El Nido Adventure: Exploring the Trails and Impromptu Owling

Jops and I had the great opportunity to go El Nido in Palawan with Anna G. for an ocular and bird survey for a beach-front resort that is being developed. It was Jops and my first time to go birding in El Nido and we were more than excited to go.

We arrived at the beautifully decorated pre-departure area of ITI (Island Transvoyager Inc.) and were welcomed with a simple breakfast buffet. I loved ALL the details including the wooden boarding passes and the pre-assigned seating area in the pre-dep area! I’m a sucker for labels =P

The cozy pre-departure area of ITI.
My boarding pass (that the stewardess collects
after everyone is seated)

We were shuttled to our plane and were soon on our way to El Nido! In an hour, we landed in the Lio airport and were welcomed with a folk song just at the entrance to the “main airport” – which was basically two bahay kubos: one was the arrival area and the other the pre-departure area. We were once again served food and drinks while waiting for our pick-up vehicles to arrive. The guests staying in the island resorts were shuttled by jeepney to a nearby jetty to their boats while we were picked up by a van to take us to our resort: El Nido Cove.
Our plane
The welcoming committee at the airport
The snack table for arrivals

Anna, Jops, and I were picked up by Sir Mesach from El Nido Cove and were also joined by Sheryl of Ten Knots Development Corp. We arrived shortly in El Nido Cove and I was immediately drawn by the beach front of the hotel. We walked to a small deck with a tree adorned with capiz lanterns and took in the refreshing view.

El Nido Cove faces El Nido Bay and Cadlao Island

Just standing on the deck, we saw Asian Glossy Starlings, Collared Kingfishers, and a small squadron of Brown-backed Needletails. After checking into our rooms and another breakfast, we gave in to the many bird calls coming from the trees in front of the hotel lobby. We were joined by Sir Alex and Marko of El Nido Cove as well. We immediately saw a mixed flock of birds including my first lifer: the bright yellow Common Iora.

Other birds in the mixed flock were a number of sunbird species: Olive-backed Sunbird (aurora race), Brown-throated Sunbird(split from Plain-throated Sunbird,) and Copper-throated Sunbird. A lot of Ashy-fronted Bulbuls also joined in the frenzy and we even spotted a couple of them building a nest!

Ashy-fronted Bulbul

After a few minutes, we had to pull ourselves away from the birds because it was time to leave for the Dalimatan trail. Day 1 was dedicated to exploring the trails. We were also joined by Sir Alex of El Nido Cove. A short drive from the resort, we entered the trail from the main road and immediately saw a pond with some Philippine Ducks as well as a single Dollarbird that was perched atop a leafless tree, bathing in the hot morning sun.

Spotting the Dollarbird at the entrance of the trail

We pushed inward the trail and immediately heard some Hooded Pittas calling from both sides of the trail. There was quite a number of them although we only saw one (thanks to the super sharp eyes of one of our companions in the trail!) Walking through the trail we saw a number of Hair-crested Drongos and a couple of Crested Serpent Eagles thermalled overhead.

We reached a small clearing and a small flock of pigeons fly in and land on a fruiting ficus tree. Upon closer inspection, we saw that they were Thick-billed Green Pigeons, hungrily eating the ripe red berries on the tree. It was an unexpected lifer for me!

Another lifer made its appearance in a flash of red and gold: a Spot-throated Flameback! The gorgeous woodpecker stayed quite long, flying from one coconut tree to the next, calling loudly from its perch. Another awesome lifer and it wasn't even noon time yet!

Eventually, the woodpecker flew and perched on a far coconut tree. We moved along the trail and soon approached a boardwalk. The surrounding landscape was quite dry and quiet in this area so we just walked quietly to the end. Maybe in the rainy season, more birds will stay in that area.

Birding on the boardwalk

The trail opened up and we found ourselves perpendicular to the Lio airport runway! We walked the grassy trail alongside the airport and got glimpses of a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird crossing the path. When we re-entered the wooded area, a handsome male Black-chinned Fruit Dove appeared beside us, looked curiously at our group, then flew to the other side of the trail. This has been my best views of this bird so far =)

Black-chinned Fruit Dove

We soon exited the trail and found Sir Mesach waiting with the van. It was already past noon and we were hungry! We headed to town for a scrumptious lunch and I was reunited with the delicious rostii I had in the same restaurant when I was in El Nido way back in 2007.

Our day wasn't over yet and we spent the afternoon exploring a patch of mangroves on a make-shift raft (powered by kayak!) The area looked like it had a lot of potential but since it was kind of late in the afternoon already, all we saw were some bulbuls and a Rufous Night Heron. We did hear a loud call coming from the mangroves and with the help of Kuya Mesach and Kuya Alex, we were able to ID it as a Greater Coucal! The local staff were very helpful and are quite knowledgeable of the different birds in the area. They are very familiar with most bird calls and can identify them usually with their local names. We left the area, but not before we spotted a flock of Germain's Swiftlets (Edible-nest Swiftlet) flying just above us.

Exploring the mangroves on the make-shift raft

"Power steering" from the kuyas on the kayak

We returned to El Nido Cove for dinner and initially planned to go to Sir Alex's house to check out a possible Spotted Wood Owl he has been hearing. Unfortunately, we were too tired to leave after dinner so we cancelled that owling trip. BUT...!!! Little did we know it would be a lucky night for us!

As we were all preparing for bed, Jops heard a Spotted Wood Owl calling... from just behind our hotel room!!! 

Jops raced to call Anna, followed by a guard who was alarmed at the urgency at which Jops was running. We, together with the guard, walked to the beach, where another Spotted Wood Owl was calling very loudly! The guard reported seeing the owl just the previous night and after a few minutes, a pair of Spotted Wood Owls showed themselves. They were very sensitive to any kind of movement, flying to another tree, even if they were perched far away. The best views we got were of the owls soaring right above us as they transferred from one perch to the next. We didn't get any photos, but it was such a thrilling (and not to mention unexpected) owling adventure!

We said our good nights once more, ecstatic at having seen the owls right there in the resort we were staying in! How cool was that!? So, we ended our first day in El Nido with the owls and we all went to sleep that night with owl-induced smiles on our faces. 

(To be continued...)

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