Top 3 birdwatching spots in the Philippines

Birding Adventure Philippines' co-founder Nicky Icarangal, who has led major birdwatching expeditions in the country, reveals the best birding places to see everything from the majestic Philippine Eagle to the Mindanao Bleeding Heart

By Monica De Leon Photos by Nicky Icarangal

 

Birding in Mt. Kitanglad
 

1 Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon

Birding level Moderate to difficult (only because of the amount of trek required)

Why go For a chance to see the Philippine eagle 

Side trip If time permits, visit Mapawa Nature Park, in the mountains of Malasag in Cagayan de Oro

The itinerary It’s a five-day trip with almost two days dedicated to travel alone and three full days to birding. 

Day One Fly from Manila to Cagayan de Oro; then take a two- to three-hour drive to Bukidnon. In Bukidnon, ride a van or a 4x4 vehicle to Damitan Village. From the village, hike or ride a horse going to Del Monte Lodge. It’s a one-hour hike to the lodge.

Philippine frogmouth
Settle in a tent or at the lodge, and then do some birding around the lodge in the afternoon. Towards later afternoon you can spot foraging mixed-species that flock like black-and-cinnamon fantails, cinnamon ibons, olive-capped and fire-breasted flowerpeckers and in the evening, the night birds – Philippine frogmouth, Bukidnon woodcock and giant scops owl.

Red-earred parrotfinch

Mt. Kitanglad is home to this majestic bird specie —The Philippine Eagle
Day Two Have an early morning breakfast at around 3:30am for a chance to see more of the night birds. At 5:30am to 6am, start hiking towards the eagle lookout or viewpoint, which has a 360-degree view so you can see the valley in front of you. On the way to the viewpoint, go search for other endemics like the red-eared parrotfinch, rufous-headed tailorbird, McGregor’s cuckooshrike, among others. When at the site, wait and search for the Philippine eagle. It will appear like a white dot from afar. You can spot it even if it’s a kilometer away from you. To spot it, use a spotting scope or binoculars. First scan the trees, then the mountains. Sometimes it will glide in front of you or behind you; sometimes it will pop out of the valley. Sometimes birders even have to come back to the site the next day or the day after that because it’s not guaranteed that you will see it on your first visit or at all.  

Day Three Go up even higher. Hike another hour or two from the eagle lookout to look for endemics like the Apo sunbird, which are small bird species that you can faintly see because it does not descend any lower than 1,800 meters. It stays close to its mossy forest habitat where its food, a particular kind of flower species, grows.

Day Four See other Mindanao montane endemics like the red-eared parrotfinch, white-cheeked bullfinch and blue-capped wood kingfisher. Birders can also opt to split – some can go back to the eagle lookout.

Day Five Travel back to Manila after an hour or so of final birding around the lodge.

Not your everyday paparazzi: Birding enthusiasts on Sabang Road, Palawan
2 Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Birding level Easy

Why go Because Puerto Princesa is the only reliable place to spot the Palawan peacock pheasant 

Side trip A tour of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River can be arranged before the tourists arrive.

The itinerary A four-day trip

Day One Fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa. From the airport, take a 10-minute ride to the Garcellano beach to look for migratory waders and Chinese egrets, which you can see from October to December. After an hour, drive north to Sabang. Along the way, stop by the road for some birding. Arrive at Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort around 5pm or 6pm. At night, you can go to an area – 4km to 10km from the resort – to see the night birds such as the Palawan frogmouth and Palawan scops owl.    

Palawan flowerpecker

The Palawan peacock pheasant is a must see bird in Palawan
Day Two Have an early morning breakfast with an option to look for night birds. After breakfast, go to the pier and take a boat to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, a 20-minute boat ride away. Upon arrival, go to the rangers’ station, find a spot behind the station and search for the Palawan peacock pheasant. There is no other reliable place to spot this bird but in this area. Then look for other Palawan endemics around the park like the Palawan hornbill, blue-headed racket-tail, Palawan flowerpecker, ashy-headed babbler.

In the afternoon, do some roadside birding along Sabang Road. There you can spot the Palawan tit, yellow-throated leafbird, white-vented shama, lovely sunbird.

Red-vented cockatoo
Also along the road, take a five-minute hike up to a view point on a hill overlooking Ulugan Bay to search for the red-vented cockatoo in the mangroves.

The evening can again be spent searching for night birds like owls or nightjars.

Day Three Early morning, right after breakfast, go to the Sabang Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour area near the resort and rent a boat. It takes an hour or two to navigate through the old growth mangrove forest. Here you can search for stork-billed kingfisher, oriental dwarf kingfisher, blue-eared kingfisher, great slaty woodpecker. And then do some roadside birding again; lunch; and more roadside birding before returning to the city.

Day Four Check in a city hotel and after early morning breakfast, go to the Iwahig Penal Colony. Take the Balsahan Trail inside the penal farm from where you can look for the Palawan flycatcher and melodious babbler. Then have lunch before proceeding to the airport to fly out.   

Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape in Bohol is a top birding site in the Philippines
3 Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape, Bohol

Birding level Easy

Why go To see the rare Visayan broadbill and the hard-to-spot Mindanao bleeding-heart

Side trip Have lunch while cruising Loboc River or visit the tarsier sanctuary or see the chocolate hills at sunrise

The itinerary A three-day trip

Philippine trogon
Day One Fly from Manila to Tagbilaran then travel from Tagbilaran to Bilar. Check-in at Habitat (formerly Simply Butterfly). In the afternoon, go to Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape to see the Samar hornbill, Philippine trogon, silvery kingfisher; and in the evening, the Philippine frogmouth, Luzon hawk-owl and Everett’s scops owls.

The very elusive Mindanao bleeding heart
Day Two After early morning breakfast, go to Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape but drive all the way inside the trail to see the azurea-breasted pitta, yellow-breasted tailorbird, Visayan broadbill, rufous-lored kingfisher, and if you get lucky, the Mindanao bleeding-heart. Go back to Habitat for lunch. In the afternoon, take the other trails of Rajah Sikatuna for a chance to see those birds that you’ve missed. In the evening, do some owling or go to other birding sites.

Day Three Fly out of Bohol.

Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
ESSENTIALS.

Book a birding tour with Nicky Icarangal. Tel +63927 860 9488; www.birdingphilippines.com.

The package rates vary. A tour is normally limited to four to six people per group so birders can all have a fair amount of opportunity to see the bird species being targeted. Some birders book a one-on-one guided tour. Tour packages include transportation to and from Manila and within tours, a stay at the lodge/tent with meals, park entrance fees and permits where needed.

About Nicky Icarangal

Nicky Icaranngal has been a birding professional since 2003. In 2006, he co-founded Birding Adventure Philippines, a tour operations company specializing in birding adventures in the Philippines. He has led several major birding expeditions for both private individuals and tour operators like Kingbird Tours, BIRDQUEST, Tropical Birding and the late birding author Timothy Fisher’s tours. 

Birding Adventure Philippines, led by Icarangal, will hold its once-a-year month-long main birding tour in January 2016. 

Published November 2015