I participated in the Jan-Feb [private] tour to the Philippines guided by Rich Lindie…. I have to say that Rich’s … indefatigable attempts to make our trip a success was exemplary in every way. His birding skills are definitely well above the norm in birding companies I am familiar with (including some very elite companies.) Rich is also enthusiastic, energetic, fun loving, patient and always in full control of his clients. In short, he is in the elite echelons of the guiding profession and should be considered a valuable asset to your organization. It is my intent to single out trips guided by him for my travel considerations.
Our Endangered Endemics birding tour explores the Philippines’ three largest islands and covers the best of the remaining habitats in our attempts to find some of the world’s most spectacular and threatened birds.
On Luzon, we visit sites for Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Scale-feathered Malkoha, the sensational Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove and recently discovered Chocolate Boobook. On Palawan, white sandy beaches, extensive coral reefs and an underground river make a spectacular backdrop for a number of the specials we are likely to find. Highlights include the mound-building Philippine Megapode, Philippine and Hooded Pittas, the incredibly beautiful Blue Paradise Flycatcher and glittering Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. Mindanao hosts the largest tracts of remaining lowland forest and here we search for the secretive Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted Pitta and beautiful Philippine Trogon. The forested slopes of Mt Kitanglad are the most reliable site for the magnificent Philippine (Monkey-eating) Eagle, this giant raptor often rated as the world’s single most desirable bird! Here we will also search for another recently discovered bird, Bukidnon Woodcock, as well as Apo Myna and Giant Scops Owl.
Philippine Eagle, Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine Frogmouth, Giant Scops Owl, Luzon Hawk-Owl, Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Scale-feathered & Red-crested Malkohas, Short-crested Monarch, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted & Philippine Pittas, Philippine Trogon, Philippine Megapode, Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, Bukidnon Woodcock, Blue-headed Racket-tail, Palawan Hornbill, Ashy Thrush, Sooty & Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers, Coleto, Balicassiao, Elegant & Palawan Tits, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Red-keeled & Striped Flowerpeckers, Guaiabero, Apo Myna
Philippine Colugo, Philippine Tarsier, Slow Loris, Asian Palm Civet
lowland and montane rainforest, woodlands, rivers and wetlands, mudflats
hot and humid, rain expected
moderate to brisk pace, some long walks on forest trails
Chocolate Hills, coral reefs, St Paul’s underground river, fast disappearing forests
Day 1: Arrival in Manila
After arriving in Manila, you will be met by our local representative and transferred to our hotel. This evening, we will meet up for a welcoming dinner to talk about our forthcoming adventures through this diverse country.
Day 2: Manila & transfer to Palawan (Sabang)
This morning on our Philippines birding tour, we catch an early morning flight to Puerto Princesa on the elongated island of Palawan. Although this island is often celebrated for its spectacular diving opportunities among vast coral reefs, it is also covered with beautiful landscapes characterised by a central mountain range of spectacular limestone cliffs that teem with endemic birds. Upon our arrival, we will make our way to a stretch of mangroves along the edge of the South China Sea where local fishermen collect their nets inside shallow wooden canoes. Here we will scan for shorebirds and egrets, including possibilities for the rare Chinese Egret. Afterwards, we will proceed towards Sabang and St. Paul’s National Park along the northern coast of the island, birding en route in tall mangrove habitat that should produce Copper-throated Sunbird. Further along, a scenic forested stretch may reveal a variety of interesting species, including the endemic Palawan Hornbill, Lovely Sunbird and Palawan Tit, as well as a chance for the resident Oriental Hobby that has nested in the past on the nearby cliff ledges. We will also target the Red-vented Cockatoo this afternoon where we may see them flying in to roost.
In the late afternoon, we will arrive at our accommodation on the beachfront and settle in for the next two nights. Along the coast, only a stone’s throw away, is a scene of conventional paradise: aqua-marine waters rolling onto vast white sand beaches, coconut trees blowing in the breeze, and all this beneath mountain cliffs lined with tropical vegetation! Night birding in the area surrounding our accommodation can be productive, and during at least one of the next two nights here we will venture out in search of Palawan Frogmouth (split from Javan Frogmouth) and Palawan Scops Owl, which has an impossibly quiet call that we will need to listen for very carefully.
Day 3: St Paul’s National Park
In the morning we will board our sea vessel in time to watch the sun rise across the sea while making our way to St. Paul’s National Park. Declared a World Heritage Site, the park is beautifully located between high limestone cliffs and white sandy beaches covered by a patch of dense pristine forest. Huge Asian Monitor Lizard, sometimes over six feet in length, scavenge across the trails, agile Long-tailed Macaque scamper playfully and within the forest, Philippine Megapode scratches leaf litter onto its gigantic mound nests.
Ground-dwelling birds are particularly well represented within the reserve and besides Philippine Megapode, we hope to see the secretive Red-bellied and Hooded Pittas, the latter of which is pleasantly common in the reserve, as well as the striking Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful pheasants in the world. Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher can often be heard dashing from one perch to the next as we search for the attractive Blue-headed Racket-tail, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Stork-billed and Ruddy Kingfishers, White-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Leafbird that might be found in a fruiting tree along with Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, White-vented Shama, Ashy-headed Babbler creeping through the undergrowth, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Common Hill Myna and the beautifully coloured Palawan Flowerpecker.
Another jewel of St. Paul’s National Park is the famous Underground River that flows for miles until emptying into the sea. As an optional excursion, participants are welcome to board small canoes with battery-powered spotlights that enter from the turquoise lagoon into the dark depths of the cave. Believed to be one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world, this is a magical experience and we have the chance to observe an unbelievable selection of pristine cave formations.
Day 4: St. Paul’s and Pandan Island
We will have the morning to search for those birds that we might have missed, and there are certainly difficult denizens of this area that can easily go unnoticed, such as the Palawan Flycatcher and secretive Falcated Wren-Babbler. After lunch, we will take a boat out to Pandan Island where we will look for Grey and Pied Imperial Pigeons and shorebirds such as Great-billed Heron before returning to our accommodations for the night.
Day 5: Palawan to Manila
This morning on our Philippines birding tour, we visit the lowland forest and grasslands of the Iwahig Penal Colony. Our primary target birds here are the localised Melodious Babbler and shy Palawan Flycatcher, both of which can be difficult in the dense tangled undergrowth of this tropical forest. The adjacent cultivated fields and flooded areas may also produce widespread but scarce species such as Watercock and Slaty-breasted Rail; while an organised walk through the grasslands also gives us the opportunity to flush out King Quail and Pintail and Swinhoe’s Snipes. In the late afternoon, we will catch our flight back to the capital city of Manila and settle into our hotel after dark.
Day 6: Manila to Mindanao and transfer to Mt. Kitinglad
An early flight this morning will take us to the city of Cagayan de Oro in northern Mindanao. After our arrival and breakfast, we proceed to Bukidnon at the foothills of the fabled Kitinglad Mountains. We then drive further up the mountain to Damitan where our local porters will meet us and assist loading our luggage onto packhorses for the ascent up the slopes of Mount Kitinglad. Our hike uphill through secondary cultivation and scrub takes us past long stretches of subsistence farming plots before finally arriving at the lodge where we will be staying for the next three nights of our Philippines birding tour. The ascent is not particularly difficult and normally takes about two hours of steady walking at a manageable, unrushed pace.
The very basic lodge here comprises a large open-air room upstairs where we sleep dormitory style on the wooden floor; all bedding will be provided. There will also be large tents available for anyone who wishes for a little more privacy. All the food and drinks will be carted up the mountain by horse and our cooks will serve us excellent meals. If time allows in the late afternoon, we can start birding in the vicinity of the lodge, an area that has proved consistently productive. As the surrounding forest comes alive with evening sounds, we will listen carefully for the recently discovered Bukidnon Woodcock that can sometimes be glimpsed roding through the forest gaps. There are also many other nocturnal possibilities here, including the fantastic Philippine Frogmouth, Great Eared and Philippine Nightjars, the difficult Mindanao Scops Owl and a good chance at tracking down the incredible Giant Scops Owl.
Days 7 & 8: Mt. Kitinglad
We have two full days of our Philippines birding tour to explore the surrounding mountainsides and this is our best opportunity to find one of the greatest and most highly prized birds on earth – the iconic Philippine Eagle. This unique and spectacular eagle specialises in feeding primarily on the arboreal Philippine Colugo, often referred to as a ‘flying lemur’. It is a raptor of extremely low density so to maximise our chances for observation, we will need to scan very carefully at specific vantage points, a sometimes tedious waiting process that may require great patience.
During our investigations of the mountain, we utilise the many local trails in efforts to locate the more than two dozen montane endemics that occur on these slopes. Because much of the area is secondary scrub under cultivation, the walking in these mountains is generally not too difficult, although on at least one of these days we will ascend from the camp at 1,350m to 1,800m in search of highland specialities such as Apo Sunbird, Mindanao White-eye (often associating with mixed flocks), and the beautiful Apo Myna.
Along the way, we will be stopping frequently in appropriate habitat in efforts to find the striking Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, the uncommon Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, charismatic Black-and-cinnamon Fantail that normally accompany loose bird parties, Grey-hooded Sunbird, Amethyst Brown Dove, Cinnamon Ibon and the uncommon Olive-capped Flowerpecker that moves around in altitude responding to fruiting vegetation.
Mindanao Racket-tail, often first heard screeching from afar, is still regularly seen flying overhead in the mornings and occasionally perched, and we will also keep our eyes skywards for the endemic Philippine Swiftlet. Other more difficult species we will be looking for on the mountain include the smart-looking Red-eared Parrotfinch that often disappears into dense vegetation without a trace, spectacular but thinly distributed Hombron’s Kingfisher, the rare Slaty-backed (Goodfellow’s) Jungle Flycatcher, and retiring Bagobo Babbler that skulks across the forest floor like a rodent.
Day 9: Mt. Kitinglad to Davao
We have a few more hours to bird around Mt. Kitinglad before departing our camp and making the return hike down the mountainous foothills to the village of Damitan. From here we have a long drive ahead of us to reach the southern Mindanao city of Davao. After a day largely devoted to travel, we shall all be looking forward to a well-deserved rest.
Day 10: Davao to Bislig (PICOP)
We depart Davao this morning, heading for the small town of Bislig, where we will spend three days of our Philippines birding tour birding inside the extensive logging concession of PICOP. Undoubtedly the largest trees we will see throughout the trip will be here, although tragically we are likely to only find them being transported to sawmills on the backs of oversized vehicles. Although the forest is disappearing at an alarming rate, not only due to logging but also because of the enormous squatter population that burns the forest, it is surprisingly rich in birds and still holds some excellent species. This is another long travel day and most of our time will be spent driving in the vehicle, however, if time does allow, we will make a birding stop en route, where we might find a variety of possible flycatchers, barbets, pigeons and hornbills that we will be targeting over the upcoming days. Upon our arrival, we will settle into our small but comfortable and friendly hotel.
Days 11 to 13: PICOP
Arriving before dawn, we will listen for the haunting calls of Chocolate Boobook and try to track down an Everett’s Scops Owl in the same area, although we would have to be extremely lucky to stumble across the rare Philippine Eagle-Owl. Early morning is also a great time to scan for birds perching on top of snags over the forest, and here we have chances to find Blue-crowned Racket-tail, the uncommon Blue-backed Parrot and the rapidly declining Pink-bellied and Spotted Imperial Pigeons. Following up on the calls of Black-chinned Fruit Dove should eventually produce views of this attractive species, but it will likely require patient scanning through the forest interior to see the gorgeous Philippine Trogon, Philippine Leafbird, reticent Black-faced Coucal, Black-bibbed Cicadabird, Yellowish Bulbul, Philippine Oriole, the beautiful Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Olive-backed Flowerpecker, Nindanao Blue Fantail, Naked-faced Spiderhunter and the dazzling Short-crested Monarch.
Searching for skulking birds in the undergrowth, we will attempt to lure out Mindanao Pygmy and Rusty-crowned Babblers, Brown Tit-Babbler, Striated Wren-Babbler, the vocal Philippine Leaf Warbler, Rufous-fronted and striking Black-headed Tailorbirds, the shy Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher and with persistence, we might manage a view of the rare Little Slaty Flycatcher. Pinsker’s Hawk-Eagle and sometimes a Philippine Honey Buzzard occasionally soars overhead on thermals, while Philippine Spine-tailed Swift and Purple Needletail are a more regular sight. It will likely take persistence to locate a Winchell’s (Rufous-lored) Kingfisher in the dense forest mid-story; much easier will be scanning the small freshwater pools and forest streams for the outrageous Southern Silvery Kingfisher. Two endemic hornbills are also found in this forest concession: Writhed Hornbill, which is often first heard by the loud whooshing of its wings, and the smaller but no less spectacular Mindanao Hornbill.
Although mammals are few and far between during this Philippines birding tour, we should come across Philippine Pygmy Squirrel and Mindanao Tree Squirrel during our time at PICOP. One evening at dusk, if time and conditions allow, we will also visit the grassland surrounding the Bisling Airport, where previously we have observed Eastern Grass Owl hunting low over the tall reeds.
Day 14: PICOP to Mt. Makiling via Manila
This morning on our Philippines birding tour, we have time for a few hours of final birding in attempts to pick up any species we might have missed. A few additional birds that will require both luck and diligent searching to observe include the rare and highly prized Wattled Broadbill, the secretive endemic Azure-breasted (Steere’s) Pitta, perhaps a view of the seldom seen Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher and the sought-after Celestial Monarch. Afterwards, we will begin the long transfer to Davao airport where we will catch our flight back to the capital city of Manila, from where we will drive straight to our accommodations near Mt. Makiling, an isolated mountain still clad in tropical forest.
Day 15: Mt. Makiling
Today on our Philippines birding tour, we spend all day birding on the inactive volcano of Mt. Makiling which harbours several fantastic forest birds of the Philippines. Normally the initial sounds typical of the forest are the eloquent White-browed Shama and the haunting calls of one of the most stunning kingfishers in the world, the Spotted Wood Kingfisher. Proceeding slowly and quietly, we should have great views of these charismatic species and, if we are very fortunate, we might find the secretive Ashy Thrush feeding on the side of the road.
The small network of steep dirt roads follow the natural contours of the mountain ridges where the bordering forest, often dense in many places, supports a vast number of Philippine endemics. These include the shy White-eared Brown Dove, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Coleto, Philippine Bulbul, Balicassiao, the stunning Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, skulky Grey-backed Tailorbird, Yellow-bellied Whistler and both Red-keeled and Striped Flowerpeckers. The strident calls of small flocks of tiny Guaiabero may alert us to look upwards, where we will also be keeping an eye out for whirling groups of Pygmy Swiftlets. As it warms up, we also hope to have our first encounter with the impressive and often vocal Philippine Serpent Eagle. The noisy song of Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo should eventually give away its location, while roadside flowers attract the endemic Flaming Sunbird. Mt. Makiling is also one of the best sites for the outrageous Scale-feathered and Rough-crested Malkohas that move mostly silently below the canopy in search of insects and caterpillars, and we will also keep an ear out for the mournful calls of the rare Luzon Bleeding-heart.
After a full day in the field, we will return to Los Banos for the night. In the evening we will listen for the characteristic calls of Luzon Hawk-Owl near our accommodation.
Day 16: Mt. Makiling to Mt. Polis via Candaba Marsh
Departing early this morning, we will travel to Banaue and the Cordillera Mountains in northern Luzon. Most of the habitat along this route has sadly been destroyed, having been replaced by rice cultivation and innumerable small towns and informal settlements.
Along the way, we will stop at the inconspicuous Candaba Marsh to search for a number of waterbirds that might include Philippine Duck, Island Collared Dove, Barred Rail, Plain Bush-hen, the outrageous Pheasant-tailed Jacana (often in breeding plumage), White-browed Crake and up to three species of bittern depending on water levels; namely Yellow, Cinnamon and the scarce Black Bitterns. After birding through this fantastic site, one of the few accessible wetlands remaining in the Philippines, we will continue our journey to Banaue where we will spend the next two nights. This is a fairly long drive today and we will be arriving at our accommodations in the early evening.
Day 17: Mt. Polis
Departing very early this morning, we will arrive at our first birding site in time to search for the rarely seen Luzon Scops Owl before dawn; though its soft call can be difficult to hear unless we are very close. We have a full day of our Philippines birding tour along the remaining forested slopes of Mt. Polis, birding the tar road through stunted montane vegetation and dense secondary growth. The songs of Green-backed Whistler and cryptic Long-tailed Bush Warbler will likely alert us to the presence of these Luzon mountain endemics, and we’ll be keeping a watchful eye for the scarce Mountain Shrike that sits up on exposed snags. We’ll need to be quick, however, to see the rare Montane Racket-tail, which calls shrilly while flying high overhead, while roadside flowers could attract the glittering Luzon Sunbird and, with luck, perhaps a pair of localised Flame-crowned Flowerpecker.
Mixed flocks often contain the active Blue-headed Fantail and Chestnut-faced Babbler, and we will listen for the bubbling song of Citrine Canary-flycatcher that is sometimes in attendance, as well as the sparse population of White-cheeked Bullfinch. At midday, we will then drive further along the mountain road, where we can scan for the localised Luzon Water Redstart that is sometimes found perched on rocks between the swift river rapids. From here we will also see the magnificent rice terraces of Banaue, extravagantly carved out of the mountains over two thousand years ago with only the aid of primitive hand tools. In the late afternoon, we return to Banaue for the night.
Day 18: Mt. Polis to Subic Bay
If time allows this morning, we will return to Mt. Polis for a final birding opportunity, searching through the moss-laden forest patches for species we might have missed, or simply to obtain better views of others. Unfortunately, some birds continue to become more difficult to find due to relentless habitat loss and trapping, and we should count ourselves very fortunate if we are able to catch a glimpse of the rare White-browed Jungle Flycatcher, Philippine Bush Warbler or the striking Flame-breasted Fruit Dove. The high-altitude endemic Whiskered Pitta can sometimes be heard calling from the mountainsides, but we will need considerable luck to see this remarkably enigmatic species as there are sadly no accessible trails into the steeper areas. Thereafter we will drive to Subic Bay in central Luzon, past countless villages and endless fields of rice and grain plantations.
Day 19: Subic Bay area
Today on our Philippines birding tour, we will bird Subic Bay’s tall tropical forests in search of several scarce Luzon endemics. At dawn, it is sometimes possible to see thousands of Philippine and Golden-crowned Flying Foxes returning to daytime roosts before we arrive at our birding site. Among other more widespread Philippines specialities, we will specifically be targeting the localised Green Racket-tail that often whizzes past through the canopy, the tangle-loving Rufous Coucal, Blackish Cuckooshrike, the scarce arboreal White-lored Oriole and seldom-seen White-fronted Tit. Although uncommon, Sooty Woodpecker is regularly encountered at this site and we should be able to find this massive woodpecker as well as more widespread species, including Whiskered Treeswift, Purple Needletail and perhaps Blue-naped Parrot.
Day 20: Subic Bay to Manila
This morning, we head back to Manila where the tour concludes for those not continuing on the Visayan Islands Extension.