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My First Birding Trip to Olango Island

Date: 10/09/2004
Location: Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Olango Island
Time in the Field: 0830H-1130H
Weather: Low tide, sunny with blue skies
Observers: Nilo Arribas Jr. and Godfrey Jakosalem
Equipment Used: 12x50 binoculars, Nikon Spotting scope, Kennedy Guide, Birds of Japan

Trip report and birdlist by Nilo Arribas, Jr.

I've met several friends in Cebu and neigboring provinces in past several weeks. In the course of our casual chats, and knowing that I'm into birdwatching, they always asked me about Olango Island. It's as if "Olango" is Synonymous to birdwatching in Cebu. I tried to brush off questions about the place since I haven't visited it yet. I even tried to convince myself that there should be a better place to watch wild birds other than this famous island here in Cebu.

This morning however, was different. I met with Godfrey "Godo" in Marina Mall in Mactan for a special trip. Actually, this should be a casual trip for him but in my case, I was so excited as to what exactly is Olango from a birdwatcher's point of view.

We took a multi-cab, a small car slightly larger than a local tricycle and converted to passenger a vehicle. I always find it
difficult to ride the local transport considering my 5 feet, 9.5 inches frame but this is nothing considering the thought of my first Olango trip or any birding trip for that matter. The multi-cab is as common as the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in this part of the country so I have to learn to love this mode of moving around :) The multi-cab sign, "So-ong" and the fare P5.00 which is an equivalent to a 5-7 minute ride going to a place called "Angasil". We then, took a foot driven tricycle along Dapdap road that brought us to the other end of this road which is where you'll find the ferry station to Olango
Island. Just like the multi-cab, We paid P5.00 per head for the short "pedi-cab" trip.

Nilo in full battle gear
Nilo in full battle gear

Godo told me that the huge banca (which can carry upto 35 passengers) leaves the station every 15-20 minutes or when fully loaded with passenngers/cargo. Being the first passengers, we had to wait for awhile which also gave me enough time to appreciate the crystal clear water on this part of Mactan. No, it is not my first time to see clean sea water but being a regular birder in Tambo, in Manila bay, somehow has instilled in my hypothalamus that seawater near populated areas or ports are always dark with silt or laden with garbage or both.

The trip to Olango takes about 20-25minutes and we were lucky that the waves were not that high. Maybe an average height of half meter, a bonus after several days of rains and strong winds here in Cebu.

The Olango Island Wildlife Santuary is located in the Southwest side of the populated Olango island. Despite the relatively small size of this island, I was surprised to see concrete road leading towards the Santuary. This made the 15-20 minute tricycle ride more comfortable. However, because of the relatively infrequent flow of passengers/visitors to the sanctuary ("sanctuario" to the locals), tricycle drivers charge P60.00 oneway fare or P120.00 for roundtrip arrangement.

Bird hide # 1 affords a good view of one of the mudflats

The resident guys, Tino and Boy provided us with updates on the birds of the area. They also lent us a book "Birds of Japan" which is quite helpful for the ID of the migrants birds.

We started at around 8.30AM, lowtide was forecasted at around 9.00AM so I guess it was a good start for us. Godo led me to an old bird hide which is actually a small hut made of wood. unfortunately it is now sorrounded with mangroves! It is as if the structure was now hidden from the birds by mangrove growths and is almost useless for birdwatchers.

Anyway, the mangroves also provided cover for us to approach the flocks of birds without scaring them away. It was
however difficult to identify the birds due to the position of the 8 O'clock sun lighting the birds from behind or commonly known as backlit subjects!

From this position, I only managed to identify flocks of little egrets while hearing songs of Golden-bellied flyeaters and sunbirds among the mangroves.

We decided to take a long semi-circle walk along the mangrove patches in order to position ourselves on the other side of the bird flocks for better vantage point and lighting for easier ID.

Little Egret
Little Egret

I had a glimpe of a Common kingsher perched in an exposed mangrove root while moving towards an ideal spot. The good thing about Olango is the vast flat area for birds to feed during lowtide. This also offers local people the opportunity of gathering shells and crustaceans which sometimes lead them to the sanctuary. The tidal flats actually extends even to areas no longer part of the sanctuary and neigboring mangrove islets. Since birds don't recognize administrative boundaries, ensuring the birds safety in this area is indeed a difficult task.

While my eyes feasted on flocks of waders, my attention was caught by an egret separated from the flocks. Greenish legs, yellow beak, larger than little egret... Chinese egret! wow, this was an amazing experience. I remember the challenge of identifying the rare Chinese egrets in Manila Bay. The black mud/silt made both feet of the egrets black! This is further compounded by their beak used for catching prey also in the murky black mud. With so many intermediate egrets in the area, it was really difficult to spot the Chinese egret.

Here in Olango, the clean water, absence of really deep silt/mud and white sand makes identification relatively easier for me.

As Godo and I are wandering around the tidal flats, he called my attention to a smaller bird among the group of Whimbrels. This bird with straight black beak was later identified by Godo as an Asian Dowitcher which is considered a rare visitor.

Trailing the scope to a flock of smaller birds, we were delighted to see a black flag/band on one of the Greater Sand-Plover. Godo told me that the color and placement of the flag/band signifies the country where the bird was tagged. In this case, the color black represents the Philippines. The last banding was made sometime 2002. Later the guys (Boy) in the office showed us all the flags assigned per country including the colors which confirmed the sighting as Philippine flag/band as opposed to Japan which is a combination of black and blue.

Flock of Ruddy Turnstone
Flock of Ruddy Turnstone

After three (3) hours, we felt the need to return to the office for lunch. I'm delighted by the list of birds I saw this morning. A very productive birding trip as manifested by the bird list below. I'm almost tempted to do a bird count but I feel I really need to prepare for such a task in this vast tidal flats. The bird list here is only a small representatioon of what we saw this morning.

I know that olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary should offer more than 32 species to a dude birder like me but considering that this is my first Olango trip, I feel that I should leave more to explore in later trips. This is really the main benefit of living near a Wildlife Santuary. You can always do it again and again with relatively little effort :)

1. Chinese Egret [Egretta eulophotes] - 1, seen very close with greenish legs, yellow beak similar in size to an intermediate egret.
2. Intermediate Egret [Ardea (Mesophoyx) intermedia] - 3, seen behind a flock of little egret.
3. Little Egret [Egretta garzetta] -27, seen in different flocks
4. Little Heron [Butorides striatus] - 2, seen flying in separate locations
5. Grey Plover [Pluvialis squatarola] -2+
6. Asian Golden-Plover [Pluvialis fulva] -3
7. Greater Sand-Plover [Charadrius leschenaultii] - with black flag/band in the upper right leg
8. Lesser Sand-Plover [Charadrius mongolus] -5
9. Whimbrel [Numenius phaeopus] -48+, probably more in other flocks
10. Bar-tailed Godwit [Limosa lapponica] -6
11. Common Redshank [Tringa totanus] -44+
12. Common Greenshank [Tringa nebularia] -7, more in other flocks
13. Common Sandpiper [Actitis hypoleucos] -3+
14. Terek Sandpiper [Xenus cinerea] -9+
15. Ruddy Turnstone [Arenaria interpres] -13+, more in other areas
16. Asian Dowitcher [Limnodromus semipalmatus] - 1, in non-breeding plumage, very obvious among larger whimbrels.
17. Great Knot [Calidris tenuirostris] -1
18. Rufous-necked Stint [Calidris ruficollis] -13+
19. Black-headed Gull [Larus ridibundus] -2
20. Little Tern [Sterna albifrons] -1
21. Whiskered Tern [Chlidonias hybridus] -3+
22. Spotted Dove [Streptopelia chinensis] -1
23. Zebra Dove [Geopelia striata] -2
24. Common Kingfisher [Alcedo atthis] -1, seen perched on the root of mangrove
25. White-collared Kingfisher [Todirhamphus chloris] - 5
26. Golden-bellied Flyeater [Gerygone sulphurea] -H.O.
26. Pacific Swallow [Hirundo tahitica] -3
28. Pied Fantail [Rhipidura javanica] -2
29. Brown Shrike [Lanius cristatus] - 7
30. Asian Glossy Starling [Aplonis panayensis] - 6, 5 seen flying and 1 perched
31. Olive-backed Sunbird [Nectarinia (Cinnyris) jugularis] - 1 seen, more heard
32. Eurasian Tree Sparrow [Passer montanus] - common, average of 5-7 in each group