The Ultimate In Birding Tours



Luzon, Palawan & Mindanao

Saturday 11th January – Sunday 2nd February 2020

Leaders: Julien Mazenauer and local bird guides

23 Days Group Size Limit 7
Monday 11th January – Tuesday 2nd February 2021

Leaders: Craig Robson and local bird guides

23 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s Classic Philippines birding tours are key Asian birding tours which visits the very best areas that the archipelago has to offer. Our Classic Philippines birding tour itinerary is the most comprehensive ‘3-week’ type tour available in this island nation and records more specialities than any other similar tour. This special journey, which covers three of the largest islands, can produce around 70 percent of the islands’ 200 or so endemic bird species! This truly is ‘Classic Philippines’!

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 Classic Philippines tour offers the most comprehensive coverage available in the islands over a roughly ‘three-week’ time frame and turns up more of the 200 or so endemic birds than any similar itinerary. During our journey we will visit three of the major islands, where the vast majority of the endemic birds occur, and by doing so we should see about 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 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. We will also make a special effort to see the spectacular Philippine Eagle 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, and at another site we have an opportunity to look for such rarities as Mindanao Brown Dove, Mindanao Lorikeet, the seldom-seen Bagobo Babbler and, at night, Mindanao Scops Owl.

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 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.

Finally, after we return to Manila, we 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, before we conclude a really superb, indeed ‘classic’ Philippines birding tour.

Birdquest has operated Philippines birding tours since 1990.

What makes Birdquest’s Classic Philippines birding tour special? Firstly the Birdquest tour is two or three days longer than other Philippines three-week type tours, but for very good reasons. Not only does this allow us to take in a number of very localized endemics, that other tours do not include, 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!

Secondly, the Birdquest group size limit is lower than for most other Philippines birding tours (significantly so in many instances). There is a lot of forest birding in the Philippines and so a smaller group size limit is a major benefit to participants.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and lodges are of good or medium standard almost throughout. In the Kitanglad Mountains we will be accommodated for three nights in tents (for twin or single occupancy). 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.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Manila-Cagayan de Oro, Davao-Puerto Princesa and Puerto Princesa-Manila.

Deposit: £610, $790, €690.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)

2020: £5720, $7150, €6290. Manila/Manila.
2021: provisional £5720, $7150, €6290. Manila/Manila.

Single Supplement: 2020: £650, $820, €720.
Single Supplement: 2021: £650, $820, €720.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.


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 fish ponds near Candaba. At this time of year some of the ponds are almost dry, whilst others are fully flooded, providing a variety of habitats. We will be hoping in particular to find the endemic Philippine Duck and Philippine Swamphen.

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 Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Pied Triller, Philippine Pied Fantail, Striated Grassbird, Zitting Cisticola and Long-tailed Shrike. 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, Grey Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen and White-shouldered Starling (generally a rare bird in the Philippines). With luck we will come across Eastern Marsh Harrier or Oriental Pratincole.

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, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Philippine Green-Pigeon, White-eared Brown-Dove, Guaiabero, the attractive Scale-feathered and Rough-crested (or Red-crested) Malkohas, Philippine Hanging Parrot (or Colasisi), Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Northern Sooty and White-bellied Woodpeckers, Luzon Flameback, Coppersmith Barbet, Blackish and Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, 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 Green Racket-tail, the shy Rufous Coucal, White-lored Oriole and the canopy-loving White-fronted Tit, as well as Blue-naped Parrot of the critically endangered Luzon race.

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 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.

Species that we may well see on the journey north include Striated Heron, Eastern Cattle, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, 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 are hard to access. 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. Glossy Swiftlets sweep low over the road, 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.

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 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 four nights stay. Our baggage will be transferred to horses to be carried up and we will walk up to our camp in time for lunch. The trail passes though 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. His afternoon we will commence our exploration of Kitanglad.

As dusk falls we will take up position near (or even in) 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 by far the most accessible 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 usually hard to see.

Classic Philippines: Days 8-10  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, Mountain 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 McGregor’s Cuckoo-Shrikes, 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 and the Mindanao form of the Long-tailed Ground-Warbler (which differs 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 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 localised 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!

Whilst walking between the patches of forest we will cross areas of cultivation where will see a variety of open country birds such as 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 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. 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 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 severely 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 baby 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 11  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 an overnight stay. At night we will have a good chance for Giant Scops Owl (typically better than at Kitanglad).

Classic Philippines: Day 12  This morning we will visit an area which is good for two 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. 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 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, Philippine Fairy Bluebird, Philippine Minivet, Philippine Leafbird, Philippine and Black-naped Orioles, and Everett’s White-eye.

Overhead a variety of raptors, including Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine (or Steere’s) Honey Buzzard and Crested Goshawk, may be joined by Purple Needletail, and 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 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 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 and Chocolate Boobook both occur here and with luck we will hear their distinctive calls and see them in the twilight.

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, Philippine Duck, Australasian Grass Owl (nowadays hard to find), 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 good chance of finding one or two real rarities such as Mindanao Brown Dove, Mindanao Lorikeet and even the retiring Bagobo Babbler. After dusk we will look for the diminutive Mindanao Scops Owl.

Classic Philippines: Day 17  After some final birding in the Compostela valley we take a flight from Davao to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, for an overnight stay.

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 up to 26 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 Greater Sand and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Grey-tailed Tattler, Ruddy Turnstone and Red-necked Stint 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, Palawan Swiftlet, Yellow-throated Leafbird and Sulphur-bellied Bulbul.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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 will hope to find this little frogmouth sitting and calling, its head a mass of whispy 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!

Amongst the many other species we will be hoping to find in the park are Crested Serpent Eagle, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Common (or Asian) Koel, Plaintive Cuckoo, Brown-backed Needletail, Oriental Dollarbird, Spot-throated and perhaps Red-headed Flamebacks, the noisy Great Slaty Woodpecker, Fiery Minivet, Palawan Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Dark-throated Oriole, Palawan Crow (with its characteristic ‘quacking’ calls and flapping flight), Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Black-headed, Ashy-fronted and Palawan Bulbuls, Common Iora, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Common Hill Myna, Olive-backed and Purple-throated Sunbirds, and Pale Spiderhunter.

Classic Philippines: Day 20  After some final birding in the park, we will travel to Honda Bay and take a boat to a small island in order to look for the restricted-range Mantanani Scops Owl. Afterwards we will return to Puerto Princesa for an overnight stay.

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. 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. Late in the day 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, Lesser Coucal, Striated Swallow and White-breasted Wood Swallow.

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 extraordinarily common here. As the light slowly builds there is a chorus of screams and chatters from Spotted Wood Kingfishers, which are extraordinarily common 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, Yellowish White-eye, Black-and-white Triller, 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. Afterwards we will transfer to Manila airport where our tour ends in the late morning.


by Pete Morris

View Report


by Dani López-Velasco

View Report


by Dani López-Velasco

View Report


by Dani López-Velasco

View Report

Other birding tours focusing on Asian islands, excluding Indonesia, include: