Friday, May 31

back in olango

siargao flights to manila connect via cebu, so what better excuse to visit olango island?  we had just been in february with jops, maia, jun and leni and we were excited to go back. it was the tail-end of migration season, so we were hoping to catch waders in their breeding plumage.

our flight from mindanao touched down near noon, so we quickly got a cab from  the airport to take us to the hilton pier, where we caught the ferry to olango. we planned on just an overnight stay, and i gave ma'am jenny of the olango bonita inn a heads up a few days before. after settling in and having late lunch and a short rest, we headed for the olango island wildlife sanctuary.

an afternoon at oiws 

it was a really warm afternoon, so we didn't expect to see much, but the usual suspects were there,  feeding on the exposed sand. the chinese egrets were much closer to the view deck than our last visit, so we enjoyed watching them walk their funny sideways walk as they chased their food in the very shallow water. 

a handsome pacific swallow perched on the bare mangrove branches in front of the view deck, and was quite obliging to having his photograph taken.

big fat grey plovers were all around, surprisingly, not a tinge of breeding plumage on any of them! it was also fun to watch them pull out worms from the sand, leaning back with their full weight. i half expected them to tumble and roll backwards when the worm finally let go of its hold on the sand, but they never did.

several ruddy turnstones were also about, well, turning stones. they were very handsome in their breeding plumage. and several looked quite fattened up as well.

as the harsh mid-afternoon light began to shift to a more golden hue, the whimbrels began flying in, just like last time.  they settled down forming a larg-ish flock, with several of them preening and catching some shut eye together with some knots and greenshanks

there were also several terek sandpipers, very distinct with their long upturned bills and bright orange legs.  they were also foraging in small, tight flocks.

looking nearer instead of farther, i saw a little crab was dragging along a huge worm at my feet. i was surprised that none of the birds around me had gotten to it first! the crab held its prey tightly in it pincers (though i wonder how it would ever finish that meal!), and waddled away while keeping its eyes on me suspiciously.

as the light waned, the sunset clouds made a pretty picture reflected on the glass like surface of the shallow water. another full day of travel, and tomorrow and the next few days, we were looking forward to more birding.

morning at the oiws

we were up early the next morning, but being on vacation mode, not early enough to beat the summer sun rising. we had the whole morning to spend at the sanctuary, but we weren't sure if the tides were on our side.

near the steps to the view deck, a lone green shank was busy looking for food at the mangrove pneumatophores, making a pretty picture.

as we neared the view deck we flushed several egrets and even more grey tailed tattlers that were feeding nearby. adri suddenly motioned me to stand still.  a few meters away, a lone asiatic dowitcher was busy feeding!  it had a tinge of orange, on the way to acquiring breeding plumage. the steps made a convenient seat, my feet dangling in the water, and we enjoyed watching it feed in the classic "sewing machine like" movement, as it probed the sand underwater with its straight and heavy bill.

it must have noticed our presence after several minutes, and quickly flew to the other side of a clump of mangroves. as we rounded the mangroves, we saw that it had joined a larger flock totaling 39 birds! 

the individuals were in various stages of breeding plumage, a very pretty picture.

the tide was coming in quickly, and water soon covered the sand around the viewing deck, the dowitchers flew off only to land a few meters away.  the dowitchers were flushed several times, alternately by a couple of men around the mangroves gathering shellfish and the rising water. we continued to follow them across the flat sand in ankle- to knee-deep water. 

the waters continued to rise, the waders began to fly off. the larger birds flew away to the distant mangroves and higher ground. several of the smaller birds like the grey-tailed tattlers, the ruddy turnstones and the terek sandpipers retreated to the mangrove prop roots.

farther away, larger birds like the far eastern curlews were still comfortable in the deeper waters.

soon, even we were uncomfortable in the knee deep water, quite a distance away from the view deck.  we trudged back slowly, and spent the rest of the morning up on view deck.  a family from manila arrived, unfortunately at the wrong time as the rising water had chased the birds nearby to higher ground as well. we placed the larger birds like the egrets and 
whimbrels on the scope for the kids. 

nearing noon, we decided to head back, the waters showed no sign of receding anytime soon.  on the way back i spotted a sponge which reminded me of mcdonald's grimace, a blob of purple growing at the foot of one of the steps.

after another filing lunch at bonita inn, we packed our bags and said our thanks to jenny. we'd be back when the migrants returned.

at the sta. rosa pier, we boarded the ferry to the mainland.  while waiting for departure, the we watched the local kids enjoying their summer break, doing all sorts of acrobatics jumping from the dock into the water.

the birding break of our surigao-cebu vacation had just begun.

to be continued...

Wednesday, May 29

beach bumming in siargao

after a 3 hour bangka ride from cinnamon island, tata and his crew safely delivered us to the dapa pier on siargao island. dapa pier is a good 30 minutes away from the main resort hub of general luna (conveniently known as "GL"). 

approaching dapa pier on siargao

from the pier we took a padyak to the jeepney terminal and from there we hired a tricycle to take us to our inn.  our driver coincidentally was tagalog, from the same province as adri, and was quite talkative during the ride so the half hour on the main highway passed quickly.

 our bag matched our tricycle!

 the main highway at siargao island

we were surprised to find out that la luna was across the street from the beach, but since we were just staying a night, it really didn't matter much that we weren't on the beach front. GL has an extremely laid back ambiance: the essentials seem to be a surf board, a motorbike and a bathing suit!  no surprise that many a tourist decided to make their vacation permanent!

the la luna island resort

 surfboards and motorbikes everywhere!

after lunch, the innkeeper walked us across the road to the long and surprisingly unused beach (there is an excess of white sand beaches on siargao it seems) across the street and helped us flag down a random outrigger to take us island hopping for the rest of the afternoon. although siargao is popular for surfing, it wasn't really something adri and i were into, and so we took the alternative: more beaches!

 waiting for a boat at the beach
the first stop was guyam island: a small, picturesque island full of palm trees straight out of a tropical paradise guidebook. several bangkas were docked on the beach, but it was not that crowded. there were a few picnic tables and huts, but most of the beach bums were enjoying the clear waters. we took their lead, ignoring the sure painful sunburn to follow the midday sun exposure.

 tiny guyam island

 the beach at guyam island

the second stop was daku island. daku literally means "big", in reference to the island and the beach being bigger than guyam. the beach was perfect for swimming, the slope being more steep than guyam so that the water came up to our chests just a couple of meters from shore.  the waves were also stronger, so it was more convenient to stay farther from where the surf could knock us around on  the sand.

 daku island

 this hermit crab entertained us for at least 10 minutes

 flags and huts on the beach

the third stop we saved for last: naked island.  it was perfect for sunset because the island was actually naked. it did not have any palm trees or talisay trees to provide shade, just a few patches of grass and beach morning glory vines on the sand. the large strip of sand was always exposed, unlike some sandbars which would disappear under high tide.

 naked island

 sunset on naked island

a couple of whimbrels flew around the island, probably waiting for the beach goers to leave. according to our boatmen, many birds took refuge on the island during the night so that it was filled with birds in the early morning. naked island is a beach combers paradise, washed up on the sand were several broken pieces of corals, driftwood, shells and all sorts of sponges.

 assorted sponges on the beach

 perhaps not naked for long!

naked island is also the farthest island from the beach at GL, and when we looked back from the direction we came from, we could see both guyam and daku island, perched on top of the flat horizon.

 guyam island on the horizon

 daku island on the horizon

as the night began to creep in, we headed back to our beach on GL. the sunset was beautiful as golden light slowly bathed the blue skies. in the silence we could hear the roar of the waves of the pacific ocean in the distance.

 pink sunset fingers

it was dark when we arrived at GL and we walked quietly through the coconut grove back to la luna with philippine nightjars calling around us. we had a long day filled with sand and sea, we could barely stay awake through dinner. tomorrow we would check out the surfers at cloud 9.

cloud 9 was named after the chocolate bar of my childhood (do they still make it now? i'm not sure.) it is a very popular surfing area, even in the international circles, and it's the reason for siargao island's popularity. surfing season is actually late in the year, during the -ber months, but surfers come throughout the year. not being water babies, adri and i were not really interested in trying it out, but it was fun to watch the early morning surfers catching the waves.

the best spot to watch the surfers is from a pretty boardwalk which takes both active and vicarious surfers nearer to the big waves. it is built over shallow tidal pools filled with interesting creatures. 

 the boardwalk at cloud 9 at 6am

we could not resist taking a look at feathered bodies while we were on the boardwalk (still without binoculars!), a few pacific reef egrets in both white and dark phases could be found fishing at the tide pools.  several grey-tailed tattlers could also be seen scurrying around the shallower areas.

 white phase eastern reef egret

 dark phase eastern reef egret

 grey-tailed tattlers on the beach

as we made our way to the viewing deck, we could see a few early surfers making their way to the reef, and a few others already out trying to catch the waves.

 out to catch the waves

cloud 9 is known for its clear, tube like waves which form as the wave crashes. the waves break over a reef off the shore at cloud 9. seeing the big waves, the rocky reef and the white foam, i could see how surfing could bring about such an adrenalin rush.  but for me, i suppose it will remain a spectator sport.

 crystal tube waves


and so, despite being non-surfers, siargao island was still a good stop for our surigao adventure. sun, sand and surf: always a good combination. just another bit of tropical paradise in the philippines.

 a bit of paradise