and Marilyn Liuag
Time: 8:30 PM to 4:30 PM
Date: 12 April 2003
Dry conditions, very humid
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
was enough to make us turn back.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
6. Balicassiao - 6+ encountered
in various sites visited along Flat Rocks and Molave plantation
7. Philippines Fairy Blue-bird
- 1 in lower section of Molave plantation trail
8. White-Browed Shama - Heard
9. Grey Wagtail - 1 male in breeding plumage in Molawin Creek
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