The avifauna of the Philippines has an exceptionally high level of endemism, with around 180 endemic species, but is amongst the most endangered in the world because of continuing deforestation and capture of some species for trade or food. BirdLife International has increased the number of resident species classified as Threatened or Near-threatened from 69 (Dickinson et al., 1991) to 116; this includes two species (Negros Fruit-Dove and Isabela Oriole) which have not been seen for certain for over 30 years and others, e.g. the Negros Bleeding-heart, facing imminent extinction. Against that, several species have been rediscovered after a long absence (e.g., Writhed-billed Hornbill, Black Shama, and Cebu Flowerpecker), the Panay Striped-Babbler found in 1990, and two potential new species await identification (a woodcock on Mindanao and an owl on Mindoro).
Although logging is generally banned and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is trying to protect the remaining forest, there is almost no resource to implement protection, and with the exception of Palawan, no apparent will to prevent locals from slash and burning or degrading the forest for firewood. To quote Ben King: "The Philippines is the worst ecological disaster in the SE Asia region. In the not too distant future, we'll see the last of accessible birding habitat in many areas. Frankly we see no hope, either politically or ecologically, for the Philippines and recommend it for the number one spot on your 'do it now or never' list."
I spent 6 weeks visiting 7 of the main islands and saw 132 endemics (based on Sibley and Monroe, 1990), including Philippine Eagle and the rarely seen Philippine Eagle-Owl, Rabor's Wren-Babbler and Blue-breasted Flycatcher, while Rich Hopf, who accompanied me for 4 weeks, saw an additional 4 endemic species, and Mike Archer one. Our list totalled 347 plus 2 owls only heard. Birding in the Philippines is not easy due to the shyness and scarcity of many birds and the large distance between key sites. However, as English is widely spoken, public transport highly developed and Filipinos invariably friendly, a visit is an enjoyable experience. Furthermore, there are real opportunities to make a contribution to the ornithology of the region, e.g., there is no breeding information on nearly half the endemic species (Dickinson et al., 1991)!
Although several good trip reports and a "bird-finding guide" are available -- see the Reference section -- none are comprehensive or up-to-date. I have attempted to remedy this in the following pages, with help from several people, most notably Neil Bostock, Guy Dutson, Ian Gardner and Pete Morris.
There are strong incentives to fly out on Philippine Airlines (PAL): they are relatively cheap, you can change the return flight date at will for no charge (which is unusual on discounted tickets), and best of all, you can then buy an Airpass of 4 legs for $108, 6 for $128 or 8 for $138. The only drawback is that the international flight takes forever as there are 2 or 3 stops from London, and it invariably leaves several hours late. Surprisingly, the internal flights keep fairly well to schedule: only one of the seven I took was more than 30 mins late, and that was only an hour out.
An Airpass "leg" can be more than one flight if they are on the same day. The only hard rule is that you cannot repeat a stop-over, except in Manila, which is not much of an impediment. The Pass has to be bought outside the Philippines and can be extremely good value, especially as it is flexible, i.e., you can change dates, times and even routes during use. As an example, I booked Dumaguete-Manila-Tagbilaran which counted as one leg (Negros-Bohol), followed by Cebu-Davao-Manila, but after talking to Tim Fisher (TMF) and deciding to go to Katanglad, I changed to Cebu-Cagayan de Oro instead of Davao, at Manila airport (the PAL office is at the domestic terminal for Cebu). I later postponed the Davao-Manila flight at Davao, after spending an extra day at PICOP, and although wait-listed, was able to catch the desired flight.
As with my London Gatwick-to-Manila flight (£513 return), I booked the Airpass through Wildwings (UK 0272 613000). However, they swore not to handle any more when they learnt their commission was only 5%! So you will probably have to ring PAL direct (UK 071 9373646) -- be prepared to wait a long time for the phone to be answered. They never seem to have any timetables, so it is helpful to borrow the comprehensive ABC timetable, e.g. at a major travel-agency, when planning your schedule. In general, there are daily flights from Manila to the main cities on major islands; Cebu is also a popular hub, but flights to smaller cities or between cities on the larger islands may be much less frequent. For example, Cebu-Cagayan de Oro-Davao runs 3 times a week, but there are no flights between Bacolod and Dumaguete, the largest cities on Negros, 7.5 hours apart by coach. Schedules are changed on a minority of flights fairly frequently.
International departure tax was $11, and some internal flights require payment of departure tax, but that is only a pittance.
If you are only staying 21 days or less, a visa is not required, but for longer stays you need to apply to the Philippine embassy. A 59 day visa is obtained by sending a completed application form, photo, passport, fee (£16.20 in 1994 for single entry, valid for 3 months from date of issue, double price for multiple entry valid for 6 months) and self-addressed registered label. It can be extended in Manila, for a fee.
US dollars, especially cash can be changed fairly easily to Pesos, e.g. in Exchange-houses in Metro Manila at as good a rate as in banks. Other major currencies may also be changed in Manila, certainly at both the domestic and international airport terminals, but are difficult to change elsewhere. Rates in Jan/Feb 94 were consistently around 27.5 Ps to the dollar and 40 Ps to the pound.
In six weeks I spent a little under $700, including around $150 on vehicle hire which could have been foregone, at some inconvenience and loss of time.
In towns and sizeable villages there is usually somewhere adequate to stay for $4-10 a double room. This will usually include a fan and often a basic toilet and shower. Higher class hotels are often a lot more expensive, e.g. the Banaue Hotel, "the only place to stay in Banaue" (TMF), cost $50 a double whereas I paid 60 Pesos ($2.25) for an adequate single room at the Greenview. If you don't have a fan, which is pretty essential in the lowlands, try hiring one from a local shop -- we did this at Malicboy, for 10 Ps a day. In Manila we liked the Malate Pensionne, well-known to taxi drivers, but difficult to get in to unless there by early afternoon, and not pre-bookable; there are cheaper places nearby.
Elsewhere, you can camp, doss or manoeuvre an invitation to stay at someone's house or at a guard-post, although you then risk being bitten by dog fleas. Some of the national parks have resthouses with the odd camp-bed, where you can stay for a nominal fee.
Cheap restaurants and bread-shops are plentiful except in smaller villages where it may be necessary to buy food at a shop and then ask if they, or the Park guard, will cook it for you -- this worked well at Malicboy and Logarita. The cuisine was not very exciting, for my taste, with a few exceptions, notably the Malate Pensionne restaurant in Manila (open to non-residents) and best of all, Cafe Puerto in Puerto Princesa.
Fizzy drink is cheap, including lager-type beer which may be as little as 8 Ps a bottle, but hard to come by in large plastic bottles. Bottled water is fairly widely available, at the same price as Coke, but I found local water OK, when I'd established it came from a well/bore-hole or mountain stream. Best of all are fruit-juices, e.g. a glass of mango juice for 15 Ps.
I had no health problems other than a septic finger (which was efficiently lanced and dressed at Dumaguete hospital). Pete and Nina had a dose of severe but brief food-poisoning, probably from omelettes, and Pete was bitten on the toe by a snake at a river crossing on the Balsahan Trail, Palawan -- he survived to tell the tale! [I only saw two live snakes the whole time.] Malaria is said to be endemic in Palawan and Mindoro, and possible in parts of Mindanao, but mosquitos were not numerous anywhere.
I never felt threatened and would guess that the risk of assault is very low, even in Manila as there are so many people everywhere. There are Communists, separatists, Muslims and other insurgents in various parts of the country, but the army is usually active in such areas and would surely warn you if you approached a risky area. Southern Mindanao and the far north of Luzon appear to be the only doubtful areas a birder might think of visiting, at the time of writing (but birders have subsequently been robbed in the Manila and Quezon area).
As is usual in the tropics, the temperature is more related to altitude than time of year, although April-May is said to be very hot in the lowlands. I found conditions much to my liking when in the foothills or higher, except during heavy rain which was not uncommon on Negros (in Jan) but only occurred on two full days after that. It was rather humid at times in the lowlands. Rainfall varies in different parts of the country: late May-Sept is to be avoided everywhere, and rain continues into Dec or even Jan in many places, so that Feb-March are the best months; it can rain any time in eastern Mindanao, e.g. at PICOP.
There are vehicles and boats of all shapes and sizes to transport you about the country. However, the roads are often in poor condition, making journeys time-consuming and restricting choice of vehicle. There seems little point in self-drive as it would be difficult and possibly no cheaper. Flying saves a lot of time but there are relatively few commercial airports. Ferries run daily between most islands -- there are question-marks about their safety, but I was happy with the two I used.
In Manila there are innumerable jeepneys and buses, cheap but crowded -- useful if you know your way around or are broke. Initially, at least, you will need to use taxis -- they invariably try to grossly overcharge and will rarely use a meter, so you need to negotiate a price beforehand, e.g. Manila airport to Malate Pensionne should cost $4 or 5 but they will ask $15-20. The long-distance coaches leave from well out of the centre, and there may only be morning departures on the longer runs.
Other cities may depend almost entirely on jeepneys, e.g. Bacolod, or tricycles (motorbike with covered sidecar), e.g. Dumaguete. In the sticks, options may be very limited, with only a few buses or jeepneys a day, or the need to hire a 4-wheel drive or motorbike, both with drivers. On Mindoro and Palawan the only vehicles available for hire for longer journeys are jeepneys, which are neither cheap nor comfortable.
Although not a fan of 'scopes in tropical forests, I have no hesitation in recommending one here as you are rarely in thick forest and most birds will not allow close approach. Tape-recording equipment is even more important, as some sp. are unlikely to be seen without play-back. There are hardly any commercial recordings of use, except of southeast Asian birds, which are mainly found on Palawan. A few people do have field-recordings, some of which could be very useful, e.g. the Peacock-Pheasant, any scops-owls, frogmouths, forest kingfishers, pittas, ground-babblers, wren-babblers, tailorbirds, jungle-flycatchers, monarchs and paradise-flycatchers.
Bird photography is almost impossible unless you mist-net. There is no need to take a tent or cooking equipment, unless on a very tight budget, a highly exploratory trip or you are a nocturnal bird-freak. A sleeping bag came in useful occasionally but the sleeping mat was only needed on Mindoro (but I didn't go to Sitio Siete).
I wore waterproof walking-boots most of the time and trainers the rest, a good combination. If much time is being spent before Feb, waterproof trousers would be useful. My heavy-duty Goretex jacket was a liability most of the time; a lightweight breathable jacket would be ideal. It is cool at night but not really cold. Muesli, soup packets, tea-bags and altimeter were all useful.
A field guide to Philippine birds is scheduled for publication in 1995. Until that happy day it is necessary to consult the unwieldy DuPont (1971), which illustrates most of the species, many inadequately, and gives simple descriptions of plumage and distribution but nothing else. MacKinnon et al (1993) is a useful recent help for the non-endemics. Distributions are fully covered in Dickinson et al (1991), which has some interesting background chapters, e.g. on biogeography and migration, but nothing on identification (unlike the helpful Wallacean check-list). The statements on abundance frequently bear no relation to your likelihood of seeing a species, e.g. Flame-templed Babbler, a species I struggled to see on Negros, is classed as "common", while Negros Bleeding-heart, Isabela Oriole and Green-faced Parrotfinch, none of which has been seen by more than 1 or 2 people in recent years, are classed as "uncommon", and the "rare" Streaked Ground-Babbler is fairly easily seen on Bohol, with the assistance of a tape-recorder. I could go on.
The following are all useful publications or reports (* indicates "essential"):
Many thanks to the following who were very helpful, either before or during the trip:
Des Allen, Chamberlin Babiera, Neil Bostock, Guy Dutson, Ian Gardner, Gayle
(of Wildwings), Nina Higgins, Perla Magsalay, Pete Morris, Nigel Redman, and
especially Tim Fisher and my companions Mike Archer and Rich Hopf.
Although the largest and ornithologically most important island in the country, most birders only visit sites fairly close to Manila, plus Mt. Polis, as they hold the majority of the endemics.
In Manila the best sites are the cemeteries, open from 7.00 to 17.00. The American Cemetery at Fort Bonifacio, reached by taxi or jeepney along McKinley Rd, from EDSA, is like a large park; the mature trees hold Lowland White-eye and Chestnut-cheeked Starling in winter, while Barred Rails are easily seen near the well-watered bushes. The Philippine Cemetery, a mile or so further on (turn left at the gym), holds a lot of unkempt grassland, and there is extensive acacia-type scrub nearby; specialities are Grass-Owl and quails, with Spotted Buttonquail a possibility. To avoid the walk from one to the other requires the hire of a taxi or tricycle outside Fort Bonifacio as no vehicles are allowed to ply for hire inside. Both sites are good for raptors, e.g. Grey-faced Buzzard and Crested Goshawk.
The mudflats in Manila Bay, e.g., opposite the Hyatt Hotel, were a recommended site for waders, but have largely been developed now, although the area just north of the airport may be worth a look if you have an hour to kill. The other interesting place is the pet market at Cartimar shopping-centre, off EDSA in Makati. There were lots of birds for sale, especially parrots and pigeons, including all the fruit-doves and imperial-pigeons (but no bleeding-hearts), and the odd special such as Philippine Duck and an immature night-heron.
Quezon National Park is one of the best and easiest sites in the country, with good primary forest, although spoilt by traffic and being hacked and hunted. Buses run from Pasay City, near Manila airport, to Lucena City, 2-3 hours. Then take a bus or jeepney to Malicboy, 45-60 mins, where the only "hotel" is the anonymous Golden Showers, behind the corner bakery/breadshop -- 150 Ps for a noisy room without running-water, sheets or fan -- alternatives are dossing in one of the few roadside buildings in the National Park, persuading someone to put you up in their house, or staying further out, e.g. at Pagbilao or Lucena. After a further c.400 m bear right and the Park starts at the river, where Indigo-banded Kingfisher fish 100+ m downstream. Walk or hitch the c.3 km to just beyond the brow of the hill where the Summit Trail starts on the left: most of the specialities occur on here, e.g. Luzon Bleeding-heart, Scale-feathered Malkoha, Philippine Scops-Owl (and possibly even Eagle-Owl), Philippine Trogon, Sooty Woodpecker, Spotted Wood-Kingfisher, Blackish Cuckoo-shrike, Black-and-white Triller, Ashy Ground-Thrush, Rabor's Wren-Babbler and Blue-breasted Flycatcher, while Green Racquet-tail, Red-crested Malkoha and Olive-backed Flowerpecker are found along the road between here and the small park c.200 m further on. It may be very quiet for much of the day, apart from traffic-noise, chain-saws and the occasional shot from a pig/pigeon-hunter, but be sure to visit pre-dawn and at nightfall. All along the road can also be rewarding, e.g. for raptors, fruit-doves including Merrill's, coucals, hornbills, flowerpeckers and sunbirds.
Pagbilao fish-ponds, halfway between Malicboy and Lucena, is an extensive area of fish-ponds, scrub and paddies, visible beyond the railway line, just south of Pagbilao town. A late afternoon visit should be rewarded by at least 4 sp. of rail and crake, bitterns, waders and possibly Lanceolated Warbler, Lowland White-eye, and at dusk Grass-Owl, Great-eared Nightjar and Rubythroat on the tracks.
Angat Watershed, some 60-70 km NE of Manila, holds the largest area of readily accessible lowland forest on Luzon. It is owned by the National Power Corporation who have a strong interest in protecting it as it is a major hydro-electric site with a large reservoir of drinking water for Manila. There is said to be some illegal logging but potentially far more serious is the recent discovery that up to 40% of the trees are dying from some unidentified infestation. Foreign "experts" were investigating the problem while we were there, and it is to be hoped they find a solution!
It can be reached by public transport from Manila as follows: jeepney/bus along EDSA to Santa Cruz/Quezon City for bus to Sapang Palay; alight at No.1 Road, pedallo to Bicti (2.5 km), and jeepney to Hilltop. Much time is saved by hiring a taxi but make sure it goes to Bicti and then Hilltop, not to the better-known Angat Dam which ours did, a long way off-course. It may be possible to hitch a lift back by asking at the guesthouse, as I did. The Bicti-Hilltop road was paved in 1993, so dismiss any scare-mongering that it will take hours or require 4-wheel drive. A permit is needed to enter the watershed at the barrier, arranged by ringing Mr R.C. Mendoza at the resthouse or his boss Mr Largo beforehand -- also reserve accommodation with them -- we had ear-ache from frequent reminders that we hadn't done this, not that it would have helped because they were fully booked, for a seminar. It was only by going to see Mr Largo at his house that we were able to persuade him to find us somewhere to stay -- he is very helpful if pressed. As it wasn't a normal room, we were only charged 75 Ps a night instead of the usual 175 Ps for a double. There is a restaurant serving set meals 3-times a day, but breakfast can be had early, e.g. at 5.30.
The specialities here are Luzon Bleeding-heart, Philippine Dwarf-Kingfisher, White-lored Oriole, White-fronted Tit, Long-billed Rhabdornis and Celestial Monarch, in addition to all the specials at Quezon NP except the Flycatcher. They can all be seen along the Ridge Trail beyond the army post above the village, or on the trail down to the reservoir off this, starting 1 km from the army post. The Ridge Trail is fairly birdless for several km until primary forest is reached; the track forks soon after this, and the right fork should be taken as it continues for a long way through reasonable forest. It is important to start early as it is a long walk, but the track through the army post is officially only open from 6.00 to 18.00, so it may be necessary to start by going down the main road and doubling back on a track that by-passes the army post before joining the Ridge Trail.
The past site for Celestial Monarch is at the bottom of the Reservoir Trail -- up the dry stream to the right -- although we never saw it there, and access was impossible around Christmas-time due to the high level of the reservoir then (NR). I did see one, and an Indigo-banded Kingfisher, at the mouth of the stream on the left. I also tried a steep, narrow trail on the right a few 100 m after the Reservoir Trail, and almost certainly had Rabor's Wren-Babbler in bamboo half-way down it. Guy Dutson had a pair of Cryptic Flycatchers in secondary forest and bamboo on the Ridge Trail some 2 km after the Reservoir Trail (Dutson, 1993); this was the first ever sighting of F.c.disposita, only known from a specimen collected in 1966 and recent trappings by the Danes in the NE. Tim Fisher has had a single sighting of Ashy-breasted Flycatcher at Angat.
Candaba Swamp, a little further north of Angat, is an extensive area of paddies, marshes and fish-ponds, where unfortunately the paddies are gaining at the expense of the marshes. Apart from the usual marsh birds, this site is noted for Streaked or Speckled Reed-Warbler, a scarce (anywhere) winter visitor from China, plus Pied Harrier, Middendorff's and Lanceolated Warblers and a good selection of waders including Painted Snipe and Oriental Pratincole. According to TMF it is now a shadow of its former self, and indeed, despite arriving at dawn, we saw relatively few birds of note, although did find one Streaked Reed-Warbler and a Grass-Owl, probably feeding young. To reach Candaba, bearing in mind the need to be early, it is best to take a taxi; we paid 1000 Ps and left at 4.00. Go up the northern highway (toll road) to the Santa Rita turn, through Ploridel after which a new bridge is being built over a river. After a further 10 km, take a left opposite a Goodyear depot, towards Candaba. After 5 or 6 km the road crosses two bridges a short distance apart; turn right on a sealed road after the second, i.e. before reaching Candaba town, and drive a km or so to the village of Bahay Pare. Take a bumpy dirt road to the left here and drive 3 km through paddies until you reach a T-junction at the fish-ponds. Birding from here, we saw Streaked Reed-Warbler to the left and Painted Snipe and Grass-Owl to the right.
Makiling National Park is a mountain south of Manila holding similar species to Quezon NP, excluding purely lowland species, but requiring more walking. Take a bus from Pasay City to Los Banos, where there are hotels, and then a jeepney to the University of the Philippines (3 hours) -- the forest starts above the Institute of Forestry, where it may be possible to stay. For further details see Sargeant (1993).
Northern Luzon is the only area for the following 11 species:
Worcester's Buttonquail, Brown-banded Rail, Montane Racquet-tail, Luzon Scops-Owl, Isabela Oriole, Golden-crowned and Chestnut-faced (Whitehead's) Babblers, Luzon Striped-Babbler, Luzon Water-Redstart, Luzon Bush-Warbler and White-browed Jungle-Flycatcher.
Spotted Buttonquail, Flame-breasted (Marche's) Fruit-Dove, Whiskered (Koch's) Pitta and Green-faced Parrotfinch are also unlikely to be found elsewhere, and Green-backed Whistler is restricted to this area and montane Mindoro.
The only sites easily reached, by bus from Manila, are Dalton Pass and Mount Polis. Dalton Pass (3500 m) is a noted migration site, frequented at night by bird-trappers who claim to catch Worcester's Buttonquail and Brown-banded Rail, which are never seen anywhere, Marche's Fruit-Dove and Green-faced Parrotfinch (Alonzo-Pasicolan, 1992). No birders have reported spending any time here.
Mount Polis holds the Fruit-Dove, Racquet-tail, Scops-Owl, Whitehead's Babbler, the Water-Redstart, Bush-Warbler and Whistler, and possibly the Jungle-Flycatcher and Whiskered Pitta. Other "good" species are Long-tailed Bush-Warbler, Mountain Shrike and Flame-crowned Flowerpecker. There is a single a/c bus (Dangwa Tranco) a day at 7.30 from Cubao, north Manila to Banaue, below Mount Polis (10 hours, 180 Ps). If you miss this, take a bus to Solano and then a jeepney to Banaue, but be aware that jeepneys are unlikely to run much later than midday. Do not go via Baguio and Bontoc, as I did (following duff advice as usual), unless you enjoy bus journeys and dramatic scenery. The bus leaves Banaue at 7ish for Manila -- if you want to visit Angat afterwards, you can avoid Manila by alighting at San Rafael and taking a bus/jeepney to Norzagoray, from where the occasional jeepney runs to Hilltop, but you would be lucky to complete this in a day.
Banaue, popular with travellers, is very scenic, with hotels to suit all pockets. Birding the road either side of the pass on Mount Polis, a good hour or more's drive from Banaue, should give the Babbler, Whistler, Shrike and Luzon Bush-Warbler, and with luck or perseverance, the Fruit-Dove, Racquet-tail, Flowerpecker and Long-tailed Bush-Warbler. The Jungle-Flycatcher was reported by Dave Gibbs in 1984 along a downhill trail a couple of km before the pass, but the forest has been degraded since then. I took a good, but steep, downward trail immediately before the army-post at the pass, but turned round after less than a km when heavy rain started, a common occurrence I suspect. I also tried a trail to the peak from behind the army-post, but gave up as visibility was poor and the guide I'd been obliged to take, a fully kitted and armed soldier, rather talkative.
Luzon Water-Redstart breeds along the river directly below Bay-Yo, the first village beyond the army-post (c.6 km). Transport is a bit problematic because there are only about 3 jeepneys a day, the first at 7.30 and the last returning at 14.00-14.30 to the pass. There are very occasional buses and trucks, but the only reliable plan is to hire a motor-tricycle, for 250-300 Ps a journey (bloody cold early in the morning!).
To see the other birds you need to go further north. The two areas visited recently by birders are the northeast, where sightings included Whiskered Pitta, Golden-crowned Babbler, Luzon Striped-Babbler, Long-billed Rhabdornis and Ashy-breasted Flycatcher -- for details contact Arne Jensen or Nigel Redman -- and the north of Ilocos Norte province where Des Allen saw a Green-faced Parrotfinch in flowering bamboo, as well as the Pitta, Babbler and Spotted Buttonquail. He flew to Laoag, took a bus north to Claveria (4 hrs), then turned west a little way to Dumalneg, where he found the Parrotfinch, before going south for 20 km to Adams and the Whiskered Pitta. As the NPA are active here, it is essential to visit the mayor or Barangay captain and obtain permission and a guide before travelling in this region, which will go some way to ensuring your safety -- don't go if you can't afford time to be kidnapped! Remember that the Parrotfinch is nomadic and could possibly be found anywhere.
The only claimed recent sighting of the Oriole is from the northeast, by 2 Austrians
studying raptors for the Max Planck Institute. It was not seen during a comprehensive
survey by the Danes.
This is second only to Luzon in size and ornithological importance. Although several montane sites are known, almost all the species can be seen by visiting Mt. Katanglad and Sitio Siete, along with the lowland PICOP Concession.
Mount Katanglad National Park, known as Kitanglad to the locals and only given NP status in Dec 1993, was my favourite site of the trip. It probably holds all the Mindanao montane specialities except for Whiskered Flowerpecker and the sub-montane White-eared Tailorbird, although I don't think Whitehead's Swiftlet or Cryptic Flycatcher have been reported, and Lesser Eagle-Owl, Mindanao Scops-Owl, Hombron's Kingfisher, Bagobo Babbler, Slaty-backed Jungle- (Goodfellow's) and Little Slaty Flycatchers, and Apo Sunbird are rarely seen. It is the most reliable site for the Philippine Eagle, which nests every 2 or 3 years -- a youngster was visible in the nest in Nov 1989 - April 1990 and 1992/93; as the adults are resident and the young stay around for a year or so, it should be possible to see the bird year-round. According to Carlito, the resident "warden", there are two breeding pairs in this part of Mindanao, and as it is the one species with a high profile on protection, it may survive here until there is insufficient forest or larger animals to support it. There is also an as-yet unidentified woodcock here, so who knows what else awaits to be discovered?
After flying to Cagayan de Oro, we took a taxi from the airport to Dalwangan, c.15 km short of Malaybalay (900 Ps) and found Constancio Maghanoy (Senior) at home -- on the left just before, and in sight of, a huge "Save the Eagle" hoarding (billboard). [Note that the green/blue arms-carrier was no longer present in the garden, as described in earlier reports, when we were there.] We left any non-essentials at the house, segregating items such as food to be brought up by horse/mule in the morning. Two girls were deputed to guide us, and we drove 2 km along a good track, to the right just past the Eagle hoarding, before the track became too bad for a car. We walked through pineapple plantations and then up towards the forested mountains -- a fairly easy 6 km -- reaching a large resthouse/lodge at dusk, to be greeted by Grass-Owl and at 6.10 pm, the woodcock. The resthouse was only built in 1993 -- a gesture by Del Monte, a major player in the destruction of the forest. The mountains have recently been declared a National Park, but this is not stopping the deforestation as there are numbers of "illegal squatters" clearing land for growing vegetables and crops, and no guards to prevent them.
We stayed in the lodge for five nights and were charged 100 Ps a night by Carlito (C. Maghanoy's son-in-law) and his wife, who look after it -- this included unlimited hot water, coffee and boiled rice, sometimes accompanied by vegetables. We also requested eggs, which were brought up and cooked to our taste. There is plenty of room but only a few camp beds and no bedding; it does get cold at night as the altitude is c.1200 m. The following day we hired Carlito, for 250 Ps, to show us the Eagle sites, although not difficult to find -- and we did eventually see an adult in flight on two occasions. [He guided Pete and Nina down into the forest and to another valley to find the calling juvenile which they saw perched 50 m away.]
We spent virtually all our time along the deforested main trail, the short trail to the right down to the stream, in the forest patch opposite the lodge and at the eagle-nest viewpoint. It is possible to go down to the forested river valley but the trail down is very steep, and there is said to be another forest patch lower down the stream to the right -- both of these should be explored for the kingfisher and jungle-flycatcher (which we didn't see) if you are not going to Sitio Siete. Between us we saw all the other specialities except the Lorikeet, Racquet-tail, owls, Bagobo Babbler and Apo Sunbird.
PICOP, the Paper Industry Corporation of the Philippines, was set-up by one of Marcos's cronies with a concession to log a vast area of eastern Mindanao south of Bislig. It was nationalised after Marcos, and sustainable-forestry, i.e. planting of fast-growing species, was introduced, but was then privatised in Feb 1994. There is still a lot of forest, although much of it appears to be partly logged or secondary. Insurgents occupy the more remote areas, and the national and private PICOP armies are active elsewhere, which may or may not retard deforestation but certainly ensure there are plenty of guns about.
It is now difficult to obtain permission to enter the Concession but possible through Felizardo Goring at Mangagoy. As it still holds good numbers of birds, it is an important site and indeed the only known reliable site for Silvery Kingfisher, Mindanao Wattled Broadbill, Black-bibbed Cuckoo-Shrike, Yellowish Bulbul and Black-headed Tailorbird. Mindanao Bleeding-heart, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Steere's Pitta, Little Slaty Flycatcher, and the rare Monarchs, Celestial and Short-crested, are also here. It rains frequently, all year-round.
Although there is an airport at Bislig, there are few if any scheduled flights, and so there is little option but to go by bus: c.5 hours from Davao, or Butuan -- the route we were ill-advised to take from Katanglad. The simplest way from Katanglad is to take a jeepney to Malaybalay (30 mins) and then bus to Davao -- 6+ hours. Less arduous would be to return to Cagayan de Oro (1.5-2 hrs), which may still require going to Malaybalay as all the vehicles heading for Cagayan were full when we waited at Dalwangan, and then fly to Davao (pre-booked on the Airpass) -- the airport is near the main road north but buses to Mangagoy (PICOP) are few and could be full. A cheap place to stay in Davao is the DENR guesthouse -- contact Nilo Rabeira at DENR there for permission.
At Mangagoy take a tricycle to the Paper Country Inn, just outside the main PICOP gates. Ask reception to ring Felizardo Goring to arrange permits and transport -- this may be very difficult at the weekend, so try not to arrive then, as we did of course, or FAX/ ring in advance. Arrangements are easier if you are prepared to travel on the back of a motorbike, along rough, muddy roads, for 90 mins or more, possibly in heavy rain, as Pete and Nina did -- recommending Boy, their "driver" who charged 300 Ps to take them (on the bike together) to Km 38, Road 5. The first day he picked them up again but on the second day, they stayed overnight and hitched back. We chose to hire a jeep for the full day, which was just as well on the Monday as it rained all day and there was almost no traffic on Road 5, but on Tuesday the weather was fine, the jeep 75 mins late arriving, and we could have hitched back. We had negotiated a 2.5 day rental for 4000 Ps but paid 3000 after cancelling the last half day. Our driver, Alcontera in his own red jeep MAZ 475, is not recommended.
The problem with hiring a jeep is that permits have to be issued by Security (Colonel Colextro), i.e. after 8.00, and are for a specific vehicle and route, so cannot be issued in advance unless you know the registration plates of the vehicle you will use. The essential route is Road 5, up to Km 40, with Road 11, Bay View Hills and Road 7, optional extras. As you will not arrive before late morning, the best plan is to immediately try to arrange transport and permits for the following days, and spend the rest of that day at Bay View Hills and/or Road 11. You do not have to be out of PICOP by dark and so can leave when you like.
The Paper Country Inn (formerly known as Town and Country Hotel) is a basic hotel costing 270 Ps for non a/c doubles, 570 Ps for a/c. The non-a/c rooms are noisy, with thin walls, near to the road and restaurant. With the threat of the Valentine's Day disco looming, I sought alternative accommodation and found the Bislig Inn, PICOP's own hotel inside their grounds, just behind the Paper Country Inn. Although appearing even more seedy than the latter, it was much cheaper (40 Ps/ person non a/c, 120 Ps a/c) , quieter and adequate, although almost full. We did continue to eat at the Paper Country though, as the menu looked better.
The key point on Road 5 is Km 38, which took 90 mins to reach. Silvery Kingfisher occurs on the stream here, and many of the specialities are found on the trails either side or along the next 3 km of road -- we found the road to be more fruitful than the trails. Although notable birds have been found further on, there is no real need to go any further unless you want to raptor-watch, when Km 56 is the recommended place, with Philippine Eagle a possibility. The forest between Kms 20 and 38 does not look very promising but I later learnt that Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and Celestial Monarch are seen along here, e.g. at around Km 28 in Feb 94, while Rufous-lored Kingfisher was at Km 26, and Pygmy Babbler on one of the side-trails. Several people have stayed overnight at the friendly PICOP army base at Km 38 -- take food and sleeping gear (and rum for the soldiers - Ian Gardner). There has been no trouble with the NPA (New People's Army) on this road for at least two years, although they were said to be present at around Km 70. There have been skirmishes on other roads.
Road 11 is short and well-populated, terminating at a reservoir. It can be travelled by tricycle, without a permit. The paddy-fields on the right hold waders, bitterns and ducks including Philippine, while the Black-headed Tailorbird skulks in scrub adjacent to limestone crags on the left. The reservoir and surrounding scrub held nothing of note, although it was afternoon when we were there, but the crepuscular Grass-Owl hunts there (PM). Bay View Hills is where PICOP's management lives. It is well wooded with a short forest nature trail, a small lake and a few pools, one of which had Silvery Kingfisher. I saw my only Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis here, and it is reputed to be a good place for owls, possibly including Lesser Eagle-Owl, and for viewing roost-flights of Pechora Pipits. A permit is necessary; PICOP also provided transport for us, although it is an easy walk from the hotels.
Road 7 is the main road used by buses etc to Davao, running through degraded forest. Somewhere not too far along it, apparently, is a lodge belonging to a mining company -- GCLD and TMF birded very profitably round here in 1993, seeing Schrenck's Bittern, Wattled Broadbill, Short-crested Monarch, Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and possibly Dark-eared Brown-Dove (Evans et al, 1993).
Sitio Siete in the far south, near Lake Sebu, is one of the foremost sites to see Mindanao's birds. It is unlikely to feature regularly on tour-group itineraries as it is difficult to reach and security is uncertain. Most of PICOP's birds occur here, along with Amethyst Brown-Dove, Philippine Scops-Owl and Frogmouth, Hombron's Kingfisher, Bagobo Babbler, White-eared Tailorbird, all the rare flycatchers except the monarchs, Whiskered Flowerpecker and Apo Sunbird; Guy Dutson even had Japanese Night-Heron. We didn't go due to lack of time but I made a subsequent visit in 1996.
The nearest airport is at General Santos City (flights only from Cebu), from where you take a bus to Koronadel (1 hour) and then another to Surallah (30 mins) -- a few go straight through from G.Santos. Buses go from Davao to General Santos (3 hours), some continuing to Koronadel. Alternatively, bus from Cotabato City on the west coast (which has a bigger airport and is accessible by bus from Cagayan) to Isulan (3 hours) and then jeepney to Surallah. Jeepneys go from Surallah to Lake Sebu (1+ hr, the last at c.3 p.m.), "perhaps the loveliest inland sea in the Philippines" according to Lonely Planet. It is a 15 km walk to the village of Sitio Siete but motorbikes can be hired to take you most of the way. Elizor Sunego had a small shop here and would put you up, but the village was burnt down in 1996 and so may be deserted. Sitio Siete is at 1000 m, close to forest; one trail goes straight up the mountain into moss forest at 1500 m, but as the start is difficult to find, a guide is advisable, while another zigzags down through secondary forest, which goes as low as 700 m, to a cultivated valley, and then up to the moss forest
Baracatan is the old eagle project site on Mount Apo. Although it holds most of the montane sp., including Lesser Eagle-Owl and Little Slaty and Cryptic Flycatchers, there is nothing here which is not present at Katanglad or Sitio Siete. From Davao take a jeepney to Toril, and another from there to Baracatan, which may require a wait of a few hours. Follow the old jeep track from Baracatan village to the Eagle Centre, where there is a resthouse and cooking facilities, but little or no food. Whiskered Flowerpeckers have been seen around the Centre and Lesser Eagle-Owl behind it.
The best chance for the rare Whitehead's Swiftlet is to go up Mount Apo to Lake Venado. This entails taking a Cotabato-bound bus from Davao to Kidapawan (2-3 hours), via Digos, and then a jeepney to Lake Agco, via Ilomavis. It is then a good 3 hours walk uphill to the Marbel River campsite, where there is a shelter to stay in, and a further 5 hard hours to Lake Venado at 2210m. It is probably best to:
(a) obtain permits from the CENRO office and the tourist office in Kidapawan,
and check on security as the NPA have kidnapped people here in the past;
(b) engage a guide at Lake Agco (Dante Toledo is recommended by NB and IG), and
(c) take a tent. Doesn't sound worth it unless you want to continue to the top of Mt Apo, a further 3-5 hours climb.
Times Beach c.15 km north of Davao, beyond the port, is good for waders, and further north, Caroland Resort can hold wildfowl, including Philippine Duck, but has been worthless recently.
Zamboanga at the southwest tip of Mindanao is, naturally enough, the place for the Zamboanga Bulbul. Directions are rather vague but start from a large park, with a swimming pool, outside the city, adjacent to the regional office of the Bureau of Forestry Development. Walk away from the city, through a watershed reforestation project and past two villages, the latter part along a river valley, until some huts are reached after c.4 km. The Bulbul has been found here. From Zamboanga you can take a ferry or plane to Bongao in the Tawi-Tawi Islands, for the Sulu endemics.
Dinagat Island off the northeast tip holds good forest, containing Short-crested Monarch,
Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and probably Celestial Monarch. There are daily boats from
Surigao (which has an airport) on Mindanao to Loreto, close to the forest (Hornskov
With an avifauna more akin to Borneo than the rest of the country, Palawan is the third essential island to visit in the Philippines, as it holds many species not found elsewhere, including 16 endemics. Puerto Princesa is the entry point, with flights only from Manila and Iloilo (on Panay)/Cebu. The mudflats beyond Garceliano Beach, at the eastern end of the runway, is the best place in the country for the universally scarce Chinese Egret, which feed and roost here, at least during the winter months. Waders are also found here and at White Beach, round the corner to the south.
The Balsahan Trail, some 20 km to the south, is an excellent site where we recorded all the diurnal endemics except the Peacock-Pheasant and Striped-Babbler. Melodious Babbler and Palawan Flycatcher are most readily seen here. It follows the course of the Balsahan River in the grounds of the well-known Iwahig Penal Colony, reached by occasional public jeepney or hired vehicle. We paid 500 Ps for a jeepney for the day, the journey taking 45 mins; tricycles would be cheaper but take longer. We followed instructions at the entrance/check-point (17 km from Pto Princesa) and drove the 6-7 km to the prison to see the duty-officer who readily gave us permission. On the second occasion we requested a permit to stay after dark, but were told only the Superintendent could give this; after a fruitless search for him, the duty-officer did give us a pass till 7.00 pm. It is unlikely that there would be any problem in camping/dossing overnight (for Palawan Scops-Owl, Spotted Wood-Owl and Palawan/Javan Frogmouth), as Pete and Nina did, but bear in mind there are convicted murderers roaming freely around and beware of snakes! This is also the only place on Palawan where I was bitten at dusk by mosquitoes, which could have been malarious.
The trail runs for 3-4 km, ending at the river, and has birds all along it, including Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Hooded Pitta, Dark-throated Oriole, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher and Pechora Pipit, additional to the endemics.
Iwahig paddies and fish-ponds lie east of the main road, 1 km before the entrance road to the prison, and usually hold a good selection of waders, including Long-toed Stint, although we didn't see much on our brief look. Nearly 10,000 waders were ringed here from 1964-70! Roost flights of Pechora Pipits have also been seen here.
St Paul's National Park is the other major site where it should be possible to see all the Palawan specialities, with the exception of Palawan Striped-Babbler which is only found above 1000 m in the south. The Peacock-Pheasant, Cockatoo and Tabon Scrubfowl must be seen here, but some of the other sp. are more easily seen on the Balsahan Trail. There are a few jeepneys a day from Puerto Princesa to Sabang, taking 5+ hours on a fairly rough road and departing when full (which took 3 hrs for one traveller). The road is scheduled to be paved in 1995. In view of our limited time, we hired a jeepney for 3 days for 3250 Ps. From Sabang, where there is plenty of basic accommodation and meals, it is a 30 min walk to St Paul's HQ, or you can charter an outrigger for a modest sum if taking kit to stay in the park. There are wooden bunks in a pleasant, clean resthouse at the HQ (75 Ps/person), but food has to be brought in. The flowering trees here are good for birding, especially in the first few hours of the day, and are the best site for the Cockatoo. The Scrubfowl is also found here but a better site is near the entrance to the underground river. The ultra-shy Peacock-Pheasant can occur anywhere but possibly the best spot is at the base of the inland limestone cliffs between the ridge trail and the monkey catwalk (ladder trail). An area to concentrate on is along and around the small stream at the southern edge of the HQ grounds -- we had kingfishers and babblers here while Pete had the Frogmouth.
Tagburos salt pans, on the coast 15 km north of Puerto Princesa, may be worth a look en route to St Paul's.
Ursula Island has roosting Grey Imperial-Pigeons and Nicobar Pigeons, along with 1000s of
Pied Imperial-Pigeons. To reach it, take a bus from Puerto Princesa south to Brooke's Point
(stay at Silayan Lodge) and then a jeepney to Rio Tuba where you can hire a boat for the
90 min crossing -- Bulwer's Petrel and Wedge-tailed Shearwater are possibilities.
Although there are no species endemic to Bohol, Samar (Tarictic) Hornbill and Yellow-breasted Tailorbird are restricted to here, Samar and Leyte, while others are more easily seen here than elsewhere, e.g. Mindanao Bleeding-heart, Philippine Frogmouth, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Steere's Pitta, Streaked Ground-Babbler, Rufous-fronted Tailorbird, and possibly Black-faced Coucal, Wattled Broadbill and Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher. Bohol is best reached by flight from Manila or Cebu, or ferry from Cebu or Dumaguete.
Raja Sitakuna National Park holds all the birds and is readily accessed at the Logarita forest station, Bilar. Buses go from the ports to Carmen in the centre of Bohol; Bilar is on the Tagbilaran-Carmen route, 1+ hr from the former. It is best to either request a guide to show you the short-cut to the resthouse, a 20-30 min walk, or hire a motorbike to take you most of the way -- the track is not suitable for tricycles. The only guard stationed here lives with his family in the nearest house to the very basic resthouse, which he will open up for you (but not sweep it out). He will also light a fire and cook any food you bring, or you can eat in the small restaurants in Bilar. There were only two camp-beds functional when I was there, but plenty of floor space.
There are several trails to explore, nearly all used by locals. The best appeared to be
the Valley Trail, nearly a km further along the main trail, and those around the
"scout camp". The Hornbill, Pitta, Broadbill, Ground-Babbler, Jungle-Flycatcher
and tailorbirds were along the Valley Trail; Philippine Nightjar, Scops-Owl,
Hawk-Owl, Broadbill and, on one evening only, Eagle-Owl at the scout camp
clearing, and Rufous-lored Kingfisher on a trail off it; while Philippine Frogmouth
called sporadically around the resthouse itself. However, be prepared for long periods
with few birds and the fact that most of the specialities are difficult to see.
This island appears to be totally deforested except along the central mountain chain, and even there primary forest barely exists below 1000 m. Hence lower altitude sp. such as Negros Bleeding-heart, Tarictic Hornbill and White-throated Jungle-Flycatcher are nearly extinct. The Cambridge team thoroughly investigated a good sample of the remaining forest, with somewhat depressing results (Brooks et al, 1992; Evans et al, 1993), although there are some other parts still to explore, e.g. Mt. Silay and Casa Roro. Nine species are unlikely to be seen elsewhere, unless Tawi-Tawi is visited (where White-vented Whistler occurs), and the Red-keeled Flowerpecker sub-species D.australe haematostictum might be split off (Dickinson et al.). Of these, Negros Fruit-Dove has never been seen in the field and the Bleeding-heart, Jungle-Flycatcher and Writhed-billed Hornbill are now very rare.
The two points of entry to Negros are Bacolod in the north and Dumaguete in the south, the latter being far more pleasant than the former.
Mount Canlaon National Park is easily reached from Bacolod, where jeepneys run regularly to Mambucal (taking 1 hr), a run-down but pleasant spa-resort at c.400m. "The Pagoda" is the cheapest hotel but has only two rooms; the "Tourist Lodge" has the best food. The many trees and bushes are worth checking, e.g. for Spotted Wood-Kingfisher, Red-keeled Flowerpecker, Crimson Sunbird, and I also had 2 Chinese Goshawks here. The forest is a good hour's walk up the hillside and the lower reaches badly degraded. However, it is worth spending most time here as the less disturbed forest is at too high an elevation for the specialities. White-winged Cuckoo-shrike, White-vented Whistler, Philippine Tailorbird and possibly Pink-bellied Imperial-Pigeon, Tarictic Hornbill and Flame-templed Babbler should be found. The Bleeding-heart, Writhed-billed Hornbill and Jungle-Flycatcher are theoretically possible, but don't plan to stay here until you find them. I came down on the main trail through a youngish plantation and had Pechora Pipit and a brief view of an unidentified dark thrush.
Mount Silay is further north but has been out-of-bounds due to terrorist activity, and apparently has never been explored ornithologically. Local guides at Mambucal claimed there were no problems now, so I returned to Bacolod, took a jeepney to Silay, arriving at 8.30, and found the terminus for Patag, the gateway to Mt Silay. I then discovered there were only one or two jeepneys a day, which only ran in the afternoon, returning the following morning. As the journey would have been 2 hours and there was no alternative transport to this popular destination, the trip would require at least 3 days. I could also see the mountains were covered in black cloud and so abandoned the venture. I had been advised to go to the old hospital where the caretaker, Ramon, would likely put me up and guide me into the forest on Mt Silay. However, I must add that Chamberlain Babeira, a knowledgeable DENR field-worker in the south, said that there are still active insurgents on Mt. Silay (and in other montane forests). Furthermore, I cannot be sure that my informant was correct in stating that the old hospital is at the base Mt. Silay, although he assured me it was, rather than Mt. Mandalagan which is also near Patag and was partly explored by the Cambridge team (who found Tarictic Hornbill, the Babbler and Cuckoo-shrike).
Casa Roro is a forested valley, at possibly 650-750 m, at the base of Mt. Talinis near Valencia in southern Negros. I had completed the 7h 30 min bus journey from Bacolod to Dumaguete, tried to contact Chamberlain Babiera (at the DENR provincial office, PENRO, on Genllarena Drive) for help on visiting southern sites, and found myself with a blank morning. I took a tricycle inland to the town of Valencia and a further 2 km to the resort of Tejeros (25 mins in total) where there were lots of flowerpeckers and sunbirds in flowering trees around swimming pools. Continuing on the wide track through pleasant housing towards forested hills, after c.4 km I reached a newly-made trail down a steep, scrubby valley-side to a river. The entrance was marked by a small roofed viewpoint and a sign "Casa Roro", apparently erected by local people, which bodes well for the future. The trail continued along the other side of the river to a waterfall. A small party of birds included Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Tailorbird and 2 Flame-templed Babblers, which have not been recorded in the south since 1983. My only two Tarictic Hornbills flew across while I watched the babblers. The river valley holds some good primary forest and so warrants a thorough check, e.g. for Jungle-Flycatchers, which I did not have time to do.
Mount Talinis is the only known site for Negros Striped-Babbler, which, remarkably, has not been found further along the Cuernos de Negros chain at the well explored Lake Balinsasayao, only a few km away as the bird flies. Although Talinis is quickly reached at Valencia, access to the montane forest appears to be difficult here; the recommended route is via the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC) roads. Go to the main PNOC security office where a permit can be obtained, in time and office hours. It is no longer necessary to have a letter from the DENR office in Dumaguete. I was kindly taken to PNOC by Chamberlain Babeira on his motorbike, and then up the mountainside to the start of the trail, arriving at 10.45, the earliest it could have been done. I could have had a permit for several days. There are occasional public jeepneys from Dumaguete to PNOC and a few vehicles going up to the power station some 2 km below the trail. A hired tricycle might manage the trip, although the road is bad in the latter stages, but would take at least 2 hrs. I eventually found 5 Striped-Babblers, but no hornbills or Cuckoo-shrikes -- the altitude of 1000+ m may be too high for the former.
Lake Balinsasayao, c.25km west of Dumaguete, is the only definite site for Writhed-billed Hornbill on Negros, but few birders have seen it (it is easier to see on Panay now). Hire a motor-cyclist from Dumaguete or San Jose, to the north, to take you there. There is a DENR bunkhouse where you can stay and cook the food brought with you. Other birds include Spotted and Pink-bellied Imperial-Pigeons, Spotted Wood-Kingfisher, Red-bellied Pitta, Cuckoo-shrike and Whistler. According to Chamberlain, illegal logging is still in progress, with two active chain-saws, and is almost impossible to stop.
Siaton, at the southern tip of Negros, is the place where the type-specimen of Green-faced Parrotfinch was taken on Negros. A Swedish aerial mapping project in 1988 identified that some lowland forest remained there but it had not been visited by ornithologists. Chamberlain said that he knew the area and that there were patches of primary forest. Therefore, we spent a day there: it took an hour along the coastal road to reach the town; we then turned inland just after a river bridge south of Siaton and drove 12 km along a track to Sandulot, the latter part passable only by motorbike. With a local guide, we followed a stream to a lake which we crossed by canoe to Lamarau and then toured the surrounding hillsides, visiting several small forest patches. We saw no endemics (except the flowerpecker), although a party of 6 hornbills had been present in March 1993. Dickinson et al state that the precise location of the Parrotfinch was Nagoro -- according to the locals, this is where the largest patch of forest existed, until late 1993 when it was cleared, illegally!
Ban-Ban is the site where the Cambridge team found a family of Jungle-Flycatchers,
at 600 m, in August 1991. It is a small village inland of Ayungon (2hrs north of
Dumaguete by bus), where the surrounding hills still hold some lowland forest,
much of which is managed by the DENR. The flycatchers were in forest near the
main road just above the village. Other birds found here included Falconet, Blue-crowned
Racquet-tail, both rhabdornis sp., Flame-templed Babbler, Philippine Oriole, the
Cuckoo-shrike and Whistler, Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and
Pygmy Flowerpecker (Brooks,1992).
This island was well covered by the Cambridge team (Dutson et al, 1992, Dutson 1993, Evans et al, 1994), but is still under-explored, e.g. I saw 3 new species in only 48 hours of birding, and there is the unidentified scops-owl to resolve. To see its six endemics, only two sites need visiting -- Sablayan Penal Colony and Mount Halcon.
Sablayan is easily reached by flying to San Jose, from Manila or Cebu only, and then taking a jeepney north along the coastal road for c.65 km to the turn-off, on the right, for the penal colony. If on a public jeepney, you will probably have to walk the 5.5 km to the HQ, where you should seek permission from the superintendent, who will doubtless allocate you a guide. It is a further 2.5 km to the forest, at Siburan, where the guide's house (your sleeping-quarters) will probably be. Take food and sleeping gear. The only way to avoid the walk is to hire a jeepney, e.g. from the Mino de Oro Plaza Hotel, which cost us 2500 Ps to be dropped off at Siburan and picked up the following day. The only access to the forest is up the river behind the first in the line of houses at Siburan, which should be alright if the river is dry, as when others have been, but is a test of endurance when a raging torrent! Mindoro Bleeding-heart, Black-hooded Coucal, Mindoro Hornbill and Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker are found here, but all are difficult to see -- we dipped on the pigeon. Nearby Lake Lubao is worth a look -- we had Philippine Duck, the first Tufted Duck and Baillon's Crake for Mindoro, and Black-bibbed Cuckoo-shrike in hacked forest behind the lake. An as yet unidentified scops-owl has also been found close to the edge of the forest here (Dutson, 1993).
The Aquafil fish-ponds on the coast 5 km north of the airport should be worth a look.
Mount Halcon, which holds the Mindoro Imperial-Pigeon and Scops-Owl, is reached
by taking a taxi from Calapan (in northeast Mindoro) southwest to Magtibay, where you
can stay with the village priest, and then walking 5 hours to the forest. The Scops-Owl
is in mossy forest a further 2 hours up (GCLD), so you will have to camp. San Jose to
Calapan is a difficult and time-consuming journey round the coast -- it is easier to go
from Manila, e.g. by bus to Batangas where there are ferries taking 4 hours to Calapan
and nearby Puerto Galera.
Although this island is as big as Bohol, it is almost completely deforested. It has two endemic species -- Black Shama and Cebu Flowerpecker -- both of which have been rediscovered in the last decade, and two of the few indigenous bird-watchers, Perla Magsalay and Boy Rigor. The Black Shama is fairly widely but locally distributed, and can be found at Casili, Consolacion, near the airport, provided you have a tape of its song. At this time only a single family of three or four Flowerpeckers is known, in a patch of degraded forest near Tabunan in Central Cebu National Park, a 2+ hour drive from Cebu City (Dutson et al, 1993). Perla is usually willing to show visitors either site, given fore-warning, and to provide accommodation -- her house is found, with difficulty, by passing the Capitol building on the right, turning right at the Caltex garage after a few 100 m, and going to the Crystal Compound on the left a few 100 m on.
Cebu's other claim to fame is Olango Island, the country's best site for waders. Ferries
leave every 30 mins or so from the coast a few kms north of the airport, near a big new
hotel, and take 20 mins. Although there are numerous residents on the island, there are
no hotels or restaurants, but the Asian Wetlands Bureau has a house where you can
stay with Perla's agreement. The 1000s of waders, including Asian Dowitcher and
Great Knot, are widely dispersed on extensive mud-flats, except at high tide when
most of them roost near "Coconut Island" -- a slight prominence with 4 palm trees,
beyond the mangroves on the southeast coast -- to find it you need a guide, e.g. Perla
or an AWB worker. Mist-netting is carried out here once a month at high tide. The other
star bird is Chinese Egret, which can usually be seen in winter at the south end of the island.
The Sulu Islands in the extreme southwest hold 3 endemics -- Sulu Bleeding-heart, Blue-winged Racquet-tail and Sulu Hornbill -- and are a relatively easy place to see Rufous-lored Kingfisher. Flights and ferries go to Bongao, from where you can take a boat at 9.00 to Balimbing (3+ hrs) on the main island of Tawi-Tawi. Mr Mox, at the house nearest the quay, is helpful (NB). This is the "wild west" of the Philippines, which has been off-limits in the past, and where security can be a problem. Tabon Scrubfowl and Gray's (Grasshopper-) Warbler are found on Bongao Peak, while Dark-eared Brown-Dove, Rufous-lored Kingfisher and Sulu Hornbill and are found in Balobok Forest near Lakit-Lakit, accessible by jeepney from Bongao or the airport (on Sanga Sanga Is.). Contact Des Allen in Tokyo if thinking of going here.
Siquijor is conveniently visited by ferry to Ilioan en route between Dumaguete and
Tagbilaran. It holds the endemic Streak-breasted Bulbul -- a common and widely
distributed species -- a pair of Cockatoos and Rufous-lored Kingfisher, but little else
of note. It is possible to stay with Perla's sister, who lives at Ilioan.
Summary of Itinerary -- Philippines 1994
Jan 13-14. Sheffield - Gatwick - Manila
Jan 15. Manila - San Jose, Mindoro - Sablayan Penal Colony
Jan 16. Sablayan Penal colony
Jan 17. San Jose - Manila - Bacolod, Negros - Mambucal
Jan 18-20. Mt Canlaon
Jan 21. Mambucal - Dumaguete
Jan 22. Casa Roro, Valencia and Dumaguete fish ponds
Jan 23. Siaton
Jan 24. Mount Talinis
Jan 25. Dumaguete - Cebu - Tubigon, Bohol - Logarita, Rajah Sikatuna NP
Jan 26-29. Logarita, Raja Sikatuna NP
Jan 30. Logarita - Tagbilaran - Manila
Jan 31. Philippine Cemetery, Manila; Manila - Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Feb 1.Balsahan Trail, Iwahig; Garceliano Beach, Puerto Princesa
Feb 2. Puerto Princesa - Sabang; St Paul's NP
Feb 3. St Paul's NP
Feb 4. St Paul's NP - Balsahan Trail, Iwahig - Puerto Princesa
Feb 5. Balsahan Trail; Puerto Princesa - Cebu City
Feb 6. Casili Consolacion, Cebu; Olango Island
Feb 7. Olango Is - Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao - Dalwangan - Mt Katanglad
Feb 8-11. Mount Katanglad
Feb 12. Mt Katanglad - Cagayan de Oro - Butuan
Feb 13. Butuan - Mangagoy - Road 11 and PICOP reservoir
Feb 14-15. Road 5, PICOP
Feb 16. Bay View Hills, PICOP; Mangagoy - Davao - Manila, Luzon
Feb 17. Candaba Swamp - Manila - Malicboy
Feb 18-20. Quezon NP, plus Pagbilao ponds on Feb 19
Feb 21. Quezon NP - Manila - Hilltop, Angat watershed
Feb 22-23. Angat watershed
Feb 24. Angat - Manila - Baguio
Feb 25. Baguio - Bontoc - Bay-yo, Mt Polis - Banaue
Feb 26. Mount Polis
Feb 27. Banaue - Manila
Feb 28. American Cemetery, Manila; Cartimar bird market; Manila -
March 1. Gatwick, London - Sheffield
Arrived in Manila at 19.20, three hours late. Taxi to Tim Fisher's, for first taste of Filipino beer -- not bad.
Up at 5.00 to catch 6.50 flight to San Jose, Mindoro with Tim. Arrived on time at 7.30 but didn't leave town till 10.00 due to delays with the jeepney-hire. Dusty, bumpy road to Sablayan, arriving at 11.45 to find Foundation Day celebration in progress -- partook of their buffet lunch and beer but declined whiskey. Arsenio delegated to guide and lodge us.
Attempt to enter forest by 'dry stream' defeated by rushing torrent, so retreated to the lakeside where birds included Philippine and Tufted Ducks, Baillon's Crake, Blue-crowned Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot and Black-bibbed Cuckoo-Shrike. At dusk Great-eared and Savanna Nightjars were near the hut but no owls. Arsenio cooked our noodles.
Black-hooded Coucals called at dawn, but no owls; saw two Mindoro Hornbill at forest edge. Tackled the torrent, after breakfast, but I soon fell in, immobilising tape-recorder; then dipped on Malay Night-Heron! Stream dried up after km or so and finally saw Black-hooded Coucal but no Bleeding-heart. Returned to hut at 14.00 and on to nearby river; White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle and Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker completed the day.
Boarded jeepney at 16.15, as Tim had to be at work on Monday; reached San Jose at 18.30. Night at quiet Sea View Hotel, 1km from airport -- 150 Ps a double -- eating at its deserted but OK restaurant.
Another sunny day, with lots of hirundines on the coast (but no waders), including at least one Sand Martin, a great rarity. Flight to Manila on time at 8.25. Wait-listed for 11.00 flight to Negros, as had booked the Tuesday flight, but got on although it did leave full. Arrived in Bacolod at 12.00; taxi to town (25 Ps) and jeepney to Mambucal (15 Ps). Checked in at the Pagoda Inn (at 13.30), given to its 84 year old owner 54 years ago by Coca Cola -- looked as though it hadn't been painted since, and its "comfort room", in common with all in the Philippines, had no toilet-seats (what do they do with them?).
Took off for the hills, reaching degraded forest after 90 mins: skittish feeding flock included Flame-templed Babbler, and Philippine Needletails fed overhead with Purple Needletails. Returned to Pagoda at dusk and fed alone on noodle soup, omelette and rice.
Set off in dark at 5.30, reaching forest at 6.30: Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove and White-winged Cuckoo-shrike in degraded lower part and several feeding flocks in primary forest higher up Mt. Canlaon -- White-vented Whistler, Golden-Yellow White-eye but no hornbills. Eventually reached moss forest, where orchid-collectors were active but not birds. On way down, at 800/850 m altitude flushed a noisy pigeon -- possibly the rare Negros Bleeding-heart -- but failed to see it. Returned through a broad-leaved plantation and past a huge fighting-cock farm. Toured Mambucal, looking for flowerpeckers and sunbirds with little success -- a quiet, run-down spa resort, with an almost deserted public bath-house and a laid-back ambiance which I rather enjoyed.
Party of westerners arrived, for a 3-day hike up Mt. Canlaon, and introduced me to the natural hot shower nearby ("awesome", to quote a Canadian girl). A Philippine Hawk-Owl called intermittently throughout the evening.
Dull, windy day with some rain -- fruitless search in lower forest for hornbills, pigeons and jungle-flycatchers, but flushed Barred Buttonquail, Spotted Wood-Kingfisher, Pechora Pipit and unidentified ground thrush. Pleased to find tape-recorder fully recovered. Awesome shower and bean stew.
Set off for Mt. Silay on first jeepney to Bacolod at 6.15, then another jeepney to bus terminus at northern suburb of Shopping, and bus to Silay, arriving 8.30. No transport to Patag, at base of Mt. Silay, before 13.00 at earliest, so took jeepney to Hawaiian-Philippine Sugar Co. to view working steam locos. Spent rest of morning on footplate and filming locos, between heavy showers, before returning to Mambucal. Saw 'Negros' Flowerpecker at last, then tried different route to forest but failed to find decent trail in -- Streak-headed Rhabdornis and Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike only consolation.
Surprised to find the "climbers" back -- trip aborted due to being up all night in rain with shortage of tents and sleeping bags -- so much for service provided by Chris Garzon, recommended by Lonely Planet. Ate well at Tourist Lodge, with cold beer for first time here. Rained all night.
To Bacolod and Shopping as before, then Ceres Line coach at 8.00 to Dumaguete (another left for Cebu at same time) -- 117 Ps. Sugar-cane in the rain all day, arriving 15.30. Checked in to Jo's Lodgings -- convenient, clean but noisy. Found DENR office, with difficulty, fearing it would have closed for weekend; not so, but as Chamberlain was out in field, asked me to return at 18.00. Visited Silliman University hospital, for attention to throbbing finger -- quickly had it lanced and dressed -- 150 Ps for doctor and nurse + 500 Ps for antibiotics. Back at DENR, found Chamberlain unavailable in the morning but arranged to meet him at 13.00.
Nothing on the coast so took tricycle inland to Valencia and on to Tajeros resort where watched sunbirds and flowerpeckers. Continued on foot towards forest, further than it looked, finding a narrow path after an hour -- White-browed Shortwing. Very slippery due to rain, so turned back and took Casa Roro trail down to waterfall -- good view of Flame-faced Babbler and Tarictic Hornbill but had to leave for appointment with Chamberlain. He agreed to take me to Siaton tomorrow and Mt. Talinis on Monday, then returned me to Jo's on his Honda in the rain. Had my torn trousers repaired by a cobbler, for 10 Ps, then took a tricycle to fish-ponds north of airport -- rather disturbed but held a fair selection of waterbirds including c.100 waders and a Baillon's Crake.
Nice day at last -- got sunburnt! After nearly 2 hrs on the back of the Honda, we paid our respects to the local headman, hired a guide (80 Ps) and walked into the hills, against "the tide" as people laden with bananas streamed down to Siaton market 12+ km away. Pleasant but disappointing day, the few birds included Philippine/Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo and Crimson Sunbird but no hornbills or parrotfinches. Left at 16.00 reaching Jo's at 17.45 -- felt as though I'd ridden an elephant -- passed a packed cockpit (cock-fighting stadium) and learnt that the other popular spectator "sport" is horse-fighting (over a tethered mare).
Had to wait till 8.00 to go to DENR so photo'd the town, a much nicer place than Bacolod -- few jeepneys, lots of tricycles, some carrying as many as 10 passengers. Departed for PNOC at 9.00, saw security chief at 10.00 -- he said he wanted to adopt a Philippine Eagle! Left with permit at 10.15, past two geothermal power-stations, reaching trail at 10.45. Difficult first km along stream, then steep climb into good forest; few birds except Snowy-browed and Mt. Verditer Flycatchers but finally saw Negros Striped-Babbler at 13.00, followed by Pink-bellied Imperial-Pigeon.
Chamberlain returned at 16.20, having been back to the office to see clients. A dull but dry day. Reached Jo's at 17.30, checked out, and went to the quay to buy ferry ticket to Cebu (nightly service for 170 Ps, Green Floor = 1st class, direct to Bohol only on Friday). Tasty chicken inato, the charcoal-grilled local speciality (probably fighting-cock) back at Jo's. Boarded ship at 22.00 and found a bunkbed in the Green Floor "dormitory".
Smooth voyage, docking at 6.15. Peddle-tricycle to another quay where the Bohol ferries dock: Tubigon at 7.00 and 8.30, Talibon at 9.30 and Tagbilaran at 10.00, so caught the first, although Tagbilaran is nearer to Logarita. Splashed out on a first class ticket -- 55 Ps ($2), cf 50 Ps 2nd class and only 45 for 3rd. Pleasant run, mainly in the sun, leaving at 7.10 -- many Black-headed Gulls, Common and Whiskered Terns -- and docking at 9.40. Immediate bus to Carmen (11.30), then Tagbilaran bus at 11.45, alighting at Bilar.
Escorted across paddies by schoolboys to Logarita. Guard/ranger, Nado, unlocked bedroom and gave me a campbed, sheet and mosquito-net. "Afternoons absolutely dire" according to Ken Mitchell in the guest-book, so I set-off to see. Samar Hornbill, Blue Fantail and Yellow-bellied Whistler were new amongst the few birds encountered on the Valley Trail, but little at the Scout Camp. On return at 18.00, took some time to find Nado to unlock the resthouse, but he then boiled water so I could have my soup and tea.
To Scout Camp at dawn, then adjacent trail. Three hours of rain; shopping trip to Bilar and phoned PAL in Tagbilaran to confirm flight to Manila. Ruddy Kingfisher and Trogon on main trail, then Steere's Pitta flushed from Valley Trail, Serpent-Eagle perched at Scout Camp, and Philippine Frogmouth outside resthouse at night.
Woken in night by owl calling nearby -- too tired to get-up, shameful! Streaked Ground-Babbler, Steere' and Red-bellied Pittas post-dawn on Valley Trail. One hour of rain, Scout Camp, then Bilar to phone home -- had to be a "collect-call" as they didn't know what rate to charge me! Told "your companions have arrived" and sure enough, Pete and Nina were back at the resthouse, collapsed on the floor with food-poisoning. As Nado had disappeared, had to light fire and cook for myself. Listening to Pete's tapes, realised had heard Rufous-lored Kingfisher on Valley Trail (but never heard it there subsequently!).
Party of Brown Tit-Babblers on Valley Trail at 7.00 held Wattled Broadbill; Rufous-fronted Tailorbird at last (having heard many) on trail opposite swimming pool, then Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher on Valley Trail. Siesta during lunchtime shower, then did far trail, partly through paddies: Black-chinned Fruit-Dove and Yellow-wattled Bulbul. Scout Camp at 17.00 with Pete and Nina, thankfully in much better shape; quiet till 18.00 when Philippine Nightjar displayed, then piercing call heralded sight of Philippine Eagle-Owl perched on skyline, before gliding overhead with a silhouette like a Lesser Spotted Eagle. Frogmouth and Scops-Owl called, invisibly.
Similar itinerary to Friday but no megabirds -- only Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove, Pompadour Pigeon and Black-crowned Babbler. Pete had Rufous-lored Kingfisher on trail beyond Scout Camp but I only heard it briefly later. Showery afternoon. Excellent view of pair of Philippine Hawk-Owls at Scout Camp, the only owls seen, but no luck with Frogmouth at resthouse.
Returned to kingfisher site but no response to tape; tried it on way back and after 300 m bird called, eventually giving good views perched c.15 m up. Last good bird was Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, at last, on Valley Trail. Dry day. Left at 13.15 for Bilar; only room on first bus at 14.15 was on roof -- rather precarious but nice view of National Park -- extensive area of forested limestone hills. Arrived Tagbilaran at 15.30; tricycle to airport. Checked in, then walked to coast but no decent habitat. Flight to Manila, on my old pal a Fokker Friendship, on time at 17.00. Taxi to Malate Pensionne where found Mike Archer in the restaurant, of course.
Leisurely start, in deference to Mike's jetlag, to the Philippine Cemetery -- fine day. Got soaked thrashing the dew-laden long grass, but no buttonquail, only Blue-breasted Quail. Did see rare White-shouldered Starling. Checked in early for 15.30 Puerto Princesa flight, then to PAL office to change tickets to Cagayan de Oro instead of Davao. Found our other companion Rich Hopf, and had time for brief chat with Tim Fisher at Puerto Princesa before he boarded the flight back to Manila. Tricycle 1 km to Yayene Pensionne -- 205 Ps for triple with fan -- friendly but poor "comfort" facilities. Visited nearby White Sands but tide high, so very few birds. Rained at night.
Had arranged for jeepney to pick us up at 5.30 but it failed to arrive, so had to find another (500 Ps for the day). Left at 6.15 for Iwahig, arriving at penal colony at 7.00; soon out on the Balsahan Trail. One of the best day's birding on whole trip, with activity throughout (dry with sun and cloud) -- Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Palawan Hornbill, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Palawan Tit, bulbuls, babblers and flycatchers, including the gripping Blue Paradise-Fly, and a rare Rufous-winged Cuckoo. Afternoon slightly soured by loosing trail at a river-crossing on way back; walked down river instead, but slipped over, immersing tape-recorder (again). Left at 16.15, stopping briefly at paddies; ended day at Garceliano Beach, studying Chinese Egrets. 20 ticks!
Negotiated 3 day trip to Sabang with John Ogdamin (of Pineda Sub-division, San Pedro), our reliable jeepney driver, for 3250 Ps. Left at 5.10. Dawn saw us in scenic forested karst; arrived at idyllic Sabang at 8.30 (after a breakfast stop). Rented chalet with 2 beds for 200 Ps, then walked along deserted beach to St Paul's -- lovely day. Spent most of day on the Ridge Trail and along stream, only ticks being Thick-billed Pigeon, White-vented Shama and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Late pm found Rich had seen Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, so followed Orange Trail to cliffs where flushed a pair -- tape-recorder still recovering from ducking. Celebrated with expensive blow-out of omelette, chips and banana pancake -- 135 Ps.
Back to St Paul's HQ at dawn, another fine day, staying till 7.00 -- lots of Blue-naped Parrots but no Racquet-tails or Cockatoo. Did Orange Trail to subterranean river (3.5 km) where saw 3 Megapodes, but little on way back. Watched flowering trees at HQ then went for swim. Returned to Sabang where found Mike had seen Cockatoo at HQ around 8.00. Rich and I went 7 km to Kabayugan Ranger Station in the jeepney: rangers knew a nest 2 hrs walk away and often saw Cockatoos from the Station in flight in morning, up to 9 at a time. We declined an offer to visit the nest, not wanting to disturb such an endangered species. Returned to St Paul's where talked to American Peace Corps couple on 2-year project to survey the birds and mammals, initiate environmental education, and help achieve sustainable use of resources -- let's hope they succeed. Tried Mangrove Trail, failing to see Mangrove Whistler or Copper-throated Sunbird, but did have Changeable Hawk-Eagle over the forest.
A Great-billed Heron was feeding at dawn but no Cockatoos before we left St Paul's at 9.00, having decided the Balsahan Trail was more promising. Left Sabang at 10.00 and reached Puerto Princesa at 13.00 after a few short stops. Cloudy afternoon on Trail where, between 14.00 and 19.00, saw most of specialities including Blue-headed Racquet-tail and Hooded Pitta, but no owls or frogmouth. Reached Yayene Pensionne at 20.00, to discover it was full, and a room had not been saved for us as requested. Collected laundry (very cheap), took room at Pink Silk Guesthouse (200 Ps), opposite more upmarket Badjao Hotel, and ate at excellent Cafe Puerto, run by a Brit.
Left at 5.15, stopped for cheeseburger at good supermart on outskirts of town, on Balsahan Trail at 6.15. Sunnier day and fewer birds, quiet after 10.00: Jerdon's Baza, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Olive-backed and Pechora Pipits were new. Planned to leave for airport at 12.30 but John had not returned, so chartered another jeepney (200 Ps) which had brought some picnickers, it being the weekend. When we reached the hotel, John was behind us in a friend's jeepney -- his had blown a tyre en route to Iwahig. Took 15.10 full flight to Cebu, via Iloilo, Panay -- cool and wet. Taxi to Perla's; talked to Boy as she was not in but found her when we returned from a Chinese meal. Stayed the night there.
Leisurely start as it was still raining, although soon cleared to give a hot day. Elected to go to Casili and Olango rather than Flowerpecker site. Horrendous traffic and road-works in Cebu City -- saw 3 Black Shama at adjacent sites -- total population estimated to be 300, all in habitat of bamboo and bushes. Stopped for lunch at someone's request, so didn't take ferry till 14.00, arriving at Olango at 14.20. Tricycle (an outrageous 80 Ps) 2-3 km to AWB house (free).
Perla showed us route across mangroves to Coconut Palm Is, then returned to Cebu (accepting 500 Ps). I spent 2 hrs on the baked mud watching waders come to roost, with borrowed scope -- 5000+ with Asiatic Dowitcher and Great Knot, a few in summer plumage -- most activity after 17.00 but fairly quiet when I left at 17.55 -- high tide scheduled for 19.30. At the house the resident Japanese ornithologist (on a 2-year secondment) was eating crabs, with 2 Japanese visitors -- he gave us boiling water and sake. Perla is hoping for US Peace Corps workers later this year.
Beautiful day but low tide so waders widely scattered over vast acres of mud. Toured southern shore, scoped distant Chinese Egrets, but nothing new. Caught small ferry at 10.20; tricycle to airport (50 Ps) after a wait of c.20 mins. 12.30 flight on time, arriving at Cagayan de Oro at 13.15. Found taxi driver used by Tim -- drove us to Dalwangan via supermart for 900 Ps, waited while we sorted arrangements with Mr Maghanoy, and took us 2-3 km towards Katanglad. Finally reached lodge at 18.00, sweating profusely although it was quite cool. Heard the woodcock but light too dim to see it against vegetation, as it flew quite low. Later on heard Lesser Eagle-Owl calling but abandoned attempt to see it till another night when found it to be well inside the wood. Unfortunately, it never called as much on subsequent nights.
Cold night, cloudy day -- woken at 5.30 by calls of Philippine Nightjar. Good party at the lower stream -- Eye-browed Thrush, Black-and-cinnamon Flycatcher and Black-masked White-eye. Carlito took us to the eagle-nest overlook where we stayed for 2 hrs, hearing eagle calls occasionally, and then at 10.30, an adult Philippine Eagle circled round for a few mins. On the way had seen Rufous-headed Tailorbird and Red-eared Parrotfinch at the upper stream. Moved higher up the main trail to another forest overlook where soon saw a juv Phil Hawk-Eagle; then the Phil Eagle re-appeared and settled in a distant large tree. Returned to lodge -- nice view of pair of White-cheeked Bullfinch en route -- where large party included Grey-hooded Sunbird and Olive-capped and Striped Flowerpeckers. Parties of Eye-browed Thrushes, totalling 100+, flew to roost but couldn't find where; managed to see woodcock tonight.
Two more dry days, spent mostly along the main trail. No eagle sighting on Wed but flew near upper view-point on Thurs at 10.55. I dipped on McGregor's Cuckoo-shrike, Little Slaty Flycatcher, Mountain Shrike, Apo Myna and Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, but did see Phil Nightjar, Long-tailed Bush-Warbler, Cinnamon Ibon and more Parrotfinches. Three DNER officials stayed one night and located 22 families living illegally in the National Park -- letters of complaint would be sent to the "squatters", the first stage in trying to evict them.
Caught up with Apo Myna at upper view-point and McGregor's Cuckoo-shrike in nearby large party, then returned to lodge in heavy rain which didn't stop till 15.00. Taped the woodcock at last. Strange that never saw Grass-Owl after first day.
Nothing new this morning, although flushed a bird from log where Rich had seen Little Slaty but got nothing on it. Left at 7.25 as sun came out; retrieved gear at Dalwangan, then took jeepney to Malaybalay, bus to Cagayan (delayed by 30 mins due to puncture) and a/c coach at 13.20 along the coast to Butuan -- 130 Ps in total. Arriving at 16.40, had missed last bus to PICOP (at 15.00), so stayed at Emerald Villa Hotel -- a higher standard than usual (350 Ps double, 250 Ps single). Butuan is a large, vibrant but poor city, situated near mouth of a major river, but 10-15 km from coast -- good photo opportunities but no birds.
Up at 3.30 to catch the 4.00 bus to Mangagoy. Departure of the ancient vehicle was delayed by shortage of passengers, till 5.20! Rained during latter part and we had to disembark at one point, and walk 500+ m along a very muddy stretch to where another bus awaited. Finally reached Bislig then Mangagoy at 10.45. Tricycle to Paper Country Inn where rang Ernie Mendoza; he sent Cora Ang round, and we discovered could only do Road 11 and sort permits out tomorrow. Tricycle to reservoir, seeing waders and bitterns in paddies along Road 11. Tried all round reservoir but couldn't find any worthwhile forest -- the few birds difficult to see, as usual on a sunny afternoon -- possible Black-headed Tailorbird. Towards dusk, lots of birds flight away from Road 11, mostly too far but did identify Wandering Whistling- and Philippine Ducks.
Grey day -- tried to obtain permit early but had to wait till 8.00 to start the process. Moved to Bislig Inn where communal TV was showing highlights of Sheffield Wednesday vs Manchester Utd cup semi-final! Negotiated jeep hire with owner-driver sent by Cora. Left for Road 5 at 9.00 as it started raining -- hardly let-up all day -- bad road and driver. Short stops at Km 15 and 27, reaching 38 at 11ish. Spent rest of day on road and trails around here, getting wet; not many birds but included Spotted Imperial-Pigeon, Silvery Kingfisher, Mindanao Hornbill, Yellowish Bulbul, Philippine Oriole and Rusty-crowned Babbler, dipping on Rufous Hornbill and Naked-faced Spiderhunter, and uncertain of possible Short-crested Monarch. Reached hotel at 19.00, to find restaurant partly flooded (still raining) -- even Mike unable to face Valentine disco, despite watching the talent going in.
Ready for jeep at 5.00 but it didn't come and no other transport available. About to try birding locally at 6.15 when jeep arrived -- claimed to have been looking for alternative driver, and failed unfortunately. Road even worse and still raining, but lightly. Stopped for perched Serpent-Eagle and Barred Honeybuzzard, reaching Km 38 at 8.30. Walked to Km 40, this stretch having the best-looking forest: Falconet, Blue-crowned Racquet-tail, Blue-backed Parrot, Writhed Hornbill and Philippine Leafbird. Weather cleared -- pressed on to Km 48 without finding any more good forest, so returned to Km 42 and walked back to 38, then did trails round there -- some birds but only Rufous Hornbill was new (for me). Returned to hotel at 17.30, arriving at 19.00 as before.
Tried for permit to Bay View Hills but told to wait till 8.30, so walked along small river but few birds and no tracks up forested hillside -- sun and showers. Melody May from the PR Dept arrived at 8.15 in an a/c minibus and took us to Bay View, a pleasant area of wooded parkland-type habitat. Birds seen in 2 hours included Black-chinned Fruit-Dove, Silvery Kingfisher, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis and Naked-faced Spiderhunter. Melody returned at 10.55 and took us to the bus station, after picking up bags from the hotels. Good journey to Davao -- 11.35 to 16.20 -- tricycle to airport. Finally reached Malate Pensionne in Manila at 21.45 after various delays, only to find it full. Took a room at a doss-house down the road, after arranging taxi for the morning.
Left at 4.00 for Candaba, driver (plus mate) on time for a change, and reached the swamp at 6.00 -- lovely day. Disappointing for rails and waders but numerous birds, including 2 Pied Harriers and 1 Streaked Reed-Warbler. Departed at 10.30 for Manila, where traffic was terrible. Finally left there at 14.00 for Quezon NP, after bidding farewell to Mike who had to return to work, arriving at Malicboy at 17.35 -- lots of roadworks. Taxi cost us 2300 Ps for the day, but would have travelled c.500 km in 17 hrs. Couldn't get in the Golden Showers "Hotel" as keys to both rooms were lost, but after we urged them to break in, a lad climbed in through a boarded-up window and opened the door. Ate at a shop/ bar down the road, the lady quickly cooking the eggs, rice, beans and tomatoes we bought there.
Noisy night as our room, the only one habitable, was next to the main road, used by large trucks and buses throughout most of the night. Walked into Quezon NP at dawn, after breakfasting at a stall on the way -- hot and sunny day. Much activity during first hour in open forest below the hairpin-bends: Luzon Hornbill, Black-and-white Triller and Phil Bluebird, while Sooty Woodpecker and Blackish Cuckoo-shrike were in forest above the bends.
Continued to Summit Trail, with Red-crested Malkoha and White-browed Shama on the way, and walked its full length -- quiet apart from ubiquitous Elegant Tits, Lemon-throated Leaf-Warblers and Blue-headed Fantails. Back at start of trail saw Olive-backed Flowerpecker and a skulker which later realised to be Rabor's Wren-Babbler. Hitched a lift back to hotel to do washing, etc, then returned to river at NP entrance, where flushed Indigo-banded Kingfisher. Lift back to Summit Trail but only activity was 2 pig-hunters. Walked back down at dusk, highlight being pair of Luzon Hornbill in mutual display.
Breakfast again at 24-hour stall, run solely by widow with 4 young children. Walked up hill in dark -- 4+ Hawk-Owls calling; Summit Trail at dawn had Sooty Woodpecker, Blackish Cuckoo-shrike, etc, but only Grey-backed Tailorbird was new. Fruiting trees along road held Malkohas and hornbills, including Rufous, while Merrill's Fruit-Dove and Green Racquet-tail flew over; Ashy Minivets, Flaming Sunbirds and Striped and Pygmy and Flowerpeckers were in nearby flowering trees. Found sunbird building nest on a large leaf by trail behind dry pool. Early afternoon raptor-watching was fruitful, with displaying Serpent-Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, a pair of Phil Hawk-Eagles and a probable Crested Goshawk. Back down at the river, had a gripping view of the Indigo-banded Kingfisher, catching and consuming a fish.
Caught a bus at 16.00 towards Paglibao but had to change to another after it blew a tyre. Walked across railway and paddies to ponds, then sat on verandah of "house" for some time watching Barred and Buff-banded Rails, White-browed Crake and waders c.15 m away. Walked round some of the ponds, seeing Watercock and Slaty-breasted Rail, but ran out of time. At dusk spotted 2 Rubythroats on track leaving ponds, then Great-eared Nightjar overhead. Reached Malicboy on jeepney at 19.00, to find Rich had seen Blue-breasted Flycatcher and probable Bleeding-heart on Summit Trail. We rented a fan from the dining-shop, which not only cooled us but helped drown the vehicle noise.
Jeepney to Summit Trail at dawn but nothing notable. Another scorching day, mainly spent along the road -- lots of birds but only Falconet and Rufous Coucal were new. Visited Rich's Blue-breasted site several times, seeing nothing, but at dusk heard unfamiliar double, nasal call on Summit Trail and traced it to a male Blue-breasted Flycatcher! A pair of Spotted Wood-Kingfisher called nearby but couldn't see them. Jeepney back to Golden Showers.
Woken in night by mechanical digger working a few metres from my ear. Lift to Summit Trail pre-dawn but no sign of flycatcher and still couldn't see calling Wood-Kingfishers -- another scorcher. Taped a very high-pitched song and play-back revealed Rabor's Wren-Babbler, briefly; then flushed a Luzon Bleeding-heart from understorey-scrub. Walked back down to hotel, at last seeing single Scale-feathered Malkoha, which Rich had seen daily. Bus to Lucena at 9.15, then a/c coach to Manila, complete with American video, arriving 13.00.
Decided to take taxi to Angat, to ensure getting there today, first stopping at PAL office to reconfirm flights. Negotiated 600 Ps for trip but went to Angat Dam, not Hilltop, which led to quite a drama. We eventually compromised on 1000 Ps and reached Hilltop at 16.45, only to find resthouse fully booked from Tuesday onwards. Resolved problem by visiting Mr Largo at his house -- given a spare non-standard bedroom. Quick walk on main trail was unprofitable. Dinner of fatty pork, chicken nuggets and rice.
Breakfast of fried eggs and bread at 5.30. Another scorcher -- walked a long way on main trail, soon seeing perched Phil Hawk-Eagle, then flushed Emerald Dove from trail, followed by Bleeding-heart and White's (Scaly) Thrush -- good forest now, secondary and bamboo previously. Male Trogon and a pair of Besra, then turned back to look for Reservoir Trail. Tried two narrow, steep paths -- poor view of presumed Rabor's Wren-Babblers on one -- before coming to proper trail at 11.00. Little activity on way down, but at reservoir watched soaring Hawk-Eagles, then White-fronted Tits and an Indigo-banded Kingfisher. Climbing back, had good view of Long-billed Rhabdornis, with grey crown and white spots on shoulders. Reached shops at 15.00, then walked 3 km down to dam - Rufous Coucal only notable bird. Lift back, then returned to Reservoir Trail, finding Celestial Monarch bathing and preening at reservoir (16.55-17.00). Met Rich on way back -- he'd seen Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and White-lored Oriole but none of my goodies. Bought large tub of chocolate fudge ice-cream to celebrate a good day.
Quickly down to reservoir; no monarch or oriole but White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Rufous Hornbill and noisy party of Rufous Coucals, Red-crested Malkohas and Bluebirds. Along main trail further than before to Rich's Paradise-Fly area, but little of note and cicadas very noisy in the heat. Coming back, had 3+ Trogons in primary forest and a Philippine Dwarf-Kingfisher flew across the trail, but little else. Returned to Reservoir Trail, meeting Rich who had equally disappointing day, and watched from reservoir for some time -- Rufous-bellied Eagle and Falconet very active. Higher up, eventually found feeding party with Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove, Trogon and Blackish Cuckoo-shrike but no Oriole. Talked to seminar delegates at dinner (of nice fish): National Power Co. salaries had been frozen, causing much dissatisfaction, engineers leaving; unfinished nuclear plant, started in Marcos era, is being converted to natural gas but considerable doubts expressed on whether there are enough reserves in Luzon to keep it running.
Arranged lift to Manila with Mr Mendoza at 9.00; Rich decided to stay here rather than take long ride to Mt Polis. On another fine day, final chance to see Oriole -- failed but finally identified Ashy Ground-Thrush and had my first Sooty Woodpecker for site. Departure delayed till 9.50; reached NPC head-office at 11.25. Taxi few km to bus terminus -- predictably, too late for Banaue bus so took advice and caught Baguio bus -- 6 hrs for 122 Ps. Flat countryside for 4h 30 then wound up into mountains for remainder of journey. Baguio is a large city, purportedly with no cheap hotels since 1990 when they all fell down in major earthquake -- had to settle for Gigi's Lodgings at a rip-off 400 Ps, when I discovered there was no way of getting to Banaue tonight. Earliest bus is at 5.00 to Bontoc, en route to Banaue.
Woken at 1.30 by rodents, followed by arrival of noisy party. Eventually got up to ask for quiet and discovered there were at least 12 youngsters in the small reception room. By the time they left, alarm went off, or so it seemed, as I wanted to be at bus-station by 4.45. Battered old bus left on time at 5.00 but soon stopped at a supermart where everyone got out to go shopping for 20 mins! Spectacular mountain scenery, with terraced hillsides, deep gorges and pine woods; Grass-Owl, Phil Swiftlet and Blue Rock- and Island Thrushes were the only birds identified, but also saw 2 possible Common Buzzards, a large kingfisher at high altitude (probably a Spotted Wood-) and 2 shrikes -- L.validirostris? After several lengthy stops and two flat tyres, reached Bontoc at 11.45 -- nearly 7 hrs for 100 Ps. Had been cool and sunny, now hot.
Soon found a jeepney for Banaue, and got off at Bay-Yo at 13.00, ignoring warning that it was last jeepney of the day. Walked through village down to river and soon saw Luzon Water-Redstart at exactly same spot as Neil and Ian. Watched pair feeding young in nest. Brown-headed Thrush on way back to road, where I stopped to await transport. Two Luzon Montane Racquet-tails, 1 Buzzard and 1 Crossbill in next 2 hours but no vehicles, so decided to walk to army post at pass -- hard going with my heavy pack, so greatly relieved when a private jeepney appeared at 17.00. Reached Banaue at 18.30 and found the clean Greenview Lodge -- 60 Ps a night plus 20 Ps for a warm shower. Ate well next door at People's Lodge and arranged for a tricycle to take me back to the pass in the morning.
As expected, tricycle arrived late, at 5.10 as town started to get to life. Cold, bumpy journey to Mt. Polis, arriving 6.30 -- clear and bright. Whitehead's Babbler, Luzon Bush-Warbler and Mt. Shrike in 500 m before army post (at Km 362). The warbler had 2 different songs, one like Cettia diphone, the other Cettia cetti, which made me think there were 2 different species at first. Heard but couldn't see Long-tailed Bush-Warbler and Shortwing, but did see pair of Racquet-tails other side of pass. Tried narrow trail part-way to summit, with armed guard, delegated by post commander who asked if I were a Freemason (he was), but only bird was a close Mt. Shrike behind the post. Good downward trail just before post, forking left after 50 m, gave Green-backed Whistler but no Flame-crowned Flowerpecker; Metallic-winged Sunbird most common bird. Returned at noon as it started to rain, and cloud came down. No respite, so took last scheduled jeepney at 13.45; only room was on roof -- rain soon cleared -- learnt I'd missed a festival in Bontoc today. Off at terrace viewpoint (15.15) -- impressive -- and walked 4 km slowly back to lodge -- no flowerpeckers but an unidentified pale thrush. Heavy rain in evening.
Dull day; spent an hour on outskirts of Banaue but saw little. Bus left at 7.15 half-full but soon filled up. 5 Philippine Duck separated from a large flock of ducks in flight at Aritao (9.30). Pleasant journey with 3 long stops, not, unfortunately, at Dalton Pass (11.40) which had patches of hacked forest at the top, but was totally deforested below. Reached Cubao at 17.15, then bus to Baracan, jeepney to Paranaque and tricycle to Tim's (19.30). Swapped stories with Tim, recently returned from the Birdquest tour, and Des Allen, back from 18 days in the far north where he saw Green-faced Parrotfinch and Koch's Pitta.
Hot and sunny by 8.15 when reached American Cemetery with Des, but lots of birds till
late morning, including Osprey, Crested Goshawk, Barred Rail, Plaintive Cuckoo, Blue
Rock-Thrush, Chestnut-cheeked Starling and Lowland White-eye. Jeepney to Cartimar
pet market where there were many parrots (mostly imports) and pigeons, especially
fruit-doves and imperial-pigeons, and some passerines, e.g. munias and Parrotfinches --
all in small cages, with no photos allowed. Returned to Tim's, then to airport, checking
in at 17.00. Disappointed not to find Rich in departure lounge, as his flight was scheduled
for 19.00 (but later found he had left a day early). Mine was delayed from 19.55 till 21.45,
further delayed at Bangkok, and stopped at Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt, before finally landing
at 11.40 at Gatwick, where the outside temperature was 4°C, like Mt. Polis at dawn!
Summary of Observations per Island
Island No. of days Total no. of sp. No. only seen here Mindoro 2 66 8 Negros 7 102 11 Bohol 5 75 15 Palawan 5 101 47 Cebu 1 55 16 Mindanao 8 137 33 Luzon 10 173 53 Total 38 347 175
Malayan Night-Heron, Black-hooded Coucal, Mindoro Hornbill, Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker.
Pink-bellied Imperial-Pigeon, Philippine Needletail, Spotted Wood-Kingfisher, Tarictic Hornbill, White-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Flame-templed Babbler, Negros Striped- Babbler, Philippine Tailorbird, White-vented Whistler, Crimson Sunbird, Golden-yellow White-eye.
Black-faced Coucal, Philippine Eagle-Owl, Philippine Frogmouth, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Samar Hornbill, Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted Pitta, Streaked Ground-Babbler, Philippine Leaf-Warbler, Rufous-fronted and Yellow-breasted Tailorbirds, Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher.
Great-billed Heron, Tabon Scrubfowl, Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, Philippine Cockatoo, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Palawan Hornbill, Hooded Pitta, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Palawan Tit, Ashy-headed and Melodious Babblers, Falcated Ground-Babbler, White-vented Shama, Palawan and Palawan Blue Flycatchers, Blue Paradise-Flycatcher, Palawan Flowerpecker.
Asiatic Dowitcher, Great Knot, Black Shama.
Barred Honey-Buzzard, Philippine Eagle, Woodcock sp.,Spotted Imperial-Pigeon, Silvery Kingfisher, Mindanao and Writhed Hornbills, McGregor's Cuckoo-shrike, Philippine Leafbird, Yellowish Bulbul, Rusty-crowned Babbler, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Little Slaty Flycatcher, Black-and-cinnamon Fantail, Apo Myna, Grey-hooded Sunbird, Naked-faced Spiderhunter, Olive-capped, Flame-crowned and Buzzing Flowerpeckers, Black-masked White-eye, Cinnamon Ibon, Red-eared Parrotfinch, White-cheeked Bullfinch.
Pied Harrier, Cream-bellied Fruit-Dove, Luzon Bleeding-heart, Green and Luzon
Montane Racquet-tails, Red-crested and Scale-feathered Malkohas, Rufous Coucal,
Indigo-banded Kingfisher, Philippine Dwarf-Kingfisher, Luzon Hornbill, Sooty
Woodpecker, Blackish Cuckoo-shrike, Black-and-White Triller, White-lored Oriole,
White-fronted Tit, Long-billed Rhabdornis, Rabor's Wren-Babbler, Chestnut-faced
Babbler, White-browed Shama, Siberian Rubythroat, Luzon Water-Redstart, Ashy
Ground-Thrush, Streaked Reed-Warbler, Grey-backed Tailorbird, Luzon Bush-Warbler,
Blue-breasted Flycatcher, Celestial Monarch, Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Green-backed
Whistler, Olive-backed Flowerpecker, Pygmy Flowerpecker, Lowland White-eye.
Systematic List of Bird Species
This is a list of my 1994 records with additions from my companions: Tim Fisher (Mindoro), Pete Morris (Bohol), Mike G Archer (Palawan, Cebu and Mindanao), and Rich Hopf (Palawan, Cebu, Mindanao and Luzon excluding Mt. Polis). Taxonomy, sequence and names follow Dickinson, Kennedy and Parkes (The Birds of the Philippines, 1991) but incorporate splits from Sibley and Monroe (Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World, 1990). The names of Philippine endemics are in capitals.
The only mammals noted were Crab-eating/ Long-tailed Macaques Macaca fascilaris, which were not uncommon in small troupes throughout; many bats, a few squirrels, including Sundasciurus mindanensis, S. philippinensis and Exilisciurus concinnus; and house rats and mice.
Lizards were common, but not numerous, and included a flying species on Mt. Katanglad, a large colourful gecko at Mambucal, and several large monitors. Only two live land snakes were seen by me; a sea-snake on the shore at St Paul's was returned to the sea with some difficulty.
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