Firefly Spotting in Xizhi District
Taiwan has over sixty distinct species of fireflies, and if you know where to look they can be spotted year round. But April to May is by far the best known and most popular of Taiwan’s firefly spotting seasons, with local governments organising firefly viewing events in various different locations. You don’t even have to go far to see these dazzling night time creatures, they can even be seen in Da’an Park, right in the centre of Taipei. However, for a chance to see them outside of the city and away from traves of light pollution, you should head to somewhere like this trail in Xizhi District. To minimise our impact upon the fireflies during breeding season (as well as the other nocturnal wildlife that you can find on the trails), it’s important to be quiet and to use red light or no light where possible.
Distance: 1.8km for the actual trail itself. Walking the lane leading up to the trail head will add on another 3.3km in each direction. If you want to walk this but don’t have your own transport then it should be easy enough to get a taxi to take you from close to Jinlong Lake to the trailhead. There’s nothing at the trailhead though, so you’ll need to share the GPS coordinates (see the bottom of this post), or else show them the image of the trail head and tell them this is where you want to go.
Time: I spent about 2.5 hours on the trail, but you wouldn’t need to spend that long. The walk from Jinlong lake to the trailhead should take a little less than an hour, so remember to factor that in too.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 1/10 – Very easy.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – I saw lots of kids out enjoying this walk. It’s not pushchair-friendly, but there are minimal steps and the walk is short.
Total ascent: Less than 50 metres.
Water: A single regular sized bottle should suffice unless you want to include a trip up to nearby Neigou Shan, and bring snacks if you plan to make an evening of it (which you should).
Mobile network: Taiwan Mobile coverage is weak to non-existent, but Chunghwa is much better.
Enjoyment: Who doesn’t love seeing fireflies?
When to visit: To see fireflies, the best time to visit would be sometime in April, or maybe the start of May.
Other: There are no lights on the trail so you’ll need to take your own torch, but it’s best to keep it turned off when you’re not walking, and pointed down at your feet when you’re on the move. Alos make sure it’s one with a red light so as to not disturb the fireflies. (If your torch doesn’t have this then you can pick up some red film from lots of the stationery/craft stores that you find all over the place.)
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.
The walk starts from the upper end of a winding lane that follows a stream from the rear of Jinlong Lake. Making my way up the lane on a Saturday evening, it felt like all of Xizhi and his dog (literally) were out walking and enjoying the comfortably warm dusk. As I parked my scooter, I accidentally found myself joining a kids’ firefly viewing class hosted by an enthusiastic young man who we’d met doing a similar tour the year before.
I left the teacher laying down some ground rules for the evening’s activities and made my way up the trail. There were still quite a lot of people out exercising in the fading light.
After passing a shelter full of chairs and exercise equipment, the trail then takes you past this Fude Temple. It sits in its own little sheltered hollow, a slope rising behind it and running around the edge of the clearing, making the place feel somehow protected and cut off from the rest of the world.
Beyond the temple there are more interesting structures. These are relics left over from northern Taiwan’s once thriving mining industry. Specifically Beigang No. 2 Mine, a Japanese enterprise which was later run by the Yixing Coal Mining Company before finally ending operations in 1970.
When you reach the last area with easily visible mining ruins, the trail splits in two around a spacious open area filled with picnic tables. Either trail will take you onwards in the right direction.
The trails reconnect after a hundred metres or so, although if you take the route on the right then it would be easy to miss the fact that the trail on the left rejoins you. Keep following the path as it makes its way towards the lake.
I headed down to the water’s edge, following the near deafening croaks of frogs, then stood on the banks to watch the fish flit below the surface. I didn’t see a single frog.
I arrived at the lake at 6:15, almost the precise time that the sun ducked below the horizon (not that I could see it from where I was nestled amongst the hills). It was still light though, so I decided to make a clockwise loop around the water to see if there was any wildlife stirring. I unsettled something large-ish, maybe a turtle, or perhaps a snake in the shadows close to where a metal bridge crosses the stream, but I didn’t get a good enough look to work out what it was.
A couple of trails on the left lead up to the peaks and the fun trail which skims the ridges surrounding Cuei Lake. This is a really enjoyable little walk, and if I hadn’t needed to work earlier then I would have definitely come early enough to walk at least part of it.
By the time I had reached the furthest tip of the loop, the light had faded enough to make it impossible to take a photograph without either a flash or a tripod. The top end is marked by someone’s allotment and this shelter/morning exercise spot.
To walk back along the far bank of the lake you’ll need to cross the stream. I didn’t remember this crossing from previous visits, but it might have been rebuilt in the time since I was last here.
I made it back to the bottom end of the lake without needed to turn on my head torch, but only because my eyes had adjusted to the growing gloom as it settled around me. I set up my camera on the far aide of the water from where the nature class was taking place, close enough to hear what their teacher was saying, but with a stand of tall rushes separating me from them so that their lights didn’t bother me. At around 6:45, a full thirty minutes after sunset, I saw my first firefly of the year emerge from the grasses by the pool. It was far enough away that it appeared to be floating smoothly upwards, like a glowing ember without a fire. Soon there were more, not hundreds, but maybe fifteen or so, skimming the tops of the reeds. I heard the teacher telling his class to turn all of their lights off, he had caught one and wanted them to take a close and careful look. He said that the fireflies here are all “hēi chì yíng” (黑翅螢), black winged fireflies, so named because their wings are black.
The little group didn’t stay too long, and just as it became fully dark, I found myself alone in the woods by the lake. The frogs had stopped croaking, but there was definitely something stirring in the branches above me, because there was a constant quiet rain of blossom. I couldn’t see whatever it was, but I guess maybe a flying squirrel.
I let the group get ahead of me by a bit, then walked slowly back towards the trailhead. Mini hunters like this (admittedly not so mini) spider and stony-faced toad had emerged under the cover of darkness to find some food.
With no other humans nearby, and little visual input, my hearing became amplified -those spiders sound like tiny buffalo on dry leaves. At one point, I heard a rustling in the branches above the trail, and turned my light on to find a pair of eyes tracking my every move. This was my first ever encounter with a masked palm civet (果子貍), an omnivorous and mostly nocturnal creature which is pretty widespread in Taiwan. It seemed to be as curious about me as I was about it, shifting around on this branch to try and get a better look at me. Eventually it decided I was not interesting, and it shuffled off in search of breakfast.
When I arrived back at the Fude Temple clearing I was shocked and delighted to find that the uphill slope was flashing with the lights from so many fireflies that it resembled a silent rave. (I recommend you view these images in a dark room so that the fireflies are easier to see.)
Female bugs crawled along the ground, whilst the males flitted around the plants, some reaching dizzying heights of maybe 8-10 metres above the ground. One child glanced upwards and asked if the stars we could see in the night sky were fireflies that had flown really, really high. A small crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle, families with kids, all sensibly having turned their lights off to watch the mating dance. I heard one father tell his young kid that after the end of April they’d all be gone, and when the child wanted to know why, her dad tried to explain the basics of the firefly life and reproduction cycle. Another girl asked why my camera had a flashing light in the corner of the screen, so I explained (the camera had taken the photo but needed to save it), her dad heard my clearly not local accent and asked if I was Japanese – probably the only time I will ever be mistaken for a Japanese person!
I stayed there for quite a long time. Having grown up not seeing fireflies every year, I still find them to be a somewhat magical thing – a feeling that’s only exacerbated by their brief annual appearances. By the time I headed back, there were just one or two others left on the trail, and the return journey was silent except for the sounds of frogs calling out from hiding places I couldn’t find.
I returned to my scooter and got back to the city just in time to have a bowl of shaved ice for dessert before the store closed. I hope this is the first of several firefly outings this year.
How to get to Cuei Lake
Google maps address: Lane 5, Hudong Street, Xizhi District, New Taipei City – this is a little down the road from the trail head. There are a few parking spaces available here for both cars and scooters.
GPS location: N25 05.097 E121 37.870 – This is the actual trail head.
Public transport: There is no transport to the trailhead itself, but you could take bus 203 from Nangang Administrative Center, (a two-minute walk from Nangang HSR station). Or you could take several different buses from Huzhou MRT station, (BL36, 284, R2, 677 or 284 express). Whichever bus you take you’ll need to get off at Jin Long Elementary School, (Jin Long Guo Xiao), and walk about 40 minutes to the trailhead. The road from Jin Long Elementary School is a really pretty winding road which passes Jin Long lake and lots of small farms. There were lots of people out walking along here when we drove by.
Further reading: If you go early then I recommend you walk the Neigou Shan loop before returning to the pool.
More trails with fireflies:
Cuei Lake Firefly Trail Map
GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)
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