The Philippines Feb 24—Mar 14, 2010
Posted by Susan Myers
The Philippines is simply full of amazing endemic birds and some equally great non-endemics. Our quest was to see as many of them as possible. High on everyone's list were Red-crested Malkoha, Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, and, most of all, Great Philippine Eagle. We saw all of these and many more, so to say that our Philippines tour was an outstanding success would be an understatement! This great, complex archipelago far exceeded our birding expectations, as did the accommodations, the food, and the friendly hospitality of the remarkable Philippine people.
Starting in Manila on the island of Luzon, we first dropped in to the bird-rich Candaba Marshes before proceeding to Subic Bay, the old U.S. naval base to the north of Manila. This is where the birding really hotted up, literally and figuratively! We racked up the new birds here with loads of Guaiaberos, White-eared Doves, Balicassiaos, Blackish Cuckoo-shrikes, and Coletos. On top of that we had great views of the bizarre Red-crested Malkoha, many Luzon Tarictic Hornbills, fleeting looks at the shy Rufous Coucal, and sensational Sooty Woodpeckers.
From Manila we flew to the atmospherically-named Cagayan de Oro on the southern island of Mindanao where we divided our time between two very important and enjoyable sites—Mount Kitanglad and PICOP. The trek up to our lodge on Kitanglad wasn't too arduous (mostly on the back of a truck actually!). This area is full of cracking endemics, but the bird on everyone's mind was the legendary Great Philippine Eagle—sometimes referred to as the Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle. Our exertions and patience were rewarded with scope views of an amazing perched bird that we watched for some time as he preened, scanned his domain, and eventually took flight before disappearing back into the forest. Another big highlight this year was a pair of the usually shy Blue-capped Kingfisher at close range.
Back down in the lowlands, we spent three full days exploring the PICOP logging concession, and still this wasn't enough! Too many highlights to mention them all here, but a few of the unforgettable ones included Steere's Pitta, a superb Rufous-lored Kingfisher, some stunning views of the impressive Rufous Hornbill, and a whole host of endemics.
The island of Palawan was another revelation! Definitely a trip favorite for its quiet, laid-back atmosphere and super birding, we concentrated our efforts on the remarkable St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park. After some tension, the much-hoped-for Palawan Peacock-Pheasant turned up trumps and was greeted with undisguised delight. What a stunner! Another swag of endemics like Ashy-headed Babbler, Palawan Hornbill, Palawan Tit, and Palawan Flycatcher were delightful additions to our trip list. There were some special non-endemics to be found here, too: Chinese Egret, Tabon Scrubfowl, and Mantanani Scops-Owl. The scops-owl in particular was a lot of fun!
Many wonderful people helped us on our travels and I extend my sincere thanks to Jimmy and Tani, in particular, for their unfailing good humor and skillful organization. On Mount Kitanglad, we were pampered by Carlito and his family; at PICOP, Zado expertly accompanied us throughout; on Palawan, Mylene looked after our every whim.
I enjoyed leading this tour immensely and I thank you all for joining me. Your good humor and excellent company both in the field and at the table made traveling with you a joy! As always, I look forward to seeing you all again soon.