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A Zamboanga Adventure – Part 1

Many heartfelt thanks to Mary June Bugante who put together this amazing trip to Zamboanga. It was a feast of birds, sights, Zamboanga cuisine and laughs and camaraderie.

Since the job of writing about four days’ worth of adventure for our Ebon newsletter seemed like an onerous job, we all decided to assign one person to write about one day only. Herewith is our two-part report of our adventures in Zamboanga.

Day One: Pasonanca Natural Park
by Gina Mapua

Straight from Nasugbu, Rocco drops me off at NAIA 3 in the dead of the morning. Quick check-in and other procedures. Mads and Lu-ann Bajarias and Cheta Chua were already at the waiting area. Uneventful flight. We see our hotel from the airport’s entrance but we wait for the hotel van to come and fetch us. Some confusion between Grand Orchid hotel and Garden Orchid hotel, which as far as the outsider can see are the same hotels, just different entrances. But we eventually all find ourselves at the breakfast area for both the Garden and Grand hotels.

So there we were, Art and Riza Melicor, Ruben Bala, John and Beng Ricarte – well slept, having arrived the previous day. And Karen Ochavo, Cheta Chua, Mads and Lu-Ann Bajarias and me, Gina Mapua, sleep-deprived, along with MJ Bugante, who slept well in her own bed, teaming up with Joel Baysa, of Region 9 DENR to spend our first day in Zamboanga City, birding in the Pasonanca Natural Park.

Waiting for the others at the lobby

The Pasonanca Natural Park is a protected area that preserves a major watershed in the Zamboanga Peninsula. Containing the headwaters of the Tumaga River, which serves the water requirements of some 800,000 residents in Zamboanga City, the park was initially established in 1987 as the Pasonanca Watershed Forest Reserve. Encompassing 10,560 hectares, it was enlarged to 12, 107 hectares in 1999 and reclassified as a natural park. It has the largest remaining block of old growth lowland dipterocarp forest in Zamboanga.

Our first foray into the park was at the area called Intake. When WBCP first birded this area, we all thought it was a strange word pronounced in-TAH-keh. It’s called Intake because this is exactly were the waters of the Tumaga river are taken into the pumps of the Zamboanga Water District. At the gate to the restricted area of the park, a Black-naped Monarch drew our attention. And at the huge concrete bowl where the waters swirled, we saw the first exciting bird. Ruben’s keen eyes saw a little movement in the leaves, which turned out to be a preening Brown-throated Sunbird. It was difficult to find in our scopes!

We crossed the dam into the forest across the river. The waters were just below the edge of the dam, a sign that the rainy season was still in operation in the watershed. Among the trails we chased sightings of White-eared Brown Doves, Black-faced Coucals, Oriental Dollarbirds, Mindanao Hornbills, Hair-crested Drongos, and White-eared Tailorbirds. We re-crossed the river, still looking for the Southern Silvery Kingfisher. Joel didn’t give up until he sighted one. Everyone had long satisfying views as the SSK very kindly posed for us for the longest time.

For late breakfast, we crossed the river again to the DENR station, on a rickety bridge which allowed only three people to cross at a time. To our consternation, we saw that the sign on the other side said only ONE at a time could cross. This led to a long discussion in the van, going home, where we arrived at no plausible conclusion. Breakfast was a feast of Zamboanga delicacies. Watch out for Karen’s pictorial essay on this!

After breakfast, the group went off in another direction to continue, while Karen and I took a nap. They returned with no sightings. The forest was unusually quiet with only Red-keeled Flowerpeckers active in the canopy.
Lunch was even more Zamboanga goodies. Then the sky darkened and we thought we would get rained out, but it seems the rains fell on the park further upriver. Joel Baysa said the rains will flow the river in about half an hour. As we were resting and chatting, we heard a loud roar – it was the river now swollen with the rain! We rushed to the bridge, only to realize that Cheta and Joel were already there, filming the rushing waters. So we contented ourselves watching the river fill its banks with roiling waters.

We all took one last foray, Joel taking us to an area where he had never taken WBCP before. It was a hard uphill trek, equivalent to a 14-storey climb! But the forest was even more quiet than at the river’s level. Some of us decided to reserve our strength for the downhill return, while others pushed on further uphill, hoping for some sightings since we could all hear the call of a very elusive Little Slaty Flycatcher among the tree. Success for the intrepid ones!

The Intrepids waiting for the White-Eared Tailorbird

The dark caught up with us much closer to the DENR camp, with us still trying to catch sight of more birds. We had a late afternoon snack of rebosao – my favorite Zamboanga snack. And then it was time to dive into our cozy hotel beds. But not before we had a wonderful dinner at Bay Tal Mal, a restaurant specializing in Tausug delicacies like tyula hitum, a blackened tinola.

While Day One of our Zamboanga trip was less productive than expected, we still came up with a decent bird list of 28 species.

The Pasonanca Family Photo

Day 2: Upper La Paz and ZCSMST
by Cheta Chua

Despite seeing some rockstar birds, and as enchanting a forest Pasonanca Natural Park was, the bird list of the previous day was not as full as I’d hoped it would be. I woke up (with some help from my roommate Ruben) hoping that our trip to Upper La Paz would give a much longer bird list.

We started our day in the lobby (some us eating deadly sandwiches), meeting up with the Zamboanga Bird Club composed of Lando Inclan, Winnie Wooton and Nilo Esparaguera, and our most gracious host, MJ Bugante. While waiting, I saw a comment on the FB group saying how lucky I was to be with such seasoned birders. I couldn’t help but think how much wisdom I’ve been imparted with just in this trip, both birding and non-birding-wise.

On the way to Upper La Paz, I was filled with cautious optimism that this day would yield more lifers. Almost immediately, we saw a Southern Sooty Woodpecker. A short walk down the road from the strawberry farm that served as our base, a huge weight fell off my shoulders as the team got clear views of the Zamboanga Bulbul. Almost every few meters, my newbie self would find a new lifer. Even the humble Everett’s White Eye was a lifer for me. Midway through the trail, some of us began feeling the deadly effects of the sandwiches, so they had to retreat back to base and the security of an available toilet. Meanwhile, the survivors soldiered on and saw the energetic Rufous Fronted Tailorbird, the jet-like Spine-tailed Swift, the majestic Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle and the not really Naked-Spiderhunter.


All of these were lifers for me. As we were posing for our ‘family photo’ before leaving, one of our police escorts spotted this huge white mystery bird, but much to everybody’s chagrin we were not able to ID it. I was especially irked as I was the only one to get it in my bins but in my in-experience I wasn’t able to make an ID. I guess I still have much to learn from my “seasoned” companions.

When the mystery bird zoomed past us

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at areas which Lando Inclan said would yield more birds. We were treated to sights of Blue-Crowned Racquet-tails and Bar Bellied Cuckoo-shrikes. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the Mindanao Broadbill that was spotted by Lando on a previous trip. I guess that’s an excuse to come back someday. On the way back to the city, another of one us who will not be named), fell to the effects of the deadly sandwich and had to make an emergency stop. This led to much banter in the van.

Late in the afternoon, we went to the fishponds of the Zamboanga State Collage of Marine Sciences and Technology. There was a good variety of water birds.  Highlights included a solitary Philippine Duck, the dark phase Pacific Reef Heron, Pied Stilts and an extremely large and noisy group of Asian Glossy Starlings. Within just an hour and half, we were able to reach 34 species.

Dark phase Pacific Reef Heron

The sun started to set and the evening prayers were sung from the nearby mosques as more Great egrets flew back home, I couldn’t help but sense an almost spiritual feeling seeing nature and culture intertwine. With that, we ended our birding day with 74 species and a lot of lifers even for the most experienced of us. 

The ZSCMST Family Photo along with members of the Zamboanga Bird Club

To be continued….

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