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The Adventures of Mike, Ned and Jon: Part 1
-pico deloro-

No Problem: Just A Couple Omens Along the Way
PART ONE

Pico de Loro - Caylabne Bay Resort
Date: December 28, 2003
Time: 6:00 am to 3:00 pm

About 40 percent cloud cover, sunny in the afternoon but generally cool , dry conditions Mike Lu, Jon Villasper and Ned Liuag The Birdwatch membership committee consisting of Mike Lu, goegrpher Jon Villasper and I took off before dawn on December 28 for a day trip to Pico de Loro in Ternate, Cavite. Since Jon and I had not been to this site, Mike invited us to join him to reconnoiter the site in preparation for the regular trip in February. The visit also afforded the Membership Committee time to think about and discuss recruitment plans for the coming year.

I didn't think we would be able to visit the site because of approaching tropical depression. It had also been raining in Laguna and Makiling was completely swathed in cloud when we went to Manila in the afternoon of the 27th.

Mike and Jon picked me up on EDSA a quarter to 5:00 in the morning for the hour-long trip down dark highways to Ternate. I didn't realize until we piled out of the CRV at the DENR station that the site is a mere 65 kilometers southeast of Manila.

PICO de LORO
6:00 am to 11:30 am

It was still dark when Mike pointed to my first bird of the day, a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER, perched on the telephone wire. The kingfisher flit off into the picnic grove. We'd been around for 15 minutes when the first birds started to sing. By this time Jon and I had already wandered towards the picnic tables looking for the kingfisher. Jon said the calls he was hearing were new to him. Definitely not the ones he was used to hearing in Makiling. The same for me, I said, as we tried to locate the raspy-throated singer somewhere in the tangled slope. We gave up after some time and went to look for Mike, who seemed to have disappeared in the gloom.

Pico De Loro

The driver said he went up the road in the direction of the Marine base. So off we went in pursuit. But after about one kilometer and having added only one PHILIPPINE BULBUL and a PYGMY SWIFTLET to our list, still no Mike. Early in the trip we'd been talking about the kidnappings in Manila and the thought started to nag me. Jon and I started to holler his name down the road unmindful of diminished chances of new bird sightings. As we rounded the bend, to our relief Mike was driving up the road toward us.

He was a bit disappointed that there weren't that many birds about. The sun was starting to illuminate the ridge far above the road, providing an awesome view as we hiked down the road. Fortune smiled as we walked past the DENR station in the direction of the Pico de Loro trailhead. The first BRAHMINY KITE came gliding just above the ridge opposite the road. To the forest people of Borneo, the Brahminy Kite was the bird of the King of the Gods. A good sign. This would be first of more than a dozen Brahminy Kites that we saw flying individually or in threes all the way to Caylabne Bay.

Jon was wondering how many kites could possibly share the area and was thinking that the site provided rich food sources to support such concentrations. Mike hazarded the guess that the kite population was aided by the raptor release in nearby Corregidor island. He didn't remember seeing as many kites during in the area until last year. Perhaps the kites fly back to Corregidor or some of the islets in the mouth of Manila Bay but feed in the Ternate forest.

Then we looked back towards the DENRS station and saw the TARICTIC HORNBILLS, a pair perched on opposite branches of the dead tree above the road. Jon set up the scope on the road shoulder and we had very nice views of both the female and the male of this endemic species. Just as the sun was rising behind the ridge, the pair took off for the forest. Since Jon was lugging the spotting scope, I thought it would be better to try a path less steep than the trailhead to Pico de Loro. The trail we took starts near the incumbent governor's billboard, runs through trees parallel the road and bisects the trail to Pico about a kilometer on.

If we were superstitious, we would have turned back right at the start of the hike. Having taken point along the unknown trail, I ran smack into a huge spider web the tenant of which I discovered dangling its four-inch legs a foot from my face. Thankfully, I'd gotten over my phobia of these huge spiders but it was enough to make my skin and Jon's crawl. Four hours later, the same arachnid was wise enough to reconstruct its meter wide web off the path.

Having gotten over the dreadful encounter with the spider, we pushed forward along the forest edge. As we moved up the slope, we saw a couple of RED-CRESTED MALKOHAS in the thicket. This would be the only cuckoo species of the trip.

Mike added Around four PHILIPPINE FAIRY BLUE BIRDS but Jon and I missed these because we were busy trying to pin down the Philippine Bulbuls that were noisily flitting through the trees but unwilling to let us have a good look at them.

In the clearing above the road, Jon set up the scope and spotted a Brahminy Kite perched in a dead tree across the valley. There was also a flock of six whitish mid-sized birds flying up the valley but we lost sight of them behind the screen of trees. Going was easy. No amorseco burrs or spiny wait-a-minute vines to pester us.

Mike mentioned again that there should be more birds than we were encountering. But it was quite pleasant than previous trips because today was cool and windy. Meanwhile, Jon and I were constantly stopping to check our cell phones to let our wives know we hadn't fallen off any cliffs. Well, we found out that the contrivances were useless in the area and wouldn't save you if you did slip and roll off the edge. The path wound through a grove of alibangbang trees and joined the steep trail to the secondary forest. If you wish to take this path back from Pico de Loro, look for the boulder with an arrow painted on its side.

We followed Mike through the grassland and halted a couple of times to admire the vista and locate the source of one or two unknown calls in the tangle of vegetation. I told Mike as we walked that the place had the look and feel of someone's overgrown garden with tiny wildflowers and colored leaves. The area must have been logged early during the Spanish colonial period and the hardwood dragged by carabao sled down to the Cavite galleon yards. The area is now used to pasture cattle, though the grass does not look like prime bovine feed material.

From one point along the trail, Mike called out attention to a sandbar close to where the Maragondon river emptied into Manila Bay. Birdwatch Philippines ornithologist Arne Jensen noticed the sandbar during one trip there and has been thinking of surveying the site for shorebirds.

As we moved towards the entrance to the secondary forest, a passing PHILIPPINE SERPENT EAGLE caught our attention as it whistled high above our heads in the sun-drenched sky.

At the end of the trail, we discovered a barbed wire and pole fence blocking the route. Mike said this marked the entrance to the forest and moved the poles aside to let us pass. From here, it was a steep fall if you lost your footing. Mike who has been through here many times was making good time and was full 15 meters below us. Jon and I were gingerly finding our way down the slope while whipping our heads from side to side trying to spot the birds that were singing and moving in the branches close to the trail.

At the bottom of the slope is a trail extending in two directions. Maragondon is four hours hike to the east. Pico de Loro lay west and about three hours marching. Mike said we didn't have to go farther than Base Camp where we should have a good view of the treeline. But for the moment, the three of us went separate ways to add to our lists.

Drawn by the birdcalls east of the trail during our descent, I loped eastwards. Immediately, another Red-Crested Malkoha flew across my way. Then in the sunny section of the forest, I spotted two BLACKISH CUCKOO-SHRIKES.

Seeing Jon gesture to me, I walked back in the direction of Pico and found them scanning a tree just past the spot where a brook cut the trail. Mike was lucky to find a female BLACK-NAPED MONARCH somewhere in the wall of green. Mike commented that it had slowed down to a trickle since he was last here. Indeed, the forest floor was very dry to think that it was quite wet in Laguna and Quezon the past several days.

In this location we found another Philippine Fairy Bluebird, a single Blackish Cuckoo-Shrike and a BALICASSIAO. We also came across a sight that made hairs stand on end: hundreds of hairy black caterpillars, with a number of brown spiny friends were massed on the trunk of a tree and waking up from beneath a tent of silk as the sun filtered through the canopy. Plastered to the lee of a nearby boulder was another wriggling mass.

Having had our fill of this sight, we took off for Base Camp, a clearing of about a hectare with some cultivation and a few structures. Mike said you needed to register and pay a fee if you intended to hike past this point. The sun was getting in our eyes but in the shade you could enjoy the view of the limestone cliffs that used to be part of the seabed but got thrust up by geological action over a few million years. Jon said it should offer good places to prospect for fossils. The only bird we saw here was the YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL! It was getting hotter so we decided to hike back to the DENR station and try our luck elsewhere.

Up the slope again, and we were hearing and catching glimpses of a mixed flock moving among the branches. A couple of BLUE-HEADED FANTAILS, STRIPE-HEADED RHABDORNIS, ELEGANT TIT, PYGMY FLOWERPECKER, Red Crested Malkohas and at least a Balicassiao. Then Mike called our attention to something slithering to his left that turned out to be a two-foot long olive-brown snake, with a line of small black spots running down its side. The snake seemed to have a light band around its neck and I wondered aloud if it might be a species of cobra. Mike quipped that it didn't have a hood. Well, it isn't mad at us yet, I chuckled. And no one wanted to test it. Anyway, after it had disappeared in the leaf litter, I said one of us should keep watch of the trail while the others birded. True enough, a few minutes later, another two-foot snake - or probably the same one we'd earlier encountered crossed my path within two feet of me. I like herps, but the idea of getting bit in the middle of the forest by a venomous snake started to pose problems. Obviously cell phones were useless here. Was it better to move the victim back to Base Camp or to lug him all the way to the road? Perhaps our herp specialist Andrew G. could enlighten us about the possible snake species we encountered.

We paused on our return hike to observe a party of at least six GLOSSY SWIFTLETS pursuing insect prey in one of the clearings near the road. We could hear the RED-KEELED FLOWERPECKERS singing again from nearby but we never managed to see any. Then an immature Brahminy Kite flew towards us from the road, a vine tangled around a leg. Otherwise, the rest of the way back to the DENR station was uneventful.

By the time we arrived, several jeepneys started disgorging their charges for a youth camp at the DENR station. We learned that some of the organizers were thinking of hiking to Pico later. Because of the hubub the campers were making, we only managed a couple of Brahminy Kites and yet the uncommon STRIPED FLOWERPECKER square in the scope as it perched downstream from the DENR station.

In the middle of the road near the site where Mike reported a Peregrine Falcon, we came across a goat staring balefully at us. The next thing I hear is Jon saying, another bad omen. First a big spider, then the catterpilars, followed by two snakes. Now a goat in the middle of the road! We've been watching too many movies on cable and not getting much sleep. A few meters later, someone had the harebrained idea of letting out scraggly sheep to graze by the road.

Besides more Brahminy Kites, the only bird we saw just before the Kilometer 70 marker was the BAR-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE in a tree high above the road. We didn't manage any Flamebacks and we decided to move after the second Marine from the nearby camp drove up and said we needed to check with the base commander if we wanted to "survey" the area.

Pico de Loro BIRD LIST:
1. Brahminy Kite - 12 +, including an immature one
2. Philippine Serpent Eagle - 1 soaring above grassland area near entrance to secondary forest
3. Red-Crested Malkoha - 6 +, in thickets near road, in secondary forest
4. Glossy Swiftlet - 6+ in clearing at forest edge
5. Pygmy Swiftlet - 1 flying over road early morning
6. White-throated Kingfisher - 1 at DENR station
7. Luzon Tarictic Hornbill - male and female pair in dead tree above DENR station
8. Bar-Bellied Cuckoo-Shrike - 1 in vicinity of Km 70 between DENR station and Marine Base
9. Blackish Cuckoo-Shrike - 4
10. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - 1 in Base Camp
11. Philippine Bulbul - the most common and noisiest bird in the area
12. Balicassiao - 2 in secondary forest
13. Philippine Fairy Blue Bird - at least 5, four in thicket near road, another in secondary forest
14. Elegant Tit - 1 at least in mixed flock in secondary forest
15. Stripe-Headed Rhabdornis - 1 with mixed flock
16. Blue-Headed Fantail - 3+ in mid-story with mixed flock
17. Black-Naped Monarch - 1, female
18. Striped Flowerpecker - 1 at DENR station
19. Red-Keeled Flowerpecker - This one heard almost everywhere but none seen
20. Pygmy Flowerpecker - at least 1 was heard and a pair glimpsed by Ned. Mike is not certain if this was what he saw.