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Mount Pulag National Park

Date: March 22 - 23, 2003

Mads Bajarias and Lu-Ann Fuentes as part of the Meralco Mountaineers expedition Extreme weather conditions, fierce wind and rain Last weekend Lu-Ann Fuentes and I joined members of the Meralco Mountaineers for a "fun climb" to Mt. Pulag using the Ranger Station trail.

I was a last minute addition to the group. Having initially declined after seeing the tight itinerary, I finally decided to join if only to get as much info for future birding trips to this area. So last friday Macrh 21 at 10pm, 13 of us got on the bus to Baguio City. We arrived 4am. A 4WD jeep picked us up at 5am for the 6-hour trip to the jump-off point. After a bumpy and dusty ride we arrived around 11am and had our lunch at the ranger station of the Mt Pulag National Park.

Along the way, our jeep stopped at the Ambuklao Dam and I got super-looks at a flock of Red-rumped Swallows. Their underparts were heavily streaked. The swallows were tame and perched quite close to the bridge. A woman who was selling tilapia along the road said the swallows are here all-year round. We also saw a swallow pair mating (over the sluice-gates)!

Among the red-rumps, we saw a handful of white-rumped species which were about the size of the Red-rumped Swallows but I couldn't get a clear enough look

During another stop-over (our elevation at this point was around 1000 meters above sea level), we saw Elegant Tits which was a good sign because this bird almost always travel with other species. This time the tits were in the company of White-eyes. According to elevation I should be seeing Mountain White-Eyes but I honestly can't tell if they were Lowland or Mountain White-eyes! They look devilishly the same on Kennedy etal.

There must be something in the air. Aside from the courting swallows by the Ambuklao Dam, on another occasion Lu-Ann and I spied a pair of Pied Bushchats mating while perched on a cable!

Near the spot where Bushchats were mating I saw 3 Whiskered Treeswifts. This is a new bird on my modest list and I enjoyed seeing them. The Treeswifts would land on a branch and then smartly fold their long wings. The treeswift's wings cross at the lower ends and white spots on its wings meet at the back like "Alien eyes."

Before our group reached the ranger station, we had to stop at the Protected Area Superintendent's Office. The superintendent's name is Temerita Tamiray.

Everyone who wants to climb Mt Pulag has to go through her and her orientation. My heart just goes out to Supt. Tamiray who related the problems she has to face as the person responsible for the 11,550-hectare national park.

Moving on, we reached the Babadak Ranger Station and started our trek to Mt.Pulag. At around 2500 meters above sea level we entered the mossy forest and were enveloped by constant drizzle. Temperature dropped.

At "Camping Ground 1" I saw two light-colored doves perched on the middle story at the forest edge. The rain and fierce wind prevented me from getting a good look and the team leaders told us to hurry up.

We reached the camp site before nightfall and promptly disappeared inside our tents. According to a group member who brought a thermometer, night temperature level hovered between 10-15 degrees Celsius. The rain and wind made going to the latrine a form of torture.

At 6am we heard bird calls from the mossy forest but I was too cold to leave the tent. On our way back to Baguio, Lu-Ann saw our bonus bird, a Luzon Water-Redstart near a stream.

The clumps in the foreground are actually Dwarf Bamboo Arundinaria niitakamayensis, known only from a few places outside the Park. If you're interested in climbing Mt Pulag, there's a variety of trails you can follow. Contact Park Superintendent Tamiray at celfone at 09196315402.

Camping Ground !

This is "Camping Ground 1." The trail that goes behind the sign is the "Old Spanish Trail." To the right is the trail to the summit. Behind the photographer is the mossy forest edge where I saw the light-colored doves but the weather was terrible and I couldnt get a good enough look. The mossy forest is heavily disturbed and its hard to imagine larger animals survive here. Along the way we encountered two men with air rifles.

Lu-ann

Here's Lu-Ann doing her impression of an Eskimo. it was more than chilly. see the gnarled trees and vegetation indicating high elevation. I heard some calls but the birds were wary, perhaps due to severe hunting pressure. the ranger staff is ridiculously low in manpower.

Snapshot of "Camping Ground 2." The mossy forest tops out here and grassland begins. A trail right of the tents leads to the grassland summit 8km away. Mt Pulag at 2922 meters above sea level (some sources list 2892, some 2930) is the highest point in Luzon and second highest in the country.

Mount Pulag Trip Bird List:
1. Pied Bushchat - c.10 the most conspicuous species along the road to Babadak Ranger Station
2. Red-rumped Swallow - c.30
3. Elegant Tit - 3
4. White-eye sp. - c.5
5. Large-billed Crow - 1
6. Pacific Swallow - over the vegetable farms inside the park.
7. Whiskered Treeswift - 3. nice to look at!
8. Luzon Water-Redstart - 1 Threatened and restricted range species. This bird is an indicator of clean water since it feeds on water insects. so long as the water is free of fertilizer run-off we'll continue to see this one. however, the extent of vegetable farms INSIDE the national park is a major concern.