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FAQ: Philippine Eagles in Baliguian, Zamboanga del Norte

By Tin Telesforo

WBCP members Arnel and Tin Telesforo joined the exploratory trip to Barangay Linay, Baliguian, Zamboanga del Norte on 27-29 May 2014 on the invitation of DOT-9 Regional Director MaryJune Bugante. Co-organized by DENR-9, the trip’s goal was to test-drive a three-day tour package designed to attract visitors to Barangay Linay where a mated pair of Philippine Eagles has been documented. The tour included an overnight stay in an upland sitio, where the DENR team has an observation deck with an excellent view of the nest area, and another overnight stay in the riverside Subanon community.

The hunting territory of a Philippine Eagle pair can cover an average of 133 square-kilometers, of which around 68 square-kilometers are forested (  | Photo by Tin Telesforo

In a nutshell, our trip to Barangay Linay was perspective-altering. We went there interested only in seeing the Philippine Eagle family, but we came home with a deep respect for the Subanons who look after these birds and for the DENR team who do their jobs with passion despite the logistical challenges.

When we think of the Linay eagles now, we recall not only their fierce beauty but also the inspiring story of collaboration between government wildlife workers and the small indigenous community that collectively “owned” the majestic birds that have made a home in their midst.

I put together a list of FAQ for birders who are thinking of going to Barangay Linay for the Philippine Eagles. This can be a good starting point in organizing a trip.

R-L: Arnel Telesforo (WBCP), MJ Bugante (DOT), Joel Baysa (DENR), and Bert (DOT) were smitten by the misty landscape as soon as we reached this clearing. The valley below is where the Philippine Eagles nest. | Photo by Tin Telesforo

Are birders welcome in the area?

Yes, and in fact plans are underway to offer tour packages starting 2015. The tours will include interaction with the riverside Subanon community and a 2hr river cruise. There will be a tourism management plan in place for this project.

In the meantime, birders who want to visit the site need to write to DENR-9 Regional Director Arleigh Adorable and copy Ms. Georgina Fernandez of the Regional Eagle Watch Team (REWT). It is important to do this because security and logistics coordination must be made in advance with the onsite team, and because DENR wants to ensure the welfare of the birds will not be compromised.

Regional Director, DENR-9
Pagadian City Email:

Regional Eagle Watch Team

How do we get there?

The takeoff point is at a logging concession area called Brazil, some 1.5-2hrs from the town of Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte. Going up to the DENR basecamp is a relatively easy 2hr trek, birder’s pace, mostly under canopy.

Siocon itself is about 5-6hrs from Zamboanga City. Road conditions are excellent until you reach the unpaved logging roads, which unfortunately comprise about two-thirds of the way. But the breathtaking view of Sibugay Bay and the Philippine Serpent-Eagles perching or flying about so close to these roads make up for the rough ride.

Logging roads like this took us to Brazil, the takeoff point for the DENR basecamp. The Brazil trail is relatively easy with minimal steep inclines, but it could get muddy and slippery when it rains. | Photo by Tin Telesforo

Do we have a good chance of seeing the Philippine Eagle?

Unless the weather is really bad, you have an almost 100-percent chance of seeing the eagles because they live there. The nest is visible from the 200m observation deck, the same one used by REWT and their community partners who closely monitor the eagles. We dipped the afternoon we arrived because of the heavy fog that engulfed the valley where the nest was. But we got good views the next morning when the mist cleared up.

We dipped on the eagles the afternoon we arrived because of the fog. In a span of a few minutes, it had almost covered the entire view from the 200m deck. It was like the velvet curtains dropped before the show had ended. | Photo by Tin Telesforo

Although we can clearly see the nest from the deck, I never actually saw the eagles on it. The parents took off very early and the 5-month-old eaglet (named Atbalin, a contraction of “Attraction of Barangay Linay”) had gone exploring among the nearby trees. It was tricky spotting Atbalin but afterward it was easy to follow it flying from one tree to another. It was even seen interacting with monkeys on one tree.

The parents came back midmorning. Arnel had gone down to the lower hides and saw the mother look in on Atbalin while the father kept watch not far away. This was under the canopy so it was not visible to us from 200m.

Gina (DENR; foreground) says Atbalin is the most documented eagle in the wild. Her team was able to note all significant events starting from the mating of its parents up to now when the eaglet is tentatively exploring its surroundings. This is the 200m view deck and with Gina are (R-L) Joel (DENR), MJ (DOT), and Mike (DENR). | Photo by Tin Telesforo

How many Philippine Eagles are in the area?

In Barangay Linay, Baliguian, there are three: the mated pair Dionisio and Milla (named after the former Linay barangay captain and his wife) and the young Atbalin. The pair has had four offspring since 2008 when their nest was discovered. The community named the first eaglet Fernando, after the Subanon farmer who spotted the nest; the second one Binoni Pusaka, which is Subanon for “hidden treasure”; the third one Mitigam, which is Subanon for “clever”; and now Atbalin. The last three names were chosen by the community through a vote.

The community voted to name the young eagle “Atbalin,” which is short for “Attraction of Barangay Linay.” | Photo by Arnel Telesforo

It is not known where the first three eaglets have gone after leaving the nest. The two old nests found in the vicinity of the community indicate that the parents may have had other offspring before 2008. Mr. Dionisio Geografia, the former barangay captain after whom the male adult was named, said he had heard about the presence of the eagles as early as the 1980s.

DENR-9 is also monitoring another family of Philippine Eagles in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, bringing to six the total number of documented eagles in the Zamboanga peninsula.

When is the best time to go?

Dionisio and Milla breed during odd-number years. Atbalin hatched on 17 December 2013 and is expected to leave the nest in May 2015 or thereabouts. Its parents are expected to begin their courtship ritual again around July, during which they will be seen around the nest more often. That might be the best time to go if you want to observe courtship behavior in the wild.

If it is Atbalin you want to see, you cannot wait too long. The eaglet is becoming a strong flier, and although it is not expected to leave its parents’ roost until May next year, spotting it can be tricky when it starts flying farther from the nest.

What other birds are in the area?

A significant sighting for me was the flock of about 25 Writhed Hornbills that flew into the canopy across the river from the Subanon community. A Rufuos Hornbill was also seen during the trek to the basecamp and a couple of Tarictics from the view deck. A Barred Honey Buzzard and several Philippine Serpent-Eagles were noted both from the view deck and during the river cruise. Tailorbirds and flowerpeckers abound in the ridge trails while a nesting Black-naped Monarch was seen by the forest trail.

A flock of Writhed Hornbills was seen flying into the canopy across this river shortly before dusk. | Photo by Tin Telesforo

Although we didn’t get the chance to explore it, the riverside area near the community looked like a promising birding spot. The cruise downriver also had potential, but it can get quite bumpy that holding a pair of bins steady will be a feat. Visible to the naked eye were the White-throated Kingfishers, the crows, the bee-eaters, and the raptors.

The information here is accurate as of 03 June 2014. If you have questions about the Linay eagles and going to the site, you may write Tin Telesforo at

Subanon (also Subanen) – People native to the Zamboanga Peninsula, Misamis Oriental and Misamis Occidental in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Subanon are the biggest group of Lumad or non-Muslim indigenous cultural community on the island of Mindanao. The word “Subanon” means “a person or people of the river”; more specifically, “from up the river,” since they are usually differentiated from the coastal and plains inhabitants of Zamboanga peninsula. [Wikipedia]


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  2. Allen Paul Fuentes Jaim

    Dear Sir/Madam

    In Zamboanga Del Sur the place called Lison Valley area is a forest which they say untouch, presence of kamagong trees and other tall huge trees lawaan are visible in the area. Question: Is there a reported presence of Our Great Philippine Eagle?

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