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Birding Destination: Lagen Island Resort

It turns out that  El Nido Resort – Lagen Island is more than just a stretch of beautiful beach with luxury accommodations. The resort is also teeming with birds! WBCP member Jamie Dichaves gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to do high-end birding at El Nido in Palawan.

Lagen Island Resort
by Jamie Dichaves

When I started work with El Nido Resorts (ENR) as Lagen Island’s resident Environmental Officer/Resort Naturalist, I was faced with a tough challenge: how will I set Lagen apart?

To begin with, ENR is composed of four island resorts, each with its own personalities: Miniloc Island dubbed as the Eco-Discovery resort because of its close proximity to most of the tour sites; Apulit Island known as the Eco-Adventure resort due to more “extreme” activities available such as rappelling from a 60-meter cliff, rock climbing, and cave exploration to name a few; Pangulasian Island, the Eco-Luxury resort wherein guests have the luxury of being shuttled to and fro via solar-powered buggies and have butlers becking their every heed and call; and then there’s Lagen, who, up until now, is dubbed as Eco-?

The big question mark that is Lagen Island.
The big question mark that is Lagen Island. Photo by Jason Apolonio

A question mark. A big, fat, question mark. No one has figured out what to call it and most always struggle to express its unique identity. So…what is Lagen Island like anyway?

Lagen is the 3rd largest island of 45 islands and islets in Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan. It also has the densest forest over limestone, which means that it plays host to a lot of terrestrial animals. It is the island where I’ve been able to witness some of the weirdest and funniest animal behaviors: a long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) alpha male punching a water monitor lizard (Varanus palawanensis) on the face, a water monitor lizard sleeping on a branch, 10m high, and a frog chillin’ in the swimming pool like a boss!

Chillin' like a villain. Photo by Jason Apolonio
Chillin’ like a villain. Photo by Jason Apolonio

But out of all the animals in Lagen, one class struck me the most: Aves.

I was never a bird person. Heck, I never even cared about birds before so all species looked the same to me. But staying in Lagen changed all of that. The island alone boasts of over a hundred species of birds composed of a mixture of endemics, seasonals (migratory), and residents. I have seen a lot of them and after staying for more than a year; I still get lifers in the most unexpected places and times!

The lifer I got most excited about: Greater Flameback
The lifer I got most excited about: Greater Flameback

Whether you are walking, hanging around, lounging by the pool, or just being idle, you will definitely hear and see birds all day! The only times you won’t see or hear them is when it is raining and they are all hiding (well, you would be too!). But once the rain stops, they go on overdrive – singing at the top of their lungs and endlessly darting about.

One of the most active birds in Lagen: The Palawan Tit
One of the most active birds in Lagen: The Palawan Tit

If you decide to dedicate one whole day to do birdwatching in Lagen, you will only need to bring insect repellent, a camera, and a cap. You don’t have to wear shoes and you can easily borrow binoculars and a Kennedy guidebook. If you need a spotter, I suggest you look for Tatay Dante. He was my official bird-spotter and ever-trusty buddy during all my trips! The following would be a typical scenario:

In action with my ultimate bird buddy - Tay Dante
In action with my ultimate bird buddy – Tay Dante. Photo by Jason Apolonio

You will most likely get a wake-up call from the very noisy Palawan Hornbills (Anthracoceros marchei).  They are up, feeding around the resort by 5:30am. They would also be the ones signaling the end of the birdwatching day since they are typically the last birds to sing, or in their case, shout!

Typical hornbill family in Lagen
Typical hornbill family in Lagen

Starting at the pier, you would immediately find the Glossy Swiftlets (Collocalia esculenta).  If you want to see them perched, you simply have to ask anyone to turn on the lights, head under the light boxes and look up. The light boxes house a lot of nesting glossy swiftlets. If you’re lucky, you can even spot a juvie or two!

If all else fails, trust to see glossy swiftlets in the light boxes!
If all else fails, trust to see glossy swiftlets in the light boxes!

If the tide is low, you might catch one or two grey-morphed Eastern Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra) on the lookout for some yummy invertebrates.

Hungry but focused.
Hungry but focused.

Don’t forget to check out the cliffs as Stork-billed Kingfishers (Pelargopsis capensis) and Common Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) hunt from there, specially in the morning. In the afternoon, they can be found in the mangrove area, some times with a Collared Kingfisher (Halcyon chloris) too!

Eyes on the prize!
Eyes on the prize!

Upon entering the resort, you will immediately hear Green Imperial Pigeons (Ducula aenea), usually in pairs, Palawan Tits (Parus amabilis), Palawan Flowerpeckers (Prionochilus plateni), Slender-billed Crows (Corvus enca), Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds (Orthotomus heterolaemus) and Olive-backed Sunbirds (Nectarina jugularis) just about anywhere you stand.

"Find me if you can!"
“Find me if you can!”

In the garden chapel and spa/library area, you will often hear Hair-crested Drongos (Dicrurus hottentottus) and may even witness courtship displays!

Taking a break from its exciting courtship ritual.
Taking a break from its exciting courtship ritual.

In the mangrove area, you’ll find Bulbuls (Pycnonotus plumosus, Ixos palawanensis, Pycnonotus atriceps) as well as some of the others mentioned above.

Black-headed bulbul.
Black-headed bulbul. Photo by Jason Apolonio

In the forest trail, you’ll get to encounter the White-Vented Shamas (Copsychus niger) dominating the area near the trail, Common Emerald Doves (Chalcophaps indica), and if you’re lucky, a flycatcher too (specific species unknown).  You may even be accompanied by the songs of the shamas and a troupe of monkeys!

Their songs will surely make you forget about how tired you are from hiking.
Their songs will surely make you forget about how tired you are from hiking.

In the trail, you can opt to sit on the bench at the point before heading down to the cove and patiently wait for birds that would fly by. Once you get to the cove, look for giant mounds and once you’ve found them, Tabon Scrubfowls (Megapodius cumingii) won’t be far off.

Tabon birds working on their mound.
Tabon birds working on their mound.

Once you hear the closing call of the Palawan Hornbills, head on to the bar and enjoy a drink or two as you watch the sun setting right in front of you.

Perfect view to end your day.
Perfect view to end your day.

Here is a complete list of the birds I have seen during my one-and-a-half-year stay in Lagen:

  1. Palawan Hornbill Anthracoceros marchei
  2. Palawan Tit Parus amabilis
  3. Palawan Flowerpecker  Prionochilus plateni
  4. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
  5. Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis
  6. Collared Kingfisher Halcyon chloris
  7. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
  8. Grey-Streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta
  9. Mangrove Blue/Palawan Blue Flycatcher
  10. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
  11. Olive-Winged Bulbul Pycnonotus plumosus
  12. Sulphur-Bellied Bulbul Ixos palawanensis
  13. Black-Headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps
  14. White-Vented Shama Copsychus niger
  15. Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea
  16. Grey Imperial Pigeon Ducula pickeringii
  17. Common Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
  18. Eastern Reef Egret Egretta sacra
  19. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
  20. Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus
  21. Hair-Crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus
  22. Slender-Billed Crow Corvus enca
  23. Olive-Backed Sunbird Nectarina jugularis
  24. Lovely Sunbird Aethopyga shelleyi
  25. Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
  26. White-Bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
  27. Grey-Faced Buzzard Bustatur indicus
  28. Black-Naped Tern Sterna sumatrana
  29. Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus
  30. Great Frigatebird Frigata minor
  31. Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida
  32. Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
  33. Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta
  34. Edible Nest Swiftlet Collocalia fuciphaga
  35. Tabon Scrubfowl Megapodius cumingii
  36. Rufous Night Heron Nycticorax caledonicus
  37. Palawan Leafbird Chloropsis palawanensis
  38. Rufous-Tailed Tailorbird Orthotomus heterolaemus
  39. White-Breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus
  40. Spotted Wood Owl Strix seloputo

Like I said earlier, I still get lifers from time to time so it’s not impossible for you to find more species, especially in the forest! After all, most of these birds were “discovered” while I was doing something else (working hehe!) and just happened to chance upon them.

So what should Lagen Island’s brand be? If you ask me, I’d say Eco-Sanctuary – especially if you talk about the birds. But of course, you can still call it whatever you like. The most important thing is for you to enjoy your trip anyway!

*All photos are mine except when stated otherwise*

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