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Philippine Birding Winter 2004
by Mr. Todd Pepper

A work assignment in the Philippines between February 24, 2004 and March 4, 2004 provided a number of opportunities for birding. The following provides a short outline of sites visited and birds seen during this period. The English names and taxonomic order in “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines” by Kennedy, Gonzales, Dickinson, Miranda and Fisher (Oxford University Press, 2000) have been used throughout. A total of 132 species, including 49 life birds were seen, and one species heard during the course of the two weeks. Life birds are indicated by an *, while the heard bird is noted by an h. Optical equipment used included 8 x 42 Bausch & Lamb Elite binoculars and a Kowa TSN -823M 82mm spotting scope. Counts of individuals of each species have been included for all but the most common of birds.

An hour long stop at the Candaba Marsh on February 24th, on the commute between Manila and Olongapo, yielded the first 27 species.

Great Egret – 2
Intermediate Egret – 12
White-browed Crake – 2
*Pheasant-tailed Jacana – 3
Little-ringed Plover – 50
Kentish Plover – 2
Common Greenshank – 8
*Wood Sandpiper – 5
Common Sandpiper – 2
Marsh Sandpiper – 12
*Sharp-tailed Sandpiper – 1
*Oriental Pratincole – 16
Black-winged Stilt – 26

Whiskered Tern – 12
Rock Dove
Philippine Coucal – 1
Barn Swallow
*Oriental Skylark – 12
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Pied Bushchat – 8
Striated Grassbird - 12
*Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler - 1
Zitting Cisticola – 2
White-breasted Woodswallow – 6
Yellow Wagtail – 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

The grounds of my hotel in Tagaytay City as the sun came up on Saturday, February 28th produced 9 new species, and a couple of the usual urban birds.

Island Swiftlet
Common Kingfisher – 1
Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker – 1
Pacific Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Elegant Tit – 4

Striated Grassbird – 1
Plain-throated Sunbird – 1
Red-Keeled Flowerpecker – 1
Lowland White-eye – 30
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

After finishing work on Saturday afternoon I turned my hosts, Hazel from the League of Cities of the Philippines, and Joey from the City of Tagaytay tourism office, into temporary birdwatchers and tourists in their own town. We ventured across Taal Lake to the famous volcano inside of a volcano, also known as the smallest volcano on earth that sits in the middle of Taal Lake, itself a remnant caldera of a greater volcano. From the spectacular looks over the rim of the greater caldera where the City of Tagaytay lies, the island caldera looks deceptively close, however, it is a good half-hour ride down a winding road just to reach the lake edge, and then a half-hour boat ride across.

It would have been a nice hike up to the rim of the island caldera in the morning, but in the heat of the late afternoon I let a horse do the walking while I attempted to bird from its back. As sulphur gas rose from the caldera below, 3 Osprey circled overhead, and a large rookery of Black-crowned Night-Herons ‘woked’ from the only forested slope of the volcano. Another nine species were added to the trip list.

Intermediate Egret – 50
Black-crowned Night-Heron – 200
Osprey – 3
White-winged Tern – 30
Spotted Dove – 6
Island Swiftlet
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Black-naped Oriole – 6
Large-billed Crow – 30
Pied Bushchat – 8
Striated Grassbird – 2
Long-tailed Shrike – 1
Lovely Sunbird – 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Chestnut Munia – 6

Following our return from the island, my hosts drove me through the ritzy enclave of Tagaytay Highlands, home to 3 golf courses and, it is rumored, as many ‘wives’ of an ex-Filipino president/action hero. As dusk was falling we added another 4 species for the day and the trip.

*Plain Bush-hen – 3
Blue-throated Bee-eater - 2
Coppersmith Barbet - 1
Blue Rock-Thrush -

Sunday, February 29th was a day off so I arranged with my hosts to bird the Batulao Forest, owned by the Puyat family and located approximately 20 kilometres south of Tagaytay. I also contacted Ricky DiCarlo, a former Haribon employee and invited him to join my non-birding entourage. The word from Philippine Birdwatch was that nobody had birded the Batulao Forest for over 10 years, so I was anxious to see if Red-bellied Pitta still inhabited the place. Unfortunately, the entire under story had been cut, obviously within the last day or two before my arrival. Every last fern, shrub, bush or plant capable of being cut with a machete was lying on the forest floor, with most of it still green and bleeding. Whether this was done as a ‘favour’, or for some other reason remains unknown, so while it was suggested that I obtain permission in advance to enter the forest others in the future may want to show up unannounced.

Needless to say we did not see the “inconspicuous” Red-bellied Pitta. However, we did manage to get excellent scope views of the “uncommon, shy and hard to see” Ashy-Ground Thrush. After flushing from us several times, and then flying right between Ricky and I as it heading in the other direction, the Ground-Thrush finally sat on a freshly cut branch on the forest floor for over 20 minutes. Even my driver had an excellent view of one of his country’s endemic species. Only 4 were species seen in the forest, although all new for the trip.

*Ashy-Ground Thrush - 1
*Brown-headed Thrush - 1
Tawny Grassbird - 1
Brown Shrike – 1

Joey, the tourism officer from the City of Tagaytay then arranged for us to hike down the Batulao River. Ricky had to leave, and in his place 2 young operators of a local eco-adventure company that specializes in rock climbing, rappelling, and kayaking, joined the group. I broke out my old backup 7 x 35 Bushnell “Custom” binoculars for them to use. It was nice to be a teacher and share the 10 species seen with my four new students.

Intermediate Egret - 2
Little Heron - 1
*Oriental Honey-Buzzard - 1
Common Sandpiper – 2
Zebra Dove
White-throated Kingfisher – 3
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Gray Wagtail – 3

As I was leaving Tagaytay and heading back to Manila on the Sunday afternoon, I sent a text message to Mike Lu of Philippine Birdwatch. He got back to me and advised that two raptors, a Grey-faced Buzzard and a Eurasian Kestrel, had been reported from the American Cemetery in Makati. Mike asked if I wanted to join him to go look for the birds. Silly question. I was dropped off at my Manila hotel and picked up 5 minutes later by Mike, Nelo Arribas Jr. and Mark Villa and off we went to the Cemetery.

The Rose-ringed Parakeets are hanging still around the cemetery, and, after being harried by security for evidently walking on an unsigned but restricted area of the cemetery, we saw a rapture flush from a tree ahead. My three colleagues all claimed it was the Kestrel, as it had been previously reported in this exact location. Caution got the best of me. This bird was just too big for the Kestrel. We followed it as it arched around the cemetery where it landed in a large tree on the west side of the monument. This was the first real test for my new Kowa scope, and it came through – heavily barred and rufous undersides, white throat, dark mesial line, this was definitely the Grey-faced Buzzard not the Kestrel. Still a life bird for all of us. Another raptor way off on the horizon may have been the Kestrel but it never got close enough for us to see.

*Grey-faced Buzzard - 1
Barred Rail -1
*Red Turtle-Dove – 3
Spotted Dove – 6
Zebra Dove
Rose-ringed Parakeet – 2

White-collared Kingfisher – 2
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Pied Fantail – 2
White-breasted Woodswallow – 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

On Monday, March 1st I left the island of Luzon and headed for the island of Mindanao. I flew into Davao City and then planned to make it through to Bislig. Travel mix ups on ground transportation meant not much got done on Monday for either work or play. A late afternoon walk around the closed Bislig airport provided a couple of new trip birds, but not the hoped for Grass Owl.

Little Heron – 1
Cattle Egret – 2
Philippine Duck – 1
*Slaty-breasted Rail – 1
Rock Dove
Spotted Dove - 6
Zebra Dove – 2

White-collared Kingfisher – 1
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Striated Grassbird – 2
*Lanceolated Warbler – 2
Brown Shrike – 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Chestnut Munia – 2

The next morning, as planned ahead with Tim Fisher, I met up with local guide Zardo Goring and two birders from the Netherlands, Hammer and Finz, to bird Road 14 of the PICOP property. It was a very productive day, as a fruiting tree attracted a constantly changing panorama of birds. Another highlight was a Steere’s Pitta. We picked our way into the forest a couple times following the call of this Pitta with no luck. Then, as we casually made our way out of another trail, not even looking for the Pitta, there is was sitting right beside the road. In the end, 42 new species for the trip, and 18 life birds were tallied for the day.

*Changeable Hawk-Eagle – 1
Pompadour Green-Pigeon – 6
White-eared Brown-Dove – 4
*Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove – 1
Green Imperial-Pigeon – 3
Guaiabero – 8
Colasisi – 6
h – Plaintive Cuckoo
*Violet Cuckoo – 2
Drongo Cuckoo – 2
Philippine Coucal – 1
*Black-faced Coucal – 3
Pygmy Swiftlet – 100’s
*Philippine Needletail – 2
Whiskered Treeswift – 12
*Silvery Kingfisher
Tarictic Hornbill – 2
*Writhed Hornbill – 2
Coppersmith Barbet – 2
*Steere’s Pitta – 1
Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – 2
*Philippine Leafbird
Yellow-vented Bulbul – 4
*Yellow-wattled Bulbul – 2

Philippine Bulbul – 4
*Yellowish Bulbul – 6
Spangled Drongo – 2
Black-naped Oriole – 4
Philippine Fairy-bluebird – 2
Large-billed Crow – 8
*Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis – 3
Oriental Magpie-Robin
*Philippine Leaf-Warbler – 1
Grey-streaked Flycatcher
White-breasted Wood-Swallow - 4
Brown Shrike – 2
Asian Glossy Starling – 30
Coleto – 6
*Metallic-winged Sunbird – 2
*Naked-faced Spiderhunter – 10
Little Spiderhunter – 1
Olive-backed Flowerpecker – 2
*Bicolored Flowerpecker – 2
Red-keeled Flowerpecker – 6
*Buzzing Flowerpecker – 4
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker – 4
*Everett’s White-eye – 2

On Wednesday, March 3rd the four of us headed for Road 4A. This portion of the PICOP property was at a slightly higher elevation. The flycatchers were well represented, with great looks at Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher, Celestial Monarch, Short-crested Monarch and Yellow-bellied Whistler. We went back to Road 14 after lunch. Zardo thought he heard a Red-bellied Pitta, so Finz played Tim Fisher’s tape of the Pitta, and sure enough it answered. Back and forth it went when finally the bird came out right in front of me and sat and called. After I got my eyeful, I moved quietly out of the way while Hammer moved in and we all got great looks. A stop at the airport of the way back to the hotel produced great looks at the Grass Owl while hundreds of migrating Wagtails flew north over our heads. Another good day with 17 new trip birds and 11 lifers.

Yellow Bittern - 1
Crested Serpent-Eagle – 1
Philippine Falconet – 4
*Grass Owl – 1 (at airport)
White-throated Kingfisher – 1
Tarictic Hornbill – 28
Coppersmith Barbet – 12
White-bellied Woodpecker – 2
*Red-bellied Pitta – 1
*Philippine Oriole – 1
Philippine Fairy-bluebird – 2

Stripe-headed Rhabdornis – 2
*Rusty-crowned Babbler – 2
*Brown Tit-Babbler – 7
*Blue Fantail – 2
*Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher – 3
*Celestial Monarch – 2
*Short-crested Monarch - 8
*Yellow-bellied Whistler - 2
Yellow Wagtail – 800 (at airport)
Purple-throated Sunbird – 1
Lovely Sunbird – 1

I only had a couple hours first thing in the morning on March 4th to bird before heading back to Manila. Zardo and I went back to Road 14 and walked in the opposite direction from the two previous days. The forest was being cut down and replaced with bananas in this area, but a few new species gave us hope.

I then asked Zardo about a call I had heard the other day, and was hearing now, that was familiar but I could not identify. He listened and noted it was the Philippine Trogon. Keying in on the call he picked up the bird in a tangle of vines off in the distance and I got on it with the scope for life bird number 1,500. A couple more lifers followed, and just as I was getting ready to get in the jeepney to go back to the hotel Zardo asked if I needed Common Koel. Yes, indeed I did, giving me a new total of 275 species for the Philippines, 5 lifers for the day, and nine new species for the trip.

Black-chinned Fruit-Dove – 1
*Philippine Trogon - 1
*Common Koel - 1
Rufous Hornbill – 2
Black-naped Monarch – 1
*Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher – 2

Philippine Oriole – 2
Scarlet Minivet – 2
*Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher – 1
*Black-headed Tailorbird – 1
*Pygmy Babbler –1