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 birdwatch. The processes of geography
and evolution has left one of the highest degrees of endemism
known in the world with some 172 species of birds only found
within the archipelago. Add to those 8 species mainly found
within the islands and a huge potential for further ‘splits’
and one can see the attraction for birding here.
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 season a whole area can vanish
taking with it what was possibly a large percentage of the
remaining population of several species in one fell swoop.
Hence many visiting birders are told – visit now before
it is too late.
The list of on-endemics reaches around 300
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 so that valuable data may be gathered to add
to what is currently a largely ‘word-of-mouth’
list of sightings and numbers.
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.
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 marshlands.
Due to logging there is extremely limited lowland
forest left but within most mountainous areas small
remnants of forest can be found.
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 east where several species
are located in very small forest patches and some species
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 ‘organised’ transportation links and most visitors
use local guides.
A large island close to Borneo, Mindanao is also all to often
seen in the news or travel advisory lists as a place to avoid.
Instability does occur 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
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 of the heavily trapped and bird-poor forests
of 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 are normally between 25-35 although the
mountains can be cold at night in the early part of the year.
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
the city are 2 sites accessible to the visitor, University
of the Philippines campus and the Las Pinas-Paranaque
Criticial Habitat. 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 the only mangrove forest in southern
Manila Bay. During migration season it teems with migrant
waterbirds such as Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt,
Little Ringed-plover, Little Egret and Grey Heron. The
globally-threatened Philippine Duck also has a small
Also 2 hours to the south lies a forested
area known as Pico do Loro 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 Makiling and also a few others, which are
Please do feel free to contact the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
for any information – particularly regarding birding
around Metro Manila. In addition we request all records and/or
trip reports be sent to email@example.com in order to help
build up our database.