Monday, January 10, 2011

Jan 1st to 6th - St Paul's, Palawan

The first part of my week-long birding holiday trying to catch up with a couple of the more spectacular endemics here in The Philippines. I flew down to Puerto Princessa on the evening of the 1st, spent the night in a hotel there then on to Sabang and St Paul's National Park (Recently renamed Subterranean River N. P. I think). I took a Banca to the Subterranean River, but was much to late for the Peacock-Pheasant, so walked back through the forest. Very nice, despite the intermittent rain. Palawan Blue Flycatcher were my first new birds, and very obliging too. A bird party close to the caves (at about the midpoint on the walk) consisted of Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Palawan Tit and Dark-throated Oriole. Close to this point I also had my first of what came to be daily encounters with Palawan Hornbill. Not much else for the rest of the walk back, and the rain set in in the afternoon.

On the morning of the 3rd I took an early boat (5:30 am) to the park, arriving on the dot of 6. I hung around the ranger station for what seemed like forever, becoming ever more convinced that it was not going to be my day. Finally at about 7:45, long after the rangers' had said it wasn't coming the Palawan Peacock Pheasant showed up. At first it just called, from some 30m or so into the forest, and didn't do much else. Then it just made up its mind and walked straight towards me. It is totally habituated to people, and clearly came to me looking for food. It passed about 4 feet away, before giving a funny squawk and disappearing back into the forest. A surreal few minutes with one of the most spectacular birds I've ever seen! After that I walked back to Sabang through the forest. More Palawan Hornbills, as well as Great Slaty Woodpecker and the gorgeous local race of Greater Flameback in adjacent trees. A steep section of the trail allows good views over the forest in one place, and a party of Palawan Flowerpeckers showed well here, as did a pair of Yellow-throated Leafbirds. Close to Sabang I found a huge fruiting fig stuffed full of Green Imperial Pigeons and Thick-billed Green Pigeons.

Spent the afternoon in Sabang. Birds around the town included a beautiful Olive-backed Sunbird (of Palawan endemic race aurora) feeding its young, Olive-winged and Sulphur-bellied Bulbuls, Little Spiderhunter, White-vented Shama, Slender-billed Crow. In the evening Augusto Asis took me night birding, and after much effort we called up an amazing Palawan (Javan) Frogmouth, but only heard Palawan Scops Owl.

The last day in Sabang I did the forest trail, which was very quiet apart from Palawan Hornbill and Black-naped Monarch. A lovely Malaysian Plover on the beach was nice. The fruiting tree was still full of Pigeons, but nothing new, so I went out of town instead trying Augusto's suggested sites. Small Minivet, Ashy Drongo and best of all Ashy-headed Babbler were the result.

White-vented Shama. A Palawan endemic, very common, even in disturbed habitat. This was behind my hut at Dam-Dam lodge in Sabang

Thick-billed Green Pigeon, male. In The Philippines restricted to Palawan and Mindoro

Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. This stunning male has been frequenting the ranger station at the underground river for the last few years. A Palawan endemic

Palawan Hornbill. Another Palawan endemic, but regularly seen

Palawan (Javan) Frogmouth. A potential split, this taxon is restricted to Palawan and nearby islands

Palawan Blue Flycatcher. Another Palawan endemic, and one of the easiest to find in the forest at St Paul's N.P.

Olive-backed Sunbird of the Palawan race aurora. This stunning bird appears to be feeding a large juicy spider to its youngsters.

Green Imperial Pigeon, hiding in a huge fruiting tree.

Greater Flameback, ssp. erythrocephalus. This Palawan endemic race is one of several candidates for splits in this highly variable species in The Philippines. The quantity of yellow in the crown suggests this is a female.

Great Slaty Woodpecker. Supposedly declining on Palawan (it occurs nowhere else in The Philippines), I found at least two parties of these in three days, and heard another.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch ssp. palawana. The red bill differentiates this from the very similar Sulhur-billed Nuthatch of the rest of The Philippines.

Palawan Tit. Another Palawan endemic, and very lovely.

Little Spiderhunter, ssp. dilutior. Occurs on several islands in the south of The Philippines.

Millipede spp. curled up in a defensive ball.

Mangrove Snake. At least 10 seen in 40 minutes in the mangroves.


  1. Great shooting! Palawan is truly a bird watchers paradise. I'm not a photographer, but as a resident, I've seen many more than you shot. Including: parrots, kingfishers, minor birds, wild chickens and eagles. Ride the ROYJEN Charter Boat from Sabang to El Nido for the sea adventure of a lifetime and a great opportunity to photograph some eagles.

  2. I am interested in birding Palawan. I am looking for a reasonably priced local bird guide. Is Augusto Asis a local guide? If not can you recommend one?

  3. I am interested in birding Palawan. I am looking for a reasonably priced local bird guide. Is Augusto Asis a local guide? If not can you recommend one?

  4. Augusto is an excellent guide. He works at a lodge in Sabang, I have 2 numbers for him, can't remember which one is the real one! Try +63-9067898117 or +63-9264167381. Phone coverage is patchy, so be patient, or preferably send text messages

  5. Grabe po, sobrang galing ni kuya Jun (Augusto Asis) na guide. Dami naming nakita nung kasama namin sya. Nakakaita kami ng 3 parrot, 4 na woodpecker, 3 kingfisher, imperial dove... basta umabot ng 32 species nakita namin. tas sya yung guide namin. Pati lahat ng puno sa Jungle trail alam niya pangalan. :)

  6. Sayang nga di namin nakita yung pheasant. Pero narinig namin yung bird call niya once.

    BTW, we went to Sabang as part of our Field Biology field work. We stayed at Sabang for 6 days. The best 6 days of my life :)

    Ahm, I hope Paul understands tagalog :)

  7. Replies
    1. Hello Paul.

      I'm filipino and have a friend who's a keen birdwatcher. I'm planning to take him to Mt. Makiling and Palawan for birdwatching. I will try to contact Mr. Asis for the Palawan trip. Do you know of a local guide in Mt. Makiling?

      Thank you very much.


  8. Another top post, and another Island I am still hopeful to visit in March


  9. I'm planning to do some birding in Palawan for a few days. Would you recommend a guide or can i do it on my own? Thanks in advance, Maita

  10. I'm planning to do some birding in Palawan in January. Is this a good time? Would you recommend a guide or can i do it on my own? Thanks in advance, Maita