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A Zamboanga Adventure – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of the Zamboanga Adventure…

Day 3: Sta Cruz Grande Island – An Unexpected Birding Day
Text and photos by John Ricarte

It’s 6:30am and Day Three of our Zamboanga birding trip will bring us to the island of Santa Cruz Grande, just off the city’s coast line. It’s quite near and you can actually see the island’s features from the boulevard, and it looked flat, somewhat monotonous – green mangroves of equal height on top of white beaches, stretching left to right throughout. A welcome contrast from our last two days of hilly trekking under forest canopies. It looked like the break we were hoping for.

Getting there was by ferry, well not really the watercraft the term suggests, these are small boats with no outriggers. The take-off point is from the ferry station to one side of the Paseo del Mar. Further down the shoreline, past Paseo del Mar, is where the traditional and famous race of vintas or simply “The Regatta” will be held. Flotillas of vintas were already in the water doing final checks and proudly displaying their amazing colors and designs, like male birds out to win their prize mates. What a sight!

We are going to miss the eliminations but should be back in time for the finals. So, onto the boat we went, donning neon orange life-vests, and were soon on our way to what could be an exciting morning of island birding. Well, the weather was great anyway.

Not 30 minutes later we landed right on the sand, and what we thought was white is more pinkish, very fine and pristine. Hands down, this island is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved that I’ve seen ever. And at once you notice the calm of the place and already feel relaxed and know this is going to be a good day.

And so, after settling down in our hut and doing the usual morning stuff, it was on to the first business of the day – looking for the Philippine Megapode aka Tabon Scrubfowl. It has been known to come close to shore to forage, sometimes where people throw their refuse. We encountered our first one, a couple it turned out, digging near some garbage. They are good at hiding and we just saw parts of them while making kalaykay (scratching) the ground. I guess they noticed we were getting too close for comfort, so they started heading back to the mangroves and were soon gone. We didn’t see the scrubfowl again after that… well not until the following turn of events that led to the most exciting incident of our trip.

We pretty much got scattered after the two scrubfowl left. Beng and I went further inland, saw a scruffy Collared Kingfisher, then reached a dead end. Went through a couple more trails with no luck, then we heard the group seemingly excited, so we took a different trail towards them. That was when we saw Gina along the path, and as we got near her, something just jumped out from where we stood and there was this creature struggling to scamper away. Then Gina cried out, “It’s a baby Tabon… and it’s injured.” She then said we needed to catch it. The thing was still agile but couldn’t gain ground. So, Gina, who knows her way around a farm, used her chicken-catching skills, grabbed it and just like that, scrubfowl was in hand, and Mission: Tabon Rescue was under way.

Karen named the fortunate scrubfowl ‘Donna Cruz’ (for Sta Cruz Island),
but I will call it ‘Stubby Taby’ forever.
Stuffy Tabby AKA Donna Cruz

The thing must have been very scared and was summoning every ounce of strength to get away. I can’t forget when Gina raised it there was something dangling from its left leg – it was its dead foot hanging there by just a thread of ligament holding on. Forget scared, this bird was in real excruciating pain. Whatever material it got tangled into – a piece of nylon net or line, it must have taken weeks to finally loosen, and it really suffered. Worst of all, it could not feed itself and was bound to die soon. It was decided that the dead foot had to be detached to finally give it comfort. Our bird guide Joel, with some betadine, did the procedure while Gina firmly held on to it. She then gave it some water and put it on the ground with a basket over it, so it can rest. It was later turned over to a PAMO operative on the island, to be brought to their veterinarian for examination.

You have to admit though this bird is a super lucky scrubfowl. On this island, on this day, when a group of birders from WBCP just happened be around and encountered no less than Gina who has the biggest heart for birds among us. Luck? Or call it tadhana (fate).

And, I don’t know if my fellow birders that day noticed, but after the rescue, the other birds started appearing. There were more Olive-Backed Sunbirds, Starlings, Gerygones, Fantails, Magpie Robins, even YVBs, and of course the Little Bronze Cuckoos and the White-Vented Whistlers were awesome treats.

And there’s more… On our boat ride back, we stopped at the sandbar of Little Santa Cruz Island, hoping to spot some shorebirds. Lo and behold, they were there too – Malaysian Plovers, Sanderlings, a Greater Sand Plover, a Pacific Reef Heron, too. They didn’t even mind our bright neon outfits, off-fashion from our usual birding wardrobe.

What a day, what a day.

We missed The Regatta though, but the Zamboangenos will understand.

Before I forget, compliments and thanks to our MJ Bugante, birder and super host, who just made the trip muy perfecto! Gracias, gracias, gracias.

Two plovers and a bee

PS – The food was spectacular and sumptuous, you have to Karen’s piece about what we stuffed ourselves with over the last three days!

Day 4: Barangay Baluno, Zamboanga City, Region IX, Western Mindanao

Birders: Lu-Ann Fuentes-Bajarias, Mads Bajarias, Rene Bala, Joel Baysa (local guide), Mary June Bugante
Key species seen: White-eared Tailorbird and Zamboanga Bulbul

The birding area in Barangay Baluno is about 28 kilometers by vehicle from the center of downtown of Zamboanga City. The final few kilometers to the DENR-run Baluno Ecological Research and Training Center (also referred to as “ranger station”) is rough road and would require 4WD, otherwise, visiting birders can just leave their non-4WD vehicle along the track and continue on foot, which was what our group did.

The road to the ranger station (745 masl) is a gentle slope, and one passes through logged over areas, animal-grazing areas, disturbed forest and mixed vegetation including fruit trees (especially marang trees). As one gets nearer the ranger station, the mosaic of scrubland, animal grazing land, fruit trees, vegetable plots and few hardwood species give way to exotic mahogany trees, which are common around the ranger station. This is not surprising, since exotic mahogany was heavily used as a reforestation species around DENR facilities around the country up to the ’90s.

The patches of thick undergrowth along the roadside are good for the restricted-range White-eared Tailorbird, with at least two individuals very vocal and responsive to playback. Our group had no problem finding this tailorbird species, which occurs only in western Mindanao. The fruit trees along this area are also good for frugivores, especially Guaiaberos, which were common and abundant.

Continuing beyond the ranger station, the mahogany trees become scarcer, making way to fern trees and more native tree species. Patches of native trees laden with vines along this stretch of road are good for Zamboanga Bulbul, which were easy to see.

As one continues beyond the ranger station, the forest quality becomes much better; this area forms part of the protected and restricted-access city watershed. Mindanao Hornbills were calling much further deeper into the watershed.

Access, permits and transportation for the trip was arranged for the group by WBCP member Mary June Bugante, who contacted DENR personnel Joel Baysa. It would be recommended to stay for the night in the ranger station to be able to bird the part of the road that goes deeper into the watershed.

  1. Cattle Egret – 3
  2. White-eared Brown Dove – HO
  3. Guaiabero – 8
  4. Rusty-breasted Cuckoo – 1
  5. Philippine Coucal – 1
  6. Black-faced Coucal – 2
  7. Ridgetop Swiftlet – 5
  8. Philippine Spinetailed Swift – 4
  9. Philippine Trogon – HO
  10. Blue-tailed Bee-eater – 3
  11. Mindanao Hornbill – HO
  12. Coppersmith Barbet – 1
  13. Buff-spotted Flameback – 1
  14. Yellow-vented Bulbul – 3
  15. Zamboanga Bulbul – 4
  16. Yellow-wattled Bulbul – 1
  17. Black-naped Oriole – HO
  18. Large-billed Crow – 3
  19. White-eared Tailorbird – 3
  20. Mangrove Blue Flycatcher – 1
  21. Black-naped Monarch – 1
  22. White-breasted Woodswallow – 4
  23. Brown Shrike – 1
  24. Starling sp. – 80
  25. Coleto – 5
  26. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker – 2
  27. Red-keeled Flowerpecker – 1
  28. Buzzing Flowerpecker – 5
  29. Bicolored Flowerpecker – 1
  30. Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher – 1 (seen by Mads)

1 Comment

  1. Linda Gocon

    Do you mean Ruben Bala? Rene Bala is listed under the picture in Zamoanga Adventure – Part 3. I see Ruben in the picture, though.

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