Welcome to Birdquest

ULTIMATE PHILIPPINES

Birdquest's Philippines birding tour is a classic Asian birdwatching trip which visits the very best areas that the archipelago has to offer. Our Philippines itinerary is much the most comprehensive available in this island nation and records far more specialities than any other. Our unique tour, which covers seven of the largest islands, produces over 80 percent of the islands' 200 or so endemic bird species! This truly is 'The Ultimate' in Philippines birding tours.

Sunday 20th January — Sunday 10th February 2019
(22 days)


Visayan Islands Extension: Sunday 10th February — Saturday 16th February (7 days)

Mindoro & Northern Luzon Extension: Saturday 16th February — Sunday 24th February (9 days)

Leader: Pete Morris

Group Size Limit: 8

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and mostly comfortable accommodations

The remarkable Philippine (or Monkey-eating!) Eagle is without question one of the world's most impressive creatures (Nigel Voaden)

The remarkable Philippine (or Monkey-eating!) Eagle is without question one of the world's most impressive creatures (Nigel Voaden)

PLEASE NOTE THAT WE SHALL BE OFFERING ONE OR MORE OPTIONAL NEW AREAS AFTER THE EXISTING EXTENSIONS END. DETAILS WILL BE ADDED AT A LATER STAGE.

The Philippine archipelago is a cluster of more than 7000 islands extending for nearly 2000 kilometres across the warm tropical waters of the Pacific. Most of the land area of the Philippines is divided amongst the eleven larger islands, with two-thirds accounted for by the two largest, Luzon and Mindanao. In the north, the Batan Islands are little more than 200 kilometres south of Taiwan, while the southernmost islands lie only 50 kilometres off the east coast of Borneo.

Despite their proximity to other parts of Asia, the rugged mountainous islands of the Philippines have enjoyed a long and complex period of isolation which has resulted in an evolutionary explosion with considerable variation from one island to another. There are almost 4000 species of trees, over 160 species of mammals and over 240 species of reptiles, and all this in a country slightly smaller than the British Isles! The extraordinary degree of endemism in the Philippines is well demonstrated by the country’s avifauna: nearly 600 species have been recorded, of which around 400 are resident and over 200 are endemic, many of these restricted to just one island (and with many more endemic subspecies, some of which are highly distinctive, the number of birds treated as endemic species seems sure to rise). Sadly, the marvellous but vanishing avifauna of the Philippines is amongst the most threatened on our planet: it is no exaggeration to say that some species will, within a short time, become impossible to find, so delaying a visit to the Philippines is not a good plan.

Our Ultimate Philippines tour offers the most comprehensive coverage available in the islands and turns up far more of the endemic birds than any other. During our journey we will visit seven of the major islands, where the vast majority of the endemic birds occur, and by doing so we should see around 180 of them, with about 150 on the main tour alone, and over 165 including the Visayans.

Travel in the Philippines offers some fascinating insights into the history of the islands. This is perhaps the least ‘Oriental’ of all the Far Eastern countries: four hundred years of Spanish colonial rule followed by ‘fifty years of Hollywood’ (as the period of association with the United States is popularly referred to) have inevitably left their mark. The friendly Filipinos are predominantly Catholic and the countryside is adorned with thousands of extravagantly decorated churches. In the towns the American influence is even stronger than the Spanish, one of the more endearing aspects being the fleets of gaily decorated ‘jeepneys’ (intricately painted copies of extended American jeeps, some festooned with chrome-plated accessories, plastic streamers, garlands of flowers and enough lights to decorate a Christmas tree). In complete contrast, ethnic minority groups still exist in the most remote areas of the Philippines whose lives have been little changed over hundreds or even thousands of years. With magnificent scenery, friendly people and an incomparable selection of little-known birds, the Philippines have all the ingredients for a truly memorable tour.

We begin our journey on Luzon, the largest island, where we will visit Candaba for Philippine Duck and Philippine Swamphen, and then Subic Bay, a former American military base which protects some of the last remaining lowland rainforest that once covered so much of the island. Here we can expect to see a good number of endemic forest birds, including Chocolate Boobook, Luzon Hawk-Owl, Philippine Scops Owl, Luzon Hornbill, Green Racket-tail, Scale-feathered and Rough-crested Malkohas, and Rufous Coucal, as well as more widespread endemics such as Philippine Falconet, Northern Sooty Woodpecker, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis and the strange, bald-headed Coleto.

We will then travel north to the Mount Polis range in northern Luzon. Here we will stay at Banaue where we will see the remarkable rice terraces built by the Ifugao tribes people over two thousand years ago. In the misty heights we will look for a number of montane specialities with restricted distributions, including Luzon Water Redstart, Chestnut-faced Babbler, Mountain Shrike, Philippine and Long-tailed Bush Warblers, Luzon Sunbird and, with luck, such striking species as Luzon Scops Owl, Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove and Flame-crowned Flowerpecker. Providing it is clear, we should also enjoy some spectacular views.

Next we will fly to the island of Palawan where we will spend much of our time in and around the spectacular Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. This long island, which links Borneo to the rest of the Philippines, has a markedly Malaysian influence in its avifauna. On arrival we will look for Chinese Egret and Grey-tailed Tattler, and we have a good chance of seeing most of the Palawan endemics during our visit, including the impressive Palawan Hornbill, Palawan Scops Owl, Palawan Frogmouth, Red-headed and Spot-throated Flamebacks, Palawan Tit, the striking Falcated Wren-Babbler, White-vented Shama, Palawan Blue Flycatcher, Palawan Flycatcher, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Lovely Sunbird, Palawan Flowerpecker and, with a bit of luck, the gorgeous Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. We will also visit a small offshore island by boat to look for Mantanani Scops Owl.

We will then move on to the southern island of Mindanao, where we will first explore the magnificent Kitanglad Mountains. Many exciting montane birds occur here, some of which are found only on Mindanao, including such enigmatic species as McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, Black-and-cinnamon Fantail, Apo Myna, Grey-hooded and Apo Sunbirds, Cinnamon Ibon (until recently thought to be a white-eye, but now considered an aberrant sparrow!) and White-cheeked Bulfinch. We also have an excellent chance of seeing the magnificent but endangered Philippine Eagle, Philippine Frogmouth and the little-known Bukidnon Woodcock (a species discovered as recently as 1993, and by a Birdquest group!).

Around Davao we will search for three localized endemics that are rarely on the itinerary for birding visitors to the Philippines. These are Cryptic Flycatcher, Whiskered Flowerpecker and Lina’s Sunbird. We also have a backup area for Philippine Eagle should we need it.

While on Mindanao we will also explore the lowland forests in the Bislig area. Although most accessible forest in this region is now badly degraded (it was once the tallest forest in the world), we still have an excellent chance of finding some of the most exciting birds in the Philippines. These include Blue-crowned Racket-tail, Philippine Trogon, Southern Silvery and Winchell’s Kingfishers, Mindanao and Writhed Hornbills, the magnificent Rufous Hornbill, Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted (or Steere’s) Pitta, Mindanao Blue Fantail, Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher, Short-crested and Celestial Monarchs, Metallic-winged and Handsome Sunbirds and, on night-time excursions, Chocolate Boobook and Mindanao Hawk-Owl. Near to our hotel an abandoned airfield may produce Australasian Grass Owl, as well as Philippine Duck, Philippine Swamphen and the elusive Black Bittern.

Next, we will return to Manila and visit Mount Makiling, a forested mountain to the south of the city, where we will look for our final suite of endemics, including the spectacular Spotted Wood Kingfisher, Indigo-banded Kingfisher, White-browed Shama and Flaming Sunbird.

Our final time on Luzon will be spent looking for Ashy Thrush, which is nowadays reliable at a site close to Manila.

During the optional extension we will explore the Visayan Islands, which have much to offer the visiting birder. First we will travel to Negros, where at Bacolod we will search the slopes of Mount Canloan for specialities such as Visayan Hornbill, White-winged Cuckoo-shrike, the beautiful Flame-templed Babbler, Negros Striped Babbler, White-vented Whistler, Visayan Flowerpecker and the recently-split Visayan Shama. With luck we will also see the tiny Negros Scops Owl and the spectacular Yellow-faced Flameback.

Nearby lies the fascinating island of Bohol. Here, from our base in the bizarre Chocolate Hills, we will explore the forested limestone outcrops of Rajah Sikatuna National Park, where, amongst others, we will seek out the amazing Philippine Frogmouth, the beautiful Northern Silvery Kingfisher, the equally strange Visayan Wattled Broadbill, the dazzling Azure-breasted (or Steere’s) Pitta, Black-crowned Babbler, Yellow-breasted Tailorbird and Bohol Sunbird.

Our journey will then take us to Cebu in the central Visayan Islands, an island which has been almost totally deforested. Fortunately one or two forest patches remain and these still hold two of the three Cebu endemics, the recently-described Cebu Hawk-Owl and Black Shama (the Cebu Flowerpecker may now be extinct). We can expect to see the owl and the shama, but we will need luck to find the localized Streak-breasted Bulbul.

During the optional second extension we continue our adventure on the island of Mindoro where we will visit one of the last remaining areas of lowland rainforest. Here we can expect to see several species of forest birds which are unique to Mindoro or of restricted distribution, including Spotted Imperial Pigeon, Black-hooded Coucal, the recently-described Mindoro Hawk-Owl, Mindoro Hornbill and Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker.

Finally we will explore some little visited parts of the Sierra Madre mountains of northern Luzon. Here, in dense moss-clad forest, we will have a good chance of finding some of the Philippine’s rarest and most sought-after endemics, most notably the colourful Whiskered Pitta, but also including Cream-bellied Fruit-Dove, Luzon Bleeding-heart, Sierra Madre Crow, Grand Rhabdornis, Sierra Madre Ground Warbler, Golden-crowned and Luzon Striped Babblers, Furtive Flycatcher and the little known Blue-breasted Flycatcher and Isabela Oriole.

Birdquest has operated tours to the Philippines since 1990.

Important: The Birdquest main tour is a bit longer than other Philippines tours, but for good reason. Not only does this allow us to take in three more very localized endemics, Cryptic Flycatcher, Whiskered Flowerpecker and Lina’s Sunbird, but just as importantly for many participants, it gives us a back-up opportunity for the magnificent Philippine Eagle, which is becoming more difficult to see than in the past at Mount Kitanglad. This is one bird no one wants to miss!

Visayan Islands-only and Mindoro & Northern Luzon-only Options: You may opt to take just the Visayan Islands section and/or the Mindoro & Northern Luzon section as a stand-alone tour.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and lodges are of good or medium standard almost throughout. In the Kitanglad Mountains during the main tour we will be accommodated for three nights in tents (for twin or single occupancy). During the second extension we will stay one night in a simple hotel at Sablayan. Road transport is mostly by small coach or minibus (locally by ‘jeepney’) and roads are mostly reasonable.

Walking: For much of the tour the walking effort is easy to moderate, but there will be a few optional harder walks.

Climate: Most days in the lowlands will be hot, dry and sunny, but overcast conditions are fairly frequent and some rain can be expected. In upland areas it will be cool to warm. The humidity can be high at times.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £5150, €6080, $6750 Manila/Manila. Single Room/Tent Supplement: £588, €694, $770. Deposit: £650, €780, $850.

Visayan Islands Extension: £1750, €2060, $2290. Single Room Supplement: £210, €248, $275. Deposit: £200, €240, $260.

Mindoro & Northern Luzon Extension: £1590, €1870, $2080. Single Room Supplement: £184, €217, $241. Deposit: £200, €240, $260.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Also includes these flights: Manila-Puerto Princesa-Manila, Manila-Cagayan de Oro, Davao-Manila, Manila-Dumaguete, Cebu-Manila, Manila-San Jose-Manila.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

Palawan Frogmouth, a stunning bird, affectionately known as 'hairy ears'! (Pete Morris)

Palawan Frogmouth, a stunning bird, affectionately known as 'hairy ears'! (Pete Morris)

Another image of the incredible Philippine Eagle (Nigel Voaden)

Another image of the incredible Philippine Eagle (Nigel Voaden)

We should first encounter the rather incredible Scale-feathered Malkoha at Subic Bay (Pete Morris)

We should first encounter the rather incredible Scale-feathered Malkoha at Subic Bay (Pete Morris)

Northern Luzon harbours some real stunners, including the amazingly colourful Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove (Pete Morris)

Northern Luzon harbours some real stunners, including the amazingly colourful Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove (Pete Morris)

The localized Luzon Water Redstart is another of our main targets in the north of Luzon (Pete Morris)

The localized Luzon Water Redstart is another of our main targets in the north of Luzon (Pete Morris)

The delightful island of Palawan is home to some real treasures including the stunning Palawan Peacock Pheasant (Pete Morris)

The delightful island of Palawan is home to some real treasures including the stunning Palawan Peacock Pheasant (Pete Morris)

Others include the Palawan Scops Owl, which has an amazingly low-pitched throaty call (Pete Morris)

Others include the Palawan Scops Owl, which has an amazingly low-pitched throaty call (Pete Morris)

The Philippine Cockatoo is one of the most endangered birds in the Philippines, and hard to see away from Rasa island off Palawan (Simon Harrap)

The Philippine Cockatoo is one of the most endangered birds in the Philippines, and hard to see away from Rasa island off Palawan (Simon Harrap)

Mindanao Wattled Broadbill a rapidly declining stunner that we hope to find in Mindanao's rapidly diminishing lowland forests (Pete Morris)

Mindanao Wattled Broadbill a rapidly declining stunner that we hope to find in Mindanao's rapidly diminishing lowland forests (Pete Morris)

We are also very likely to come across the more widespread Red-bellied (or Blue-breasted) Pitta (Pete Morris)

We are also very likely to come across the more widespread Red-bellied (or Blue-breasted) Pitta (Pete Morris)

Blue-capped Wood-Kingfisher, PICOP, Mindanao, one of several stunning endemic kingfishers (Pete Morris)

Blue-capped Wood-Kingfisher, PICOP, Mindanao, one of several stunning endemic kingfishers (Pete Morris)

... and Silvery Kingfisher, another superb endemic kingfisher (Pete Morris)

... and Silvery Kingfisher, another superb endemic kingfisher (Pete Morris)

... and the striking Rufous-lored Kingfisher (Pete Morris)

... and the striking Rufous-lored Kingfisher (Pete Morris)

The Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis is one of three Rhabornises, a family endemic to the Philippines (Simon Harrap)

The Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis is one of three Rhabornises, a family endemic to the Philippines (Simon Harrap)

The Stripe-headed Rhabdornis is even more impressive (Pete Morris)

The Stripe-headed Rhabdornis is even more impressive (Pete Morris)

Endemic kingfishers are always much appreciated and they don't come much better than the striking Spotted Wood Kingfisher (Pete Morris)

Endemic kingfishers are always much appreciated and they don't come much better than the striking Spotted Wood Kingfisher (Pete Morris)

The Philippines are great for nightbirds. The endemic Bukidnon Woodcock, was discovered by Tim Fisher and Simon Harrap during the 1993 Birdquest tour of the Philippines (Simon Harrap)

The Philippines are great for nightbirds. The endemic Bukidnon Woodcock, was discovered by Tim Fisher and Simon Harrap during the 1993 Birdquest tour of the Philippines (Simon Harrap)

The Chocolate Hawk-Owl, a recent split from the widespread Brown Hawk-Owl, is also endemic to the Philippines (Simon Harrap)

The Chocolate Hawk-Owl, a recent split from the widespread Brown Hawk-Owl, is also endemic to the Philippines (Simon Harrap)

The Philippine Frogmouth, affectionately known as 'old growler', is often a favourite (Pete Morris)

The Philippine Frogmouth, affectionately known as 'old growler', is often a favourite (Pete Morris)

Always high on the want list are the pittas. We have a very good chance of four on this tour, including the superb endemic Azure-breasted (or Steere's) Pitta  (Simon Harrap)

Always high on the want list are the pittas. We have a very good chance of four on this tour, including the superb endemic Azure-breasted (or Steere's) Pitta (Simon Harrap)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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