Northern Negros Natural Park – Starters

28 03 2013

Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker – male
Dendrocopus maculatus maculatus
Barangay Patag, Silay City, Negros Occidental

More than anything this first trip into Northern Negros Natural Park (“NNNP”) was simply a recce. Errol Gatumbato, of The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc (“PBCFI”), had recommended the village of Patag, accessible from Silay City by jeepney, as a starting point. Through Godfrey Jakosalem, Errol’s colleague in the Bacolod City branch of PBCFI, I was connected with Ching Ledesma, an Environmental & Natural Resource Officer in Silay City. These connections really worked and made our short trip into NNNP possible.

The NNNP covers a wide area and can be approached from a number of points but the advice I was given was to approach from Patag –  this was good advice. When we showed up at Silay City Hall to meet Ching we thought we would be staying in a small resort and that Ching would arrange connections with rangers/guides in Patag. Well it doesn’t work that way! She started talking about camping and food! If only we had known!

Thanks to Ching we obtained permission from the Mayor to go into the forest and off we went up to the forest – Ching kindly gave us a lift up to Patag, about an hour’s drive from Silay CIty along a pretty rough road, initially through extensive sugar cane fields and then up into higher ground and the village of Patag. This site is actually quite well developed – a former hospital is now used as a kind of visitor centre, the grounds around it being used as a campsite;  there is even a swimming pool plus a few eateries. It is fairly basic but more than adequate.

Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker - female Dendrocopos maculatus Brgy Patag, Silay City, Negros Occidental 27.03.13

Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker – female
Dendrocopos maculatus
Brgy Patag, Silay City, Negros Occidental

We bedded down in the city’s nursery, a large hut in the forest with basic cooking and WC facilities and met up with our guides: Rey, Ricky and Brian, villagers who act as mountain guides/patrol. It was a strange atmosphere however – not the peace and quiet one might expect. A religious retreat was going on in the hospital annexe which meant the amplified ejaculations of the converted were resounding  – “Praise the Lord, Alleluia” and so forth; these were mixed up with the cacophony of a large number of fighting cocks – a villager is rearing these nearby; I couldn’t make any comment on their prowess as fighters but, boy, do they make a racket and a fairly discordant one at that!


Metallic Pigeon
Columba vitiensis
Barangay Patag, Silay City, Negros Occidental

We took a stroll around the nursery and immediately saw Philippine Bulbul which is abundant here according to our guides. In a field on the forest edge, near the Japanese shrine, (this area was the scene of significant bloodshed between Filipino, US and Japanese soldiers during the World War Two ) we saw a Grey-streaked Flycatcher perched on a branch making periodic sorties for prey. In the absence of a Philippine list I presume this was a lifer! Elsewhere in our stroll we had a brief glimpse of a Black-naped Monarch, a fairly common bird.

Ricky, one of our guides, advised that he had a woodpecker nesting in his garden so we headed off into Patag to have a look. Sure enough a beautiful small woodpecker was tending to a nest in a tree about fifteen feet from his house. I pulled up a chair , sat down, set up and took some photographs. I didn’t have the field guide with me so I thought it was probably a Pygmy Woodpecker but couldn’t be sure. Fortunately I  was able to get some good shots of both the male and female so knew I would be able to identify it later. The male has this beautiful loud red “vee” on the back of its head.

Ricky then took us to another house where they were looking after a large pigeon which was unable to fly. I had no idea what this was – about the same size as an ‘imperial” type pigeon but definitely a new bird for me. I was for once able to photograph it with my camera and a standard lens!

Now that I am back home with access to the field guide  I can confirm the woodpecker as a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, of the maculatus sub-species; this is an endemic and the first endemic species of this trip and a lifer as well; the pigeon is a Metallic Pigeon, described in the Kennedy field guide as uncommon, also a lifer but not endemic.

On our way home we saw a White-collared Kingfisher. In Thailand this is a bird I normally associate with mangroves and coastal areas; I don’t expect to see it in open country as I did here but it is fairly common in these parts. On return to the hut Luna said she had seen a Coleto in the trees adjacent to the hut.

After a comfortable night in the hut we started early the next morning at 0500 walking in darkness into the forest. There were plenty of bird calls in the dark as we progressed up into the forest but not a lot to be seen and sadly this situation did not improve once it was light. I caught a glimpse of what I now know was a Metallic Pigeon as it flew off – good to see this for real in the wild and hard to mistake on account of size and dark colour; a Balicassiao of the mirabilis (white belly) sub-species showed very briefly; the highlight of the morning was undoubtedly a large dove which my guides went to considerable pains to put me onto, a process not helped by my inability to speak Ilongo, the local dialect, and the limitations of their English; a retrospective comparison of my notes and the field guide confirms this as a White-eared Brown Dove, a very elegant bird in a subdued sort of way: a lifer and another endemic.

So from a birding perspective this first venture into the forest was a little disappointing. It didn’t quite yield the volume of birds I had hoped for. An additional factor was the terrain is rough, none of the comparative highways you’ll find in Kaeng Krachan and developed Thailand! At times our narrow trail involved some moderate scrambling and at times it skirted steep dropping chasms resounding with the noise of cascading water – the sorts of places from which you wouldn’t come out alive in the event of a trip or fall. So the walking required concentration. Add in that I am no longer in the first flush of youth plus I still have a couple of painful cuts on my feet sustained while wading recently in Punta Taytay – not ideal circumstances, totally unprepared in fact!

Mid-morning we headed back to the hut where I had some lunch and a siesta of sorts – the evangelicals and the cocks appeared to be competing with each other. In the afternoon we sat outside the hut: Coleto, Philippine Bulbul and then two birds appeared which    really grabbed my attention: what looked like a Hill Blue Flycatcher and a Shrike. I simply took notes in the absence of a field guide and on return was surprised to see no mention of Hill Blue Flycatcher in it and also the possibility of a Mountain Shrike on the basis of my field notes. I have subsequently been in touch with Des Allen who knows a thing or too about the birds here, and he has advised that the flycatcher is likely to be a Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and that the shrike a variation of the Brown Shrike in its many guises. I simply did not consider Mangrove Blue Flycatcher as we were a distance away from mangroves and coastal habitat. Mountain Shrike as its names suggests, and in contrast to Mangrove Blue,  only occurs at high altitude, from 1500m upwards. Later in the afternoon we took a short walk to the Japanese Shrine and we made out a very furtive Philippine Coucal working its way through some dense trees.

On my last morning a short stroll around the forest edges was interesting: lots of Philippine Bulbul and then a Scarlet Minivet; what I thought was a flowerpecker is likely to have been an Elegant Tit. However I only saw its underside as it was moving through the canopy but I noted all yellow underneath with black throat and bib like a sparrow, black undertail coverts with lighter edges; I didn’t see any of its upperside so in these circumstances, no claims. My guides then managed to locate another White-eared Brown Dove which I digiscoped ….. badly! As we walked we flushed a green-backed pigeon which my guides said was a “Negros pigeon”; now I was thinking “Negros Bleeding Heart Pigeon”, one of the most endangered birds in the Philippines but my guides said it was “manatad” which Kennedy confirmed as the Ilonco name for Common Emerald Dove! Phew! There were of course a few additional unidentifieds.

Finally as we headed to the jeepney for our trip back to civilisation, with the evangelicals silenced by an electricity brown-out, some sort of divine consequence for being so intrusive and disruptive I rather fancy, a Brahminy Kite soared nearby. I normally expect to see this bird near the sea so was a little surprised especially as people around me were saying it was a Philippine Eagle! I wasn’t aware that there was a resemblance between the two species but knew it would be easy to sort it out back home. It most certainly wasn’t a Philippine Eagle and Kennedy confirms Brahminy Kite can be seen at higher elevations and around forest edges

So an excellent starter. I now know the lie of the land.  I really hope I can  return for a few more days on this trip.


Barangay Punta Taytay, Bacolod City

21 03 2013

Ruddy Turnstone

This is my local patch in The Philippines, ten minutes from my wife’s family home in Sum-ag, Bacolod City, sitting on the edge of the Sulu Sea. Punta Taytay has changed quite dramtatically since my last visit here two years ago; then there was a sea wall and a few food stalls and little else. It has been developed with the addition of larger sit down restaurants covering the length of the sea wall and there are also a couple of viewing areas too. My initial fear that this might be for the worse was soon allayed: the mangrove is actively being regenerated and within five minutes of arrival I had seen three Chinese Egrets.

I must confess to being surprised by the ease with which I am seeing this species –  I happily own to a litany of identification errors.  I have checked my field guide and what I am seeing can only be Chinese Egret. They cannot be Eastern Reef Egrets, the most likely species with which to confuse them as they have clearly visible nape plumes and I wouldn’t expect to see Reef Egrets in this  mudflat/mangrove habitat but more so in rocks and outcrops. I also had the privilege of watching one of today’s Chinese Egrets feeding in the sea and true to form, it angled its neck to 45 degrees and started to run and flash its bill like a dagger  after prey – an impressive and amusing sight. So I am completely certain these are the real thing. Nine Chinese Egrets in two birding sessions – wow!

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

On arrival, Chinese Egrets apart, a small, mixed group of Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel took to the air – the white patches on their respective rumps were visible and the Whimbrel could be distinguished by their call and smaller size. I then noticed some biggish birds emerging from the trees at the back of the mangrove and once I got these in my sights it was clear they were Black-crowned Night-heron. These are new birds for this patch;  in fact a check in the Kennedy field guide shows that when this excellent work was published in 2000 this species had not been recorded in Negros and it is in fact classified as “uncommon” for the rest of The Philippines. [see comments for an update on status]. Well these night-heron look as if they are roosting here during the day.

I then noticed a small flock of waders flying in and touching down towards the mangrove edge. A quick scan revealed about 25 Grey-tailed Tattler and a closer look revealed a further 15 or so already settled down. These are not birds I see that often in Thailand but they can be reliably seen here and in good numbers too. A couple were showing breeding pluamge. I decided to try and get in closer and as I walked in a fair few other waders became visible notably Lesser and Greater Sand-plovers but also good numbers of Pacific Golden Plover (40+) and Ruddy Turnstone, a count of six in the end, but like tattlers, not a bird I see often in Thailand.

Pacific Golden Plover

Pacific Golden Plover

So an excellent session whose only downside was I got my feet cut on sharp rocks as I waded back in to the sea wall. A little bit sore! But Punta Taytay will now be a fixture for me and so long as my feet are not hurting too badly tomorrow I’ll go out for more.

Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary – Cebu

20 03 2013

Bar-tailed Godwit: Contrast
Olango Wild Life Sanctuary

A fantastic start to the birding part of this trip at Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, a second visit to this great shorebird site: a lifer in Far Eastern Curlew and some great birds.

When I saw the curlews, and we are talking about  20 – 30 birds in total one stuck out  even at a distance of about one kilometre away on account of appearing much darker. I needed to investigate and to do this I had to do a bit of wading myself. Other smaller birds were also visible but very indistinct. But the birds were on terra firma at the shoreline. This involved wading from the larger of the two shelters back to the land but I knew it was all flat sand and with the tide going out there would be no major danger.

Chinese Egret

Chinese Egret


As I approached the land, the views progressively became better and better. The first significant bird was a Chinese Egret in breeding plumage, spindly nape plumes and a yellow grey bill. As I looked landward to the waders I could see Bar-tailed Goodwits, with their distinctive upward pointing bills, and Grey Plovers mixed up with the curlews. I could see many of the godwits were already in full breeding plumage or in transition: a real feast for the eyes with rufous, red and brown colours transforming the appearance of these birds, which I normally see as flat,drab grey. As I approached I could see some of the Grey Plovers were also in transition.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover

“My” curlew really stood out in size, bigger, and colour, darker, than that of the Eurasian Curlews and its bill also looked longer. In fact there were at least two other similar  “curlews” nearby. I also noted that the streaking on “my” curlew’s neck and breast was much stronger: longer and more pronounced to the point of appearing to be almost striped. Then “my” curlew had a stretch, opening its wings for a brief flap and kindly displaying extensive streaking under its wing. I knew this feature would enable me to confirm the identification one way or another. I just wasn’t sure at this point which of the two possible curlews had the darker streaked underwings. I needed to look at the field guide for this and on return to the office I did this: it confirmed heavily streaked underwing as a distinguishing field mark. Far Eastern Curlew – a much sought after lifer.

I only keep a Thai list so I’ll need to open up a Philippine list and probably a world list. But I am not really driven by lists, although I do like to know what I have and haven’t seen.

So I had a glorious hour draped in late afternoon sun looking in awe at these wonderful birds. Of equal satisfaction if not more was the sight of at least 6 Chinese Egret, one of which was probably the same bird I had seen as I approached. What a sight. It seems the Philippines at the right time of the year is a good place to see Chinese Egret as they presumably migrate. I expect to see them when we arrive in Negros Occidental.



18 03 2013

The last time I birded outside of Thailand was in October 2011 on a memorable trip to Penang, Malaysia where I joined up with Dave Bakewell for a pelagic – what a sensational day that was with Dave picking out Malaysia’s first Little Gull and only the second record in South-east Asia. When I started writing this blog I rather fancied I would do more birding beyond Thailand so added “Beyond” into the title. Well with beautiful children and work things haven’t quite gone the way I had envisaged! No regrets. Anyhow “beyond” resumes here – we landed early in the morning in Cebu in The Philippines and we are here for six weeks, an unparalleled luxury. From a birdwatching perspective what is important is that we have access to an abundance of baby-sitters and this means both of us will be able to get out.

After sleeping off a late, delayed flight I began my list for this trip: a Pacific Swallow and several Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the sparse concrete of our overnight pitstop. I even got a glimpse of the sub-terminal spots on the swallow’s tail and then it very kindly perched on a window ledge. What turned out to be a leucistic feral pigeon had my heart racing for a moment, thinking it maybe was a gull – from previous trips to The Philippines I know gulls are uncommon;  A Guide to the Birds of The Philippines ( Kennedy et al, Oxford University Press,2000 ) lists three species: Herring Gull, Black-tailed Gull and Black-headed Gull. This bird looked as if it was in moult and what I could see were strawberry pink legs but once it showed its head and bill it was clearly not a gull. A highlight of a previous trip here was to see a Black-tailed Gull on the pier at Narra in Palawan. 

So it is going to take a few days to get going but it is great to be here again and hopefully we are going to see some great birds. Mabuhay!

Rain Quail & Wryneck

10 03 2013

I made two visits this weekend to Huai Mai Teng Reservoir. Firstly, on Saturday, with Tom Backlund who fancied a change of scene. This provided me with an opportunity to check out Rain Quail ahead of Sunday’s guests who were coming primarily to see this species.

Early on Saturday we flushed the Rain Quail in their usual spot which was adequate for my needs. Probably as many as ten Rain Quail but all in flight. No major surprises but otherwise a good selection of the usual suspects: notably an abundance of very effervescent Oriental Skylarks. Of note: an Osprey, a Darter, some Cotton Pygmy Geese, a couple of very uncharacteristically non-skulking Thick-billed Warblers, a few Small Pratincoles, good numbers of Oriental Pratincoles, good numbers of Bronze-winged Jacanas and a few Pheasant-tailed too; a couple of Red-rumped Swallows, a Richard’s Pipit. And of course it was hot! Great to be out birding with Tom again.

On Sunday I had three English birders, Howard Joliffe, Malcolm Goodman & Matt Mulbey visiting for Rain Quail. Funnily enough, it transpires I bumped into Howard and Malcolm in Kaeng Krachan on their  trip last year. These two have impressive Thai lists in excess of 650 species which are all the more impressive as they don’t live here. They are now at that stage where they have to target species as opposed to areas.

The good news is that on arrival we drove into 5 Rain Quail on the ground which allowed my guests fantastic views. The two males had them purring – a stunning sight. A great relief too, I hasten to add. So we enjoyed the show for about 20 minutes An added bonus was that Matt picked up a Eurasian Wryneck, which dipped down into the scrub but then reappeared and then offered excellent views. Best I have seen of this species. More importantly a patch tick.

Otherwise all the usual suspects including one Lanceolated Warbler and a number of Thick-billed Warblers. As serious listers the guys then headed off in the midday heat in the direction of Hua Hin for the Black-legged Kittiwake which Tom Backlund reported to be still present this morning

Black-legged Kittiwake

5 03 2013

This was drive-in birding at its best. My mate Tom Backlund called on Saturday morning to let me know that a Black-legged Kittiwake was on the fishing pier in Hua Hin; coming from the north, turn left at the second set of traffic lights in Hua Hin, drive to the sea and the kittiwake is on the pier – too good to be true!  Circumstances were against me over the weekend but when I heard the bird was still in place on Sunday and Monday, I thought I really must try for it Tuesday morning.


Black-legged Kittiwake

On arrival at the pier at about 0915 this morning the Black-legged Kittiwake was visible from the car. Unfortunately the fishing pier is a rather dangerous and very badly dilapidated concrete structure so getting in close was not really feasible.Well it is, if you are prepared to walk along a tight rope of thin concrete where the possibility of tumbling into the sea must be about 50%. No, I am not  prepared to take that sort of risk with a camera and scope.

I rather fancy this is the same bird which has been around since November last year. Whatever, it is a long way out of its normal range, which would appear to be the North Pacific, probably Japan. It is a pretty rare visitor to these parts. I couldn’t tell you when it was first recorded in Thailand but it doesn’t get a mention in Lekagul and Round’s Birds of Thailand, published in 1991.

And of course I like easy twitches! It goes onto my Thai list as lifer ⌗379.