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Mount Makiling
(Forestry Campus, Mud Springs, Botanic Garden)

Date: June 13
Time: 6:00 am to 3:00 pm
Weather: Cloudy skies, fine, cool weather, wet conditions
by Ned Liuag with Hans and Harvin Liuag

On a whim, my brother Hans, his nine-year old son Harvin and I, in the company of the three-year old retriever Sela, set off for Makiling from San Pablo before sunrise this Friday 13th. Initially I'd worried about bringing the dog with us - even if the retriever carried her own water and biscuits in a backpack. Turns out she was a disciplined companion, having to my surprise already been on hikes on the Mount Banahaw Kinabuhayan-Tatlong Tangke trail and to the crater rim of Imoc Hill in San Pablo. Our hike was part of her training as a search dog.

My objective for the day was to explore as numerous side trails as possible and try for forest raptors, specifically Philippine Falconets, the White-Browed Shama and a glimpse of long-trailed macaques.

We arrived at a little past 6:00 and got off at our usual jump off point near the Umali Theater inside campus. The first bird seen was a YELLOW VENTED BULBUL in a tree by the road followed by a PACIFIC SWALLOW. Further on, at the bottom of Narra Road, we heard the White-Browed Shama singing in the thicket. I tried for several minutes but failed to locate the elusive bird and went on to follow the rest of the party for the 10-minute walk to the registration point.

There wasn't much to hear or see along this stretch of road this morning, though as we reached the teachers residences, I could identify the familiar vocalizations of RED-KEELED FLOWERPECKERS high in the trees. There is an interesting piece of property on the right side of the road before the College of Forestry gate where we saw a pair of joggers enter, but turned back because of the No Entry sign just as you got inside the lane. It looked quite promising because it lay on the edge of the Botanic Garden and had young trees and scrub in it. I suppose people on campus ignore the signs, but to be on the safe side we turned back.

Turning left off Narra, we followed Makiling Road around the eastern side of the building housing the UPLB Museum of Natural History. Further up, just past the open utility hole, I discovered the headquarters of the elusive ASEAN Center for Regional Biodiversity Conservation! I made a mental note to drop by their offices some time.

I checked the dead tree where we'd seen the Dollarbird during the Birdwatch e-group trip in January hoping for the Falconets but came up empty. A few meters up the road, we saw the first of several BALICASSIAOS that we would run across on this trip. There was at least three flying conspicuously
between the huge trees standing behind the Forestry residence hall.

On the Road
The road to the Makiling Rainforest Park is notorious on the feet because of the poor condition. So the mounds of gravel dumped by the roadside was a welcome sign that roadwork had commenced. Still it had been raining in the past few days and the potholed, rocky-strewn, mud-slicked road also proved slippery along parts.

Somewhere far off a COPPERSMITH BARBET started calling and was answered by another. I let my companions go ahead while I checked the open area in the vicinity of the first switchback for birds. Here I easily saw an ORANGE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER and a PHILIPPINE BULBUL. I didn't stay very long because I could hear a bunch of out-of-town hikers boorishly hollering to each other nonstop, being inconsiderate that people living in the forest might want to start their day as quiet as possible. Besides scaring off the wildlife, of course!

Halfway to the Makiling Rainforest Park, I decided to park myself in the shade and wait for the birds to show up. Higher up the trail, my brother was admiring six Balicassiaos as they flit from tree to tree. Somewhere in the mahogany plantation, a BRUSH CUCKOO called feverishly and a Woodpecker
drummed against a trunk but both remained unseen. From my position, I caught sight of pair of RED-CRESTED MALKOHAS, one of which perched only four meters away. More Philippine Bulbuls were flying across the road.

I thought I'd lost the hikers down the trail, when they showed up again up ahead crashing through the undergrowth in a failed and frustrating attempt at a shortcut to the Mud Springs trailhead. They'd only gone two kilometers at pell-mell pace, and they were quite surprised that I was overtaking them at my slow pace. I casually mentioned that I could hear them thrashing in the undergrowth before they appeared and that they had not even made it halfway to Peak Two. These hikers miss the point about the forest and the mountain. In their quest to reach their destination, they miss out the joy of making the journey. And for what, I wonder. When they reach Peak Two they will be terribly disappointed because it doesn't even offer much of a view!

To avoid having them for our tails, I caught up with my brother and nephew and took them down the muddy path behind the first makeshift stall on the side of road. This is the same path that Mads Bajarias walked off and got lost in the forest but found the Philippine Trogon, Rufous Paradise Flycatcher and a Pitta. I'd been down this path once in December but never followed it past the edge of the clearing where some bananas were growing. Well, turns out if Mads simply kept walking, he'd emerge in one of several farms. We followed the path till it terminated in a settler's yard, where a score of native chicken were scrabbling in the dirt.

The hike to the Makiling Rainforest Park was uneventful except for the usual Balicassiaos and Philippine Bulbuls, and the tonk-tonk of Coppersmith Barbets. While two hikers stopped to pet the dog and strike a conversation with my brother, I took off down the horse trail leading off one of the switchbacks. Like the previous this also leads to somebody's yard and still no Falconets!

Past the rundown park - which for reasons unknown is padlocked every time I visit - you can take a trail that runs alongside the fence of the tree nursery. A narrow paths branches off towards the west, which eventually leads to the Clearing - which must have been part of an abandoned geothermal project site. I doubled back because the path led down to a gully. I decided there was an easier way getting there than going through brambles.

The Clearing
The Clearing figures in foreign birders reports as a site for Purple Needletail. I've regularly visited this place going through here since last year but have not seen a single one. I'd come across a pair of Chinese Goshawks and lots of Philippine Bulbuls, but no Needletail.

You can enter the Clearing two ways. One is a wide lane a few meters beyond the Mud Springs trail head. Or the narrow path that goes through the trees and undergrowth, reducing visibility to a couple of meters. I took the latter.

Slowly emerging from the forest gloom, I noticed movement on the left side of the trail and discovered three Red-Crested Malkohas perched in the low branches beside the trail. I had the opportunity to watch these closely before being startled by the unexpected lowing of cattle out to pasture in the Clearing.

I realized that the Clearing was larger than I originally thought. I found the cow in the eastern half of the Clearing, a grassy depression separated from the one with the rusting, overgrown basketball court. And also a new bird that from afar I'd mistaken for a small reed warbler as it flew into a bush. Following its call chirping call, I sneaked up and located a GREY-BACKED TAILORBIRD in one of the upper branches five meters away. I watched it for five minutes, as it turned this way and that revealing chestnut crown and tail, yellow-greenish wings and grey back and rump, and some grey streaks around the neck and breast that looked like a necklace. I was about to leave it to its business when I saw a second Grey-Back emerge from the neighboring bush and respond to the other's calls.

In the thickly forested western side of the Clearing, I could hear the far-reaching call of a forest dove. I'd been hearing this call on every hike but could never find the source. I was thinking that this might be a
Reddish Cuckoo-Dove. The calls were coming from close by so I opted to follow the trail that skirts the ravine on the southern edge of the Clearing. The muddy trail goes deep into the forest with canopy so thick the sun barely filtered through. My main concern was that I'd blunder my way into a balatik and get speared through the legs or blown up by ping-pong balls containing powder and shot that hunters use for getting large game. I surprised another Red-Crested Malkoha along the dim trail. Didn't find the dove but from the crowing of roosters knew that once I emerged into the sunlight again I would find myself - in another backyard!

Disappointed with the result I returned to the Clearing, where I saw several sparrow-sized birds flying from the forest edge to the tree growing in the center. Initially, I thought they were oversized sunbirds. When I found a nice shady spot to count and observe the birds, I realized these were STRIPE-HEADED RHABDORNIS. I could see five of them hopping up and down the branches looking for insects. I watched them at length before the birds flew back to the forest, startled by the approach of a farmer on horseback. Walking back to the road, I saw another five Rhabdornis take flight from the tree.

The White-Browed Shama startled singing again in the thick section of the forest between both trails to the Clearing. I got off the trail in search of the songster but had no luck again. Hearing my brother blow his whistle and their voices calling for me in the distance, I headed down to Mud Springs where I expected them. (Turns out they put the retriever on my scent and followed me all the way into the forest.) I didn't see any other birds on the trail to the Mud Springs except for a BUZZING FLOWERPECKER feeding on figs midway down the trail.

I caught up with Hans and Harvin at the stores. My brother said a tiny green frog had hitched a ride on Sela while they were at the Mud Springs. He was positive it was not a Common Green Frog, which until recent occurred in our garden in San Pablo.

A Shama was singing again, this time inside the campground. It was almost noon and we had originally planned to be home by early afternoon. On the way down, Hans spotted a juvenile LONG-TAILED MACAQUE on the western side of the road near the first switchback. I missed the monkey but heard it moving noisily among the branches. This is the third time we've seen macaques along this stretch of road: a female with an infant, an adult male and this one. So there must be a band somewhere.

Still, my nephew Harvin wanted to visit Flat Rocks and Hans wanted to take Sela for a dip in the creek. While the retriever and my nephew scrambled up and down the channel all the way to the steep drop, I climbed up to the mahogany plantation ridge trail across the creek. Sat there for a quarter of an hour but heard and saw nothing. This is the third time in five months that I've been to this particular section of the ridge trail and each time I find nothing. I suspect this is due to the disturbance by visitors - students trapping specimens, picnickers on their way to the pool upstream, hikers, settlers and the occasional hunter. On the way back to the road, heard the chime-like calls of a COLETO but did not see it. Otherwise the trail was very quite.

Next stop, the Botanic Garden where they let dogs in, too! While the dog was sent off for a swim in the pool downstream, I went off towards the Raptor Center. Heard but did not see the Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers again. Nothing else except for a pair of Philippine Bulbuls and close-up views of a pair of Balicassiaos near the greenhouse. This last species I nearly mistook for Philippine Fairy Bluebirds because of the bluish gloss on the wings until I spotted the flared tail. Also spotted a large bird with brown
mottled wings in one of the huge trees at the top of the steps overlooking Molawin Creek. Could have been a raptor but it had moved away on both occasions for a positive ID. Ended the day with more two Balicassiaos at the far end of Maralas Creek towards the Hortorium but quite pleased with the day's results.

I found it strange that I didn't notice a single Eurasian Tree Sparrow during the hike today.

BIRD LIST:

  1. Red Crested Malkoha (6) - A pair along road midway to the Rainforest Park, three at edge of the Clearing, one flushed in forest.
  2. Brush Cuckoo - Heard in a number of sites during the hike to the Rainforest Park. Feverishly calling weep-weep-weep.
  3. Coppersmith Barbet - Common, but only heard during the hike
  4. Pacific Swallow - 1 in UP Los Baños campus
  5. Striped Headed Rhabdornis (10) - Tree in Clearing east of Forestry Road near Mud Springs trail head
  6. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - 1 in UP Los Baños campus
  7. Philippine Bulbul - Common in secondary forest
  8. Balicassiao (15) - At least three in trees behind Forestry Residence Hall, eight along road to Makiling Forest Park, and four in Botanic Garden
  9. White-Browed Shama - Heard only along Narra Road and in several sites along route to Makiling Rainforest Park
  10. Grey-Backed Tailorbird (2) - In bush in Clearing
  11. Coleto - Heard one on the Flat Rocks trail
  12. Red-Keeled Flowerpecker - Common. Heard only along the trail.
  13. Buzzing Flowerpecker - 1 seen feeding on figs on trail midway to the Mud Springs