The Philippine archipelago is a cluster of more than 7000 islands extending for nearly 2000 kilometres across the warm tropical waters of the Pacific. Most of the land area of the Philippines is divided amongst the eleven larger islands, with two-thirds accounted for by the two largest, Luzon and Mindanao. In the north, the Batan Islands are little more than 200 kilometres south of Taiwan, while the southernmost islands lie only 50 kilometres off the east coast of Borneo.
Despite their proximity to other parts of Asia, the rugged mountainous islands of the Philippines have enjoyed a long and complex period of isolation which has resulted in an evolutionary explosion with considerable variation from one island to another. There are almost 4000 species of trees, over 160 species of mammals and over 240 species of reptiles, and all this in a country slightly smaller than the British Isles! The extraordinary degree of endemism in the Philippines is well demonstrated by the country’s avifauna: over 580 species have been recorded of which around 400 are resident and almost 200 are endemic, many of these restricted to just one island (and with many more endemic subspecies, some of which are highly distinctive, the number of birds treated as endemic species seems sure to rise). Sadly, the marvellous but vanishing avifauna of the Philippines is amongst the most threatened on our planet: it is no exaggeration to say that some species will, within a short time, become impossible to find, so delaying a visit to the Philippines is not a good plan.
During our journey we will visit three of the major islands (where the majority of the endemics occur) and, using the current more liberal approach to avian taxonomy, we should see over 120 of them. Sadly, in common with so many parts of the world, the rainforest in the Philippines is severely threatened and most has already disappeared. In consequence many bird species are in imminent danger if the destruction continues and in order to see some of the specialities it is necessary to visit some remote areas.
Travel in the Philippines offers some fascinating insights into the history of the islands. This is perhaps the least ‘Oriental’ of all the Far Eastern countries: four hundred years of Spanish colonial rule followed by ‘fifty years of Hollywood’ (as the period of association with the United States is popularly referred to) have inevitably left their mark. The friendly Filipinos are predominantly Catholic and the countryside is adorned with thousands of extravagantly decorated churches. In the towns the American influence is even stronger than the Spanish, one of the more endearing aspects being the fleets of gaily decorated ‘jeepneys’ (intricately painted copies of extended American jeeps, some festooned with chrome-plated accessories, plastic streamers, garlands of flowers and enough lights to decorate a Christmas tree). In complete contrast, ethnic minority groups still exist in the most remote areas of the Philippines whose lives have been little changed over hundreds or even thousands of years. With magnificent scenery, friendly people and an incomparable selection of little-known birds, the Philippines have all the ingredients for a truly memorable tour.
We begin our journey on Luzon, the largest island, where we will visit Subic Bay, a former American military base which protects some of the last remaining lowland rainforest that once covered so much of the island. Here we can expect to see a good number of endemic forest birds ranging from Green Racquet-tail to the strange Coleto, and in particular the very localized White-fronted Tit.
We will then travel north to the Mount Polis range in northern Luzon. Here we will stay at Banaue where we will see the remarkable rice terraces built by the Ifugao tribes people over two thousand years ago. In the misty heights we will look for a number of montane specialities with restricted distributions, including Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove, Luzon Water Redstart, Whitehead’s Babbler, Mountain Shrike and Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, and, if it is clear, enjoy some spectacular views.
Next we will fly to the island of Palawan where we will spend much of our time in the spectacular St Paul’s National Park. This long island, which links Borneo to the rest of the Philippines, has a markedly Malaysian influence in its avifauna. We have a good chance of seeing most of the Palawan endemics during our visit, including the stunning Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, the highly endangered Philippine Cockatoo, Palawan Scops Owl, the impressive Palawan Hornbill and Palawan Tit.
We will then fly to the southern island of Mindanao where we will explore the lowland forests in the Bislig area where some of the most exciting birds in the Philippines, including Steere’s Pitta, Silvery, Rufous-lored and Blue-capped Wood Kingfishers, and Short-crested Monarch, can be found amidst the relicts of what was the tallest rainforest in the world. While on Mindanao we will also make a prolonged visit to the magnificent Kitanglad Mountains. Many exciting montane birds occur here, some of which are found only on Mindanao, and we have an excellent chance of seeing the magnificent but endangered Philippine Eagle and the little-known Bukidnon Woodcock (a species discovered as recently as 1993, and by a Birdquest group!), as well as many more montane endemics.
Finally, we will return to Manila and visit Mount Makiling, a forested mountain to the south of the city where we will hope to pick up our last few Luzon endemics, including the noisy and spectacular Spotted Wood Kingfisher.
Birdquest has operated tours to the Philippines since 1990.
Accommodation & Road Transport:
The hotels are mostly of normal Birdquest standard. At St Paul’s and at Narra we will stay in simple chalets with private bathrooms. In the Kitanglad Mountains we will be accommodated in tents (for twin or single occupancy) and a large but basic communal shelter. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are mostly reasonable.
Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy to moderate, but there will be a few optional harder walks.
Climate: Most days in the lowlands will be hot, dry and sunny, but overcast conditions are fairly frequent and some rain can be expected. In upland areas it will be cool to warm and at the highest altitudes it may be distinctly cold. The humidity can be high at times.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.
Tour Price: (provisional): £3570, €4110, $5710 Manila/Manila. Price includes all transportation (including all flights inside the Philippines), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room/Tent Supplement: (provisional): £360, €414, $576. Single rooms may well not be available at Narra for all those requesting them, as the lodge has only six rooms. Anyone having to share unexpectedly will be given an appropriate small refund.
Deposit: 10% of the tour price (excluding any single supplement).
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
As an indication, return fares from London are available from around £920, €1060, $1470. You can join the tour by leaving London the day before the tour starts, arriving back in London the day after the tour ends.