by Martha Tan
Last July, my friend and I decided to go on a trip. Both of us are birders, however we didn’t necessarily set out to go birding. The plan was to make it up as we went along. That meant, in the beginning, we had no reservations for any of our accommodation, no set places to visit, no idea how long we’d stay in each place, and in fact, no flight booked back to Metro Manila. This was all very exciting, but, naturally, freaked me out all at the same time. Thankfully, Gerwin Veldman, my travelmate, always kept a cool head.
To start it off, we arrived at the Tagbilaran Airport in Bohol, in the late afternoon. We decided earlier on that we’d find a place somewhere in Loboc for the night. Hopped in a van and the first thing they asked was where we were staying, and we said “We don’t know yet.” They were taken aback, but were very helpful and brought us to a very nice resort. Thus the first couple hours were a success: we found a place to sleep.
As it grew dark, we were looking around and noticed something ruffle the leaves of a tree in front of us. He pulled out his camera and I grabbed my binoculars, and we saw a Pink-necked Pigeon. The following morning, we got up quite early and went for a walk around the property: eager to find out what other birds were around. In the daylight we realized that it was situated right beside the Loboc River, with a young forest area on the other side. There we saw several different species of birds, among which were the Red-keeled Flowerpecker, Philippine Hanging-Parrot, Philippine Coucal, and a pair of Purple-throated Sunbirds. We continued our walk outside of the resort and onto a hanging bridge near by. As we looked over the deep cerulean Loboc River, we noticed some swallows perched on the wires. We didn’t know it at the time, but when we sat down and looked through the photos, we realized that they were Striated Swallows.
A nice start to our trip, with a surprising array of birds just within the first 24 hours. Fast forward a few days later, when we found ourselves on the South East coast of Cebu. We were in the Barangay of Tan-awan, walking along the highway when we saw a couple of Rufous-crowned Bee-eaters perched on the wires. We carried on and walked the whole way to the Tumalog Falls. Every person we passed asked us if we wanted a ride, we politely declined, only to find out later why they kept insisting. The falls were not that far away, but required quite climb up what felt like a wall instead of a road. Here we both realized, how stubborn we could be. In the end, it made arriving at the falls all the more gratifying. What a beautiful sight it was, the water streamed down like a soft curtain, springing life into patches of herbs and beds of green moss against the rocks. In between the trickling streams of water, there were Swallows weaving through, having a drink or perhaps staying near by their nests, behind the falls.
For the next impromptu destination, we hopped onto a bus driving up along the West Coast of Cebu. That highway was right on the edge of the island and the ocean. The shoreline wasn’t a stretch of sand, but instead a belt of rocks. Sometimes it felt as if we were driving along the water itself. It was late into the the evening when we arrived in the municipality of Aloguinsan. The following morning, we headed off to the Bojo River, about six kilometers from where we stayed the night. We took to the easiest form of transportation in the area, habal-habal, zipping through on the backs of locals on their motorcycles. The Bojo River Cruise is an Eco-Cultural spot that has been included in the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations in 2016. Those who put it up helped educate the locals about the different wildlife, and flower and fauna of the area. At the entrance, we were immediately greeted by a couple immature Red-keeled flowerpeckers. We took a little boat and the boatman was our guide and educator. He told us all about the different species of mangroves along the river, the over 72 species of birds that may be found in the area, common, scientific and local names in fact; as well as the different legends that have shaped their beliefs and respect for the land and sea, and other spirits in between.
Our last spot in Cebu was in the Tabunan Forest. With the help of Willem Van de Ven, we were able to contact the daughter of one of the wildlife wardens of the forests in that area, a familiar name perhaps to some: Oking. We got up not-yet-so-bright, but real early to take a motorcycle up and through the mountain to reach Oking’s house. It was at least an hour and 20 minutes before we arrived at his place, and the ride was beautiful. The sun was beginning to rise, peeping through the clouds surrounding the mountains, and there were steep climbs and deep dips into walls of mist and fog. Not long after we arrived, Oking led the way into the forest: it was so full of life. Not a moment of complete silence. The birds were abound, although somewhat elusive. However, others were more confident and nearly flew into our faces as we stood in the lookout area, level with the canopy of the trees. Among quite a few, we were able to see a couple Black-naped Monarchs cleverly hopping about some distant bamboo, speedy Everett’s White-eyes, some Mangrove Blue Flycatchers, a pair of Pied Trillers, and just as we were making our way back down, the Black Shama: which is endemic to the island of Cebu.
After a couple days being back in Metro Manila, we were off and onto our next destination, Northwards this time. Hopped on a sleeper bus and woke up, freezing inside, a few hours before arriving at the San Mariano Junction. We got off and took a jeep into town and then a tricycle to the Crocodile Rearing Station. Said hello to the little crocs, had a swim in the river, played with the cats and Munding’s fighter-of-a-puppy, and to top it off, had some excellent adobo care of Munding himself. Then we headed off to the Isabela State University, where the Mabuwaya office was situated. After a day of being rained in, we headed off to Baggao, Cagayan with Joni Acay, Joey Brown, Kris Angel,and Samu Oosthoek, plus Lily. It was a long trip, but well worth it, even before we arrived. We were in great company and surrounded by nature at every turn. It was late in the afternoon when we made it to our host family. Was a little late to see much birds so we decided to take a swim instead. It became clear to me why they called it Blue Waters, the water was blue like a deep turquoise to the naked eye. The low falls rushing down the river, us jumping into the pool of water, climbing the rocks and peering into the cave, it was all so refreshing and energizing. By nightfall, the stars were all that could be seen up in the sky. Every once in a while, there would be lighting as well, coming from a distance. I was in complete awe.
The following morning we set out to see some birds. The first to tease us with several of its many songs was the Isabela Oriole: a bird thought to be extinct, not too long ago. We caught sight of it as it flew from one tree to another, but otherwise, it seemed to be shy for the day. We continued on and Gerwin spotted the Indigo-banded kingfisher as it landed on a branch in the shadows, quiet little fella. Afterwards, we headed to the bottom of the river and trekked our way back to the falls we swam in before. To my surprise, there were several falls along the river, each beautifully formed and unique. Along the way, we saw the Philippine Fairy-bluebird, the Luzon Hornbill, some saw the Philippine Trogon, a couple Red-crested Malkohas, and a Mountain Tailorbird, among others. With Joni around, we were enlightened about how much more we didn’t see but were hearing all the while.
The last site we went to with this great bunch was the river alongside the Callao Cave, in Penablanca, Cagayan. There were Elegant Tits, Blue-tailed Bee eaters, and when we took a boat up the river, we saw, besides the thousands of bats that were streaming out of another cave opening, dozens of Brahminy Kites waiting and preparing themselves to pick at the outlying bats. Plus a Luzon Hornbill flying across the river before all the commotion took place.
Those were some fantastic weeks spent travelling, making new friends, spending time with old friends, and most of all discovering more of the wonderful nature and wildlife that grace our many islands.
Here’s to more of these adventures!
Here are our ebird bird lists if you’d like to know what else we saw (some of the lists have very few entries):
Loboc, Bohol: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47509522
Tabunan Forest, Cebu: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47510471
Baggao, Cagayan: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47755713
Cabagan, Isabela: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47755603
Callao, Penablanca, Cagayan: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47755932