I was lucky enough to visit The Philippines for work in May 2009. I arrived in Manila on Saturday 16th May in the evening and my meetings began on Monday so I had all of Sunday 17th free. I also arranged to stay beyond the meeting and decided to head to Bohol for some of the speciality birds of the southern Philippine Islands.
I contacted Tim Fisher and he organized a driver (Egay) to pick me up from my hotel in Manila on Sunday morning and also arranged for a driver Chito and guide Ryan for the Bohol visit as well as accommodation at Chocolate Hills Hotel complex during my stay in Bohol.
• Egay - 8000pesos for the day (I had used Egay before when I visited Mount Makiling in March).
• Chocolate Hills – 1200 pesos per night
• Chito charged 8000pesos for Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning including transfer to and from airport. I paid him 9000pesos
• Ryan charged 1800pesos for his guide services and entrance to Rajah Sikatuna was 100 pesos per day
Sunday 17th May
Candaba Marsh (am) – pick up from hotel at 4.30am by Egay – about 1 hours drive. This site is difficult to find but Egay knows all of the places where the tours go.
As we drove in a Grass Owl was hunting the rice fields and a bonus bird was a female Greater Painted Snipe dropped into the rice fields. Several Oriental Pratincole were much in evidence hawking over the lagoon at the end of the track. Cinnamon Bittern, many Yellow Bittern, Night Heron and Purple Heron were present when you reach the pool as well as Chestnut Munia. A White-browed Crake showed well, the first of several. Walking along the edge of the lagoon a Pheasant-tailed Jacana was seen in flight, the first of 3. A couple of Pied Fantail were noted and 2 Philippine Duck. A Barred Rail showed well, albeit briefly on one of the tracks and a Buff-Banded Rail gave excellent views as it preened.
On the far side of the lagoon are some more wet fields / rice paddies. A pair of Pied Bushchats and several Whiskered Tern were present and I noted one adult White-winged Black Tern. I was keen to see Pheasant-tailed Jacana better and found some very distantly on the fields beyond the Mayors house. I wandered down the track that leads from the Mayors house and then off to the right on a raised bank and obtained good views of Paddyfield Pipit, White-breasted Wood Swallow and Oriental Skylark as well as Philippine Coucal.
I saw 3 Jacanas, distantly then when I walked back I found another feeding much closer – a super bird. We then left for Subic Bay at about 10am, stopping for some food on the way.
Subic Bay (pm) – again I was totally reliant on Egay’s knowledge of where the birders go. Birding the roads around Subic Bay yielded several good birds: White-eared Brown Dove, Barred Rail – excellent views, Green Imperial Pigeon, Phillipine (Pompadour) Green Pigeon, Green Racquet-tail (in flight only – but with good views of the racquets on the tail), Rufous Coucal, Philippine Serpent Eagle (Egay mentioned it might be seen on this stretch of road), White-throated Kingfisher (Philippine race), Blue-throated Bee-eater, Luzon Hornbill, Coleto, a pair of White-bellied Woodpecker and several Blue-naped Parrot. Other birds heard included White-browed Shama and Rufous Hornbill.
Before we left Egay took me to the Fruit Bat roost where we watched possibly up to a million huge Fruit Bats begin their evening exodus into the forest – an amazing sight that attracts people.
Egay dropped me back in Manila and then for the following few days I worked in the north of Luzon at Tuguegarao.
On Thursday morning (May 21st) I was supposed to fly back to Manila and then straight on to Bohol. A flight delay meant I missed my connection to Bohol so I arranged to get on the first flight out on Friday morning – at 5.30am. We arrived in Tagbilaran, Bohol at 7am and I met with Chito for the 50 minute drive to Rajah Sikatuna Nature Reserve (RSNR). Bohol feels completely different from Luzon; much more relaxed and much more forested. The forest at RSNR is dense, proper forest and birding is challenging – hot, sweaty, dense cover and slippery underfoot – birds don’t come easy and you have to work for them. Ryan was an excellent guide knowing the bird calls was invaluable but unfortunately I only had a few species on my iPod and Ryan did not possess a mechanism for playing his tapes in the field – neither did I.
What we did encounter in the morning were: Pygmy Swiftlet and Island or Philippine Swiftlet – impossible to tell apart, Black-crowned Babbler, Brown Tit Babbler, Philippine Leaf Warbler, Yellow-bellied Whistler and several Blue Fantail. A nesting site of Blue-crowned Racquet-tail provided brief views as they flew out of the nesting hole (saw these better later).
As I said birding was tough and many more species were heard but just did not want to show; Philippine Oriole, Amethyst Brown Dove, Yellow-breasted and Black-chinned Fruit Dove, Philippine Fairy Bluebird and several Black-faced Coucal which frustrated me through the entire visit. An obliging Colugo was also a bonus.
Late in the morning the heavens opened and we got soaked – birding was impossible and we waited back at the reserve centre for an hour or two and then headed off for some excellent food at the Butterfly centre. On the way back to the reserve we stopped at the river and after a while obtained superb views of a stunning Silvery Kingfisher – a cracking little bird. Eventually we found our way back into the forest and it was really quiet but finally, not long before we lost the light we added Steere’s Pitta which showed well on the track. A stunning bird – Ryan knew where there was a nest and the bird responded to his reasonable imitated, whistled call. Great bird and one of the main targets, we headed back to the reserve centre where I had hoped to get some night birds. We tried as it got dark for and heard but could not get out Philippine Frogmouth, Philippine Nightjar, Philippine Hawk Owl and Philippine Scops Owl but I did get brief views of Great-eared Nightjar high over the reserve centre. Feeling exhausted, sweaty and a bit frustrated Chito took me back to the hotel at Chocolate Hills but as we left the reserve he was hanging out of the window and then he said Kingfisher – he had found a roosting Rufous-lored Kingfisher. Many years of driving bird tour groups around he knew where this bird roosted – said it had been there for about 5 years. Him holding my spotlight, I was able to scope this brilliant male although I would have preferred views in daylight. Chocolate Hills was comfortable and clean but the restaurant closes at 8pm but nevertheless they knocked me up a great toasted cheese sandwich !
They agreed that they would get me some breakfast sorted at 4.30am and the eggs and bacon went down a storm with my coffee. So a full days birding ahead of me – what would we find – I had given Ryan my list of targets and he was straight on to the first – Yellow-breasted Tailorbird. At first it would not show – just responded to my tape but a Steere’s Pitta was a great compensation. I hung around the area while Ryan sorted himself a morning coffee and eventually got point-blank views of a fine Yellow-breasted Tailorbird – really tiny. We then headed off out of the reserve right back to the road and then down the track opposite the entrance to RSNR – this was Ryans’ stake out for Whiskered Treeswift – at least it usually was, not today though !!! This was pleasant birding more like Subic Bay, walking down a road checking trees and often with relatively panaromic views over areas of trees. Birds were still pretty tough to come by but we did hear a Red-bellied Pitta – but only briefly. Other birds included Philippine Coucal and Purple-throated Sunbird but a Flying Lizard was perhaps the most interesting sighting. Nothing much was happening so we headed back to the Butterfly Centre for some lunch and then decided we would try again for Whiskered Treeswift (still with no success) but on the way down the track I shouted stop. I thought there was a Plain Swamphen (we had heard one earlier). It wasn’t one, it was a Barred Rail which showed really well , in fact there were several but while searching I found a pair of Greater Painted Snipe and they showed really well.
The Painted Snipe may be the first sightings on Bohol – not noted for Bohol in the field guide ! With no sign of the Treeswifts, we headed back to RSNR and into the forest – it was still pretty slow going but we heard Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon which were well hidden and several Rufous-lored Kingfisher – none of which would oblige. Late on we discovered a pair of Steere’s Pitta and a stunning Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove. Then we happened across a feeding flock and I picked up something black and white and then lost it – Ryan then got on to them but I could not get them again – they were 2Visayan Broadbills – aaagh painful !! Apart from Great-eared Nightjar, the nocturnal birds were really quiet although as I left we got the roosting Rufous-lored Kingfisher again – why wouldn’t he show as well during the day !
Sunday 24th May
I only had 2 hours of birding and we tried to get into the forest in the area where we had left the Broadbills the night before – it wasn’t to be but we did get a Streaked Ground-Babbler – Ryan was able to whistle it out and he also found the nest of a Rufous-Lored Kingfisher in a termite nest – still it would not show well !! Samar Hornbill was the only other noteworthy bird we saw before I had to leave to get back to the airport. On the way back to Tagbilaran, Chito stopped a some small stalls near Loboc and showed me 3 Tarsier. This was a strange set-up – the Tarsier were wild, the cages open – more to keep people away from them but the Tarsier come and go at night and choose to rest there during the day – it had a bit of a plastic feel but they are wild animals perfectly free to come and go as they please. So that was that – hard birding but really excellent and some truly super birds. I could heartily recommend Egay, Chito and Ryan.
Paul Varney e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel : +41 79 2144384
Ryan Sugala; e-mail : email@example.com Tel. +639208276374
Tim Fisher – can arrange logistics and drivers and is the best known guide on Philippines. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chito de Lage – excellent driver for Bohol. Tel. +639208096990