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Philippines; three-week tour

17th February - 9th March 2019


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, and although the total list for the Philippines is not large at just over 690 species, of approximately 450 resident species more than 250 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, Philippine and Steere’s Pitta, Southern Silvery Kingfisher, Southern Rufous Hornbill, Celestial Monarch, Philippine Trogon and Cinnamon Ibon, potentially an endemic family. In addition, there’s an amazing set of endemic owls to see, a spectacular set of endemic kingfishers including Spotted Wood and Southern Silvery Kingfishers, and Spotted Wood Kingfisher, and a brace of racquet-tails among the endemic parrots which contain such exotic-sounding species as Colasisi and Guaiabero.
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 a fine collection of Asian water-birds. From here we will continue northwards into the Central Cordillera Mountain Range to Banaue where we will arrive in the late afternoon, perhaps having added Indigo-banded Kingfisher along the way. 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 Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Bush Warbler, Luzon (Long-tailed) Ground Warbler, Luzon Sunbird and Green-backed Whistler. Some of these join with mixed species flocks which might give us our first views of more widespread endemics like Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Luzon (Philippine) Pygmy Woodpecker, Philippine Mountain Warbler and Scale-feathered Malkoha, and non-endemics such as Mountain Tailorbird, Tawny Grassbird, Turquoise Flycatcher and if the weather is fine, soaring Eastern Buzzard. Scarcer species we will look for include Mountain Shrike and Luzon Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, Red Crossbill and in lower altitude grassland; 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 nearby rivers at the bottom of a steep valley are 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 White-cheeked Bullfinch. If we haven’t seen them the previous day, then we will make more night-time excursions for Luzon Scops Owl which are usually easy to hear on the surrounding slopes but difficult to see. If we have time to explore the hotel grounds then we can usually find Yellowish White-eye among the mixed flock of commoner species there, while Bundok Flycatchers hide in the understory. Night in Banaue.

Day 5: 
We will again depart early for the long drive south to Subic Bay for a two-night stay. 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, Rufous Coucal, Luzon Hawk Eagle, Rufous Coucal, White-lored Oriole, Blackish Cuckooshrike, Philippine Fairy Bluebird, Luzon Flameback, Luzon (Philippine) Pygmy and Northern Sooty Woodpecker, Green-backed Tailorbird, Luzon Hornbill and hopefully the localised White-fronted Tit. At night we will concentrate on finding Chocolate Boobook but we might also find Luzon Boobook and Philippine Scops Owl if we are fortunate. 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 of the localised specialities to find as well as a chance for more widespread species which might include Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike, Luzon (White-browed) Shama, Luzon Balicassiao, Philippine Falconet, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Red-crested Malkoha, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, White-eared Brown Dove, Philippine Green Pigeon, Red Junglefowl and two recently recognised endemics; Brown-breasted Kingfisher and Rufous-crowned Bee-eater. 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, Grey-backed Tailorbird and Philippine Magpie Robin, a newly recognised endemic which is difficult elsewhere. 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 in the nearby grasslands where both Barred and Spotted Buttonquails are possible, with occasional sightings of the elusive Plain Bush-hen. 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, Luzon (White-browed) Shama, Flaming Sunbird, Spotted Wood Kingfisher and even rarities such Luzon Bleeding-heart are occasionally seen. Nearby 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 and in the evening have our first attempt to see Bukidnon Woodcock ‘roding’ near the camp while further night-birding around our lodge could produce Philippine Frogmouth, Philippine Nightjar and with a good deal of luck, Everett’s or Giant Scops Owls. Nights at Tented Camp, Mount Kitanglad.

Days 10-11: 
We will have two full days to explore the remnant forest on Mount Kitanglad. The main targets here will be the magnificent Philippine 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, Short-tailed Starling, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Olive-capped Flowerpecker, Grey-hooded Sunbird, Apo Sunbird, Apo Myna and if we are fortunate, the skulking Mindanao (Long-tailed) Ground Warbler and slimmer chances of Buff-spotted Flameback and Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove which are also found elsewhere. In mixed feeding flocks we can expect to find McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, Black-and-cinnamon Fantail, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Black-masked Dark-eye, Turquoise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Mindanao (Philippine) Pygmy Woodpecker and the fascinating Cinnamon Ibon alongside commoner species like Philippine Mountain Warbler, Elegant Tit and Sulphur-billed Nuthatch. There are usually good numbers of overwintering Eye-browed Thrush present and sometimes Mugimaki Flycatcher.
While scanning for the Philippine Eagles we might also find Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle, Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle or the resident form of Oriental Honey-buzzard.
Nights at Tented Camp, Mount Kitanglad.

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 at Eden Resort.

Day 13: 
We have another 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 a big list of Mindanao’s lowland forest specialists. Possibilities here include Rufous Hornbill, Writhed Hornbill, Mindanao Hornbill, Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Short-billed Brown Dove, Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle, Steere’s Honey Buzzard, Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Southern Silvery Kingfisher, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Philippine and Steere’s Pitta, Philippine Trogon, Little Slaty Flycatcher, Orange-tufted and Naked-faced Spiderhunter, Rufous-fronted and Black-headed Tailorbird, Streaked Ground Babbler, Philippine Fairy Bluebird, Philippine Oriole, Philippine Leafbird, Mindanao Yellowish and Yellow-wattled Bulbul, Mindanao Metallic-winged and Handsome Sunbirds, Black-bibbed Cicadabird, Mindanao (Black-and-white) Triller, and Philippine Needletail. We will try hard to locate mixed species flocks as these often contain Mindanao Blue Fantail, Philippine Leaf Warbler, Rusty-crowned and Mindanao Pygmy Babblers, Everett’s White-eye, Olive-backed Flowerpecker, Short-crested Monarch, Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher, Rufous Paradise-flycatcher, and gives our best chances of finding the rare Celestial Monarch or Mindanao Wattled Broadbill. Black-faced Coucals can often be found skulking in think tangles while more often areas are good for viewing Blue-crowned Racquet-tail or some of the raptors that frequent the area among them Steere’s Honey-buzzard and Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle. We will always be on the lookout for rarities like Southern Sooty Woodpecker, Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher, Mindanao Bleeding-heart or Spotted Imperial Pigeon but they are very rarely seen. Night-birding possibilities include Philippine Frogmouth, Chocolate Boobook, Everett’s and Giant Scops Owl, 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. Blue-breasted Quail are often in the grassy fringes of the runway and the marshy vegetation is home to the skulking Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler. Nights in Bislig.

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 if the tide is suitable a good selection of waders. In the afternoon we will continue to Sabang on the edge of St. Paul’s National Park in time for an afternoons birding which will likely produce a good selection of Palawan endemics like Lovely Sunbird, Pale Spiderhunter, Palawan Flowerpecker, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Palawan Fairy Bluebird, Palawan Blue Flycatcher, White-vented Shama, Sulphur-bellied, Ashy-fronted and Palawan Bulbul, and with Palawan Hornbill, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Palawan Tit and Blue Paradise Flycatcher exciting possibilities. In the late afternoon we will visit a regular area for Philippine Cockatoo and hope to see these Critically Endangered birds as they head to roost. Night in Sabang.

Day 19: 
Today we will spend a full day birding around 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 and the spectacular Palawan Peacock-Pheasant which is often found in the proximity of Tabon Scrubfowl. Outside the park we will explore other forest patches where we hope to find Ashy-headed Babbler, the skulking yet beautiful Falcated Ground Babbler, Red-headed and Spot-throated Flameback, Black-chinned Fruit Dove and any other endemics not yet seen. Palawan shares much of its avifauna with neighboring Borneo and there are therefore many more widespread species that we don’t find elsewhere on the tour such as Fiery Minivet, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Common Hill Myna, Black-headed Bulbul, Ashy Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.
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, plus Melodious Babbler and Palawan Flycatcher which are very difficult elsewhere. We return to Manila in the afternoon to connect with international flights.

Tour Photo Albums

Philippines, 2018

Philippines, 2017

Philippines, 2016

Philippines, 2015

Philippines, 2014

Philippines, 2013

Philippines, 2012