Monday, January 7, 2013

Tabunan Forest, Cebu - 6th January

This morning was dedicated to a trip to Tabunan. We started at 2:45am in order to get to the forest early enough to do some owling. We arrived bang on 4am, met up with Oking, our guide, and along with two other birders headed into the forest. It had rained overnight and the going was extremely slippery. I landed on my backside at least 3 times, though none of us fared particularly well, apart from Oking of course who seemed to have feet like a gecko.

We reached a clearing in the forest before first light and played our calls in order to tempt out an owl. We were rewarded remarkably quickly with a call in response, and then a close but quick fly-by, a newly described endemic, Cebu Hawk-Owl, Ninox rumseyi. We were treated to two or three further flight views over the course of the next half hour or so, and several bouts of calling, but never got a perched view, let alone a photo opportunity. The birds seemed quite common however, and a sustained visit, possibly involving camping in the clearing would surely result in much better views.

As the light grew Philippine Giant Fruit Bats, Pteropus vampyrus, emerged, but no further owls were seen or heard. We continued on, with raised spirits. On the way to the platform that Oking has built to view the canopy of the forest we paused to call up Black Shama. It was extremely obliging, and gave good, but brief views, however its preference for the gloomiest parts of the forest meant the photography was extremely difficult.

After a steep and awkward scramble we reached the platform and settled down to wait for the legendary Cebu Flowerpecker. Despite rumours of its extinction Oking maintains it was seen in November, so we waited in varying states of expectation. There were other birds to see of course. Amongst the most obvious were the Coppermiths, the endemic cebuensis race of which has an all red head. We heard many, before one perched on a nearby tree and gave excellent views. A pair of white bellied Balicassiao also performed well. Their behaviour seems somewhat different to those of Luzon, being more ready to use exposed perches, and occasionally venturing to the outer part of the canopy. This may be a reaction to local conditions, but it is something I have noticed with this mirabilis race in both Negros and Cebu.

A Crimson Sunbird and a Streak-breasted Bulbul (ssp. monticola) also made an appearance, as did several Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (ssp. philippinensis).

Coppersmith Barbet, of the red-headed race cebuensis, endemic to Cebu.
Balicassiao, ssp. mirabilis. Different in both plumage and behaviour from the all-black birds we have in Luzon, this race is endemic to Cebu, Negros (see my post from 18/12/11) and other islands in the western Visayas.
One of the key birds at Tabunan is the Black Shama, which, like other Shamas is quite flighty. This was the best I could do in very poor light. At least you can see it isn't White-vented Shama!


  1. I enjoyed this very much! I have always had a love for birds and always wondered when I was living there why we didn't have a lot of varieties of birds but of course I lived in the city and when I would go to Balamban I wanted to explore the forests. I just connected with it. I plan to go home to Cebu later this year and document my own trip. Would love to get in touch and explore the forest and its flora and fauna!

  2. Dear sir,

    May I know the contact of Oking? Besides, Someone said Oking hadn't seen the Cebu flowerpecker for more than one year. Is it ture??


  3. Lushela's (Oking's daughter) number was 0929 722 2421.
    I don't think the Flowerpecker has been seen for several years.