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PHILIPPINES WITH A DIFFERENCE – The Visayans, Camiguin, Mindoro, Luzon & Tablas

Thursday 3rd February – Tuesday 22nd February 2022

Leader: Dani López-Velasco and local bird guides

20 Days Group Size Limit 7

PHILIPPINES WITH A DIFFERENCE: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Philippines with a Difference birding tour visits some of far less often explored parts of the archipelago in search of numerous specialities that cannot be seen on our Classic Philippines birding tour itinerary. If you are going to see the vast majority of the Philippines endemics (a chance of seeing as many as 85% of the total of around 240 species), you need to take both tours.

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 this exciting journey, we will target many of the scarcest and least-known endemic species, some of which have been seen by very few birders. In the process, we will visit many of the less-often visited islands, where many of the Philippine endemics occur and where we have a very good chance of seeing numerous endemic species that do not feature on our Classic Philippines itinerary.

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.

During the first part of the tour, we will explore three of the Visayan Islands, all of which have much to offer the visiting birder.

First, we will travel to Negros, where we will search the slopes for specialities such as Visayan Hornbill, the tiny Negros Scops Owl, White-winged Cuckooshrike, the beautiful Flame-templed Babbler, Negros Striped Babbler, White-vented Whistler, Visayan Fantail, Visayan Bulbul, the rare White-throated Jungle Flycatcher, Visayan Flowerpecker and Visayan Shama. With luck, we will also see 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, Visayan Blue Fantail, 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 a little luck to find the localized Streak-breasted Bulbul.

We will also explore the little-visited island of Camiguin to seek out Camiguin Hanging Parrot, Camiguin Hawk-Owl (yes, yet another endemic owl!) and the smart Dimorphic Dwarf Kingfisher.

Next, 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, Mindoro Hawk-Owl, Mindoro Hornbill and Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker.

Moving on, we will explore some little-visited forests on Luzon where we hope to find some of the Philippine’s rarest and most sought-after endemics, most notably the colourful Whiskered Pitta, but also including Cream-bellied Fruit-Dove, Bicol Ground Warbler, Luzon Striped and Golden-crowned Babblers and the critically endangered Isabella Oriole. With luck, we will also find Furtive Flycatcher or Grand Rhabdornis.

Finally, we will explore little-visited Tablas Island, in the Romblon group of islands, we will seek out further endemics, including Romblon Hawk-Owl, Tablas Drongo and Tablas Fantail.

Birdquest has operated Philippines birding tours since 1990.

This tour can be taken together with CLASSIC PHILIPPINES

What makes the Birdquest Philippines with a Difference tour special? Firstly we have the most comprehensive tour itinerary there is in ‘the other Philippines’, able to produce more of the rarely-seen endemics of these marvellous islands.

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. On Mindoro, 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: The walking effort during our Philippines with a Difference tour is mostly easy, sometimes moderate-grade (the latter include one or two optional short but steep off-trail sessions).

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 during our Philippines with a Difference tour are worthwhile.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Joining a tour that targets some of the rarest birds in the world, which have been seen by few birders
  • A number of endemic doves and pigeons, including the fantastic Flame-breasted Fruit Dove
  • Many exciting endemic owls, such as the attractive red-eyed Negros Scops Owl.
  • A good chance to see the incredible Visayan (Wattled) Broadbill in Bohol
  • Philippine Flying Lemur (Colugo) almost guarateed
  • Several endemic kingfishers, including the delightful Variable Dwarf and Northern Silvery
  • Black-hooded Coucal and Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker on the island of Mindoro
  • Camiguin Hanging Parrot and Camiguin Hawk Owl on the island of Camiguin Sur
  • A visit to a forest in northern Luzon that is home to the recently rediscovered Isabela Oriole
  • Searching for the stunning Whiskered Pitta in the mountains not far from Manila
  • Some cracking endemic sunbirds such as Magnificent and Bohol
  • The opportunity to see the little-known Tablas endemics
  • Good local food and more than decent accommodation

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Manila airport. Flight to Bacolod on Negros island.
  • Day 2: Northern Negros, then drive to Dumaguete.
  • Days 3-4: Southern Negros. Overnights at Dumaguete.
  • Day 5: Southern Negros, then ferry to Tagbilaran on Bohol island. Drive to the Chocolate Hills.
  • Day 6: Chocolate Hills.
  • Day 7: Return to Tagbilaran and ferry to Cebu City on Cebu island.
  • Day 8: Cebu.
  • Day 9: Morning flight to Camiguin.
  • Day 10: Camiguin, then fly to Manila.
  • Day 11: Morning flight to San Jose on Mindoro island. Drive to Sablayan.
  • Day 12: Sablayan, then return to San Jose.
  • Day 13: Morning flight to Manila and onward flight to Tuguegarao on Luzon. Drive to Baggao area.
  • Day 14: Baggao area in the northern Sierra Madre mountains.
  • Day 15: Return to Tuguegarao. Flight to Manila. Drive to southern Sierra Madre mountains.
  • Day 16-17: Exploring the southern Sierra Madre mountains.
  • Day 18: Return to Manila airport and fly to Tablas Island.
  • Day 19: Tablas island.
  • Day 20: Morning flight to Manila for tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

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-Bacalod, Cebu-Camiguin-Cebu, Cebu-Manila, Manila-San Jose-Manila, Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila and Manila-Tablas-Manila.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

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



2022: provisional £4690, $6390, €5170, AUD8490. Manila/Manila.

Single Supplement: 2022: £500, $690, €550, AUD910.

Thie 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.

PHILIPPINES WITH A DIFFERENCE TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Philippines with a Difference: Day 1  Our tour begins this afternoon at Manila airport, from where we take a flight to Bacolod on Negros for an overnight stay.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 2  This morning we will make an early start and visit a forested park in the north of the island. This excellent area is home to a number of Negros’s most sought after species. Perhaps top of our agenda will be the extraordinary Flame-templed Babbler with its beautiful, whistled song, which is frequent in the mixed flocks here. Also possible are two rarities, the sneaky White-throated Jungle Flycatcher and the rare southern form of Indigo-banded Kingfisher (which is already treated as a separate species by some authorities). The mixed flocks hold a number of interesting species for us including Balicassiao (the distinct white-bellied birds here may merit specific status as Visayan Drongo), Visayan Bulbul, the cheeky Visayan Fantail, smart Lemon-throated Leaf Warblers, the localized White-vented Whistler, Elegant Tits, Yellowish White-eyes and the increasingly rare Citrine Canary-Flycatcher.

After what should be a great morning to start the tour, we will make the long drive south to Dumaguete for a three nights stay.

Philippines with a Difference: Days 3-4  During these two days in the south of the island, we will explore several areas to find the remaining Negros endemics as many of them are now rare and restricted to very localized areas. We will make an early start each day in order to find our targets.

On one morning we will drive high up into the hills behind Dumaguete to search for the rare Negros Striped Babbler, which is fortunately now accessible without a painful hike. In another area we have an excellent chance of finding the stunning little Negros Scops Owl as well as Luzon Hawk-Owl, Philippine Nightjar, the local form of Spotted Wood Kingfisher, the delightful Black-belted (or Visayan) Flowerpecker and Philippine Tailorbird (now endemic to the Visayas.

In another area, we will look for a number of other goodies. Here, the flowers around the entrance usually hold beautiful Magnificent Sunbirds and colourful Maroon-naped Sunbird as well as the local form of Olive-backed Sunbird (a potential split as Garden Sunbird). In the nearby forest, we will seek the increasingly rare Visayan Hornbill and the often elusive Yellow-faced Flameback. White-winged Cuckooshrikes and Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes patrol the area in noisy flocks, and other rarities here that we could see include the local form of Amethyst Brown Dove (split by some authorities as Grey-breasted Brown Dove) and the Visayan form of Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis (another potential split).

Whilst on Negros, we will also make a concerted effort to find the increasingly rare Visayan form of White-browed Shama, another distinct form that is treated as an endemic species by some authorities. Further endemics possible during our wanderings on Negros could include Philippine Honey Buzzard, Philippine Serpent Eagle, White-eared Brown Dove, the colourful Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, Blue-crowned Racket-tail, Ameline and Grey-rumped Swiftlets, the bizarre Philippine Spine-tailed Swift (that almost looks as if it is flying backwards!), Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Philippine Hanging Parrot (known locally as Colasissi), the bald-headed Coleto, Philippine Pied Fantail and Bicolored Flowerpecker.

More widespread species possible here (or elsewhere during the tour) include Javan Pond Heron, Little, Great, Intermediate and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Striated Heron, Western Osprey, Brahminy Kite, Barred Rail, Whiskered Tern, Spotted and Zebra Doves, White-throated Kingfisher (the local form may merit specific status as Brown-breasted Kingfisher), Common and Collared Kingfishers, the huge White-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Woodswallow, the local form of Scarlet Minivet (another potential split), Brown Shrike, Black-naped Oriole, Large-billed Crow, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Warbling White-eye, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Asian Glossy Starling, Grey-streaked and Turquoise Flycatchers, Tree Sparrow, Chestnut Munia and Grey Wagtail.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 5  After a final morning on Negros, we will travel by ferry to Tagbilaran on Bohol from where we will make our way to the Chocolate Hills for a two nights stay.

The Chocolate Hills are an area of peculiar rounded hills which protrude from the otherwise flat landscape and are a popular tourist attraction. Upon arrival, there should be time for some initial exploration.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 6  Bohol lies in the Central Visayas and has a fauna similar to that of neighbouring Leyte, Samar and Mindanao. The island had been cleared of forests by the end of the nineteenth century, but following successful replanting, after the Second World War, there are now some extensive areas of dense secondary growth. Adjacent to the Chocolate Hills is the densely forested Rajah Sikatuna National Park and we will spend all day exploring this productive site. Although bird densities in this habitat are low, there are a number of specialities, notably Samar Hornbill, the superb Northern Silvery Kingfisher, Black-crowned Babbler, Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, Bohol Sunbird and, with luck, the unobtrusive Visayan (Wattled) Broadbill.

Other good birds we may well see here include Black-chinned Fruit Dove, Winchell’s (or Rufous-lored) Kingfisher, the endemic Buff-spotted Flameback, the spectacular Azure-breasted (or Steere’s) Pitta, Striated Wren-Babbler (or Streaked Ground Babbler), Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher and Visayan Blue Fantail, whilst more widespread possibilities include the impressive Black-faced Coucal, Pygmy Swiftlet, the colourful Philippine Trogon, Philippine Pitta, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Philippine Oriole, the local form of Hair-crested Drongo, Philippine Bulbul, Brown Tit-Babbler, Philippine Leaf Warbler, Philippine Leafbird and Red-keeled and Buzzing Flowerpeckers.

We also have a good chance of finding the superb Philippine Frogmouth and with luck, Chocolate Boobook and Everett’s Scops Owl, and we should see the excellent Colugo or Philippine Flying-Lemur, which is particularly common here.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 7  After a final morning on Bohol we will travel back to Tagbilaran and take a ferry to Cebu City for a two nights stay.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 8  Our short stay on Cebu, one of the smaller islands in the central Visayan region, will not be wasted as Cebu is the home of three endemic species of birds. Two of these were thought to be extinct due to the near-complete destruction of forest cover on the island. After many years, the Cebu (or Four-coloured) Flowerpecker was rediscovered in 1992, but its position remains very precarious as it is dependent on the few small relict stands of virgin forest, indeed it may now be extinct. The Black Shama has managed to adapt rather more successfully and can be found both in primary forest and in secondary growth, and can even be found in bamboo groves on the fringes of urban areas. The third endemic is the recently-described Cebu Hawk-Owl. We will visit Tabunan in the Central Cebu National Park where we have an excellent chance of seeing both the shama and the owl.

Other species that we may well find include Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo, Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, Pied Triller, Philippine Magpie-Robin, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and, with luck, the rare Cebu form of the Streak-breasted Bulbul, thought to be extinct on Cebu until its rediscovery.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 9  Today we will take an early morning flight across to the little known island of Camiguin, situated not far from the northern coast of the huge island of Mindanao, for an overnight stay.

Here we will explore the remaining forest fragments while looking for the speedy endemic Camiguin Hanging Parrot and, after dark, the endearing endemic Camiguin Hawk-Owl. The gorgeous Dimorphic Dwarf Kingfisher, another endemic, is relatively easy to find here and there are also endemic Camiguin forms of Yellowish Bulbul (very different!), Black-naped Monarch and Yellowish White-eye, whist other potentially new species present include the stunning Rufous Paradise Flycatcher (southern form), Purple-throated and Grey-throated Sunbirds and Everett’s White-eye.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 10  After a final morning on Camiguin, we will return by air to Manila for an overnight stay.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 11  This morning we will take a flight to San Jose on the island of Mindoro and then, in order to visit one of the last remaining areas of lowland rainforest on the island, transfer to Sablayan for an overnight stay.

We will have our first chance today to explore the surviving forest, while at a nearby lake, we may well see such species as the smart Philippine Duck, Wandering Whistling Duck, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Purple and Grey Herons, White-browed Crake, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Striated Grassbird, Paddyfield Pipit and sometimes Grey-throated Martin (scarce elsewhere in the Philippines). We should also find the local form of Philippine Coucal which is virtually all black, sometimes to be found alongside Lesser Coucal! In the late afternoon, we should see numbers of pigeons and parrots and other species going to roost, including the endemic Mindoro Hornbill, Philippine Green Pigeon, Mindoro Racket-tail, Blue-naped Parrot and, with a lot of luck, Metallic (Wood) Pigeon or the ever-scarcer Spotted Imperial Pigeon. Then, as dusk falls, Great Eared and Savanna Nightjars should emerge from their daytime hiding places. Our main quarry, however, will be Mindoro Hawk-Owl, a little known endemic which surely has some of the strangest vocalizations of any owl.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 12  Today, as we walk stealthily along the forest edge and then along a well-defined trail that heads into the forest, we will be concentrating on Mindoro endemics. We have a very good chance of seeing Mindoro Bulbul and the attractive Red-collared Flowerpecker, and should also see the secretive Black-hooded (or Steere’s) Coucal. However, we would have to be exceptionally lucky to find the rare, and heavily-trapped Mindoro Bleeding-heart. Other species we may see in and around the forest include Plain Bush-hen, Grey-faced Buzzard, Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon, Asian Koel, Philippine Drongo-Cuckoo, Blue-tailed and Blue-throated Bee-eaters, Coppersmith Barbet, Balicassio (all black ones here!), Slender-billed (Palawan) Crow, Black-and-white Triller, Black-bibbed Cicadabird and Striated Swallow.

In the late afternoon, we will return to San Jose for an overnight stay.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 13  This morning we will take a flight back to Manila and then on to Tuguegarao, from where we will travel to the Baggao area in the Sierra Madre mountains to the northeast of the city for a two nights stay.

Paddyfields in the area (if the water levels are right) may hold widespread species such as Black-winged Stilt, Pacific Golden and Little Ringed Plovers, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Long-tailed Shrike, Pacific Swallow and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 14  In the Baggao area we will focus on seeing the critically endangered, endemic Isabela Oriole, which we have an excellent chance of finding thanks to some concerted conservation efforts in the area. Also here are a number of other sought after species such as White-lored Oriole, the localized Luzon Striped Babbler, the attractive Golden-crowned Babbler and the aptly-named Furtive Flycatcher. More widespread Philippines species are likely to include Purple Needletail, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Green Imperial Pigeon (the local form has a maroon nape), ridiculous Scale-feathered and Rough-crested Malkohas that maraud with the noisy flocks of Rufous Coucals, Luzon Hornbill, (Northern) Sooty Woodpecker, White-browed Shama, Ashy Minivet, Rufous Paradise Flycatcher (the northern form here), the endemic Trilling Tailorbird and Striped Flowerpecker, and we may also encounter the widespread Rufous-bellied Eagle.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 15  Today we will return to Tuguegarao and take a flight back to Manila. From there, we travel into the Sierra Madre mountains to the northeast of the city for a three nights stay.

Philippines with a Difference: Days 16-17  Here in the southern Sierra Madre we will be targeting one of the great Luzon rarities; the stunning Whiskered Pitta. We have an excellent chance of seeing this splendid bird, and whilst searching for it we also have a good chance of finding Cream-bellied and Flame-breasted Fruit Doves, the northern form of the Rufous Hornbill, the increasingly rare Philippine Fairy Bluebird, and the ultra-skulking Bicol Ground Warbler (formerly known by the name Rabor’s Wren-Babbler). We will also see a number of other more widespread endemic species found in Luzon such as Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Luzon Flameback, Guiabero, Blue-headed Fantail, Yellow-wattled Bulbul, Grey-backed Tailorbird, and the attractive Sulphur-billed Nuthatch. If we are lucky we will also find the uncommon Grand Rhabdornis, whilst at night we may be able to find Philippine and Luzon Scops Owls, and, if time permits, we will also make an excursion to see the much-wanted powerful Philippine Eagle Owl.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 18  After some final birding in the southern Sierra Madre we head for Manila airport. From there we take a flight to Tablas Island in the Romblon island group.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 19  Today we will explore this little known island. During the daylight hours, we will spend our time in the limited remaining forest patches in the Dubduban watershed where in particular we will be looking for the endemic Tablas Drongo (with its long deeply-forked tail) and Tablas Fantail. A number of other interesting subspecies occur including a distinct form of Yellowish Bulbul (which may in the future be split off as Tablas Bulbul) as well as endemic forms of Winchell’s (Rufous-lored) Kingfisher and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. We will also put in a concerted effort to find the smart Dimorphic Dwarf Kingfisher which is fairly ‘seeable’ on this island. As dusk falls, we should be serenaded by the calls of the endemic Romblon Hawk-Owl, and hopefully, we will have little trouble tracking down this smart owl. Mantanani Scops Owl is also common here, and again, it should not take too long to fix one of these desired owls in our spotlight beam.

Philippines with a Difference: Day 20  Today we will take a morning flight to Manila, where our tour ends.

PHILIPPINES WITH A DIFFERENCE TOUR REPORT 2020

by Dani López-Velasco

View Report

PHILIPPINES WITH A DIFFERENCE TOUR REPORT 2019

by Pete Morris

View Report

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