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Birdquest's Best of Philippines birding tour is a classic Asian birdwatching trip which visits the very best areas that the archipelago has to offer. Our Best of Philippines itinerary is a classic tour which covers four of the largest islands and produces around 75 percent of the islands' 200 or so endemic bird species in just 21 days.
Sunday 14th January —
Sunday 4th February 2018
Leaders: Craig Robson and a local bird guide
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and comfortable accommodations (apart from 3 nights camping).
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.
During our Philippines journey we will visit four of the major islands, where the vast majority of the endemic birds occur, and by doing so we should see around 150 of them.
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 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 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 (one of the ‘Philippine creepers’) 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 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, 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, Azure-breasted (or Steere’s) Pitta, Mindanao Blue Fantail, Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher, Short-crested Monarch, Metallic-winged and Handsome Sunbirds and, on night-time excursions, Chocolate Boobook and Mindanao Hawk-Owl. Near to our hotel an abandoned airfield is a regular haunt for Australasian Grass Owl, as well as Philippine Duck, Philippine Swamphen and the elusive Black Bittern.
Finally, 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. Luzon Hawk-Owl is common on Makiling, where we have a good chance of seeing this diminutive boobook, and we may also find Philippine Scops Owl.
Birdquest has operated tours to the Philippines since 1990.
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). Road transport is by small coach or minibus 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 and at the highest altitudes it may be distinctly cold. The humidity can be high at times.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £5150, €6080, $6750 Manila/Manila.
Price includes all transportation (including all flights inside the Philippines), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room/Tent Supplement: £609, €719, $798.
Deposit: £650, €780, $850.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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