Philippines, April 2002

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by Bill Ruscher

I arrived in Manila on April 2nd, 2002. This trip was not exclusively for birding, but I did have several opportunities to notch up a few new species.

April 4th: American Cemetary, Forbes Park, Makati, Metro Manila

Some form of identification is needed to enter the cemetary and must be left with the guard at the gate. The most numerous birds were the ever present Eurasian Tree Sparrows (locals call them "Maya" and are just about in every place we went in the Philippines), Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Zebra Doves.

We had several Barred Rails in the dry gully area, and several more that ran across the paved road ahead of us. The Rails would take cover in the low brush quickly after being spotted, with one that kept peaking out at us from behind a fallen tree. A Crested Myna flew by and landed on a distant pole with a fresh caught meal in it's mouth. There were several Pied Fantails in the low trees and tangled thickets.

Sitting in a large tree.... what we first thought was a raptor, but as we got closer we flushed the bird into flight, turned out to be a Malayan Night Heron. Feeding on the ground was a small flock of Red Turtle Doves. We also had Brown Shrike (also in most of the other locations we visited).

Sitting on the American graves, were a pair of Pied Bushchat, that would feed on insects on the ground and then fly back to their perch on the crosses. We had close-up views of a White-collared Kingfisher and Coleto.

After eating dinner in a restaurant in Makati, outside I heard sounds overhead and had a surprise bonus bird to end the day - a great Purple Needletail.

April 6th : Fery to Cebu

On the WGA Supperferry from Manila to Cebu, we had Whiskered Tern (2) , and Brown Noddy (1). Approaching Cebu City Harbor we had a flock of Garganey (14), and a school of Spinner Dolphins off Macton Island.

April 10th: Cebu to Malapasqua Island

On our bus trip from Cebu City to Maya, we saw more Brown Shrikes (11) perched on the high wires along the roadside. On the banca boat from Maya to Malapasqua Island we had White-winged Tern (4)

April 13th: Malapasqua Island:

On Malapasqua Island we had a single Pacific Swallow. Olive-backed Sunbirds were common in the palms in the 4 days spent on or near the beach.

April 14th: Rajah Sikatuna National Park

After taking the bus back to Cebu City the day before and then taking the Supercat to Tagbilaran, Bohol, we arranged a driver to take us to the breathtaking Chocolate Hills, where we saw Pygmy Swiftlets (10). We toured the Laboc River to see the captive Tarsiers (that you can hold in your hand if you want). In Bilar, while having lunch, the driver arranged a motorcycle ride with a local that was willing to take me into Rajah Sikatuna National Park and the Logarita Forest Station. It was a rough, rough ride and I could see why only a motorcycle could make it in on those roads.

It was Sunday afternoon and the welcome center with all the information was closed . I saw the crude "lean-to" that could be used to spend the night along with the crude CR facilities. I think that if I ever spend the night there, it would be in a bug proof jungle hammock. The clearing was a large circular area with a path that had caged monkeys (mackaques I believe) and some that were walking around approached us very aggressively looking for food. I was impressed by the 11 different species of butterfly that I saw in the clearing. The first birds seen were Black-naped Oriole (1) in an overhanging branch and a Pygmy Flowerpecker (1) that flew across the clearing. I also heard the calls of both species. I heard the call of what I believe was Philippine Scops Owl. I was so close to the call that I felt as if I were on top of it, but could not see the bird.

April 16th : Olango Island

I wanted to take the Olango Island Seascape tour to see migrating shorebirds, and I was very shocked that they wanted P5000 ($100 US) per person to take us to the bird sanctuary on the south end of the island and feed us lunch. I felt for a minute that I was back in the US. My Filipina partner and I decided that there was surely a better and more economical solution to get to the santuary. Having a native Filipina with me as my guide and partner and to also do my negotiating for me, proved very valuable. We checked into one of the lower end hotels on the Macton strip facing Olango. Many boatmen were more than willing to take us to the santuary for P1500 (to rent the banca for the entire day).

On the 45 minute trip over, we had both White-winged Tern (9) and Gull-billed Tern (3). Walking into the santuary we had Olive-backed Sunbird (10+), Bright-capped Cisticola (1) and Great Reed Warbler (1), which the guide in the santuary helped me identify with his field guide. He was very eager and happy to take us out in the mudflats with his spotting scope and fixed us up with checklists and straw outback hats to protect us from the sun. The welcome center had a CR, bottled water, sign-in sheet and lots of information about the migrating birds and local resident birds. It reminded me of the welcome center at Tabunan forest, where I had visited 3 years ago. The entrance fee was P5 for my partner and P100 for me! We set out into the mudflats, that at times was very difficult to walk in and would suck your feet down in if you stood in one spot too long. The flats were full of Fiddler Craps and Sea Stars. It was still low tide, but it was slowly on the rise and the birds were moving out away from us. We walked several hundred yards out into knee deep water, where our friendly and knowledgable Filipino guide set up his scope and began to show us close-ups of the following species .....Green-backed Heron (1), Bar-tailed Godwit (2), Greenshank (1), Redshank (2), Chinese Egret (12), Asiatic Dowitcher (30+), Grey-tailed Tattler (4), Australian Curlew (2), Whimbrel (3), Ruddy Turnstone (two in breeding plumage), Pied Triller (two on the walk out of the sanctuary), Barn Swallow (1) and Asian Glossy Starling (10).

I have seen Whimbrel , Ruddy Turnstone, and Barn Swallow on the shores of Lake Ontario in New York and on the Atlantic Coast of New England and now I have seen them 9000 miles away on Olango Island, Philippines. Proof of the tremendous range and long migrations of these species.

I can highly recommend the trip to Olango Island. Our guide told us that the best time to come is October, when the bird populations and species counts are at peak. I will surely do so again, someday. Since we had the banca for the rest of the afternoon, the boatman recommended that we eat lunch on the floating restaurant, and we agreed.

I also saw and described on tape a number of reptiles, amphibians, insects, spiders, dragonflies, mammals (including dolphin and bat species) . I even got a few good photos. For the most part, I have no idea what I saw, and neither do the locals in the Philippines. Please e-mail me with any information or references that you could point me to. I would like to identify as many of these species if possible. There certainly are not many books or field guides that I have found on the market about Philippine flora and fauna. I made all our bird IDs from "A Guide to Birds of the Philippines" Kennedy-Gonzales, which is an excellent book. My guide on Olango Island used "Birds of Japan" to point out some of the shorebirds that we saw.

I made my first scuba dive in 15 feet of water from a banca, and saw 25+ reef fish and many other sea creatures. I was able to identify all of these with the Indo-Pacific Guide to Coral Reefs.

Bill Ruscher Jr.

Supplementary birding notes from a visit to the Philippines in January 1999

On a 3 week trip to visit my in-laws in the Philippines, I managed to make some arrangements to get out of Cebu City and do some birding. One will notice right away that there are not many old growth trees left on Cebu, and that the island is almost completely deforested.

On January 28, I met with my guide (Cebu City zookeeper) that would take us to a small patch of original forest in a remote valley, called Tabunan, that was a two hour drive out of the city. We hired a private car and driver for the trip. The main road west out of Cebu City was under construction and in horrible shape. La Nina was in full affect,and it rained almost everyday during my visit. The roads were muddy and the forest trail was wet and slippery. On the trail that went along a mountain side, we met another guide that was the forest keeper and lived there in a small shack with his family.

We had Asian Glossy Starling, Coleto, Brown Shrike, Malaysian (Pied) Fantail, Philippine Bulbul, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Philippine Coucal, Arctic Warbler, Variable Forest Kingfisher, Crimson Sunbird, Olived-backed Sunbird, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher,on the trail into the forest and then the bird that made the trip for me, the Cebu Flowerpecker. This bird is endemic to Cebu, and thought to be extinct until several years ago when it was rediscovered in this same patch of forest. We waited several hours on a crude bamboo platform, that overlooked the forest treetops, to get a look at the Flowerpecker. I was much luckier than some birders, who spent days on the platform and never saw the bird (says my guide).

On our way back down the mountainside, the rain started. Our local guide was still very confident that he could show me the other endemic species of thrush, the Cebu Black Shama. This is a very shy, sulking and secretive bird, that had to be called out of the thick undergrowth. After an hour and a half in the rain, our guide skillfully did just that. The Shama finally hopped out into a small clearing on the forest floor, giving us a brief and well deserved look , as we were drenched by then.

I made another trip, one week earlier, on the Supercat ferry across to Bohol Province. The Logarita Forest (Rajah Sikatuna NP) was the place that held most of the birds . Unfortunately the road was not passable, and I could not get anyone of the locals to take me in. Not even on a motorbike. Disappointed, but I will try again next time. I had to settle for the 5 species that we saw on the Loboc River, and Alona Beach on Panglao.

They were Eurasian Tree Sparrow.They were everywhere, just like House Sparrows in the USA. On January 20th, I had Rufous Night Heron and Little Mangrove Heron in a small marsh area at the end of Alona Beach, and on January 21st, I had Pygmy Swiftlet, and Asian Palm Swift from the overlook at the Chocolate Hills.

On a cruise down the Loboc River in a banca boat, we saw many different colorful butterfly species. I also saw the world's smallest primate, the Tarsier. Another primate (that was in the Lemur family) was jumping through the trees along the river bank. When I asked what species it was, the boatman just smiled and pointed down the river, telling me politely that I should be paying attention to what is ahead of me. I got to see the famous Chocolate Hills - I can say that this a "must see" place of wonder and beauty, that is unrivalled anywhere that I have ever been before in the Philippines.

Bill Ruscher Jr.