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 www.birdguidingphilippines.com, 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 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
Chris Steeman photographs the kingfisher using traditional methods
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.