Saturday, September 30

South Cot and Gen San birding

Adri and I still had the full weekend ahead of us after Friday's Tacurong Bird Festival and our day birding at the Baras Bird Sanctuary.  SOX is a great place for some quick target birding, and Felix already had it all planned out for us.

On Saturday morning, we got up early to go birding at Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato.  It was a long drive across dirt roads criss crossing hectares of pineapple farms and avocado orchards just to get to the foot of the mountain.  I certainly can't imagine walking all that way!

We picked up our guides along the way and the view of Mt. Matutum was quite ominous.  It was a grey morning and the mountain was shrouded in cloud! Not looking very good!

Not the best of weather to go up a mountain and bird!

We left the vehicle at a school house at the edge of the residences, and walked through vegetable farms so commonly seen at the edges of protected areas.  We soon heard the familiar twittering of white eyes.  After a brief discussion on their identity (Everett's or Mountain?) and good looks at their underparts, we decided they were Everett's White eyes.

A pair of Everett's White-eyes

We did spot Mountain White eyes later.

We flushed several White-eared Brown Doves (Short-billed Brown Dove) along the path. Small mixed flocks were flying around the still wet leaves, we saw Brown Tit Babblers,  Little Pied, Turquoise and Citrine Canary Flycatchers.  

In the distance, flocks of Short-tailed Glossy Starling flew across the valley. Closer to us, a pair of Scarlet Minivets were moving around.

One of a pair of Scarlet Minivets - a bird I've only ever seen on Mindanao
It was only a short walk to a few stands of exotic African Tulip Trees where we waited for our main target.  We settled down and had a quick breakfast on our feet (ground was wet!) while waiting.

Signage to remind visitors of the Protected Landscape.

Flowerpeckers zipped back and forth above us: Olive-capped, Bicolored, Red-keeled, Buzzing and Orange-bellied.  White-eyes also joined in an occasional frenzy. 

We watched the bright orange African tulip blooms carefully.  Colasisis came and go nibbling at the blooms.  I distracted myself with looking at the red flowers of thick boughs of mistletoe growing on the tops of trees.  A fallen branch gave me a close up view of the bright red flower clumps.

Mistletoe in bloom high up in the trees and a closer view
from a broken branch I found on the ground.

Orchids also adorned the moist tree branches which were also covered with thick lichen and moss.

Orchids up in the trees.

I was looking at a distance at a Colasisi on the orange flowers when it jumped out of my view to be replaced with... Apo Sunbird! This tiny bird was our target!  It's not yet split as a separate species, but many birders are looking forward to when it will be recognized as T'boli Sunbird.

It was a brief view.  Both Adri and I would see it a few more times, but unfortunately for us, no photo.

Felix was exploring further up the trail and came back to say that we might want to try another Matutum specialty: Mindanao Miniature Tit Babbler.  A heavy mist was coming in and precipitation was starting to form, but hey why not?  He led us to a huge (gigantic!) tree where the birds were usually seen.

The misty forest and the huge tree where we were supposed to spot the
Miniature Tit Babblers - maybe next time!

Erm. The weather was too much and soon dampened our optimism.  It was just too misty and dark!  Soon we made our way back, still happy with our Apo Sunbird (T'boli soon!) despite the disappointment of the miniature tit babbler dip.

Rain fell for the rest of the day, making us call off any birding plans... so we comforted ourselves with: food of course!  A popular halo halo snack store on the highway provided a sugar high and dinner in GenSan wouldn't be complete without a seafood dinner cooked fresh from the day's catch.

Yummy food!
The next morning we drove past Mt. Matutum towards Lake Sebu and it famous waterfalls.  It was a pleasant drive and we passed the town of Surallah with a cheerful rotunda.  The rotunda depicts the T'boli, the Muslims and the Christians in a musical parade around various agricultural produce.

Tukiba Surallah: Discover Surallah (Hiligaynon)

We proceeded to one of Lake Sebu's waterfalls - a regular birding site for Felix. From the main road, we took a small path that led downhill to a view of the waterfall. Our first bird was a quiet Philippine Cuckoo Dove, with its tail feathers quite worn. We saw quite a number of them that morning.

Philippine Cuckoo Doves

There were also several White-eared (Short-billed) Brown Doves. We got both distant and close-up views.  

White-eared (Short-billed) Brown Doves

The Philippine Bulbuls were making their usual racket while chasing each other through the canopy.  But they were definitely outnumbered by the Yellow-vented Bulbuls that seemed to be perched everywhere!

Yellow-vented Bulbuls busy preening

We passed a flowering papaya, where a Rufous-fronted Tailorbird was hopping around. And of course I got the most comical photo of it:

Photo fail!  Rufous-fronted Tailorbird with the rufous front hidden!

A pair of Purple-throated Sunbirds also showed up.  They were the subspecies juliae, quite distinct in their coloration from the other Purple-throated sunbirds elswhere in the Philippines.  Of course while the drab female posed gamely, the more colorful male did not seem to want to!

A pair of Purple-throated Sunbirds, with the male not wanting to show his purple throat! Another photo fail!

We had several other views and heard other birds: Guaiaberos, Common Emerald Dove, Plaintive Cuckoo, Blue-throated Bee-eaters, Collared and White-throated Kingfishers, Large-billed Crows, Black-naped Monarchs, Coletos, and Yellow-bellied Whistlers.  We spotted migrants too: a Grey-streaked Flycatcher and a noisy Brown Shrike.

A few creepy crawlies were also out on display!

I caught these two bugs in the middle of some action!

When we got down to the falls, it was an impressive sight.  The heavy rains must have amplified the cataract's flow, white gushing water poured out into the brown river below.  

The waterfalls of Lake Sebu are a big tourist attraction!

It was turning out to be a sunny morning, and the hot air and wet ground was attracting a few butterflies to a marigold plot.

Butterflies on a sunny Sunday morning!

Damselflies and dragonflies too!

While I was passing time taking photos of butterflies and dragonflies, a young boy out with his family on a swimming picnic approached me and began to ask several questions.  Despite the language barrier, I tried my best to explain what I was looking at and doing, showing him photos from my camera and the field guide.  He got very excited, even pulling his un-interested younger sister to show her the photos.

Later, as Adri, Felix, Roland and I settled at a nearby picnic hut, the little boy left his picnicking family to join us, He excitedly pointed out the birds flying around and checked them out through our binoculars, scope and book.  He was very keen, insisting he was seeing a yellow bird on some hagimit fruit hanging quite a distance across from us.  He patiently leafed through the book and was contemplating the Elegant Tit.  Every now and then he would glance at the hagimit and point "there it goes again!".

Eventually we all saw what he was pointing at.  A tiny Orange-bellied Flowerpecker!

Our young companions sharp eyes kept on seeing this Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. 
It took us oldies quite a while before we spotted it on its nth visit to the fruiting hagimit.

Many other birds were interested in the hagimit including brown doves, Coletos, a Wattled Bulbul and Hair-crested Drongos. 

A handsome Wattled Bulbul

Noisy Hair-crested Drongos

We also saw a pair of Black-faced Coucals and a pair of Philippine Coucals skulking around the vegetation.

Black-faced Coucal

Philippine Coucal

A quiet Mindanao Hornbill played hide-and-seek with us up a nearby tree.

A hiding Mindanao Hornbill

We heard the sharp call of a Silvery Kingfisher as it made its way up and down a nearby stream. Each bird we saw and heard brought a new excitement to our young companion!  His enthusiasm was infectious.

Our enthusiastic birder for the morning!

Soon it was time for us to go, as we had an afternoon flight back to Manila to catch. We stopped by a restaurant with a view of Lake Sebu on a sunny Sunday for lunch.  On the lakeside we saw Yellow Bitterns, Javan Pond Herons, Little Egrets and White-browed Crakes walking along the fish pens.  Barn Swallows and Glossy Swiftlets were gliding across us, and in the gardens below Chestnut Munias were busy building nests.  The SOX birding weekend had turned out to be more eventful than I had expected!

Sunny views of Lake Sebu

But that isn't the end of our SOX adventure.  Felix had one more ace up his sleeve for us. On our way to the airport after picking up our things at the hotel, Felix asked if we wanted to check to see if the Spotted Kestrel was around.  This is a new addition to the Philippine Bird List, in fact, a pair had been spotted and documented last year nesting - so it was definitely a resident.  We made a quick detour to the rocky face of a hill on the outskirts of Gen San.  The bird had not been spotted recent to our visit but it was close enough to warrant a check.

As we got down from the car, we surveyed the holes which dotted the bare rock face.  And there it was!  Sitting very still in one of the shallow caverns was a Spotted Kestrel! 

Adri and Felix scanning the rock face.

Can you spot it?

A Spotted Kestrel: one of the latest Philippine records!

It was later identified through our photos as a young, subadult individual.  Was it one of the offspring from the last breeding season?  We did a little dance of joy by the side of the road.  A last minute lifer from our weekend SOX adventure.

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