Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Philippines - first half

As part of our 'big year' or 'mid-life crisis year', depending on your point of view, having already visited Norway, India and Sri Lanka, we had also booked back-to-back trips in first The Philippines and then on to Sulawesi Indonesia.   First then to The Philippines.    We booked a private tour with a European bird guide, a first for us as we usually use locals.

We arrived in Manila and took advantage of our recovery day in the city to have a look around and visited Rizal Park.   It happened to be Independence Day so the park was very busy with locals:

That evening we watched the sun set over the harbour ahead of our early start the next day:

The following morning with an early start we were collected and driven to the airport for our flight to Bohol, the first birding location on the tour.   We saw many species most of which were new to us given the geography including this Olive-backed Sunbird:

As well as birding we like to see the local wildlife where possible and couldn't resist seeing Tarsiers, the smallest primate, as we passed a reserve for them:

We birded in the forest on Bohol, the highlight species of this section of the trip was an Azure-winged Pitta:

We even squeezed in some touristing, visiting the Chocolate Hills, which are actually deforested hills, but they are marketed as tourist spot and the tourists duly arrive.

Back to the reserve this Macaque was one of a family group passing through the valley:

Down the road in the adjacent river a Northern Silvery Kingfisher basked: 

Just off the road a Rufous-lored Kingfisher:

From Bohol our crazy guide took us on a boat to Cebu to overnight followed by an early start to then fly to the Island of Mindanao.   Mindanao is troubled, enjoying as it is both an Islamic and a Communist insurgency and being under martial law.  Westerners are encouraged not to stay in the towns and cities over night, but being birders we drove a few hours to the base of Mount Kitangala and then walked up to a birding camp halfway up the mountain.   It was rough, very rough, and being run by a family who are making a very good income from the visitors while doing no maintenance on the main lodge.

The birding was interesting and apparently it's popular because you can reliably see the Philippine Eagle which we did.  It rained a lot.  Slowly but surely as everywhere in the world, the forest is being cut down to be replaced by agriculture.   The Eagle view point now overlooks fields in most directions, i wonder how long it'll remain viable, particularly given the total lack of care.

After three pretty rough nights the weather cleared and we were relieved to be heading down, the view en route was spectacular:

We drove directly to Cagyan de Oro and then flew back to Manila, staying in a moderate hotel in the city, flanked by karaoke playing bars, so little sleep ahead of another very early start.  In fact all of the starts were early, our guide got panic attacks from traffic, airports, stopping to take photographs, etc.   We paid a huge amount for a private tour and were put in in mostly awful accommodation, sleep deprived and then moaned at.  The first European guide will also be our last, we'll stick to the locals from now on, they are so much more considerate.

Anyway after said early start and a breakfast box consisting of dry bread and cake (he also didn't plan anything ahead and then blamed us for being difficult for wanting to eat!), we passed some waterlogged rice paddies the way to Sabang Marsh:

Whilst there we saw a bird species i never thought i'd get the chance to see, already the bird of the trip for me, a Siberian Rubythroat:

From Sabang we drove up into the central Highlands to Banaue, a region famous for Terrace farming:

The birding at altitude on Mount Polis was enjoyable, though mostly roadside based.   We saw Mountain Leaf-Warbler:

And a display from the normally skulking Benguet Bush-Warbler amongst a good number of others:


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