Saturday, June 1

waiting for godot at tabunan

having had our taste of "easy" birding with waders in olango, it was time to move on to the forests of cebu.  we had originally planned to bird in the forests of alcoy, but our plans fell through and so we decided to stay in the city and do a day trip to the nearby forests of tabunan, a couple of hours from downtown cebu city.

i was very excited because it was my first time to go forest birding in cebu. unfortunately, the rapid urbanization of the island has left very little forest cover, a sad state for the birds of cebu.  our primary targets were the endemics of cebu island: the black shama, the elusive cebu flowerpecker and the recently split cebu hawk owl. cebu also hosts several endemic subspecies which would be very good birds for us to bag also.

it was nearly 5am when we arrived by hired van at the home of local guide oking. we had to hurry up the trail if we had any chance to catch the owl. oking led us a few minutes into the trail to a large, almost leafless tree. i stared at the lightening skies in dismay. i was psyching myself to accept defeat and dipping on the owl.

thankfully i was wrong!  called in by adri, an owl immediately responded and flew into view.  it was followed by a second owl. they stayed around long enough for good views, coming quite close. yes! cebu endemic lifer #1!

a pair of cebu hawk owls show up as the sun is about to rise

with our quick sighting, suddenly, it was too early and oking suggested we go back to his house for some coffee before continuing on.  later, he and his daughter (who arranged most of the guided trips of her father) mentioned we were quite lucky with the owls and the immediate response was not a common occurrence. they wondered why birders suddenly were excited to see the owl the past few months, and we explained to them the elevated species status of the owls. after a few minutes of coffee, pan de sal and chitchat, we geared up to go. the goal was to reach a steel platform set up upon the limestone outcrops with a view of the forest canopy to wait for the (i would say mythical) cebu flowerpecker.

on the way we passed thru planted fields and meadows, stopping at a patch of forest from which a black shama sang melodiously. the shama was teased out quite easily also, and a second, tail-less individual also responded. they flew around us and perched quite often enough, although in the darkest recesses and tangles, making a photo-op quite difficult.  but we had excellent views through our binoculars nonetheless.  cebu endemic lifer #2!

the dark places which the black shama loves

now for the flowerpecker, oking said.  in my mind i kept thinking: the imaginary bird? i think i actually said it out loud and  i was admonished by both my companions to keep my negative thoughts at bay.

coming out of the small forest patch, we passed through an open grassfield again. calling from a tall tree in the distance was a coppersmith barbet which we quickly spotted with both our bins and the scope.  it had the distinctly all red head of the cebu endemic subspecies, and i was quite happy to see it despite the distance as it was one of my targets also.

can you see the all red head of the coppersmith barbet?

hiking through open areas between forest patches

entering another forest patch, we caught sight also of several of the other cebu endemic subspecies: white-vented whistler, streak breasted bulbul, everett's white-eye. there were also other birds: crimson sunbirds, mangrove blue flycatchers, philippine coucals.

it was a typical limestone forest, with several rocky outcrops.  i was thankful that it was dry season and because i could imagine how much more slippery the trail would be when wet. under a flat rocky overhang, oking pointed out to a nest which he said belonged to a pair of streak-breasted bulbuls.

is this a streak-breasted bulbul nest?

we finally reached the bottom of the platform and had to climb up several steep ladders.  unfortunately, thieves had already plundered most of the iron rungs, leaving only the tiny braces to step on, and the rickety railings to hang on to. it would have been a pretty daunting task, especially since the sharp limestone rocks left little to the imagination as to the outcome of a fall. 

up and up what's left of the ladders

but oking had taken his dog along, a frisky mongrel, and the dog managed to find a way to climb up the steep limestone rocks on his own.  why if a dog could do it, why shouldn't i be as sure footed (adri kept reminding me to still be careful as the dog had four feet and i had only half that)?!
my spirit guide up the limestone rocks

we made our way slowly and carefully up the steps to the iron platform where many birders had spent hours waiting. it hung precariously on limestone rocks, overlooking the canopy. there was a second platform, but it was more... challenging... to get to, so we decided stake out our target here.

we gave ourselves until noon, we had over three hours to wait, and we settled down and made ourselves comfortable.  and so the wait began.

we were entertained by several birds around us, coppersmith barbets, pied trillers, balicassiaos, philippine- and streak-breasted bulbuls, oriental magpie-robins, black-naped monarchs called and chased each other thru the canopy.  an elegant tit, another cebu endemic subspecies, approached us with great curiosity.

the ever sheerful elegant tit

every now and then, the distinct metallic clicking call of a flowerpecker would have us suddenly alert. no, red-keeled flowerpecker.

as the minutes passed, we found other forms of entertainment: butterflies and even plants. adri and i practiced shooting with a tiny lycaenid butterfly perched near us.  

a very still lycaenid

oking pointed out to a fern growing on a distant tree which he called monkey tail. it was prized by collectors he said, some specimens fetching up to a thousand pesos. putting it on the scope, we found growing beside it another plant valued by collectors, a hoya plant with clusters of star-shaped flowers.

ferns and hoyas growing on the trees

then a soft clicking call. was it...? 

we barely glimpsed a shadow of a tiny bird dart above us, only to disappear into the forest. had we missed our chance?

heavy sighs all around.  oking entertained us with the recent history of the tabunan sightings of one of the rarest birds in the world. and the wait continued.

the long wait at the platform

an hour before noon, we brought out our jollibee chickenjoy lunch and shared the fried chicken among the four (including the dog) of us. an immature brush cuckoo perched quietly in the distance.

a very quiet brush cuckoo

at the last hour we all fell into silence. waiting, waiting, waiting.

unlike the dog, we couldn't afford to sleep at the platform

with the sun high in the sky, our time was up.  like many birders before us, we were thwarted.  our day to meet the legendary cebu flowerpecker was not today.  but our spirits were high despite the dip.  we had, after all, seen all our other targets. not bad for half a days work. i had finally birded in the forests of cebu. perhaps one day, unlike in samuel beckett's play, godot will arrive.  perhaps on another day, the wait would not be in vain. 

to be continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment