Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pelagic out of Siargao, 3-4 June

My interest in a pelagic trip to this region was sparked by an article in Birding Asia 16 (December 2011). The proximity of such deep waters as the Philippine Trench to the coast of The Philippines was news to me, and I was immediately intrigued. I contacted a fishing operator on Siargao, and advertised for anyone fool enough to want to come with me. I soon filled the available spots, and having settled on a date of 3rd June we all met up at the appointed time.

We had had many discussions about the correct method of making and using chum, and we had little information about where to go looking for the birds. Our captain, Steve Brown, was very knowledgeable about fishing, but while he had a keen interest in the birds, he didn't have much specific knowledge. Nevertheless we set off to sea, with a heady mix of anticipation and trepidation. The birds themselves took a while to appear, but once we had reached a decent distance offshore they started to show themselves. The first bird we saw was a Brown Booby, powering past us, but soon after that we started to see what we were really looking for, tubenoses. The majority at first were dark phase Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, with a few Streaked Shearwaters added in. Eventually Rob shouted out that he had something more interesting, Bulwer's Petrel. There are few accepted records of this species in The Philippines, we were to record 5 over the 2 days.

(The chum we had made (Vegetable oil, chopped up fresh fish, bait additive) seemed partially effective, with at least some of each of the three species of tubenose appearing to come closer to our boat, though none alighted on the slick. An excellent resource for this was the Scillypelagics website.)

After waiting for quite a while, and adding Lesser Frigatebird to our list, we headed inshore to an island that Steve knew where he thought there were breeding terns. As we approached the island (Rock Island, opposite the viewing tower at cloud 9 beach) we started to see quite a number of terns, while most were the common Black-naped Tern, there were at least 5 Bridled Terns amongst them, as well as several birds with bright red feet and bills, Roseate Terns! We eventually recorded 14 of these beautiful birds, and it seems entirely possible that they are using this tiny islet to breed, potentially the first breeding record of this species in The Philippines.

We eventually saw 8 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, 9 Streaked Shearwaters, 3 Bulwer's Petrels, 3 Brown Boobys, 1 Lesser Frigatebird, 76 Black-naped Tern, 14 Roseate Tern and 5 Bridled Tern.

Bulwer's Petrel, showing the characteristic flight profile...
...and upperwing pattern.
Dark phase Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Streaked Shearwater
Brown Booby
Roseate Terns
Bridled Tern

One of a pod of about 15 or so Common Bottle-nosed Dolphins we found as we came back towards land.

After such a good day 5 of the 7 of us tried again on the 4th June. We had slightly different conditions (lots of rain showers to dodge), and fewer birds. The only things we saw that were different were 2 Little Terns and about 15 Common Terns on the way out, and a single pale phase Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Aside from that the same set of birds were seen, several dark phase Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, some Streaked Sherwater, 2 Bulwer's Petrel. On the way back we stopped in at some mangroves close to General Luna which were beautiful, though relatively birdless. On the way out we found a small flock of Pied Imperial Pigeons on one of the tiny offshore islands covered in forest.

Pied Imperial Pigeon, quite a few on the small islands offshore from Gen. Luna.


  1. Interesting about Bulwer's Petrels....HK's first - a dying one - was picked up here after a typhoon on 24 June 2011.

  2. Great stuff - very glad the article in BA is having the desired effect!