Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. Photo: Susan Myers
Wedged between China, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the 7,000-plus islands of the Philippines have experienced successive invasions from different biogeographic zones that have fuelled a spectacular adaptive radiation of species. Of the almost 600-bird species, an extraordinary 170 or more are endemic, and - with names such as Guaiabero, Scale-feathered Malkoha, Whiskered Pitta, Blue Fantail, and Coleto - the birds of the Philippines are without doubt some of the most fascinating in the world. Our tour provides an opportunity to explore the most important birding areas of this vast archipelago. We’ll visit the islands of Luzon, Bohol, and Negros where we’ll search lowland and montane habitats for the special birds each island has to offer. We’ll also explore the island of Palawan with its stunning beach scenery, treasure trove of endemic birds, and an avifauna that has more in common with Borneo than with the rest of the Philippines.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Manila. Night in Manila.
Day 2: We’ll begin with a short drive to Mount Makiling with its great selection of Luzon birds, including more than 50 endemics. Mount Makiling is a forested area on the slopes of an extinct volcano that is managed by the University of the Philippines. It hosts a remarkable number of Philippine bird species and 2,000 flowering plants have been recorded here! Our birding will be mostly along the road, but we’ll take side trails for a change of terrain and a chance to see some of the ground species. Birds we’ll look for include Philippine Serpent-Eagle, Luzon Bleeding-heart (very difficult), Black-chinned Fruit-Dove, Guaiabero, Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo, Luzon Hornbill, Scale-feathered Malkoha, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Striped-headed Rhabdornis, Gray-backed Tailorbird, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Lovely Sunbirds, and Striped Flowerpecker. Night in Makiling.
Day 3: We’ll travel from Makiling to Infanta. On a lightly used stretch of Marilaque Highway, in the Infanta area of Quezon, we should find several uncommon endemics as well as delightful and relatively easy roadside birding in superb forest. We’ll hope to find Rufous Hornbill, Great-eared Nightjar, Olive-backed Flowerpecker, Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove, Philippine Trogon, and Philippine Fairy Bluebird among others. Most exciting of all, we’ll have a good chance of seeing the uncommon and glorious endemic Flame-breasted Fruit Dove. Night in Infanta.
Day 4: We’ll bird along the Marilaque Highway looking for specialities in this verdant woodland such as Luzon Sunbird, Yellow-wattled Bulbul, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Amethyst Brown-Dove, Crested Honey Buzzard, and so much more. There will also be a good chance of finding the scarce endemic Whiskered Pitta, and we’ll enter the forest to make a special effort to see this attractive ground-dweller. Night in Infanta.
Day 5: After some morning birding on the Infanta roads, we’ll drive to Manila, stopping en route at a reliable site for Philippine Eagle Owl and then dropping into La Mesa Eco Park, a little bird oasis on the outskirts of Manila, for Ashy Thrush. This will also be a good place to find the localized Lowland White-eye. Night in Manila.
Day 6: We’ll depart Manila early for the Candaba Marshes before proceeding to Subic Bay where we’ll bird the old United States Naval Magazine at Subic Bay and the adjacent forests.
The Candaba Marshes are surrounded by rice fields that come alive with birdsong in the early morning. We’ll find elegant Oriental Pratincoles coursing over the fields as well as Eastern Marsh Harrier, Barred Rail, Asian Palm-Swift, Pied Bushchat, Zitting Cisticola, and Tawny Grassbirds. Around the marsh itself we should find Philippine Swamphen, Yellow Bittern, White-browed Crake, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, and Pheasant-tailed Jacana, as well as large numbers of Purple and Black-crowned Night Herons. Ducks are often present in big numbers - especially Garganey, Eurasian Wigeon, and Northern Pintail - as well as lesser numbers of the endemic Philippine Duck.
Our initial afternoon birding foray at Subic Bay will be along a quiet and narrow forest road where we can expect to see endemics such as White-eared Brown-Dove, Red-crested Malkoha, Black-and-white Triller, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Coleto, and many others. Night in Subic Bay.
Day 7: We’ll spend all day birding in Subic Bay’s forests along the Nabasan Trail and other areas. Speciality birds could include White-fronted Tit (increasingly difficult, but we’ll try!), White-lored Oriole, Sooty Woodpecker, and Blackish Cuckoo-shrike. Many other endemics can be found here as well. Night in Subic Bay.
Day 8: We’ll have time for some early morning birding in Subic Bay before departing for our flight to Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan. On arrival we’ll visit nearby coastal areas for shorebirds and other waterbirds, possibly including a rare Chinese Egret on the mudflats. Later we’ll drive to the delightful coastal town of Sabang - the gateway to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Along the last well-forested twenty miles of our drive, we’ll have a good chance for birds such as Ruddy Kingfisher, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Palawan Tit, and Blue Paradise-Flycatcher; so we’ll take our time, stopping at a lookout point to try for the highly-endangered Philippine Cockatoo before arriving in Sabang in the late afternoon. Night in Sabang.
Day 9: We’ll spend the day in the Subterranean River National Park and other areas around Sabang. The park is spectacular, located between high limestone cliffs and white sandy beaches and covered in pristine forest. It’s the home of the famed Subterranean River, and in the early morning we’ll take a boat-ride directly there to the best birding site. The area is rich in birds and there will be a good chance of seeing a majority of the endemics and specialities including Tabon Scrubfowl, Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, Blue-naped Parrot, Palawan Swiftlet, Palawan Hornbill, Hooded Pitta, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Ashy-headed Babbler, Falcated Ground-Babbler, White-vented Shama, and Palawan Flowerpecker. In the afternoon we’ll visit another site in search of many of the above species, and, in the evening, we’ll seek out Palawan Scops-Owl and Javan Frogmouth. Night in Sabang.
Day 10: We’ll return this morning to Puerto Princesa but we’ll bird the whole way back, searching for any birds we may have missed. We’ll visit Iwahig, an inland forested area near the city, to look for the endemic Blue-headed Racquet-tail; other target birds here include Melodious Babbler and Palawan Flycatcher. In the evening, if permission is granted, we’ll take a pleasing thirty-minute boat trip to an offshore island in search of the very range-restricted Mantanani Scops-Owl. Night in Puerto Princesa.
Day 11: We’ll leave Puerto Princesa for our flight back to Manila and a connection to Bacolod on the island of Negros, where we’ll spend two nights. If time permits, we’ll begin our birding on arrival. Some of the island specialities are Purple Needletail, Tarictic Hornbill, and Flaming Sunbird. Night in Bacolod.
Day 12: We’ll depart early, making our way by vehicle to Mambucal, our starting point for Mount Kanloan. We’ll begin our journey at approximately 1,200 feet elevation and climb slowly up to 3,600 feet, birding through montane forest along the way. Our target birds are White-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Flame-templed Babbler, White-vented Whistler, and Visayan Flowerpecker plus the recently split Visayan Shama and Visayan Blue-headed Fantail. In the late afternoon we’ll return to our hotel. Night in Bacolod.
Day 13: From Negros we’ll take the ferry to Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol where we’ll be met by our driver, who will take us straight to the Rajah Sikatuna National Park for late afternoon birding. Rajah Sikatuna was named after the Bohol chieftain who entered into a dubious contract with a Spanish conquistador by the name of Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565. The reserve is the largest remaining tract of natural forest in Bohol and is one of the Philippines’s top birdwatching sites. It is characterised by rolling hills with remnants of natural forest on limestone terrain, as well as by grasslands and natural springs, and is home to over 120 bird species. Two amazing mammals in the form of Philippines Tarsier, a diminutive primate, and Philippines Colugo, a unique creature sometimes erroneously called a flying lemur, also inhabit the protected landscape area. Night at Tagbilaran.
Day 14: We’ll depart early to return to Rajah Sikatuna, where we’ll spend the day. Our target birds will be Steere’s Pitta, Visayan Broadbill, Black-crowned Babbler, and Yellow-breasted Tailorbird. Others we’ll look for include Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Streaked Ground-Babbler, Black-faced Coucal, Blue Fantail, Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher, and Philippine Leaf Warbler. Mindanao Bleeding-heart is a very rare resident, but we might have a chance. Either in the early morning or the evening, we’ll search for nightbirds such as Philippine Hawk Owl, Philippine Frogmouth, and Philippine Nightjar. Night at Tagbilaran.
Day 15: After checking out of our hotel, we’ll return once again to Rajah Sikatuna, where we’ll spend the morning birding in the park. Leaving around lunchtime, we’ll proceed to the Ocean Ferry terminal and take the ferry back to Negros and our flight on to Manila. Night in Manila.
Day 16: The tour concludes this morning in Manila.
Updated: 23 November 2020