Philippines - January - February 2008

Published by William Ruscher Jr. (imonacan AT

Participants: William Ruscher , May Ruscher


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Palawan Peacock-pheasant
Palawan Peacock-pheasant
Palawan Peacock-pheasant
Palawan Peacock-pheasant
Intermediate & Little Egret roost
Intermediate & Little Egret roost
Forest Butterfly
Forest Butterfly
unknown weird insect
unknown weird insect
Mangrove River Scene
Mangrove River Scene
Tabon Scrubfowl
Tabon Scrubfowl
House Spider
House Spider

Arrived Mactan Int. Airport Jan. 24. The main purpose of the trip was to visit my inlaws in Cebu. I made the trip with my wife and daughter. I had booked a side trip to Palawan for 5 days, and also made some short excursions around Cebu, mainly to look for property. The birding was at a casual pace , being with my wife, and fitting it in during the nature package itinerary in Palawan, and during short travels in Cebu. Any emdemic species is followed by a * .


The birding was mostly limited to the coastal highway that runs between Talisay and the port area in Cebu City :

Bright-capped Cisticola -several
Tawny Grassbird - several
Striated Grassbird - 1
Little Egret - many
Intermediate Egret - many
Cattle Egret - 1
White-winged tern - several around the coastal fish ponds
Whiskered tern - common along the shorelines

While looking at lots near Talisay, I had :

Black-naped Oriole - 2
Yellow-vented Bulbul - 4
Olive-backed Sunbird - 1
Glossy Swiftlet - many

Farther south in the province, looking at lots, I had :

Everett’s White-eye - flock of 15 plus
Arctic Warbler - 1 ( migrant )
Philippine Coucal - 1
Philippine Bulbul - 2
Brush Cuckoo (heard only)
Cebu Black Shama * ( heard only, and very brief) Hearing the song of the “siloy” in Carcar township (off road to Barili) , was the highlight for me on Cebu. I liked this area very much.

Palawan Jan. 31 - Feb. 5

Arrived at Puerto Princesa airport after a one hour flight from Cebu. An aircon van was waiting for us, as I had arranged a 4 day 5 night stay at the Bambua Nature Park Resort in Sabang. A 3 day 4 night nature package that included tours of the Underground River, Lion’s Cave and Ethnographic museum, Daylight Hole, and Mangrove paddle boat tour. The last day (and night) , and anytime possible in between excursions... I reserved for birding. The 2 ½ hour trip to Sabang was partly on a winding paved road that tuned quickly to a bumpy gravel one with plenty of potholes and mainly under construction. I would recommend taking the jeepney only if you are a thrill seeker, as the ones that we passed were all packed with people hanging out of the back, sides, and sitting on the roof with their luggage. On the road from Cabayugan to Sabang we saw :

Tabon Scrubfowl -1 that darted into the brush on our approach
Glossy Swiftlet - 10 plus outside of the Bambua compound

Our host and the owner of Bambua , Andre , spoke English, German, and Tagalog. At my request, he reserved a village style cottage for us right next to the forest and mangroves. The cottage was built out of native materials, very private and roomy. It had a fantastic view overlooking the mangroves, fish ponds, and eye level with the middle canopy of the forest from the front porch. The resort and restaurant is on a large hill, and I was pleased to see and hear right away, that it had great potential for birding, and sound recording. It wasn’t long before I heard the harsh croaks of:

Slender-billed Crow - 2 that were common and often heard and seen the entire stay
Stork-billed Kingfisher - sighted at least 6 times during our stay. Might have been the same bird, or several, perched on the banana trees and overhanging branches overlooking the fish ponds. It has an unmistakable loud call, and gave another loud rattling call while on the fly.

Despite hearing the calls of Little Spiderhunter ,daily, from the forest near to our cottage, this was a species that eluded me.

I had a special treat witnessing a magnificant male Trogonoptera trojana * bird wing species of butterfly, that glided down from the forest trees in front of me, on a walk around the compound, and then a female later in the day.

Large florescent blue hornets had a nest in one of the bamboo poles supporting the porch roof of our cottage, but were no bother to us. Flying in between tree canopies, were a trio of calling:

Fiery Minivet - 3

In the early evening at dusk, hundreds of both Intermediate and Little Egrets flew in from the surrounding fish ponds, fields and rice paddies, to roost in a tree across the mangrove pond. A great opportunity for a photo, which I will post (among others) on the website. Several species of bats appeared after dark. A small jagged winged species was the most numerous feeder, along with a little larger (horseshoe bat) species. Just before dark, Flying Foxes (Giant Fruit Bats) were a common sight flying into the forest to roost. The exact species of these bats, I am still uncertain.

The dinner and food overall at the Bambua restaurant was very good, especially if you are fond of fish and rice, fruits, and fresh vegetables, which we were. Most are grown and harvested from the CIAAP attached farm , on the compound. Some food was imported from Manila.

Later at night, the forest and mangrove came alive with sounds, and I was able to get some good recordings. Palawan Scops-Owl * could be heard calling at regular intervals from the forest, downhill. Despite my best efforts to see this endemic owl, the “growl” stopped when I walked (or stumbled) down into the forest with my headlamp. I was hoping to see some glowing red eyes, but saw only an aggravated Tokay Gecko that was sounding off from the large tree in front of me. Not wanting to spook the owl, or get lost, I decided to make my way back to the cottage grounds. I also recorded various forest crickets, and a chorus of Philippine Toads from the mangrove. The nights were cool enough to sleep without a fan. (All electric goes out around 11 PM). We slept in a mosquito net that covered our bed. Only one night were the mosquitos really biting in the cottage. In the early morning, at first light, a surreal chorus of cicadas woke us into the day. I was able to get a nice recording , also. The links to my recordings are on the Freesound Project website. The links are at :

My sample pack titled “Palawan, Philippines 2008" can be accessed from there, to hear the other recordings that I made. There are also several other sample packs of field recordings under my user name “imonacan”.

Birding around the Bambua grounds was good, especially in the mornings. Species seen were:

Olive-backed Sunbird
Purple-throated Sunbird
Glossy Swiftlet
Black-headed Bulbul - several
Olive-winged Bulbul - several
Grey-cheeked Bulbul - most common
Ashy Drongo - 1
Lesser Coucal -2
Asian Fairy-bluebird -2
Pygmy Flowerpecker -3
Plaintive Cuckoo -1
Zebra Dove - many
Pied Imperial Pigeon -1 seen sitting in the large tree between our cottage and the restaurant
Common Iora - 2 seen perched in trees out near the fish ponds
Greater Painted Snipe - 1 flying across fish ponds at dusk
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha - 1 very vocal and colorful passing through the grounds
Yellow-throated Leafbird * - 2 seen foraging in the middle canopy trees in back of our cottage on the forest edge.
Blue Paradise-Flycatcher * - 2 The male heard singing, and then seen moving through the trees in back of the cottage. I saw the female later in the morning, that I originally had mistaken for a migrant Blue Rock Thrush.
Grey-streaked Flycatcher - 1 A migrant species that gave us a good look in the afternoon from the porch in our cottage
Northern Palawan Tree Squirrel - seen daily in the trees on the forest edge
Troides plateni * - the other bird wing species of butterfly seen on the edge of the forest

We made two excursions by a motorized banca boat to the Puerto Princesa (formerly St. Paul’s) Subterranean River National Park , from the pier in Sabang. The first was to explore the Underground River, which is fantastic and an unforgettable experience. An aqua blue lagoon at the cave entrance leads into a series of tunnels and caverns filled with interesting limestone formations, and is loaded with bats (8 different species) and swifts. At the entrance to the cave, we saw:

Palawan Swiftlet * - 6 + flying around the lagoon

I gave the boatman an extra P200 (per person) to take us in farther to the 2nd cathedral that has a higher ceiling (but a bit smaller) than the 1st. I was amazed, like everyone, to see the large Water Monitors walking around the ranger station looking for scraps of food and unconcerned with the presence of people. The trees were loaded with Long-tailed Macaques that would run down and snatch anything that was left alone for a minute. Andre’s Filipina wife (our guide and host) Rosalie, drew my attention to the call of a :

Palawan Hornbill * that flew overhead. I tryed with no luck to get a look. We hung around for a little while longer in hopes to see one, but it did not happen. We inquired about the Palawan Peacock-pheasant that frequents the ranger station, and were told to come back at first light, which was arranged for us by Rosalie, for the last day of my stay. We had missed the pair by an hour before our trip into the Underground River.
In and around the Lion’s Cave near Cabayugan , we had :

Edible-nest Swiftlet - many, The nests are harvested by locals before egg laying. The Chinese have a taste for them. The good news is - the swiftlets will build another nest and lay eggs.
Pygmy Swiftlet - several on the walk from the road

The Ethnographic museum was an interesting place. It gave a history of the Batak tribal people, that still live on the other side of the St. Paul Mt. Range, and an example of a native built structure.

On our excursion to the Karst Mt. Area , while hiking, we had several low flying grassland birds, that I identified as:

Zitting Cisticola - 2
Crested Serpent Eagle - 1 soaring overhead

We decided not to make the steep climb to the Daylight Hole, because of my wife’s choice of footwear, but instead we explored more of the stream and forest trail that becomes the inlet of the Underground River, on the otherside of the mountain. This was a great area for butterflies, and I am still trying to identify all the species that I saw, and described . Some are certainly endemic to Palawan, that I have not seen before in other parts of the Philippines. Butterfly and insect information is hard to come by, and a field guide for the Philippines is something that is surely needed.

On the Mangrove paddle boat tour, I was hoping to see some of the woodpecker species. The habitat looked perfect, but produced no sounds, or birds. We did have a great look at a :

Mangrove Snake - 1 a venomous species that was coiled up on a tree branch overhanging the water

We got up early and were on the boat that was arranged to bring us to the ranger station at the entrance of the Underground River. Andre, along with his wife and father, accompanied us . We arrived on the beach at first light and waded ashore. There were a lot of monkeys and monitor lizards ( bayawak) around the station. Finally, the monkeys moved on. At around 6:30 AM we got our first look at the pair of Palawan Peacock -pheasant * that were located by Rosalie near the boardwalk. After a brief look, they scurried back into the brush and disappeared into the forest. A little later, we had good looks at a pair of Tabon Scrubfowl that were feeding on rice thrown out by the rangers. The male Peacock-pheasant came back to feed in back of the ranger station, and gave us great looks, and photo opportunities. My wife took a short video of this magnificent bird. I am amazed that the many monitor lizards of various sizes (up to several meters long) did not seem to bother the Peacock- phesasant or the Scrubfowl . It is a wonder to me that they can survive there nesting on the forest floor. I was told the monitors are scavengers, egg eaters, and will also eat anything they can overpower and ambush. Andre was not really too fond of them, and told me stories of monitors eating all his ducklings and small chickens, at Bambua, and even taking a family kitten. Rosalie found a strange group of insects from near the boardwalk, off the trail to the Underground River entrance. These were clustering around the trunk of a tree and gave the appearance of small powdery white flowers....until they all moved. Nature is the master of disguise. I was told they are a species of moth in the larval stage. Sounds of birds were everywhere in the canopy, but were much easier to hear then to see. Seen near the ranger station was:

Common Emerald Dove - 2
Green Imperial Pigeon -1 spotted on a branch in a large dead tree
Asian Drongo- cuckoo - 1
Palawan Tit * (heard only)
Copper-throated Sunbird - 1 in the trees close to the beach and boardwalk

We proceeded to walk the “monkey trail”, while Andre and his family took the banca back to Sabang. Another unexpected treat was having the male Peacock-pheasant appear again right in front of us again, a hundred meters or so into the trail. The birding on the wooden steps leading up into the forest was good (the steps needed repair in some spots), as well as the trail leading up to the split to the “forest trail”. We had :

Palawan Flowerpecker * - 4 seen on the steps up, and may have been the same 2 birds seen twice.
Ashy-headed Babbler * - 2 One seen near the top of the steps, and another that responded immediately to my tape, on the trail
White-vented Shama * - 2 that I recorded on the “monkey trail”. One scolding me from close in, and another singing further back.
Yellow-throated Leafbird * - 1 got more great looks , and was able to make a short recording on the beginning of the “forest trail”.
Sulphur-bellied Bulbul * - 3 first one seen near the top of the steps, and the other 2 at the trail intersection.
Mangrove Whistler - 1 seen and heard from the landing on the steps up
Spangled Drongo - 1 seen and heard calling high in the canopy on the steps up
Grey-cheeked Bulbul - 2 seen on steps up

I wanted to take the “jungle trail” and my wife wanted to stay on the “monkey trail” closer to the beach, when we came to the intersection. I should have listened to my wife. The jungle trail is an up and down poorly maintained path through steep ravines and creek beds. The humidity was very intense, once down in the ravines away from the beach. It is easy to see how ones strength could be sapped out quickly hiking in the forest, and it was still mid morning. The creek bed seemed dryed up (it was the dry season), and I walked through one with some thick low vegetation. My wife pointed out that my left leg was bleeding. I discovered a few leeches attached to my leg. We sat down and rested and had a drink of bottled water, while I peeled off my new parasite friends. I played the tapes of Melodious and Falcated Wren-babbler , hoping to get a response, but got none.
My wife was already on her way up the ravine , wanting to get Out of the jungle. So I played the tape once more, and then caught up with her. We were drenched with sweat, and after an hour plus of strenuous up and down hiking, we felt the refreshing breeze of the South China Sea, and walked down to the grounds of the central ranger station. We relaxed for a while and had a lunch of bananas and drank the remainder of our bottled water. At the ranger station, we had:

Lovely Sunbird - 4 plus singing in the palms
Olive-winged Bulbul - 2

After resting awhile, we registered in the ranger station, and then continued our walk back to Sabang that went down many steps to the beach. We walked another 45 minutes on a beautiful empty white sand beach, before we got back to the mangrove river, that crossed over to the first sets of cottages and resorts on Sabang. Low tide allowed us to wade across the sandbar. We saw many box jellyfish washed up on the beach, along with lots of small clear crabs running about and down into their holes (fiddlers or ghost crabs(?)). In the coconut trees near the beach, we had the 3 Sunbird species mentioned (all but Copper-throated), and a :

Scaly-breasted Munia - 1

While relaxing after lunch on the porch of our cottage back at Bambua, I heard the call of a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird *(heard only) from the mangroves and fishponds. I spent the afternoon trying to see it, along with the Little Spiderhunter. A fruitless effort despite playing the tapes of both species. We had a nice treat seeing the hundreds of Egrets , followed by dozens of Flying Foxes roost in the mangroves and forest, at dusk, just after a brief rain shower.

My wife went to sleep after dinner, and I decided to do some night birding and possibly some sound recording from down on the gravel road. I caught some bright glowing eyes with my headlamp, while approaching the primitive wooden bridge (walking away from the village). I was treated to the sighting of a Large-tailed Nightjar that was resting in the road. On the walk back, I heard another nightjar calling, but by the time I plugged the mic into my recorder, the bird had gone silent. I also heard the distant “whinny” of a Palawan (Javan) Frogmouth. I walked back toward the village and noticed the faint calls were coming from an area far behind the Last Frontier Resort. My attempt at a recording only produced the close up sounds of crickets. This is where I wished I had my parabolic dish, that I left back in NY. I spent several more hours listening and admiring the dark clear moonless sky. I went back to the cottage and got my binoculars, and did some southern sky observing, which was very enjoyable. This was one of (if not the darkest) skies I ever remember observing under. The generators shut down at 11 PM, and the whole village of Sabang goes dark. I also saw several Wolf Spiders while on the nocturnal walk.
After being guided (by our host) into the forest, later in the night (by my persistent requesting), I was able to hear and briefly see a:

Spotted Wood-Owl - 1

We arranged on our trip back to Puerto Princesa the next morning, for the driver to take us to the Crocodile Farm, in Irawan, and also to the Butterfly Garden, before dropping us off at the Astorious Hotel. The Crocodile Farm was interesting, and had several Philippine Cockatoos. The Butterfly Garden was also worth the visit. I can recommend going to both. The Astorious Hotel in Puerto Princesa was very nice. The food was good along with the room, and the hospitality .We caught our plane back to Cebu in the morning, after breakfast. If flying from Cebu, pay attention to the drastic difference of fares on Cebu Pacific. Flying on a Tues. or Thurs is best, as a direct flight is available (not via Manila).

My thoughts on the trip:

Bambua is a very good place to stay, and I would certainly recommend it for the birder, naturalist, or for just a great place to relax and enjoy. It has beautiful, well maintained grounds, nice cottages, good food, and a friendly staff. Andre and his wife were great guides, and made all the needed arrangements, as well as being gracious hosts.

I will certainly be back on Palawan , as I plan to retire in the Philippines (probably on Cebu). Some of the notable misses were the Blue-headed Racquet-tail and Blue-napped Parrot, as well as Melodious and Falcated Ground Babblers, Palawan Blue-flycatcher, Hooded Pita, and Citrine Canary -flycatcher. I also had 6 heard only species, including 4 endemic species. This may be a perfect excuse to spend more time on Palawan, and plan another trip for the future.
I will probably bird Palawan again with a bird tour group that has a more aggressive itinerary , while letting my wife enjoy the comforts of home, or a nice hotel, as she seemed to enjoy the last day in Puerto Princesa much more then the previous four.

Trip totals on birds:
17 species on Cebu plus one heard only - (endemic)
43 species on Palawan - (8 endemic) plus 6 heard only - (4 endemic)

34 being life list species for me.

Butterfly highlights: were both Trogonoptera trojana male and female, and Troides plateni bird wing species seen on the grounds of Bambua. I also saw and photographed Troides plateni at the Butterfly Garden in Puerto Princesa.

References used :

A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines ( Kennedy / Gonzales)
A Photographic Guide to Birds of the Philippines (Fisher / Hicks) - my first time to use this guide, and I found it was very useful. Real photos and good descriptions. This book will be with me again, on the next trip.
Internet references to different species of birds, insects, mammals, and butterflies (which I will be sorting out for a long time from my field notes and photos).

Many trip reports like this one , from others that provided me the information and inspiration to make this trip possible. Thanks for taking the time to read this trip report. Feel free to contact me for any comments or questions.

William Ruscher Jr. Rochester, NY USA