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PALAWAN ISLAND

PHILIPPINES
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# Species:267
# Excl Vagrants:267
# Endemics:36
# Near Endemics:3
Habitat: Lowland forest, secondary forest, mangroves, beach

ABOUT THE BIRDING

Palawan Island is located in the eastern Philippines. The island is very undeveloped and is a popular tourist destination. It has abundant wildlife, mountains covered with tropical rainforest, and white-sand beaches. In 2014 readers of Conde Nast voted Palawan as the best island in the world thanks to its natural wonders and crystal clear waters. Two UNESCO World Heritage sites are on the island, namely the Tubbatah Reef National Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.

PUERTO PRINCESA

Garceliano Beach is worth a brief visit. The mangroves are a good place to find wintering Chinese Egret. The egrets are harder to find if the tide is too low or too high. Also possible there are various waders such as Gray-tailed Tattler along with Stork-billed Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Pied Triller, and Philippine Pied-Fantail.

Puerto Princesa is the debarcation point for those flying into Palawan. Nearby Pandan Island in Honda Bay was previously the best site to find Gray Imperial-Pigeon, a very range-restricted species. However, due to misbehavior of a birding guide in 2013, the island has been off limits to birding groups since. Usually, groups stayed overnight on the island to pick up Mantanani Scops-Owl as well. The latter can be found on other islands in the bay, but the former may not be possible elsewhere due to lack of habitat.

SABANG ROAD & SABANG

The road from Puerto Princessa to Sabang is about 77km, much of it through forest. The road is paved and in good condition. It's the road taken to reach Underground River National Park. Birding along the road in forested areas can be good. Possibilities include Ameline (Palawan) Swiftlet, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Ashy-headed Babbler, Asian Fairy-bluebird, White-vented Shama, Palawan Flowerpecker, Pygmy Flowerpecker, Orange-tufted Spiderhunter, Pale Spiderhunter, and Little Spiderhunter. Night birds are also possible for those wanting to stay until after dusk. Possibilities include Palawan Scops-Owl, Palawan Scops-Owl (a possible future split into Palawan Frogmouth), and Large-tailed Nightjar. In recent years a site 12km outside Sabang has been a likely place to find the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo, but they are becoming increasingly rare. There are rice fields and some fruiting trees around Sabang worth checking as well.

UNDERGROUND RIVER NATIONAL PARK

Underground River National Park, formerly named St Paul's National Park, is located outside Sabang. It's a scenic area of lowland coastal limestone forest and mangroves. The park holds all but 3 of Palawan's endemic birds. Most of these requiring taking a boat to a scenic wonder, an 8km long underground river. The biggest attraction is the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, one of the most gorgeous birds in Asia. The species is normally shy and hard to see, but in recent years a fairly tame male has been hanging out around the ranger station and is easily seen and photographed. Frequently present eating scraps left by the rangers, along with the Peacock-Pheasant, are Tabon Scrubfowl. A forest trail near the ranger station is good for many other endemics, including the rather shyFalcated Ground-Babbler. Others include Palawan Hornbill, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Palawan Tit, Gray-throated Bulbul, Sulphur-bellied Bulbul, Palawan Babbler, and Palawan Flowerpecker. Night birding can also be productive, offering the same species as along the Sabang Road.

OLD NARRA ROAD

The Old Narra Road or Zigzag Road leads from Puerto Princesa to Narra near the Iwahig Penal Colony. Forest along the road is seriously degraded but rarities such as Palawan Flycatcher and Palawan Babbler are possible. The usual site for these species is at KM35 from Puerto Princessa. A variety of other birds are also possible including Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike, Brown Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Monarch, Palawan Flowerpecker, and Purple-throated Sunbird.

IWAHIG PENAL COLONY & BALSAHAN RIVER

A key birding site on Palawan is the Balsahan Trail, inside the penal colony. It's the most reliable site for Melodious Babbler and a good site for Palawan Flycatcher, the latter becoming less reliable in recent years. Neither species is present around Sabang. The flycatcher can be challenging, as it's a shy species of thick bamboo, but it does often respond to playback.

RASA ISLAND

Rasa Island is reached by a short 30-min boat trip from Narra. The main attractions on the island are Pied Imperial-Pigeon and Philippine Cockatoo, the latter critically endangered and extremely localized. They can be seen flying to roost sites on the island in late afternoon.

LOCATION OF SITE

Palawan is typically reached by a short flight from Manila to Puerto Princessa. A ferry crossing is possible but takes 24 hours.