Friday 17 November 2023

Palawan - November 2023 : Part 2

Day 4 - 

As post race tour, I asked Totic Failana, the expert bird guide of Palawan to give us a 5 days tour around Puerto Princesa, we wanted to have more time to enjoy and photograph some of the birds and wildlife of Palawan. James and Gomen were unable to get a flight in the day before, so they won't be able to join us until the evening. Having heard we saw a Philippine Hawk Cuckoo the day before, Totic wanted to try Irawan Eco Park with us in the morning. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a flock of Common Hill Mynas. Nearby, a few Palawan Drongos made an appearance, this time much lower than on previous day, allowing a relatively good view. Blue-naped Parrots were also seen.

Common Hill Myna

Palawan Drongo

Blue-naped Parrot

Along a small stream, we added a relatively confiding Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher. Around the same area, Totic wanted to try for the Palawan Flycatcher, and we did find one that we were able to get a few photos of, the lack of feeding station for this species makes it quite a tough one to photograph.

Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher

Palawan Flycatcher

We carried on along the trail, things were generally quite quiet, other than a few other common species, we added Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, a vocal and showy White-vented Shama, and several Green Imperial Pigeons up above.

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

White-vented Shama

Green Imperial Pigeon

At the feeding station, we had a very confiding Blue-eared Kingfisher. Totic stated that the feeding stations were maintained by Randy before, but since he is now too busy, the operation of these bird hides have been given to someone else, and unfortunately they don't seem to be doing a particularly good job. There are basically no birds there now, and the only bird visible is this Blue-eared Kingfisher. It is a shame, but hopefully in the future they can improve these bird hides again.

Blue-eared Kingfisher

When there were no birds, we looked at various wildlife, we added a Green Crested Lizard and a beautiful Common Posy. There were quite a lot of butterflies there, but most of them were fast fliers and barely stopped for photos. 

Green Crested Lizard

Common Posy

Rhinocypha humeralis

The rain soon came in, and we stationed ourself at the rain shelter. A few Palawan Crows came closer for a much better photo, though they may look just like a normal Crow, their call is very unique and different from Slender-billed Crow, of which it was formerly conspecific. A few Palawan Hornbills were also spotted in the trees up above.

Palawan Crow

Palawan Hornbill

After lunch, we were all quite tired from the walk at Irawan, having done two days of fast pace birding already, we wanted to take it slow. So, Totic took us to Randy's place, where we only stayed for a few minutes the day before. He stated it is most productive from 2pm - 4pm. Immediately when we got out of our van we were greeted by a pair of Palawan Sunbird, both showing exceptionally well.

Down at Randy's Place, we settled down and were soon greeted by the same pair of Mangrove Blue Flycatchers. A Philippine Pied Fantail also frequently dart around left and right.

Mangrove Blue Flycatcher - female

Mangrove Blue Flycatcher - male

Philippine Pied Fantail

Palawan Flowerpeckers were plentiful here, from juveniles, females to males. They can come exceptionally close to you, a few instance I had to zoom my lens out to 300mm to fit them in frame! The male was a wonderful model and provided plenty of good photo opportunity.

Palawan Flowerpecker - juvenile

Palawan Flowerpecker - female

Palawan Flowerpecker - male

Other sunbirds that came through in the afternoon includes a few Brown-throated Sunbirds, Pale Spiderhunter was also a frequent visitor to the flowers.

Brown-throated Sunbird

Pale Spiderhunter

Common species such as Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds and Ashy-fronted Bulbuls can be quite tricky to photograph elsewhere, here they were quite easy and provided plenty of good poses to choose from!

Rufous-tailed Tailorbird

Ashy-fronted Bulbul

The pièce de résistance at Randy's Place is none other than the fabulous Blue Paradise Flycatcher, up to two birds frequent the area. With a bit of patience and good luck, this fabulous looking endemic often dances around in the background, giving wonderful views. The Philippine Pied Fantails did not like them, and often chases them away.

Blue Paradise Flycatcher - male

At 4pm, we headed to a coconut plantation outside Princesa Garden to look for Spotted Wood Owl at their day roost. It didn't take long before Totic spotted our target, sleeping peacefully on a tall coconut tree. It was not bothered at all by our presence, as it barely even looked at us while we were there. After a rather relaxing and successfully afternoon, we had a late afternoon tea at Totic's own little cafe, the 'Creperia'. His wife runs the cafe during the day and he sometimes helps out when he doesn't have tours. Both the coffee and the crepes were excellent.

Spotted Wood Owl


James and Gomen's flights were delayed slightly, but we finally got everyone together at 7:30pm! After a very quick dinner near the airport, we went looking for Palawan Frogmouth straight away. I was initially worried that it was already too late for the Frogmouths, but luckily with a little effort we got the bird into view. For the next 30 minutes or so we enjoyed wonderful close up views, and incredible to think that this was all found within the city of Puerto Princesa!

Palawan Frogmouth

Day 5 -

At the bird race ceremony dinner, I asked Totic about the chances of seeing the Falcated Wren-Babbler, and the only respond I got from him was a broad smile and a nod, I took that as a good sign. As the first day we had with the full crew, Totic wanted to get this major target out of the way. He did say another guide was unsuccessful with them the day before, which got me feeling rather anxious. Before we headed to Napsan, we stopped near Randy's Place at a flowering tree to see the Purple-throated Sunbird, which we successfully connected with both male and female within a few minutes.

Purple-throated Sunbird - male

Purple-throated Sunbird - female

We drove to Napsan afterwards, our car stopped by the roadside and Totic led us into the forest, we came to this small opening with a fallen log in the middle, at first I thought this was a feeding station, I asked Totic whether he needs to put bait on the log, he shook his head. At that moment I was feeling rather perplexed, but as soon as Totic played a bit of playback, two birds responded, and soon enough a Falcated Wren-Babbler hopped into full view on the log! This species seems extremely territorial and responded to the call of the intruder quite spectacularly. After calling on the log for a few minutes, the pair disappeared back into undergrowth of the forest.

Palawan Wren-Babbler - What a bird!

The feeling of finally seeing a top target bird is always euphoric, and we were all smiling as we walked back out onto the main road. We celebrated with some buns with local peanut butter! We barely had anytime to savour our success, when a pair of Spot-throated Flameback came into view! They showed exceptionally well on a dead tree. We also had a bird wave that came through, although most birds were too far for photos, with the exception of a Ventriloquial Oriole.

Spot-throated Flameback - male

Spot-throated Flameback  - female

Spot-throated Flameback

Ventriloquial Oriole

Since James and Gomen haven't seen the Palawan Babbler yet, we headed back to the stretch of road where we last saw them, sure enough a pair came out to greet us. Lower down, we ran into a group of Palawan Hornbills, which were very vocal.

Palawan Babbler

Palawan Hornbill

Later we also came upon some smaller birds, including Palawan Tits and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. A pair of Chestnut-breasted Malkoha also showed up. 

Palawan Tit

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

On our way back towards Puerto Princesa, we stopped at a view point overlooking the valley, here we added Oriental Honey Buzzard, there was a fruiting tree there that attracted a lot of Black-headed Bulbuls and a few Pygmy Flowerpeckers.

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Black-headed Bulbul

Pygmy Flowerpecker

We had our takeaway Jollibee for lunch by the roadside before continuing our birding at Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. We stopped briefly at the paddyfields and scanned the munias, sure enough we saw a few White-bellied Munias amongst the Chestnut Munias! This was a new bird for all of us, and we took some time taking a few photos. I find them to look overall quite similar to White-rumped Munias in Hong Kong, only without the white rump and have a very unique looking underside pattern.

White-bellied Munia

Chestnut Munia

Things were generally quiet here, and for almost an hour we saw barely anything. Just as we were going to give up and head back towards the van, Totic heard the call of the Great Slaty Woodpecker, and soon we got our eyes on these huge prehistoric looking woodpeckers. Three of them showed well, although not easy to photograph!

After the woodpeckers, we saw a good selection of birds, including Palawan Drongos, Black-naped Orioles and Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes.

Palawan Drongo

Black-naped Oriole

Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike

We stopped at the paddies for a Striated Grassbird, but it flew into cover before we could take any photos. A few Whiskered Terns were seen and naturally I did some scanning, sure enough I saw at least one White-winged Tern amongst them. Surprisingly, this was a lifer for Totic!

Whiskered Tern

White-winged Tern

Since I wanted to get some better photos of Rufous Night Herons, we headed over to Crocodile Farm, or nowadays known as the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre. The name cannot be further from the truth, as the whole park looks extremely grim. It is very obvious there is very little money going into this place, as it looks half abandoned, the facilities were in an appalling state, and the animals in the enclosure looks very sad and poorly kept. We did manage to find several Rufous Night Herons, but otherwise I don't think it's worth going there anymore. There also used to be a free roaming Palawan Peacock Pheasant there, but that individual disappeared, there are a few inside the cages, but it just feels wrong to see them being kept in such conditions. It is such a shame, because I remembered this place as quite a nice birding spot the last time I visited Palawan.

Rufous Night Heron - juvenile

Rufous Night Heron - sub-adult

Rufous Night Heron

Palawan Peacock Pheasant

Saltwater Crocodile

At 5pm, Totic booked us a boat to Cana Island, just a few minutes from Peurto Princesa. This small island is home to a pair of Mantanani Scops Owls, back in 2018 we also visited this island. As our boat was coming ashore, Kenneth shouted "Snake!", at first I thought he meant a sea snake, turns out he was pointing at a snake on the beach! I immediately jumped off the boat and tried to catch the snake, it darted off under a wooden board before I could get a hold of it. Luckily, we managed to get it out in the end, good thing we did as this was a beautiful Maren's Bronzeback! We had a brief photo session under the sunset.

Maren's Bronzeback

We got to work right away when it was dark enough, and within a minute or two Totic already located the pair. They gave phenomenon views as always, even engaged in mating twice as we watched from the below the tree! After everyone got good photos we left the pair in peace and headed back into the city for a nice dinner.

Mantanani Scops Owl

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