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Mt. Makiling

Return to Makiling (A Longish Post) by Ned Liuag

Location: UPLB Campus, Flat Rocks, Forest Trail & Botanic Gardens, Mt Makiling
UPLB Agricultural Area & National Road

Birders: Ned Liuag, LuAnn Fuentes, Mads Bajarias, Mike Lu, Kitty Arce, Andrew Galano & Coco
Photographers: Bong Cardenas & Val Roque
Trip pix at www.photos.ph/valroque/makiling

The thermometer registered at 24.5o C when I left the house this morning, 26 January, for the trip to Mount Makiling. Mike Lu pulled up alongside the curb at 5:00, and I was happy to get in from the cold. In the car were Ph Photo e-group members Bong and Val, fresh from their Ilocos road trip, and looking forward to a day of nature photography.

While waiting for the MyZoo group Kitty Arce, Andrew and Coco to meet us at the Shell Plaza in San Pedro, Haring Ibon editors Lu-Ann Fuentes and Mads Bajarias shot past on the southbound bus and were first to reach UP Los Ba-os campus. There they had a rewarding start on the bridge across Molawin creek near the Student Union building.

Our plan was to take the PCARRD route to the Forestry campus, the steep route that follows the shoulder of Makiling. This road offers some sharp twists and turns as well as terrific views of the rainforest and the surrounding countryside. We rolled down the windows at this point and were hit by the chilly mountain air. Above the hum of the engine, we could hear bird calls in the surrounding trees and were tempted to stop and explore. Midway to the Boy Scouts Jamboree site gate, there is a rough road in the direction of the summit that we might consider exploring on a separate visit.

The road from PCARRD ends at a T-junction. The one on the right leads to another intersection going to the National High School for the Arts and Pook ni Maria Makiling. This was the one we were supposed to take, but I'd missed the landmark and pointed Mike to take the road left. Hemmed in by lush vegetation, this single-lane road eventually joins the main route to UPLB campus. This was another tempting spot for us to bird, but the absence of a shoulder for us to park on made for an iffy situation. The best thing to do next visit is to leave the vehicles at the junction to the Arts School and hike back.

We left the vehicles in the TREES parking lot and set off to find Lu- Ann and Mads. It was a little past 7:00 and the ranger post wasn't open yet and no sign of the editors. Lu-Ann and Mads, it turned out, were still enjoying themselves birding at the bridge near the S.U. They'd already spotted FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER, LOWLAND WHITE- EYE, WHITE-BREASTED WOODSWALLOW and OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD in this area heralding a productive birding day.

While the Haring Ibon editors huffed uphill, we set off for Flat Rocks. As we neared the trailhead to our destination, a COPPERSMITH BARBET started tonking steadily in the far off distance. I took that as a welcome sign and was pleased to find the trail quite dry, which meant we could do some bouldering at Flat Rocks.

I was hoping we would locate Spotted Wood-kingfisher in this area, but without success. Flat Rocks proved a treat to everyone though. We were the only hikers on the trail and surprisingly the area was free of rubbish. I'd brought a garbage bag just in case we needed to tidy a bit.

We considered scrabbling up the opposite bank of the creek to explore the trail leading through the trees, but the going would be difficult with photographic equipment in tow. Mike and I decided to hop down the boulders in search of the trail James mentioned in a recent email. Mike scrambled downstream and clambered up one of the boulders to take a look. And turned back to us with a mischievous grin, "Hop down a few boulders was it?" When I reached the spot, I found myself staring at a steep fall. You could take your chances, but the rest of the way didn't look safe. I didn't relish the thought of ending like the UP hikers who perished in the flash flood in the same area 16 years ago. I tried following the bank downstream, but didn't want to risk falling in.

Kitty made her way to the boulder to check out the terrific view of the forest. We scanned the sky, hoping a raptor would show up. Mads and Lu-Ann had seen a Hawk-Eagle in this area when they visited last year.

While Bong and Val photographed the flora and scenery, the Haring Ibon editors finally caught up. Lu-Ann suggested that we head back for the Botanic Garden, where we might have better luck. Since there weren't that many birds along the trail this morning, we thought our chances were better there.

And luck we did have.

On the walk back, we stopped to watch some sunbirds, including a male Olive-backed foraging in the branches directly above our heads. However, the grove just outside the Museum of Natural History usually bursting with bird activity was rather quiet.

While Val, Bong and I followed the concrete footpaths leading to the western corner of the Botanic Garden; the rest of the group was able to spot a GREY-STREAKED FLYCATCHER in the trees. This bird would show up a few more times during the day, flying out from its perch in pursuit of insects.

I must admit that I did not get to see that many birds as I wanted on this trip. But I enjoyed myself, soaking up the sun's rays, listening to the gurgling creek, admiring the textures and colors of the forest.

Following the creek upstream, Kitty spotted a green frog in a hollow beneath a boulder. Before we could focus on the amphibian, it disappeared with a big, wet splash. Andrew went over to see if he could locate and identify the frog, but it had long gone. I wasn't able to get a fix on the creature, but I think it was a Common Green Frog aka Palakang Saging, which is easily found in the province. Alcala and Brown's Philippine Amphibians state that this non-endemic (and probably introduced) species is only found in Negros, Panay and Laguna. This species appeared around 10 years ago in our garden pool in San Pablo and multiplied rapidly. Our guess is that it came with the banana plants my mother planted in the backyard. But it could also be the rare endemic Woodworth's which can be found near streams.

I missed out on a pair of flycatchers while I sat down to munch on a sandwich on the picnic site on the finger of land at the confluence of the Marulas and Molawin Creeks. The haze had dissipated with the sun, as Val assured when I pointed to the thick cloud cover around the peaks on the ride down from Manila.

While Mike, Bong and Val took off for the Raptor Center; the rest of us headed up the Mahogany plantation trail in pursuit of malkohas. Just above the rundown toilets, we encountered five BALICASSIAOS flitting noisily among the trees. Mads and Lu-Ann mentioned that this was the spot where we were likely to spot malkohas.

We pushed on deeper into the secondary growth with myself taking point, more out of curiosity to discover where the trail led than to bird. The uphill path ran along a north-south ridge with the Marulas and west of the Marulas. As we walked up hill, we could hear motor vehicles speeding along a nearby road. My guess is that the path is a few dozen meters below the route leading to the Jamboree site.Two- thirds of the way up, we encountered a water pipe, which according to the stamp had been cast in 1960. The pipe must have been laid down some 30 or more years ago when the plantation had been established. We followed the pipe some more where it ran along the side of a ravine and terminated in a gushing spring. It seems possible to continue from there, but we decided to save it for other expeditions.

On the return, Lu-Ann, Mads and I found our selves in a section of the trail bursting with birdcalls. A Fire-Breasted Flowerpecker darted out to forage and Mads and Lu-Ann were able to see an endemic RED-KEELED FLOWERPECKER as well. This last one, we'd been hearing throughout the forest and Botanic Garden. From the trees standing east of the trail came several cat-like meows which I later found out was voiced by the endemic Balicassiaos. We also turned up a pair of PHILIPPINE BULBULS part of a noisy but invisible flock while they sat on exposed branches high above the trail.

On the hike up to the raptor center, we saw a few more Fire-breasted and Red-keeled Flowerpeckers as well as Olive-backed sunbirds in the trees fringing Molawin Creek. The trail that wound up the side of the rise offered good views of the treetops favored by these nectar- and berry-loving species. Meanwhile, Mike and the photographers Bong and Val had come across a pair of endemic PHILIPPINE FAIRY BLUEBIRDS near the abandoned greenhouse midway to the Raptor Center.

At the Raptor Center, we had the opportunity to view the collection of White-breasted Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites, Serpent Eagles, Grey- Faced Buzzard, Crested Goshawk (this one about the size of a large pigeon), Philippine Hawk-Eagle, Philippine Eagle-Owl and two Philippine Eagles, which were kept in separate cages. There was also one White-tailed Sea Eagle with a broken wing. This resident of North Asia is believed to have escaped from a trawler where it was kept as a mascot.

We stopped by the seedling bank where we were able to see more of the Scarlet-Keeled Flowerpeckers foraging in the tree crowns, then regrouped at the bridge across Molawin Creek just below the dam. This was the most productive spot for birding, we thought. Mike had already seen YELLOW WAGTAIL, WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER and a well-fed Monitor Lizard from the bridge. While Val was photographing a four- inch millipede nearby, a pair of Balicassiaos treated us to an aerial display in the tree-lined gorge behind the dam.

Kitty said she spotted what appeared to be a couple of White Wagtails in the trees above the road to the Molawin Creek Bridge. Considering the habitat, Mike thinks these are Forest Wagtails. I missed these birds but my guess is that these are either Black and White Trillers or Ashy Minivets.

From the bridge, we had nice views of a couple of BLUE-HEADED FANTAILS pursuing insects in a nearby tree. Identifying this bird was problematic for me. The belly of the ones we saw from the bridge appeared paler than the supposed chestnut for the Luzon race that might be the result of age and the weathering of feathers. High above the canopy and generally ignored were a couple of GLOSSY SWIFTLETS.

While we were scanning the trees, a leaf-like shape sailed from the trees above the creek to land in the leaves of a Lobster Claw (heliconia spp) plant. I called attention to the others that it might be an Anga-Anga, the Draco species flying lizard, then someone cried "An Agamid!" Andrew and Coco, who were down among the rocks trying to find traces of the Monitor Lizard went to locate the new reptile.

Mads and I moved closer to try for the lizard when an Olive-backed Sunbird landed on one of the heliconia flowers and started feeding on the nectar. As we trained our binoculars on the bird, it was joined by a second that followed in turn to feed at the flower. The "mystery bird" had a longish bill, reminiscent of a sunbird. I remember that its head, back, throat and part of the shoulders were bright red. Mads and I saw this bird in direct sunlight with 8 x 40 binoculars for less than 10 seconds. The "mystery bird" was to our right between 20 to 25 feet away. Mike, who was birding from the bridge a few meters behind us, remembers that the bird had a crimson breast and dark upper parts. Lu-Ann's description closely resembles the one Mads and I shared. We are hesitant to claim this sighting as that of a Crimson Sunbird, a species with a range that does not cover Luzon. The closest would be the Flaming Sunbird, but none of us remembers seeing yellow under parts.

It was nearly 2:00 in the afternoon when we started to walk up the road to the Botanic Garden entrance. Along the way, Mads, Val, Bong and I stopped to observe another Grey-Streaked Flycatcher perched in a tree. A few meters up the road, we chanced upon a PLAIN-THROATED SUNBIRD feeding at a flowering vine high in the canopy. Sunlight filtering through the gloom would occasionally scintillate off its bluish-green neck and back as it drew nectar from a white bell-shaped flower. Lu-Ann came down the road to "harangue" us about lunch. We were about to follow LuAnn to the gate when a COLASISI displaced the sunbird and started to feed. After getting a satisfying view of the endemic hanging-parrot, I marched off to join the others while Val and Bong set off to take a look at the condition of the swimming pool. Mads and Mike walked up shortly grinning that they'd seen two Colasisis in the same tree! Based on their description, Kitty, who practically sees these parrots in her neighborhood on a daily basis identified at least one was the male of the species.

On the way back to the TREES parking lot, Mads happened to see and pointed out for all of us a DOLLARBIRD perched prominently in a dead tree just off Narra Road. We would have stayed longer but most of us had not had a bite to eat since 5:30 this morning and were finding it hard to focus.

We had a hearty lunch in the Grove area just outside the campus entrance, during Mads, Lu-Ann and I continued our discussion about the "mystery bird." Mads and Lu-Ann had to leave for Manila after lunch to finish office work. While they went to catch their bus, we took off for the UPLB farm area outside IRRI complex.

I must admit that I had not seen as many birds as I wanted in the forest so the agricultural area was productive for me. Mid-afternoon found us parked on the shoulder of the tree-lined road half a kilometer from the IRRI gate. Right away, we saw a pair of plump SPOTTED DOVES foraging in the newly ploughed field off the westbound lane. The trellis in the neighboring plot produced a LONG-TAILED SHRIKE. From our position, we could clearly see three White-breasted Woodswallows huddled on the telephone wire across the road from the IRRI perimeter fence. While Bong and Val set up to capture the agricultural landscape, I crossed over to Mike's position across the road where he was scanning the mix of fallow, ploughed and planted fields. The trellis to our left turned up a BROWN SHRIKE, when Mike called my attention to the two brown shapes gliding about a kilometer from us. The birds circled above the tree line before disappearing into the forested knoll that also houses a transmitter station.

We were thinking that these might be raptors, until a flock of 13 of these birds took to the air for several minutes. This was uncharacteristic of raptors, unless they were in migration, so I thought they might be a species of heron, but which one? Bong suggested that we hike to the hut midway to the tree line for a closer view. So, Mike, Val, Bong and I set off into the field with equipment in tow. When we reached our destination, the birds flew up again and I was pretty certain they were night herons. A short time later, Coco of MyZoo crossed over to join us on the hike to the tree line at the far edge of the fields. As we negotiated the ploughed section of the field, I was certain that the birds we were seeing were RUFOUS NIGHT HERONS. Later, I asked a passing farmer about the "bakaw" and he said they were probably "bakaw na pula." Sure enough, a Rufous Night Heron flew from the hillock towards Laguna de Bay. The farmer also mentioned dozens of these birds are present at "agaw-dilim" (twilight) and these are occasionally hunted with air rifles.

On the approach to the tree line, we were able to find a TAWNY GRASSBIRD on a fence separating a residential area from the fields, and a pair of PACIFIC SWALOWS swooping low for insect prey. In the cogonal area near the houses, we came up with a flock of five SCALY- BREASTED MUNIA and one ZEBRA DOVE in a leafless narra tree, a YELLOW- VENTED BULBUL and our first CRESTED MYNAH on the wire across from the IRRI perimeter fence. Kitty, Andrew and Coco by this time bade us good-bye and drove home to Manila.

The lone White-breasted Woodswallow sitting on the telephone wire near the IRRI perimeter fence was a tempting subject to photograph, but it flew away before we could even come close. Mike peered into the creek along the way and located another Wagtail, which I missed by a few seconds. We decided to walk back to the car and along the way flushed a quail of indeterminate species from the grass. Mike followed it in the short grass, but the bird was determined not to reveal itself.

I spent a few moments zeroing in on another Tawny Grassbird as it announced its presence from a dilapidated sign post in the middle of the overgrown village road. I caught up with Mike and Val who also pointed out the Long-tailed Shrike at the far end of the trellis.

The last birds of the day were three Crested Mynahs, a Zebra Dove and some EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS perched on the telephone wire running along the far end of the field off the westbound lane.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful except for the depressing sight of two women, forced by poverty to peddle 20 WHITE-BREASTED WATERHENS from the side of the road in Calamba.

NED

ADDITIONAL NOTE

1. These past couple of nights, I stayed up scanning the DuPont monograph (which misidentifies Crimson Sunbird as the female of one species of Spiderhunter), the Kennedy and J.C. Gonzales Makiling bird list for clues but still came up against a blank wall. I've mentioned to Mike that the Luzon race of the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker is not illustrated or fully described in the Kennedy Guide, adding to our confusion.

2. Another interesting site is the part of the campus that we should consider for follow up trip is the area around Animal Husbandry and the IRRI upland farms.

SPECIES LIST

UPLB CAMPUS (Mads and LuAnn)
1. White-breasted Woodswallow
2. Olive-backed Sunbird
3. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
4. Lowland White-eye

UPLB Forestry Trail and Flat Rocks Trail
1. Coppersmith Barbet (heard only)
2. Olive-backed Sunbird

Makiling Botanic Garden
1. Colasisi - 2 in tree along road to bridge
2. White-throated Kingfisher - 1 seen by Mike in Molawin Creek
3. Glossy Swiftlets - common
4. Dollarbird - 1 in dead tree off Narra Road
5. Balicassiao - 5 in lower half of Mahogany Plantation trail, pairs along Molawin Creek
6. Philippine Fairy Bluebird - pair seen by Mike
7. Philippine Bulbul - 2 seen along Mahogany trail but common in upper story and on top of tree canopy
8. Grey-Streaked Flycatcher - seen in trees along road leading down to bridge
9. Blue-headed Fantail - 2 seen near bridge
10. Brown Shrike - 1 seen by Mads in Botanic Garden parking lot
11. Yellow Wagtail - 1 seen by Mike in Molawin Creek
12. Plain-throated Sunbird - 2
13. Olive-backed Sunbird - common
14. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - common
15. Red-Keeled Flowerpecker - common

Makiling Mystery Birds / More Information Required:
1. "Blue" Flycatcher - 2 seen by LuAnn and Mads near confluence of Marulas and Molawin Creeks
2. "White" Wagtail - 3 seen by Kitty in trees in heights above road to Molawin Creek bridge
3. Unidentified "Crimson"-headed Sunbird

UPLB Agricultural Area and National Road
1. Rufous Night Heron - 13
2. White-breasted Waterhen - 20 captives for sale
3. Unidentified Quail - 1 flushed in field
4. Spotted Dove - 2
5. Zebra Dove - 2
6. Pacific Swallow - 2
7. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - 1
8. Tawny Grassbird - 2
9. White-breasted Woodswallow- 3
10. Long-tailed Shrike - 2
11. Brown Shrike - 2
12. Crested Mynah - 3
13. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - 3
14. Scaly-breasted Munia - 5