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Philippines; three-week tour

18th February - 10th March 2018


Leader: Mike Nelson


Max group size: 7

The Philippines archipelago is comprised of more than 7100 islands yet the total land area is slightly smaller than the British Isles. The astonishing degree of biological endemism within the Philippines is well represented by the country’s avifauna, although the total list for the Philippines is not large at just over 680 species. Of approximately 450 resident species more than 240 are endemic.
During this tour we will concentrate on three of the largest islands – Luzon, Mindanao and Palawan which account for more than two-thirds of the land area. They have the largest numbers of endemic species, of which we can expect to see over 150 including such spectacular species as Philippine Eagle, Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, Azure-breasted Pitta, Silvery Kingfisher, Rufous Hornbill, Celestial Monarch, Philippine Trogon and Cinnamon Ibon, an endemic family.
Sadly much of the rainforest which once cloaked these beautiful islands has already disappeared and many bird species which are dependent on primary forest are in serious decline. However, the Philippines still offers some of the most exciting and fascinating birding in Asia including many of the regions rarest and most desirable birds.

Day 1: 
International arrivals into Manila International Airport. Night in Manila.

Day 2: 
Today we will depart early to cross Manila and make an early morning stop at Candaba Marshes where we can expect to find Philippine Duck and Philippine Swamphen among the water-birds. From here we will continue northwards into the Central Cordillera Mountain Range to Banaue where we will arrive in the late afternoon. Night in Banaue.

Day 3: 
We will spend the full day birding around Mount Polis departing early morning to make the most of the early morning bird activity. The remnant montane forest here still holds many Luzon montane endemics including Chestnut-faced Babbler, Luzon Bush Warbler, Long-tailed Ground Warbler and Green-backed Whistler. Scarcer possibilities include Mountain Shrike, White-cheeked Bullfinch and Flame-crowned Flowerpecker and Benguet Bush Warbler which is widespread here but extremely difficult to see. During the day we will visit the scenic village of Bay-yo where the mountain river at the bottom of a steep valley is a reliable site for Luzon Water Redstart. Night in Banaue.

Day 4: 
Final day at Mount Polis in search of any specialties we are still missing while keeping an eye out for rarer species like Luzon Racquet-tail, Flame-breasted Fruit Dove or Luzon Jungle Flycatcher. Luzon Scops Owl and Whiskered Pitta are both sometimes heard near the pass at Mount Polis but they are difficult to see, as the steep slopes are difficult to access. Night in Banaue.

Day 5: 
We will again depart early for the long drive south to Subic Bay for a two-night at Mountain Woods Hotel. In the afternoon we will begin our birding as there are several target species to be found that are difficult to see elsewhere including Green Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Luzon Hawk Eagle, Rufous Coucal, White-lored Oriole, Blackish Cuckooshrike, Philippine Fairy Bluebird, Northern Sooty Woodpecker, Philippine Tailorbird, Luzon Hornbill and hopefully White-fronted Tit. Night at Subic Bay.

Day 6: 
We will spend the whole day birding around Subic Bay Naval Base. The remaining lowland rainforest within the American Naval Base at Subic offer excellent birding and we will still have some localised specialised to find as well as a chance for more widespread species. Night at Subic Bay.

Day 7: 
We will depart early and spend morning with Metro Manila where a local park has become the easiest place to find the otherwise skulking Ashy Thrush, with a good chance of Lowland White-eye, Red-bellied and Hooded Pitta. In recent years Philippine Eagle Owls has nested close to the city and if present we will make a special effort to see those too. After lunch we will drive to Los Banos in time for afternoon birding at Mount Makiling. Night in Los Banos.

Day 8: 
Full day birding at Mount Makiling which still has some of the finest forest in the Philippines. We can expect to see several widespread endemics together more difficult species including the stunning Scale-feathered Malkoha, Red-crested Malkoha, Philippine Trogon, Luzon Hornbill, White-browed Shama, Flaming Sunbird, Spotted Wood Kingfisher and even rarities such Luzon Bleeding-heart and Ashy Thrush are occasionally seen. Birding in nearby grasslands usually produces Spotted and Barred Buttonquail, while rivers are home to Indigo-banded Kingfisher and night-birding is often rewarding here with a good chance of seeing both Philippine Boobook and Philippine Scops Owl. Night in Los Banos.

Day 9: 
Early morning flight from Manila to Cagayan de Oro from where we drive south through Bukidnon province, stopping at the village of Damitan from where we will trek into the Kitanglad Mountains to a tented camp, which will be our home for the next three nights. We will spend any remaining time in the afternoon birding above the camp.

Days 10-11: 
We will have two full days to explore the remnant forest on Mount Kitanglad. One of the main targets here will be the magnificent Philippine (Monkey-Eating) Eagle – the national bird of the Philippines. We will work both the lower areas and the higher trails up to at least 1800m in search of the Mindanao endemics and other specialities which are restricted to this montane habitat including Mindanao Racquet-tail, Red-eared Parrotfinch, White-cheeked Bullfinch, Cinnamon Ibon, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Apo Sunbird, Apo Myna and if we are fortunate, the skulking Long-tailed Ground Warbler.
Dawn and dusk vigils should produce the recently described Bukidnon Woodcock while night-birding around our lodge could produce Philippine Frogmouth, Philippine Nightjar or with a good deal of luck Mindanao or Giant Scops Owls.

Day 12: 
After some final morning birding if required we depart from the camp, returning to Damitan, then make our way south for an overnight stay at the Eden Resort where on the slopes of Mount Apo where we hope to find two very localised specialities; Cryptic Flycatcher and Whiskered Flowerpecker. Night near Davao.

Day 13: 
We have more chance for morning birding if required before continuing our journey via Davao to the east coast town of Bislig where we will stay in Bislig for the next four nights.

Days 14-16:   
We will have three full days to explore the ex-logging concession at PICOP.
Although deforestation has damaged much of the concession, some good forest still remains and gives us a good chance to find some of Mindanao’s lowland forest specialists. Possibilities here include Rufous Hornbill, Writhed Hornbill, Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle, Steere’s Honey Buzzard, Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Silvery Kingfisher, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Red-bellied Pitta, Azure-breasted Pitta, Little Slaty Flycatcher, Naked-faced Spiderhunter, Celestial and Short-crested Monarch, Black-headed Tailorbird, Blue Fantail, Philippine Oriole, Philippine Needletail and Mindanao Wattled Broadbill. Night-birding possibilities include Philippine Frogmouth, Chocolate Boobook and Mindanao Boobook. Closer to the town we will visit the disused Bislig Airfield where we have a good chance of seeing Philippine Duck and Eastern Grass Owl.

Day 17: 
After a final morning at PICOP we drive south again to Davao to connect with our evening flight back to Manila we stay overnight.

Day 18: 
After a morning flight to Puerto Princesa we visit a nearby coastal area in search of Chinese Egret and in the afternoon we will continue to Sabang on the edge of St. Paul’s National Park in time for an afternoons birding with Palawan Hornbill, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Palawan Tit, Lovely Sunbird and Blue Paradise Flycatcher exciting possibilities. Night in Sabang.

Day 19: 
Today we will spend a full day birding at St. Paul’s National Park. In the beautiful, untouched forest within the park we will expect to find most of the islands remaining endemics, hopefully including the skulking Falcated Ground Babbler and the spectacular Palawan Peacock Pheasant. The area near our resort is a good area to search for Palawan Frogmouth and Palawan Scops Owl and we will make a special effort to search for these elusive birds. Night in Sabang.

Day 20: 
We will spend a final day birding in the St. Paul’s area before heading back across the island in the afternoon to Honda Bay where we will take a boat out to an offshore island in search of Mantanani Scops Owl, a true small-island specialist. Night in Puerto Princesa.

Day 21: 
Today we will bird along the Balsahan river within the Iwahig penal colony. There is considerable overlap with species present at St. Paul’s so we have last chances at anything missed so far which will surely include Melodious Babbler and Palawan Flycatcher which are very difficult elsewhere. We return to Manila in the afternoon to connect with international flights.

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