CLASSIC PHILIPPINES BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Classic Philippines: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Manila on the island of Luzon, the largest and most northerly of the major islands in the Philippines. Our first birding will be at an area of agriculture near to Candaba. This former natural swamp has been almost completely drained, and at this time of year many of the ponds are almost dry, whilst others are still flooded, providing a variety of habitats. We will be hoping in particular to find the endemic Philippine Duck and Philippine Swamphen.
Depending on the water levels, visiting waterfowl may include Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. There should be masses of nesting Purple Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons, while Whiskered Terns are usually abundant over the ponds, and in the stands of reeds and sedges fringing the open water we will search for Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns and hope to see diminutive White-browed Crakes creeping along the water’s edge. Clamorous Reed Warblers are resident and we should also find migrant Oriental Reed Warblers, whilst the waterside vegetation also holds huge numbers of Red Turtle Doves, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Pied Triller, Philippine Pied Fantail, Striated Grassbird, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Zitting Cisticola and Long-tailed Shrike. We will also scrutinize any Arctic Warblers, in the hope of finding a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. On the drier ponds, the areas of open mud may attract waders such as Kentish, Little Ringed and Pacific Golden Plovers, Common Greenshank, Wood, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, and Long-toed Stint.
Other birds here are likely to include Little Grebe, Javan Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Eastern Cattle, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, White-breasted Waterhen and Common Moorhen. With luck we will come across Eastern Marsh Harrier or Oriental Pratincole, the increasingly rare Island Collared Dove or White-shouldered Starling (generally a rare bird in the Philippines).
On leaving the fish ponds, we will drive to Subic Bay for a two nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Classic Philippines: Day 2 The American naval base at Subic Bay protected an extensive area of lowland forest but, following the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the base was handed back to the Filipinos. The eruption itself decimated large areas of the forest, leaving the larger trees alive but destroying much of the lower canopy and understorey. The area has, however, recovered and now provides an excellent introduction to the Philippine avifauna.
As we walk quietly along the tracks through the forest, birds we may see include Philippine Falconet, Grey-rumped Swiftlet, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Philippine Green-Pigeon, White-eared Brown-Dove, Guaiabero, the attractive Scale-feathered and Rough-crested (or Red-crested) Malkohas, noisy but jumpy Rufous Coucals, Philippine Hanging Parrot (or Colasisi), Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Northern Sooty and White-bellied Woodpeckers, Luzon Flameback, the rare Green Racket-tail, Blue-naped Parrot (of the critically endangered Luzon race), Coppersmith Barbet, Blackish and Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes, flocks of migrant Ashy Minivets, Balicassiao (a drongo with an amazing repertoire of imitations), Coleto (a strange, bald-headed starling), Philippine Bulbul and Trilling Tailorbird. We should also see Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, one of three ‘Philippine creepers’ that were formerly treated as an endemic family, the Rhabdornithidae, but which are now considered to be aberrant starlings.
Several nightbirds occur here, including Chocolate Boobook, Luzon Hawk-Owl and Philippine Scops Owl, and we will make an effort to see all of them.
We will also be hoping in particular to find several species that are difficult or impossible to see elsewhere on the tour. These include the unobtrusive White-lored Oriole and the canopy-loving White-fronted Tit, as well as Philippine Hawk-Eagle, though all can be hard to track down.
Common open country birds include Spotted and Zebra Doves, Asian Palm Swift, Rufous-crowned Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
Classic Philippines: Day 3 This morning we will make an early start and embark upon our journey north. For much of the day we will be driving through paddyfields, and the road also climbs up over the Dalton Pass, made famous in ornithological circles by a large scale ringing programme in the 1960s and 1970s. Our journey will eventually take us to the Cordillera Central in northern Luzon, the mountainous homeland of various ethnic minority groups, including the Igorots and the Ifugao, some of whom were still practising head-hunting until relatively recently! As we begin to climb up from the lowlands we will stop at the Lagawe gorge, where we will search for the gorgeous (Northern) Indigo-banded Kingfisher, before following the road up to Banaue for a three nights stay. This small town is the site of the famous rice terraces constructed over 2000 years ago by the Ifugao. It is also a great location for the endemic Yellowish White-eye.
Species that we may well see on the journey north include Striated Heron, Common and Collared Kingfishers, Pacific Swallow, Brown Shrike, Large-billed Crow, Asian Glossy Starling, Crested Myna (introduced to the Philippines) and Chestnut Munia.
Classic Philippines: Days 4-5 We will drive even higher on the road to Bontoc until we reach the highest motorable point on the road at around 1900m. This area lies in the rugged Mount Polis range and the vegetation is predominantly mossy oak forest laden with orchids and pitcher plants, together with stands of pine and areas of grassland on the drier slopes. The summit is often wreathed in mist, but on a clear day the views can be stunning. Sadly, the stands of montane forest nearest the road have been badly degraded, but it is still possible to see many of the more typical Luzon montane forest species and, if we are lucky, one or two of the rarer ones.
We will set off before dawn and aim to arrive at the summit while it is still dark. If the weather is fine we have a good chance of hearing the plaintive piping of the Luzon Scops Owl, but seeing this species is a different matter as it is typically well-hidden in the dense oaks, which themselves can be hard to access. Nevertheless, we’ll have a good chance! Then, as dawn breaks, the first Island Thrush appears on the road and we will listen carefully for the booming calls of the Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove. This is another elusive bird whose numbers are very much reduced by hunting, but, if we are really in luck, we will hear the flutter of heavy wingbeats and see one sitting quietly in the canopy of a roadside tree. As the day brightens Luzon Bush Warblers give their loud explosive songs and thankfully they are generally rather easy to see. Long-tailed Bush Warblers on the other hand give their higher buzzing songs from the densest vegetation and are typically much more elusive, though with patience we may see one creeping, mouse-like, almost at our feet. White-browed Shortwing may also test our patience (the form on Luzon is vocally distinct and following a full review of all of the White-browed Shortwing taxa, many forms may be elevated to species status). Ridgetop Swiftlets sweep low over the road, Eastern Buzzards perch up, Olive-backed Pipits flush from land cleared to grow cabbages and we will hope to find a Mountain Shrike, typically perched on a prominent snag near the road or the uncommon Brown-headed Thrush.
Many of the other birds at Mount Polis are found in mixed species flocks, and after long periods of inactivity there is a flurry as Elegant Tits, Sulphur-billed Nuthatches, Chestnut-faced Babblers, Mountain Tailorbirds, Negros Leaf Warblers, Little Pied and Citrine Canary-Flycatchers, Turquoise Flycatchers (or Island Verditer Flycatcher), superb Blue-headed Fantails, sedate Green-backed Whistlers, Warbling White-eyes and dazzling Luzon Sunbirds sweep past. If we are lucky we will also find a Flame-crowed Flowerpecker in a mixed species flock and hear the raucous shrieks that will alert us to a party of Montane (or Luzon) Racket-tails as they flash past.
Later in the day we will move downhill, further towards Bontoc, where, in a small but picturesque gorge, we will search for Luzon Water Redstarts as they dart from boulder to boulder in a clear mountain river, flashing their russet tails. The insect-like songs of Benguet Bush Warblers can often be heard issuing from the grasslands on the steepest slopes at these lower altitudes, and with persistence we should find one of these mouse-like creatures.
Classic Philippines: Day 6 After some final birding in the Banaue area we will embark on the long drive back to Manila for an overnight stay. In recent years a pair of Philippine Eagle-Owls has chosen to nest near Manila, and if they are still present we will make a detour to admire these superb birds.
Classic Philippines: Day 7 This morning we will catch a flight to Cagayan de Oro on the island of Mindanao, the second largest and most southerly of the larger islands of the Philippines. From Cagayan de Oro we will drive to the Kitanglad Mountains of Bukidnon province for a three nights stay. Our baggage will be transferred to horses to be carried up while we will walk up to our camp. The trail passes through areas of fields and cultivation before finally crossing some forested gullies. Indeed, our camp is surrounded by relict patches of forest and trees and a good number of species can be seen here. This afternoon and evening, we will commence our exploration of Mount Kitanglad.
As dusk falls we will take up position near our campsite, hoping to see Bukidnon Woodcock in its roding flight. This species was discovered by our 1993 group and is now known from a few of the highest mountains in the Philippines, although Mount Kitanglad remains the best site. As the light fades further, Philippine Nightjars begin to call from nearby clearings, and just a few minutes later, we should hear the first growls of the Philippine Frogmouth. We will hope to see both these species during our stay on the mountain, as well as Great Eared Nightjar and perhaps also Everett’s Scops Owl. The fascinating Giant Scops Owl is also present in the woods around our camp, but it usually calls only briefly and irregularly through the night and is often hard to see. We will, however, make a concerted effort!
Classic Philippines: Days 8-9 The highest point of the Kitanglad Mountains reaches nearly 3000m. Much of the higher slopes of the range are still clad in rich montane forest dominated by dipterocarp trees, whilst at the highest altitudes there is mossy forest dripping with epiphytes. Numerous species of trees, plants and butterflies are restricted to this range alone, or are shared with the Mount Apo range. The area holds many fascinating birds, some of which are extremely rare and little known.
During our stay we will work the lower slopes and also higher trails reaching around 1800m in order to see all the specialities. Around our camp and in the nearby relict patches of forest we will come across foraging mixed-species flocks, often dominated by superb Black-and-cinnamon Fantails, Warbling White-eyes and Cinnamon Ibons (the latter is an enigmatic species that was formerly placed in the white-eyes but is now considered a sparrow!). Alongside these will be small numbers of impressive Buff-spotted Flamebacks, McGregor’s Cuckooshrikes, Grey-hooded Sunbirds, and Olive-capped and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers. Less obvious, although common on the mountain, is Rufous-headed Tailorbird, and we will also hope to see some of the other species of the understorey such as Brown Tit-Babbler, White-browed Shortwing (vocally distinct) and (one of) the Mindanao forms of the Long-tailed Ground-Warbler (which differ vocally from the race on Luzon, so could represent a distinct species).
We will spend some time in the mossy forests at higher altitudes where we will search for the recently split Bundok Flycatcher, the superb Apo Sunbird, the extraordinary ‘bug-eyed’ Apo Myna, Mindanao (or Black-masked) White-eye and White-cheeked Bullfinch. If we are lucky we will find the dazzling Hombron’s (or Blue-capped Wood) Kingfisher, and we also have a chance of seeing the very localized Red-eared Parrotfinch. One of the hardest birds of all at Kitanglad is the Bagobo Babbler. Trapping has shown this species to be relatively common, but it is extraordinarily skulking and seems to possess a ‘cloak of invisibility’, so it is hardly ever seen by visiting birders, though we may hear it!
Whilst walking between the patches of forest we will cross areas of cultivation where will see a variety of open country birds such as Black-winged Kite, Paddyfield Pipit, Grey and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Pied Bushchat and Tawny Grassbird. Bare trees and other snags attract Short-tailed Starling, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis and Grey-streaked Flycatcher and with luck, Chestnut-cheeked Starling, whilst flocks of Eye-browed Thrushes and Philippine Cuckoo-Doves move swiftly between the areas of woodland. Rusty-breasted Cuckoos sometimes call from prominent perches (and we may be kept awake at night by this species as it will sometimes call from dusk through to dawn), but we will have to work harder to find the skulking Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo, a species which seems to disappear when it is not singing. Overhead small numbers of Philippine Swiftlets may appear amongst the commoner Glossy Swiftlets, and shrill shrieks announce the presence of Mindanao Racquet-tails which typically flash past in a blaze of emerald. Indeed, our eyes should be on the skies for a good variety of raptors is possible here, including the distinct resident race of Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Pinsker’s Hawk-Eagle, Grey-faced Buzzard and Brahminy Kite.
The bird we will all be hoping to see whilst we are at Kitanglad is the Philippine or Monkey-eating Eagle, one of the largest raptors in the world and critically endangered due to the continued destruction of the Philippine rainforests. Current population estimates range from 3000 individuals to as low as 180, and Mount Kitanglad is the most reliable accessible site for finding the species. If we are lucky, a nest will have been located and we may see an adult bringing food such as a flying lemur or a young monkey. Philippine Eagles only nest every other year, however, as the youngster remains dependent for many months after fledging, and the birds on Mount Kitanglad have become irregular in recent years, apparently ‘skipping’ a season or more, perhaps due to food shortages. In the years when they are not nesting, we will hope to track down one of the adults or perhaps the dependent youngster (which can be extremely vocal), but fortunately we will have the chance to visit a back-up area in the Davao region later in the tour if need be. This magnificent bird is very much a forest raptor and spends long periods perched under the canopy. From time to time, however, they can be seen soaring up into the sky before gliding off down a forested valley to hunt.
Classic Philippines: Day 10 After some final birding in the Kitanglad Mountains we will walk down from our camp to the foot of the mountain, from where we will drive to the Davao region for a two nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration of the area, and if luck is on our side, we will encounter the rare Japanese Night Heron. A small wintering population of this endangered mega-bird has been found in this area in recent years, and providing they are still surviving, we have an excellent chance of finding them. At night we will have another chance for Giant Scops Owl (typically better than at Kitanglad) and Everett’s Scops Owl.
Classic Philippines: Day 11 This morning we will visit another are on Mt Apo, above Davao, where we will hope to find the little-known Mindanao Plumed Warbler (formerly known as Miniature Tit-Babbler!). A number of other Mindanao montane endemics that we should have already seen will also be present. We will also spend time looking for two other range-restricted endemics, Cryptic Flycatcher and Whiskered Flowerpecker. Should we have been unfortunate and missed Philippine Eagle at Mount Kitanglad, we will have another opportunity to catch up on this marvellous bird while we stay here in the Davao region. Also in the area, we may find the distinct and localized juliae form of Purple-throated Sunbird, another potential split, alongside the now-endemic Everett’s White-eye, and we will have a chance of at least hearing, and hopefully seeing, an undescribed species of shortwing which lives at lower altitudes than White-browed Shortwing, and is colloquially known as ‘Morris’s’ Shortwing after our own leader who first discovered it!
Classic Philippines: Day 12 We will have another opportunity to find any species we are missing in the Davao area before heading east. We will make a stop at a coastal area where, in recent winters, the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern has sometimes been present amongst the Black-headed Gulls and thousands of Whiskered Terns, as well as smaller numbers of Common, Gull-billed, Great Crested and Little Terns. We should also find a good variety of shorebirds including Pied Stilt, Pacific Golden, Grey, Lesser Sand (Mongolian) and Greater Sand Plovers, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Terek, Common and Marsh Sandpipers, Grey-tailed Tattler, Common Redshank and Common Greenshank.
Afterwards, we will head for Bislig on the eastern coast for a four nights stay.
Classic Philippines: Days 13-15 From our base near Bislig we will explore the extensive area of forest that is universally known as ‘PICOP’. This acronym stands for ‘Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines’ and ‘PICOP’ was a gigantic logging concession granted to this company around fifty years ago. Large areas have indeed been logged, and some have even been re-planted with commercial plantations (a rare event in the Philippines), but the company took its obligations seriously and made great efforts to prevent illegal logging and squatters. The result was that some superb areas of forest remained, complete with one of the best selections of birds found anywhere in the Philippines. The company has, however, now lost the concession and as a result illegal logging has become rampant, while droves of squatters have moved in and the habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, and in spite of some losses amongst the pigeons, parrots and hornbills due to hunting pressure, for the moment PICOP still holds a fantastic array of endemics and is the only readily accessible area of lowland forest remaining on Mindanao.
Here we will hope to find Mindanao and Writhed Hornbills, the spectacular (Southern) Rufous Hornbill, Common Emerald-Dove and Black-chinned and Yellow-breasted Fruit-Doves. Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon and Amethyst Brown-Dove are harder to find, and we will be very fortunate if we come across a Spotted Imperial Pigeon (surely one of the Philippine’s most threatened birds). Loud squawks and screeching announce the presence of Blue-crowned Racquet-tails and other canopy species present include Violet and Philippine Drongo Cuckoos, Whiskered Treeswift, Black-bibbed Cicadabird, Black-and-white Triller, Philippine Fairy Bluebird (now becoming very rare here), (Philippine) Scarlet Minivet, Philippine Leafbird, Philippine and Black-naped Orioles and the aptly-named Handsome Sunbird.
Overhead a variety of raptors, including Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine (or Steere’s) Honey Buzzard and Crested Goshawk, may be joined by Purple Needletail, Philippine Spine-tailed Swift and Ameline Swiftlet.
The forest undergrowth and mid-storey also demand attention and we will hope to find some mixed-species flocks which hold Philippine Trogon, (Mindanao) Hair-crested Drongo, Yellowish and Yellow-wattled Bulbuls, Mindanao Pygmy and Rusty-crowned Babblers, Philippine Leaf-Warbler, Black-naped Monarch, Mindanao Blue Fantail, the stunning Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher, Orange-bellied, Buzzing, Bicoloured and Olive-backed Flowerpeckers, and Naked-faced and Orange-tufted Spiderhunters. Black-faced Coucals clamber around the tangles of vines, Rufous-fronted and Black-headed Tailorbirds sing loudly from the thickets (although both can be hard to see) and we will hope to find Striated Wren-Babbler (formerly known as Streaked Ground Babbler) and Philippine Pitta, both denizens of the forest floor.
Naturally, we will make particular efforts to locate some of the most sought-after endemics while we are at PICOP. The beautiful Azure-breasted (or Steere’s) Pitta favours areas where there are outcrops of limestone in the forest, and we will hope to hear its strident calls as these are the best clue to its whereabouts. We will then track one down as it calls from an elevated perch, a vision of turquoise, black and red. The mixed flocks may hold both Short-crested Monarch and, much less commonly, the stunning Celestial Monarch; both species are an almost impossible shade of blue. In the vicinity of these mixed flocks we will look out for the increasingly rare (Mindanao) Wattled Broadbill, a quiet and unassuming species that looks truly bizarre, but which sadly is becoming steadily scarcer and which now requires a good deal of luck to find. From deeply shaded gullies we may hear the quiet song of the poorly-known Little Slaty Flycatcher, while at dawn we will listen for Winchell’s (or Rufous-lored) Kingfisher and hope to find one sitting high in the canopy. The striking Southern Silvery Kingfisher is found, more typically, around small forest pools, whilst (Brown-breasted) White-throated Kingfisher sits on the roadside wires.
We will aim to arrive at the forest a little before dawn on one or more days. Mindanao Hawk-Owl occurs here and with luck we will hear their distinctive calls and see them in the twilight. There is also another chance of and Chocolate Boobook, Giant Scops Owl and Philippine Frogmouth should we still be in need!
Whilst we are at Bislig we will also visit an abandoned airstrip where the surrounding wet grassland holds a number of interesting birds including Wandering Whistling Duck, Australasian Grass Owl, Golden-headed (or Bright-capped) Cisticola, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler (a winter visitor which has a limited distribution in north-east Asia, and a bird that is extremely hard to even glimpse in the rank vegetation), Olive-backed Sunbird and White-bellied Munia. If we are in luck we will also find Black Bittern, King (or Blue-breasted) Quail or Watercock.
Classic Philippines: Day 16 After some final birding at Bislig we head for the Compostela valley in Davao region for an overnight stay. Here we will explore some forest fragments where we will hope to find another restricted speciality, Lina’s Sunbird. Also here we have a chance of finding one or two real rarities such as Mindanao Brown Dove, Mindanao Lorikeet and even the retiring Bagobo Babbler. Spotted Imperial Pigeon and Metallic Pigeon are both also possible, there is a somewhat strange form of McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, and we have another chance to find the much wanted Red-eared Parrotfinch. After dusk we will look for the diminutive Mindanao Scops Owl.
Classic Philippines: Day 17 After some final birding in the Compostela valley we will head back to Davao and take a flight to Puerto Princessa for an overnight stay (please note that the direct flight from Davao to Puerto Princessa does not always operate. If it does not, we will either fly to Puerto Princessa today, via Manila, or take a flight to Manila for an overnight stay, followed by an early morning flight to Puerto Princessa on Day 18. Whichever scenario, it will not affect our birding chances).
Classic Philippines: Day 18 In contrast to the frenetic bustle of Manila, Palawan has a distinctly calmer and more relaxed atmosphere, as do most of the provincial regions of the Philippines. Indeed, it almost seems that the island is one large friendly village. Unlike other islands in the Philippines, much of Palawan is still well forested, and, from a biological viewpoint, is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating areas in this diverse archipelago. A narrow island with a chain of mountains extending its full length, Palawan is about 400 kilometres long and effectively connects Borneo with the rest of the Philippines. In consequence, it shares many of the faunal and floral characteristics of both areas. This is well reflected in the island’s avifauna, for many birds of Malaysian origin can be found here but nowhere else in the Philippines. In addition, Palawan has many Philippine endemics, including nearly 25 species (depending on one’s views on taxonomy) which occur only on this one island.
We will start our exploration by visiting an area of mudflats and degraded mangroves on the edge of Puerto Princesa, where we will search for Chinese Egret, a globally threatened species that winters in good numbers on Palawan. We may also find a few common waders along the shore, and Copper-throated Sunbird in the mangroves.
We will then drive north along the spectacular coast of the island to Sabang, a small settlement on the edge of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, for a two nights stay. En route we will stop at some patches of forest where we should see our first Palawan endemics, such as Palawan Hornbill, the Palawan form of Ameline Swiftlet, Yellow-throated Leafbird and Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, or even the superb Red-headed and Spot-throated Flamebacks.
We will also visit a viewpoint from where we have a good chance of seeing some Red-vented (or Philippine) Cockatoos flying past. This critically endangered species is under intense pressure from the cagebird trade, and only survives in good numbers on Palawan.
Classic Philippines: Day 19 Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (formerly St Paul’s) National Park lies on the west coast of Palawan to the north of Puerto Princesa. The scenery in the park is spectacular with forest reaching right down to the coast from towering limestone crags. There are some attractive beaches here, but undoubtedly the park’s best-known attraction for the general visitor is the famous ‘underground river’.
There are many interesting birds to see in and around the park, including most of Palawan’s endemics. Perhaps the most spectacular of these is the strikingly beautiful Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. This little known species is not uncommon here, although it is extremely secretive. In common with the other peacock-pheasants, it has a loud, strident and somewhat discordant call, and we may hear a few individuals, but we would normally have to be very lucky to see one. In recent years, however, a male has become habituated to humans and remarkably tame, and if he survives we should enjoy ultra-close views of this stunning little pheasant. In 2019, the original habituated bird seemed to have disappeared, though there is a chance that another individual may also be seeable.
The fascinating Philippine Megapode (or Tabon Scrubfowl) is also somewhat secretive and likewise attracts attention with its call, a haunted, mournful whistle, but we do have a good chance of seeing this species feeding quietly on the forest floor. We will also hope to find Hooded Pitta, which, although another forest-floor skulker, calls from an elevated position and flashes blue and white as it swoops unerringly through the forest, and we will have another chance to find the endemic Philippine Pitta. Rather more terrestrial is the Falcated Wren-Babbler (formerly known as Falcated Ground Babbler), which can be very tricky to see as it creeps through the undergrowth. When seen well this is a simply stunning bird with the long lanceolate black and white feathering that gives it its name. Also keeping low is the Ashy-headed Babbler, while the rich song of the White-vented Shama is another sound that we will have to track through the undergrowth.
Palawan’s endemics are not all found on the forest floor, however. Blue-headed Racket-tails screech from the tree tops, whilst Blue-naped Parrots (almost endemic to the Philippines) favour the flowering trees along the beach, and these often attract Palawan Flowerpeckers too. Lovely Sunbirds give their monotonous ‘chip-chap’ calls from the tops of the trees (their distinctive, if uninspiring, voice is one of the reasons for the recent split of Lovely from the Handsome Sunbird of the rest of the Philippines) and Palawan Tits move noisily through the canopy, while in the middle storey we will hope to find Palawan Blue Flycatcher and the stunning Blue Paradise Flycatcher.
As our accommodation is close to the forest, there will be good opportunities to look for night birds. At dawn and dusk, we will listen for the call of Large-tailed Nightjar, which is very much a slower version of the disyllabic call of Philippine Nightjar, and watch for them sitting on a prominent perch as they call. The Palawan Frogmouth has a highly distinctive voice and is doubtless best treated as yet another Palawan endemic, and we should find this hairy little frogmouth sitting and calling, its head a mass of wispy feathers. Also having a very distinct call is Palawan Scops Owl, whose low and often very quiet croaks are all too easily passed off as a frog! We will also be on the lookout for the superb Spotted Wood Owl, and perhaps a Brown Hawk-Owl.
Amongst the many other species we will be hoping to find in or around the park are Pacific Reef Heron, Crested Serpent Eagle, the scarce Oriental Hobby, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Common (or Asian) Koel, Plaintive Cuckoo, Brown-backed Needletail, Oriental Dollarbird, the fabulous little Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, the elusive Ruddy Kingfisher, the noisy Great Slaty Woodpecker, Fiery Minivet, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, (Palawan) Hair-crested Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Dark-throated Oriole, (Palawan) Slender-billed Crow (with its characteristic ‘quacking’ calls and flapping flight), Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Black-headed, and endemic Ashy-fronted and Palawan Bulbuls, Common Iora, Asian Fairy Bluebird (the form here is intermediate between Philippine and Asian Fairy Bluebirds and is split by some as Palawan Fairy Bluebird), Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Common Hill Myna, Olive-backed (the form here with an orange breast), Brown-throated and Purple-throated Sunbirds, and the endemic Pale Spiderhunter.
Classic Philippines: Day 20 After some final birding in the Sabang area, we will travel to Puerto Princesa for an overnight stay. At dusk, we will take a boat to a small island in order to look for the restricted-range Mantanani Scops Owl.
Classic Philippines: Day 21 Today we visit an area not far from Puerto Princesa. Here we will be hoping to find the diminutive Palawan Flycatcher, an endemic that is not usually found in the national park, as well as the aptly-named Melodious Babbler, a noisy but elusive species. It is also a good area for Falcated Wren-Babbler and a number of the endemics if we have not yet found them, and we may also come across the shy Blue-eared Kingfisher. We will also have another opportunity to find many of the birds listed for the park. At an area of paddies and mangroves, we will find a selection of species, perhaps including White-bellied Sea Eagle and Stork-billed Kingfisher. Later in the morning we will return by air to Manila.
From the airport we will drive to Los Banos, adjacent to Mount Makiling, for a two nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration of the areas of grassland and rice fields at the foot of the mountain. Here we will be looking in particular for Spotted Buttonquail, and we may also find Barred Buttonquail, Barred Rail, Black-winged Stilt, Common and Swinhoe’s Snipes, Asian Palm Swift, Lesser Coucal, Striated Swallow, the endemic Philippine Magpie Robin, White-breasted Wood Swallow and Scaly-breasted Munia.
Classic Philippines: Day 22 Mount Makiling is a small forested volcanic mountain about 50 kilometres to the south of Manila that still preserves an extensive area of rainforest. The forest extends from near sea-level to around 1000m and more than 50 Philippine endemics have been found breeding in the area, which is kept as a research reserve for the University of the Philippines at Los Banos. If we have not yet seen Luzon Hawk-Owl well we will aim to arrive before dawn, as they are common here. As the light slowly builds there is a chorus of screams and chatters from Spotted Wood Kingfishers, which are extraordinarily numerous here. By carefully scanning the tracks through the forest, we will have another chance to see the lovely Philippine Pitta.
During our visit, we also have a good chance of encountering Philippine Coucal, Pygmy Swiftlet, Luzon Hornbill, Arctic Warbler, White-browed Shama, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Grey-throated Sunbird, the stunning Flaming Sunbird, and Red-keeled and Pygmy Flowerpeckers. In particular, we will be looking out for Grey-backed Tailorbird, a species restricted to the southern half of Luzon, as well as Striped Flowerpecker.
Classic Philippines: Day 23 We will set off early to visit an area of parkland where Ashy (Ground) Thrush, a species that few visitors to the Philippines ever saw, is nowadays quite reliable as there are several pairs here that have become used to people. This is also a good place for Lowland White-eye and Grey-backed Tailorbird if we still need to find it. Afterwards we will transfer to Manila airport where the tour ends in the late morning.