Birding Mindanao in 12 days (Part 2)

TO validate once again the status of birding sites and the degree of difficulty in photographing Philippine endemic birds, I together with three other members of Haring Ibon and Bird Finder Philippines — Djop Tabaranza, Ben Maputi and Vinz Pascua, — embarked on a 12-day bird photogrpahy tour around Mindanao.

Here is our day 3, 4 and 5:

Day 3 – Cinchona, Lantapan, Bukidnon

In Cinchona, we decided to split into two groups. Djop and Vinz, who have never photographed the Philippine Eagle, would hike up to the nesting tree site to photograph the young Philippine Eagle, while Ben and I would stake out the parents for birds in flight shots.

Bird Finder Emeliano “Blackie” Lumiston accompanied Djop and Vinz. They immediately started their climb as soon as we finished breakfast at the Cinchona Heritage Park. A group of college students were about to have their breakfast as they they were scheduled to climb at 10 a.m..

Djop and Vinz had prepared for the climb and applied necessary measures to fend off the blood sucking limatiks (forest leeches). After a 45-minute climb, Bird Finder Blackie and fellow members of the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGV) started to look for the young adult.

After about seven hours of intense searching, they came back without finding the young eagle who was christened Pamayareg III by avid birders (III since it was the third young eagle seen in the last six years. I have photographed a young eagle in that same place more than a decade ago).

They did find the food left overs which either of the parents have provided, but nowhere was the young eagle to be found. The young eagle is already about ten-months-old and might have flown to nearby areas. Normally, these young eagles are taught to fly and hunt by their parents for one year, after which it will be driven away from the territory.

At the opposite side of the forest in another ridge, Ben and I waited for the parent Philippine Eagles. They were no show too, but we were able to see Brahminy Kites, Philippine Honey Buzzard, Colasisi and other birds in the area.

Come noon time, Ben and I had our lunch at a café at the outskirts of the forest reserve, then continued to stake out the parent Philippine Eagles again, this time at the other opposite side of the nesting site. Still, no flying eagles appeared.

At about 4:00PM, we returned to the forest reserve to look for the Silvery and Blue-capped Kingfishers, but they were absent. Then the college students started appearing from the hiking trail, one after the other, happily shouting about their successful hiking feat.

Djop, Vinz, Blackie and the others appeared last. On their faces can be seen the frustration of not seeing the young eagle. Their consolation were photos of endemic Bundok Flycatchers, Yellow-bellied Whistlers, and Cinnamon Ibons. This was the first time that the young eagle was not sighted since about four months ago when birders started to hike and observe the growing raptor.

There are no guarantees in birding. There is no assurance that the target bird will be there or will appear. Birding and Bird Photography is one undertaking where a lot of considerations are completely out of one’s control. The target model in the wild has its own mind, it cannot be controlled and it is usually shy.

The weather is another factor, and although reliable predictions are already available, the mountains have their own weather patterns. What remains under control is one’s fitness and readiness, gear and equipment, time and determination.

Day 4 – Kuden, Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat

Our day started with Vice Mayor Rafael George Flauta III. He is a good friend of Bird Finder Ben. We went to the municipal hall to register at the Tourism Office and met with Mayor Randy L. Ecija. We registered again at the police station before proceeding to the birding area, but not without a tourism officer and a couple of police officers escorting us.

Before we entered the birding area, we registered again at the Barangay Hall. The road to the birding area was rocky and bumpy, only 4×4 vehicles are able to navigate such terrain. When we stopped and started to walk, we were joined by the representatives of the Manobo-Dulangan tribe.

A couple of Mindanao Hornbills instantly graced my frames, while Vinz, Djop and Ben got a pair of Philippine Honey-buzzards. A few Philippine Spine-tailed Swifts whizzed by with several swiftlets overhead. Every now and then we would hear the loud calls of the Kalaws, the Southern Rufous Hornbills, whose presence is dominant in Barangay Kuden Forest Reserve. Our day ended seeing a couple of Kalaws feed on a nearby tree along the road together with some Phillipine Green-Pigeons.

The way to Senator Ninoy Aquino (SNA) in Sultan Kudarat from Bukidnon is quite far, but one immediately notices the condition of the road once you enter the territory of BARMM – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The smooth highway transforms into one with several potholes and unpaved portions.

Entering SNA is worse as road slips can be seen and becomes the wonder instead of the zigzag roads and great mountainous landscape that defined the entry to the town. Road slips are those hanging concretes with no soil foundation or those that have fallen due to eroded portions.

We were guessing earthquakes, erosion, sink holes and even road workmanship as causes of such road slips. The town was named after Senator Benigno Ninoy Aquino, Sr., at the time when his wife Corazon was President of the Republic. Formerly known to be Kulaman Valley, the town sits on a plain surrounded by mountain ranges.

One would suspect that the town sits on a former crater of a very big volcano, much more when one hears of the presence of big sinkholes from the local officials themselves. The birding area in Barangay Kuden is about 45 minutes from the town center. It is part of the approximately 29,000 hectares Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) awarded to David M Consunji, Inc. (DMCI) amidst ancestral domain claims and strong tribal opposition.

The registration protocols at the local level is something that has to be reviewed as it eats up about 2-3 hours, and when done in the morning, steals aways the golden hours of birding. The departments of tourism and environment, together with the local government units, must agree to come up with uniform registration policies and institute efficient online processes in order to facilitate such protocols. The security measures and the desire to bird early must meet at common terms in order to satisfy both needs.

Day 5 – Kuden, Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat

Taking note from the previous day’s exploration the areas of fruiting trees and possible bird tambayans, our next day was more organized and targeted. A fruiting balete tree attracted Southern Rufous Hornbills, Philippine Green-pigeons, and Yellow-breasted Fruit-doves.

Short-billed Brown-doves, Philippine Bulbuls, Rusty-crowned Babblers and Mindanao Pygmy Babblers were feeding on a fruit-laden Lipang Kalabaw or stinging nettle tree we found the previous day.

We engaged the tribe leaders to prepare our breakfast and lunch, but we ate all the cooked native chicken for breakfast, so when lunch time came, we ended up buying canned goods of sardines and corned beef at the village. We lunched in a small nipa hut above a flowing river where children would swim and play naked, not minding our presence. The calls of kalaws can be heard every once in a while.

This time, asking the locals about birds seemed to be easier than the previous day. We introduced and gave them Haring Ibon Trading cards that feature endemic birds and showed them photos of potential birds in their area and they would tell us their local names. Our Bird Finder Moroy Cablas from the Tourism Office and Manong Egew, the Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR), wrote the local names at the back of the cards.

The Haring Ibon trading cards transformed from being a game for children into reference pocket photos for local guides. The engagement and empowerment of the local tribe and the local tourism and environment officers are fundamentals in birding.

During lunch over sardines and corned beef, our police officer-escort asked the tribal leader for a portion of an anti-snake remedy which got us all curious about it. The item is called Duka, not an agimat or talisman but more of a medicine that is made from the sap of a rare tree that they use for curing snake bites.

The police officers swore that the sap is indeed very effective and shared experiences about it. It cannot be bought, it must be given, and it must always be carried in one’s wallet to keep one safe from snakes. It was also at this time that the sighting of the Philippine Eagle in their hunting grounds was revealed to us.

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