Philippines: 29 Dec 1987 - 26 Jan 1988
Section 1 - General information





This report is divided into three sections:

Section 1 - Introduction, logistics and general information.
Section 2 - Birding sites (Mindanao and Luzon).
Section 3 - Birding sites (Cebu, Negros, Bohol, Palawan).


The Philippines is comprised of over 7,100 islands. Although most of these islands are small and uninhabited, the larger islands are of particular ornithological interest. Due to their long isolation, size, and wealth of forest habitat, many endemic species have evolved. It is this high degree of endemism, together with the possibility to see other rare or elusive Asiatic species which attracts visiting birders. This report is based on five trips to the Philippines between 1985 and 1988; the most extensive between 29 December 1987 and 26 January 1988, covered five islands, while shorter visits concentrated on the two major islands of Luzon and Mindanao.

Depending on taxonomic view, there are about 579 species on the Philippine list. Of these, 418 are resident and include 180 endemics. The remainder occur as vagrants or non-breeding visitors and/or migrants. During a typical one month visit one could expect to see between 250 and 290 species, a total which compared to a similar visit to mainland Asia, may seem a little low. However, with the high proportion of endemic species, quality not quantity is the attraction. Considering that many of the islands are virtually unexplored ornithologically, and that many species are very rare and have not been seen for lengthy periods, there are real opportunities for visiting birders to make discoveries. The International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) 1988 update (Collar and Stewart 1988) to the IUCN/ICBP Red Data Book (King 1979), currently treats 42 species as threatened, of which 34 are completely restricted to the Philippines. Of particular interest is the largest of the old world Eagles, the Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi, which is now reduced to less than 300 in number. As habitat is fast disappearing in the Philippines, its future looks bleak.

Much has been written, in both the press and birding reports about the various political instabilities and insurgency problems within the Philippines. Whilst it is true that certain areas of the country will be off-limits at any one time, this should not deter visiting birders, as local advice and information can be sought to achieve a successful and safe trip. Unfortunately, the better birding areas being forested, are also popular with the insurgent New Peoples Army (NPA). As a general rule, many of the better birding areas will be difficult to visit for some time yet, and it would be hard to predict which areas will be completely off-limits for future visitors.

During my visits, there was a definite deterioration on the whole. However, some areas, such as the Davao area on Mindanao, had become much safer due to the Alsa Massa anti-insurgent movement successfully clearing out the NPA. Quezon National Park on Luzon, which was impossible to visit in 1988, had been previously in 1985 a quiet weekend retreat. Personally, I had no problems whatsoever on any of my visits, but the risk is real and should not be underestimated.


Holders of most passports, including British, are granted a three week visa on arrival at Manila. These can be extended at the Department of Immigration and Deportation Office in Manila, but it's a hassle well worth avoiding. If you plan to stay longer than the 21 days, apply for a standard 59 day tourist visa. These visas can be extended in Manila for up to 6 months if necessary.


An added bonus available to those who fly internationally with PAL are the discounts available on all internal flights. These internal flights must all be purchased at the same time, and you need to show your international return ticket. Once purchased, it is however possible to change these reservations, and I even managed to get a refund in London on an unused sector. The discount offered seems to vary. I received a 30% discount in London, but some people claim to have received up to 50% buying them in Manila. Internal flights in the Philippines are generally good value.


The unit of currency in the Philippines is the Peso. It is important to take American dollars. There is a better exchange rate for cash than travellers cheques, and better still for notes of larger denominations. The best place to change currency is the authorised money changers to be found in all larger towns. These will exchange US$ travellers cheques, and cash of most hard currencies, including £ Sterling. Sterling travellers cheques are difficult to exchange, as only a couple of banking groups are able, or willing, to exchange them. I found that the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) always accepted them. You will constantly be asked to change dollars on the black market.

Travel and Getting Around

The Philippines has an excellent, though not necessarily comfortable, transport network, which combined with English being almost universally spoken, makes getting around a doddle. For shorter journeys, the most convenient transport is the ubiquitous Filipino jeepney. These contraptions were originally converted US jeeps, but have now been replaced with locally manufactured pick ups, all gaudily decorated. The term jeepney is supposed to derive from the two rows of benches in the rear with the facing passengers knees constantly knocking together. All display their destination on the front. Just hop in and whistle or bang on the roof when you want to get off. Prices are about one to two Peso per kilometre. If you want more comfort, in Manila you can take a taxi, which is the recommended method of travelling from Manila airport to town, and should be less than 100 Peso. There is a good network of buses throughout the Philippines, though I didn't use them much. The bus from Manila to Los Baños (for Makiling) took about an hour and cost 50 Peso. There is a daily air conditioned bus to Banaue from Manila which takes eight hours. On Luzon, I rented a car from Pacific Rental. Petrol was readily available throughout Luzon, and cheap at eight peso per litre. Driving in the Philippines is particularly hazardous. All the locals drive with an "I'm first there, get out of the way" attitude, signalling is non existent, and at night those vehicles which do have headlights will not dip them. I asked one person why this was so, to which he replied "if we did that we wouldn't be able to see where we were going, would we?". Add to this, a whole host of other road hazards such as pot holes, cyclists and wandering pedestrians, and I would not recommend driving at night.

Climate and When to go

The climate is typically hot and humid. Generally the wet season is from late May to October, though the more southerly and easterly islands have a less marked difference between the seasons. Typhoons are not uncommon between June and September. Temperatures vary little throughout the year, except for a generally hotter period at the end of the dry season. Eastern Mindanao is wet throughout the year. The best time to go is probably between December and May. From December to March there will be wintering species, and from March to April passage of migrants. If you want to see the Philippine Eagle though, try to visit Mindanao before March as their nesting will be finishing at this time and the birds become more difficult to locate. I missed them during my first visit in late March.


For any trip, the two essential field guides are du Pont's Philippine Birds, and King's Field Guide of the Birds of South-East Asia, though the former is a large and weighty. Additionally a good travel guide is recommended. Some of the best references which I used were:

Allen, P., and Gooders, J. (1981). Finding Birds around the World. Andre Deutsch, UK. Only useful as a preliminary overview. The checklist is not particularly accurate.

Bruce, M.D. (1980). Field Checklist of the Birds of the Philippines. Good but the taxonomy is now a little dated.

Clark, T. (1983). Philippines, March to May 1983. Unpublished trip report.

Clements, J. (1981) Birds of the World: A Checklist. Facts on File, USA. The 1991 update is now available.

Collar, N.J, and Andrew, P. (1988). Birds to Watch. ICBP, Cambridge. UK. Useful summary of current status of each threatened species.

Dickinson, E.C., Kennedy, R.S., and Parkes, K.C. (1991). Birds of the Philippines. BOU Checklist No. 12. The most authoritative review to status and distribution to date.

du Pont, J.E. (1971). Philippine Birds. Delaware Museum of Natural History, USA. The only book available which illustrates all the Philippine species. Large and expensive, this book is primarily a museum skin catalogue, but gives the geographical range of each species on a sub specific level. As a field guide its only use is the illustrations, as there are no details on habitat, habits, or field identification. The taxonomy has now been greatly superseded and the choice of common English names leaves a lot to be desired. To make matters worse the book contains many errors (see below). Nevertheless, this reference is invaluable, and obtaining a copy could be difficult, though there was a limited reprint in 1985.

Gibbs, D. (1984). The Philippines, 22 Jan to 2 March 1984. Unpublished trip report.

Greensmith, A. (1990). The Philippines, 4 March to 9 April 1990. Unpublished trip report.

Howard, R., and Moore, A. (1991) A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. Academic Press, England. Very useful for finding your way around the complex taxonomy of Philippine birds.

Kennedy, B. (year unknown). List of Philippine birds. Unpublished checklist.

King, B. (1980). Field Guide of the Birds of South-East Asia. Collins, London. Still the standard field guide for south-east Asia. As many of the Philippine species, especially those on Palawan, are found on the south-east Asian mainland this reference should be taken.

Peters, J. (1987). Philippines - A travel survival kit. Lonely Planet Publications, Victoria, Australia. An invaluable travel guide giving details of transport, food, and accommodation for all major, and many minor islands.

Snobe, K. (1982). A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan. Wild Bird Society of Japan, Tokyo. Useful for a few species, but not worth lugging if short of space.

Turton, J.M. et al. (1986). Philippines. January to March 86. Unpublished trip report.

Additionally, the booklet, Bibliography of Philippine Ornithology, published in 1988 gives a very comprehensive list of all published literature concerning Philippine birds.


I would like to thank Edgar Buensuceso, Eddie Cañada, Tim Fisher, Alan Greensmith, Don Haddon, Jesper Hornskov, Ole Jakobsen, Perla Magsalay, Nigel Lindsey, Mick Turton, and John Wall for their assistance, correspondence, and help both inside and outside of the Philippines.

Itinerary and Suggestions

Ornithologically, the most important islands are Mindanao and Luzon, which must be considered a must for any visitor, as they hold by far the greatest number of endemic species. Other important, and most often visited islands, are Bohol and Palawan. Most visitors go to Cebu, though only for the Cebu Black Shama, which has recently been rediscovered there. Other very rewarding locations would be Negros, Mindoro, and the Tawi Tawi group. I would not recommend any particular itinerary, though most visitors seem to do Mindanao first, possibly because of the Philippine Eagle, and then move northward through Bohol, Cebu, Luzon, finishing on Palawan. My itinerary was mainly governed by short-trip opportunities, with the following areas visited.

Luzon - Makiling National Park. American Cemetery, Manila, Baguio, Manila Bay, Banaue, Mount Polis, Lagaue. Mindanao - Baracatan, Mount Apo, PICOP.
Cebu- Casili Consolasion.
Bohol- Dimiao, Logarita Forest Station.
Palawan- Garceliano Beach, Balsahan Trail, PCMC Road, St. Paul's, Tagburos Salt Pans, White Beach.

Section 2 - Birding sites (Mindanao and Luzon).
Section 3 - Birding sites (Cebu, Negros, Bohol, Palawan).