Saturday, August 27

Dolphins (but no Dugongs) at Dahican

Dahican beach! 

It had been over two years since Mel, Adri and I had first visited this bit of paradise in Mati, Davao Oriental. And we were back this time with Alex, Tere and Mark with the same mission: to try and see dugongs in the wild.  We hadn't had the luck to see them the last time, and so we were hoping for better luck this time around.

The beautiful 7 km Dahican Beach, known for skimboarding and surfing.
Ok, you might have guessed from the title of this post: we still didn't have that luck! Still, it was quite a memorable trip. And, this time I was actually able to see dugong feeding trails! (check out this google image search to see what I mean)

This time around, Mark had contacted the Amihan boys (and girls!) of the popular Amihan sa Dahican. These young men and women of Dahican are passionate about surfing, skimboarding and protecting the natural treasures of Mayo Bay which includes not only dugongs, but dolphins, sea turtles and the occasional whale shark!

Starting them young at Amihan sa Dahican (photo c/o Adri!)

Our base was Botona Beach Resort, a couple of hundred meters from Amihan sa Dahican. We started out early (not as early as birding though!) and were greeted by a gorgeous morning. 

While waiting for our boat, we took a look at a small, fenced off area on the beach which acted as a marine turtle hatchery.  We could see bits of egg shells scattered on the sand and were told that some of the eggs had hatched just a few days earlier.

The Turtle Hatchery at Amihan sa Dahican

It's too bad there weren't any hatchlings while we were there. It's estimated that only one in 1,000 - 10,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood. As soon as they emerge, they already face the danger of falling prey to predators, just as this little one we saw washed up on the beach :-(

Not the lucky 1 in 1,000 - 10,000 to make it to adulthood :-(
We did see several adult turtles in the water!  We saw Olive Ridley and Green sea turtles while we were there, both swimming under water and taking a breath at the surface. Great encounters.

As we took off on the boat, our guide Peter and spotter Iyay suggested looking for dolphins first. And who can say no to dolphins?

Our boat stayed close to the shore, and a few kilometers from our base, we spotted our first pod!  It was a very small group of Spinner Dolphins, just across from Tropical Kanakbai where we had stayed in 2014.  We didn't stay with the pod though, as Peter said these were breeding animals which we shouldn't be disturbing.

Do not disturb these individuals: in the process of making more dolphins!

On we went towards the mouth of the bay. The calm, deep blue sea reflected the blue skies.

Iyay, in a suit which reflected the skies, stood at the bow, perfectly balanced and looking out for our target. She looked extremely cool, daughter of the sea and skies!

We have birding attire, is this dolphin-ing attire?

Suddenly, in the distance, there was a leap in the air!  Our guides had located the larger pod!  Soon we were surrounded by Spinners!


Cameras all came out and we all enjoyed the show!

Out come the cameras!

Many of the dolphins were riding the bow of the boat and the clear water and the bright sunlight allowed wonderful views of the dolphins even under water!

Super clear waters!
There must have been over 200 individuals in the pod, and Peter was even able to take an underwater photo with Mel's tiny underwater action camera!  

Underwater views!

On my very first wild dolphin encounter in Bohol, our guide told us that to count dolphins, you must multiply by 5 every dolphin you see on the surface - it's the first time I've had an actual view of the dolphins beneath the surface! My first thought was "Times 5 lang ba talaga?!?"

Seeing dolphins in the wild brings out such joy for life. It must be their coordinated acrobatic leaps and graceful movement in the water.

By the time our dolphin encounter was over, it was apparently too late to look for dugongs! Dugongs are not gregarious animals like the dolphins, and late in the morning, they would have already moved away from their feeding grounds near the shore.

Sensing our disappointment at missing a dugong sighting, Peter very generously offered to take us out again the next morning.

Sunrise at Amihan sa Dahican
So, the next morning, Mark, Mel, Adri and myself were back at Amihan, even earlier!  Peter was there too. He lent us some fins as we were going to spend the next two hours (it could've been more!) swimming around the bay.  While the four of us snorkeled our way to deeper water, Peter took a paddle board that we could rest on if we got tired.

It was exciting to be constantly on the lookout at the sea grass beds as the water got deeper, and deeper, and deeper.  Peter pointed out the cris-crossing dugong feeding trails which gleamed white underwater with the bare sand showing through the sea grass.

As I said in the beginning, we were not fortunate enough to had seen a dugong that morning. There was the faintest view of one surfacing to breathe several meters away, and that was it. We swam all around the bay searching. Otherwise it was fish, starfish and several sea turtles! Our feet blistered from swimming with fins and the sun high, we swam back to shore defeated.

Dolphins and sea turtles, but no dugongs this time around. But as they say, there's always next time! 

Sunday, August 21

Looking for Lina's

We were off to Compostela Valley!  Mark V. arranged a trip for all 7 of us (him plus Alex, Tere, Mel, Felix, Adri and myself) to be guided by Davao-go-to-guide Pete. The goal was to get the Lina's Sunbird on our life lists - yes, a new bird for ALL seven of us!

Recently, Pete had identified an accessible site and had already brought several birders the joy of a lifer in this high elevation Mindanao endemic. It was a quick trip... fly in to Davao, drive to Com Val and spend the night, bird the next morning and be on our way (hopefully having bagged the bird).

A quick reconnaissance in the afternoon revealed that the bridge we needed to cross was closed and under construction. Uh oh.

Roadworks ahead: no crossing!

The only option was to drive across the rocky river bed.  The rainy season was just on its way, so the water wasn't deep yet, but it was quite fast flowing enough to be of concern!

The very rocky river bed

Birding the next morning started very early, and we reached the site with a bright full moon rounded by a halo in the sky. A Mindanao Scops Owl called out by the side of the road, and as it got lighter, a Bukidnon Woodcock flew around us in a typical roding display.  

A halo around a full moon

Slowly, our surroundings came alive, with several Island Thrushes,  Olive-capped Flowerpeckers and Turquoise Flycatchers coming out to feed. All around us were heavy equipment of the roadworks and signs of the new road encroaching on the surrounding montane forest.

Did the roadside vegetation really have to go?!?

As we moved up the road, several Philippine Cuckoo Doves were out, crossing our path and calling from the trees. 

A Philippine Cuckoo Dove in the distance

The road opened up to a view of the valley below, shrouded in thick, low-lying clouds. 

Clouded valley and floating mountains

In our view was a flowering and fruiting tree busy with birds.  Sure enough, one of them was our target: the Lina's Sunbird! A pair flew around the whole morning, and we were all able to appreciate it well, commenting on it's similarities and differences from another high-elevation Mindanao sunbird: the Apo Sunbird which is frequently spotted on Mt. Kitanglad.

Lina's Sunbird! (Thanks to Adri for his photo!)

It was a pleasant morning birding by the road, though many locals stopped their motorbikes to regard us curiously (this was definitely a new birding site and birders unusual, maybe even suspicious looking!).

A view of the forest around us.

Turquoise Flycatchers were perched on lookouts, while Black and Cinnamon Fantails wove in and out of the canopy.

A Turquoise Flycatcher on patrol

Black-masked White-eyes were frustratingly difficult to catch on camera.

Can you spot the Black Masked White-eye?

A flock of Short-tailed Glossy Starlings flew in.

One of a flock of Short-tailed Glossy Starling

And Olive-capped Flowerpeckers buzzed all around us together with the Sunbirds.

An Olive-capped Flowerpecker on the same branch.

Mountain White-eyes were no less active.

A cuddly pair of Mountain White-eyes

At our feet a Long-tailed Ground Babbler called loudly and scuttled through the ferns. And above us a Metallic Pigeon flew across.

A Metallic Pigeon in flight

The vegetation was just interesting as the large trees were draped in moss and lichen and covered in epiphytes like orchids and ant plants.

An ant plant

And  dainty white orchid blooms

We all admired this tree, only for me to find out later that it was an invasive species!

Spiked Pepper (Piper aduncum)  tree: an alien invasive species

This blue-eyed lizard also gave us a good stare-down.

Mr. Blue eyes

A Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, was so engrossed in feeding that it completely ignored us as we watched and took photos of it.

A very busy Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker

Just as we were about to call it a morning, the Lina's gave us a great last look. It perched on a nearby tree, singing loudly and cheerfully.

The Lina's Sunbird bidding us goodbye: Thanks for the great views!

We all had that great feeling of having accomplished our mission.

Happy birders!

As we drove down, we got a good look of the surrounding hillsides and the road construction

A clearer view on the way back

A clearer view of the road construction as well
We had to get down and cross the bridge on foot, while Pete and Adri crossed the rocky riverbed and a raging stream.

We had to cross the bridge on foot...
... while Pete and Adri drove across the river

Can you spot the car?

We left ComVal happy to have bagged a lifer for all of us. Thanks to Pete who is always on the lookout for new birds and exploring birding sites on Mindanao.  Since I first met Pete in 2014, he has given me 5 other lifers! 

Lifer's c/o Pete S:  
Top: Whiskered Flowerpecker (Adri's photo), Scarlet Minivet and Cryptic Flycatcher - all in June 2014
Bottom: Little Bronze Cuckoo (Adri's photo, August 2014), White-headed Stilt (September 2015), Lina's Sunbird (June 2016)

I'm looking forward to more of his discoveries in the coming years!

Tuesday, August 16

More Negros lifers at Gawahon!

From Danjugan Island, Adri and I hopped on a bus back to Kabankalan and then transferred to another bus that would take us up north to Bacolod City. An hour's taxi ride later, we were in Victorias City even further north of Bacolod, at our final Negros island destination: Gawahon Eco Park.

Gawahon is a Hiligaynon for "overlooking", providing a panoramic view of the plains of Victorias and Silay. It lies on the northwestern edge of the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP).  It showcases mid- to high-elevation forest with several natural pools and waterfalls making it a popular weekend destination for the locals. Recently, it is quickly gaining popularity as a birding destination as well.

A view of the Northern Negros forest

Adri and I checked in to the guesthouse with a view of the entrance of the park (which was clean but a little run down and definitely very big for just the 2 of us!) and met up with our guides Ricky and Lory. A quick walk behind the guest house revealed several Yellowish White-eyes, Visayan Bulbuls, Pied Trillers and a pair of Plaintive Cuckoos.  Walking further we passed by a marshy area where we saw Mangrove Blue Flycatchers, Elegant Tits and Black-naped Monarchs. Nightfall found us checking out the trail where we would be birding the following day.

After making arrangements for food and finalizing our birding plans, Adri and I had our dinner on the veranda, joined by several noisy geckos on the ceiling.

Geckos on the ceiling!

The next morning we took a 5 minute motorcycle ride to the start of the birding trail.  It was refreshing to see relevant signage along the roads.

We were immediately greeted by Visayan Flowerpeckers and Orange -bellied Flowerpeckers. A flowering vine, locally called anukol, which was the favorite of the Flame-templed Babbler was in bloom, unfortunately there was no sighting of this beautiful endemic.

Anukol: just add the Flame-templed Babbler

At the first set of bathing pools and falls, a pair of Citrine Canary Flycatchers were feeding. 

A pair of Citrine Canary Flycatchers.
They had a small, well-concealed nest above one of the pools!  It was built within easy reach so I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was inconspicuous enough to escape the notice of curious park-goers!

Can you see me snug in my nest?

At the end of June, the rainy season was fast on the heels of summer so the day was turning out to be quite gloomy and overcast and everything wet and damp from the previous evening's downpour. Despite the noise of the waterfalls, Adri quickly picked up on a loud bird song.  It was one of our targets: the White-throated Jungle-flycatcher, a Negros-Panay-Guimaras island endemic!  

Our group of four walked up and down the steps trying to locate the bird across the stream.  It was a good thing that it kept singing loudly for several minutes.  Finally, Lory picked up on some movement and we finally spotted it! Another lifer for me on this trip!

Lifer: White-throated Jungle Flycatcher
It was perched behind many branches and leaves, oblivious to our scrambling for a better view. It very obligingly stayed in place, singing loudly, for almost half an hour.

Singing in the rain

While watching it, Ricky commented on his amazement that such a plain-looking brown bird could be so sought after by birdwatchers! Ah the allure of island endemics!

Lory, Ricky and Adri with eyes on the prize

As we proceeded on, a mixed flock of Citrine Canary Flycatchers, Yellowish White-eyes and Lemon-throated Leaf-Warblers passed through, cheerful and busy.

More Citrine Canary Flycatchers!
Yellowish White-eye

While walking by the water, we kept our eyes open for another of our targets, the Southern Indigo Banded Kingfisher.  This was a lifer also for both Adri and myself, being recently split from what was now the Northern Indigo Banded Kingfisher found on the Luzon and Luzon region islands.

Waterfalls, steps and pools all around

Ricky and Lory led us to a spot where we could stake out the kingfisher.  It was a scramble down a narrow trail ending in a rocky river bed.  On our way down we passed another mixed flock which now included a White-vented Whistler, Sulphur-billed Nuthatches, Visayan Fantails and several Elegant Tits.

White-vented Whistler
An ever-cheerful Elegant Tit

As we each were sitting on a chosen rock, hoping that the kingfisher would appear and exchanging birding stories, I passed the time watching water striders on the surface of a puddle, black and blue butterflies flying around (the same ones we saw a week earlier at Twin Lakes) and a flowering shrub nearby. 

A very ragged butterfly

Staring at pink flowers to pass the time
After several minutes of waiting, Adri suddenly exclaimed quite calmly (in true Adri fashion) "It's perched right there behind you!"

Thinking he was joking, the three of us turned towards where he was looking. Sure enough, the bird was just a few meters away, very quietly hiding behind a large plant! As I tried to maneuver my way to better positions to view it, it flew out and perched in front of us!

Panic picture: forgot to check the aperture again!
In my panic I got a lousy photo, but good thing Adri did a better job when he first sighted it!  It is most distinguishable from the the Northern species by the all black bill and a thinner breast band (and in my opinion a deeper indigo color).

Lifer again! A male Southern Indigo Banded Kingfisher

Yay!  Targets secured and mission accomplished. We decided to take the afternoon off and flagged down a tricycle to take us back to the guesthouse. (I was doubly grateful as I was suffering from a bum stomach and did not enjoy all that walking!). 

Eco-Park Ranger hitching a ride on the trike

It turned out to be a good decision as the heavens came pouring down in the mid-afternoon and the rains lasted all the way til the evening.

The next morning, with the pressure of our targets off (plus my bum stomach), we decided to take it easy.  We went back to the trail to the higher falls.  It was quite birdy and we enjoyed several mixed flocks of Black-naped Monarchs, Visayan Fantails, Sulphur-billed Nuthatches, Visayan Bulbuls, Orange-bellied and Visayan Flowerpeckers and Balicassiaos. We even had a lightning quick glimpse of a Flame-templed Babbler!

Black-naped Monarch

Visayan Fantail

Sulphur-billed Nuthatch

The trail was very nice and easy (and wet!), revealing the beautiful forest along the way.  

The trail up to the higher falls

This little puddle frog (Occidozyga) was doing an excellent job of camouflaging itself.

Spot the frog!

On the other hand, this brightly colored caterpillar seemed frightening in its flamboyance.

A hairy caterpillar

We  ran into an active White-bellied Munia nest just by the side of the trail and we even picked up a used nest that had fallen along the trail.

Nests along the trail

On our way back to the guest house, we spotted a Buff-eared Brown Dove (already split from White-eared Brown Dove  by Birdlife and HBW) sitting quietly on its flimsy nest of twigs. So many nests must be a good sign!

A nesting brown dove

Gawahon Eco Park is surely going to gain even more popularity as a birding destination in the next few months.  Easy access, good trails, endemic targets.  This year's Philippine Bird Festival, (the 11th!) is going to be held in Bacolod City and will feature the amazing biodiversity of the Negros Island Region.  

From the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park down south on the Oriental side to Gawahon Eco Park up north on the Occidental side, I'm glad to have gotten a chance to revisit the established and try out the new.

I'll be seeing you again soon Negros!

(graphic featuring the endemic and critically endangered Walden's Hornbill  

by uber-talented WBCP-er Arnel T.)