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Trip to Mt. Palay-Palay National Park

by Willem Van de Ven

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines has been a member of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the Mt. Palay-Palay National Park for a few years now, and everyone there knows Gina Mapua, who’s been representing WBCP for 3 years after Ipat Luna’s stint. Due to previous mismanagement issues and problems with running the park, it was completely closed to the public since October 2016. However, due to the efforts of the PAMB, including club members Gina and Ipat, in her former capacity as RED of Region 4A, the park has been restored and cleaned, and is now almost ready to be opened to the public.

The creek just behind the DENR Ranger station

Of course, biodiversity monitoring is part of sound management practices, and the academic side of this is being done by De La Salle University in Dasmarinas. Through Gina, two club members were invited to join the trip, and Joni Acay and I happily accepted the offer. Dr. Ronaldo Lagat, whom I know in another capacity (of the Technical Working Group to the Philippine Red List Committee) is heading the biodiversity monitoring part as DLSU Dasma faculty. We, of course, went there to go birding. No wait, I mean we went there join in the biodiversity monitoring, as subject matter experts on the taxa birds… *wink-wink*

Doc. Lagat was going to take his class of Masteral students in Biology and Environmental Science to Mt. Palay-Palay for field exposure, biodiversity monitoring, to find reptiles and amphibians, do habitat assessment, and a bird inventory. This bird inventory was done through opportunistic sampling, meaning we walk along the path and record all the bird species we see and hear (Again, we did not just go birding, we were doing science stuff.)

On Saturday morning, so early it couldn’t rightly be called Saturday yet, we left Quezon City in search of a bus that would take us directly to Dasmariñas. There we were picked up by Doc and following the vans of students, headed over to the park where we arrived around 7 am. Initial briefing of the team was scheduled at 10 am, so we had some time to go birding and look around the area. Indigo-banded kingfisher was the first species we saw while exploring the creek behind the ranger station, along with a Grey Wagtail. Huge trees and a clear creek make you relax as no spa or massage or any other city invention could ever do.

After the briefing, we joined the group to go herping (looking for amphibians and reptiles) along the creek. However, we soon got distracted as we heard and saw birds. When we briefly saw a female Philippine Trogon flit through the understory, we basically gave up on frogs… Sorry, Doc. We ended up around half a kilometer away from the ranger station in a patch of old growth forest, where a mixed flock was passing through and singing happily: Elegant Tit, Blue-headed Fantail, Black-naped Monarch, even a Yellow-bellied Whistler and Rufous Paradise Flycatcher. A shrill trilling followed by a drumming sound informed us of woodpeckers in the vicinity. A bit later we found a Sooty Woodpecker flitting from tree to tree. The students went back, looking for lunch, but we had a hard time pulling ourselves away from the forest.

Platymantis corrugatus
Old growth forest patches in the park

In the afternoon was the habitat assessment, where we went ‘exploring’ the trail ahead. A good thing too, because not far after we left the large noisy group of students behind us, we heard the calls of a dove. It was a Luzon Bleeding-heart! I actually never saw one in the wild, so we dropped everything and waited, playing the call back to it to see if it would come closer. Unfortunately, teasingly replying to us was the most we could get. Still an awesome experience.

Further on the trail, the forest gradually turned into plantation, shrubs, and then grassland, where we found a couple of Brahminy Kites flying over our heads along with the swiftlets and we also heard a Philippine Coucal calling. It was time to turn back. Finally, we heard the Luzon Hornbill calling when we were almost back at the ranger station.

The hornbills were the reason we were trying to get around as much as possible. The WBCP used to visit Mt. Palay-Palay quite regularly, and in fact the only time I joined that was way back in 2012 after the International Hornbill Conference in Manila to look for the hornbills on the mountain. Roadside birding back then was good and both Luzon Hornbill as well as the Rufous Hornbill were present on the mountain. Unfortunately, the Rufous Hornbill has not been recorded in years. It is probably extirpated, though no one has extensively surveyed the area. The rangers know the Kalaw from before and would recognize the call. As their call carries up to a kilometer away in the right conditions, it is unlikely that it is still around gone unnoticed. The roadside itself, similar to other great birding spots around Manila, has turned into a favorite motorcycle route and noisy traffic passes by day and night. This does not deter the Luzon Hornbills however, who the rangers say often visit the DENR station in the morning.

Trying to get a complete bird list as much as possible, we of course went owling in the evening, recording the Philippine Scops Owl (called once) and the Luzon Hawk Owl, which posed for us nicely. Afterwards, I strung up my hammock outside the station and the friendly local hawk owl then continued to call for hours to come.

Spotting Luzon Flameback on a dead tree in the distance

Early morning of Sunday was the time for the students to join the birding session, so we gave an introduction to birdwatching and hoisted our spotting scope around to see if we could get them some views. Plenty of ‘heard only’ near the roadside: White-browed Shama, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, and Brown Shrike among others. Eventually, while we were desperately trying to get them to see any of the several Balicassiao that were flitting overhead just in and out of sight, we spotted a dead tree in the distance with a woodpecker hole in it. Joni had her birding instincts on full mode and trained the scope on it, explaining about woodpeckers and inviting the students to take a look at the hole, when a Luzon Flameback actually landed right in the view! It stayed nearby for a while, going into the hole and back out, and gave everyone great views, unlike the Sooty Woodpecker which kept calling from somewhere nearby, or the annoying Colasisi laughing at us from above the tree line while flying over.

Luzon Flameback – digiscoped by Joni Acay

We hiked on further and heard some White-eared Brown Dove and Red-keeled Flowerpecker among the cacophony that is the Philippine Bulbul, but gradually we were walking into a patch of mahogany plantation forest, which was awfully quiet and devoid of birds. In the end, we gave up and turned back to the station where most students gratefully collapsed after only a 4-hour hike. Luckily, one of the newbies did take an interest and joined us after a quick coffee break back to the creek behind the station (we still had an hour before lunch). Within 10 meters into the forest, three dark shapes in the trees turned out to be another Sooty Woodpecker (calling gleefully), a Scale-feathered Malkoha that Joni saw clearly, and the Rough-crested Malkoha that I had in my sights. The birds were quite skittish however so we did not get great views. We persevered of course and went back to the patch of old growth that was so productive the day before, hearing but not seeing the Indigo-banded Kingfisher along the way. It was almost time to go back, pack our things and head back to Manila after lunch when we heard, a bit far away but quite clearly, a Philippine Trogon calling. A single playback of the call, and a minute later the male actually swooped right into our view for a few seconds before realizing its mistake and moving on. But what a great view that was! The student admitted to goosebumps and might make it to become a birder yet 😉

Group photo before going back home

Bird List

1 Luzon Bleeding-heart – Gallicolumba luzonica 1
2 White-eared Brown Dove – Phapitreron leucotis 1
3 Philippine Coucal – Centropus viridis 1
4 Rough-crested Malkoha – Dasylophus superciliosus 2
5 Scale-feathered Malkoha – Dasylophus cumingi 1
6 Pygmy Swiftlet – Collocalia troglodytes 1
7 Philippine Serpent Eagle – Spilornis holospilus 1
8 Brahminy Kite – Haliastur indus 3
9 Philippine Scops Owl – Otus megalotis 1
10 Luzon Hawk-Owl – Ninox philippensis 1
11 Philippine Trogon – Harpactes ardens 1
12 Luzon Hornbill – Penelopides manillae 2
13 Indigo-banded Kingfisher – Ceyx cyanopectus 1
14 White-throated Kingfisher – Halcyon gularis 1
15 Spotted Wood Kingfisher – Actenoides lindsayi 3
16 Blue-tailed Bee-eater – Merops philippinus 2
17 Coppersmith Barbet – Psilopogon haemacephalus 2
18 Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker – Yungipicus maculatus 1
19 Luzon Flameback – Chrysocolaptes haematribon 1
20 Sooty Woodpecker (Northern) – Mulleripicus funebris 2
21 Guaiabero – Bolbopsittacus lunulatus 2
22 Philippine Hanging Parrot/Colasisi – Loriculus philippensis 1
23 Ashy Minivet – Pericrocotus divaricatus 10
24 Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike – Coracina striata 2
25 Yellow-bellied Whistler – Pachycephala philippinensis 1
26 Black-naped Oriole – Oriolus chinensis 1
27 Blue-headed Fantail – Rhipidura cyaniceps 1
28 Balicassiao – Dicrurus balicassius 1
29 Black-naped Monarch – Hypothymis azurea 3
30 Rufous Paradise Flycatcher – Terpsiphone cinnamomea 1
31 Brown Shrike – Lanius cristatus 1
32 Elegant Tit – Periparus elegans 1
33 Philippine Bulbul – Hypsipetes philippinus 2
34 Lowland White-eye – Zosterops meyeni 1
35 Coleto – Sarcops calvus 2
36 Philippine Magpie-Robin – Copsychus mindanensis 1
37 White-browed Shama (White-browed) – Copsychus luzoniensis 2
38 Red-keeled Flowerpecker – Dicaeum australe 2
39 Philippine Fairy-bluebird – Irena cyanogastra 1
40 Grey Wagtail – Motacilla cinerea 1
41 Warbler sp
42 Swiftlet sp
43 Tailorbird sp

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