Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kitanglad, 7 - 10 June

When researching this leg of my birding trip I could find few references to trips up Kitanglad in June. People I spoke to warned me about heavy rain, possible flooding, even typhoons, but few people talked about the birds. In many ways the warnings were correct. The weather was on occasion extremely wet, if not actually raining then threatening to do so, with bright sunny skies very much the exception. The birds however were great! Many species were feeding offspring, and were highly active and visible. Raptors seemed to pop out every time the weather cleared up enough for them to fly, possibly driven out of cover by hunger, and species that I had found hard to see in January 2011 seemed to be making an effort to catch my eye. An exception were the owls, only one species of which (Giant Scops) was calling at all, and that was not responding to playback.

We arrived in the mid-afternoon of 7th June, after a journey involving planes, cars, motorbikes, horses and shanks' pony. The first Kitanglad birds were several Bukidnon Woodcock that gave prolonged displays around the lodge, they were to do so at about 6:00pm every night, with a shorter visit at about 4:50am every morning. Both Philippine Nightjar and Great-eared Nightjar also showed at sunset, and at every subsequent sunset as well.

Day 1: The first day's birding started brightly, but as soon as we got to the eagle viewing point the clouds dropped, and we spent a frustrating 6 hours waiting for the eagle to show. It was not a total washout of course, the dry spells produced a range of birds including Mindanao Hornbill (1), Montane Racquet-tail (12), Black-masked White-eye (5), Red-headed Tailorbird (2), Cinnamon Ibon (2), Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis (2), Short-tailed Glossy Starling, White-browed Shortwing (calling everywhere, and 1 tempted into the open), Peregrine (1 ssp. ernesti), White-cheeked Bullfinch (4) and Apo Myna (1).

We descended the mountain at about 2:00pm in pouring rain, and gave up for the day.

Day 2: The next morning was duller than the first, and we our expectations were low when we approached the eagle view point. We set up the scope as before, and started scanning. A mere 30 minutes into the day we had it, a Philippine Eagle perched on the mountain, about halfway up, fantastic. It soon disappeared and we spent a frantic 10 minutes trying to relocate it when Danny picked it up, much closer. It soon moved again, flying directly towards us, landing about 150m away. We watched for over an hour, getting fantastic scope views as it searched through the canopy for prey. Eventually it dropped below our sightline, and we moved up towards the higher elevations, absoultely delighted with our views. The rest of the day was excellent, with plenty more Montane Racquet-tails (20+), Cinnamon Ibon (50+), White-cheeked Bullfinch (5), Black-masked White-eye (4), Apo Myna (8), White-browed Shortwing (1) and Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis (8). We also found several species new for the trip, including Oriental Honey Buzzard (1), Besra (1), Buff-spotted Flameback (1), MacGregor's Cusckooshrike (10+), Apo Sunbird (1) and Red-eared Parrtofinch (1).

On the way down we found two raptors near the camp. The first was a Pinsker's Hawk-Eagle, the second a Black-shouldered Kite, my first for The Philippines, and a totally unexpected bird.

Day 3: Our third and last day was spent on an easy wander to areas near the lodge, looking for whatever we might find. The slower pace was rewarding, and we found and photographed Red-headed Tailorbird and Snowy-browed Flycatcher. While looking at this last Carlito jumped up and called out 'Eagle'. The Philippine Eagle was perched on a branch about 100m away! While we watched it took off and flew directly towards us, landing on a tree about 40m away. We wrestled briefly with the vegetation, but soon got fantastic views. I don't really have words for how we felt, any birder reading this will know....

In summary, birding Kitanglad in June is a real test of any birder's waterproofing arrangements. Our waterproof jackets weren't, and our feet and clothes were permanently sodden. In addition the leeches were rapacious (I won the leech count with 45). On the other hand, the birds were great. All the endemics are there, and most are breeding. Many species seem to be easier to see than at other times of year, though definitely not all, missing the owls was a big disappointment. If you're well prepared, can protect your camera, and have stocked up on leech socks (and I really mean that!) then you've got a great chance to see some great birds.

Philippine Eagle. Awesome is a much overused word that has lost most of its currency, a pity as awe is what I felt when I saw this bird...

Red-headed Tailorbird.
Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis.
Apo Myna.
White-cheeked Bullfinch, ssp steerei. Seen daily, mostly at about the same altitude as the eagle viewpoint..
MacGregor's Cuckooshrike. Quite numerous in the mixed flocks above the eagle view point.
Juvenile Little Pied Flycatcher
Juvenile White-browed Shortwing, ssp. mindanensis.Calling everywhere, this was the second bird we saw in 2 days.

Grey-hooded Sunbird, feeding on a banana flower
Male Snowy-browed Flycatcher, ssp. montigena. Note the dark reddish brown tail, the identifying feature of this race.
Black-shouldered Kite. A surprisingly thinly distributed bird in The Philippines. I was expecting this in rice fields, not up a mountain...
Mock Viper, Psammodynastes pulverulentus. On the trail high up on Kitanglad.

Carlito (2nd from right), Danny (3rd from left and Amelia (1st on the right) with the rest of their family. Great birders, great people...


  1. Paul! That is such a wonderful thing to see that great eagle in the wild. I am not envious as I am grateful that you have shared it with us via this blog. I am a lover of the world's eagles and often worried about the welfare of these important individuals. Congratulations and thank you. Thank you for taking on the leeches to make such an awesome report.

  2. AWE - some !

    There, I said it too!

  3. Brilliant write up, I hope I do manage to get here in March!