With 7,100 islands stretching
from the Malayan-Indonesian complex in the south to close
to Taiwan in the north, sandwiched between the South China
Sea and Pacific Ocean the Philippines is both a rewarding
and difficult place to watch birds. The processes of geography
and evolution has left one of the highest degrees of endemism
known in the world with some 181 species of birds only found
within the archipelago. Add to those species mainly found
within the the Philippines and a huge potential for further
‘splits’ and one can see the attraction for birding
As if the prospect of traveling through a
myriad of islands of different sizes, shapes and forms each
often with its own dialect and transportation and access problems
was not enough, the element of human influence is also one
of the highest in the world. Virtually anywhere in the country
there are people, either settlers or native tribes, encroaching
on remnants of habitat in each of the islands. This pressure
can be so intense that within a short period of time most
of a habitat in an area can vanish taking with it what was
possibly a large percentage of the remaining local population
of several bird species in one fell swoop. Hence many visiting
birders are told – visit now before it is too late.
The list of non-endemics reaches around 420
species although this has been increasing each year as more
people regularly birdwatch and more foreign tours visit the
islands. It is important that trip reports be relayed to the
recording body (click on Birding Records: Submission of Records)
so that valuable data may be gathered to add to what is currently
a largely ‘word-of-mouth’ list of sightings and
Three regions – Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, typically
politically refer to the country although for birdwatchers
the area of Palawan is a 4th region that must be treated separately.
The largest island with a limited
number of associated islands off the north and east
coasts, Luzon contain all the major habitats from mossy
forest to wetlands. Due to logging there is extremely
limited lowland forest left but within most mountainous
areas remnants of forest can be found.
The island is relatively easy and safe
to move around and with fairly good transportation links.
There are a few birdwatching sites within or close to
Metro Manila but most endemics are found scattered a
day or two’s travel away.
The belt of the Philippine archipelago, the Visayas consist
of the majority of the islands. In ornithological terms there
are two or three major areas – the Negros/ Panay complex
in the west, Cebu in the center and the Bohol/Samar/Leyte
group to the east, which have many shared species with Mindanao
to the south.
Environmental degradation in this region
is extreme – especially in the west where several species
are located in very small forest patches and some subspecies
may even be already extinct or in non-sustainable situations.
Travel is again not difficult and the area
is generally peaceful and easy to access. With most of the
islands being small, travel time to sites is normally a day
although there are no ‘organized’ transportation
links and most visitors use local guides.
A large island close to Borneo, Mindanao is also all too often
seen in the news or travel advisory lists as a place to avoid.
Instability does occur in the western parts but in general
it is within certain areas and other regions are peaceful
and the people receptive. With a host of endemics, and being
the holdout for the Philippine Eagle, one can see why most
people still want to visit but some areas are restricted and
travel mainly must be done with prior organization or with
extra days on hand to move about.
Some of the easiest birding in the country and set in a truly
tropical setting, Palawan is a favorite for anyone. With its
own set of birds quite distinct to the rest of the country
and a good set of migrants it makes a pleasant change from
the hard work it can be to bird the rest of the Philippines.
As with other tropical countries the forests abound with insects
and reptiles making a pleasant diversion while waiting to
see a bird. Orchids are also abundant and as with the birds,
endemism is also common across all the biological communities.
The weather &
Although Mindanao has a more equatorial climate to the northern
areas in general the islands are governed by a dual season
climate – wet (June-October) and dry (December –
April). Temperatures range normally from 25-35 Celsius although
the mountains can be cold at night in the early part of the
Malaria remains in a very few areas but is
not a major problem and other diseases are not significant.
Most normal facilities (food, health care, airports etc.)
are available within a day’s trek of any of the birding
Within Metro Manila
are two sites easy accessible to the visitor, the University
of the Philippines campus in Quezon City and the Las
Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area
near the airport. The former is set on sprawling grounds
of the university good for water birds and surprising
appearance of some forest birds such as Coppersmith
Barbet, Crested Serpent-eagle and Ashy Ground Thrush.
The latter hosts about 200 hectares of coastal wetlands
including the only mangrove forest in southern Manila
Bay. During migration season it teems with migrant waterbirds
such as Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Little
Ringed-plover, Little Egret and Grey Heron. The globally-threatened
Philippine Duck also has a small population here.
About two hours to the south of Metro
Manila lays a forested area known as Mt. Palay-palay
National Park although a reference to Caylabne Bay or
Puerto Azul (beach resorts) would be more likely to
get you there. A dry lowland forest it has many shared
species with Mt. Makiling and also a few others, which