Whos keeping an eye on me....

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Philippines 2014 - Pt 7 Palawan

First morning on Palawan was birding madness! In a good way. Jojo our driver and Rommel our guide picked us up from the hotel and we headed to the old Zigzag road. We got out of the vehicle and immediately found a few trees that would keep us occupied for the next few hours... Pale Spiderhunter, Spot Throated Flameback, Purple Throated Sunbirds.

Multiple Drongos, Flycatchers and a Striped Tit Babbler amongst many other species. We were very happy to pick up Pygmy Flowerpecker here too as we had already missed this species at other places. A pair of Great Slaty Woodpeckers showed incredibly well, a hard bird to locate on Palawan. We then got a flash of a White Vented Sharma, we couldn't re-track it down though. Later on we witnessed two Lovely Sunbirds mating, and yes they really are a lovely species. Chestnut Breasted Malkohas loads of Bulbul species including Sulpher Bellied and my favourite Black Headed Bulbul, not an endemic species but lovely to see. We called the Melodious Babbler which responded but didn't show so we stopped for coffee. While we took a break 2 individuals were now calling in the same area, one flew across the road in front of us, Rommel took us off the road into a small densely covered ravine where we eventually got stunning views of  a pair of Melodious Babblers foraging on the floor, one was fighting a large moth! Rommel said a sighting of this bird would be a 50/50 chance at best, even he was taken back by the views we got, we were beaming from ear to ear, this was a good find and certainly a top ten target bird.

We moved to Irawan and picked up more lovely sunbirds

More great birds continued with Rufous Tailed Tailorbird, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Pink Necked Green Pigeons and Asian Drongo-Cuckoo were all like birds. We then got onto the gorgeous looking race of Olive Backed Sunbird. This Philippine race (aurora) looks completely different to the same species anywhere else and surely must be a split soon.

A little while later we staked out a small wood area along side a river , but this is where we dipped on the Palawan flycatcher, which was a shame as this was an island target, however it didn't stop us getting more goodies. A Blue Eared Kingfisher was a small bonus for just missing out on the Palawan Flycatcher, also giving a brief view above us we had a Pied Harrier which showed its white rump very well before disappearing out of sight.. We tried for the Copper Throated Sunbird and dipped, but managed a very confiding Philippine Pied Fantail.

and then watched a brilliant Stork Billed Kingfisher fishing from a tree near the mangroves.

Chinese Egret, Kentish Plover, Greater Sand plover were on the beach area near a fishing port and the evening finished with a short boat trip to an island for the Mantanani Scope Owl

The small island off Palawan, home of the Mantanani Scops Owl

Mantanani Scops Owl. The unusual "White Eyed" individual

we threw in a Large Tailed Nightjar just for good measure to end a wonderful day.

Day two and we headed for Leang Forest where we picked up close views of Blue Napped Parrots and the Spot Throated Flameback close to its nest hole. Large numbers of Green Imperial Pigeons were either commuting through the area or sat perched giving great views.

We now got onto our first Palawan Tits (albeit high up in the trees).

and not long after I got my best views of the smart Yellow Throated Leafbird. Plenty of birds were about with Spangled Drongos, Ashy Drongos, Ashy Fronted Bulbul and Palawan Bulbuls in large numbers. Common Iora, Palawan Flowerpecker, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Emerald Dove, there really were plenty of opportunities to see birds including this Blue Naped Parrot.

We managed to see a Palawan Hornbill as it flew towards our vehicle, we were only just able to get out in time to see it fly past and away.

We headed for another of Rommels sites where he would get us onto crippling views of male and female Blue Headed Raquet tails, we spent a few hours here where at least two birds were doing flybys. The female eventually perched only short distances away.... what a great bird.

male Blue Headed Raquet-tail

female Blue Headed Raquet-tail

We added Dollarbird and Asian Brown Flycatcher then our first Dark Throated Oriole was this female which gave us stunning views.

The afternoon didn't let up either as we visited Magayan where we had a Fiery Minivet, Palawan Flowerpecker, Lovely Sunbird, yet more Chestnut Breasted Malkohas and our first Striped Flowerpecker. The bird of the afternoon though were a pair of courting Palawan Blue Flycatchers who displayed for us only a few meters away.
the male

the female

Now we head off to a viewpoint looking for Philippine Cockatoos, after an hour we managed a  distant bird flying to roost, shortly after we had two more, this time a little closer just giving us a glimpse of the head-crest. This is another endangered bird and we had to be happy to get any sort of view, unfortunately we weren't to do any better than that. Two White Bellied Sea-Eagles came into the forest edge to roost and we managed to scope their landing..... right onto their nest, we had brilliant and uninterrupted views of this pair.

The evening finished off with two fine birds with some superb spotlighting. First species gave us a little run around but eventually we got the Palawan Scops Owl - a very ropey image, but hey ho...

then Palawan Frogmouth (Batrachostomus chaseni) which is now a full species

both were brief but great views nonetheless. Another very successful day and leads us nicely onto our last day of this Philippine trip......

We get the earliest boat to the Underground River area Wiki: Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National_Park. Eastern Reef Egret is the only thing to note on the short crossing.

What a great start we would have once we came ashore. Tabon Scrubfowl were first to appear, a pair scurried off one of the paths. We got brief but good views even though it was barely light and the canopy kept what light there was out.

Having read the many reports of the Palawan Peacock Pheasant being habitualised it was kind of refreshing to not find it waiting for us. Rommel and some locals went off looking for it while we were kept company by at least 4 Monitor Lizards. Rommel came back after 20 minutes with no sighting, so we followed him down another track where we again found the Tabon Scrubfowl lurking 30 foot away in the undergrowth.

Eventually Rommel hears the Palawan Peacock Pheasant and we get this view of it, we would have been happy with this, very happy.


 With a little more gentle persuasion and after some sensitive coaxing Rommel got its attention and sure enough it came fairly close to give us stunning views.

Possibly one of the best birds I have ever seen.


It really is a lovely species, one that any birdwatcher would appreciate. Rommel was concerned that it was limping, I didn't notice this, however Rommel has got to know this bird over the last ten years and showed some concern, hopefully nothing more than a little old age. The experience was better than I expected, like I say it was better to have to look for it than to have it displayed waiting ..... Maybe I wouldn't have said that if I had dipped!

We carried on walking and got brilliant views now of the Scrubfowl, but thing were about to change. Movement in the deep vegetation about 40 yards off the track revealed a Hooded Pitta. It was skulking underneath a fallen tree trunk, we got 5 minutes of brilliant views and even managed some half descent images, only my second ever Pitta species, what a great end to the trip.

We then sat out on the shoreline hoping to get a better view than we had had of Hornbills but were treated to another White Bellied Sea-Eagle.

Rommel and Jeff taking a minute or two out from the serious job of bird spotting

We then heard a White vented Sharma that really did give us the run around, we didn't manage a sighting even though it was close, so having given up we headed off and did the touristy trip on the underground river, we had the whole river to ourselves going out, brilliant, and only met other sightseers as we ended the trip.

Now back on the trail but heading back to our boat we had the most amazing luck..... two Hooded Pittas in the open! I got onto the female quickly before Rommel ushered us towards him where at eyelevel, completely out in the open and perched was a Male in full courtship postures, dipping down then stretching high in "look at me" postures. What a finish, images to die for and views of this courtship that can only be dreamt about, seriously privileged for sure.



I was kind of hoping that would be the last new bird of the trip, a stunning way to end, however the Pitta was eventually to be knocked off its perch by two further trip sightings. We tried in vein for the Falcated Babbler but eventually missed this one, but we were treated to stunning views of the White Vented Sharma, down to a few feet and posing nicely.... I had given up with photography after the Pitta and had left the camera in the vehicle! then my last bird of the trip flew from a perch in the forest and flew past us... a Crested Goshawk. Three Grey Faced Buzzards were probably the last birds we saw, certainly the last birds I recorded.

This post is long..... however I think it needed to be to ensure I do Palawan justice. What a place Palawan is, and for me it was very difficult to split with Mindanao for the birding experience.

We dipped some good uns on Palawan - Falcated Babbler, Palawan Flycatcher and Red Bellied Pitta, but we got some megas, and some incredibly good views of them too.   



Carole M. said...

Dave you sure do venture to exotic places and for the right reasons. This post is very impressive, yes long, but such a treat for those that visit it. The little frogmouth was amazing, as were countless others, and to top it off with the Pittas - you struck gold. Thanks for sharing all the fun of this experience

Roan said...

All I have to say is WOW!

Bob Bushell said...

You had a beautiful day, with as many birds as I had in I month, lol. The guide certainly knows his stuff. The best of all got to be the Hooded Pittas, fantastic.

Jeff said...

Hard to pick a favorite out of those birds, Dave. I think maybe Stork Billed Kingfisher.

Gemma Wiseman said...

Such a colourful range of fascinating birds. The nightjar and frogmouth were mesmerising but the peacock pheasant looks like a bird from some exotic legend. Just beautiful.

Anonymous said...

A stunning collection of beautiful birds, seen on Wild Bird Wednesday!

Rajesh said...

Beautiful birds of amazing variety.

TexWisGirl said...

wow! just an amazing bunch of bright and beautiful birds! however, even that more subtly-colored fantail is gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a beautiful collection of birds and great shots. Just Wow.

Karen said...

What an amazing collection of unique birds! Just super! So many I have never even heard of. The stork billed kingfisher and the pittas are fabulous. Great photos, thanks for sharing!

Stewart M said...

There are a few birds there that look like Australian species - the pittas and frogmouths especially.

Great set of pictures.

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne