Trip Report: Mt. Makiling

Our April 2011 Tour participant Tan Ju Lin writes about their experience in Makiling with us. Tan Ju Lin is a keen birder from Singapore and has been birding for many years now. She has traveled extensively in the Oriental Region and has seen a lot of Asian birds. She will be returning this April 2012 for another Philippine trip covering the more difficult endemics.

The Secrets and Treasures of Mt. Makiling.

Date: 10 – 23 April 2011
Places covered in the tour: Luzon, Mindoro, Negros.
Report covers: Mount Makiling.
Participants: Alfred Chia, Tai Ping Ling, Doreen Ang, Jimmy Chew and Tan Ju Lin. Write up by Tan Ju Lin.
Tour leader: Nicky Icarangal of Birding Adventure Philippines

Looking for buttonquails in the nice afternoon golden light

A land of 7,107 beautiful emerald islands, blessed with natural beauty and more than 600 species of resident and migratory birds. Of these, almost a third are endemic. With such a high level of endemism, the Philippines holds great attraction for the visiting birder. With visions of ground doves with bleeding hearts, a babbler with flames for temples and kingfishers wearing indigo bands, Alfred Chia, Tai Ping Ling, Doreen Ang, Jimmy Chew and myself planned a trip with Birding Adventure Philippines in pursuit of some of the most unique and beautiful birds in South East Asia. All of us had birded in the Philippines before and were hungering for more, except for Alfred who had previously been to the Philippines on 5 separate occasions, all for work, and claimed that he had not seen more than a Eurasian Tree Sparrow. We were determined to change his fate!

We contacted Adri Constantino and lead guide Nicky Icarangal from Birding Adventure Philippines to plan a trip that would bring us from the regular birding hotspots of Mount Makiling, Subic Bay and Candaba marshes to the more remote and less visited areas such as Mt Polis in northern Luzon, Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro and Mount Kanlaon in Negros.

This narrative covers in-depth account of our time in Mount Makiling, a place which holds a significant number of endemic species despite its proximity to Manila. And though this narrative is removed from the format of a traditional birding report, we hope you enjoy reading this account of our 2 days birding in Mount Makiling.

After a relatively short flight from Singapore to Manila via JetStar Airways, we arrived in Manila in the morning and were met by our guide Nicky Icarangal with an incredibly comfortable coaster that would be our transport for a good part of the Luzon leg.

Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker by tour participant Jimmy Chew

Birding proper for us began in the lush green campus of Los Baños Campus of University of the Philippines, on the afternoon of the 10th of April. We started birding at 4.00pm in the afternoon, when the sun was a little less fierce and when the birds started to emerge to feed before the end of the day. We drove to the known location within the campus grounds to look for the Indigo Banded Kingfisher. From the bridge where we stood we had great views of the male Indigo Banded Kingfisher, shimmering like a jewel, showing off its double blue bands and orangey rufous chest. And in the bamboo clump by the side of the bridge, some of us had views of another endemic, a Yellow-wattled Bulbul. Walking around the campus grounds, lifers for Alfred came fast and furious, with a pair of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers on low trees by the roadside. A Striped-headed Rhabdornis gave fleeting views, and it would take another day before we all saw them well. Other birds seen walking around the campus grounds were Philippine Bulbuls, Guaiabero, Colasisi, an Oriental Cuckoo and numerous Brown Shrikes. Next, we headed to the Animal Husbandry section of the campus, and I was looking forward to scoring my first lifer of the trip. Spotted Buttonquail!

We positioned ourselves on the sides of the path and Nicky told us to get comfortable, as it would be a waiting game for the Spotted Buttonquail to appear. Fortunately, we did not have to test our resolve, and a pair of Spotted Buttonquails came walking after about half an hour. My first lifer for the trip! Whilst waiting, we also had other distractions in the form of a Coppersmith Barbet, Philippine Hawk Cuckoo, several Oriental Cuckoos, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Striated Grassbird and Grey-streaked Flycatchers. In the fields in the area we also counted numerous Cattle Egrets, Plain Bush hen, White-breasted Waterhen, Scaly-breasted and White-bellied Munias.

Philippine Hawk-Owl by Jimmy Chew

At dusk we continued our quest for more Philippine endemics, with 3 Philippine Hawk Owls seen and an extremely uncooperative Philippine Nightjar, which flew in and promptly out of sight again. Philippine Scops Owl was heard and not seen, and we would not nail this bird until some days later. Still, it was the start of a reasonably good run of night birds seen during the 2 weeks of our tour.

The thing with birding in the Philippines is that the sun rises incredibly early. At most of our destinations, the sky would already be reasonably bright at 5.00 in the morning. This translates to early morning starts and waking up at an unearthly hour of 3.30 am on many days. Sometimes 4.00 am if we were lucky.

Ashy Ground Thrush – one of the rarest treasures of Makiling. Photo by Jimmy Chew

Our first morning of early starts was well worth our efforts, as bumping our way up Mount Makiling in a banged up jeepney, Nicky yells for the driver to stop and there in the middle of the path, standing in the headlights of the jeepney, stood an Ashy Ground Thrush! We froze momentarily as so did the bird, and recovering from our surprise, we quickly trained our bins on this amazing bird before it hopped off round the corner. Climbing gingerly out of the jeepney, and creeping round the corner we found the thrush again feeding on the ground. Jimmy even managed to set up his tripod and 500mm camera and secured quite a few shots before it took flight. That was Mt Makiling’s first hint not to underestimate what secrets and treasures its forests could hold. And reveal its treasures it did…!

The early morning calls of the Spotted Wood Kingfisher rang through the forests, and it was not long before Nicky spotted a male perched in the trees about 10 metres back from the path. And like many forest kingfishers, this Spotted Wood-Kingfisher managed to stay inconspicuous despite garbed in brilliant blues, greens, bright white and hues of orange. That morning, we also enjoyed good views of the Grey-backed Tailorbird, Philippine Serpent-Eagle, Red-crested Malkoha, Balicassiao, Elegant Tits, manic-looking Sulphur-billed Nuthatches racing up, down and round and round the trees and several handsome White-browed Shamas.

On the upper parts of Mt Makiling, the trails became narrower and we were stopped in our tracks by Nicky who hissed, “Pechora Pipit”! Lo and behold, walking on the side of the track was a Pechora Pipit with its defining “V” mark on its back. It continued walking in the opposite direction and soon melted into the forest.

The skulking White-browed Shama by Jimmy Chew

Surely, it was a sign of good things to come…. I held my breath as Nicky played the call of the Luzon Bleeding-Heart. It was a bird we all were secretly hoping for but did not think we would ever lay our eyes on. So, when we actually heard a response, it set our pulses racing and hearts beating! The calls came closer and closer and quite suddenly a Luzon Bleeding-Heart in its full glory flew onto an exposed branch, walked a foot or two, before turning around and flying off without any sound of wing beats! It was surreal, and it must have been that I so happened to be looking at the correct spot of the forest. I was elated and strangely disappointed at the same time for all the others in our group had not seen the bird! It must have been not being able to share in the joy of such a mega-tick. It was a good thing that Nicky is never one to give up and persists until everyone in the group has seen the bird. He soon called in a second bird further up the trail. This was clearly a different bird, as this individual had a bigger and deeper coloured patch of red on its chest compared to the first bleeding-heart, which had a smaller and fainter crimson wash on its breast. It walked about on the side of the trail above us, playing hide and seek with us amongst the undergrowth, finally giving almost everyone (but one person!) views. It was almost close to a miracle that Nicky managed to spot the bird again walking some 100 -150 metres from where we last saw it and the final person in our group (who shall remain unnamed!) saw the Luzon Bleeding-heart. Success!!

Other key species seen at Mount Makiling included Lowland White-eye, Yellowish White-eye, Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo, Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Trogon and Philippine Falconet.

Small and chunky Guaiabero. Photo by Jimmy Chew

For a complete bird list of Tan Ju Lin and party’s April 2011 Tour, please click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *