> Artsliste (Species list)
Fotogalleri (Kommer senere)

All photos: © Leif Gabrielsen 2007



Flaming Sunbird (Gnistsolfugl); Balinsasayo Twin Lakes, Negros



Artslisten er forfattet av Rob Hutchinson og først publisert på hjemmesiden til Bird Tour Asia: http://www.birdtourasia.com/philippinestour2007.html
Rapporten beskriver turen i detalj og gir et svært godt inntrykk av en fantastisk reise i et av verdens mest spennende fugleland. Filippinene regnes som et av verdens viktigste reisemål hvis man ute etter sjeldne endemer. Få andre land har en så presset natur som Filippinene. Den gjenværende regnskogen forsvinner i et skremmende høyt tempo. "It's now or never!"
Den jevne filippiner er gjestfri og svært trivelig. Mat og drikke kunne nytes uten alt for mye redsel for sjau med fordøyelsessystemet. Hygienen er utmerket, alt gikk ned - til og med råsalat - helt problemfritt.

Thanks Rob!



"A Guide to the Birds of The Philippines"; Robert S. Kennedy, Pedro C. Gonzales, Edward C. Dickinson, Hector C. Miranda Jr. & Timothy H. Fisher.
En utmerket felthåndbok med svært akseptable fargeplansjer og kortfattet tekst samt informative utbredelseskart på motstående side.




Bohol; Rajah Sikatuna National Park
Negros; Dumaguete & Balinsasayao Twin Lakes
Negros; Mt. Kanlaon & Mambucal
Luzon; Mt. Makiling
Palawan; Sabang & Saint Paul National Park
Palawan; Raza Island
Mindanao; Mt. Kitanglad
Mindanao; Bislig & PICOP
Luzon; Subic Bay
Luzon; Banaue, Mt. Polis & Bay-yo
Luzon; Hamut Camp


Reisen dag for dag:

The Philippines

28th January - 2nd March 2007


Philippine Frogmouth (Bandolærfroskemunn); Mt. Kitanglad, Mindanao



Visayan pre-tour:

28th January – 3rd February 2007

Leader: Rob Hutchinson

Participants: Daniel Benders, Leif Gabrielsen, John Hiles, Stella Martin & Denis Walls



Samar Hornbill (Samarhornfugl); Rajah Sikatuna National Park, Bohol


During the week-long Visayan pre-tour extension we recorded 131 species including 45 Philippine endemics of which 11 were tour-exclusive endemics.  Highlights included the rare island-endemic Cebu Bulbul and Black Shama on Cebu, Yellow-breasted Tailorbird and Azure-breasted Pitta on Bohol and a host of rare endemics including Visayan Hornbill, Visayan Shama, Visayan Flowerpecker and the stunning Flame-templed Babbler on Negros.
We began the tour with a late afternoon flight from Manila to Cebu City where we enjoyed our first San Miguel beers in the tropical surrounds of the hotel garden before retiring to recoup some energy after long international flights from various corners of the globe.
Early the next morning we departed Cebu City and headed inland. Unfortunately the fine conditions on the coast deteriorated as we headed into the central mountains and it was rather wet and windy when we arrived at our destination of Tabunan, which is home to one of the few remaining forest patches on the entire island. After a rather slow and slippery walk up the trail into the forest our first highlight was White-eared Brown-Dove while some of the group had brief views of our first Black Shama, an island endemic, before arriving at the ‘viewpoint’ – in fact one of the few elevated pieces of limestone allowing views into the forest canopy. The inclement conditions atop the viewpoint were far from ideal and were undoubtedly a factor in our lack of flowerpecker sightings but we did manage some excellent birds; Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine Coucal, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Philippine Bulbul, Arctic Warbler, Pied Triller, Pied Fantail, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Everett’s White-eye and Red-keeled Flowerpecker providing entertainment. Several endemic Magnificent Sunbirds (a good split from Crimson Sunbird), vocal Cebu (Streak-breasted) Bulbuls gave brief glimpses and our first Coleto with its bare head appearing to exposing bulging pink brains! We also found the stunning cebuensis Coppersmith Barbet with its brick-red face and throat which made us ponder the possibilities of a future split. In the mid-afternoon we descended again into the forest where everyone now enjoyed views of the Black Shamas and we puzzled over the cyornis blue-flycatchers which are currently lumped within Mangrove Blue-Flycatcher but again seems a likely future split. Our walk back to the village produced Grey-rumped Swiftlet, Striated Grassbird, Paddyfield Pipit and Island Collared Dove in the agricultural fields.
We were soon heading back to Cebu City, for a short ferry ride to Bohol, our third Philippine island in 2 days. We arrived at our resort in the evening, sadly too late to yet appreciate the surrounding ‘Chocolate Hills’ for which the area is famous.
A short drive the next morning brought us to the nearby Rajah Sikatuna National Park where we were greeted almost immediately by an entertaining group of ‘Samar’ Mindanao Hornbills. Although the birding here is sometimes slow, the forest is fantastic and we spent a very enjoyable morning along the forest trails. The first highlight was actually not a bird, but a Philippine Colugo (often known as a ‘flying-lemur’) a nocturnal flying squirrel that we were fortunate to see active during the daytime. Next up was one of our main targets – Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, endemic to Samar and Bohol this species is quite easily located courtesy of its high pitched song but it is a super-skulker and true to form not everyone managed good views of this particular individual. The rest of the morning was enlivened by some nice feeding flocks which included shy Mindanao Drongos, Metallic-winged Sunbirds, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Blue Fantail, Black-crowned Babblers and the near-endemic Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher which is shared with Borneo but very rarely recorded there. We also chanced upon a smart group of Streaked Ground Babblers feeding unobtrusively in the leaf litter and a more obliging Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, although it soon melted away leaving some still frustrated.
Our afternoon again produced much the same in the mixed flocks but we added a surprisingly elusive Black-faced Coucal and a flushed Red Junglefowl. Staking out a clearing in the late afternoon produced a Besra and a pair of Rufous-lored Kingfishers as they became active at dusk. As darkness fell Great Eared-Nightjars hawked overhead and a wintering Northern Boobook appeared followed a short while later by a vocal pair of Philippine Boobooks and an impressive Atlas Moth attracted by our powerful spot-light. A final stop along the road produced calling Philippine Frogmouth and Everett’s Scops-Owl but neither could be located and we had to be satisfied with another Rufous-lored Kingfisher which we found roosting right above the road.

Philippine Boobook (Filippinerfalkugle); Rajah Sikatuna National Park, Bohol

An early start again the next morning began with flight views of a shy Besra then some good activity around fruiting trees including White-eared Brown Doves and a gorgeous Black-chinned Fruit Dove – a bird found on only a few small islands outside the Philippines. Hitting the forest trails again produced a group of Streaked Ground Babbler, this time singing their hearts out in unison, Yellow-breasted Tailorbirds performed well allowing everyone reasonable views and we finally saw a Rufous-fronted Tailorbird after several frustrating encounters with elusive singing individuals. Black-faced Coucal was again seen as were our first Greater Flameback, an impressive White-bellied Woodpecker and a fruiting tree attracted Samar Hornbills, Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow-wattled Bulbul, Philippine Oriole and Philippine Fairy Bluebird.
In the late afternoon the distant calls of an Steere’s (Azure-breasted) Pitta were picked out but soon went quiet. Making our way towards where the birds had been calling a small amount of coaxing with the tape brought an immediate response as the bird flew up onto an open branch right in front of us with the amazing azure-blue underparts lighting up the undergrowth in the gathering gloom before his attention was grabbed by his mate nearby and both birds disappeared in tandem across the road. Waiting at a large clearing at dusk produced great views of a Philippine Colugo ‘flying’ between large trees and several Great-eared Nightjars but not the hoped for Philippine Nightjars which appear to have suffered from habitat loss here.
The next morning we returned again to the harbour at Tagbilaran but this time took the fast craft ferry to the town to Dumaguete on the south-east coast of Negros where Great Crested, Common and Whiskered Terns were noted feeding offshore from our hotel. After lunch we first headed north along the coast where an area of salt pans provided an interesting diversion from the forest birding. The pools were teaming with shorebirds; Asian Golden Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Wood Sandpiper and Kentish Plover were the prominent species but we also found Little Ringed Plover, Greater Sandplover, Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper. Two Javan Pond Heron were found and a single Yellow Bittern was seen in flight, while the reedy margins hosted at least 5 White-browed Crake and introduced Java Sparrows were a surprise find feeding with Eurasian Tree Sparrows nearby. From here we continued up into the mountains arriving mid-afternoon at a wet and windy Balinsasayao Lakes. Despite the weather we ventured out and recorded several new species including Lemon-throated Leaf-Warbler and Visayan Blue-headed Fantail along with Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Elegant Tits, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker and calling Philippine Tailorbird. A feeding flock containing Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Visayan Balicassiao and White-winged Cuckoo-shrike passed through quickly but a pair of Flaming Sunbirds feeding at very close range were much more obliging and deserved the bird of the day vote they received.
Unfortunately the poor weather was still present the following morning, washing away our plans to visit Mount Talinis so we opted again to visit the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes. The weather was improved since the previous day and we were rewarded with great views of the increasingly rare Visayan Hornbill of which we saw 2 groups totalling at least 5 individuals. The flowering trees again attracted the Flaming Sunbirds plus Yellowish White-eyes. Exploration of the newly created trail system around the lake gave some nice feeding flocks including the fantail, tits and leaf-warblers from the previous day plus White-vented Whistler, Coleto, Visayan Balicassiao, Bar-bellied and White-winged Cuckoo-shrikes and our first Yellow-breasted Fruit Doves of the tour.
After another excellent lunch the afternoon was spent on the drive to Bacolod in the north-west of the island with Common Moorhen the only bird of particular note during the journey.
The next morning we departed early, arriving just prior to dawn at Mambucal on the lower slopes of Mount Kanlaon, an active volcano in the north of the island. The initial walk up through open fields and scrub then pine plantations produced little of interest except calling Spotted Wood Kingfishers and the ubiquitous Philippine Bulbuls but as soon as we reached the lower edge of the native forest, things immediately heated up. Our first large feeding flock provided great excitement with the expected Elegant Tits, Visayan Blue-headed Fantail, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Coleto and Yellowish White-eyes accompanied by several striking, white-bellied, Visayan Balicassiao and the increasingly rare White-winged Cuckoo-shrike.
The hoped for Visayan Shama remained strangely silent in their usual haunts but some reasonable views of White-vented Whistlers were had and continuing along the trail, a medium-sized brown heron was flushed from the forest floor and flew into a nearby tree allowing those well positioned a good view before flying again and its identity confirmed as a Japanese Night Heron - a rare winter visitor to the Philippines and a species listed as endangered by Birdlife due primarily to deforestation in its breeding and wintering areas.

Flame-templed Babbler (Ilddusktimal); Mt. Kanlaon, Negros

Reaching primary forest it was not long before a melodious song drew our attention to our big target – the endemic Flame-templed Babbler, which proceeded to perform impeccably as a pair of these stunning birds sat motionless in the overhead trees allowing everyone prolonged and satisfying views. More views of Flame-templed Babblers enhanced feeding flocks during the rest of the morning as did Lemon-throated Leaf-Warblers, Philippine Tailorbirds and our first Bicoloured Flowerpecker.
Both White-browed Shortwing and a beautiful Red-bellied Pitta glowing in the understory were seen in exactly the same spots walking up and down the trail and both seemed likely to be nesting in the respective areas. The same might have accounted for the silence and lack of response from the Visayan Shamas and we were extremely lucky when one of these skulking birds, giving only short snatches of song, was spotted sitting quietly and motionless in the undergrowth, the lack of rufous rump and white wing-bars as compared to the White-browed Shama of Luzon, combined with the distinct vocalisations all confirming this is a good ‘split’ from that species.
Our next highlight was a male Spotted Wood Kingfisher sitting quietly in the lower story of the forest and giving great views with its buff-spangled green upperparts, rufous moustache, collar and throat contrasting with a black ‘bandit mask’ and cobalt sub-moustachial patch, combining to make this arguably the most beautiful bird of the day.
We finished the afternoon in relaxed fashion around the popular tourist spot of Mambucal where an impressive colony of Grey-rumped Swiftlets were nesting underneath a river bridge and a group of Purple Needletails performing regular fly-bys allowed us all to appreciate these amazingly powerful flying machines and provided a challenge to the photographers in the group! The Visayan Flowerpeckers proved more elusive than usual but after much searching everyone enjoyed great views of this endemic with the black-breast and broad red stripe on the underparts clearly on show; features which separate it from the widespread Red-keeled Flowerpecker found elsewhere on the Philippines and with which it was formerly lumped.


 Main tour:

4th – 24th February 2007

Leader: Rob Hutchinson

Participants: Daniel Benders, Leif Gabrielsen, John Hiles, Max Jensen,
Stella Martin & Denis Walls


Great Philippine Eagle (Apeørn); Mt. Kitanglad, Mindanao

Our main three-week Philippines tour was extremely successful with a grand total of 145 endemics among the 323 species recorded. Highlights included the rare and critically endangered Philippine Eagle, 2 representatives of the endemic Rhabdornis family, 3 pitta species (Hooded, Red-bellied and the stunning endemic Azure-breasted), 6 endemic kingfishers including the impressive Blue-capped and Spotted Wood-Kingfishers and the rarely-seen Philippine Dwarf-Kingfisher.  We also enjoyed great views of Short-crested and Celestial Monarch, Philippine Cockatoo and an amazing close encounter with a stunning male Palawan Peacock-Pheasant.
The main tour began in Luzon where after morning arrivals into Manila we transferred to Los Banos on the lower slopes of Mount Makiling, seeing Black-shouldered Kite en route and Brahminy Kite, Osprey, Common and Whiskered Terns on Laguna de Bay from our hotel. We began in the afternoon with a visit to the nearby University of the Philippines where a river running through the campus produced excellent views of the hoped-for Indigo-banded Kingfisher, with both male and female birds performing. The surrounding trees produced Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker and good numbers of Lowland White-eyes were seen.
In the late afternoon a patient wait at a nearby grassland area produced good views of Spotted Buttonquails coming out to feed on a track while Plain Bush-hens called unseen nearby. The grasslands also hosted numerous Striated Grassbirds, Bright-capped and Zitting Cisticolas, Black-and-White Triller in nearby trees and a smart Blue Rock Thrush.
The following morning we began at the forest edge making our way into the wonderful forest that remains on Mount Makiling. Our progress along the track was slow however with new birds appearing frequently. Early excitement was provided by a group of Luzon Hornbills visiting a fruiting tree. Next came scope views of Black-chinned Fruit-Dove, punk-headed Red-crested Malkohas, perched Guaibero – a cute endemic parrot, and a particularly worthwhile stop which produced our first male Philippine Trogon and the bizarre but spectacular Scale-feathered Malkoha. We also saw some of the skulkers including White-browed Shama and Grey-backed Tailorbird but a calling Luzon Bleeding-heart couldn’t be persuaded to appear.
During the morning our haul of species along the forest track included; White-eared Brown-Dove, Colasisi, Violet Cuckoo (including a striking violet male with luminous red bill), several Black-and-White Trillers, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Luzon Balicassiao, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Luzon Blue-headed Fantail, wintering Ashy Minivets, Lowland and Yellowish White-eyes, Buzzing and Striped Flowerpeckers, Lemon-throated Leaf-Warbler, Purple-throated, Flaming and Handsome Sunbirds.
Returning to the forest edge a large bare tree was host to Coleto, Coppersmith Barbet and three petite Philippine Falconets making frequent hunting sorties for draogonflies.
In the afternoon we enjoyed many of these birds again and a wander in the nearby botanical gardens added Rusty-breasted Cuckoo and Philippine Drongo Cuckoo. As dusk approached Spotted Wood Kingfishers became vocal and a pair showed well at the forest edge as Philippine Boobooks called at nightfall but were strangely quiet thereafter and we didn’t managed to see any tonight.
The next morning we drove higher up the mountain. The lush forest here had been battered somewhat by recent typhoons but was still productive; we had our first good views of Grey-backed Tailorbirds after hearing and glimpsing several, a smart male White-browed Shama sang from an open perch and we bumped into another stunning Spotted Wood Kingfisher in the forest. The often elusive Luzon Blue-headed Fantail was seen again as were several Red-crested Malkoha and our first Philippine Coucal.
A calling Luzon Bleeding-heart couldn’t be attracted so we scrambled up a nearby slope to get closer but managed only brief flight views of this shy ground-dweller.
Making our way back down through the forest one of the calling Philippine Hawk Cuckoos was attracted in and a stunning male Flaming Sunbird again fed on their favoured red flowers low by the roadside. In exactly the same place as the previous day, a Luzon Bleeding-heart was again calling from its favoured steep sided gully but on this occasion it surprised us all by responding to playback by wandering out into the valley bottom, although sadly it was typically shy and flew back into cover as soon as it noticed our presence.
At the forest edge, Philippine Falconets were again utilising their favourite lookout and 2 Ospreys were again over the lake next to the hotel as we took a break from the midday heat.
Our afternoon explorations of the lower parts of the forest were again productive with Red-crested Malkoha particularly in evidence along with two shyer Scale-feathered Malkoha, a single Philippine Drongo Cuckoo, Bicoloured and Pygmy Flowerpeckers and a spectacular group of at least 15 Luzon Hornbills. Waiting until dusk we were very well rewarded as the silhouette of a Philippine Scops Owl floated by in response to our tape and was soon relocated for excellent views of this large scops owl brilliantly lit in our spot-light.

Stripe-sided Rhabdornis (Stripetreklatrer); Mt. Makiling, Luzon

The following morning we transferred back to Manila and took a flight to the distinctly tropical island of Palawan. First stop was the seafront at Garceliano beach on the outskirts of the capital Puerto Princessa where we arrived just in the knick of time as the rising tide hadn’t yet pushed off the feeding waders. A variety of egrets included close views of Chinese Egret and we had a nice comparison with nearby Pacific Reef Egrets. A good assortment of shorebirds here included Grey and Asian Golden Plovers, Kentish Plover, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, Red-necked Stint and Grey-tailed Tattlers. Immense orange and blue Stork-billed Kingfishers posed in the mangroves as several Palawan Swiftlets were noted feeding overhead - our first island endemic.
After a delicious lunch we began the drive towards Sabang albeit with several birding stops. The first break in an area of mangroves, produced several Purple-throated and Copper-throated Sunbirds and Dollarbirds nearby. The next stop was next to a forested valley and walking along the roadsides gave some great birding. Our first of many of the island endemics appeared with Blue Paradise Flycatcher, White-vented Shama, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Shelley’s Sunbird, Palawan Flowerpecker, Pygmy Flowerpecker (here of the distinct palawanorum subspecies), Yellow-throated Leafbird and fine perched views of the near-endemic Blue-naped Parrot which have disappeared from most of the archipelago but are still quite common here. We also saw several species found only on Palawan within the Philippines such as Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Dark-throated Oriole, Common Iora, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Ashy Drongo and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird and Brown-backed Needletails overhead. Walking further down the road we added Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Oriental Honey Buzzard, yet more Blue-naped Parrots, Eastern Hill Myna, Asian Fairy Bluebird and two distinctive birds which although ‘officially’ regarded as subspecies are widely regarded as full species in their own right; Palawan Drongo and Palawan Crow, both of which show plumage, voice and habitat preference far removed from their nearest relatives. One of everyone’s most want birds on Palawan is the truly spectacular Palawan Peacock Pheasant, this bird has become much easier in recent years thanks to a rather ‘tame’ bird inside the park but genuine ‘wild’ birds have remained an elusive target for visiting birders. Consequently as we settled down by the roadside to look for a calling bird in the valley below expectation were not high, but amazingly the bird surprised us all by wandering out into the open among the bamboo below us allowing good views before disappearing again into the valley! We followed this with amazing views of a group of 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers as these huge birds noisily danced around one another in the tree tops with wings spread, although we were hard pushed to decide whether it was an act of aggression or affection!
We ended the day with a spot of night-birding and with the calling Hooded Pittas giving way to a distant Spotted Wood Owl, Large-tailed Nightjars were the first to come out to play, hawking close overhead. As darkness fell the weird and wonderful screams and whistles of Palawan Frogmouths began to emanate from the surrounding forests and it wasn’t long before we were admiring one of these bizarre hairy creatures in the spotlight. Heading a little deeper into the forest a patient wait was rewarded by an equally bizarre ‘crackling’ which announced the presence of a Palawan Scops Owl nearby and again we were soon admiring this large scops-owl peering back at us from close range with piercing orange eyes. After a highly successful session, with both Palawan endemic nightbirds seen extremely well, we headed for our lodge at Sabang, our home for the next 2 nights.
At dawn the next morning we took a boat from Sabang along the coastline of Saint Paul National Park with a spectacular view of the huge limestone cliffs and forest as far as the eye could see. Our first stop was at the ‘underground river’ for which the park is justly famous as this is one of the longest subterranean rivers in the world. The area around the ranger station here gives great birding and in addition to more great views of many of the endemics seen the previous day, we also added a cute party of Ashy-headed Babblers bouncing around in the undergrowth, Tabon Scrubfowl, Olive-winged Bulbul and Bold-striped Tit Babblers. It wasn’t too long before the star of the show appeared and we all enjoyed point blank views of the stunning male Palawan Peacock Pheasant in all his glory; striking white face markings, emerald hued crest, gold spangled rump and tail with blue ‘eyes’ and silky black underparts contrasting with vivid iridescent blue mantle and wing feathers all combining in one of the rarest and most spectacular pheasants in the world. This particular individual is much habituated to humans but took a particular liking to Leif who could be seen running along the trail with this feisty bird in hot pursuit!

Palawan Peacock-Pheasant (Påfuglfasan); Saint Paul National Park, Palawan

Talking the boat again we headed back along the coast to another ranger station in search of another of the star birds, the forest dwelling Falcated Ground Babbler. As soon as we reached a suitable area the birds could be heard duetting but try as we might we couldn’t tempt them closer so we took plan B and headed into the forest. The birds continued singing but it was a long and patient search before we finally located them, to their credit they did then oblige, with a pair singing from atop a fallen log and they were definitely worth the effort and long wait! Other birds in this area were a nice male Shelley’s Sunbird singing from high in the canopy and a diminutive Rufous-backed Kigfisher which sat quietly in the understory. Walking back along the coast a beautiful deserted beach played host to a pair of the rapidly declining Malaysian Plover and we enjoyed nice scope views in this wonderful setting.
After lunch back at our resort we again spent the afternoon birding back along the road in the direction of Puerto Princessa. Here we enjoyed many of the previous day’s birds including Blue Paradise Flycatcher, several White-vented Shama, Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Black-throated Oriole, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Eastern Hill Mynas and an immature Changeable Hawk Eagle. We also found a nice female Palawan Blue Flycatcher, a Striped Flowerpecker accompanying the commoner Palawan and Pygmy, then finally after much searching, a smart yellow, black and white Palawan Tit feeding right above our heads. A viewpoint overlooking a forested limestone crag gave nice views of several Thick-billed Green-Pigeons while the screeching calls of Blue-headed Racquet-tails drew our attention and we had several views as the flew around the limestone rock before circling directly overhead with racquets clearly on show. We finished the day with several Large-tailed Nightjars feeding at dusk over the paddies adjacent to the resort.
After our great success the previous day some opted for another morning visit to the ‘underground river’ but this time with an amazing boat trip into this underground wilderness, home to thousands of bats and swiftlets. The rest of us meanwhile headed for the forest. Palawan Hornbill was still noticeably absent but among the now expected species we also saw yet another ‘wild’ male Palawan Peacock Pheasant, a Tabon Scrubfowl and particularly nice views of Blue Paradise Flycatchers. The area around our hotel also had Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, White-breasted Waterhen and Pintail Snipe. In the afternoon we headed back again to Puerto Princessa with several birding stops including a Crested Serpent Eagle and Grey-faced Buzzard circling together, Palawan Tits which were still performing in the same spot as the previous day and a small group of Fiery Minivets - a new addition.
The next morning we headed south from Puerto Princessa to bird the Balsahan Trail within the Iwahig Penal Colony. The forest here is more secondary than at Saint Paul and this is the favoured habitat for our key target bird - the endemic Melodious Babbler. It wasn’t long before we heard the sweet, mournful song of the babblers and we all soon enjoyed views of the birds as they fed and sang in their favoured vine tangles. Continuing on along the trail we finally, after much effort, saw our first Palawan Hornbill, when a considerate bird performed a nice fly-past allowing the whole group to connect. Continuing along the trail a Pechora Pipit was flushed from the trail and perched briefly but vanished again into the undergrowth before everyone could enjoy views. As we enjoyed a charming pair of Ashy-headed Babblers feeding close to the trail we heard the calls of the islands other endemic babbler which had given us such a run around at Saint Paul. This individual was much more obliging and we got great views of the Falcated Ground Babbler singing strongly right by the side of the trail. Further exploration produced excellent views of two Hooded Pittas, equally stunning Rufous-backed Kingfishers, Common Flameback, Fiery Minivets, two more obliging Melodious Babblers, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bold-striped Tit Babbler, Asian Fairy Bluebird, a perched Crested Goshawk and some of the now familiar Palawan endemics such as Yellow-throated Leafbird, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul and Blue Paradise Flycatchers.

Crested Goshawk (Topphauk); Balsahal Trail, Palawan

Leaving the forest we spent some time birding the paddyfields and fish ponds along the entrance road to the penal colony. Shorebirds were abundant with Black-winged Stilts, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser and Greater Sandplover, Asiatic Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint and Long-toed Stint all present. Swinhoes Snipe provided an identification challenge but obliged with nice scope views and good views in flight when they also gave their distinctive calls. A single Moorhen and two White-browed Crakes were found creeping along the reedy edge of a well vegetated pond.
Soon it was time to head south, stopping at a roadside marsh for Purple Heron and Yellow Bittern before continuing to our overnight stop at a beach resort in the small coastal town of Narra. Just offshore from Narra lies Rasa Island where dedicated conservation work has secured the islands as one of the last remaining strongholds for the endangered Philippine Cockatoo. In the afternoon we boarded boats and headed out to the island, stopping initially at a watchtower on the south side of the island where some were fortunate to see a handful of cockatoos perched in distant trees. The mangroves near the quay also produced several Copper-throated Sunbirds and a flyover Osprey. Since the weather was fine we set off again in the boats and headed around the north side of the island to the cockatoo roost area and spent some time watching the birds coming into their favoured sleeping trees, finishing the day with a grand total of more than 50 birds. As dark approached we landed again on the island, close to a small settlement, where the secondary scrub and coconut trees provide ideal habitat for the Mantanani Scops Owl – a small island specialist which is restricted to small islands in the Philippines archipelago and a few islands off the north coast of Borneo. Unfortunately they were not very cooperative tonight and we left with just a few calling birds to show for our efforts.
The next morning we departed early arriving at a strategic area of roadside forest just after dawn. Here we were greeted by a smart group of four Palawan Hornbills perched high in the treetops and a short stroll along the roadside found Yellow-throated Leafbird. It was not long before we heard the song of our main target coming from a bamboo filled gully so we made our way carefully into position nearby and we fortunate to soon locate the singing bird – an elusive Palawan Flycatcher which nevertheless gave some nice views, and complete a clean-sweep of possible Palawan endemics. Given our early success we decided to spend some time in the paddyfields closer to Puerto Princessa town finding three Pink-necked Green Pigeons, several White-breasted Waterhen and Moorhen, and single White-browed and Slaty-breasted Crakes.
Our mid-morning flight back to Manila was delayed giving us a tight connection for our flight to Cagayan de Oro but we made it with no problems, even finding time a quick take-away lunch at Manila airport. From Cagayan de Oro airport we were whisked south into Bukidnon province, stopping off in Damitan village where our luggage was loaded onto a convoy of horses for the trek into the Kitanglad Mountains.

Kitanglad mountain camp

The walk up to camp produced Black-shouldered Kite, smart black-headed nasutus Long-tailed Shrikes, Striated and Tawny Grassbirds, and on the higher slopes, large groups of wintering Eye-browed Thrushes. As we arrived at dusk a Bukidnon Woodcock was heard in roding flight overhead but we didn’t manage views.
After dinner we ventured into the nearby forest and with patience and some gentle coaxing we were soon enjoying a bizarre Philippine Frogmouth perfectly framed in the spotlight. Mindanao Scops Owl, Giant Scops Owl and Philippine Nightjar were all heard.
The following morning a roding Bukidnon Woodcock heralded a fine dawn so after an early breakfast we set off up the mountain eager to take advantage of the good weather conditions. Our first new birds were endemic Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis perched conspicuously atop dead snags and shortly after we found an excellent flowering tree attracting a host of birds and we quickly saw our first Olive-capped Flowerpeckers and Grey-hooded Sunbirds amoung the feeding birds with a smart Black-and-Cinnamon Fantail nearby. More open grassy areas produced Paddyfield Pipit, several noisy Tawny Grassbirds, single Striated Grassbird, a fly-by Philippine Cuckoo Dove and several Short-tailed Glossy Starlings.
A short stop in a known Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher territory drew an immediate vocal response and after a little time the male bird flew in to investigate us, perching at close range for just a few seconds before disappearing back into the forested valley.
As we reached a nice lookout at least four Apo Mynas were found feeding on fruiting trees and we were able to study these unique mynas at leisure, looking rather bizaare with their long-tails, large yellow eye-skin and punk-style hair cuts.
As we reached the higher parts of the mountain, we entered some nice forest patches, finding a small group of Yellow-breasted Fruit Doves, shy Island Thrushes and a Great-eared Nightjar which flushed from almost under our feet and circled us before dropping back into the forest again. Amethyst Brown Dove and Mindanao Montane Racquet-tail were both only heard but after some time one of the remaining high altitude specialties appeared – an Apo Sunbird which perched just above our heads.
Throughout the day mixed flocks provided some exciting birding with a fantastic variety of species; Mountain White-eye was by far the most abundant species with Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch and Yellow-bellied Whistler were all regular and we found smaller numbers of Little Pied Flycatchers, Mountain Leaf Warblers and a single wintering Mugimaki Flycatcher. New endemics in some of the flocks including Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Brown Tit-Babbler, groups of Cinnamon Ibon, Black-masked White-eyes, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, a single White-cheeked Bullfinch and a major surprise in the form of a Whiskered Flowerpecker – a rare endemic which is normally found only in the mountains further south on Mindanao.

McGregor's Cuckoo-shrike (Alvelarveeter); Mt. Kitanglad, Mindanao

Having located all the expected montane endemics we dropped down a short way in order to enjoy our picnic lunch at one of the viewpoints providing panoramic views of the surrounding forest slopes. This proved a great move as we quickly located two more White-cheeked Bullfinches in the nearby trees and moments later our local guide Danny called out that he had a large raptor flying overhead and we all looked up to by stunned by the amazing sight of an adult Philippine Eagle passing right overhead before droping down into a distant isolate valley. The bird was clutching a Philippine Colugo – one of their main prey items – in its talons which it was presumable taking to a hidden nest in that far off valley.
The remainder of the day was spent scanning from the viewpoints in the hope that the Philippine Eagle might reappear. It didn’t, but other raptors included the distinctive philippensis Oriental Honey-Buzzard (a likely future split), Philippine Serpent Eagle and a Changeable Hawk Eagle.
Walking back in the late afternoon, high pitched calls drew our attention to a Red-eared Parrotfinch skulking in a thicket. This bird was typically difficult to see but after 30 minutes scrambling around on our knees and imitating the calls we all managed at least some sort of views of the bird. Further down we finished with nice looks at two Mindanao Hornbills which were calling from the highest trees on the nearby valley sides.
At dusk we waited in a large clearing near the lodge and in the fading light had great views of both Great-eared and Philippine Nightjars. Unfortunately the hoped-for Bukidnon Woodcock didn’t appear this evening but some good compensation came from a ghostly-white Eastern Grass Owl which floated over the clearing as we waited.
Since some of the group had missed the eagle the previous day, much of our time today was spent at the viewpoints on the mountain. The walk up to the viewpoint gave two Mountain Shrikes for some, a single Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis and two Mindanao Hornbills. In the small forest patches en route we found a White-browed Shortwing, Rufous-headed Tailorbirds, a skulking Long-tailed Ground Warbler, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike and a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.
Our watching didn’t produce the hoped for eagle but we did find two Oriental Honey-Buzzards, Philippine Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle and Peregrine.
Although raptors were the main focus we also added our first fly-over Mindanao Montane Racquet-tail have only heard then the previous day, many Philippine Swiftlets, a single Plain Martin and awesome views of Purple Needletails which ‘buzzed’ us at high speed and very close range on several occasions. Fruiting trees near the viewpoint attracted Philippines Cuckoo Dove, some very smart Yellow-breasted Fruit Doves and a Mugimaki Flycatcher. We also saw two White-cheeked Bullfinch and a few Apo Mynas which appeared nearby, and on the walk back down to the lodge a ‘green-bullet’ fly-by Red-eared Parrotfinch.
At dusk the lodge clearing gave views of Philippine Nightjar while those who returned to the clearing above the lodge were lucky enough to see two Bukidnon Woodcock leaving their daytime roost. After dinner we set off again into the forest, this time in pursuit of a calling Mindanao Scops Owl. The owl seemed distant from the lodge but as we picked our way along the trail we gradually got closer and closer until we tracked the bird to a large clump of dense bamboo. Settling into place we called back to the bird which almost immediately went quiet. We waited patiently and before long the bird called again, this time clearly closer and within moments it was sitting in our spot-light, perched brilliantly in the open on a thin bamboo stem. There it stayed calling contentedly as we enjoyed this tiny but beautifully patterned owl before it flew again to resume calling from a different perch. This owl is typically found at much higher altitudes on this mountain and is notoriously difficult to see so we were extremely fortunate to see one so well and so close to our lodge.
The next day further raptor watching produced two Oriental Honey Buzzards, Philippine Serpent Eagle, Peregrine and an Oriental Hobby.
The condition were more overcast today and this was clearly favoured by the Mindanao Montane Racquet-tails with more than 15 logged by the end of the day including one bird perched nicely in the scope.
Other birds seen in the vicinity of the viewpoint were Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, Philippine Cuckoo Dove, Mindanao Hornbill, at least five Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Long-tailed Ground Warbler, Apo Myna and the overwintering Mugimaki Flycatcher. Top prize however undoubtedly went to no less than three Bukidnon Woodcocks which were flushed together from a tiny path-side pond, one of which landed on the trail to give excellent views.
Those who opted for a more leisurely day close to the lodge also added Whiskered Treeswift, Buzzing Flowerpecker, Philippine Leaf Warbler, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, montanus Greater Flameback and Philippine Fairy Bluebird.
In the gathering gloom a calling Philippine Hawk Cuckoo was seen nicely right next to the lodge and after dinner the Mindanao Scops Owl was again seen, this time in Bamboo right next to the lodge!
We departed our camp after breakfast the next morning, retracing our steps to Damitan village before making the long drive around the north-east coast of Mindanao, arriving in the town of Bislig in the late afternoon where we checked into the ‘Paper Country Inn’, our home for the next four nights.
We set off well before dawn the next way, utilising a Filipino ‘jeepney’, the only transport suitable for navigating the rough and bumpy logging tracks within the concession. Our aim this morning was to travel far into the heart of the concession to a good area of forest which has thus far remained more or less untouched. The morning began on an amazing high when a Celestial Monarch was heard giving its distinctive three-note whistle from far down the slope below us. The bird continued to call strongly but it was some time before it finally came up to investigate us. When it did appear the effort was well worthwhile – the bird, a gorgeous male, perched right over our heads, a cobalt blue flycatcher with lime green eye-ring, blue bill, and a long powder-blue crest draped over the nape – quite simply one of the most stunning endemics on the islands and we were fortunate enough to see it within hours of our time here!

Celestial Monarch (Celestmonark); PICOP, Mindanao

As we made our way further along the track a sharp high pitched whistle demanded attention and we were soon watching an amazing Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher perched just in front of us – this is one of the most difficult of all Philippine endemics to see and this one amazed even the leader by giving such amazing views.
It wasn’t long before we started to encounter some nice mixed feeding flocks which soon produced a great variety of species; Blue Fantail and Philippine Oriole were familiar from our time on Bohol but the Black-crowned Babblers of Bohol were replaced here by Rusty-crowned Babblers and they were joined by smaller numbers of Mindanao Pygmy Babblers, an island endemic following a recent split from the ‘Pygmy Babbler’. Yellowish Bulbuls, Philippine Leafbirds, Rufous-fronted Tailorbird, Philippine Leaf Warbler also joined the flocks occasionally but the highlights were amazing orange-hued Mindanao Paradise Flycatchers, yet another Celestial Monarch (this time ‘only’ a female) and on two occasions Short-crested Monarchs appeared, completing the duo of endemic monarchs which are always a major target for visiting birders.
One of the canopy flocks produced distant views of the rather scarce Black-bibbed Cuckooshrike and a small party of Scarlet Minivets, here of the race gonzalesi which with their distinctive calls and plumage seem certain to be split from other Philippine and mainland Asia races once the complexities of the group are unravelled.
Flowering trees along the track attracted Metallic-winged and Handsome Sunbirds, Orange-bellied and Pygmy Flowerpeckers and several Naked-faced Spiderhunters.
Approaching a high point in the track, the load booming calls of Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeons which had accompanied us for almost the entire walk became much louder and careful scanning soon picked out two birds perched in the treetops at eye-level where we could enjoy excellent scope views of this impressive bird which has sadly become very scare is recent years due to hunting pressures.
We walked on eager to reach a gully where we had often seen a pair of Blue-capped Wood Kingfishers in previous years. It was already hot by the time we arrived but the birds soon began calling from deep in the shady valley below. Unfortunately, however hard we tried we couldn’t tempt them any closer so the only option was to scramble down into the gully below. This paid dividend as the birds were quickly located, with three birds, 2 adults and an immature, giving nice close views and performing well for the photographers amoungst us.

Blue-capped Kingfisher (Mindanaoisfugl); PICOP, Mindanao

As we made our way back to the jeepney a Black-chinned Fruit Dove was flushed but quickly relocated for excellent views and we finished the morning with fantastic views of Rufous Hornbill; a family party of three birds appeared and gave both perched and flight views of this, arguably the most beautiful of the endemic hornbills in the Philippines.
After lunch we made our way to a different area stopping for no less than four Philippine Falconets perched on road-side tress and a smart Black-faced Coucal. In the afternoon we visited a different road where although the forest was very quiet we managed to tape in a male Little Slaty Flycatcher but it only gave brief views. Some time was spent in a nearby forest clearing which was very productive; a perched Besra allowed a close approach, Blue-crowned Racquet-tail gave nice views and hornbills included at least four Mindanao Hornbills and a nice flock of three Writhed Hornbills which completed our possible PICOP hornbill set as early as day one. We also saw a few Philippine Green Pigeons, yet more Philippine Falconets, and our first Philippine Needletails which instantly became a favourite as the patrolled at high speed on the most incredible ‘butter-knife’ shaped wings.
Making our way back towards Bislig we stopped first at a small road-side pool which has for many years been home to a pair of Silvery Kingfishers. As usual the birds didn’t disappoint and their high pitched calls soon drew attention to this smart bird perched on dead branches at the edges of the pond. We spent some time studying this lovely bird with its blue-black plumage highlighted with silvery spangles on the head and wing coverts, all contrasting with bright white throat, belly and stripe along the back. All of this topped with amazing bright-red feet – an amazing bird which the field guide illustration doesn’t even begin to do justice.
Be began the next morning in an area of secondary forest where Everett’s White-eyes, Purple-throated and Metallic-winged Sunbirds, and Brown Tit Babbler were all common. It wasn’t too long before the whistled song of our target species was heard from a nearby forest patch. We made our way careful into the forest and soon enjoyed some good looks as a smart male Little Slaty Flycatcher as it continually circled us in the surrounding understory. The remainder of the morning was spent along various trails where we found an excellent selection of birds. Highlights were undoubtedly the pittas; firstly a roadside stop for a calling Hooded Pitta didn’t produce views but while searching we heard a Red-bellied Pitta calling in the adjacent forest. Without much persuasion we followed the calls an eventually succeeded in getting some reasonable views as it circled around us. Even better was to come later in the morning when a calling Azure-breasted Pitta was located in a nice patch of Limestone forest, this bird was much better behaved, and eventually came very close, allowing fantastic views of its azure blue underparts, contrasting with blood-red belly and dark green mantle as it called from close by at eye-level! Other new birds were a rather brief Amethyst Brown Dove and nice views of Black-headed Tailorbird. Other highlights were Philippine Leaf Warbler, Blue Fantail, Mindanao Drongo, Yellowish Bulbul, Black-faced Coucal and White-eared Brown Dove. More open areas also produced Coppersmith Barbet, Philippine Coucal, Philippine Drongo Cuckoo, Philippine Oriole, Coleto and Mindanao Hornbill, with Philippine Serpent Eagle and Philippine Needletails overhead.
We finished the day with a few hours birding around the abandoned airfield close to Bislig town which was teeming with birds as usual. The grassy margins were favoured by Paddyfield Pipits and large numbers of Eastern Yellow Wagtails and we located no less then four Blue-breasted Quails including a pair which were spotted trying to sneak into a tiny clump of grasses to hide and were subsequently gently pushed into the open by the leaders allowing prolonged views of these shy birds for the whole group. The taller grasses of the surrounding marsh held Philippine Coucal, Plaintive Cuckoo, Striated Grassbirds and Oriental Reed Warblers while the shorter sedges were favoured by Bright-capped and Zitting Cisticolas, Black-headed Munia and a single Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler. Pintail Snipe was flushed from a damp corner and by using the jeepney as an elevated hide we located Philippine Duck and Wandering Whistling Duck on the marshy ponds together with a variety of herons and egrets including Javan Pond Heron and single Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns.
We finished the day with great views of two Eastern Grass Owls hunting the marshes, sometimes at close range.
In the evening we met up again with Max and Dan who having missed the Philippine Eagles on Kitanglad had taken the offer of a hastily arranged trip to a very recently discovered nest site elsewhere in the Kitanglad mountain range and returned suitably thrilled having enjoyed great views of the adults and a young chick, although they were distinctly envious of our success in their absence.
On our final full day we returned again to the areas which had been so successful on our first day in the hope that we might pick up our few remaining misses along with those missed by Max and Dan in their absence. We began earlier on this occasion allowing for some predawn night-birding. This was extremely successful and we wasted no time in attracting in our targets; firstly a Chocolate Boobook - a recent split from the Brown Boobook Complex and a near-endemic to the Philippines – which called loudly from a nearby dead tree allowing prolonged views, then a rather more secretive Mindanao Boobook which approached us silently but was spotted flying into the high canopy of a nearby tree where it was located in the spotlight for all to enjoy.

Chocolate Boobook (Sjokoladeugle); PICOP, Mindanao

Arriving at our forest track we kept our fingers crossed that we might be able to locate some of the excellent species that we had seen on the first day. Amazingly this day was almost a rerun of that success… and more! The male Celestial Monarch performed right on cue at the selected spot, the Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher was seen extremely well perched in the same area (the nesting hole of these birds was found nearby shortly after we left PICOP), we had stunning views of a male Short-crested Monarch and the family of three Rufous Hornbills again put on a great show. We also added some species not seen before including a Rufous-lored Kingfisher which defied their often elusive nature by singing from the bare branches at the top of a big tree, a delightful group of Streaked Ground Babblers which responded well to the tape giving excellent close views and we finally had the excellent close views of Amethyst Brown Dove which we desired. These we just the highlights of course and we also saw some great feeding flocks mostly comprising species seen previous but Yellow-wattled Bulbul was significant as our first sighting of the species on Mindanao. Our drive through the concession again produced several perched Philippine Falconets but also several Oriental Magpie Robins, amazingly our first sightings of the species during the main tour. We again saw Philippine Serpent Eagles and our first ‘Barred’ Honey-Buzzard which is particularly significant in light of recent studies showing that the endemic races in the Philippines are distinct from those in Indonesia and should be treated as a separate, endemic species Steere’s Honey-Buzzard.
Our afternoon staking our the forest clearing didn’t produce the racquet-tails seen previously but we did see Philippine Needletails, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Greater Flamebacks and impressive numbers of hornbills including an amazing flock of 10 Writhed Hornbills. A flight of pigeons passing overhead in the late afternoon included two rare Spotted Imperial Pigeons among the commoner Green Imperial Pigeons. We finished the day with another addition in the form of a Blue-backed Parrot heard calling as we drove home and located perched conspicuously on top of a dead tree. In the evening we had a particularly scrumptious meal to celebrate a successful stay at PICOP but more importantly Stella’s birthday which gave us a fine excuse to indulge in a particularly impressive birthday cake!
The following morning we had just enough time for a few hours of birding and this proved very profitable with excellent birds appearing right up until the last moment. There were many fruiting trees which attracted not only good numbers of Guaibero but also three Blue-crowned Racquet-tails – a huge bonus for Max and Dan who had missed them previously. The fruits also attracted Mindanao Hornbills, Philippine Green Pigeons and a smart Yellow-breasted fruit Dove. Philippine Leafbird finally appeared on cue for those who missed them on the first day and other highlights were Black-and-White Triller, two Silvery Kingfishers on a small river and another stunning Azure-breasted Pitta finished our stay at PICOP in style. It was time to take to the road again for the drive south to Davao city and a flight back to Manila ready for the next leg of the tour.
We departed early next morning (as always!) and made good time, arriving at Subic Bay in time for breakfast just after dawn. Keen to begin our birding we headed straight for a secluded area of the former military base, exploring an intriguing network of roads which criss-cross the forest with abandoned bunkers lining the way. Our drive produced a brief fly-over Green Racquet-tail and rather better views of Coleto and several Whiskered Treeswifts. A productive track into the forest was clearly a woodpecker hot-spot and we found a single Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, two haematribon Greater Flamebacks, and two each of White-bellied and Sooty Woodpeckers. Other birds were a little quiet but we did find some Philippine Green Pigeons, Black-naped Orioles, White-eared Brown Doves, Philippine Falconet, Red-crested Malkoha and two additions to the main tour in the form of an elusive Philippine Tailorbird and small groups of rather more showy Blackish Cuckoo-shrikes calling noisily in the canopy.
A stop in a well wooded suburb on our way back into town was rewarded with excellent close views of Luzon Hornbill, hawking Blue-throated Bee-eaters and an unusually cooperative Colasisi perched low down in a nearby pine tree.
Venturing out again in the afternoon, Rufous Coucals calling by the roadside brought us to a rapid stop and we enjoyed good views of 2 groups skulking in the roadside vegetation. The stop proved even more fortuitous when a gorgeous pair of Green Racquet-tails was brilliantly spotted by Stella sitting quietly in a nearby tree fork and we enjoyed quite wonderful views of these spoon-tailed parrots as they loving preened one another.

Green Racquet-tail (Grønnvimpelpapegøye); Subic Bay, Luzon

Continuing on to the same location as the morning we found some good numbers of Philippine Green Pigeons giving nice views in the telescope, Luzon Hornbills, yet more raucous Blue-naped Parrots, Luzon Hawk Eagle and a smart Chinese Goshawk which flew in and perched nearby. Philippine Falconets were again in attendance, surveying the area from dead snags and scanning of other tree tops found a Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike, female Black-and-White Triller and a large flock of wintering Ashy Minivets. A single Scale-feathered Malkoha betrayed its presence with high pitched whistled calls and was seen loping high in the canopy.
The following morning we again made an early start with a pair of Philippine Boobooks feeding on moths attracted to the nearby street lamps and Philippine Scops Owls were vocal but typically elusive. Arriving in the forest, Great-eared Nightjar hawked overhead while Philippine Boobooks, Philippine Scops Owls and Spotted Wood Kingfishers were again calling but remained hidden. As dawn broke and the sun began to rise birds were all around and we found our last two major targets at the site; firstly the distinctive fluid calls of White-lored Orioles which were located high in the nearby trees but later gave better views when they dropped into a nearby fruiting tree to feed. Next up was a Luzon White-fronted Tit sat high in the bare branches on a nearby tree which stayed just long enough for everyone to enjoy scope views before disappearing once more. Other birds on show during our early morning session were Philippine Falconets, Philippine Green Pigeon, several Luzon Hornbills, White-bellied Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, two Blackish Cuckooshrikes accompanying the more numerous Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes, Coleto and noisy Luzon Balicassiao. Colasisi, Guaibero and Blue-naped Parrots all gave colourful fly-overs and a calling Green Racquet-tail was taped in and gave fine scope views perched overhead. After breakfast the remainder of the day the day was taken with the long drive north through Luzon before cutting up into the Cordillera Mountains and the Banaue town, justly renowned for the spectacular rice terraces carved into the nearby hillsides.
The flowing day at Mount Polis, we arrived at dawn and spent the first few hours of relative cool, birding the roadside down from the pass. Activity was excellent and we were soon picking up our first endemics, mostly Luzon Bush Warbler and Chestnut-faced Babbler but we also found a few Green-backed Whistlers feeding quietly in the stunted montane forest. We also saw several Island Thrushes and many Mountain Leaf Warblers, both represented here by distinct subspecies new to us and many flocks contained Elegant Tits, Mountain Tailorbirds, Mountain Verditer Flycatchers, Mountain White-eyes and Metallic-winged Sunbirds.  A single Flame-breasted Fruit Dove took flight with loud wing-clapping flights but only gave brief glimpses before disappearing back into the forest. Continuing down the road we reached some more open grassy areas which are home to one of the Philippines least know endemics – the Benguet Bush Warbler. It was not long before we heard them as this is certainly their favoured habitat, but as is typical of this family they were particularly skulking and despite hearing at least 4 birds over the next hour, we only managed glimpses of a single bird.
As the temperature began to rise, bird activity along the road became slow so we headed further down the road seeing two White’s Thrushes feeding along the damper, shaded road verges. Continuing on, we arrived at the picturesque village of Bay-yo nestled on the steep valley sides and surrounded by beautifully preserved rice terraces. Here we made our way down the steep steps below the village to arrive at the fast flowing mountain river below. We soon found our main target – the endemic Luzon Water-Redstart feeding on insects along the boulder strewn river. We stayed some time here, enjoying a long lunch on the river bank and great close views of a pair of water-redstarts as they fed right alongside us. Also here we found a pair of Citrine Canary Flycatchers, a Luzon Blue-headed Fantail and another White’s Thrush in the damp overgrown fields nearby. Returning in the afternoon to the pass we found the birding slow but excitement was provided by a nice wintering Siberian Rubythroat and in the late afternoon we located a nice pair of Mountain Shrikes which gave excellent views in the perfect afternoon light. We finished the day with a confiding Long-tailed Ground Warbler which came in to playback giving brief glimpses as it crept mouse-like around us in the long grass.

Luzon Water-Redstart (Kaskaderødstjert); Bay-yo, Luzon

An earlier start the following morning saw us arrive in the dark but unfortunately none of the calling Luzon Scops Owls where close enough to the road for us to have a chance at seeing them. Birding along the road again produced many of the previous day’s birds including the ubiquitous Luzon Bush Warblers and Chestnut-faced Babblers. A single Green-backed Whistler was again located and we saw no less than four White’s Thrushes. New birds for us were a small group of Olive-backed Pipits feeding in the cultivated plots near the pass, a skulking White-browed Shortwing by the roadside and best of all a group of four White-cheeked Bullfinches.
Moving down again to the open grassy slopes we finally managed some good views of the elusive Benguet Bush-Warbler and a Long-tailed Ground Warbler feeding right by the roadside.
Returning again to Bay-yo for lunch the Luzon Water-Redstarts entertained us once again and our long lunch stop here also produced Common Kingfisher, Citrine Canary Flycatcher, Scale-feathered Malkoha and a fly-over Crested Goshawk.
This drew to an end this enjoyable and extremely successful main tour and the following day some of us parted company with Leif and Dan continuing north to finish the trip in the remote Sierra Madre Mountains as the rest of the party returned to Manila to connect with international flights.

Philippines – Hamut camp post-tour:

25th February – 2nd March 2007

Leader: Rob Hutchinson

Participants: Daniel Benders & Leif Gabrielsen


Whiskered Pitta (Skjeggpitta); Hamut Camp, Luzon

The post-tour extension to Hamut Camp in the northern Sierra Madre Mountains of Luzon was a great success with highlights including Flame-breasted Frit-Dove, Grand Rhabdornis (the final member of this endemic family), Blue-breasted Flycatcher, Luzon Striped-Babbler, Rusty-faced Babbler and quite amazing views of the enigmatic Whiskered Pitta. Our total of 134 species included 61 endemics of which 11 were tour-exclusives.
The following day we took advantage of our first lie-in in a month and made the leisurely drive north to Tuguegarao accompanied by Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, White-breasted Woodswallows and Striated Grassbirds on roadside wires, and a surprise fly-by Island Collared Dove. The next morning we departed early for Baliwag village on the edge of the northern Sierra Madre Mountains disturbing a feeding Barred Rail from the road en route. From here we set off for the trek into the mountains, initially across the denuded foothills, albeit fortunately in the relatively cool of the early morning. A wintering Japanese Yellow Bunting provided some early excitement perched in a bare tree alongside striking Coppersmith Barbets. In the open grassy hills black-headed nasutus Long-tailed Shrikes, Paddyfield Pipits & Black-headed Munia were numerous and we located a pair of Oriental Skylarks. We also located a single Island Collared Dove among the commoner Spotted Doves and a pair of Savanna Nightjars that gave great views in flight but which we never managed to pin down on the ground. As we approached the forest more interesting birds began to appear; Philippine Serpent Eagles soaring overhead, fast-flying Colasisi and a Violet Cuckoo in song flight.
Arriving in our camp at the forest edge in the late morning we took an early lunch before heading off into the forest. The afternoon bird activity was a little low but we added White-eared Brown-Dove, Luzon Blue-headed Fantail, several Metallic-winged Sunbirds, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker and a Luzon Rufous Paradise Flycatcher glowing orange in the undergrowth. Finally our efforts were rewarded with a smart Furtive Flycatcher next to the trail which sang continuously but was typically elusive, showing only occasionally. A shy Scaly Thrush was flushed from near the trail and the distinctive calls of the rare Sierra Madre Crow heard in the distance.
We finished with a fine pair of Rufous Hornbills which came in to investigate our camp in the evening shortly before the Great-eared Nightjars and Philippine Boobooks came out to play at dusk.
The following morning we awoke to calls of Spotted Wood Kingfishers, one of which showed close to the camp. During breakfast an impressive dawn chorus included the distinctive song of the enigmatic Whiskered Pitta echoing from the nearby forested slopes and quickly headed off in pursuit but we found it far away in an inaccessible area. We spent the next few hours exploring the trail system and trying hard to find a closer calling pitta but had to be content with some interesting feeding flocks which included a very surprising Celestial Monarch, our first Luzon Striped and Golden-crowned Babblers, Green-backed Whistler, Luzon Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivets, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Philippine Tailorbird and Luzon Blue-headed Fantail. A high pitched song alerted us to the present of a Rusty-faced Babbler and playback produced several reasonable views of a pair these large but fast-moving babblers which are a product of the recent splitting into two species of ‘Rabor’s Wren Babbler’. A clearing gave us great views of Scale-feathered Malkoha and a pair of Ashy Woodpeckers before heart-rates rose again when heading back to our camp as a Whiskered Pitta began to call, but this time a little closer to the trail. After just a couple of calls of playback the bird became silent and we waiting with baited breath before the bird suddenly appeared in the gully below us. As we waiting, silent and motionless, the bird continued its approach until it was just a few metres from our position and then apparently unconcerned by our close proximity, it began to call, with each reverberating note of the song accompanied by an elaborate bow of the head. The bird continued to perform like this for more than half an hour, giving stunning close views and even posing in the open on the trail beside us on occasions – these were quite simply the best views imaginable of this rare and elusive bird, which instantly became one of the star birds of the tour.

Luzon Striped-Babbler (Luzonstripetimal); Hamut Camp, Luzon

Our walk up to the main camp was taken at a leisurely pace and was enliven by some good birding. Several more Luzon Striped-Babblers were seen; nice views of Blackish Cuckoo-Shrike and Philippine Fairy Bluebirds visiting a fruiting tree, Striped Flowerpecker, Luzon Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, single White-browed Shama and Rusty-breasted Cuckoo were also seen. Rufous Hornbills were common and vocal and we enjoyed magnificent views as well as a small group of smaller but equally entertaining Luzon Hornbills. Overhead the common Philippine Serpent Eagles were joined by 2 Oriental Honey Buzzards and a single Luzon Hawk Eagle.
A Luzon Bleeding-heart was twice flushed up from the side of the trail before flying across the trail and landing on an open branch down the slope below us – where is sat, nervously bobbing its head, before flying off again down the slope.
We finished late afternoon close to the camp where fruiting rattan attracted good numbers of White-eared Brown-Doves and we had our first brief views of Cream-bellied Fruit-Dove.
Most of the next day was spent along the ridge trail above our camp. Frugivores were abundant with the usual White-eared Brown-Doves accompanied by several Amethyst Brown-Doves which are surprising common and easy to see here compared to elsewhere in the archipelago. We also managed good views of three Cream-bellied Fruit-Doves and two Yellow-breasted fruit-Doves but a calling Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove was only seen in flight and another bleeding-heart was flushed from its hidden feeding spot in a hallow of the trail.
We also saw rather striking Philippine Fairy Bluebirds, non-descript Blackish Cuckoo-shrikes, high speed Purple Needletails, Rusty-breasted and Violet Cuckoo, Scale-feathered Malkohas, Bicoloured Flowerpecker, a brief Blue-breasted Flycatcher and a very obliging White-browed Shortwing which unusually sang from an open branch allowing us not only to enjoy great views but also to note the very distinct vocalisations from birds we had seen elsewhere on the tour.
In the afternoon a large feeding flock contained Stripe-headed Rhabdornis (rather than the hoped for Grand Rhabdornis) and a brief Ashy-breasted Flycatcher among the regular but no less enjoyable Elegant Tits, Yellow-bellied Whistler and Sulphur-billed Nuthatches. We finished with fantastic views of a pair of Spotted Wood Kingfishers taped-in to super-close range near to our camp at dusk.
The following day was again spent along the highly productive ridge trail. Several Philippine Cuckoo Doves, White-eared and Amethyst Brown-Doves were again seen, a single Luzon Bleeding-heart was again flushed but we did have excellent perched views of Cream-bellied Fruit-Doves.
In the mid-morning the distinctive calls of the Sierra Madre Crow echoed from far down the slopes and fortunately they responded extremely well to playback by quickly flying into the nearby trees. Here we enjoyed excellent views of this species, widely accepted as a split from the ‘Slender-billed’ Crow complex on the grounds of ecological and vocal differences.

(Slender-billed) Sierra Madre Crow (Arkipelkråke); Hamut Camp, Luzon

Today we continued further onto the steeper sections of the trail where Flame-breasted Fruit-Doves were more abundant and we saw no less then seven individuals, although good views of these shy birds were difficult and we had several near misses before we all enjoyed prolonged and unobscured views of an obliging individual. Today also gave our first sightings for the extension of Philippine Trogon, Greater Flameback, White-bellied Woodpecker and a noisy but skulking group of Rufous Coucals.
We also had 3 encounters will Blue-breasted Flycatchers, on 2 occasions getting caught right in the middle of entertaining territorial disputes between neighbouring pairs.
The following day dawned with low cloud and light drizzle which encouraged a Whiskered Pitta to call very close to our camp in the early morning. Given the less than ideal birding weather, we opted to head slowly down the mountain rather than birding at the higher altitudes and this proved an excellent decision. One of our first birds was a Eurasian Woodcock on the trail ahead of us which quickly disappeared into the surrounding vegetations – one of only a few confirmed records of this species in the Philippines. Next were reasonable flight views of a pair of flushed Luzon Bleeding-hearts, before a timely breakfast break at a view point gave our first wintering Brown-headed Thrushes and sharp eyes picked out a distant perched Grand Rhabdornis which was joined by a second bird as they fly close overhead, calling. The remainder of the trek gave nice views of a shy Scaly Thrush, Philippine Trogon, Whiskered Treeswift, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Citrine Canary Flycatcher, Amethyst Brown Dove and Philippine Fairy Bluebird then Pygmy Swiftlets, Violet Cuckoo, Pygmy and Bicoloured Flowerpeckers as we enjoyed our picnic lunch at the forest edge.
In the afternoon we birded in the lowest patches of forest where Philippine Drongo Cuckoo, Luzon Balicassiao and White-lored Oriole were new to the extension. We also managed rather unsatisfactory of Green-faced Parrotfinches, calling as the zoomed bullet-like overhead and Plain Bush-hens called from the thick understory continuing our frustration with this widespread but incredibly elusive endemic.
At dusk there was a chorus of Philippine Boobooks and irregular calls of Philippine Scops Owls to accompany our dinner under star-lit skies as Great-eared and Philippine Nightjars fed overhead.
Our final day allowed us to snatch some early morning birding time and it proved a fitting finale with fine views of one of a pair of Green-faced Parrotfinches in dying bamboo near the camp and nice views of several wintering Brown-headed Thrushes. Our walk back to Baliwag again produced flushed Savanna Nightjars but this time we were lucky enough to relocate them for nice views on the deck as they blended perfectly with the surrounding vegetation. A Barred Rail was seen in flight as it disappeared into an overgrown stream, a single Australasian Bushlark was seen and the Japanese Yellow Bunting was again in its favoured maize field. Back to civilisation it was time for us to return to Tuguegarao and take the short flight back to Manila where the waiting cold San Miguel Beers were particularly appreciated as we toasted another successful and enjoyable Philippines adventure.

The total for the combined five-week Philippines tour was an exceptional 167 Philippine endemics of which 162 were seen. An additional four near endemics, with ranges extending just outside the Philippines were recorded – Black-chinned Fruit Dove, Blue-naped Parrot, Mantanani Scops Owl and Chocolate Boobook.


Garceliano beach, Palawan

Chinese Egret (Kritthegre); Palawan

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