Saturday 26 April 2008

PHILIPPINES April 2008 (Mindanao: Kitanglad)

This blog is final part covering of a three week trip to the Philippines at Easter 2008 with Andy Bunting, Nick Preston, Gerry Price and Graham Thurlow and expertly put together and guided by Jon Hornbuckle.  Nick and I had visited some parts of the Philippines 12 years earlier with David and John Cooper and Barry Stidolph (see Nick was only able to be away for the two week school holiday and we arranged the itinerary to visit Kitanglad after Nick had left as he and I had been there before.  It was a very enjoyable trip with a great group and I would like to thank everyone, but especially Jon for making such successful arrangements and also for allowing me to use his photographs on this blog (I did not take a camera).

20 April continued:  After a lunch stop we continued to Malaybalay in Bukidnon. This took longer than expected as several water stops were needed to cool the engine down.  We finally reached the up-market Haus Malibu at 19:00 for a fish and chip supper, followed by a meeting with a DENR official to pay for the Mount Kitanglad permit and chicken-sacrifice ceremony.  It was supposedly to ensure that all went well on our trip up the mountain!  It was not something we had needed to do on our previous visit and that had gone pretty well.  I had to pinch myself that we were not in Cameroon! 

21 April.  After shopping for supplies we hired a vehicle for the short journey to Dalwangan where we met Carlito, his wife and three of his daughters.  A pick-up took us on a new road up the mountain, most of the way to Del Monte Lodge.  Previously I’d done part of this journey on the back of a motorbike and the rest on foot.  Things had certainly improved at least in terms of logistics.  I was in the back of the van and saw what I sure was a male Hen Harrier, but unfortunately I did not realise that it was unrecorded in the Philippines and so didn’t shout loud enough to get the vehicle to stop.  Jon was not amused and I was annoyed to have thrown away a potentially very good record.  I had seen it well but not through binoculars - the van was bouncing around too much.  The cultivation now extended right to the lodge and beyond.  The lodge was much better than I remembered and Jon said it had been improved considerably since his last visit two years earlier.  It was now well-equipped with gas-cooker, utensils, lighting and bedding.  At noon we hiked up to the eagle view-point with Carlito and his assistant Danny.  Much of what I remembered as forest was now cultivated and being in the open we were at the mercy of a very hot sun.  We saw Black-and-cinnamon Fantail, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch and Olive-capped Flowerpecker, all pretty standard fare.  There were no eagles at the first view-point but a close Grass Owl was flushed just off the trail and we also saw Apo Myna and McGregor’s Cuckooshrike.  It clouded over and rained from 15:00-17:00 so we walked back down to the lodge, spending some time watching Red-eared Parrotfinches feeding in flowering bushes.  As the skies cleared, we were hopeful of owls and woodcock but the only activity at/after dusk was by Philippine and Great Eared Nightjars.
distant view of Mount Kitanglad (photo Jon Hornbuckle)

Mount Kitanglad from a bit closer (JH)
Long-tailed Shrike (JH)
a smart bird.  The flowers were also attractive to Red-eared Parrotfinches
22 April.  Today we concentrated on Philippine Eagle and settled in at the first viewpoint where we had prolonged but very distant views of an unmoving perched bird.  After a couple of hours of it doing nothing we decided to move on and walked to above the second lookout.  On the way it or its mate flew up the valley, fortunately at a time when most of us were in a small clearing enabling us to get excellent if somewhat brief views of it.  Fortunately I was in a perfect position but Gerry was not so lucky being a little way behind and unsighted.  Other birds I saw included several Oriental Honey Buzzards, Mindanao Montane Racket-tail, Cinnamon Ibon, male Apo Sunbird and two Plain Bush-hens.  Disappointingly the latter and the previous day’s Parrotfinches were to prove my only new birds, out of several potentials, of the visit to Kitanglad.  We drew a blank looking for Bukidnon Woodcock, something not evident on my previous visit (also in April so probably not a good month to look).  After a good meal, Carlito’s family looked after us very well, we had a long and very frustrating owling session during which I heard, but could not locate, distant infrequently calling unresponsive Giant and Mindanao Scops Owls, Philippine Hawk Owl and Philippine Frogmouth.  So much for the chicken sacrifice, but then I was not a believer. 
Mountain Verditer Flycatcher (JH)
Mountain White-eyes (JH)
Sulphur-billed Nuthatch (JH)
Apo Myna
23 April.  I was woken by a Giant Scops Owl calling near the lodge but by the time I’d got up and out it had stopped.  I waited but it didn’t start up again.  Otherwise it was pretty much a repeat of the previous day, without the long periods eagle watching from the viewpoints.  I climbed some distance above the second viewpoint without seeing a great deal.  My better sightings for the day were Mindanao Montane Racket-tail, a superb Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, Cinnamon Ibon, male Apo and Grey-hooded Sunbirds.  I heard Long-tailed Ground Warbler and was disappointed to miss one at the second viewpoint where I left Andy at one stage.  We also heard a distant unresponsive Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, something thankfully I’d seen on my previous trip.  A hawk-eagle caused some identification issues with me putting forward Philippine until Jon’s photographs revealed small dark flank patches making it a juvenile Rufous-bellied.  At one stage it performed a very impressive stoop.  Another look for the woodcock around the lodge at dusk was unsuccessful and evening rain put paid to any owling.

Del Monte Lodge (JH).   Drafty living quarters downstairs, stuffy sleeping quarters upstairs
setting out after breakfast: L-R Andy, Gerry, Graham and me (JH)
Carlito and his boys on the water run (JH)
Mount Kitanglad from above Del Monte Lodge (JH)
Mount Kitanglad (JH).  This area had been forest on my previous visit
Me, Gerry and Graham following Carlito up to the lookouts (JH)
Eagle lookout, but no eagle (JH)
juvenile Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle (JH)
Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle (JH), the black side/underwing patches put paid to any hopes I  might have had of claiming it as a Philippine Hawk-Eagle
Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis
simillima Yellow Wagtail (JH)
24 April.  We checked out a few patches of forest on the way up to the lookouts in the hope of finding Bagobo Babbler.  I think it was distantly heard but was certainly not responsive.  Excellent views of a Streaked Ground Babbler were some consolation once we got over the immediate disappointment of it being the wrong babbler.  I then continued up to and above the second lookout, stopping for short unsuccessful eagle watches on the way.  I had a generally quiet day seeing similar species to previous days, e.g. Mindanao Montane Racket-tail, Yellow-breasted Fruit-Dove, Cinnamon Ibon and Grey-hooded Sunbird.  I also saw the katanglad form of Island Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher and a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo but annoyingly missed a male Flame-crowned Flowerpecker seen by some of the others.  As we had not heard the Woodcock roding at all near the lodge Carlito asked around about it.  A local farmer said it was still active higher up the mountain so we waited there at dusk. Its distinctive call was not heard until we were about to leave as the light had gone. It came in so low that we could not see it but Carlito continued to imitate the call and it suddenly flew straight towards us calling loudly.  Some glimpsed it but I did not even see a shape, just felt a brush of wings or the air from them on my head!  Very frustrating and as the rain came in for the evening as we were returning to the lodge we had no chance of any owling either.

Colasisi (JH)
Grey-headed Sunbird (JH)
another Mountain Verditer Flycatcher (JH)
impressive and attractive leaf (JH).  There were times I could have done with it as an umbrella
Olive-capped Flowerpecker (JH)
Philippine Serpent Eagle (JH)
juvenile Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle again (JH)
still not stringable (JH)
another Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis (JH)
25 April.  After a disturbed night I left the lodge before dawn to return to area where woodcock.  It took a bit more finding in the dark than I had anticipated but I made it to the right area although I didn’t even hear one.  On the way I heard a distant Giant Scops Owl but was probably too far away to get any response to playback even if the owl heard it.  While unpacking my bag to get my recorder out I must have taken out my OBC cap and put it down in the dark.  It was an hour later when set to return from the woodcock site that I noticed its loss and despite searching on the way back I could not find it, presumably gratefully claimed by a passing local.  I returned to the lodge having seen very little, to find some of the others had stumbled into a Long-tailed Ground Warbler by the main track just outside the lodge.  It seemed to typify my return visit to Kitanglad.  Very disappointing not only in failing to find most of my target birds (OK so I’d missed them previously at this time of year so they were not that easy) but also not seeing again some of the specialities such as Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Mountain Shrike and White-cheeked Bullfinch.  After an early lunch, we were taken down to Dalwangan and there we rented a jeepney to take us to Cagayan de Oro airport for the 17:00 flight to Manila.  We had intended spending much of the last day at Subic Bay but our experience with Manila traffic when we arrived rather put us off.  To avoid any risk of missing the evening’s international flights we would have to leave by mid-morning which probably wasn’t worthwhile.  Perhaps more would have opted for that if we had realised how difficult finding accommodation in Manila at short notice on a Friday evening would be!

caterpillar (JH)
yet another Mountain Verditer Flycatcher (JH)

cultivated area near Del Monte Lodge (JH)
Oriental Honey Buzzards (photos Jon Hornbuckle)
this one looked to have been used for target practice, thankfully by a poor shot
simillima Yellow Wagtails (JH)

26 April.  On our last morning Andy and I visited the American Cemetery, arriving by taxi just before it opened at 09:00.  Here we eventually found the hoped for but not overly exciting Lowland White-eye as well as 5 roosting Savannah Nightjars and a Barred Rail.  Jon was staying on a few days longer and visited Candaba Swamp with Tim Fisher.  Phil Round was mist-netting and Jon had the good fortune to extract a Black-browed Reed-Warbler from a net, a new record for the Philippines.  We returned to our hotel, checked out and made for the airport for our flights home.  We all flew to Singapore Airlines to Changi at 18:00.  I had a two hour connection to Heathrow where I arrived at 05:50 the next morning, a Sunday.  

It had been an excellent trip and I was sorry to leave even though the final week had been a bit flat.  I blame the chicken ceremony!  I had gone out with a short hit list and seen most of the birds on it (Whiskered Pitta, Mindanao Wattled Broadbill, Palawan Peacock Pheasant, Silvery and Mindanao Dwarf Kingfishers and Mindanao Bleeding-Heart even if the views could have been better).  Seeing the other pittas again was also good as Not seeing Celestial Monarch, Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove or many nightbirds was disappointing but leaves enough for another visit.  Many thanks to Jon Hornbuckle for organising such a smooth-running and enjoyable trip and Nick, Andy, Gerry and Graham for their excellent company.  We were very ably guided by Aqualino, Zardo and Carlito at Hamut, PICOP and Kitanglad respectively and well looked after and catered for by Aqualio's and Carlito's families while staying at Hamut and Kitanglad.  Our memories of the Paper Country Inn at Bislig were not so generous.

Black-browed Reed Warbler trapped at Candaba Swamp, a first for the Philippines (Jon Hornbuckle).  We were flying home by then

Arctic Warbler (JH).  I would probably have preferred to see this one

[blogged March 2014]

Sunday 20 April 2008

PHILIPPINES April 2008 (Mindanao: PICOP)

This blog is the third of four recounting a three week trip to the Philippines at Easter 2008 with Andy Bunting, Nick Preston, Gerry Price and Graham Thurlow and expertly put together and guided by Jon Hornbuckle.  Nick and I had visited some parts of the Philippines 12 years earlier with David and John Cooper and Barry Stidolph (see Nick was only able to be away for the two week school holiday and unfortunately he had to leave before the end of our visit to PICOP.  It was a very enjoyable trip with a great group and I would like to thank everyone, but especially Jon for arranging such a successful trip and allowing me to use his photographs (I didn’t take a camera).

17 April.  We assembled for breakfast at 04:30, our arrival the in early hours necessitating a slight lie in, and left with Zardo for PICOP at 05:00.   We were clearly too late for owls and headed for the quarry area stopping on the way in rather hacked habitat for Black-and-white Triller, Philippine Leafbird and Naked-faced Spiderhunter.  Zardo took us to a clump of bamboo by the road inside which a male Little Slaty Flycatcher performed well.  We spent the rest of the morning in remnant forest patches looking for flocks with limited success.  We had excellent views of a superb Azure-breasted Pitta (also known as Steere’s and my fourth pitta species of the trip – very satisfying), Amethyst Dove, Rusty-crowned Babbler, Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher and a smart Black-headed Tailorbird but I failed to get onto a Short-crested Monarch as it moved through the canopy.  A heavy shower while in a clearing had us rushing back to the Jeepney but it was fortunately short-lived and we drove on to the Silvery Kingfisher site.  There was no sign of the bird and the area for it, a small pool below a tangle of branches beside the road in a cleared area was quite discouraging.  We hung around for a while and suddenly it appeared giving excellent good views.  Brilliant.  We continued to an area of open forest and saw a pair of Writhed Hornbills, Black-faced Coucal, Stripe-sided Rhabdornis and Coleto.  We left PICOP and drove to a deserted Bislig airfield where we spent the last two hours of daylight.  We saw a female Lesser Frigatebird, 3 Black, 2 Cinnamon and a Yellow Bittern, 6 Philippine Duck, 6 Watercock, White-browed Crake, 6 Oriental Pratincole and at least 2 Painted Snipe.  Our wait to dusk was rewarded with a distant Grass Owl as the light was fading.

Guaiabero at PICOP (Jon Hornbuckle)

Philippine Coucal (JH), hard to imagine one with a tattier tail

Philippine Trogon (JH)

Black-faced Coucal (JH)

Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher (JH)

rather a lot of PICOP looked like this, although this was a stake out for ...

Silvery Kingfisher (photos Jon Hornbuckle)

a brilliant small kingfisher, aren't they all, but the red legs looked a bit out of place?

marshy area beside Bislig Airfield (Jon Hornbuckle)
18 April.  We left the Paper Country Inn at 04:00 taking with us an egg and bacon sandwich breakfast but still arrived at the main owl site too late, at 05:15.  Only Chocolate Boobook was calling and we failed to locate it.  We drove on to forest road 42 and started walking.  A calling Rufous-lored Kingfisher looked like it was going the same way but Nick and I hung back.  We had missed the species on Bohol on our previous trip - David and John Cooper had seen one but we’d only managed a shape flying over the canopy and calling at us from an equally invisible location.  Also known as Winchell’s, I was reminded of it every time a weather forecaster mentioned ‘wind chill’ and we were determined not to miss it again.  Fortunately we tracked it down to a more open area where we obtained good views.  We caught up with the others and further along the track saw another brilliant Azure-breasted Pitta, 2 excellent Streaked Ground Warblers, a superb female Wattled Broadbill and a stunning Philippine Dwarf-Kingfisher carrying food which appeared to be nesting in a bank 4m above the ground.  The broadbill and kingfisher were both birds that I was hoping to see but I knew they were easy to miss and so by no means guaranteed whcihmad eour early success even better.  Nick and I had seen Wattled Broadbills on Bohol on our previous trip but some authorities considered this one to be a different species, Mindanao Wattled Broadbill rather than Visayan, partly due to its white underparts.  The kingfisher was just stunning.  We also saw Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher and Pygmy Babbler and I caught up with a female Short-crested Monarch but we failed to find the hoped for Celestial Monarch.  Soon the cicadas were at full volume, greatly reducing our chances of finding the monarch according to Zardo so we slowly wandered back.  It had been a superb morning.  We spent the afternoon in an open area, seeing Philippine Needletail, Blue-crowned Racquet-tail, Black-bibbed Cuckoo-shrike  and Philippine Oriole.  We stayed to try for Philippine Frogmouth and soon after dusk one started calling and gave brilliant views.  It was mid-evening by the time we returned to the Paper Country Inn rather exhausted.  Nick discovered that his spare bins had been stolen from his bag in our room.  The management refused to accept any responsibility and an unwanted trip to the police-station to report it ensued.  We later heard that there were reports of a few other less valuable items "disappearing" in previous months.

dragonfly (JH)

flatworm looking somewhat sinister (JH)

Papilio butterfly (JH)

Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher breeding along Forest Road 42, PICOP (photos Jon Hornbuckle)

we were not hopeful of seeing this superb little gem

A brilliant 'double' with the previous day's Silvery Kingfisher 

Philippine Falconets (JH)

White-bellied Woodpecker (JH), a big one

Guiaberos (JH)
Philippine Frogmouth at PICOP (photos Jon Hornbuckle)

it did not seem pleased to see us

an extraordinary bird

19 April.  As we’d been too late for owls the previous morning we left half an hour earlier at 03:30 but it was damp following heavy overnight rain and only Giant Scops was responsive, briefly, and frustratingly we could not see it.  Nick only had the morning as his two weeks were running out and so we concentrated on the Quarry trail area seeing a pair of Wattled Broadbills nest-building some 10m up in fairly open forest, Azure-breasted and Red-bellied Pittas, 4 Mindanao Tarictic Hornbills and another Rufous-lored Kingfisher.  After Nick had departed we birded a more open area and were surprised to see a Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler in a patch of scrub before two flew out calling loudly.  Soon the rain started and we returned to the Paper Country Inn for brunch, stopping to look at a few waders on the shore on our return although the tide was quite high.  It stopped raining mid/late-afternoon and we returned to Bislig airport.  Some stints and plovers were roosting on the tarmac and Jon noticed that the Kentish Plovers appeared to prefer standing on the white line running along the middle of the runway, while the Red-necked Stints were mostly on the grey tarmac, presumably they felt better camouflaged that way.  I was more concerned looking for Java Sparrows which had been seen in the area, but I had no success.  Bird activity wasn’t quite as good as on our previous visit although I did see Blue-breasted Quail this time.  We also had a somewhat closer view of the Grass Owl at dusk but could have positioned ourselves better, at the far end of the runway, if we'd anticipated it following a similar flight path.  Nick had left me his old umbrella so I ditched mine in the hotel.  It was to prove a mistake.

all too common forest clearance at PICOP (JH)

stage 2 - build a house (JH)

stage 3 - plant up the garden (JH)

stage 4 - add an extension for the kids/grandparents (JH).  The long term future of lowland forest is bleak and it isn't just commercial logging that does the damage although it is hard to deny land and a living to subsistence farmers 

Mindanao Hornbills (JH)

nest building Mindanao Wattled Broadill (photos Jon hornbuckle)

broadbills are another brilliant, predominantly Aisa, family.

broadbill forest (JH)

one of several impressive butterflies seen (JH)

this was another (JH)

although not all were stunningly bright (JH)

Red-necked Stints on Bislig airfield (JH)

Kentish Plovers on Bislig airfield (JH)

Watercock (JH)

Black Bittern (JH)

Bislig airfield at dusk (JH)
20 April.  Andy and I were keen to have a final attempt at owls necessitating another early start that the others opted out of.  We left our packed bags for them to bring as we would not be returning to the hotel.  Our only owl activity was a Philippine Scops calling from a thick tree.  Andy saw it fly out while I was looking the wrong way.  Things got worse for me as he then saw a male Short-crested Monarch that I didn’t get onto either.  We had hoped to re-visit Road 42 to look for Celestial Monarch, something we’d stipulated wanting to do from the outset, but the driver claimed not to have enough fuel to go that far.  Thwarted again.  We met the others at the PICOP entrance at 09:00, transferred into their Jeepney and drove to Davao; although I soon realised I’d left Nick’s old umbrella in the original Jeepney.  The shortest period I’ve had an umbrella so far!  It just wasn’t my day.