Saturday, August 5

Birding by the road: Buenavista-Tagabinet-Cabayugan

Spectacular scenery and great birds: it's easy birding by the highway in Puerto Princesa, so we stuck to our tried-and-tested, except this time we did a reversal of the usual routine.  

As I had mentioned previously, instead of being based on scenic Sabang beach, we tried out a resort on Ulugan Bay. Starting out birding in Buenavista and driving towards Sabang, we passed through the barangays of Tagabinet and Cabayugan.

Early in the morning we stopped at the view point for the majestic karst limestone cliffs of Elephant Cave. The newly harvested rice fields were dotted with Cattle Egrets checking in between the freshly reaped stalks of  palay.

Against the blue skies, a flock of Hill Mynas flew, with one landing on a bare branch singing loudly to greet the morning.

We scoped the cliffs in the distance and found a pair of Palawan Hornbills inspecting a small cavity.  We wondered if they would use the cliff as an option for nest holes rather than trees.

A huge Greater Coucal caught our attention, skulking quietly in the vines and vegetation.  Every now and then it would come out into the open, wings open and stretched out in a sun salutation.  (It was my first time to see a Greater Coucal in the Philippines so sort of a lifer!)

As the sun climbed the skies, raptors began soaring above.  I got a lifer in dark-phase Changeable Hawk Eagle crossing overhead.

A Crested Honey Buzzard also gave a good showing in flight.

Crested Serpent Eagles called out to each other as they circled and rose higher and higher until they were dots in the distance. (I wonder if I can actually differentiate them from the endemic Philippine Serpent Eagle found everywhere else in the Philippines?)

One of the best finds along the highway was a fruiting macaranga tree.  Bulbuls and flycatchers were busy all day at the tree, either gorging on the fruit or attracted to the insects buzzing around.

The tree was not wanting for Palawan Bulbuls and blue-eyed Black-headed Bulbuls.

Nearby, a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird sang loudly as it crept about the tangles.   A pair of Palawan Blue Flycatchers kept crossing the road to the tree and back, probably busy feeding some young on a nest.

Every now and then a wave of smaller birds would pass through. Violet Cuckoos are always a welcome sight.

Fiery Minivets would accompany them.

We had second thoughts in the identification of a small brown flycatcher we initially dismissed as a Grey-streaked Flycatcher. On afterthought, was it an Asian Brown Flycatcher?  And what did it turn out to be?  A female Blue and White Flycatcher!

(On a side note, we spotted the two other species of flycatcher as well!)

We were distracted by family groups of noisy Blue-naped Parrots or elegant Palawan Hornbills passing through.

A family of Lovely Sunbirds brought our attention back nearer to the ground. 

A Green-lizard with its extra long tail briefly distracted us from bird activity.

Several other birds came by the fruiting macaranga, including a cheerful White-vented Shama and several Hair-crested Drongos.  A very quiet Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo also showed up.

And a small flock of Yellow-throated Leafbirds also came in, blending in excellently with the vibrant green foliage.

My favorite birds at that site was a parent-and-young endemic Sulphur-bellied Bulbul.  The parent kept returning to where the young bird was perched to feed it. The young bird bravely explored the canopy but also settled down to preen and rest for several minutes at a time.

It's always great to watch this behaviour in birds.

Having rented a car, it was easy for us to move onward or back to other sites along the highway.  It's the second time we have tried this, and it seems to be a very efficient way to get around to bird, especially with the much improved roads.

We had better views of the Palawan Blue Flycatcher.

I caught glimpse of a small shrew/mouse crossing the highway, and a good view of a Palawan Stink Badger on a dark trail.  But as usual, the easiest mammal to glimpse were the Tree Squirrels running up and down tree trunks and branches, jumping from tree to tree.

Several Barringtonia trees were also in bloom, their dripping inflorescence with smooth and shiny red buds.  They only seem to open their blooms in the evening though, and by morning their flowers had fallen to the ground.

There were some birds we never got good enough views for good photos, even if we saw them several times.

Ashy-headed Babblers were very babbler-y... sticking to the dark bushes and long grass. Can you spot the babbler in the photo? It was taken from across the highway!

We also came across several pairs of Spot-throated Flamebacks, who were also nicely silhouetted against the tree trunks against the light.

 At sunset, we drove up to moonlight hill.  It looked like we had just missed the Philippine Cockatoos (again!), because though we heard them as we were climbing the steps, they were nowhere to be seen when we got to the viewpoint!

The sunset view over Ulugan Bay was beautiful. It is one of my favorite sunsets ever.

In the dwindling light, we could hear the loud calls of Great Slaty Woodpeckers echoing across the valley.  Imagine our surprise when they came up right above us!

I always think these huge woodpeckers seem almost dinosaur-like in their awkward appearance.

In the evening, we tried a random spot and were rewarded with the soft growls and hoots of several Palawan Frogmouths.

And then it was back to Jenny's Kahamut-an for a delicious dinner and a welcome rest in the silence we don't have back at home in the city.

Once again, it was a great trip! I wonder if I should ever tire of birding in Palawan.  It is a place I always look forward to going back to.


  1. i really like reading your blog!!! :)

    1. Aaaaaw, that's great for me to hear Allan! Thank you very much!