Observer: Todd Pepper
Number of Species Observed: 105
Number of Birds added to Life List: 72
During a recent two week business trip to the Philippines a number of opportunities arose to do some birding. After arriving in Manila at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 17th, and after a short nap, I hired a taxi driver to take me to the National Heroes Cemetary near Fort Bonifacio in Makati City. While there is a variety of habitat at the Cemetary, there were few birds other than the usual Eurasion Tree Sparrows and Zebra Doves found around Metro Manila. The only other sitings were several Pied Fantail, a single White Collared Kingfisher, and two new life birds Striated Grassbird and Pied Bushchat, before heavy rains drove me back to the taxi.
On August 18th I joined a group of young members of the Haribon Foundation to bird the property of the Sacred Heart Novitiate, a Jesuit seminary in Novaliches, across the street from the Mesa Dam that provides water for Metro Manila. Haribon members Annette Tamino and Michael Lu initiated the trip as the property has not been previously documented for bird life.
The Novitiate also has a variety of habitats, with grass lands, a stream, agricultural areas, and several hectares of forest. Father Charles Wolfe. S.J., a retired Jesuit priest and resident naturalist at the seminar indicated that he has seen 40 species on the property over the years. On this day a total of 26 species were identified, including both Philippine and Rufous Coucal, Black Naped Oriole, White-eared Brown Dove, Large-billed Crow, Pied Triller, Pied Bushchat, and other common urban birds. Also seen were 5 new life birds for me, including: Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker; over a dozen Long-tailed Shrike; Bright-capped Cisticola; Lowland White Eye; and, the first White-breasted Waterhen of the trip. The most unusual bird on the seminary grounds, however, was an albino Philippine Coucal.
Returning from Olongapo on August 23rd I kept my eyes open for birds in the rice fields and marshes of the Candaba Swamp along the National Highway between Pampanga and Manila. As in August 2000, few birds were observed. However 2 species did fly across the road in front of us, including Little Heron and Greater Painted Snipe. These two species were later seen in more detail on Palawan.
From August 24 to 28 I was on the island of Palawan, known as the Last Frontier of the Philippines. Most of the trip was spent in the barrio of Sabang north of Puerto Princesa City and in the St. Paul National Park that surrounds the Underground River. Highlights from this leg of the trip included: excellent looks at the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant and Palawan Hornbill; Tabon Shrubfowl; large flocks of both Blue-crowned Racquet-tail and Blue-naped Parrots; lots of Green Imperial-Pigeons; Emerald Dove; Javan Frogmouth; Palawan Tit; 5 species of Bulbul; Lovely, Copper Throated and Olive-backed Sunbirds; Palawan, Pygmy and Striped Flowerpeckers; Malaysian Plover; and, daily looks at White-bellied Sea-Eagles, Palawan Blue-Flycatchers and White-vented Shamas.
On the drive back to Puerto Princesa an injured Long-tailed Nightjar was found along the side of the road. A broken wing and many missing tail feathers meant this bird was unlikely to survive. More happily, a pair of White-breasted Waterhens with 2 chicks strolled through the adjacent rice fields.
The last day on Palawan was spent birding the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm about a half hour south of Puerto Princesa. The highlight was the first siting of the year for the Palawan Flycatcher. The bird was less than 2 metres off the edge of the trail, providing a perfect close-up look. Other treats were a Dollar Bird, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Crested Goshawk, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, and eight Ashy Drongo. The fish farm yielded several each of Kentish Plover, Terek and Green Sandpipers, Greater Sandplover as well as five Redshank.
In total ninety trip birds were recorded on Palawan with 3 being "heard only" birds. Of the remaining 87 species, 62 were life birds. Of note, 12 of the 15 endemic species for Palawan were seen during the trip. With the aid of a tape recorder, which I forgot to bring, we might have actually seen 14 of the 15 endemics, as two of the "heard only" birds were Palawan Scops-Owl and Falcated Ground Babbler that typically respond well to recorded calls. While my guide Arnel Mallari and I were able to call in the Javan Frogmouth without a tape we had no such luck with these two birds.
On August 29th I went with Michael Lu to the Arroceros Forest Park, between Arroceros Road and the Pasig River in Downtown Manila. This little forest in the city, however, only yielded about two dozen Yellow-vented Bulbul, and a couple each of Zebra Dove and Long-tailed Shrike. A drive through the new development area east of Roxas Boulevard on Manila Bay revealed a rare, and perhaps out of season Streaked-Reed Warbler in the tall reeds east of the large Catholic church. Kennedy et al indicate recorded observations of this bird from 28 Oct to 16 Jun.
A list of species seen during the two week visit, using the taxonomy in A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines, by Robert S. Kennedy, Pedro C. Gonzales, Edward C. Dickinson, Hector C. Miranda, Jr., & Timothy Fisher, follows:
Edible Nest Swiftlet
Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker
Great Slaty Woodpecker
Little (Fiery) Minivet
Asian Glossy Starling
Lowland White Eye
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Send comments and questions to Todd Pepper