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Mt. Makiling (molave plantation ridge trail)
and Botanic Garden

Ned and Marilyn Liuag
Time: 8:30 PM to 4:30 PM
Date: 12 April 2003
Weather: Dry conditions, very humid

My wife Marilyn wanted me to take her on a "bush walk" around Mount Makiling. Being our first nature outing since the baby came, I happily obliged. We packed a picnic lunch and hailed the first bus bound for
Sta. Cruz, deciding to stand than reach the site late. Lucky for us there wasn't much traffic before 7:00 am and we were seated when several passengers got off in Calamba.

On the way to College, Los Baños, I spotted the first of very few birds of the day - an ASIAN GLOSSY STARLING perched in a tree near the bridge in the Anos district.

Our luck held up, transportation wise, because the jeepney at the Caltex Station terminal was also headed to the Forestry campus thus allowing an early start.

At the registration point, the ranger said we had to coordinate with their office if we wanted to go bird watching in the area above Flat Rocks. He said they were not responsible for people vesnturing into that
part of the forest. I thought that was quite irresponsible of them because I'd seen students specimen trapping or hiking along that trail when we were last there in February. I also felt the attitude was
hypocritical minding "professional" looking people but caring little for the group of young hikers - including a couple of grade school kids - who were headed to the same site.

Birds were few and birdcalls far, far between. The usual COPPERSMITH BARBETS - brain fever birds - were calling to each other deep in the secondary growth as Marilyn and I walked up the Forestry Trail.
Marilyn, who grew up on a homestead with my in-laws in the southern Sierra Madre remarked that there wouldn't be any birds because the dry season was already in full swing.

We heard the BALICASSIAOS in the canopy along the Flat Rocks trail, Marilyn being able to spot them first before myself. This species would become the most encountered bird throughout the trip.

Crossing the creek double time, we scrambled up the three-story slope to get to the ridge trail that goes through the molave plantation. Our plan was to follow the pipe across the creek, past the point where my
co-workers and I were forced to turn back in February. The central objective was to locate an alternative route to the Mud Springs.

Makiling Bush Walk
We let the youth move ahead of us, figuring they were on the way to the swimming hole on the "low road" left of the fork. Marilyn and I would be following the "high road" and break for lunch at the bivouac site
beside the creek, which I am calling "Red Jacobina" because of the numerous lipstick plants (Bixa spp.), found in the area. However, before reaching the fork in the trail, you have to make a steep descent into a gully. Visitors might want to note the native Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) in the tree on the left. Its bluish-green flowers look like green Christmas lights. It is described as a temperamental plant that has become a popular pergola ornamental in Thai gardens. A huge liana blocks the path at the top.

Because of the extreme dry conditions, sections of the path offered minimum purchase as we pushed on. The pipe - crawling with huge ants - goes over tree roots, boulders and rattan tangles. Along the way we
sent several skinks into the abundant leaf litter.

From the high trail, we could see the youth frolicking and raising a ruckus in the swimming hole below. Because of the broad rock formations, I am starting to think that this is the real Flat Rocks site. I am certain our birder-geologists would be most interested in the formation there. Not being knowledgeable in that field, I would say some metamorphic type broken up by previous volcanic rather than tectonic activity, and further eroded by the creek.

We reached the Red Jacobina site after an hour's hike, regularly interrupted by the mind-numbing cicada song, and settled down beside the stream to listen and locate birds. We came up empty-handed though we heard some interesting calls - including geckos, COLASISI, the melodious whistle of the WHITE-BROWED SHAMA, the "deut-du-leut" of PHILIPPINE BULBULS, then the occasional "bwoo! bwoo!" (PINK-BELLIED IMPERIAL PIGEON perhaps?), a high-pitched, metallic "ting-ting-ting" like the sound of
two thin rods being struck together and the low, stuttering call of a forest kingfisher. This last one which we kept hearing in the thickly forested section of the trail so I teased Marilyn that it was the spangled kookabura (if ever there was such bird in the world!)

After a quick lunch, we decided it was still early to follow the pipe across the creek and uphill. What had been mistaken for a steep slope turned out to be an easy scramble up a few boulders, behind which was a
rough path, which soon petered out when the pipe re-crossed the stream. We opted to follow the stream bank, scrambling from rock to moss-lined boulder. We aimed towards an ancient, gnarled tree growing upstream in the center of the waterway. It was difficult going and Marilyn lost her foothold and hit her shin hard on a rock. Lucky there was no serious injury or bleeding, but it would hurt later in the night.

Just past the tree, a dozen yellow butterflies flitting into the air created a fairyland atmosphere. In fact, this trip stands out for its butterflies than birds. The commonly encountered black ones with rust-brown under-wings, white ones with black stripes, black and yellow butterflies, and the lovely blue ones found deep in the Makiling forest. Well, the enchanted moment lasted only as long when the quiet of the forest was shattered by shouts upstream.

Turns out this trail didn't end at the Mud Springs but at a foot dam where settlers were doing the laundry. Now there's the answer to the mystery why the water at Flat Rocks occasionally turns a weird chalky color. Also, I wouldn't be so eager to wash my face down in Flat Rocks after other goings on besides laundry that Marilyn and I discovered.

In hindsight, I think the trail to Mud Springs mentioned in the Michael Dingkuhn's "Guide to Taal, Makiling and Banahaw" is located on the opposite bank. The Dingkuhn guide mentions a small dam and a waterfall
here. But Marilyn and I decided to avoid the locals and proceeded uphill. The ground in this area is quite damp, but beginning to dry. We must have gained 100 meters elevation through nice forest, where we saw
a couple more Balicassiaos but nothing else. This would be a good site to return later in the year!

To our right and below, we could see the stream through the trees. As we moved further, we occasionally came across snack food wrappers and bits of styrofoam board. At one point, the trail gave out and became
the bed of a small stream, still wet in some places. We pressed on following traces of the trail, continuing to discover bits of styrofoam board! After sometime, we decided to quit because the streambed started
to go uphill and deep into the undergrowth. We descended from this section of the forest, trying a side path but it too ended overgrown a few meters uphill. A bit perplexed we decided to turn back and leave
it at that for another trip.

A bit winded from out attempt, we took another break on the table-rock. There was one creepy moment when the cicadas started another deafening chorus, sounding like the roar of an approaching spacecraft. Our approach flushed a small frog - slightly more than an inch in length - which landed on the side of a boulder. My impression of the amphibian resembles the photo of the endemic COMMON FOREST FROG (Platymantis dorsalis) in Alcala and Brown's illustrated field guide to Philippine Amphibians. I took several photos of the specimen, placing a 20-peso bill next to it for scale. I very much doubt if the photos will come out because the camera didn't possess macro mode. Having done that, I noticed a five-inch blackish-brown skink clinging to the trunk of the gnarled tree growing in the streambed. I had a look at it through my binoculars and thought it was unusual behavior for a skink, so it must be one of the tree-living species found in the country.

By 1:30 in the afternoon we were back at the jump off to Flat Rocks. We decided to try making our way into the Botanic Garden by following the trail down. I was hoping that the trail would lead through the molave plantation to the trailhead near the confluence of the Maralas and Molawin creeks.

We followed the trail to the bottom of the ridge, where it ended in a gully leading to the creek. Here, we came across a wildlife poacher going up the trail. By his dress, the fancy spotting scope and custom
sport rifle, he wasn't a local in the park. The trail petered out in the gully but I was determined to find a way into the Botanic Garden. I figured the molave plantation trail was on top of the ridge opposite us. So, orienting by a fallen log and the ridgeline, we blazed southwards in the general direction of the Botanic Garden. Well, there was no path there but a single strand of barbed wire and a sign that said NO ENTRY
was enough to make us turn back.

Midway uphill on the return trip, Marilyn had luck spotting a pair of RED-CRESTED MALKOHA and a PHILIPPINE FAIRY BLUEBIRD! Here I was leading my wife was on her first forest bird walk on Makiling and she was spotting all the nice birds.

We made our way down the slope to Flat Rocks and noticed that rain clouds were gathering south of us. By the time we reached the ranger post, the heavens had opened up and we fled to the shelter of the
nearest office building. It took half an hour before we could proceed to the Botanic Garden.

In the Botanic Garden
On the way down Makiling Road, a flurry of aquamarine and white wings caught my attention. Putting my binoculars to my eyes, I easily spotted a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER perched on an exposed tree branch. Very nice!

Near the turn to the Botanic Garden, I happened to look skywards and caught sight of a bee-eater. I identified this one as the BLUE-THROATED species, considering the habitat and the distinct "pirik! pirik!" call which is also its Tagalog name.

We entered the Botanic Garden at half past 3:00 and took the road to the bridge across Molawin creek. As I scoured the trees for flycatchers, fantail or Colasisis, a BROWN SHRIKE made a sudden appearance on a wire. Reaching the bridge, I peered over the side and caught sight of a flicker of movement among the rocks below. It turned out to be a superb GREY WAGTAIL, a male already wearing the black throat of its breeding plumage. I watched it for a minute as the bird foraged for invertebrate prey and bathed in the creek. I spotted a flycatcher, but it was perched against bright sky and on an exposed branch high above, to be identified.

A Mystery Bird
Walking down a path, I came across a two-inch pinkish gecko, which immediately sought the safety among the litter of dead leaves. I was slowly making my way across the Molawin when I heard my wife suddenly call out. Our presence had disturbed what appeared to be a bittern from a deeply shaded section of Molawin creek. The bird also flew within six meters of Marilyn, who was standing a short distance behind me. She noticed a crest but neither that nor the crown was black, both diagnostic of the uncommon resident Malayan Night-Heron. I remember briefly seeing white tips when the bird flapped its wings but think it might have been the sunbeams coming through the canopy. I seem to remember a light colored throat but not a lot of it. However, Marilyn suggests that it resembled the Cinnamon Bittern in Morten Strange photographic guide "Bird of the Philippines." While this species also came first to mind, the Kennedy Guide suggests a different habitat for this species. The only other suspect is the rare migrant Japanese Night Heron called the Japanese Bittern in the DuPont monograph.

Drama in the Leaf Litter
As I puzzled over this bird, I heard my wife utter a shriek of alarm. SNAKE! Which sent me bounding across that part of the creek to investigate. Indeed, in the leaf litter, I found a tan-colored snake with black spots bordering a buff belly engaged in a fierce battle with its prey. The snake had another snake or a lizard that had just lost its tail in its deadly embrace. My wife, who has an immense fear of the leg-less creatures since she almost handled one having mistaken it for a belt, managed to hand me the camera from the boulder where she was perched. I was enjoying the entire drama happening scarcely a foot away
from my toe - and trying to remember if this was the venomous taling-bilao my maternal grandfather warned me about - when I popped the flash. Quick as lightning, the snake and its prey disappeared among the leaves.

After the close encounter with the snake, we decided that was enough excitement for the day and took off for home just before the gates closed at 5:00.

1. Japanese Night-Heron - 1 suspect flushed from Molawin Creek in Botanic Garden
2. Red-crested Malkoha - Pair on lower section of Molave plantation trail
3. Coppersmith Barbet - Common but heard only
4. White-throated Kingfisher - 1 in tree along Makiling Road
5. Blue-throated Bee-eater - 2 flying above Makiling Botanic Garden
6. Balicassiao - 6+ encountered in various sites visited along Flat Rocks and Molave plantation trail
7. Philippines Fairy Blue-bird - 1 in lower section of Molave plantation trail
8. White-Browed Shama - Heard only
9. Grey Wagtail - 1 male in breeding plumage in Molawin Creek in Botanic
10. Garden Brown Shrike - 1 in Makiling Botanic Garden
11. Asian Glossy Starling - 1 in tree beside beside road to College in Anos, Los Baños