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]

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