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LUZON ISLAND

PHILIPPINES
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# Species:401
# Excl Vagrants:401
# Endemics:113
# Near Endemics:7
Habitat: Open bay, marsh, lowland forest, montane forest

ABOUT THE BIRDING

Luzon is the largest island in the Philippines and is located in the northernmost region so the avifauna is substantially different than more southern islands such as Mindanao and more western islands such as Palawan. The northern part of the island is encompassed by the mountainous Cordillera Central that features a mix of tropical pine forest and montane rainforest. To the east is the Sierra Madre, the longest mountain range in the country and separated from the Cordillera Central by the Cagayan River Valley. This vally is heavily agricultural and a major producer of rice and corn. In the far north is the Zambales Mountains. To the south is the Bataan Peninsula enclosing Manila Bay and to the southeast is the rugged mountainous region of Bicol Peninsula. The famed Mayon Volcano, most active in the Philippines, is located on Bicol Peninsula.

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT ZONE

Subic Bay Freeport Zone is located west of Manila on Luzon Island. It's an excellent and easily accessed protected area of lowland rainforest and is one of the best birding sites on Luzon Island. It's the only accessible site for Green Racquet-Tail, which is still fairly common. Birding is along roadsides and along some short trails into the forest. The best known site is the track going up to Hill 394, which runs through good forest. This is the best place to look for Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike. Other good birds there include Rufous Coucal skulking in thick tangles, Red-crested Malkoha, Philippine Trogon, Luzon Hornbill, Philippine Woodpecker, Philippine Tailorbird, Philippine Fairy-bluebird, and Stripe-sided Rhabdornis. The forest along the Nabusan Beach is more open and a good place to find all three big woodpeckers including Sooty Woodpecker. One of the best spots for White-browed Shama along the Apaliin Forest trails. Numerous additional sites are worth birding so at least two days should be spent at Subic Bay. More detailed information can be found at this webpage.

CANDABA MARSH

Candaba Marsh is located about 1 hour north of Manila. It's best accessed from Baliuag/Bahay Pare rather than the town of Candaba due to the bad road from the latter. The ponds are surrounded by trees and a trail leads through the middle of the ponds. It's essential to visit in early morning as it can get very hot by 8:00am. It's a good area to look for the vulnerable status PhilippineDuck, always difficult to find. More likely are Buff-banded Rail, Barred Rail, White-browed Crake, Greater Painted-Snipe, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Oriental Pratincole, Australasian Grass-Owl, and Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

LOS BA&tildeN;OS & MOUNT MAKILING

Los Baños is located 66km south of Manila at the southern end of Laguna de Bay. The University of the Philippines campus in town is a good birding site in early morning when Philippine Hawk-Owl is possible. Behind the campus in open areas possibilities include Spotted Buttonquail, Barred Buttonquail, Barred Rail, Plain Bush-hen, Red-crested Malkoha, Tawny Grassbird, and Golden-headed Cisticola. The botanical gardens on the campus can be good for birds such as Indigo Kingfisher along the river and Handsome Sunbird and Flaming Sunbird in flowering trees in the gardens.

Mount Makling Forest Reserve is accessed via a poor road from Los Baños. An early start is necessary since Ashy Thrush is normally only seen at dawn. The road goes up through good forest so the birding can be good. Some of the interesting birds possible there are Luzon Bleeding-heart, Scale-feathered Malkoha (a skulker rarely seen in the open), Philippine Trogon, Spotted Kingfisher, Yellowish White-eye, Blue-breasted Pitta, and Gray-backed Tailorbird. At the top of the mountain White-bellied Flowerpecker is possible but not guaranteed.

BANAUE & MOUNT POLIS

Mount Polis near Banaue is a good birding site but requires a 9-hour drive from Manila to reach. The site features a half-dozen or so birds not otherwise seen on organized birding tours. The primary target bird is Luzon Redstart which is sure to be seen there. The other birds targeted by birders are Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove and Luzon Racquet-tail. Both take some luck to see. Other species that take some luck to see are Luzon Scops-Owl and Flame-crowned Flowerpecker. Also present is Benguet Bush Warbler, which is fairy common but a real skulker that is difficult to see. Other common birds at the site are Long-tailed Ground-Dove, Long-tailed Ground-Roller, Chestnut-faced Babbler, Yellowish White-eye, Tablas Fantail, Visayan Fantail, and Blue-headed Fantail. The town of Banaue is not of interest for birding but is famed for its rice terraces. Accommodations are marginal and the hillsides are deforested.

SIERRA MADRE MOUNTAINS

Birding the Sierra Madre Mountains involves some real effort to reach the birding sites in the far north of Luzon Island. Typically one flies from Manila to Tugegurao, hires a jeepney to get to the village of Baliuag (40min), and then treks on foot or by horseback into the mountains. There are several campsites. Palay is at the eastern edge of the remaining forest at an elevation of 500m and is reached via a 2-5hr, 12km walk over rolling hills. The hike in can be very hot and exhausting. Hamut is a further 15km walk along forest trails that is mostly uphill and takes a tough 4-9hr hike to reach. Camp Sawa is about 6km north of Hamut Camp and is the best place to see the prized Whiskered Pitta. Visiting all 3 camps requires at least 5 days. The forest around Camp Palay and most of the way up to Camp Hamut is quite disturbed. The forest is much better once Hamut and Sawa are reached. If it rains, the trails are muddy and the birding is slow. Lower elevation birds around Camp Palay include Scale-feathered Malkoha, Luzon Boobook, Coppersmith Barbet, White-bellied Woodpecker, Lowland White-eye, Blackish Cuckooshrike, and White-fronted Tit. The most sought after birds are higher up and require reaching Camp Hamut or Camp Sawa. Some of the highlight birds making those sites worth the effort (in addition to the pitta) are Luzon Bleeding-heart, Cream-breasted Fruit-Dove, Philippine Dwarf-Kingfisher, Golden-crowned Babbler, Black-and-white Triller, White-lored Oriole, Cordillera Ground-Warbler, Philippine Fairy-bluebird, Furtive Flycatcher, Bicolored Flowerpecker, and White-bellied Flowerpecker. Most birders visit the Sierra Madre during January, but some feel late March or April are better because the pittas are more responsive to playback and most birds are beginning the breed then.

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