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Notes on a Birding Trip to Northern Luzon, Philippines
by Des Allen
I took a trip to northern Luzon for a couple of weeks, teaming up more or less by chance with Nick Dymond who wanted to see the same birds. We agreed to go to Mt Pulog north of Baguio first. We took a bus to Baguio - about 7 hours and then tried to get a jeepney on to Bokod.
Unsurprisingly no more were running that day so we went to Jon Hay park where there were singing Philippine Bush-warblers (Cettia seebohmi) and a male Mugimaki amongst other more usual birds. Next day we tried to leave early but the jeepney going had first to arrive from Bokod, so we ended up waiting with 3 Filipino mountaineers who wanted to climb Pulog.
Anyway when we arrived at Bokod it transpired that it was closed to visitors - including the also dejected Filipino mountaineers. It seems that there was an accident at a campsite involving a mountaineer who had insurance. The insurance company, on receiving the claim, sent a writ to the Barangay implying their responsibility. The Barangay council were unsurprisingly livid, and decided to ban visitors indefinitely. I guess we were among the first victims. By the way there was a sign giving entrance fees - foreigners 600P, Filipino/as 60P.
So we backtracked to Baguio and took a bus to Bontoc and then found a tricycle who would take us up the hill to Mt Polis. On the bus ride Nick had good views of the Crossbills and we also heard the 'Benguet' Russet Bush-warbler Bradypterus seebohmi seebohmi. We stayed on the ridge at Polis and birded for about 6 days in mostly light drizzle. Since I was trying to take photos this made life difficult. Nick was lucky /skilful enough to see the Bradypterus seebohmi in the valley near the Luzon Redstart site - which we also saw. Good birds on the first day were Koch's Pitta flying across the road - me, White-browed Jungle-flycatcher - Nick. Philippine and Long-tailed Bush-warblers were common. We both had Marche's Fruit-dove (though a member of a visiting Birdquest group had found mine for me!) We often saw the Mountain Shrike and the Bullfinches, and several Yellow-crowned Flowerpeckers were seen. Nick also saw the Luzon Montane Racquettails on the last day we were there.
We decided to go to the Minuma valley in Isabela Province next. We got a bus from the checkpoint through to Cauayan and then changed to one to Ilagan. That took most of the day. Next day we took a jeepney to Bintacan and arranged 3 porters for the next day and bought food. The walk-in took about 6 or 7 hours and involved a thigh high river crossing. It could be done in 4-5 hours. We stayed 2 days and left on the next day as rain threatened to block us in and we did not have so much extra food. As I mentioned in a previous post to the OB list, there were about 100 local loggers in this valley alone floating the logs out to Ilagan buoyed by inner tubes. Planes often overflew presumably going to Palanan and the encampments must have been very visible. The accessible areas were mostly open canopy with a lot of bamboo. Large and medium sized birds were still in reasonable numbers - both hornbills, Sierra Madre crow, White-lored Oriole, Coleto, Blackish and Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Sooty Woodpeckers and the Flameback, the Malkohas, Balicassiao, Lesser and Rufous Coucals, Black-and-white Triller, Philippine Serpent-eagle. Small birds were noticeably scarce. Nick did see Rabor's Wren-babbler and Luzon Striped Babblers though.
Night birds: We heard Philippine Hawk-owl regularly, both nightjars, and once I think also the Frogmouth. On two nights I had a mystery bird: one night there was one, the next night two. The birds were perched across a branch about 100m away. I scoped them at 30x with a Nikon EDII and a spotlight. They seemed to have longish dark tails - longer than I would expect for the Ninox but I am not familiar with it. The plumage seemed brown, with light barring on the breast and belly, though they were a bit far in dim light to be 100% sure on this, and there were no white markings visible at any time, e.g., on the throat, as they were facing us. This also made the shape difficult to determine. They did not seem alarmed by the spotlight and had fairly well spaced yellow eyes. They did not react at all to tapes of Philippine Hawk Owl - though more distant unseen birds did. Nor did they react to tapes of the Frogmouth and Philippine Scops. They did seem to react strongly though to tapes of Philippine Nightjar, and raised their heads up and looked around when this was played - on 2 occasions. They were however as I said perched across the branch not along it. Juvenile Philippine Hawk Owl should appear streaked not barred; the Scops would have a short tail. Any suggestions (other than go back)?