So it made sense to hold our latest unit retreat on
a tiny island just off the coast of Negros. We knew
that Apo Island is home to only a few hundred people,
and that it boasts some of the best coral reefs in
the country. There are only two places to stay on
Apo, and both have a few rooms built close to steep
cliffs and at the edge of the water. We were able
to have our meetings on one of the porches or in the
open-air dining area, both of which look out over
to Apo is via small outrigger boats. Ours was big
enough to hold 10 people, and only those seated at
the front caught the breaking waves from time to time.
When Helen and I went out to check the place out several
months ago, we went on a very small boat and were
totally drenched within the first five minutes! It's
only a 45 minute trip and water if warm!
a good opening meeting, excellent food and a good
sleep, three of us got up early and hiked up the steps
and trail to the lighthouse at the high point of the
island. On the way up we saw 6-8 Pied Imperial Pigeons,
a bird that I had about given up finding in the Philippines.
Almost all white with black wing tips, the birds are
quite impressive in flight. Evidently this species
has retreated to small islands such as Apo, shunning
the larger islands for some reason.
we approached the last stretch of wooded area before
the summit, I saw a flock of birds overhead. At first
I had no idea what they were, but as I watched I could
see that they were small goshawks. The time was just
after 6:00 am - much earlier than I had ever seen
migrating hawks. My adrenalin surged - hawk migration!
We hustled up the last slope to the open ground around
the lighthouse. By then there were more than 100 birds
overhead, and others were coming up out of the trees
on all sides. They were Chinese Goshawks, a species
known to migrate in large numbers. These birds had
obviously come in the day before, rested overnight
on the little (one mile by quarter- mile) island,
and now were ready to island-hop through the Philippines
and on to Taiwan and points north.
the hawks came up from the trees, we were able to
get close looks at them. The majority were beautiful
adult birds with crisp, sharp markings. Interestingly,
their wing patterns are similar to the Pied Imperial
Pigeons, white below with black wingtips. The tails
were banded and flashed in the sun as they twisted
and turned their way upward, looking for the lift
in the early morning air. There were also lots of
immature birds with more subtle markings, but with
shape and behavior exactly like the adults.
there were upward of 800 Chinese Goshawks overhead,
basically staying in the same place in the sky but
gradually getting higher and higher. The wind was
from the north, a headwind for them, but gradually
they began to move to the northwest, making the short
jump across the water to the island of Negros. Maybe
the winds were more favorable at the higher altitude.
I could barely make them out as they disappeared,
mere specks in the binoculars.
that the show was over, I turned and saw that there
were more rising from the different parts of the island.
This time the numbers were smaller and the birds easier
to observe. Small groups of 8-10 would work their
way higher in the sky, meeting up with others until
there were again hundreds of them readying for the
flight across the water. I was surprised that all
of these hawks seemed to just hold in formation, gradually
gathering altitude, without the "kettling"
(circling around and around to gain altitude) that
we see in Ohio.
watched them for over an hour until at last there were no
more hawks in sight. The time was only 7:30. Even in the Philippines,
I had not heard of any hawk-watchers starting at 6:00 am.
I wonder if this was an unusually early departure. I also
marvel that a total of 1400 Chinese Goshawks had spent the
night on this little speck of an island! What might the total
number be that are migrating through the Philippines? Is this
a normal stop-over, or did it just happen to be the first
land they saw as they made the jump from Mindanao to
the Visayas? I'd be happy to spend a few weeks on Apo
Island checking it out next year!