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Birding Tabunan, Central Cebu Province

Date: October 20, 2004
Location: Raul Puentespina's Farm Tabunan, Cebu
Time in the field : 1330H-1640H
Weather: Partly cloudy, Generally hot afternoon
Observer: Nilo Arribas Jr., Romy Ocon Jr. and Raul Puetespina
Contact information of the observer :
Equipment Used: 12 x 50 binocular, Canon 20D and 300D DLSR system

If you are a birder in Cebu, you can't help but dream of the ellusive Cebu flowerpecker. I have read some tales and data on the Cebu flowerpecker and its home in Tabunan forest in central Cebu while I was still in Manila. The bits and pieces of information about this interesting bird and its equally challenging habitat is like a jigsaw puzzle that awaits the ultimate game.

Then the trip to Tabunan came. The plan was set not by weeks of preparations but with only one (1) day. Yes folks, you heard it right, one day preparation! Romy Ocon was the type of birder/photographer who can plan and execute a trip in a very short time. We've had these types of trips back in Manila before, in fact almost all of our special bird photography trips were finalized in less than 24 hours prior to departure. This might be too much for some but for us, the slight changes in weather or work schedule can translate into major changes in plans.

Another issue is that this was to be our first visit to Tabunan. As such, the trip is therefore a site survey, birding trip and photo expedition lumped into one. Normally, we conduct site survey first in order to assess the area and the possibility of bringing additional equipment and photography gears. Indeed this is one dounting task with more questions in my mind than concrete answers. Can we take a taxi cab from the airport and head straight to Tabunan forest? How about accomodation and provisions? Do they have electricity so we can charge batteries or burn CDs later? Of course Godfrey "Godo" Jakosalem provided us some insights on Tabunan which made things easier.

However, it was luck that brought us to Raul Puentespina who happens to have a farm right in the slopes of Tabunan facing Mt. Manunggal. We birded in his subdivision in Casili, Consolacion three days earlier and he was kind enough to offer us his farm in Tabunan as a staging point for the quest for the Cebu Flowerpecker.

October 20, 2004

Raul and I met in Mactan, Cebu International Airport around 10.30am while Romy emerged from the arrival area about 10 minutes later. We decided to leave some of Romy's stuff in my apartment in Mactan and proceeded directly to Tabunan.

Cebu-based birders,
Cebu-based birders,
Raul Puentespina & Nilo Arribas, Jr.

We grabbed some barbeque and "puso" pre-cooked rice along the way with the intention of taking lunch in Raul's farm in order to maximize time in the field.

It was a little past 1.00pm when we arrived in Tabunan. The road was relatively well maintained while the smaller road leading to Raul's place may offer some challenge for average city cars. No wonder that the only "acceptable" public transportation to this area is the "habal-habal", which is actually a chartered motocycle which can accomodate several passengers.

Nilo Arribas, Jr. &
Nilo Arribas, Jr. &
bird photographer Romy Ocon

In less than an hour, we found ourselves in the mountainous area of central Cebu towards Tabunan. Except for some areas along the way, Tabunan is generally out of coverage of cellular phone signals. Electric posts are now being erected which should provide some added comfort for the residents in the future. The success of these development activities will depend largely on the local political leadership.

Upon arrival in the rest house, we were greeted by Raul's friend Boboy and his wife who arrived earlier in the area. Instead of taking our lunch, we can't help but assemble Romy's arsenal of photography gears and equipment first. This is just to make sure that we won't be caught unprepared if anything comes up from the slopes and ravines of this gorgeous place while having lunch.

Lunch consisted of chicken and pork barbeque, "kinilaw" which is sliced fresh tuna soaked in vinegar and soy sauce with chopped ginger and spices paired with cooked rice in young coconut leaves called "puso". This is really a treat in this high mountains but we can't resist the thought that we might be missing some birds down the slopes.


On Raul's cue, we descended towards his goats' shed using a recently carved trail along the mountain slope. The sight of the adjacent mountains was simply impressive with some areas giving an almost 270-degree view of the valley including the famous Mt. Manunggal. There were some penalties though for having this privileged view. We have to negotiate the trail with loose gravel including certain areas that goes down 70 degrees! This should be an easy downward trek but with digital SLR coupled with long lenses on our shoulders, we had to be extra careful which made every step even more challenging.

Mount Manunggal
Mount Manunggal

Along the way, we occasionally stopped to listen to some bird activities. playful Pied fantails chasing each other was getting much of our attention as it somewhat resemble/signals a "bird wave" (a term I clearly remember from Patty Adversario in our previous Mt. Makiling trip).

We also noted active participation of Brown shrikes. We reached the goats' shed in a few minutes. Armed with our field guide, our attention was focused on sharp calls from a group of smaller birds. These Red-keeled Flowerpecker might be the closest semblance to the Cebu flowerpecker in the area. In a new place for us like Cebu, we can't lower our guard even to very common birds as they might turnout different.

Highlight of the trip:

This has been the case until we saw a black bird with striking red colored upper extremities. For some reasons, this bird's appearance was like a puzzle to us. It is definitely bigger than the flowerpecker we've seen earlier but the beak is shorter. The bird is facing away from us and we only got a few seconds view of the back and tail. So it ended there, a bird about the size of a Eurasian tree sparrow with blood-red upper parts and predominantly black underparts that flew before we had a chance to have a closer view.

A few minutes later, the same bird (we thought) was noticed so close to our location but still partly hidden by branches and dry leaves. With no clear shot and only a partial view of the bird, this will surely be an addition to our list of mystery birds.

Crimson Sunbird, male
Crimson Sunbird, male

It was 4.30PM when we decided to ascend for our trip back to the city. Along the trail, we can't believe our luck as the elusive bird was actually playing around a few meters from the trail. Although we had a good view, taking picture is another matter. Remember that we were in a trail (1-2 feet width) carved from steep slopes with the bird above us. One wrong move and we might end up 80 meters down through an almost vertical ravine. It was Romy who made the daring climb almost unmindful of the loose sand/gravel of the newly built trail. Of course he was rewarded with good shots of the bird which later turned out to be an endemic race of the resident Crimson sunbird.

Raul and I waited in an ambush position in case the bird decides to get closer. It never came but nonetheless I managed to take some shots enough to identify the bird.

After the adrenaline-packed shoot in the slopes, we slowly realized that the trek uphill is more challenging than the descent earlier. The thought that we got something special that day was definitely worth the effort.

October 23, 2004

After two days shooting birds elsewhere, we decided through Raul to give Tabunan another try. This time, we arrived in the area a few minutes past 7.00AM. we wasted no time and checked the potential site for any bird activity. We failed to see the Crimson sunbird this time but managed to take some really close shots of Everett's White-eye and Arctic Warbler.

We spent the rest of the day doing drive and shoot along the roads and highway to and from a place called Maraag, sudlon II. Listed below are the consolidated bird list for the total of 2 days trip to Tabunan, Cebu.

Everett's White-eye
Everett's White-eye


Tabunan forest in Central Cebu may offer some challenge for "dude" birders considering the terrain. For wild bird photographers like Romy and I, such a place may not be so ideal for now considering photo equipment and gears. This however, is just another challenge for us as we continue the quest for better photos of Philippine birds.

1. Brahminy Kite [Haliastur indus] -1
2. Raptor sp. -1 seen briefly and definitely not Brahminy
3. Barred Rail [Gallirallus torquatus] -1
4. Brush Cuckoo [Cacomantis variolosus] -1 seen perched
5. Philippine Coucal [Centropus viridis] -H.o.
6. Glossy Swiftlet [Collocalia esculenta] -5+
7. Common Kingfisher [Alcedo atthis] -1 seen in a pond in Maraag
8. White-collared Kingfisher [Todirhamphus chloris] -2 seen
9. Pied Triller [Lalage nigra] -3
10. Yellow-vented Bulbul [Pycnonotus goiavier] -2
11. Philippine Bulbul [Ixos philippinus] -H.O.
12. Blue Rock-Thrush [Monticola solitarius] -1 immature male
13. Striated Grassbird [Megalurus palustris] -3 seen, more heard
14. Pied Fantail [Rhipidura javanica] -2 seen, more heard
15. Grey Wagtail [Motacilla cinerea] -1 seen along the road
16. Richard's Pipit [Anthus richardi] -1
17. Long-tailed Shrike [Lanius schach] -2
18. Brown Shrike [Lanius cristatus] 5+
19. Olive-backed Sunbird [Nectarinia jugularis] -3
20. Crimson Sunbird [Aethopyga siparaja] -2
21. Red-keeled Flowerpecker [Dicaeum australe] -7+
22. Everett's White-eye [Zosterops everetti] -12+
23. Eurasian Tree Sparrow [Passer montanus] -common, at least 5 in a flock
24. White-bellied Munia [Lonchura leucogastra] - 5, seen along the road from
25. Chestnut Munia [Lonchura malacca] 6, seen flying