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Bird watcher's camera captures rare young Philippine Eagle in wild

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - A “juvenile” Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) was recently sighted and photographed at the 3,720-hectare Taft Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Taft, Eastern Samar, which is in the Samar Island Natural Park.

Ruth Francisco, a Manila-based member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, said she saw and took a picture  of a Philippine Eagle on March 10 in the forest of Barangay San Gabriel, about 120 kilometers from Tacloban City.

Francisco, who has been been bird-watching for two years, said she had seen other wild birds in flight and Philippine eagles in captivity, but this was the first time she saw a live Philippine Eagle in the wild.

It was perched on a tree branch about 100 meters from where she was standing, Francisco said.

Her brief encounter with the elusive bird lasted about five minutes.

“It stayed there until three rufous hornbills flew by and perched in a nearby tree. The noise of the hornbills (seemed to have) disturbed the Philippine Eagle and it flew away,” she said.

According to Francisco, she went to the Samar natural park to look for the Mindanao bleeding heart pigeon that is known to inhabit the area.

With park guide Joselito Sierra, she went into the forest in the morning of March 10. At 7:55 a.m. she heard sounds from a rufous hornbill.

Expecting the Mindanao bleeding heart pigeon to follow, she got her camera ready. But what came next was a raptor that suddenly perched on a leafless tree. She then realized that it was a Philippine eagle.

“The presence of the Philippine eagle is an indicator that we still have an ecologically balanced forest in Samar,” said Manolito D. Ragu, director of the Eastern Visayas office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

He said there had also been reported sightings of the Philippine eagle in Leyte.

The Philippine eagle is endemic to the Philippines and can be found in eastern Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.

Following the various sightings of the national bird in Samar, then President Joseph Estrada issued Proclamation No. 155 on July 31, 1999, establishing the 3,720-hectare Taft Forest Wildlife (Philippine Eagle) Sanctuary in the Samar Island Natural Park. The park includes Mt. Nahulopan in the municipality of Taft.

The Philippine eagle was spotted and scientifically recorded for the first time in Samar 117 years ago by John Whitehead, an English explorer and naturalist. On June 13, 1896.

Whitehead’s servant, Juan, brought him the first specimen of what was then called the “monkey-eating eagle.”

But it was later discovered that the raptor did not just eat monkeys but also civets, large snakes, monitor lizards and flying lemur, among others. In 1978, the monkey-eating eagle was renamed the Philippine eagle.

In 1995, the Philippine eagle was designated the national bird by President Fidel V. Ramos in Proclamation No. 615.