Palawan and Manila - September 6–12, 2013

Published by Charles Harper (MisterMicawber AT

Participants: Charles Harper, Kazuko Matsumoto


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Water Buffalo
Water Buffalo

It was not really the best time of the year — it was still the rainy season — but by a concatenation of circumstances I found myself planning a quick birding trip to the Philippines. Soon realizing that a comprehensive round-up of endemics would take a lot of time and money—the archipelago is like a vast Galapagos, each island its own endemics—I settled rather arbitrarily for Palawan with Rommel Cruz (, a guide from, primarily because he was immediately helpful and friendly from his first prompt email response to my inquiry.

It was a good choice. In five days of boots-on-the-ground birding, Rommel and his assistant Will located almost all of the lowland endemics (26/30) for us and a total of 101 species—this with daily interruptions by rainstorms. Take mosquito repellent, but there were no forest leeches. Both men are skilled, indefatigable bird guides whom I highly recommend—and enjoyable companions who know where the good food is served. The package Rommel put together took care of everything and ran like clockwork. However, on the second day, we took a little outrigger ferry over to see the Palawan Peacock-pheasant, and in disembarking I managed to stumble over in knee-deep water and thoroughly douse both my camera and iPod in the South China Sea. Both seized up, so I have no photos to show you.

Also, we were not able to visit private Pandan Island (in Honda Bay off Puerto Princesa) for its islet specialties: an unscrupulous foreign birding guide had shaken the tree holding the Mantanani Scops Owl, so the island's owner has forbidden access to future birders for the present.

If you are planning on doing Palawan on your own, a good base of operations is Ellei's Place ( ) in Puerto Princesa, a very new, very pleasant, very helpful B&B.

I had also scheduled two days on Luzon before leaving the country, because I wanted to see a rhabdornis, just in case it is not a starling after all. The first day was a self-conceived, ill-conceived local birding trip by taxi to Subic Bay Freeport. Wishful thinking had convinced me that I could arrive at Manila's NAI Airport at 9:45 AM, take a rental car & driver (PHP 6000 for 8 hours) to Subic, and then bird for a few hours before returning to my Manila hotel in the evening. What this actually netted me, however, was a 90-minute roadside walk at Subic during the deadest part of the day (2:30–4 PM) and a lot of time in Manila traffic going and returning. I added only about six species to the list, but I did get a nice pair of Luzon Flamebacks.

For the second day in Manila, I had contracted another outstandingly industrious guide, Adrian Constantino of Birding Adventure Philippines ( ) who took me on a 12-hour hike up and down Mt Makiling and around the surrounding area, where we saw lots of birds (and leeches)—starting with a Luzon Hawk Owl at 4 AM and then another 20 endemics among 40 new birds for the trip list. It is interesting that with almost 150 species for the trip, only 10% (15 species) were seen on both islands.

The Philippines were hot (mid-30s) and humid, as I suspect they are all year round. My downtown Manila hotel, Orchid Garden Suites, was an old converted mansion which has a pleasant Empire air about it, though the shower only dribbled.

Filipinos are exceptionally good-natured, and I dispelled my fear of the Manila airport, which suffers a bad reputation on the internet. It is worn, but it was no less navigable than many other Asian airports.

Mine was a rather brief, rushed visit, so many species were no doubt seen or missed by serendipity, but for me it was a successful expedition, well worth any discomfort. I got my rhabdornis.

Species Lists

Great Egret Ardea alba
Eastern Reef-Egret Egretta sacra
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Malayan Night-Heron Gorsachius melanolophus
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Rufous Night-Heron Nycticorax caledonicus
Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Oriental Honey-buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
White-bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
Crested Serpent-eagle Spilornis cheela
Tabon Scrubfowl Megapodius cumingii
Palawan Peacock-pheasant Polyplectron napoleonis (E)
Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis
Barred Rail Gallirallus torquatus
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Lesser Sandplover Charadrius mongolus
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Rufous-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
Pink-necked Green Pigeon Treron vernans
Amethyst Brown-dove Phapitreron amethystina (E)
Green Imperial-pigeon Ducula aenea
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Reddish Cuckoo-dove Macropygia tenuirostris
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata
Common Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
Guaiabero Bolbopsittacus lunulatus (E)
Philippine Cockatoo Cacatua haematuropygia (E)
Blue-naped Parrot Tanygnathus lucionensis
Blue-headed Racquet-tail Prioniturus platenae (E)
Colasisi Loriculus philippensis (E)
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus
Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus
Asian (Square-tailed) Drongo-cuckoo Surniculus lugubris
Common Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
Scale-feathered Malkoha Phaenicophaeus cumingi (E)
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Phaenicophaeus curvirostris
Red-crested Malkoha Phaenicophaeus superciliosus (E)
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Palawan Scops Owl Otus fuliginosus (E)
Philippine (Luzon) Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis (E)
Javan Frogmouth Batrachostomus javensis
Palawan Swiftlet Aerodramus palawanensis (E)
Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta
Pygmy Swiftlet Collocalia troglodytes (E)
Brown-backed Needletail Hirundapus giganteus
Philippine Trogon Harpactes ardens (E)
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting
Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher Ceyx rufidorsa
Stork-billed KingfisherPelargopsis capensis
White-throated (Brown-breasted) Kingfisher H. smyrnensis (gularis)
White-collared Kingfisher Todirhamphus chloris
Spotted Wood-Kingfisher Actenoides lindsayi (E)
Palawan Hornbill Anthracoceros marchei (E)
Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus
Luzon Flameback Chrysocolaptes haematribon
Red-headed Flameback Chrysocolaptes erythrocephalus
Spot-throated Flameback Dinopium everetti (E)
Red-bellied Pitta Pitta erythrogaster
Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike Coracina striata
Pied Triller Lalage nigra
Small (Fiery) Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
Yellow-throated Leafbird Chloropsis palawanensis (E)
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
Black-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus atriceps
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
Ashy-fronted Bulbul Pycnonotus cinereifrons (E)
Palawan Bulbul Alophoixus frater (E)
Sulphur-bellied Bulbul Iole palawanensis (E)
Philippine Bulbul Hypsipetes philippinus (E)
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
Balicassiao Dicrurus balicassius (E)
Spangled (Hair-crested) Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus palawanensis
Dark-throated Oriole Oriolus xanthonotus
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
Asian Fairy-bluebird Irena puella
Slender-billed Crow Corvus enca
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
Palawan Tit Pardaliparus amabilis (E)
Elegant Tit Pardaliparus elegans (E)
Sulphur-billed Nuthatch Sitta oenochlamys (E)
Stripe-headed Rhabdornis Rhabdornis mysticalis (E)
Ashy-headed Babbler Malacocincla cinereiceps (E)
Melodious (Palawan) Babbler Malacopteron palawanense (E)
(Pin-) Striped Tit-Babbler Macronous gularis
White-browed Shama Copsychus luzoniensis (E)
White-vented Shama Copsychus niger (E)
Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris
Grey-backed Tailorbird Orthotomus derbianus (E)
Rufous-tailed Tailorbird Orthotomus sericeus
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Gray-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta
Palawan Flycatcher Ficedula platenae (E)
Palawan Blue-flycatcher Cyornis lemprieri (E)
Mangrove Blue-flycatcher Cyornis rufigastra
(Philippine) Pied Fantail Rhipidura (nigritorquis) javanica
Blue Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone cyanescens (E)
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea
Yellow-bellied Whistler Pachycephala philippinensis (E)
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Richard's Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae
White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa
Plain-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis
Copper-throated Sunbird Leptocoma calcostetha
Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis
Purple-throated Sunbird Leptocoma sperata
Flaming Sunbird Aethopyga flagrans (E)
Lovely Sunbird Aethopyga shelleyi (E)
Pale Spiderhunter Arachnothera dilutior (E)
Palawan Flowerpecker Prionochilus plateni (E)
Striped (Thick-billed) Flowerpecker Dicaeum aeruginsoum (agile)
Red-keeled (-striped) Flowerpecker D. haemtostictum (australe) (E)
Buzzing (White-bellied) Flowerpecker Dicaeum hypoleucum (E)
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum trigonostigma
Pygmy Flowerpecker Dicaeum pygmaeum (E)
Yellowish White-eye Zosterops nigrorum (E)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Scaly-breasted Munia (Nutmeg Mannikin) Lonchura punctulata
Chestnut Munia Lonchura atricapilla