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Birding on Nogas Island, Antique

Date: December 8-9, 2004
Site: Nogas Island, Antique
Trip report and birdlist by : Leni Sutcliffe

I went island-walking with friends and the provincial Tourism Officer on Nogas Island on 8 December 2004 between 12.30 and 3.30 and went back without them the next day, birding from 6.30 to 9.15 am. On both days, it was clear and calm, with the sea - sometimes gun-metal-blue, sometimes deep turquoise - heaving slightly. Nogas Island, with its fringe of white sand and its crown of thick vegetation is about 3 km offshore from Anini-y, Antique’s southernmost town.

Ruel Castillo (‘Wewe’), of the Philippine National Police and police officer of Anini-y, owner of Chen2 (a motorized outrigged banca) was our soft-spoken boatman, birding guide and security officer (he carried a gun on his belt)
on both days.

According to a signboard on the island, the Nogas Island Fish Sanctuary covers an area of 65 ha, including 24 ha of mangrove and a coral reef. It is a protected conservation area, and the law forbids one from taking anything off the island. A legend supports the law: it says that the forest and the sea will “hold” anyone who tries to leave with even a small thing like a pebble or a seashell.

The path from the shore to the lighthouse in the middle of the island is lined with kalachuchi puti (Plumeria obtusa L.) and its flowers perfume the air. On both sides of the path (and all over the island) are an amazing variety of wild trees, shrubs, vines, plants and grasses: a botanist’s delight, more so as the island is apparently snake-free. Ficus trees of
various species (I saw several that were 3-4 metres wide), talisay (Terminalia catappa L.), anan (Buchanania arborescens), payhod, kalapini, kamachile (Pithecellobium dulce) are everywhere. Mangrove grows on one side
of the island, and fruiting pandan (probably Pandanus tectorius) on another.

The interior is sandy. Nearer the sea, coral fragments are everywhere and the surface is lined with rough stones.

On the kalachuchi path, I got my first glimpse of the Tabon Scrubfowl (Megapodius cumingii): three small, probably young, birds scurried across. In the interior, the birds were elusive, running away as soon as they sensed our presence. But their nests were everywhere: buried deep in the sand, these were either freshly made (as evidenced by the pile of leaves on top), or had been dug out by humans (the holes were 2-3 feet deep). From afar, we heard the Tabon’s eerie drawn-out wailing. Then suddenly, as we emerged on the first day from the interior onto the shore, we saw a plump, fairly large Tabon, pecking at the sand, oblivious to our presence for about five

Pied Triller
Pied Triller

minutes before it, too, hurried away. It seemed to me that it had a grey-brown back, becoming grey in the underparts; it had a thick body (rounder than that of the Tikling, for example, which is also present on the island) and long legs. Its short tail was up in the air as it foraged for food in the sand. We were to glimpse several groups of Tabon throughout day one and day two, but never as clearly and for as long.

Magrove Blue Flycatcher
Magrove Blue Flycatcher

In the interior: I saw a bird slightly bigger than a sparrow, and broader and more solidly built, sitting quite still in the middle story of a low tree. It had a blue-grey back; rufous throat and breast band; a distinct white streak on each side of the face; a longish blue bill; dark feet and legs; white underparts, longish blue-grey tail. I reckon this was a Mangrove Blue Flycatcher. In fact the bird I saw looked so much like Jon Hornbuckle’s Oriental Bird photograph of a bird taken in Boracay (which is off the island of Panay, where Antique is located) that I am tempted to venture that it was a female Cyornis rufigastra philippinensis.

Again in the interior, in a leaf-strewn open space on the sandy ground between the trees, was an all-brown bird about the length of a grassbird but wider of body and shorter of tail. I did not see much detail as it flew quickly into the low shrubs nearby. I guessed it was a Nightjar, but had second thoughts when Wewe said it had a “big mouth”. I opened Kennedy’s book to the page on frogmouths. “Not those,” he said. “It could be either one of these,” he continued, pointing to the Philippine Nightjar and the Savanna Nightjar, and settling for the latter. Caprimulgus affinis griseatus? Possibly. Nogas certainly has the features of its habitat: sandy ground, beaches, occasional open scrub.

A heavy flapping of wings drew our attention to a flock of about 40 Pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans), punay to Wewe. There were about 5 males; the rest looked like females. The birds had yellow-orange/red feet and legs; a yellow wing band, followed by a dark (black) wing band just before the yellow-green underparts; yellow-green thighs; darker olive-yellow upperparts; grey bills. The males had pink-orange breasts and what seemed to be dark undertails. We saw these birds several times as we moved around the island: they perched conspicuously on tree tops and they flapped their wings loudly as they flew from perch to perch. Wewe pointed out their nests: these were bowl-shaped baskets of twigs built on forking tree branches. He says the island has about 80 of these birds.

So in addition to the:

1. Tabon Scrubfowl (Megapodius cumingii): about 15
2. Savanna Nightjar (Caprimulgus affinis griseatus): perhaps 1
3. Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis rufigastra philippinensis): 1 female
4. Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans): 5 males and 35 females

We also saw the following:

5. Pied Fantail or Maria Kapra (Rhipidura javanica): about 15
6. Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier): maybe 101
7. Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis; kee-yaw to the guide): 2 seen, 5 or more heard
8. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica): about 20
9. Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica): maybe 20
10. Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis), male and female: common; also seen feeding on coconut flowers. According to Wewe, this sunbird builds narrow pitcher-shaped nests which hang from branches of trees. (If he is right, then one of the nests I've seen in my garden at Westgrove belongs to the sunbird.)

Pink-neckes Green Pigeon

Pink-necked Green Pigeon

12. Swiftlets (Collocalia spp.), possibly Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta) (because of their white underparts): maybe 20.
13. Pied Triller (Lalage nigra); male and female; common; a flock of about 10 was feeding on a kamachili tree.
14. Barred Rail (Gallirallus torquatus): 2
15. White-collared Kingfisher (Todirhamphus chloris): 3 seen among the mangrove, many more heard. In addition to their usual ka-ka-ka-kak, the kingfishers of Nogas had another call which the guide pointed out to me: a repeated tik-rek, tik-rek. I had not noted this call before nor associated it with the kingfisher, but have heard it since in Westgrove right after the ka-ka-ka-kak.

Heard but not seen:
1. Coucal (Centropus spp.)
2. Zebra dove (Geopelia striata)

Seen and heard, but not identified:

A small bird like the golden-bellied flyeater (it had dirty yellow underparts, grey upperparts and a short bill; its call was similar to, but not quite the same as that of the Gerygone). I thought I had the ID down pat, until I checked Kennedy, whose map shows that Panay is one of three islands where the Gerygone cannot be found.

One last note:

Antique is a beautiful (if somewhat dusty and grubby in its towns and along its horrendously bumpy main roads) and underdeveloped province. Having seen how “development” in the Philippines often produces the ugliest of urban areas, I hope I can be forgiven for wishing that Antique can long remain rural in character and aspect. It is bounded on one side by the lovely Cordillera range of mountains, and on the other by the (Sulu?) Sea. They tell me that the Sibalom Natural Park on the Cordillera is home to the rare Visayan Hornbill, among other birds (and also, for example, the endangered cloud rat, the palm civet and the Rafflesia Manillana with its enormous flower). They also tell me that birdwatching is an exciting experience in Pandan, a town in northern Antique.

I have names and telephone numbers of contact persons to suggest to anyone interested in venturing into the Antique wild bird land.

Leni Sutcliffe