Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunrise to Sunset in Subic

Our group left Manila at 3:30AM. Most of us had little or no sleep at all! But our party of 8 - me, Jops, Jon V., Willem and Nikdye, Jayjay, Luke, and Matthew - was on the road that early for a whole day of birding in the forests of Subic.

We arrived at our first stop, near the entrance to the Nabasan Trail, where we were hoping to see some owls before the sun came up. A Chocolate Boobook was calling from deep within the trees as the dawn chorus began. We were soon surrounded by the calls of Asian Koels, Philippine Bulbuls, and Balicassiao, the birds now awake but calling unseen from the trees. We also saw some early Guaiabero and Coletos. We weren't lucky to see the owl so we proceeded to our next stop to try to find the endemic White-fronted Tit.

When we arrived at the spot, it didn't take long for us to hear the loud song of the little bird filling the air. We soon located the singing bird, perched atop a tree. It moved closer to our group a number of times, giving us great views! The encounter had me wide awake even before 7AM!

First lifer for the day: White-fronted Tit!

To add even more excitement to our group (and to wake up those who were still feeling groggy), a pair of White-bellied Woodpeckers also made an appearance while the Tit was busy singing around us. I actually missed seeing the woodpeckers as I was focusing all my early-morning attention on the Tit!

We made our way out slowly of the area, stopping midway to spot a flyfby Blue-naped Parrot as well as some Sooty Woodpeckers, a Green Imperial Pigeon basking in the first rays of daw, and also Luzon Flamebacks. A Philippine Green Pigeon also made a brief appearance. It was such a great start to our birding day: seeing three species of woodpeckers already!

Green Imperial Pigeon

We headed back to our first stop this morning and birded in the Nabasan Trail. Along the road, we stopped when we saw some Whiskered Treeswifts perched on some electric wires, enjoying the early morning sun.

Whiskered Treeswift - such a uniquely-marked bird!

We parked the car near the entrance to the trail where a Philippine Falconet welcomed us. It has been a while since I last saw this bird and it was a nice seeing it in Subic.

Philippine Falconet - looking like the tiny raptor that it is

When the falconet flew away, we moved into the trail where a some Asian Koels were calling loudly. I saw Jayjay pointing at something up in the trees, and next thing I knew, a huge black bird perched on the low tree above me. I focused my binoculars on it, and I finally got to see my first Asian Koel! It flew back towards the other birders and we all got good views of two male Koels and one female! The female looking completely different from the all-black males with its rufous color and heavy streaking. Amazing to see all of them skulking on one tree!

I already got two lifers and the morning had just begun! Along the trail, we saw lots of Blue-throated Bee-eaters, some Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, and more Coleto's. There were quite a number of them flying around the forest. A small group of Rufous Coucals skulked among some trees but refused to come out for clearer views.

I was getting excited to see my next possible lifer. Our friend, Mark Jason, was kind enough to help us out the night before and I did get to see it! After a number of trips to Subic, I finally got to see my first Green Racket-tail! We would see a few more later on during the day and I absolutely loved seeing their tiny, delicate rackets!!!

Green Racket-tail (with one racket)
(Thank you, Mark Jason!)

We moved further along and saw more woodpeckers: a large, male White-bellied Woodpecker landed really close to us on one occasion! We could also hear them loudly hammering away from the forests on both sides of the trail. 

The day was starting to get hot, so we boarded our "school bus" and drove to see the Flying Foxes. It was a treat having Nikdye and Willem join us, being the biologists they are. I learned a lot from them about the huge bats that roost in huge numbers in one area in Subic. Turns out, there are two species of Flying Foxes there: the endemic and endangered Golden-crowned Flying Fox and the resident Giant Flying Fox

Endangered Golden-crowned Flying Foxes
Notice their lighter, golden colored crowns/heads
According to Willem, there are only several hundred left in the wild
Giant Flying Foxes
They have darker, rufous heads

We chatted a bit with the roaming guard and then headed to check out the Blue-throated Bee-eater nest site. The birds were all there, perched on wires and on the slopes on the sidewalks which was dotted with their nesting holes.

One of the many Blue-throated Bee-eaters tending to its nest

We suddenly heard a loud high-pitched call coming from the trees behind us: parrots! We scanned the big tree from which the calls were coming from, which was tough since the leaves would generally be the same shade of green as the parrots we were looking for. After a couple of minutes, Jon finally spotted the parrot! Another Green Racket-tail, busy cleaning out a hole on the tree trunk.

Can you spot the parrot?

The spot was really birdy that morning. We also saw Pygmy Swiftlet, a Purple Needletail, White-breasted Woodswallows, and more Colasisi. 

It was nearing noon and we were getting hungry. We drove to get lunch and finished eating before 1PM. It was too hot to go birding (and besides, the birds wouldn't be out in the heat too) so we drove to a nice, quiet, shady spot. We took our positions, some in the van, others on the grass and side of the road, while others went to do some birding in the area. The group was momentarily disturbed by a flock of noisy and curious Elegant Tits!

One of the noisy Elegant Tits that woke the
sleeping birders

Eventually, the flock moved away and people returned to what they had been doing before they were disturbed by the tiny birds. The forest was not that quiet: Philippine Bulbuls would constantly call and fly among the trees, a Grey-backed Tailorbird would call occasionally from the brush, and Whiskered Treeswifts stayed a while too. 

Soon, the sun relented and the air cooled. We regrouped and birding once more commenced. As we were getting ready to leave, two raptors started thermalling overhead! They raptors caused quite some excitement as to what they were. They turned out to both be Brahminy Kites, which we saw quite a number of during our trip.

We finally boarded the van when Jayjay spotted a chicken on the side of the road! Female Red Junglefowl! We all got out again and observed the bird but it was quickly flushed away by a passing jogger.

As we were heading back towards the van, Jops spotted something quite big in the trees. It was a male Luzon Hornbill! Our first for the trip!

A male Luzon Hornbill having a late lunch

It ate a few large fruits from the tree before flying across the road and disappearing among the trees. We finally boarded the van and headed back to Nabasan for more afternoon birding. When we passed the roosting site of the Flying Foxes, we found many of them flying around, possibly disturbed by something.

Flying Foxes in flight too early in the afternoon

We reached the trail and it was not as noisy as early that morning. The Asian Koels were still calling from the forest, though their calls were not as taunting as before (we've seen it after all!) We waited in an area where we heard a Luzon Hawk-Owl call. While waiting, we studied a curious-looking flycatcher. It looked very similar to a Grey-streaked Flycatcher but had different marking on its chest and flanks. It was grey but definitely not streaked...hmmmm. We discussed our observations and our best ID was that it was a Dark-sided Flycatcher! Good thing it stayed long enough to be observed properly and that a Grey-streaked Flycatcher also made an appearance allowing us to compare the two.

While waiting for dusk, we saw more Green Racket-tails, one more male Luzon Hornbill, Whiskered Treeswifts, Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, and another unexpected lifer for me, a Japanese Sparrowhawk! We bumped into Mark W. and his friends and were able to show them a pair of Sooty Woodpeckers crawling up a tree.

Male Sooty Woodpecker

We tried calling the owl but it refused to show. We decided to head out to the start of the trail where we began our birding that morning. We arrived to find a number of Great-eared Nightjars actively flying about, feeding in the dark sky. I really enjoyed watching them soar above us, observing their long slender wings and rounded tails, silhouetted against the night sky (I think I was giggling and clapping my hands.) It was another awesome lifer for me, bringing my total for the trip to 6 =)

We tried calling the owls, and quite a number were calling from the dark forest, but none came out. We decided to call it a day, aching feet and all. We were all up for at least 16 hours already! We did our bird list after dinner and came up with a total of 57 birds seen and heard! It was really a wonderful day birding. Jon had a better word for it: it was EPIC. =)


  1. Congrats on your lifers! Subic is definitely on my list this year...

    1. Thank you po! Yes, Subic will give you LOTS of awesome lifers! =)

  2. Congratulations on all your lifers Maia! Subic never disappoints. I <3 subic.

    1. Thank you Trinket!!! Yes, Subic is an awesome place to bird =)