5 Days Custom tour to Palawan 29 April - 05 May
Leader: Bram Demeulemeester
Participants: Matsumura Nobuo, Nishizawa Yoshihiko
Day 1 - We took an early morning flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa in Palawan. After a short stop at our hotel, we made our way to the Irawan Eco Park to spend several hours in our first stop on this beautiful and exotic Island. As soon as we arrived, we started to hike around in search of our first Palawan endemics and also for other specialties that can be seen on this island. We saw Blue-naped Parrots, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, and our first Palawan Hornbill of the trip which was seen and photographed well. We enjoyed scoping views of this stunning Hornbill as well as Spot-throated Flameback. We were also very lucky to observe two of the rare Red-headed Flamebacks. It is always great to see these extremely striking woodpeckers.
Added to our list were three Hooded Pittas which were seen well. Also seen were Ashy Drongo and Palawan Drongo, two stunning endemic Blue Paradise-Flycatchers, several Palawan Crows, the very common Black-headed Bulbuls, Palawan Bulbul,and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Two Palawan Blue-Flycatchers were also seen very well. The White-vented Shama, with its very beautiful song, was seen twice. Another common bird was the Pin-striped Tit-Babbler that is both heard and seen very often. We also saw Common Hill Mynas, Olive-backed Sunbird, several Lovely Sunbirds, and two Pale Spiderhunters. Our first hours birding were a nice introduction to the rich Palawan avifauna and a very good start to our Palawan journey.
Later that afternoon, we took a boat to a very small off-shore island from Puerto Princesa City. There, we waited until night time for the Mantanani Scops-owl that showed very well. We saw two owls and also got good views of the Large-tailed Nightjar. We soon made our way back to Puerto Princesa for some well-deserved rest.
Day 2 – We had an early morning start for the Balsahan Trail, which is the best spot to see the Palawan Flycatcher and Melodious Babbler. The Palawan Flycatcher was seen very well and we got a few short glimpses of the more often heard Melodious Babbler. The Balsahan Trail is another very bird-rich site on Palawan with several river crossings and beautiful lush green forest. We spent quite a long morning on the trail with plenty of Green Imperial-Pigeons, Emerald Dove, Asian Koel which was seen high in the forest canopy, several Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, Spot-throated Flameback, and a surprise in seeing another stunning Red-headed Flameback. It was the first time I had observed this species on the Balsahan Trail. We saw several more Hooded Pittas, which seems to be very active and common in the area around this time of year. Other species seen include Black-naped Monarch, one more Blue Paradise-Flycatcher, plenty Palawan Crows, and two very close and stunning views of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches. There were many Black-headed Bulbuls, several Ashy-fronted Bulbuls, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, and White-vented Shama. The Ashy-headed Babbler, a notorious skulker, gave us some glimpses and we saw more common Hill Mynas. We were able to observe Yellow-throated Leafbird which was seen on a flowering tree. The tree was also home to several Palawan Flowerpeckers and Pygmy Flowerpeckers.
A few Brown-throated Sunbirds also showed up and the Lovely Sunbird proved to be very common. After another good view of a Pale Spiderhunter, we made our way back to Puerto Princesa for lunch overlooking some mangroves. Along the way, we stopped at some rice paddies which had lesser birds compared to the winter months. The birds we did see include Intermediate Egret, plenty Cattle Egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Common Sandpiper, and Whiskered Terns. Along the dry open fields, we saw few Spotted Doves, Red Collared Doves, Collared Kingfisher, and White-breasted Woodswallows.
Once we reached the restaurant, we looked out for the Copper-throated Sunbird. One stunning male was seen and a single female. We also saw one Stork-billed Kingfisher and a Pied Triller. We enjoyed our lunch with the nice views of the mangroves and the sea.
Later that afternoon we made our way to the Zig Zag Road, another site not too far from Puerto Princesa. It is a good spot for an early morning or late afternoon of birding. Here we got prolonged views of Black-chinned Fruit-Dove, one Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, several good views of Blue-naped Parrots, one White-bellied Woodpecker, Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, our first Sulphur-bellied Bulbuls of which at least four were seen. The group also got great views of White-vented Shamas, who were actively singing as well as better views of the Melodious Babbler. We made our way back to Puerto Princesa for our last night stay in the city. Along the way, we made a stop at a good site for the Spotted Wood-Owl at night time. It was seen soon after our arrival and that ended another splendid day birding on Palawan.
Day 3 – We were en route to Sabang early the next morning to spend the next two days there. Along the way, we made several stops along the road and also one side trail. At first, we made our way down to a forested valley from the main road. We soon heard two Falcated Wren-Babblers calling. After a few minutes, we had excellent views of these stunning birds. We had the chance to see two of them and also take some pictures. The other surprise in the valley was the presence of a single Palawan Flycatcher, which is not often seen on this side of the island.
Soon we were birding along the road for the rest of the morning. We encountered plenty of bird activity and had sightings of several Blue-naped Parrots, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, plenty of Glossy Swiftlets seen at close distance and flying over the road, at least five Dollarbirds, Spot-throatedFlamebacks, plus one more Red-headed Flameback bringing our total to four of these stunning Woodpeckers seen on this tour. We observed a family of Great Slaty Woopeckers, which is always a good bird to see. Also seen were Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, one Dark-throated Oriole, plenty of Ashy Drongos, several Palawan Drongos, Palawan Crows, a strikingly beautiful Palawan Tit, Ashy-fronted Bulbuls, and a few Sulphur-bellied Bulbuls. We had glimpses of the Ashy-headed Babbler, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Palawan Flowerpecker, Pygmy Flowerpecker, plenty of Purple-throated Sunbirds which where feeding among the large acacia trees, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Lovely Sunbirds, and Pale Spiderhunter. Again, another excellent morning spent birding on the island of Palawan.
After our midday break, we were off again for some afternoon birding on several forested trails and viewpoints. While exploring the trails, we saw one Rufous-backed Kingfisher, five Hooded Pittas, a single Red-bellied Pitta, a few White-vented Shamas, and some Ashy-headed Babblers. We also saw two Blue-headed Racquet-tails, with one giving us excellent views. As we made our way to the viewpoint to spend the last hours of the day, we had the chance to have scope views of three Philippine Cockatoos. It was a very nice way to close our day.
Day4 – A short boat trip took us to the headquarter of the St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park. The main attraction here is the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, surely one the most beautiful pheasants with its glowing blue colors standing out in the dark forest. It is definitely a must-see bird. After some searching in the forest beside the HQ buildings, we saw this extremely friendly Palawan Peacock-Pheasant. We had the chance to take plenty photographs of this bird who is now getting old. Always a big relief to see this beauty, a dream bird for many birders. Aside from the Peacock-Pheasant, two Philippine Scrubfowls showed well also. The entrance of the Subterranean River is also always worth a visit with plenty of Germain’s Swiflets in the area. Higher up in the sky was filled with Uniform Swiftlets (Palawan).
After several hours enjoying the birding around the Subterranean River National Park, we made our way back to Sabang Beach for more birding along the road and side trails for the rest of the day. One more Blue-headed Racquet-tail was seen, including several Blue-naped Parrots, one Rufous-backed Kingfisher, one Dollarbird, three Palawan Horbills, one Hooded Pitta, at least three Fiery Minivets, one more Dark-throated Oriole, Ashy and Palawan Drongos, two stunning Blue Paradise Flycatchers, and two Palawan Tits gave us excellent views again. Other species seen were several Ashy-fronted Bulbuls, two Palawan Bulbuls, another Sulpher-bellied Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird was seen twice, and our first Asian Fairy-bluebird was spotted. We saw one Palawan Blue-Flycatcher, several more White-vented Shamas, an Ashy-headed Babbler finally gave us some better views, up to five Yellow-throated Leafbirds, Palawan Flowerpecker, and Purple-throated Sunbird.
Towards dusk we made our way inside the forest ready for several hours of nocturnal birding. It was a very dark night, but we started with a sighting of two Spotted Wood-Owls. After some time searching, we found one Palawan Frogmouth that gave prolonged views. After watching this bizarre-looking bird, we left it still sitting on its branch. With the Palawan Scops-Owl yet to be seen, we continued our search into the dark forest. After some time, we found the elusive Palawan Scops-Owl that also gave us very long views. It was another great way to end our very long day. After a nice dinner and a few beers, we were ready for our well-deserved rest and our last day birding on Palawan.
Day 5 – It was our last full day birding on the exotic island of Palawan and the morning was spend mostly birding along the main road again from Sabang towards Puerto Princesa. The forest patches proved to be very rich in birdlife. We saw Philippine Cuckoo Dove, one Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, several Blue-headed Racquet-tails, Blue-naped Parrots, a group of five stunning Palawan Hornbills, and a family again of the prehistoric looking Great SlatyWoopeckers. Other species seen include two Common Ioras that gave prolonged views, a single Dark-throated Oriole, Blue Paradise-Flycatcher, two Palawan Tits, Ashy-fronted and Palawan Bulbuls, two more Asian Fairy-bluebirds, Ashy-headed Babblers that gave the best views of the trip, more Yellow-throated Leafbirds, and a very close view of a Striped Flowerpecker, the first one seen on the tour. The group also saw the commonly seen Palawan Flowerpecker, a single Pygmy Flowerpecker, and at least five Purple-throated Sunbirds, plus Olive-backed Sunbirds, and Lovely Sunbird. The last hours of the day were spent at the Irawan Eco Park on our way back to Puerto Princesa. Here we got long views of two Ruddy Kingfishers as well as the very common Hooded Pitta and Palawan Blue-Flycatcher. We went back to Puerto Princesa where we spent our last night on the island. We returned to Manila with all possible endemics seen and plenty of photographs too. Palawan is surely one of the most bird active islands in the Philippines.
See also our previous Palawan tour report.