Trip report: The Philippines (Mar 2007) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a custom tour.

Any bird tour to the Philippines inevitably focuses on endemics, as these islands are packed with many spectacular birds found nowhere else. This tour was no exception where, from our total species list of over 330 species, we recorded just under 130 endemics, including some of the Philippines’, (and indeed southeast Asia’s), top birds. Among these were at least seven species of endemic flowerpecker (depending on taxonomy), all six endemic species of kingfisher, six species of endemic sunbird, five species of endemic hornbill, five species of endemic tailorbird, at least four species of endemic owl, four species of endemic bulbul, two species of endemic leafbird and a stunning endemic pitta and equally spectacular broadbill. Some of the highlights included Luzon Bleeding-Heart,  Rufous Hornbill and Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove on Luzon; a brace of stunning pittas at PICOP in Mindanao with both Steere’s & Red-bellied Pittas seen extremely well, along with great looks at a Mindanao Wattled Broadbill there also; in addition to breathtaking views of the national bird of the Philippines – the mighty Monkey-eating (Great Philippine) Eagle, at a new nest site in a remote area of Mindanao ; and Palawan, as ever, weighed in with all the possible endemics recorded there including Palawan Flycatcher, Palawan Hornbill and the exquisite male Palawan Peacock-pheasant that performed extraordinarily well at the Underground River National Park. Several Hooded Pittas on Palawan completed the trio of pittas we were seeking on the tour, all of which performed in an exemplary fashion for us. As well as being an endemic hotspot, the Philippines is also a nightbirders paradise. This sprawling archipelago has a diverse set of nightbirds, many being endemic to the islands. A few early starts and finishes were required to get a shot at these, although with such birds as Luzon, Mindanao & Palawan Scops-Owls, Chocolate Boobook, Philippine Hawk-Owls and Philippine Frogmouth to show for it at the end of the tour, the lack of sleep seemed more than a little justified!

The tour took the form of three distinct stages, concentrating on the three most accessible, endemic rich islands in the sprawling Philippine archipelago, that encompasses more than 7,000 islands in total. We began first on the ‘main’ island of Luzon, the largest of all the islands and where the bustling capital Manila is located; then Mindanao, the second largest and most southerly of the main islands, that is especially noteworthy for birders as the last stronghold of the Philippine National Bird, the magnificent Philippine Eagle; and finally the thin tropical island strip of Palawan, that sits between the Sulu Sea to the east and the South China Sea to the west, that divides this paradise island from the huge island of Borneo further west. Biogeographically Palawan is very interesting, sharing more in common with the typically southeast Asian avifauna of Borneo to the west than the other Philippine islands to the east. However, in spite of this there are almost 20 endemics on this lush forested island, that is bordered all around with pristine white sandy beaches that make it an idyllic holiday treat for birders and backpackers alike. We ensured we spent time in both montane areas and lowland areas on both Luzon and Mindanao to target the endemics particular to those elevations, before finishing on the idyllic beach-covered island of Palawan, for some of the Philippines’ easiest and most satisfying birding, where we ‘cleaned up’ on all the available endemics.

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