Sunday, March 10, 2013

One Fine Day in Subic

Subic has always been in our "to-go-to" list but all our previous trips there have either been rained out or quickie birding side-trips (usually lasting an hour only!) When our weekend opened up, we took the opportunity to spend more time birding in Subic. Jops and I were joined by fellow birders Tony, who is based in Subic, and Fr. Auckhs, who is based in Bataan. Unfortunately, Jun wasn't feeling well coming from his own adventure far, far away, so he wasn't able to join us.

We drove straight to Hill 394, a popular birding area where lots of birds have been reported. It was our first time to bird there and we were prepared with the necessary (?) permit from the Subic Ecology Center. We didn't see anyone who asked about any permits that morning though.

After parking and getting our gear ready, we heard a not-so-distant hammering indicating the presence of a woodpecker nearby. And by the loudness of the hammering, it wasn't Pygmy at all! Just by the entrance to the trail, we were able to see the very busy male White-bellied Woodpecker making the hammering sound.

I was able to get a photo of the gorgeous White-bellied Woodpecker
through all the leaves and branches. Yay!

It disappeared from view shortly after we spotted it and flew over us to the other side of the open space where we parked our cars. We headed into the trail to be welcomed by the calls of Philippine Bulbuls. The trail was an easy and pleasant walk, most of the time shaded by the trees. At times the surroundings would fall silent but would come alive with an assortment of bird calls.

Not a bad morning walk in the trail

We didn't get to see lots of birds but we were treated to a big flock of Pompadour Green-Pigeons soaking up some morning sun on the branches of a leafless tree. They were joined by a couple of male Luzon Hornbills, who perched for a few seconds before flying away. Some noisy Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes also joined them briefly on the tree.

Part of the big flock of Pompadour Green-Pigeons

We moved deeper into the trail and heard more than we saw. In one area, we heard a Luzon Hornbill calling loudly from the trees but we weren't able to spot it. In one area, we were able to see some Stripe-headed Rhabdornis together with a very skittish Blue-headed Fantail. It was mid-morning already and the trail was getting quieter and quieter so we decided to head back down.

In one of our conversations while walking, Fr. Auckhs and Tony mentioned birds coming out when you least expect them, and that's exactly what they did on our way out. We saw two raptors thermalling overhead: a Philippine Hawk-Eagle and a Crested Serpent Eagle. We also saw some noisy Blackish Cuckoo-Shrikes chasing each other in the tree tops. And we saw Jops' and my one lifer for the trip: White-lored Oriole, a subspecies of the Philippine Oriole. Sadly, no photos as it was very skittish, hopping from one branch to another and eventually flying off and disappearing into another tree. We did get good views of its yellow body, orangey beak, and of course, its white lores. =)

Before getting lunch, we dropped by the "tenement housing" of the Blue-throated Bee-eaters in the Crown Peak area. We also saw some Coletos, a Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Colasisi, and a couple of fly-by raptors.

Three Blue-throated Bee-eaters perched near their nesting holes.
We saw this bee-eater spread its wings over its nesting hole,
as if saying "This one's mine!"

We ate a delicious lunch and capped it off with equally delicious coffee. Tony had to go and couldn't join us for our afternoon in Nabasan Trail. The three of us left did some shopping first before hitting the trail. Along the way, I (miraculously!) spotted a raptor perched atop a tree. We parked our cars, got the spotting scope out, and admired a mean-looking immature Philippine Hawk-Eagle. I had always wanted a better view of this raptor since I first saw it in Ipo Dam three years ago.

Immature Philippine Hawk-Eagle, unbothered by the bats ;)

Next stop was the Nabasan Trail. We drove slowly down the road and we immediately saw a female Sooty Woodpecker hammering away at a dead tree trunk. It stayed quite a while allowing us to admire it to our heart's content. I also got a very short video of it pecking away at the tree =)

Female Sooty Woodpecker

I must say, after seeing the White-bellied and Sooty Woodpeckers, I think I've found my favorite birds =)  They are such handsome and amusing birds, I could watch them for hours! We would get glimpses of a Greater Flameback later in the trail but it was too hidden for a photo.

We drove through the trail slowly and saw Green Imperial Pigeons atop a tree. Other birds seen were a Dollarbird (which flew away as soon as we approached), Balicassiao, more Philippine Bulbul, flyby Philippine Ducks, and a Crested Serpent Eagle

While driving slowly, Jops stepped on the breaks because he saw a small parrot perched on what looked like a termite mound. Finding it a bit odd, we decided to wait for the bird to come back. Fr. Auckhs walked back to try and spot the Serpent Eagle while Jops and I discussed the possibility of the mound being the parrot's nest. The Kennedy guide offered little information about the nesting of the possible suspects: Colasisi and Guaiabero, and we hadn't really read up about nesting parrots. While waiting, a male Luzon Hornbill flew right above us.

The suspected nest. Jops saw the small parrot
clinging to the hole of the mound.

Jops tried his very best to keep still while waiting for the parrot to come back and it did: a Guaiabero perched very near the mound! It kept verrrry still and so did we. The only movement I made was with my bins to positively ID the bird and Jops took some shots. It stayed very still but did not enter the nest, instead it flew away to the other side of the trail.

Without a solid confirmation as to the mound being the Guaiabero's nest, we texted our friend Joni who is part of the Luzon Parrot Project, and she confirmed our observations! Nest lifer!

We rounded the trail and decided to stay and wait for the boobooks to come out. After pestering Rob (so sorry!) and being crawled on by what felt like hundreds of flying ants, we decided to drive through the trail again to try to spot some owls. We did get three chances to see owls, perched on the electric wires or atop posts, but they flew off into the darkness before we could ID them. Better luck next time =) At the entrance of the trail, we said goodbye to Fr. Auckhs. We had a great day in Subic but we know there is still so much more to see... next time =)


  1. Hi,

    Nice blog and nice photos!

    Reminded me of my Pamulaklakin trek in Subic bay.
    Pamulaklakin blog -

    1. Hi David! Thank you for reading my blog and for the very kind words =)

      Got to read your blog about your trip to Pamulaklakin Trail, very nice and informative narrative. I enjoyed reading and got curious about the birds in that area of Subic. =)