Details of a Recent Trip to the Philippines
18th to February 2nd/8th 2003
Fisher (Manila, Philippines),
Gavin Maclean (Southampton, UK),
Andy Mears (Bath, UK),
Paul Pearson (Southampton, UK),
Andy Rhodes (Southampton, UK)
and Jan Wilczur (Barn Elms, UK)
to time constraints the majority of us were restricted to
just two islands, Luzon and Mindanao. AM and JW then spent
five days on Palawan. Tim Fisher organised all our ground
arrangements in advance. Most of the sites visited are well
known and on the usual birders itinerary. However, two
of the sites are less well known and are briefly described:-
Jan - London to Manila via Amsterdam
Jan - Mt Makiling, southwestern Luzon
Jan - Travel to Talaytay Watershed, northeastern Luzon
Jan - Talaytay Watershed
Jan - Talaytay Watershed
Jan - Travel to Subic, southwestern Luzon
Jan - Subic Naval Magazine
Jan - Travel to Mt Katanglad, central Mindanao
Jan - Mt Katanglad
Jan - Mt Katanglad
Jan - Travel to PICOP, eastern Mindanao
Jan - PICOP (Paper Industry Corporation of the Philippines)
Jan - PICOP
Jan - PICOP/Travel
Feb - Mt Salaysay, central Mindanao
Feb - Davao to Manila - to London via Amsterdam
Feb - [JW & AM] Manila to Sabang/St Pauls, Palawan
Feb - Sabang/St Pauls
Feb - Sabang/St Pauls
Feb - Sabang/St Pauls & Travel
Feb - Iwahig & Rasa Island, Palawan
Feb - Zig-zag Road, Palawan / Manila to London via
in the Sierra Mardre mountain range in northeastern Luzon.
This is an area of montane forest bordering a forested valley,
which has been selectively logged. In the distance, mountains
rise up and appear to be still forested. If someone spent
some time finding a trail up to these peaks surely Whiskered
Pitta would be found. . .
mountain in the Apo range 1 1/2 hours north of Davao City
is home to a breeding pair of Philippine Eagles in 2003. Guides
and armed guards escorted us on an extremely arduous 2 1/2
hour trek to the nest site (we were assured that this was
the most accessible currently active nest site in the Philippines!).
We had missed the Eagle at Mt Katanglad, the site best known
for these birds. It is not apparently breeding there this
year (a rare three-year cycle - the usual pair is now expected
to recommence the usual two-year cycle and breed next year
forest on Salaysay was unusual in that it appeared to be moss-forest.
Few other birds were seen on the trek although one interesting
flock of small birds passed by at a time when we really had
to make tracks down the mountain. Exploring the area more
fully may well prove to be fruitful.
to the site was organised at very short notice by Tim Fisher
through the Philippine Eagle Foundation (Contact Mr. Dennis
Salvador, Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mr. Medel
Silvosa at email@example.com). As a group we made a cash
donation to the Foundation. Guides, porters and guards were
paid the usual daily rates. We were the first westerners to
visit the site since its discovery about twenty years ago.
See access section below.
would still advise birders to visit Mt Katanglad. The Eagle
breeding valley there is at a much higher altitude than the
one at Mt Salaysay, allowing other specialist montane species
to be seen (and a hunting Eagle is always a possibility).
See access section below.
site on the itinerary was worthy of a visit, although inevitably
the birding at some was slower than at others.
visitors should note that shortly after our trip access to
two of the key sites became difficult. At Mt Katanglad villagers
on the mountain were for a time not allowing birders onto
the mountain at all. The reasons why are not clear from this
distance but seem to be rooted in regional ownership disputes.
We understand that access arrangements have now been reinstated
but potential visitors should really try and learn the very
latest situation before visiting. The situation at Mt Salaysay
is somewhat different in that it seems the Phillipine Eagle
Foundation were not prepared for the itinerant nature of world
birders! Immediately after our visit several other teams traveled
to the site prompting the Foundations concern over the
welfare of the formerly remote Eagles in the light of increased
access. Obviously no-one wants to in any way disturb these
magnificent birds and again the only way of really appreciating
the current situation is by contacting the Foundation (and
Tim Fisher) prior to visiting.
were generally lucky with the weather and lost relatively
little time due to rain. Most sites were dry and hot with
heavy, brief showers experienced at Mt Katanglad and PICOP.
would be expected on such a short trip, our itinerary resulted
in hard core dawn till dusk birding. Our average alarm clock
setting was something like 0415. Often this was necessary
to allow us to trek to the site, viewing position, stakeout
etc by dawn.
saw just one leach during the entire trip! There were a few
mosquitoes at a couple of sites but none really bothered us.
Jiggers are present at St Pauls but we avoided them (tactics
to employ are lots of insect repellent and tuck everything
in). Worst by far was stumbling into a virtually invisible
swarm of stinging wasps at PICOP. Fortunately, the stings
were only (very) painful for a short time despite drawing
travel between sites usually consisted of grueling drives
over largely unpaved roads. Our van broke down several times
and the mechanic who travels with Tim proved to be pretty
presence probably instilled a greater (false?) sense of security
than wed have otherwise felt and any group travelling
in remote parts of the Islands without an experienced local
guide would be advised to be suitably cautious. Potential
visitors should assess the safety risk in any given area before
approaches each new tour with trepidation, knowing the only
certainty is that more trees will have been felled since his
last visit. Some areas of deforestation are shocking to see
and we heard chain saws on several occasions. Its hard
to see what can be done but perhaps at a personal level, showing
support for organisations such as Birdlife International is
the best that can be achieved [http://www.birdlife.net/].
taxonomy of the Philippines is complex. We make no attempt
to unravel the issues here but a few references are made to
subspecies where we encountered them.
EGRET Egretta eulophotes Of the many Egrets present
at Puerto Princessa Beach, Palawan, one of the closest was
fortunately a Chinese.
PEACOCK-PHEASANT Polyplectron emphanum The regular
male seen at the Ranger Station at St Pauls after a 2-hour
wait from dawn. Several others heard over the next 2 days
but none of these were pursued hard or seen. Just pipped to
the post by Silvery Kingfisher for plumage of the trip.
DUCK Anas luzonica Large flock of approximately 400
birds in saltwater bay at Subic.
EAGLE Pithecophaga jefferyi Stunning views of both
adults at Mt Salaysay, perched and in flight, plus a well-developed
nestling in the nest. The squirrel or young lemur we saw one
of the adults carrying was our only mammal of the trip! None
seen at Katanglad.
BUSH-HEN Amaurornis olivaceus Excellent views of several
birds obtained at the Silvery Kingfisher roadside pools at
PICOP. Elsewhere heard only.
COUCAL Centropus unirufus Despite being extremely elusive
in feeding flocks of Malkohas and Drongos, everyone eventually
had reasonable views. Highly vocal, its chittering call helped
to locate birds and compile composite views.
COCKATOO Cacatua haematuropygia A flock of 9 seen from
the road close to Sabang and 10 seen on Rasa Island.
SCOPS OWL Otus mantananensis One seen easily but briefly
on Rasa Island at dusk.
SCOPS-OWL Otus megalotis One bird spotlighted at close
range at Talaytay. A very beautiful owl with the typically
intricate plumage and ear-tufts of a Scops, a black and white
frosting on the face and breast and piercing orange eyes.
SCOPS-OWL Mimizuku gurneyi A bird called each evening
close to the camp clearing at Mt Katanglad but was not seen.
According to Tim this is typical although other teams have
seen them this year.
EAGLE-OWL Bubo philippensis One flew low over our heads
at dusk near the camp at Talaytay. It had left a stand of
trees and was apparently heading out into open grassland to
hunt. It or another was heard calling briefly at dawn the
FROGMOUTH Batrachostomus septimus One was spotlighted
at close range at Mt Katanglad.
(PALAWAN) FROGMOUTH Batrachostomus javensis One finally
spotlighted at the Zig-zag Road after several failed attempts
NEEDLETAIL Mearnsia picina Several seen briefly at
PICOP. Quite amazing birds and better views would have been
KINGFISHER Alcedo cyanopecta Seen at several locations
including the University grounds at Los Banos, Mt Makiling.
KINGFISHER Alcedo argentata Several showed very well
at PICOP on pools beside Road 1, allowing scope views. What
a bird - any artist asked to illustrate this species faces
a daunting task.
KINGFISHER Halcyon winchelli Seen well at and just
after dawn at Road 1\4, PICOP. Reacted strongly to the tape,
flying in and calling from high up in roadside trees.
WOOD-KINGFISHER Actenoides lindsayi Commonly heard
at Mt Makiling and Talaytay pre dawn. At Makiling the birds
responded to tape by flying in and perching motionlessly in
the undercanopy, giving a very quiet, truncated version of
its usual call and great, prolonged views.
WOOD-KINGFISHER Actenoides hombroni Seen very well
on two mornings at Mt Katanglad in small wood just above the
lower Eagle viewpoint. On first occasion a pair called back
to the tape. A male gave good views in the canopy whilst a
female was briefly glimpsed. The next day a male gave prolonged,
close views after coming in silently to the tape in the same
HORNBILL Penelopides pannini Luzon and Mindanao Hornbills
both seen well at various sites - reasonably common.
HORNBILL Aceros leucocephalus Several seen very well
from roads 1 and 1\4 at PICOP.
HORNBILL Anthracoceros marchei Three seen in the open
forest above Sabang.
HORNBILL Buceros hydrocroax These spectacular creatures
seen well on several occasions.
WOODPECKER Mulleripicus funebris Seen several times
at Talaytay, often associating with black flocks of Malkohas
and Drongos etc.
PITTA Pitta erythrogaster One bird was heard calling
from the road and gave brief views a short distance into the
forest at the start of Road 1\4, PICOP. Two other birds were
second bird was seen well from the stream trail at St Pauls.
It fed on the bank of a dry streambed but did not call.
PITTA Pitta sordida A bird bounded into view at the
Zig-zag Road as we quietly waited for Palawan Flycatcher to
show. It then allowed excellent views over the next 30 minutes
during which time the noticeably large bill of the subspecies
was noted. No response to playback from any Hooded Pittas
during the trip although a couple more were heard.
PITTA Pitta steerii A bird first heard from Road 1\4,
PICOP gave good views a short distance into the forest as
it called from a 4m high perch. We watched it for 15 minutes
and at one point both this species and Red-bellied Pitta called
around us simultaneously and we were torn over which way to
look - a nice quandary to be in!
another Steeres was heard calling on Road 1. It is also
worth recording that on our last day at PICOP we tried for
further views of both pittas but none were calling and we
failed to gain any response to the tape from either.
WREN BABBLER Napathera rabori One was flushed from
the trail at Talaytay and was watched running (rat like) up
the vegetated bank. Another was subsequently heard giving
its extremely high pitched call from a densely vegetated gully
but could not be seen.
GROUND-BABBLER Ptilocichla falcata Easily seen from
the Jungle trail at St Pauls, in sharp contrast to Streaked
Ground-babbler at PICOP (see Notable Misses).
& LUZON STRIPED BABBLERS Stachyris dennistouni / striata
Seen in mixed feeding flocks at Talaytay.
GROUND-THRUSH Zoothera interpres One gave very brief
views on the road at Mt Makiling at dawn. Dawn on the track
here seems to present the best opportunity to see this species.
A Whites Thrush was also seen here and gave good views
for several minutes.
FLYCATCHER Ficedula platenae Two birds seen, one exceptionally
well, at the Zig-zag Road.
FLYCATCHER Ficedula disposita A singing bird showed
very elusively in trailside rattan litter at Talaytay.
MONARCH Hypothymis helenae A male finally gave brief
views after calling repeatedly in a mixed feeding flock on
Road 1 at PICOP. The bird was incredibly hard to get onto
as it moved constantly in the understorey.
SUNBIRD Aethopyga boltoni A pair watched at close range
about 50 yards beyond the Upper Eagle viewpoint at Mt Katanglad
appeared to be nestbuilding.
Scrubfowl; Painted Snipe, Malaysian Plover & an interesting
selection of other waders; Yellow-breasted & Black-chinned
Fruitdoves; Blue-naped Parrot; Green & Montane Racquet-tails;
Scale-feathered & Red-crested Malkohas; Black-faced Coucal;
Philippine Hawk & Grass Owls; Philippine Nightjar; Brown-backed
& Purple Needletails; Philippine Trogon; Oriental Dwarf-kingfisher
(10 Kingfisher species seen in total); Philippine & Yellow-throated
Leafbirds; Philippine Oriole; Palawan & Elegant Tits (White-fronted
Tit heard only); two species of Rhabdornis (no Grand seen);
Siberian Rubythroat; White-browed & White-vented Shamas;
Whites & Eye-browed Thrushes; Philippine & Black-headed
Tailorbirds; Long-tailed Ground-warbler; Palawan Blue, Rufous
Paradise & Blue Paradise Flycatchers; Pechora Pipit; eight
further species of Sunbird; Naked-faced Spiderhunter; nine
species of Flowerpecker; and White-cheeked Bullfinch.
250 species were collectively seen or heard on the trip, approximately
107 of them being Philippine endemics, depending on which
species list is used.
will long remember an incident whilst watching the Philippine
Duck flock flying around the bay at Subic. No-one could quite
work out why JW was in such a panic to get on to them. His
dismay was astonishing as someone called "Theyre
landing on the water". Turns out he thought we were watching
a flock of Green Racquet-tails. . .
HAWK-EAGLE Spizaetus philippensis Not even any probables
seen at any site.
WOODCOCK Scolopax bukidnonensis Strangely, no birds
were roding at the Camp clearing at Mt Katanglad at dawn or
dusk on any of our days there. Apparently birds were roding
in January 2002 and other teams have subsequently been successful
this year.. An unsuccessful attempt was made to find roding
birds higher up the mountain at dusk on one evening.
& SPOTTED IMPERIAL-PIGEON Ducula poliocephala / carola
No birds were found amongst groups of pigeons feeding at fruiting
trees at PICOP.
BLEEDING-HEART Gallicolumba luzonica None seen or heard
despite Talaytay being a known site. Mindanao Bleeding-heart
is very rarely observed these days and we didnt come
close to bothering one.
WATTLED BROADBILL Eurylaimus steerii Despite trying
a known evening roosting site on two occasions at Road 1\4,
PICOP, none were seen.
GROUND-BABBLER Ptilocichla mindanensis None of the
half a dozen or so calling birds on Road 1\4, PICOP responded
aggressively or closely enough to allow any sightings.
MONARCH Hypothimis coelestis None seen or heard despite
much searching. Habitat loss appears to be seriously diminishing
a birders chances of seeing this species although other teams
have seen them at PICOP this year.
thanks go to Tim Fisher for expertly organising all our logistics,
accommodation and transport, and also to the many helpful
members of his entourage. We all agreed that his camps at
Katanglad and Talaytay were much more comfortable than most
of the hotels we stayed in! Like so many birders before us
we are indebted to him for all the great birds we saw in the
let slip that he is thinking of retiring from the bird tour
circuit. Get in quick then if you want to take advantage of
his irreplaceable services.
to Medel Silvosa at the Philippine Eagle Foundation for helping
us see the birds superbly well and providing contact information
for the Foundation.
thanks too to guide Arnel Malleri, who led nobly on Palawan.
Hard working and amiable, even if his birding style was somewhat
unconventional at times! He certainly knows his birds.
ever, Aidan Kelly deserves mention for an inspiring report
on a previous trip and thanks also go to Steve Smith for supplying
some of our recordings.
any further details please contact Paul Pearson on firstname.lastname@example.org.