This report consists of several birding excursions made while visiting my wife's family in Cebu during June and July, 2005. All birding was done at a relaxed pace without using recorded calls. Guides were hired only at Rasa Island and PICOP. The exchange rate was about 55 pesos to the US dollar. As usual birds in the Philippines are hard to find and difficult to get close to. The 155 species we saw are not much compared to what professionally led trips accumulate, but seemed pretty good for us rank amatures.
June 5, Olango Island, Cebu
A trip to Olango Island to look for lingering shore birds turned out much better than expected. We took a taxi from Talisay City, Cebu to Anasil Warf on Mactan Island for 500 pesos. The fare for the pump boat to Olango Island was only 12 pesos each. Upon arrival, we hired a tricycle (72 pesos) to take us to Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary. Entry fee is 20 pesos for Philippine citizens and 100 pesos for everyone else. We were loaned a nice Nikon 60mm scope on a very bad tripod. The tide was rising and the trail and tidal flats were underwater when we arrived at 8:15 AM.
Birding on the coral flats at Olango Island
While waiting for the water to subside we observed Olive-backed Sunbird, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pied Triller, Golden-bellied Flyeater, Tawny Grassbird, Pied Fantail and a magnificent White-bellied Sea-Eagle. The tide started to fall at noon and by 2PM small flocks of shorebirds were arriving to feed on the freshly uncovered coral and sand flats. By 3PM we had seen Chinese Egret 2, Little Egret 10 Little Heron 10, Black-bellied Plover 5, Lesser Sand-plover 15, Greater Sand-plover 6, Whimbrel 6, Black-tailed Godwit 3, Common Redshand 1, Common Greenshank 1, Grey-tailed Tatler 20, Ruddy Turnstone 5, and Rufous-necked Stint 40. Perhaps 20% of these birds showed some vestige of the their alternate plumage. Our tricycle piked us up at 3:30 and we caught the 4PM pumpboat bact to Mactan Island.
June 7-9, Nuts Huts Lodge and Raja Sikatuna National Park
Nuts Huts Lodge on the Loboc River
We took the new Weesam Express fast ferry (350 pesos) to Tagbilaran, Bohol from the pier in Cebu City. We arrived after 2 hours and hired a tricycle to Nuts Huts Lodge for 250 pesos. Nuts Huts is a quiet lodge with a nice restaurant set on the Loboc River. We paid 450 pesos per night for a simple bamboo cabin with mosquito net and cold water bathroom. Birding around the cabins and restaurant is always good and visiting birders should consider Nuts Huts for their lodging as opposed to Chocolate Hills or hotels in Tagbilaran. On the grounds we were amazed to find a juvenile Hodgson's Hawk-cuckoo being fed by much smaller Oriental Magpie-robin foster parents. A sparkling Silvery Kingfisher shined on the opposite side of the Loboc River while a stunning Common Emerald-Dove provided fantastic views. Other birds seen on the grounds included Brahminy Kite, Barred Rail, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Bush-hen (feeding bananas to its fuzzy black youngsters), Pink-necked Geen Pigeon, Pompaduor Green-Pigeons, Philippine Coucal, Pygmy Swiftlet, Black-naped Oriole, Yellow-vented bulbul, Philippine Bulbul, Yellow-wattled Bulbul, White-breasted Wood-swallow, Black-naped Monarch, Purple-throated Sunbird, Red-keeled Flowerpecker and Pygmy Flowerpecker.
The next morning we walked 800 meters to the highway and caught a bus to Bilar for 30 pesos. There we hired a motocycle for 50 pesos to take us the few kilometers to Raja Sikatuna National Park. Arriving at the Logarita Springs swimming pool at 7:30 AM, the first bird we saw was a Silvery Kingfisher flying up from the stream that feeds the pools. We spent the day hiking up the trail above the swimming pool. Despite birding without recordings, we did well. A Steere's Pitta flushed from the trail and gave a breif but great view. A little later we got good looks at two Wattled Broadbills. Other birds seen included Brahminy Kite, White-eared Brown-Dove, Black-faced Coucal, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Philippine Trogon, Tarictic Hornbill, White-bellied Woodpecker, Spangled drongo, Black-crowned Babbler, Blue Fantail, Black-naped Monarch, Orang-bellied Flowerpecker, and Bicolored Flowerpecker
June 15-18, Sabang and St. Pauls Subterranean National Park
Birding at Mary's Place
The rough, bumpy bus ride from Puerto Princesa to Sabang took two and a half hours and cost 100 pesos. We got a primative cabin for 450 pesos at Mary's Place near the entrance to the park. The restaurant served good food but sleeping was difficult under the mosquito net in stifling heat. Though the lodge is on the beach, there was no breeze at all. Birds seen near Mary's place and the nearby Puyong-Puyong River included Eastern Reef-Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Green Imperial Pigeon, Hooded Pitta, Gray-cheeked Bulbul, Olive-winged Bulbul, Spangled Drongo, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Slender-billed Crow,White-vented Shama, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Blue Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Striped Tit-babbler, Palawan Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, Copper-throated Sunbird, and Lovely Sunbird.
Palawan Peacock-pheasant at Saint Pauls National Park
The next morning we walked to the warf and hired a pumpboat for 600 pesos (arranged the night before) to take us to St. Paul's Subterranean Park. The entance fee was 500 pesos each. We landed at about 7AM and within a few minutes had the magnificent Palawan Peacock-Pheasant strutting in front of us. Nearby were two Tabon Scrubfowl and a brilliant Hooded Pitta. The long walk back to Mary's Place over the steep, muddy Jungle Trail was tiring and not as birdy as we had expected. We saw Green Imperial-Pigeon, Palawan Hornbill, Gray-cheeked Bulbul, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Spangled Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Yellow-throated Leafbird, White-vented Shama, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Striped Tit-babbler, Palawan Blue-Flycatcher, and Blue Paradise-Flycatcher,
After suffering through another sweltering night we decided to move the Bambua Lodge on the road into Sabang. The cabin we rented for 600 pesos was attractive and comfortable and the grounds were beautiful and very birdy. Unfortunately the restarant was a bit weak. Set meals were 165 pesos each and quite plain. With the recent malaria scare, they had not had any guests for the previous three weeks. Consequently they cooked what they had on hand. Birds seen around the lodge and on two kilometers of road walking away from Sabang included Wandering Whistling-Duck, Intermediate Egret, Crested Goshawk, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Watercock, Reddish Cuckoo-Dove, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Common Emerald-Dove, Spotted Dove, Chestnut-breasted Malkoa, Plaintive Cuckoo, Island Swiftlet, Glossy Swiftlet, Pygmy Swiftlet, Palawan Hornbill, Common Flameback, Hooded Pitta, Black-headed Bulbul, Olive-winged Bulbul, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Fiery Minivet, Common Iora, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Spangled Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Slender-billed Crow, Striped Tit-babbler, White-vented Shama, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Blue Paradise-Flycatcher, Palawan Flowerpecker, Olive-backer Sunbird, Purple-throated Sunbird, Lovely sunbird, Little Spiderhunder, Scaly-breasted Munia, and White-bellied Munia
June 20, Rasa Island, Palawan
Waiting for the Philippine Cockatoo at Rasa Island, Palawan
Hoping to get to Rasa Island and see the Philippine Cockatoo, we found a L300 van to Narra, Palawan from the bus terminal in Puerto Princesa for 110 pesos each. Not knowing what we were doing, we asked around in Narra for a tricycle ride to a local baech resort and soon found ourselves at the La Vista Lodge. We got a cabin (fan and cold water bath) for 750 pesos and while eating in their excellent resaurant discovered that Tim Fisher has used this lodge in the past as a base for Rasa Island. The management soon arrranged a trip for us with local Rasa Island warden Danny Villaflor. Danny doesn't speak much English, but with my wife Honey as a translator, we found him to to be an excellent and knowledgeable guide with a deep desire to protect the birds of Rasa Island. The fee was 1200 pesos.
We left at 3:30PM in Danny's small bangka and were soon skirting the coral flats of Rasa Island. We got great looks at three Great-billed Herons and saw several Little Egrets and Little Herons. At about 5PM we anchored about 150 meters from the trees where the Philippines Cockatoos come to roost each night. Soon we had distant views of eight Philippine Cockatoos along with several Stork-billed Kingfishers feeding on the edge of the island. We decided to stay till sunset for the evening flight and were rewarded with eighty Philippine Cockatoos flying into the roost tree.
June 29-30, PICOP, Mindanao
We took the Sulpicio ferry from Cebu City to Butuan, Mindanao for 660 pesos each for a cabin. The boat left at 7PM and arrived at the port town of Nasipit at 6AM. We got a tricycle to a local jeepney stop. The jeepney took us to the Butuan bus terminal where we got on the unairconditioned bus to Bislig. The fare was 192 pesos each for the five and a half hour trip. Midway there was a clean bus stop with restaurant and bathroom. In Bislig we took a tricycle to the Paper Country Inn. We paid 950 pesos for the large room with hot water bath. Within minutes the lady at the desk had contacted Zardo Goring, the local guide for PICOP and we were making birding plans for the next day. Zardo charged 1000 pesos per day plus 2500 pesos for the jeepney and driver that would take us over the rugged logging roads.
Birding with Zardo Goring at PICOP, Mindanao
We decided to make no attempts at owling and left at 4AM. As more and more sqatters move into the forest it is neccessary to drive farther from Bislig to find good forest habitat. We reached a good birding area at first light and Zardo immediately impressed me with his knowlege of the local bird sounds. Zardo was concerned that we would have a difficult time seeing birds without song recordings, but things turned out fine. Within a few minutes we had a flyover Writhed Hornbill. A little later we found a family group of five Wattled Broadbills. Afterwards Zardo identified the call of Black-headed Tailorbird and I was able to whistle it in within ten feet. After spending most of the day in this area we drove back to town and visited the local inactive airport. Despite waiting till dark we struck out on Grass Owl but did get Blue-breasted Quail, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Black and Cinnamon Bitterns, White-browed Crake, Striated Grassbird and Zitting Cisticola.
We started the next day at 5AM and drove to another area farther from town. Immediately upon arrival, Zardo identified the calls of Celestial and Short-crested Monarchs. This was when not having recordings really hurt us and we missed seeing both of these species. However the morning went well and despite waiting out some rain we managed to add a few species to our list. Zardo was visibly disappointed to see that a new sqatter had moved in since he had last visited. The man had cleared a 20 meter swath along the logging road for several hundred meters. At noon we reached Zardo's stakeout for Little Slaty-Flycatcher. The sqatter had cleared along the road right up to this small steep trail that led only 30 or so meters into the jungle. With the heat and quiet of midday and having no recording we thought our chances of seeing this enigmatic species were nil. We waited a bit and Zardo identified the call of Little Slaty-Flycatcher in the distance. He tryed to imitate it but his whistle was too low pitched. I tried numerous times but just couln't match the extemely high two note call. A couple of Brown Tit-babblers kept us at the location for a few more minutes. Then just as we were to give up I saw a motion in the leaves not far away. At that time I tried to relax my lips and make one more attempt at imitating the birds whistle. I don't know how it happened but the most perfect Little Slaty-Flycatcher call came out of my mouth and in a few seconds there was this little blackish flycatcher with weird postoccular white spots sitting low in the brush only 5 meters away. Zardo couldn't believe it. All three of us watched the bird at close range for at least five minutes. The return trip to town turned up a couple of beautiful Slaty-legged Crakes bathing in a puddle on the road.
During the two days we saw 73 species. In addition to the above species we saw Barred Honey-Buzzard, Crested Goshawk, Philippine Falconet, Barred Rail, Red Jungle-Fowl, Little Ringed-Plover, Pompadour Green-Pigeon, White-eared Dove, Pink-bellied Imperial-Pigeon, Common Emerald-Dove, Silvery and White-throated Kingfishers, Guaiabero, Colasisi, Blue-crowned Raquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Black-faced Coucal, Philippine Coucal, Drongo Cuckoo, Pygmy Swiftlet, Philippine Needletail, Philippine Trogon, Tarictic Hornbill, Greater Flameback, White-belied Woodpecker, Yellow-wattled, Philippine, and Yellowish Bulbuls, Black-bibbed Cuckoo-shrike, Black-and-white Triller, Scarlet Minivet, Philippine Leafbird, Spangled Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Large-billed Crow, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Black-headed and Philippine Tailorbirds, Blue Fantail, Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher, Pygmy and Rusty-crowned Babblers, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Coleto, Little and Naked-faced Spiderhuners, Red-keeled, Orange-bellied and Buzzing Flowerpeckers, Metallic-winged, Purple-throated and Olive-backed Sunbirds. Zardo identified an additional dozen species by call. He did a great job and I highly recommend him.