb the growing insect population. But do not expect a very quiet place to watch for these insects because many people would also want to see them. Think that hundreds of people will come to the park turning the place into a night market. 

We did see four to five fireflies in Daan Park. However, the noise from the nearby amphitheatre made it difficult for more insects to show their glow to the spectators. They showed themselves for a few seconds and then disappeared immediately. So we decided to look for another place to see these insects. I thought of an area which was blanketed by darkness, with fewer people and where the sound of nature is the only noise that you could hear.





From the MRT Daan Park Station, we boarded the train going to Taipei Main Station and then transferred to the Bannan line. MRT Yongning Station was our destination and a taxi ride for less than NTD 200 took us to the Tonghua Park. It was already 9:30 pm and a taking a taxi was our only option to go the mountains. The driver dropped us off at the entrance of the trail and we started our adventure immediately.



With only a limited battery life on our cellphone, Swamy and I walked down in the trail. It was a bit scary and dangerous as well. We could be bitten by snakes or worst fell into a deep ravine with one wrong move. Surprisingly, there were also people in the mountain at night! “There's a human!”, I exclaimed as a big humanoid shadow suddenly appeared in front of me. My Travel Buddy was busy at that time taking photos of the fireflies that we immediately saw. The shadow which turned out to be a woman told us that there were more insects downstairs. 







We followed the woman's advice and we got awed by the sight. The forest was glowing with its natural Christmas lights. A few were flying but most of the insects just stayed on their locations. With a special technique called the long exposure shot, Swamy tried to capture the images of the fireflies with his camera. He set it to 30 seconds and he got decent results. It sounds easy to do but to get the best picture the insects must be moving to create the trail of light effect. I tried fanning the plants to force them to fly but I failed.




Until when is this firefly season in Taiwan? The festival usually happens from mid-April to mid-May and it coincides with the Tung Blossom Flower Festival. During this time, the insects produce light with the help of the enzyme luciferase to attract a mate. The biochemical process creates a tiny amount of green light in a phenomenon called bioluminescence. Humans see this light as white in color from a distance. Walking alone in a dark forest, a lone firefly will look as a falling star as it approaches and flies near to you. Open your hand when this happen because this is your chance to hold a speck of stardust.

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