Friday, March 7, 2014

Awesome Birding in Pasonanca

It's almost been a week since the 9th Philippine Bird Festival in Zamboanga City and I'm still feeling the residual good vibes from the event. There's so much to write about and rave about the festival, but let me start with the birding (of course!)

Fast forward to our last morning in Zamboanga, just eight hours before our flight. An eager contingent of WBCP members gathered at the Lantaka Hotel lobby, gobbling down their packed breakfast, waiting for the announcement that it was time to board the coaster that would take us to the Pasonanca Natural Park's Intake area for birding.

Off we went, together with our newest "recruits" Steph and Charles from the Department of Tourism office and our security escort. We arrived at the park and the first birds I saw were a pair of White-throated Kingfishers. As I approached, one flew off and I only managed a blurred photo of the other.

Soon, the group was ready to enter the trail. The river here was dry and soon we were surrounded by trees on both sides. It was nice to be enveloped in that lush green, hearing different bird calls from all directions.

Crossing the dry river to the forest trail

We were all birders but it was such an additional bonus to have ornithologists, biologists, and plant experts who would point out endemic plants I would normally not notice and bird calls unknown to me. It was awesome!

Just a few meters in, I saw Rei pointing out a bird to Nikdye and Jasmin. Some of us quickly joined them and located a small singing bird, perched near the trail. I tried to get a documentary shot (and that's all I got, photo-wise.) It was dark blue on its head, back, and wings with a distinct white spot just behind the eye, toward its nape while its underparts were white. The bird sat there for a while, singing, and then suddenly flew off. While I reviewed the photo I got, Nikdye and Jasmin consulted the Kennedy field guide and both let our an excited shriek! Ooooh, it had to be good! They showed us the plate of flycatchers and there I found the exact match to my first lifer of the trip: Little Slaty Flycatcher!

This is a male Little Slaty Flycatcher, endemic to the islands of
Mindanao, Samar, and Leyte

Ecstatic at finding this uncommon bird, we moved on to spot some movement in a tree. I was lucky to have seen my next lifer, since it kept on moving from perch to perch, most of the time covered! It was amazing to see JC "in action", whipping out his notebook and pen and drawing the bird we just saw, complete of course with field marks. After some discussion and consulting the field guide, I confirmed my second lifer: Rusty-crowned Babbler, another Mindanao endemic!

JC (in a cap) shows his drawing to the group to ID the bird we saw

We moved on and spotted another flurry of birds moving through the tops of tall trees. As with skittish mixed flocks, not everybody sees the same bird at the same time. Different descriptions were shared and most of us saw a Rhabdornis (not sure which one) and Yellow-bellied Whistler. We eventually gave up on the flock and trudged forward. A female Little Slaty Flycatcher caught everyone's attention again as it posed for a while in front of us.

Female Little Slaty Flycatcher

When the bird flew off, we moved forward. Soon we reached the river, where a Zamboanga Bulbul made a brief appearance. We were about to cross when Bob N. spotted a bird perched a long way up, silhouetted against the sky. After some minutes making out its field marks, the group ID'd it as a Crested Goshawk. Slowly, our group made its way across the ankle-deep, cool water.

Andrew pointing out the goshawk
Birders crossing the river
Photo by Anthony Arbias

Upon crossing, a trio of Blue-crowned Racquet-tails swooped noisily above us... twice! Moving along the trail, begonias, and horsetails were pointed out as well as frogs and butterflies. Another raptor got the group's attention. It was posed majestically on a tall tree, standing huge, and very white.... Philippine Eagle??? We wished! It was an immature Philippine Honey Buzzard, my third and final lifer that morning.

Turned out our second raptor for the morning was an
immature Philippine Honey Buzzard

As we approached a bend, the Silvery Kingfisher made a brief appearance, long enough for a couple of documentary shots, before it flew away and out of sight.

Seeing this handsomely marked kingfisher was one of my favorite moments

When the kingfisher left, the Black-faced Coucals started calling! Forever the skulkers, the coucals gave us a neck-breaking but fulfilling time spotting them as they crawled their way from one tree to the next.

Black-faced Coucal

The group pushed forward and reached a small dam. We crossed the hanging bridge to try and spot the Philippine Needletails that frequent the area but, unfortunately, they weren't there. 

Approaching the small dam
Birders crossing the hanging bridge
Vertigo alert!

We all took a breather in the pretty landscaped area and even got to see some Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes in the trees. We posed for a group photo before we headed back the same way we came. We had to be mindful of the time since we all had flights to catch! Chop-chop!

Happy birders!
Photo by Jops

Of course the walk back was punctuated with more birding! While we were admiring a beautiful Emerald Swallowtail, one of our guards tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out a huge bird perched out in the open, "Ma'am, ayun o." Another raptor! A Grey-headed Fish Eagle was perched on a leafless branch, out in the open.

We were looking  at the eagle through our bins when it suddenly took flight! Another bird swooped in to join the fish eagle, flying just above the raptor! They separated mid-air, the eagle flying out of sight while the smaller bird circled back and perched on a nearby tree. The smaller bird was a Crow! First time I observed that "synchronized flying" behavior.

The crow was flying above the fish eagle
Here you can only see the crow's tail

We left the area and started heading back to the coaster. Along the way, the guards pointed out another pair of Black-faced Coucals. This time the birds were a bit friendlier, allowing us clear glimpses through gaps in the vegetation they were skulking in.

The walk back was quick and we were all happy with the birds we saw that morning. The river crossing was a refreshing break from all the walking and we were momentarily distracted by the pretty butterflies along the riverbanks. 

Appias nero

Vindula dejone

A small frog also kept us from crossing the river! I had to tear myself away from it and make my way to the other side.

Staurois natator

So, I got three lifers in four hours birding in Pasonanca. I was also able to hear the Mindanao Hawk Owl and Everett's Scops Owl when I joined an owling trip a few days earlier in the area too. The Pasonanca Natural Park is such a wonderful place to go birding in. The place and bird life is amazing (and the trails are easy!) I really, really loved the time I spent there. We will definitely be back and spend more time discovering more of the forest. And besides, I've dipped on the White-eared Tailorbird there twice! Another reason to go back =)


  1. Reading your blog us always a joy. Parang nandun din ako. You should think of being a writer (aside from teaching). Missed all those lifers.

    1. Aw, thank you po! I really enjoy writing (kung pwede ko ngang gawin trabaho hehe) =) Let's go back po! =)

  2. wonderful sharing maia! :-) and congrats on the lifers (and the success of the birdfest). the first butte is Appias nero, the second is Vindula dejone.

    1. Thank you, Trinket!!! Wished you were there =) Thanks for the ID on the butterflies =) =)

  3. Love this Ma'am. Thanks for visiting Zamboanga <3 I think you should be writing how WE cited some birds in ZSCMST :D haha

    1. Hi John! Thanks for dropping by my blog =) Hehe, yes I'll be writing about that soon ;)

  4. It's amazing journey or adventure.nice post! I enjoyed reading it.Thanks for sharing.