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A Report from

Birding trip to the Philippines (Part 3),

Sander Lagerveld

24 February

Asian Spirit flight to San Jose Mindoro 6.00 - 7.00. We were picked up by the superintendent of the Sablayan Penal Farm. Because we weren´t sure food was arranged we did some shopping and bought a bottle of viagro wine for the superintendent. He was very pleased with it. Next time he would go to San Jose to party, he would drink it he said. On the way to Sablayan we saw several Oriental Pratincoles.  We could stay in the house of one of the guards and his wife Tita made an excellent lunch for us. In the afternoon we explored the forest behind the barracks with three prisoners and a guard. We found a dead (probably trapped) Hooded Pitta on the trail and a group of Ashy Minivets. We followed the forest edge to the river where we saw three males Mindoro Hornbill and at dusk two Mindoro Hawk-Owls, Savanna, Great Eared and Philippine Nightjar. Again Tita prepared excellent food and we got beer after beer. That evening a couple of guards and the superindendent came along, the Karaoke machine went on and Wim broke Tita´s heart when he sang I can´t stop thinking about you and I will love you forever.

Mindoro Hornbill                                                                  Karbouw

25 February

Woke up at 2.00 by noise in the kitchen. It appeared that Tita was already preparing our breakfast! At 4.00 the slight hangover didn´t prevent us to enjoy the food. We were picked up by the driver of the superintendent and walked with our four companions towards the river. We heard Mindoro Hawk-Owl again. We crossed the river and followed the path on the other side inland. After 2 km we crossed the river again and went in the forest at a clearing. Soon we heard Black-hooded Coucal and saw one after tape playback. Red-bellied Pitta and Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker (3) were also seen here. One of our guides (Salvados) claimed Mindoro Bleeding-heart, but we saw nothing. After our take-away lunch and a nap we went to Lake Lubao. Salvados showed us one of his traps. Fortunetely nothing was in there. Tried to see Plain Bush Hen but after two hours of tape playback not even a movement in the grass was seen and we gave up. The prisoners had to be back before dark so we couldn´t try the mystery Scops-Owl which is believed to occur around the lake.

Warning at Sablayan                                                                               Lion

26 February

Early start again, our last chance for the Bleeding-heart. On the way to the forest we saw 5 Philippine Ducks heading inland. We entered the forest at dawn and found lots of trails used for small scale logging and hunting. Salvados told us that he trappes averagely 1 Bleeding-heart per month. Again we heard several Black-hooded Coucal and I had excellent views of a Pechora Pipit, but no sign of the Bleeding-heart. At 12.00 we said goodbye to ´our´ prisoners and gave 200 P each. Later we heard that the prisoners get 1 P/day, so I guess they were happy with it. We told them that - if they stop trapping Bleeding-hearts- more birders will visit Sablayan. Money can be earned if they can actually show them the birds, alive! The superintendent brought us back to San Jose.

27 February

At the airport an Oriental Reed-Warbler was sitting in a top of a tree. Flight to Manila (7.30 - 8.30), changed terminals, flight to Tuquegerao (10.10-11.00). Picked up at the airport by the Sierra Madre Mounteneering Club. Got a haircut (GI Joe look) and bought some beer and chocolate bars. We chartered a jeepney to bring us to Baliwag. Wim saw Island Collared Dove on the way. When we arrived at 15.00 ´our´ mounteneers wanted to stay overnight  because it was already late. Fortunetely porters were quickly found and the moon would be full, so we could leave at 16.00. We reached the first camp 2,5 hours later.

28 February

Left camp 1 at 6.30. One of the first birds we saw was a singing White-fronted Tit! On the way up two pig-hunters had captured an Emerald Dove which we released. Birding was excellent on the way to Hamut: amonst others White-lored Oriole, Golden-crowned Babbler, Long-billed Rhabdornis, Blackish Cuckoo Shrike, Rabor Wren-Babbler and Rufous Hornbill. We reached Hamut at 13.00. Around the camp we recorded Flaming Sunbird, Cream-bellied Fruit-Dove,  Blue-breasted Flycatcher, Pechora Pipit and ....Whiskered Pitta which  performed a show around us, brilliant!

1 March

Whole day birding on the ridge. We flushed a Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove and several  Cream-bellieds. Furthermore we saw (Sierra Madre) Slender-billed Crow, which made very strange calls, White-browed Shortwing, Lemon-throated Warbler and a family of Blue-breasted Flycatchers. At the camp we saw Rufous-bellied Eagle and heard Philippine Scops-Owl at night.

2 March

We knew what could occur if you don´t control the food stock and that happened: nothing left. At the camp we heard a calling Sooty Woodpecker. It didn´t respond to tape playback and was not seen. On the way down we saw Whiskered Pitta again and also a Rabor Wren-Babbler walking like a rat on the trail. Furthermore Luzon Striped-Babbler, Long-billed Rhabdornis, Scale-feathered Malkoha, Rufous Coucal and White-fronted Tit were seen. Exhausted we reached camp 1. Fortunately we could buy a chicken of one of the farmers and made a sort of soup.

3 March

Walked up from camp 1 to a Bamboo area (30 min) and played the tape of Furtive and Ashy-breasted Flycatcher everywhere, but no response. At 10.00 we went down again and walked to Baliwag seeing Oriental Skylark, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Pied Harrier on the way. We didn´t know what Tim Fisher had arranged with Merlijn van Weerd to get us to Apaya. Our guide Bimbo suggested to go to the University Campus near Llagan because that was the only likely place where Merlijn could be. Hitched back to the main road, took a bus south and were dropped off at the gate of the University Campus. Fortunately Merlijn was quickly found. We could stay in the guesthouse where we found something to eat and a lot of beer in the fridge. We had a very nice evening with Merlijn who told us about his expeditions in the Sierra Madre and his sighting of Isabela Oriole.

4 March

A good night sleep, woke up at 7.00. Wim had seen a white morph Philippine Coucal at the campus. We could borrow a tent and some gear from the Sierra Madre Conservation Project and took a bus to San Mariano, arriving there at 11.30. Merlijn had instructed us to contact Doy (the driver of the Conservation Project). He would contact Charlie (the guide) and transport us the first part to Apaya with the project vehicle. Doy was quickly found but we had to wait until 15.00 until our guide Charlie showed up. With the truck Doy brought us to Disulap, where two porters were quickly found. On the way to Dibulan a flock of 15 (!) Spotted Imperial Pigeons flew over our head. Just before dark we arrived in Dibulan where we stayed in the Substation of the Conservation project. Charlie made a good dinner and arranged two other porters for the next day.

5 March

The children in Dibulan thought that we were priests. After blessing around 25 of them we left, crossed a river and walked to Ambabok (1,5 hour). Ambabok is still very degraded but the Isabela Oriole was seen here by Merlijn. When we crossed the river again we  saw an Indigo-banded Kingfisher. After another 2 hours we reached Apaya which proved to be beautiful primary forest. Around the camp we recorded amongst others Philippine Hawk-Eagle, Cream-bellied Fruit Dove, Luzon Bleeding-heart (walking on the trail), White-lored Oriole, Golden-crowned Babbler, Luzon-striped Babbler, a pair of Sooty Woodpeckers and a male Celestial Monarch in a feeding flock. We discovered that 100+ cockroaches lived in our tent. Soon they were removed by Wim. At night I woke up because something was walking on my face. We had forgotten to close the tent, the cockroaches were back! Too tired to do something about it.

6 March

In only a few hours we recorded Celestial Monarch three times: a pair in a feeding flock and 2 different singing males! Furthermore, we found a singing Furtive Flycatcher close to the forest edge (in bamboo). Still no sign of the Oriole. We decided to go back to Ambabok, maybe primary forest is not the place to look for this species. At 11.00 we left and walked back to Ambabok where I crashed out and woke up a couple of hours later. Wim (who is an antropologist) was very excited because he had found a camp inhabited by Negritos (ancient inhabitants of SE Asia), but no sign of the Oriole. We bought a chicken again which Charlie prepared. The sight of entrails, legs and head in the pan spoiled my appetite. We could sleep in one of the huts at Ambabok.

7 March

We had no time to look for the Oriole as we had to be back in Disulap early. We left at 7.00 and arrived there at 11.00 where the project vehicle was waiting for us. We picked up our things at Doy´s, ate a few chicken in the best restaurant of San Mariano and took a jeepney to the main road. Several buses and jeepneys later we arrived in Banaue, contacted Tim Fisher who told us that he had arranged hotel Banaue View Inn. 

Camp Apaya                                                                                Jeepney

8 March

We were dropped off in the dark at the pass of Mt Polis and heard two calling Luzon Scops Owls. Also a Whiskered Pitta was calling here. Walking down we recorded Chestnut-faced Babbler, Island Thrush, Mountain Tailorbird, Luzon Bush Warbler, Green-backed Whistler, Mountain Shrike, Red Crossbill and White-cheeked Bullfinch. At Bay Yu a pair of Luzon Water-Redstarts was quickly found. Wim saw also a Scaly Ground Thrush here. We playedthe tape of Benquet Bush-Warbler everywhere but got no response. We walked up again where our driver picked us up at 17.00.

Oriental Honey-Buzzard                                                         Luzon Water-Redstart

9 March

Another early start on Mt Polis. More or less the same birds were seen as the day before. We saw an Euphonia like bird which proved to be a Flame-crowned Flowerpecker of the  (distinctive) anthonyi race. Furthermore we had good views of White-cheeked Bullfinch.

We were picked up at noon. As the car broke down we had to walk to last part to Banaue. Checked out and went on the 17.00 bus to Manila.

10 March

Arrived at 2.00 in Manila and checked in at the Townhouse. Woke up at 10.00 and had a extensive breakfest. At noon Tim Fisher came along and we shared our experiences. He was impressed by our sightings of Celestial Monarch at Apaya. He regretted that he had not been able to join us there. In the afternoon we visited the American Cemetary again. This time Black-crowned Night Herons where all over the place (migrants?) and we found a couple of Chestnut-cheeked Starlings. We drank quite a few on our last night in the Philippines to celebrate all the good birds we had seen.

11 March

Slept whole morning, packed our things and went to the airport. Flight MH 703 to Kuala Lumpur via Borneo (15.20 - 20.25). Wim went back to Amsterdam, I spend another 3 weeks in southern Thailand and West Malaysia.

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