Philippines 2012-13, part 1.

11th Dec 2013.

Luzon – Arrival and La Mesa Eco Parc

Hopefully I’m finally getting around to updating the blog with highlights from my winter trip to the Philippines, so I’ll do it in a rough chronological order. But don’t worry, it won’t be a detailed day by day account of my 7 week trip!

Arriving in Manila on Dec 10th, I was whisked through the streets alongside the iconic jeepneys that seemingly make up 90% of Manila’s traffic. Jeepneys are a crazy form of transport, a sort of cut & shut with a jeep and a minibus made over by a drunk Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. The garish paintings adorning the sides are occasionally stunning, but the prevalence of stickers/licenses on the windscreen almost obliterate the drivers view. Not that they spend much time looking out the front window!  Culture shock is too strong a phrase for this, but the cultural differences to other places I’ve been was strong and immediately apparent. A strange mix of Asian and American, the city was crowded, and it was a relief to get to the hotel and crash out after the long direct flight from Heathrow with Philippine Airlines.

The following morning I met with Bram Demeulemeester from, our guide for the next 5 weeks. We chatted for a few hours as we waited for Mark Van Biers and Chris Steeman to roll up, but then the three of us were ready for our first proper birding while we waited for Tim Sykes to arrive. With Bram occupied with collecting Tim from the airport, we hired a taxi and went to La Mesa Eco Park for the afternoon. A great patch of woodland on the edge of Manila, a quick look at google earth reveals why it’s surprisingly good for Luzon’s birds – it’s the end of an extension of woodland that runs all the way along the Sierra Madres. A few miles to the north are Whiskered Pitta and Luzon Bleeding Heart, but our target was much harder to find elsewhere than these. I don’t know when Ashy Thrush was first discovered here, but it suddenly put one of the hardest Luzon endemics firmly on the map. The few birds that are here have been incredibly well photographed by the Philippines army of bird photographers, but I was happy with my efforts. We found the small trail that Bram had given us directions to, and after a few minutes wait we were treated by a family party of Ashy Thrushes messing around within a few feet of us.

Ashy Thrush (16) Ashy Thrush (18) Ashy Thrush (27)

Ashy Thrushes, adult above, bottom two are 1st yrs

I’d just latched on to my first Arctic Warbler of the trip when a whistle from Mark and a loud burst of chattering from the forest had me running the few yards back down the trail to where he was now watching the stunning Spotted Wood Kingfisher. Two of the major trip targets were in the bag on the first afternoon!

It was perched at eye level about 3 metres of the trail and just sat there, unmoved by the three gawking idiots enthralled by its every blink, head turn and even occasional bob. The photos don’t really do it justice, but it’s one of, if not the best kingfisher I’ve seen so far. Maybe I just like scaly looking birds.

Spotted Wood Kingfisher (127)
Spotted Wood Kingfisher (81) Spotted Wood Kingfisher (41)

Spotted Wood Kingfisher

Chris ... photographing Spotted Wood Kingfisher (3)

Chris ... photographing Spotted Wood Kingfisher (1)

Chris Steeman photographs the kingfisher using traditional methods

Mark Van Biers photographing Spotted Wood Kingfisher (2)


Mark Van Biers photographs the kingfisher using his phone!

A group of Plain Bush Hens were protestating loudly from the long grass above the amphitheatre, but we couldn’t coax them out. The walk back to the taxi produced a few more lifers, but all were common Philippine endemics such as Philippine Pied Fantail, White-eared Brown Dove and Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker. It may be apparent that most of the endemics carry the epithet “Philippine” to their name, so hopefully you’ll get used to reading it quicker than I got used to writing it. Back at the hotel, Tim had arrived fresh from a seemingly birdless time in Thailand and Borneo, and the team was complete. We could start the tour for real in the morning.

Part 2 to follow.

Champion’s of the Flyway – the Eilat bird race Apr 1st, 2014

Taking part in this race has been one of the highlights of my year so far, and in a year that saw me whizzing around the Philippines on the back of a motorbike, thats saying something. I was part of the Birding Frontiers team, and a full breakdown of the day can be read here . Basically, we didn’t win. We didn’t even come second. In fact, even third place eluded us, but I’m not bitter. It was a superb day and we did ourselves ok with our total of 151. Next year we’ll have a better plan. Next year, things will be different…

Roger Riddington& Adam Hutt scoping Pallas's Gull


Roger Riddington scoping a Pallas’s Gull in the dark, while Adam Hutt cleans the headlights so we can see the gulls!

The Pallas’s Gull in question. Probably only possible with the Swaro 95!

Birding Frontiers team

The Birding Frontiers team (Adam Hutt, Roger Riddington, me)

Dan Alon & Jonathan Meyrev

Dan Alon & Jonathan Meyrav, the co-organisers of the entire event.

The Palestine Sunbirders - overall winners

The Palestine Sunbirders, the overall winners. 

The Batumi Raptor Count crew

The Batumi Raptor Crew receiving the cheque for $30,000 to fund raptor conservation in Georgia.

Israel, March 2014 (photos from Sunbird tour)

There’s no great secret as to why I love going back to Israel. The birding is first rate, so check out the following selection from my recent Sunbird tour to Israel. We started off in the Negev, taking in Nizzana, Ovda, Sde Bokur and Mitzpe Ramon, then moved down to Eilat for five nights followed by a night near the Dead Sea and two nights in the Hula Valley. Epic migration and some great local specialities. The photos are in no particular order.

Yellow-vented Bulbul (8) Yellow-vented Bulbul. Very common all over Israel.

Common Cranes (53) Common Cranes (39)

Common Cranes. Approx 250 fly over us near Nizzana.

Collared Flycatcher (18)

Collared Flycatcher, male. Our first decent migrant.

Arabian Babbler (5)

Arabian Babbler feeding juvenile

Steppe Buzzards (92)

A small number of the thousands of Steppe Buzzards that flew over us in the Eilat mountains one morning.

Steppe Eagle (38)

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Buzzard (40)

Steppe Buzzard 

Spur-winged Plover (10)

Spur-winged Plover

White Stork (16)

White Stork 

Wryneck (22)


Yellow Wagtail (hybrid feldegg x lutea) (14)

Yellow Wagtail. I presume this is a hybrid feldegg x lutea, given the rather “taivana” like appearance.

Tristram's Starling (138) Tristram's Starling (99)

Tristram’s Starlings

Spanish Sparrows (9) Spanish Sparrow (11)

Spanish Sparrows

Slender-billed Gull (36) Slender-billed Gull (26)

Slender-billed Gulls

Semi-collared Flycatcher (1)

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Ruff (7)


Pied Bush Chat (94) Pied Bush Chat (81) Pied Bush Chat (74) Pied Bush Chat (61)

Pied Bush Chat. This was approximately the 12th record for the Western Palearctic, and we were lucky enough to get great views of this mega as it hunted from the irrigation pipes at Neot Semadar.

Pallas's Gull (1)

Pallas’s Gull

Palestine Sunbird (42)

Palestine Sunbird

Oriental Skylark (7)

Oriental Skylark in Ovda Valley. A scarce winter visitor to Israel, this is the first I’ve seen but was followed by three more at Yotvata!

Bimaculated Lark (28)

Bimaculated Lark

Ehrenburg's Redstart (8)

“Ehrenburgs” Redstart (Caucasian race of Common Redstart)

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (1)

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Bluethroat (68)


Red-necked Phalarope (13)

Red-necked Phalarope

Mourning Wheatear (11)

Mourning Wheatear (14)

Mourning Wheatear

Little Egret (20)Little Egret


Lesser Spotted Eagle & Steppe Buzzards (5)

Lesser Spotted Eagles (1)

Lesser Spotted Eagles

Hume's Owl (8)

Hume’s Owl. A pair performed admirably for us, with this bird perching close enough for happy snaps in the torchlight. Nit really visible is the large rodent it as carrying in its bill.

Fan-tailed Raven (63)

Fan-tailed Raven

Hooded Wheatear (1)

Hooded Wheatear

Black Stork (12) Black Stork (4) Black Stork & Steppe Buzzards (8)

Black Storks

Black Kites (11) Black Kites (2)

Black Kites

Pied Kingfisher (13)

Pied Kingfisher

White Pelicans (24) White Pelican (3)

White Pelicans

Vinous-breasted Starling (21) Vinous-breasted Starling (16)

Vinous-breasted Starling

Greater Flamingo (17)

Greater Flamingos

Glossy Ibis (17)

Glossy Ibis

Hoopoe Lark (9)

Hoopoe Lark

European Bee-eater (5)

European Bee-eaters