27 November–13 December 2017
Extension to 19 December
Of the six hundred plus species found in the Philippines, over two hundred are endemic to this archipelago of over 7000 islands and the number is rapidly growing as endemic sub-species are split. On the main tour we will visit Luzon, Bohol and Palawan where speciality birds include Scale-feathered Malkoha, Visayan Broadbill, Palawan Peacock-pheasant. There is a post-tour extension to Mindinao in search of Philippine Eagle.
Day 1 Depart London for an overnight flight to Manila.
Day 2 Our destination today, Mount Makiling in the province of Laguna, lies to the south of Manila. We will break the journey at the University of the Philippines, in Los Banos campus, where our target species might include Lowland White-eye, Philippine Woodpecker, Spotted and Barred Buttonquails and Barred Rail. With luck we may also encounter the common, but difficult-to-see, Plain Bush-hen. We will search for Luzon Boobook and Philippine Scops-owl in the evening. We will spend two nights in the Mount Makiling area.
Day 3 Today we will climb Mount Makiling, which offers some of the best remnant habitat within easy reach of Manila. To save time (and effort!) we will ride a ‘jeepney’ up towards the higher slopes, which we hope to reach before dawn. We will then spend most of the day slowly birding our way back down the mountain. If still needed, the owls will be looked for before daybreak, after which we will target a range of exciting species including Spotted Kingfisher, White-browed Shama, Yellowish White-eye, Grey-backed Tailorbird, Stripe-sided Rhabdornis, Red-striped and Pygmy Flowerpeckers, Red-bellied Pitta and Flaming and Handsome Sunbirds. If we are lucky we may also see Philippine Trogon, Ashy Thrush and the beautiful Luzon Bleeding-heart.
Day 4 Setting off early we will drive to Candaba Marsh, where we will look for the endemic Philippine Duck and a range of more widespread species including Philippine Swamphen, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Oriental and Clamorous Reed-warblers, Red Collared-dove and Zebra Dove. A number of familiar migratory ducks, including Garganey, Tufted Duck and Northern Shoveler, can also be found here but we will primarily concentrate on looking for less-familiar species including Ruddy-breasted and White-browed Crakes, Striated Grassbird and Chestnut Munia. After a few hours of birding we will continue our drive through the Luzon countryside, passing paddyfields and mountains, to Banaue, where we expect to arrive late in the afternoon for a three-night stay.
Days 5–6 Two full days will be spent searching for Luzon montane endemics around the Mount Polis area. On one pre-dawn drive we will search for Luzon Scops-owl in some of the remaining accessible mossy forest. Other main target endemics are Chestnut-faced Babbler, Metallic-winged Sunbird, Grey-capped Shrike, Green-backed Whistler, Philippine Bush-warbler, Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, Luzon Redstart and Long-tailed and Benguet Bush-warblers. We also hope to find Flame-breasted Fruit-dove, which is endemic to Luzon Island, and is becoming increasingly uncommon due to a combination of hunting and forest clearance.
Day 7 Returning to the lowlands we will head for Subic Bay, aiming to arrive in the afternoon for a two-night stay. This vast area, once a huge, sprawling US naval base, contains some excellent lowland forest and we plan to explore a number of different areas, birding along quiet roads and side trails, one of which is the Nabasan Trail. The possibilities here include the endemic and spectacular Scale-feathered and Red-crested Malkohas as well as Philippine Woodpecker, Blue-headed Fantail, White-browed Shama and the extraordinary-looking Coleto, which has pink skin on much of its face. While birding along the roads we can expect to find a wide range of localised and endemic species including Balicassiao, Philippine Hanging-parrot, Philippine Green-pigeon, Green Imperial-pigeon, Guaiabero, Buff-spotted Flameback, Northern Sooty-woodpecker and White-bellied Woodpecker.
Day 8 This morning we will continue our quest for the special Subic endemics and new species today could include Green Racquet-tail, Rufous Coucal, White-lored Oriole, Blackish Cuckooshrike, White-fronted Tit, Luzon Hornbill, White-eared Dove, Philippine Tailorbird, Philippine Falconet, Philippine Serpent-eagle, Philippine Hawk-eagle and Blue-naped Parrot. In the evening we will look for the near-endemic Chocolate Boobook and, if we get really lucky, we may hear or even see Philippine Eagle-owl.
Day 9 There will be more time to look locally for species not yet encountered before leaving after lunch in our comfortable bus for the drive to Manila, where we will stay overnight. With some main roads leading to Manila there will be few birding opportunities on the journey. However, as we travel we can expect to see a range of birds which could include Cinnamon Bittern, Great Egret, Brahminy Kite and one of the more widespread endemics such as Philippine Bulbul.
Day 10 Following a flight to Tagbilaran Airport on the island of Bohol we will drive for an hour or so to our hotel for a two-night stay. The hotel overlooks the famous Chocolate Hills; the symmetry of this ‘natural wonder’ of more than twelve hundred small, conical limestone domes is truly extraordinary. After settling in at our hotel we plan to visit the nearby Raja Sikatuna Protected Landscape (RSPL), an excellent place to look for more Filipino endemics including a number of species whose ranges overlap with those on nearby Mindanao. There are a several tracks to explore and our target species will include Azure-breasted Pitta, which is endemic to just the south-eastern islands of the Philippines. Other possibilities include Black-faced Coucal, Northern Silvery-kingfisher (recently split from the birds on Mindanao), Samar Hornbill, Philippine Oriole and Philippine Fairy-bluebird. After dark we will search for Philippine Frogmouth and Philippine Nightjar and we may see several nocturnal mammals; the possibilities include Colugo, Philippine Flying Lemur and the tiny Philippine Tarsier.
Day 11 At dawn at the RSPL again our main target will be Rufous-lored Kingfisher which, like many Filipino endemics, is threatened by the ongoing clearance of lowland forests. Other species we will look for during the day include Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, Striated Wren-babbler, Mindanao Blue-fantail, Black-crowned Babbler, (Visayan) Wattled Broadbill and Rufous-fronted Tailorbird. With luck we may see Mindanao Bleeding-heart.
Day 12 After a final morning’s birding on Bohol we will return to Manila to connect with a flight to Palawan, which is regarded as the most forested island left in the Philippines. We will stay overnight in Puerto Princesa and, if time allows, take the opportunity to look for Chinese Egret, which is now treated by Birdlife International as ‘vulnerable’ as a result of the ongoing reclamation of tidal mudflats throughout its range.
Day 13 Leaving early we will drive to Narra, in the south of the island, where we hope to find the critically-endangered Philippine Cockatoo. Sadly, the number of cockatoos has been decimated by the cage-bird trade but we stand an excellent chance of finding some feeding in the village adjacent to their roosting place, Rasa Island. As we head back to Puerto Princesa we will make a few stops to look for the localised Palawan Flycatcher and Palawan Babbler. After lunch we will drive north to Sabang for a two-night stay. Palawan is home to over twenty range-restricted species and those we plan to look for this afternoon include Palawan Tit, Slender-billed (Palawan) Crow, Lovely Sunbird, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, White-vented Shama and Yellow-throated Leafbird.
Day 14 All day will be spent at Puerto Princesa Underground River Park. We are likely to make use of boats to explore this interesting reserve, where a top speciality is Palawan Peacock-pheasant, a bird which is normally extremely shy and hard to find as it rarely strays far from the deep forest. For the last few years, however, a stunning male has been coming for handouts near the range station and, if it is still doing so, we will make a special effort to see this gorgeous endemic. Other possibilities include Palawan Blue-flycatcher, Ashy-headed Babbler, Pygmy and Palawan Swiftlets, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Blue-eared and Black-backed Kingfishers, Palawan Hornbill, White-bellied Woodpecker and the difficult-to-find Falcated Wren-babbler. In the evening we will go in search of Palawan Scops-owl and Javan (Palawan) Frogmouth.
Day 15 New birds may include Fiery Minivet, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Ashy-headed Babbler and both Pygmy and Palawan Flowerpeckers as we spend all morning birding in the Sabang area. After lunch we will return to Puerto Princesa and take a flight back to Manila, where we will spend the night.
Day 16 We will transfer to the airport, where those not taking the extension will catch the flight home, arriving in London on Day 17.
Day 16 We will take an early-morning flight to Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao then drive to the base of Mount Kitanglad. The only way to reach our lodge and campsite, where we will spend three nights, is to walk, although we will be birding as we ascend and will hope to find a range of species including Philippine Swiftlet, Elegant Tit and Philippine Hanging-parrot, also known as Colasisi; we should arrive by late afternoon. While conditions are somewhat rustic, it is well worth the effort as there are some very special birds here including the national bird of the Philippines, Great Philippine (or Monkey-eating) Eagle. Around the camp we will look for some of the Mindanao montane specialities including Mindanao Racquet-tail, Cinnamon White-eye, Black-and-cinnamon Fantail and Grey-hooded Sunbird. This is also an excellent place to go night-birding and amongst our targets will be Bukidnon Woodcock, a species that was described only in 2001. Other possibilities include Giant Scops-owl, Philippine Frogmouth and the recently-split Everett’s Scops-owl.
Days 17–18 Two full days will be dedicated to searching for the area’s special birds and, at some stage during our stay, we may well hike to a higher elevation to maximise our chances of finding as many of them as possible. The excellent range of species on the slopes around our camp includes Apo Myna, Red-eared Parrotfinch, McGregor’s Cuckooshrike, Rufous-headed Tailorbird, Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, Mount Apo Sunbird, Mindanao Hornbill, Short-tailed Starling, Tawny Grassbird, Long-tailed Ground-warbler, Brown Tit-babbler, White-browed Shortwing and Olive-capped and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers.
Day 19 After a final birding session we will walk down the mountain. As we descend we could find Philippine Coucal, White-bellied Flowerpecker and Striated Grassbird. Vehicles will await us and we will drive to Bislig in Surigao; we plan to arrive there before sunset and stay at the Paper Country Inn for three nights, allowing us plenty of time to look for more endemics in the lowland forests of Eastern Mindanao.
Days 20–21 Despite considerable forest clearance, the birding remains excellent in the last remaining patches of lowland forest in the logging concession (PICOP). Our target endemic species here are Celestial and Short-crested Monarchs, Blue-capped Kingfisher, Mindanao Pygmy-babbler, White-browed Tailorbird, Writhed and Rufous Hornbills, (Mindanao) Wattled Broadbill, Mindanao Boobook, Pinsker’s Hawk-eagle, Southern Silvery-kingfisher, Philippine Needletail, Rusty-crowned Babbler, Philippine Leaf Warbler, Rufous Paradise-flycatcher and Philippine Leafbird. One afternoon we will visit the old domestic airport to look for Wandering Whistling-duck, Australasian Grass-owl, Watercock, Black Bittern and White-bellied and Chestnut Munias.
Day 22 Our final morning will be spent birding around Bislig before driving to Davao for a flight to Manila to connect with our international flight home, arriving in London on Day 23.
General Information The climate in the lowlands will be mainly dry, hot and sunny, but overcast conditions should be expected and some rain is possible. Upland areas will be cool to warm with the highest altitudes likely to be fairly cold. The humidity can be high at times. The tour pace is moderate with generally easy walking, except on the extension walk, although at altitude extra effort is needed. General health precautions are advisable but check with your local health service for up-to-date information. Insects can be a minor problem at some localities and repellents are recommended. No visa is currently required by UK citizens.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.