Saturday, April 30

bislig birding

three full days of birding in picop, bislig!

we finally made plans to bird at picop (paper industries corporation of the philippines) for the summer, right before my summer classes began. the vast (former) logging concession extends across the provinces of surigao del sur, agusan del sur and davao oriental.

adri and i decided to forego our plans for a palawan trip, prompted by the horror stories of forests literally disappearing before your very eyes. go now! go now! everyone who had been there recently said. and with this sense of urgency on our minds, we arranged an almost-last-minute trip. happily, alex, tere and carmela were able to join us.

from manila, we were traveled to bislig via davao.  the drive to bislig brought us though san francisco, agusan del sur.  as we drove in the shadow of mt. magdiwata, we reminisced the events of the exciting trip we had in the mountains and marshes of agusan a few years back.

remembering agusan during lunch at san franz

arriving at paper country inn in the middle of the afternoon, we decided to make the most of the remaining day by visiting the tinuy-an falls right in bislig city.  it was around an hour's drive to the falls, mostly through unpaved (but smoothened with crushed limestone, we were to find out later, as most of the logging roads were) road.  

the falls did not disappoint!  the wide, multi-tiered falls took our breath away.  the strong waters sprayed the air with a fine mist, enough to get us wet when we approached the falls.  definitely the most beautiful waterfall i've seen in the country.

having satisfied our touristy side with picture-taking, we took advantage of the remaining light by birding a couple of kilometers of the road leading to the falls.  in a short time before the darkness fell, we took in the sights of two rufous hornbills flying overhead, of yellowish bulbuls, various pigeons & doves(pompadour green, yellow-breasted fruit, green imperial, white-eared brown), assorted flowerpeckers.  we hoped that the couple of hours of birding was an omen of good things to come in the next few days.

productive birding on the road to tinuy-an

that evening we had dinner with zardo goring, THE guide in bislig , and vice mayor conrad cejoco, who shared with us a few of his projects and insights regarding the state of picop. looking forward to an early start the next day, we ended the evening early to get a good nights' rest.
dinner with zardo and vice

the early start we had on our first full day of birding was an indication of the next two days of the trip.  up at 3am, on our way by 330am or 4am. the roads seemed endless in the darkness, and the rows of wooden make-shift houses gave us a clue to what everyone who had encouraged us to go (with such urgency) was talking about.  we started the morning (again like every morning of the 2 days after that) attempting to owl.  Emphasis on attempting.  But by the end of our trip, our dipping on the nightbirds would be overshadowed by the wonderful assortment of birds we would see and the wonderful views we had of them.

birders in bislig

on our very first morning, we had easily seen the steere's pitta (which called out loudly from the same patch of forest every morning) AND we had watched a pair of writhed hornbills inspect a tree hollow with utmost detail and seriousness.

a pair of writhed hornbills apartment hunting (see video here)

beetles, butterflies, spiders, snails... so many other creatures to distract us!

of course, beyond birds and other creatures, there were the people who live in picop now.  it was impossible not to think of them. and probably, they thought of us (or at least birders in general) also.  mang lucio, the english speaking 84 year old gentleman who lived by himself, away from the settlements which had formed, had expressed his shock upon seeing us "oh my god! you're all filipinos! thank god!" (of course he started all his sentences with "oh my god":  "oh my god! would you want some coffee?") children along the road would shout and wave at us as our jeepney zoomed by "hey joe!" obviously, they were more used to foreigners visiting, than brown skinned locals. they, who now live in the forest, who live off the forest, above all, are probably the ones who hold its fate in their hands.

lucio, omg!

it was a trip of contrasting scenery, of contrasting emotions.

the excitement of being within 5 meters of the celestial monarch perched on a low tree sobered by the memory of a cleared forest patch not 500 meters away.

the joy of seeing 53 writhed hornbills in flight was tempered by the sadness of seeing logging trucks laden with huge logs stealing off into the night.

the pleasant sound of bird calls and bird song rang in our ears while the scent of burning vegetation filled our noses.

the wonder of a family flock of mindanao (tarictic) hornbills feeding on a single tree matched with the wonder of dozens and dozens of small children of the settlers with machetes in hand.

to be sure, picop is still a wondrous place, with surprises at every twist and turn of the logging road... not only birds, but butterflies and beetles, dragonflies and spiders, fruit and flowers.

if i include the philippine oriole (split from the white-lored oriole) and the rufous fronted tailorbird (split from the philippine tailorbird), i count 10 lifers from this trip. very, very productive birding; we had large flocks of hornbills (on our last afternoon we had 53 writhed hornbills, 25 mindanao hornbills and "only" 7 rufous hornbills), good mixed flocks of babblers, monarchs and flycatchers, a falcatta grove with 4 species of cuckoos, a very accomodating steere's pitta and many raptors on the wing.

my bank bird: rufous-fronted (philippine) tailorbird

always at the back of our minds though was the very urgency that prompted us to drop other plans to come to this place. whatever can be done, should be done. now. i don't think it is too late. but for how long can this forest hold out and hold on to its treasures?

bislig city, surigao del sur
5 - 9 april 2011

check out other treasures of bislig at:

Tuesday, April 19

Be sure to check them out before they leave…

(cross posting adri's blog entry from the birding adventure philppines website:

Local birders – go to UP Diliman now.

Be sure to check out this uncommon migrant – an Oriental Cuckoo, feeding on caterpillars in an Acacia tree in the University of the Philippines Diliman. This individual will be probably stay in the area for a few days more – fattening up with juicy worms for its long travel back to its breeding grounds.

check out this Grey Streaked Flycatcher:

And this gorgeous Blue Rock-thrush in the Marine Science Institute grounds

Be on the look-out as well for nesting Coppersmith Barbets, Colasisi and Pied Trillers.

It is so nice to have a birdy site close to the city!