Some tips for naturalists traveling in the Philippines

In January-February 2001, I spent a few weeks in the Philippines, looking for mammals, birds, and other interesting fauna. Below are some travel and wildlife viewing tips. I highly recommend Jon Hornbuckle's trip report for more systematic coverage. If you have any questions, please mail me.


Mount Data Hotel area on Baguio-Bontoc highway is a must for anybody interested in native rodents, and a place to see some rare birds, including Lewinia mirificus rail and some interesting buttonquails, swiftlets and owls. I hitchhiked from Sagada (where I saw some buttonquails in hanging coffins area, Rhyacornis bicolor water-redstart on the river on the other side of the road, and lots of bats in caves) to Mt.Data Hotel, making sure that I arrive late at night. (Hotel stuff reportedly doesn't like people around if they aren't patrons, and the place is said to be expensive. According to the truck driver who drove me there, they can even get you arrested for "conspicuous activities in the vicinity of strategic highway", but I don't believe it. Recently, some people with extensive knowledge of the area have warned me that camping in Luzon mountains can be unsafe). The pine forest starts just above the highway, and oak forest is less than 1 km further up; the hike to it is so easy that you can do it at night, even if you haven't been there at daytime. Make sure you get out of the car on the highway and hike to the hotel (it takes about 5 minutes). From the hotel parking lot, go uphill, and slightly to the left (about 45 degrees left from a short paved trail going up from the hotel). Soon you'll get to a small, wire-fenced field. Don't go further left, or you'll find yourself out of the forest, in a large field sloping back down towards the highway. Cloud forest starts on the upper side of the small field. (It all sounds complicated, but it's very easy - you can get to this forest within 15 minutes from leaving the car or bus). The forest is degraded, and there are lots of trails, but it is a very good spot. I recommend that you walk inside the forest and wait for dawn (there are small clearings, suitable for camping; I'd spend the night walking around instead of sleeping, because there are lots of small owls and interesting rodents). In the morning, you can watch birds until sunrise and then go further uphill, without being seen by anybody. The rail was at the edge of the small field; Pitta kochi was seen in one of the clearings. A buttonquail which I suspect was T. worcesteri was near the parking lot, between the paved trail and garbage bins. To see racquet-tails, you have to go further. I saw an eagle-owl flying across the hotel access road, and then landing in a pine tree. Later, I heard two birds at the same time in the cloud forest (one sounded as if it was far away). The forest is less dense than on Mt. Polis, so it's not very difficult to see owls even without a tape recorder. (I'm not sure they'd be so vocal on a moonlit night; it was foggy all the time I was on the mountain). Possible Collocalia whiteheadi swiftlets were seen further up, but they probably can be seen above the hotel, too. Another place to look for them is the so-called Highest Point near the village of Catubo on the same highway (all drivers know where it is).

Mount Polis-Banaue area: I recommend combining a visit to Mt. Polis with a short, pleasant early morning hike from Banaue to Terraces Viewpoint (1.5 miles). If you start early, you can see some cloud rats, shrew-rats, giant Attacus edwardsii moths, and many interesting passerines. Flora is very interesting here, too. If you are not a dog lover, a stick is a must. On Mt. Polis, watch for deer grazing on forest clearings, and for rare snakes near streams.

Mount Mayon has vegetation similar to Mt. Isarog, but is more accessible (look for directions to Mayon Vista Lodge in Lonely Planet's Philippines guide). Look for pittas, flycatchers, kingfishers, monarchs, malkohas, rails (probably including L. mirificus), cloud rats, shrews and toads. Access road is good for grassland birds and flowerpeckers.

On Angat Reservoir dam, there is now a Negrito camp (just 2-3 families), and they have a small boat for hire - should be a good way to look for Hypothymis monarchs and kingfishers. There were large flocks of bee-eaters along the paved road from Hilltop to the dam, and some Phil. cobras on road pavement at night (the only large snakes I could find during the trip, despite turning over hundreds of logs and stones). Look for frogmouths and other birds flying over the reservoir at night, and for Hypothymis coelestis along Reservoir Trail. Two species of Paradise-flycatchers can be seen along the paved road downstream from the dam.

Small caves in Quezon NP are good for bats, particularly various Vespertilionids. Birding is excellent in the area (be sure to visit all elevations, from a small stream near park office to lookout point). Watch for giant snails, falconets, malkohas and numerous small birds along the highway that crosses the park.


Guesthouse on Mt. Katanglad is still an excellent place to look for birds and mammals, despite ongoing clearing of the forest. At night, many species of small fruit bats come to rest and chew fruits on the underside of the roof, while endemic rats can be seen behind the house. In daytime, watch for pigeons coming to dustbathe in front of the house. A deep ravine to the right (if facing uphill) is good for kingfishers, flycatchers and gymnures. An isolated group of blooming trees below a small church further up had a nice collection of parrots, flowerpeckers, sunbirds, starlings and other birds. Look for buttonquails and couckals near burning fields along the access road. I also recommend a long, but rewarding hike from the main access point (closer to Cagayan de Oro than Guesthouse turnoff) for high-altitude birds. This route has been visited by gangs of commercial moth collectors, so now you have to leave all sources of light, including flashlights, at the park office. And, don't forget to obtain a permit in Malaybalay prior to your visit!

Makahambus Caves near Cagayan de Oro are an interesting place to visit (10 min by taxi). The area is good for bats, cave cockroaches, tree-shrews, freshwater fishes, swiftlets, and songbirds (watch for spiderhunters, taylorbirds etc.) Take off all clothes before entering the main cave - mud is up to 1 m deep inside!

Tawi Tawi

I helped a guy to fly a small plane to Bongao and back from Mindanao. (Actually, I had expected to spend some time there, but airport police took my passport and ordered me to fly back immediately to avoid being taken hostage, so I only had few minutes there). Northern and Western parts of Tawi Tawi look almost completely deforested from above. We found few small forest patches, and were able to flush a hornbill from one of them by flying low. My co-pilot said he had been watching the deforestation for many years, and expected the last groves to be cut within 3-5 years. Watch for a pair of escaped Eos parrots in flowering trees near Bongao airport.


The most easily accessible place to look for endemic Copsychus cebuensis shamas is in and around Cebu City Zoo. Mactan Divers at Punto Enggano had submersible dives for $100-1000 (depending on your negotiating skills), but they said they were planning to stop using their submersible within a few months, because of its dismal condition. You can see some interesting mollusks, echinoderms and fish down there, although the bottom is seriously effected by trawling for rare shells, even at 1000 m (could be less - I doubt the accuracy of depth meter).


Rajah Sikatuna NP is still an excellent birding place. During my visit, the greatest concentration of monkeys/hornbills/woodpeckers/pigeons/trogons/squirrels/broadbills was in tall trees along the longest set of footsteps between the last junction and the watch tower. Ask the park guards to show you flying lemurs, or look for them yourself around guesthouse. At night, look for tarsiers, pit vipers, hawk-owls, luminescent mushrooms, and for birds sleeping on low branches, such as drongos. Look for kingfishers and wild pigs early in the morning near the swimming pool, and for pittas in the thickets behind the cages at the camp clearing. Bats, including some freetails, inhabit local caves.

I also recommend visiting Tarsier Sanctuary, not only for tarsiers, but also for birds and lizards along nature trails (look for taylorbirds, pigeons, and cuckoos, among other things).


If you have no time or are too lazy to hike all the way up to Canlaon NP from Mambucal, try Waterfalls Trail instead (actually, I think it's part of the National Park). In fact, it is even better for low-elevation birds, flowerpeckers, sunbirds, frogs, civets etc.; you can even expect some really rare stuff, such as hornbills and shrews. It is also very beautiful. Watch for fruit bat colony, monitor lizards and kingfishers near the trailhead, and hike for few minutes back down along the access highway - rare Mearnsia picina swifts can be seen there. Viewpoints above the waterfalls can give you a chance to see shining upperparts of Hirundapus celebensis, world's most beautiful swifts.

In Bacolod, visit Negros Forest Foundation for a chance to see captive deer, wild pigs, bleeding-hearts, and hornbills.


I highly recommend a long, but interesting hike to Mt. Iglit Tamaraw Reservation (ask at the airport for directions). It's your only chance to see Bubalus mindorensis, the islands' largest animal, and many other mammals, reptiles and birds. Look for low-elevation birds, such as couckals and bleeding-hearts, in small groups of trees along the access trail.


Honda Bay Islands are your cheapest option for good diving on the Philippines, and also a good place to see some rare bats, as well as birds typical for small islands. Bat Island is the best for bats, frogmouths, pigeons, and owls, while Cowrie Island is very good for underwater fauna (including splendid groves of black coral), and shorebirds (watch for plovers and Burhinus magnirostris thick-knees near the mangroves at the far end of the island). Caloenas nicobarica pigeons visit the islands occasionally, according to my boatman (I actually have a slide of one bird from Bat Island, but it's too dark to scan).

Subterranean River in St. Paul NP is one of the World's best bat viewing sites, especially for horseshoe bats. Ghostly-looking cave crayfish up to 20 cm long can be seen on shallows. Watch also for taylorbirds and gorgeous Trigonoptera butterflies near cave entrance. Swimming upstream along the river near the park entrance at dawn is a good chance to see kingfishers, turtles and tree-shrews (reportedly, no Crocodylus porosus here, but watch out anyway). A smaller creek near park office clearing is good for kingfishers, caecilids and beautiful freshwater fishes. Walking at night in the forest, look for flying squirrels, badgers, and shrews; don't miss small caves along Jungle Trail with different assortment of bats, swiftlets and giant wolf spiders (watch out for fire ants). The small caves area is also good for pigeons, wild pigs, pittas, Polypecton emphanum pheasants, various lizards (from tiny skinks to giant Agamids), and chiggers. Park office clearing is very good for an excellent variety of birds, as well as treefrogs, mongooses, squirrels, and monitor lizards.

The Crocodile Farm near Puerto Princesa has a small natural area, where some native birds and mammals can be seen, both in captivity and in the wild. It's the only accessible place to see endemic Crocodylus mindorensis.

Vladimir Dinets

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