Monday, December 31, 2012

Pandan Island, Mindoro - 23 Dec to 3 Jan

A fantastic week or so on Pandan Island ( with family and friends. The simplest way to describe the birds is to divide the island and surrounding area into zones:

The Resort: This comprises the narrower, eastern section of the island, surrounded by beaches. Around the resort wander Tabon Scrubfowl and Emerald Doves, quite undisturbed by people. The trees around the resort support a large population of Black-naped Orioles, Yellow-bellied Gerygones and Yellow-vented Bulbuls with smaller numbers of Pied Trillers and Olive-backed Sunbirds. Pied Fantails are in the lower branches, and at sunset Great-eared Nightjars hawk over the palm trees. On the beach around the resort we were privileged to watch a clutch of Hawksbill Turtles hatching on one special evening, and on one of the last nights we even saw a gigantic female building her nest. These fantastic reptiles are easily seen by divers here. Green Turtles also occur, and can be seen while snorkelling in the area with sea grass near the eastern tip of the island.

The Forest/ Plantation: To the west of the resort are several acres of coconut plantations, which gradually disappear into the forest. In the plantation area Lowland White-eyes are regular (not mentioned in Kennedy et al). Once the forest is reached birding becomes much more interesting. The larger fruit trees regularly sport several species of pigeon, including Green Imperial Pigeon, and my first Pied Imperial Pigeons in The Philippines. Other fruit-eating canopy birds included lots of Mindoro Bulbul, and elusive but very noisy Asian Koel. A Philippine Coucal showed itself very well one morning climbing through the understorey. Mangrove Flycatchers are quite common in this area too. On the ground Plain Bush-hen seemed to dominate though they were hard to photograph, the only other rallid I saw was a single Barred Rail. A juvenile Changeable Hawk-Eagle was a big surprise in the plantation on the first day. I saw it on two subsequent occasions, both in the forest. The only other raptor was a single Brahminy Kite overhead.

Apo Reef: Pandan is one of the only resorts where day-trips to the fantastic dive site of Apo Reef is possible. The 2 hour boat-trip to get there is an opportunity for a little sea-birding. Sea-birds are not common at all in The Philippines, and on this trip I only had a pair of Crested Terns and a single Streaked Shearwater. The diving was spectacular as always (White-tipped Reef Shark and Grey Reef Shark were the highlights), and the return journey produced a massive pod of 100+ Short-finned Pilot Whales, with a few Spinner Dolphin thrown in.


Several Great Eared Nightjar live in the trees around the lodge, and every evening hawk over the trees at sunset.
Tabon Scrubfowl, habituated to people here...
Philippine Coucal ssp. mindorensis. The all-black race confined to Mindoro
Emerald Dove, like the Scrubfowl are extremely easy to see here...
Pied Imperial Pigeon. Patchily distributed within the Philippines, this is my first encounter with them here...
Asian Koel, an extremely noisy, common bird on Pandan, but hard to see well.
Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, ssp mindorensis.
Lowland White-eye. Supposedly a Luzon endemic, Kennedy et al does not record this species on Mindoro, but it has been seen several times in various places, including now on Pandan!

Plain Bush-Hen. Quite common in the forest, but very skulky and hard to photograph.
Yellow-bellied Gerygone
Mindoro Bulbul. Also quite common.
Philippine Monitor Lizard. The largest of the several we saw
What I believe to be a Grey Bronzeback, Dendrelaphis caudolineatus.
A Hawksbill Turtle laying eggs on the beach on our penultimate night
What I believe to be a Variable (Island) Flying Fox, Pteropus hypomelanus. This was roosting under a palm leaf in the plantation on the way into the small forest patch. Considerably smaller than the two large species at Subic (P. vampyrus and Acerodon jubatus)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Siburan Prison - 30 Dec

I took the opportunity to make a flying visit to Siburan while staying on nearby Pandan Island. A permit is required from the tourism authority in Sablayan (09294280431 or 09159953895), who will also provide you with a guide to take you to the prison. Once there it is a quick matter to hire an inmate (I had Archie again), and then it's birding time. The birds were tough as always here, and it took a while before we saw anything. The main target species here is the Mindoro endemic Black-hooded Coucal, of which we eventually heard about 10 birds, and had a brief glimpse of one. A similar story can be told about the Blue-crowned Racquet-tails, one bird briefly glimpsed while being surrounded by a flock calling very raucously. There were other birds of course. Philippine Fairy Bluebirds are quite common here in the taller trees. I also had the mindorensis race of Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, and a migrant Oriental Cuckoo.

All in  all not an easy day's birding, but worth the detour!

 Oriental Cuckoo
 Whiskered Tree-Swift
Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, ssp. mindorensis

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fishing Spiders - 19th December

This post is prompted by a discussion I had recently with a visiting birder/ fish expert. When I first arrived in The Philippines I took a hike up Makiling, and spent some time exploring one of the small stream beds. In a pool there I found what I took to be Fishing Spiders, and anticipated that I would see them often. As is often the case I never saw them again, despite searching every time I get into the right kind of habitat. I never properly identified them, so if anyone can help with that I'd be very grateful.

These first two were close together on the water. They are quite different to look at, but are almost exactly the same size, and I took them to be the same species, possible a male and female?

This is a Fishing Spider, Thalassius albocinctus. I found these a number of times while living in Lao PDR. Quite a different structure from the two in The Philippines. The legs in particular are quite different; being more flat to the surface of the water, of more even lengths, and more evenly spaced. This species is said to occur in The Philippines as well, however the above photographs show a spider of a different structure, which surely must be a different species.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Makiling Botanical Gardens - 14th Dec

A nice afternoon spent at the Botanical Gardens and on the IRRI farms in the company of visiting birder Lawrence. We started at the Botanical Gardens, the Forest Wagtail of last week seems to have gone, but the male Indigo-banded Kingfisher was on post, sitting in the gloom upstream of the weir. At the bridge itself a couple of Flycatchers were diverting At first I thought I was looking at the Ashy-breasted seen a couple of weeks ago, but the prominent eye-ring and dark tip to the bill signaled this was in fact an Asian Brown Flycatcher. A Grey-streaked Flycatcher appeared nearby for a direct comparison.

There was not much else on view so we moved on to the fields at IRRI. The Peregrine was still on station on the pylons, and a pair of Buff-banded Rails were escorting three tiny bundles of black fluff that were their chicks. The upland farm had large numbers of Yellow Wagtails, as well as a solitary Purple Heron. A brown shape diving into the long grass hear the top of the farm was very intriguing. The prime candidates have to be either a large plain locustella warbler, or a Siberian Rubythroat. I shall have to go back...

The prominent white eye-ring on this Asian Brown Flycatcher is the easiest way of separating it from Ashy-breasted Flycatcher...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Makiling Botanical Gardens - 5th Dec

Having heard about a sighting of Ashy-breasted Flycatcher in the Botanical gardens at Makiling last weekend I have been shooting back from work every day trying to catch sight of this elusive endemic. The first bird I saw on Monday was a Forest Wagtail, my second of the winter. It was present each day thereafter, and hopefully will hang around long enough to get some decent photographs. A pair of Indigo-banded Kingfishers also showed well on Monday and Tuesday, but nos sign of the Flycatcher yet. I plan to take another shot this weekend!

Indigo-banded Kingfisher near the bridge in the Botanical Gardens.
This looks like a different bird, in a very similar spot to the first, a few minutes later. The red loral spot as well as the brighter red mandible look different from the first bird, but are not indicators of sex, that is restricted to the breast bands (2 for males, one for females). It is of course possible that the differences are down to lighting and angle of view!
My second Forest Wagtail of the winter. They have been seen in a couple of other places this winter (La Mesa Eco Park for example), so maybe there's an influx this year. This was present on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, each time in company with a Grey Wagtail. It is a much less confiding bird however, being very hard to approach.