We started our Philippines trip on the island of Palawan, followed by some time on Cebu, then Negros and then, thanks to a ferry to Bohol being sold out, we spent a night on the island of Siquijor. The final leg of our Philippines adventure (well at least my final leg), was the island of Bohol. Bohol is located within the Visayas, a term used to describe one of the principle geographic regions in the Philippines. (Since the country is made up of over 7,000 islands, it would be silly not to have the islands broken up into different regions. The Visayas describes the islands surrounding the Visayan Sea, a central region in the Philippines.) Originally we had planned to spend four days birding Bohol, but with the ferry to get there being unavailable, (you can read all about our Cebu/Negros/Siquijor adventure here) we were delayed a day and only had three days on this island. This little mishap worked out perfectly in our favor as three days was all we needed to pick up all of our targets on Bohol.
The Rajah Sikatuna Nature Reserve is the largest remaining tract of forest left on Bohol and was our only destination during our short time on the island. This is the best place to come if you want to see Bohol’s specialties. This nature reserve, commonly referred to as Magsaysay, is home to a large array of species and thankfully has an expansive network of trails that wind through the lowland jungle habitat. During our three day stay in the area, we had the opportunity to hike nearly every trail at Magsaysay.
May 19th. We arrived late in the afternoon on Bohol and proceeded to take a public bus to the town of Bilar, where we were dropped off outside of Habitat Bohol (or Simply Butterflies if you want to go by it’s old name, a name many locals still refer to the place as). By the time we arrived at Habitat Bohol, it was already dark, but the security man on duty for the night had our key and we were soon shown to our room. En route to our room we stopped by another room and found Kurt, our friend from Hawaii, who would be joining us for the next few days.
The next morning, May 20th, Ross and I woke up at 3:30AM and arrived at Magsaysay by 4:00AM to spotlight for some night creatures. Kurt and Rob decided they would join us a bit later, as Kurt had coordinated with the local grounds keeper to show him around in the morning. We heard Luzon Hawk-Owl and Everett’s Scops Owl and Ross was able to get brief looks at a Philippine Frogmouth. As light approached, we entered the main clearing and had excellent views of Samar Hornbills perched in a tree. We then started walking the trails and soon came across our first target, Azure-breasted Pitta.
While calling in the pitta, Kurt and Rob arrived with a local named Julius, whom Kurt had hired to be a “bird guide” for the day. Juluis the gardener at Habitat Bohol, wasn’t much of a birder, but like many locals we’ve come across, he did a pretty good job at spotting birds. We showed them the pitta and then we spent the entire morning walking “the loop” trail a few times. In only a short time, we came across a number of our targets including Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, Rufous-fronted Tailorbird, Black-faced Coucal, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, and most importantly, Visayan Broadbill, by far the most difficult bird to get on Bohol. By noon it was getting very hot and very quiet so we headed back to our room at Habitat Bohol for lunch and a quick rest. At 3:00 PM we headed back towards the park, making a stop along the river for Northern Silvery Kingfisher. We didn’t find too much else that evening, but after dark we had great looks at Luzon Hawk-Owl. Our first day of birding on Bohol had been a huge success and there was only a handful of targets left on our list!
Originally, having read a lot of birding reports prior to the trip, almost everyone had recommended using local guide Ryan while birding the area. People stated that he was a “must” in order to get all the birds and, without him, it would “take a few extra days.” Having had an extremely successful first day, we contemplated canceling our previously scheduled day of guiding, but decided to stick with the original plan simply because Ross didn’t have a very good recording of Visayan Blue Fantail and we weren’t too sure about the calls of the sunbird. Ross usually enjoys being the “bird guide” but he talked with Ryan and they agreed on a 5:30 AM meet up at the clearing at Magsaysay. Of course, the start was a bit too late for our liking, but Ryan insisted that the birds were not going to be found any earlier than that. Naturally we arrived early and spent a little time walking the trials before first light hoping to run into something interesting. This proved to be a good idea as we had great looks at three Streaked Wren-babblers along the trail just as it was getting light. At 5:30 AM we arrived at the clearing where we were supposed to meet and Ryan was nowhere to be found. At 5:40 AM, and not wanting to waste good birding time, we headed back onto the trails figuring we didn’t really need him anyway. At 6:00 AM Ross decided that we would check the clearing one more time for Ryan before giving up and birding by ourselves again. Luckily, Ryan had arrived by this time, but Ross was pretty livid about it. Having a bird guide show up late after it’s already a late start is not a good way to start the morning.
We started the day walking the beginning of Brahminy Trail and luckily found a single male Bohol Sunbird feeding high in a tree near the intersection of Oriole Trail. From here we continued along Brahminy Trail going down a steep section of stairs before walking out Tarictic Trail back to the swimming pool. This was a new trail for us as we hadn’t really ventured from “the loop” trail, but after a lot of playback we finally heard the distinct song of Visayan Blue Fantail singing in the distance. The bird didn’t respond to playback and it took over an hour of chasing it up and down the steep limestone ravines before we finally managed decent looks at it. We spent the rest of the morning looking for our last remaining target, but came up empty. A nice consolation prize was a nesting Philippine Frogmouth that Ryan had found the week prior. Having seen the majority of our targets, the decision was made to head back to Habitat Bohol for lunch and then spend the rest of the afternoon on a “date” visiting the touristy Chocolate Hills as this was to be our last night out together.
The Chocolate Hills are Bohol’s most famous tourist attraction and the reason many tourists visit the island. The unique perfectly shaped mounts are thought to be the remains of old coral deposits and make for an interesting spectacle when viewed from afar. There are approximately 1,776 little limestone hills on Bohol and the viewing platform is one of the best places to get views overlooking the highest density of mounds. From Habitat Bohol, Ross and I crammed onto a local bus and I mean CRAMMED onto a bus and rode to our destination like wet sardines (it was pouring down rain when we got on the bus). Thankfully the rain had cleared by the time we got off the bus at our destination. We then walked up the paved hill to the viewing platform to join the hundreds of Filipinos and foreign tourists that had made the pilgrimage to take in the sight and more importantly, take a few dozen selfies. It was a bit unfortunate that during our trip the viewing platform was under construction, but given the number of people who were visiting, some renovations were clearly needed. It definitely was a cool place to check out, with some stellar views that you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else in the world (but seriously, how many selfies can you take at one time?!) We found that some of the best and least crowded views were while walking up and down the paved hill, as nearly everyone else had taken a car or motorbike up/down instead of walking. We soon made our way back down to the main road and caught a bus back to Bilar.
May 21. With a final morning left on the island of Bohol, we once again jumped on a motorbike before first light and headed back to Magsaysay. With only one target left on the list, we headed down the trail in search of Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher. The original plan was a hike the same route we did the day prior with Ryan, but along the steep steps of Brahminy Trail, we ran into a large group of school students who were taking the same set of trails. To avoid the crowd the decision was made to instead continue out Brahminy Trail and this proved to be the right choice. We hadn’t yet done this part of the trail system and it ended up being an extremely productive morning with numerous highlights including Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Philippine Frogmouth (sitting right over the trail!), better looks at Visayan Blue Fantail, and our main target Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher. By 9:00 AM we left the forest and headed back to our room to pack, shower, and eat lunch and get on the road towards the airport.
On our way back to the airport, we hopped off the bus at the Tarsier Conservation Area (Loboc Bohol) to check out one of the world’s tiniest primates. We simply couldn’t drive right past an opportunity to see Philippine Tarsiers up close (aptly named for their extremely long tarsus bone with hind legs twice the length of their bodies.) We weren’t really sure what to expect of this “conservation center” but were pleasantly surprised to find that the animals were free to leave at any time. These tiny nocturnal primates sport large, adorable eyes and they are about the size of your hand! We enjoyed walking the short loop trail and had views of 8 or 9 Tarsiers sitting in a tree.
It had been a very rewarding three days on the island of Bohol and we had seen everything we had hoped for (except the bleeding-heart of course!) I flew back home to the United States while Ross continued on to Mindanao, so expect a blog post from his adventure soon!
One of my favorite sights on Bohol was this perfectly mushroom-covered log. Nature is wild. Until next time, kita tayo bukas! (Tagalog for see you later!)