Mindanao 2014

Four of us went to Mindanao for a week, thanks to Ju Lin for organizing this trip!  The catalyst was the first ever nesting of the Philippine Eagle (at least in recent memory) that was viewable by the public from a reasonable distance.

We took a red-eye, meeting our guide Nicky Icarangal in Manila, and arriving at 9:30 am in Davao City.  Fortunately the first day was easy.  Transfer to our hotel, Eden Nature Park & Resort, was 90 minutes from the airport.   Located at 800 meters on the flanks of Mt Talomo it was just enough cooler to be refreshing compared with sea level.  Many resorts on the mountain cater to the weekend crowd from Davao City looking for cooler temperatures.  Mt Talomo adjoins Mt Apo, which at around 3000 meters is the highest mountain in the Philippines and has lots of important biodiversity and endemics.

Mt Apo Area

After a nice buffet lunch we were met by our local guide, Pete Simpson.  We had one main target for the afternoon, the Whiskered Flowerpecker, a Mindanao endemic.  After a short drive we hiked up to about 1100 meters.  It was an interesting hike as it passed through a very small army outpost.  There were several species of flowerpeckers and fortunately our target was also present, unfortunately the light was challenging.  This flowerpecker is Near Threatened and generally hard to see as it favors specific habitats in a narrow altitudinal band.  When we got back to the hotel the light was falling rapidly but we all got looks at the other specialty of the area, the Cryptic Flycatcher.

The next morning we were up early for a 90 minute drive to the jumping off point for the Philippine Eagle nest.  In the places we visited it seems that human habitation ends at about 900 to 1000 meters, and those few who are at that elevation are definitely without electricity or other amenities, like water, roads, etc.  The last 20 minutes we had to hike up to the famer’s house where the vantage point was, at about 925 meters elevation. We arrived about 7 am, sunrise being 5:45 am.  Today we would have our best weather of the whole trip, it was sunny and breezy all day!  Sure enough the juvenile eagle was in his nest generally not doing much, dozing, stretching his wings.  The farmer had three lookouts and we alternated between these for slightly different vantage points.  The viewing distance was about 100 meters to the nest.

About 8:20 am an adult took off from a lookout perch we hadn’t previously noted, probably the female.  An adult, perhaps the same one, came back at about 10 am with breakfast of a large rat, most likely the Bagobo Rat (Bullimus bagobus) the largest endemic rat in Mindanao.  There was an active feeding session during which the adult ripped the rat apart and feed it to the juvenile.  Finally at about 11 am the adult flew off.  The juvenile settled into what looked like would be a long period of inactivity, so we headed back to the famer’s house for an early lunch.

After lunch and satisfied with our eagle sighting we scrambled downhill for a hide overlooking a Writhed Hornbill nest, a Near Threatened endemic.  We were warned it could be a long wait, and sure enough we waited over three hours for the male to turn up on his lookout perch.   Then we waited some more for him to go to the nest, but he wouldn’t.  So figuring he must have sensed our presence and we packed up and left.

Back at the famer’s house we settled our lunch bill, some bought mountain grown coffee, and then a round of thanks for a great day, some picture taking and then we left.  It was a long bumpy ride back to Eden and we arrived only at dusk.

Satisfied with both the eagle and hornbill sightings, the plan for the next day was to be a whole day hike up the mountain to search for some higher altitude specialties especially the Apo Myna.  But Nicky found a treat even before our departure, a Giant Scops Owl, at about 4:20 am.

Pete then met us early and we drove up as far as we could and then got off to our hike around 5:45 am.  We were starting at about 1000 meters and the plan was to hike up to 1500 meters spending the entire day.  Daybreak was promising with sunny skies and some broken cloud.  But by 7 am more cloud had rolled in, and by 9:30 am it was already drizzling enough that the plastic bags came out to cover and protect our gear.  Little did we know then, but off and on rain was to be our fate for the next 5 days.

We reached our goal at 1500 meters by 9:45 am, well before schedule, having wasted little time spotting birds in the dreary weather as there weren’t many to be seen.  I had a porter carry my gear, but the trail was so narrow and the weather unfortunate, so the camera saw no action today.  Standing around in a drizzle many of us were not well prepared for we had an early lunch of lukewarm cheeseburgers from the hotel.  The guides tried to point out a few birds but the viewing area was tight even for just four people.  And at 1500 meters in the rain, we started to get chilly.  And so … a mutiny was hatched.

Instead of an all day outing we wanted to head back down.  It took a bit of prodding but eventually it was clear it wasn’t going to get any better and we headed back down just after Noon.  I had donned a plastic bag as a rain coat and it was a lifesaver keeping me warmer and drier.  I avoided succumbing to a virus as befell one of our team.  The walking sticks were quite useful as the rain was making the trail quite slippery.  It was a long descent, about 4 hours.  We did see some birds in the rain on the way down, including a stunning Black and Cinnamon Fantail, but no photos for me.  The rain never really released it’s hold on us, raining off and on all the way down.  We also missed our target Apo Myna.

Our last morning in Eden was free and easy until our agreed departure at Noon.  We all wound up down along the creek on the Mountain Trail looking for the Cryptic Flycatcher and anything else.  At least the morning was free of rain and we all finally got scope photos or camera photos of the flycatcher.  There was also a bonus Ruddy Kingisher.  Finally a bit before Noon we all boarded the Toyota HiAce and started our six hour journey to Bislig.

Wanting a nice lunch we stopped at Punong Restaurant along the Pan – Philippine Hwy (AH26) near Tagum City.  Set in a man-made fish pond, we got a few easy trip ticks and some good food!  The highway is pretty good and we stopped for a break before our turnoff to Bislig.  The last hour on the road to Bislig was full of bumpy unpaved road and for good measure it rained.  Finally we reached our destination the Paper Country Inn at around 6 pm.

That night it rained hard.  We start off at an early hour, around 4 am.  It’s a quick ride from the city along the highway until we make the turn onto the run down gravel road.  From there we must drive in well over an hour past the sprawl of settlers who moved in when PICOP closed.  It’s a long bumpy ride into what remains of PICOP.  The roads are no longer tended to and many areas are without electricity or water.  The settlers have cleared the forest along the roads. But once you get deep inside and settlements thin out, then you can start birdwatching with still some of the best lowland rainforest birding left in Mindanao.


On this morning we stopped before dawn at a spot known for Chocolate Boobook around 5:30 am.  Unfortunately on this morning it was a no show.  I think we were a bit late as it was already getting fairly bright.  Later we moved to a farmer’s cabin at the start of a hiking trail near the Road 4 quarry.  We had breakfast there.  It wasn’t yet raining cats and dogs but rather chickens and pigs.

When the rain slowed we attempted to move in and made it about 1 km in, but then retreated again as the rain picked up, huddling in the jeepney.  Again the rain let up and in we went, first encountering a nesting Philippine Frogmouth and later both a Steere’s and Red-bellied Pitta.  This was to be our wettest day and sometime after lunch we started our drive out of PICOP.  The jeepney having battered a predawn rock was in need of some attention.  On the way back we briefly stop at the Silvery Kingfisher pond and several folks saw it.  Getting back to Bislig around 2:30 pm a couple of us bought the finest Bislig umbrellas, and I got lots of newspaper dry the water out of my shoes.

Up and at ’em again but even earlier the next day at 3:30 am we pushed even further in towards our day’s destination of Road 42.  First stopping predawn at a stakeout for the Mindanao Hawk Owl we scored our second owl of the trip around 5:15 am.  We also got a Rufous-lored Kingfisher called in briefly before dawn.  And there were a couple of Great Eared Nightjars flying around and calling in the early dawn.

Then we pressed on for the start of a trek up Road 42, which I think was drivable on my last trip in 2009.  This road is one of the great stakeouts for the Celestial Monarch, a much sought after bird, but alas we would not get it.  We did get a nesting Philippine Nightjar and with much more difficulty a very skittish Blue-capped Kingfisher.  This was to be our best day in PICOP with the rain letting up before Noon and the afternoon being rain free although the light was still horrible.  We got a Short-crested Monarch (male) in the late afternoon and a brilliant Everett’s Scops Owl in the evening.  As it happens, the owl had a Philippine Parachute Gecko (Ptychozoon intermediumas) as prey which a near threatened and rarely seen gecko.

Our last day at PICOP saw us heading back along the same Road 4 as the first day, starting out at 3:45 am.  It was going to be another rainy day, with rain off and on all day long.  We made a predawn stop at the Chocolate Boobook stakeout which we had missed on the first day.  Today we got it.  Then we went further along Road 4 to the cemetery.  We passed “Oh My God’s” former hut (it’s a long story), and near there saw a Black-bibbed Cuckoo-shrike, a lifer for all.  We could hear chain saws from further inside, and so went back to the trail we took on the first day near the quarry.  We trekked past the frogmouth nest again, and later we got a Streaked Ground Babbler.  We finished the rainy day with another look at the Silvery Kingfisher and a Guaiabero.

The next morning we had breakfast at the inn, and then started the six hour drive back to Davao airport and the interconnecting flights back to Singapore.

Following is a rough list of birds by date first seen and location.

No Date Species Location
1 15-Mar-14 Cryptic Flycatcher Mt Apo
2 15-Mar-14 Whiskered flowerpecker Mt Apo
3 16-Mar-14 Philippine Eagle Mt Apo
4 16-Mar-14 Writhed Hornbill Mt Apo
5 17-Mar-14 Giant Scops Owl Mt Apo
6 17-Mar-14 Buzzing Flowerpecker Mt Apo
7 17-Mar-14 Flame crowned Flowerpecker Mt Apo
8 17-Mar-14 Olive capped Flowerpecker Mt Apo
9 17-Mar-14 Red Keeled Flowerpecker Mt Apo
10 17-Mar-14 Fire breasted Flowerpecker Mt Apo
11 17-Mar-14 Cinnamon Ibon Mt Apo
12 17-Mar-14 Red eared Parrotfinch Mt Apo
13 17-Mar-14 Grey hooded sunbird Mt Apo
14 17-Mar-14 White breasted Woodswallow Mt Apo
15 17-Mar-14 Yellow bellied Whistler Mt Apo
16 17-Mar-14 Black and Cinnamon Fantail Mt Apo
17 17-Mar-14 Mountain Verditer Mt Apo
18 17-Mar-14 Little Pied Flycatcher Mt Apo
19 17-Mar-14 Grey streaked Flycatcher Mt Apo
20 17-Mar-14 Mountain Leaf Warbler Mt Apo
21 17-Mar-14 Brown Tit Babbler Mt Apo
22 17-Mar-14 Stripe breasted Rhabdornis Mt Apo
23 17-Mar-14 Philippine Bulbul Mt Apo
24 17-Mar-14 Scarlet Minivet (nigroluteus subspecies) Mt Apo
25 17-Mar-14 Philippine Leafbird Mt Apo
26 17-Mar-14 Mountain Racket-tailed Parrott Mt Apo
27 17-Mar-14 Brahminy Kite Mt Apo
28 17-Mar-14 Black-masked White-eye Mt Apo
29 18-Mar-14 Sulphur billed Nuthatch Mt Apo
30 18-Mar-14 Glossy Swiftlet Mt Apo
31 18-Mar-14 Osprey Punong
32 18-Mar-14 Whiskered Tern Punong
33 18-Mar-14 Pacific Swallow Punong
34 19-Mar-14 Great eared Nightjar PICOP
35 19-Mar-14 Philippine Magpie Robin PICOP
36 19-Mar-14 Island Swiftlet. PICOP
37 19-Mar-14 Mindanao Taractic Hornbill PICOP
38 19-Mar-14 Dollarbird PICOP
39 19-Mar-14 Colletto PICOP
40 19-Mar-14 Philippine Falconet PICOP
41 19-Mar-14 Philippine Drongo cuckoo PICOP
42 19-Mar-14 Philippine Green Pigeon PICOP
43 19-Mar-14 Philippine Frogmouth PICOP
44 19-Mar-14 Yellowish Bulbul PICOP
45 19-Mar-14 Red bellied Pitta PICOP
46 19-Mar-14 Steere’s Pitta PICOP
47 19-Mar-14 Rufous Hornbill PICOP
48 19-Mar-14 Pygmy Swiftlet PICOP
49 19-Mar-14 Yellow vented Bulbul PICOP
50 19-Mar-14 Brown Throated Kingfisher PICOP
51 19-Mar-14 Silvery Kingfisher PICOP
52 20-Mar-14 Mindanao Hawk Owl PICOP
53 20-Mar-14 Rufous lored Kingfisher PICOP
54 20-Mar-14 Philippines Needletail PICOP
55 20-Mar-14 Philippine Nightjar PICOP
56 20-Mar-14 Blue capped Kingfisher PICOP
57 20-Mar-14 Philippine Serpent Eagle PICOP
58 20-Mar-14 White eared Brown Dove PICOP
59 20-Mar-14 Philippine Trigon PICOP
60 20-Mar-14 Metallic Green Sunbird PICOP
61 20-Mar-14 Black headed Tailorbird PICOP
62 20-Mar-14 Rufous fronted Tailorbird PICOP
63 20-Mar-14 Rufous Paradise Flycatcher PICOP
64 20-Mar-14 Blue Fantail PICOP
65 20-Mar-14 Naked Faced Spiderhunter PICOP
66 20-Mar-14 Bicolored Flowerpecker PICOP
67 20-Mar-14 Handsome Sunbird PICOP
68 20-Mar-14 Black chinned Fruit Dove PICOP
69 20-Mar-14 Black faced Coucal PICOP
70 20-Mar-14 Philippine Koel   heard only PICOP
71 20-Mar-14 Rufous tailed Jungle Flycatcher PICOP
72 20-Mar-14 Whattled Broadbill     heard only PICOP
73 20-Mar-14 Steere’s Honey Buzzard PICOP
74 20-Mar-14 Brown throated Sunbird (split from plain-throated) PICOP
75 20-Mar-14 Short crested Monarch PICOP
76 20-Mar-14 Yellow whattled Bulbul PICOP
77 20-Mar-14 Spangled Drongo PICOP
78 20-Mar-14 Everett’s Scops Owl PICOP
79 21-Mar-14 Chocolate Boobook PICOP
80 21-Mar-14 Phillipine Oriole PICOP
81 21-Mar-14 Streaked Ground Babbler PICOP
82 21-Mar-14 Black bibbed Cuckoo shrike PICOP
83 21-Mar-14 Pink bellied Imperial Pigeon     heard only PICOP
84 21-Mar-14 Green Imperial Pigeon PICOP
85 21-Mar-14 Plaintive Cuckoo     heard only PICOP
86 21-Mar-14 Black naped Oriole PICOP
87 21-Mar-14 Black and White Triller   heard only PICOP
88 21-Mar-14 Stripe headed Rabdornis PICOP
89 21-Mar-14 Celestial Monarch     heard only PICOP
90 21-Mar-14 White bellied Woodpecker PICOP
91 21-Mar-14 Guaiabero PICOP
92 21-Mar-14 Chestnut Munia PICOP
93 21-Mar-14 Philippine Duck PICOP
94 22-Mar-14 Philippine Coucal PICOP
95 22-Mar-14 Barred Rail PICOP

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