Whos keeping an eye on me....

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Philippines 2014 - Pt 1 Mindanao

Mt Kitanglad -Day 1:
A long very long journey to Manila and a further flight to the southern island of Mindanao.

The critically endangered Philippine Eagle was our main target for this leg of the trip plus a recently discovered new bird to the world of Ornithology...... the Bukidnon Woodcock, its name taken from the Bukidnon province of Mindanao, plus a few high altitude mountain species that were very localised to this mountain.

We arrived at Cagayon De Oro airport and were picked up for a further transfer to the town of Dalwagon where we would pick up our guide Carleto. While we were stopped buying some provisions I got my first life bird when a pair of Chestnut Munias flew into a tree on a garage forecourt, while a Stork Billed Kingfisher flew over the petrol station, certainly a good start.
An hour or two later we arrived at the base of Mt Kitanglad where the family of our guide immediately loaded up the horses with our luggage, Food, Beer and ice.

Part of the Mt Kitanglad range

The horses would set off ahead and we would walk the 2.5hrs to our base at Del Monte Lodge which is situated half way up the mountain side. Two days without sleep and no time to grab my hat or suncream from the suitcase it was a case of grin and bare it as we walked steadily up the mountain, we of course did a little birding along the way which would lessen the pain of tiredness.

The first bird seen on the mountain pass was a very vocal Long Tailed Shrike perched up high, this would turn out to be a species that showed in good numbers during our three day stay here.

Our first raptor of the trip was a Grey Faced Buzzard, and another lifer, unfortunately by looking at this image it somehow found its way behind foliage thus ensuring I got a really poor shot, and, as this would be my last time I got anything like a photo of this species, it makes it onto this blog..... just! 
The walk was to get better. While further down the mountain we had seen some Purple Needletails flying very high, Carleto was certainly excited by this, in his broken English he explained that you can often do this walk and not see them. "OK" I thought, "we are a little luckier than most".
Well, further up at higher elevation things got better. Farmers had started some small fires along the track sides in preparation for land cultivation, this had forced more insects into the air, this became a food harvest for the Purple Needletails. The sight and sound was incredible as dozens of Purple Needletails swooped at incredible speeds over and around our heads whilst taking their prey, the sound was just brilliant and what masters of the skies. I have never seen birds agility displayed first hand and so close up before this, a truly inspiring event and somehow I wasn't that tired anymore. Now I could understand Carletos excitement when he saw them on our accent. My mood had changed to excitement now, we were well and truly on our Philippine journey.
The first appearance of a large wooden and rusty corrugated building didn't look appealing but our base at Del Monte Lodge was as comfy as anything you would find on any mountain side, and of course when tired it seems like the Hilton!
 But the lodge would have to wait a little longer. Right outside we had neighbours in the trees.
Mountain Verditer flycatchers, a pair displayed in and around the grounds
 sulphur billed nuthatch
Buzzing Flowerpeckers
they get their name by literally "Hovering and Buzzing" over a flower as a Bee would do just before landing, I was lucky enough to witness this behaviour just once before we left the mountain.
Elegant tits were very abundant as were the Grey Streaked Flycatchers
Mountain Whiteye were easy to pick up from the lodge. 
We claimed our sleeping space in the upstairs attic of the lodge before finding some more energy to hit the nearby trail while we still had some light.We then experienced our first bird-wave (a flock of mixed species of bird that feed rapidly and move on) this wave included the wonderful
Black & Cinnamon fantail.
while the rest of the wave included Grey Hooded Sunbirds, Cinnamon Ibon, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Yellow Bellied Whistler
and the much sought after 
Stripe Breasted Rhabdornis,
of which a pair perched in the open for a few minutes just before the light started to fade
(This was another species that was high on the wanted list, so I wasn't expecting to see this bird on the first day of the trip so was rather pleased with two in view within the first few hours).
We could smell the cooking from Carletos wife as the sun dropped but we had a rather rare bird to see.... Carleto took us to a small clearing in the forest overgrown with ferns and thick vegetation. Firstly a Philippine Nightjar called then flew a few times giving great views before settling down where it continued to call to a mate some distance away. Some "roding "imitations from Carleto then brought out the amazing Bukidnon Woodcock, only a quick fly past (straight over the top of Jeff's head) but a show nonetheless! This is not a bird that you are going to see stunning views of while it sits perched and preens. We were mega happy indeed, this was a great day. Just for good measure we were given stunning views of a Philippine Frogmouth.
Never in a million years would I believe I would be watching a mega bird such as this Frogmouth where I would be called back for our evening meal...... 20 yards away, Unbelievable! What a place, what a day. A stunning start to this adventure
We now settle down for some home made cooking and a beer. Bed was 8.30 pm and not a moment too soon. Tomorrow we climb and look for the rarest eagle on the planet!
Day 2:
What a nights sleep...... hard floor, thin foam mat and a sleeping bag, after all the traveling and climbing it really was perfect and worked a treat. Breakfast was waiting for us at 04.45am, home made rice porridge followed by Egg on Toast, jams and a good cuppa tea..... just like home but the rice porridge was to die for.
Before we left the lodge we had the Philippine Nightjar again, but this morning it was joined by a few Great Eared Nightjars all flying in sight of the lodge, we were to quickly get used to the different calls. The previous evening, Carleto had told us about a new site he had located for a rather good looking bird. He showed his excitement as he told us about the Red-Eared Parrotfinch. We climbed the trail passing a lone Whiskered Treeswift where he took us off the track and down into a valley. We  stayed on a bank and scoped down into some flowering vegetation about 50 yards away. it took Carleto about fifteen minutes but he came up trumps, 5 Red-Eared Parrotfinch fed along this vegetation, at one point I had three birds in the scope together. We were never going to get any images, they were too far away but the experience was rewarding. In the same location we got a small flock of Short Tailed Starlings, Eyebrowed Thrush a Colasisi (Philippine Hanging Parrot) and our first Hornbills as two Mindanao (Tarictic) Hornbills flew over the small valley, this was all while it was still barely light.
We continued along the track heading for the Eagle View point. We walked through farm land which meant species such as Tawny GrassbirdsStriated GrassbirdsBrown throated Kingfishers, Glossy Starlings, Yellow Vented Bulbuls, Spotted Dove, Chestnut Munias and the very smart Mountain Shrikes all kept us company and showed very well. The habitat constantly changed as did the bird species as we now had the wonderful Fire Breasted Flowerpeckers, Grey Hooded Sunbirds and our first Woodpecker... the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker and this 
Little Pied Flycatcher.

As we climbed higher raptors started to make appearances as they scoured the hillsides. Crested Serpent Eagles were to be the default raptor, however we saw an as yet unidentified bird that my notes suggest may have been a Philippine Hawk-Eagle.
Montane Forest the home of the Philippine Eagle

We eventually reached the Eagle Viewpoint. Structurally nothing to write home about, but most importantly situated at the best vantage point and a bench to rest and a cover to keep the sun out, it could be a long wait.
Mark (Carletos Son), Carleto our guide, and my trip companion Jeff at the Eagle view point

First to show were 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards which hugged the mountain top before soaring out of sight, and again various sightings of the Philippine Serpent Eagles. In the valley in front of us we watched our first Montane Racket-Tails fly by, possibly 4 or 5 birds over the course of an hour, we would get better views tomorrow as two would flyby a lot closer. Of course we were really there to wait for a glimpse of the most critically endangered Eagle on the planet. We had waited for over two hours and Carleto had gone to another look out position when jeff and myself spotted two raptors distantly at eye level in the valley, YES!!!!!!! Lets be sure, YES!!!!!! CONFIRMED, we had two Philippine Eagles and even better they were interacting with each other. They had appeared from the forest and were still infront of the tree line giving  a great contrast of white belly against the green backdrop. Just for a second they seemed to try to lock talons before they parted but flew fairly close to each as they got onto thermals and gained height.
We shouted to Carleto who saw immediately and he was excited as we were as we watched them fly together for the next 5 or 10 minutes. Carleto said two flying together was a good result, interacting together, brilliant. They eventually flew into the forest and although re-appeared a few times it was all fleeting glimpses and very distant too. This was a big result, and the main reason for visiting Mindanao, we were happy and although we waited a further few hours we would not see them again today.
The day couldn't get any better,  could it?
We had an easy walk back down to camp picking up some nice birds along the way including a lovely Rufous Headed Tailorbird.
As the sun started to drop Carleto shouted us to grab the scope and after a few moments he did what he was to do over the course of our stay more than a few times, he just stepped back didn't say a word and gestured for us to look through the scope. How he saw this without the scope I have no idea but he got us onto a wonderful bird, Yellow Breasted Fruit Dove, he smiled and walked back to the lodge and left us to enjoy the beautiful bird before we settled down for dinner.
As I said after the Philippine Eagle views earlier in the day, could the day get any better....well maybe just possibly it could.
We were hoping to get a few Owls and upto this point we hadn't. Carleto was on a mission. Some distance away a Giant Scops Owl was calling, within minutes we were out with ears pierced (that's not entirely the correct phrase is it! But you know what I mean). Sure enough we heard it and after a short downhill walk we came close to one mighty beast of a bird.... It was pitch black, I didn't see the bird fly in, but you sensed it. Carleto said ready, put his torch on and Wow.... OMG it was 5 meters in front of us and perched on a single dead tree trunk looking right down at us a stunningly beautiful Giant Scops Owl, it's huge and blooming awesome!

This will live long in the memory for sure and rates highly along side the Buffy fish Owl that I saw in Malaysia a few years ago, only this time I have the photo to go with the memory, you don't go to bed much happier as a birder than that..... Carleto had a knack, he is an incredibly good birder, the old School type, knows his patch very well, has no tapes just good hearing, good eyes and uses good phishing techniques. Top man, and he hadn't finished yet.
Day 3:
It was early and still dark (well dusk at best) breakfast finished and doing my teeth outside when the day started with the Bukidnon Woodcock flying low over my head..... good start. Longer walk today, we would be climbing higher for the high altitude species. Along the way we picked up new birds, Olive Capped Flowerpeckers in good numbers, Mountain Leaf Warblers, Mindanao Flameback. We heard a Blue Capped Wood Kingfisher, we got onto it quickly but we would spend another hour trying to get a better view, it was worth it. Jeff got a wonderful shot of it I got this not so wonderful shot..... but seriously what a quality bird. We would have been gutted to miss it.
Blue Capped Wood Kingfisher


We reached yesterdays Eagle vew point and gave it thirty minutes, unfortunately without seeing the Eagles, so we carried onto even higher elevations where we would find McGregor's Cuckoo-shrike, a lovely bird and surprisingly in good numbers too.

add 2 Black Masked Whiteyes and things were turning out just fine. Yet we climb still higher for some specialities.
We were now hoping to connect with three species that make this high altitude spot on this mountain range very special. Firstly we tried in vein for the Apo Myna. Nearly two hours with no luck whatsoever, Carletos son Danny once again arrived with lunch, he carries a large box of goodies up the mountain and just keeps walking until he finds us! Spirits were lifted a little when we tucked into lunch. Before we called it a day on the Mynas a favourite bird of mine did make a show to ease the pain just a little, when this female Mugimaki Flycatcher perched just in front of us.
Mugimaki Flycatcher.
Olive Capped Flowerpeckers
had plenty of mountain Flora to choose from.

Next stop was to look for the White cheeked Bullfinch. It did call and Carleto edged forward and pointed it out just in time for me to witness a brown blob fly back over my head never to be heard or seen again. The disappointment was soon gone as we found 6 Apo Mynas a little further up the track. A proper funky looking thing!
It's a final climb for the Apo Sunbird which we find within seconds as it flitted around its favoured tree, I guess it's the favoured tree as Carleto told us where to stand and look up, we got a few moments viewing before it flew off, we saw it once more in the next hour. Things weren't quite finished as on the way back down the mountain we found 2 distant Philippine Eagles perched, scope views only but good enough to see the head crest, this would be a pretty good way to end the last full day on the mountain. We did pick up a few new birds with a Rufous Breasted Cuckoo

 and two Mindanao Lorikeets flying over the camp. Tomorrow we walk back down to civilisation and head for out next island and the next destination..... Cebu.
Carletos sons Danny and Mark load the horses with our luggage for the trek down the mountain.
My trip companion Jeff on the trek down


Andy said...

Great write up and photos Dave and plenty of incredible birds - The Eagles look immense! Looking forward to reading the rest of the trip report. Cheers, Andy

Brian King said...

Nice shots, Dave! You got a fantastic variety of birds! I like the tail on that shrike.

Unknown said...

What an amazing experience! Gorgeous birds!

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

HI Dave What a fantastic trip you had and an amazing lot of birds you photographed. Marvelous information as well. Thanks

Ida said...

Wow you must have had a fantastic time here because you captured so many different birds. Thank you for sharing birds I may never see in my life if not for people like you.

Bob Bushell said...

Great birds in Philippines, and the hills, superb. Thanks for letting me in to your blog.

Dave said...

Thank you everyone, still got 4 more posts of this tip to write up, one coming very soon.

Hootin' Anni said...

Color me green with envy!!! Just look at all those beautiful birds you've sighted. Excellent...extraordinary post Dave.

I can't say I like any one better...they're all fantastic.

Carole M. said...

Dave, this sounds like a fascinating trek you took on (shame about missing your hat/sunscreen). Your first image is captivating; a delightful little bird. Mountain Verditer flycatcher .. love it!! I think I'd be almost delirious with excitement seeing such new birds about. They're ALL fabulous, and the Black/Cinnamon fantail - WOW! And a nightcap beer (bet that hit the spot!), and the Frogmouth - I'm excited just reading your post. I have to ask, were you bothered with mosquitoes?

Dave said...

No Mosquitoes on this Island Carole, and not even a leech...happy days

eileeninmd said...

Wow, what an amazing trip!So many awesome birds and the scenery are gorgeous! I am sure you will remember this trip! Great post!

Neil said...

Very interesting trip.