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Philippines - possibly usefull info for independent trips (1 Viewer)

This isn't a proper trip report, just a thread for me to post some information which might be of use to others, which I found out during my ongoing semi-independent, budget trip (well I had hoped it would be a budget trip) to the Philippines.

Cowrie Island, Palawan:
When I arrived there by boat today, I was told at the entrance fee/information booth on the island that to access the back of the island (where roosting Mantanani scops owl, waders, and other birds may be found) I had to contact the owner in advance to arrange access.
I was told that the fee for getting access and help finding the scops owl would be 1500 peso for one person, and that the owner should be contacted at least 2 days or better still at least a week in advance.
The number I was given to contact was 09204244048, but I haven't tried it yet.
At the place to hire a boat to visit the islands in Honda bay near the end of the Sta. Lourdes wharf, they didn't know about this and told me that Mantanani scops owl can only be found on Pandan Island after dark. But that the boats at the wharf can't go there after dark anymore due to changed regulations. There is no accommodation on Pandan, but I was told an overnight visit could possibly be arranged with by visiting the Legend? Hotel in town which owns the island.
I have sent an email to ebird.org requesting that the hotspot name for Cowrie island be changed to note that it is restricted access.
Boat Cowrie 700 peso, 75 visit fee, 50 other fee.
Boat Pandan 1400 peso, 800? Visit fee, 50 other fee.
Jeepney to wharf from near coliseum in Puerto Princesa, 25 peso.
Forgot to add:
-The jeepney I got had a sign saying Honda Bay on the front.
-The fee to see the owl would be less per person for a group, I was told.
- And I think the cost for the boats to the islands can be split amongst a group.
(Southern) Indigo banded Kingfisher, Alegre, NW Panay
(On the way to the Walden's Hornbill site):
- Birdlife International's new taxonomy splits the southern subspecies of Indigo banded Kingfisher, which is (or was) found on Panay, Negros and Cebu.
- Has all black bill (vs partly orange lower mandible), typically? only 1 breast band (vs 2) in male, yellow-orange underparts in female but not male (vs orange underparts similar both sexes), different shade of blue upperparts, possibly some size difference, etc.
- Seen on the walk to the spot to see Walden's Hornbill near Alegre. I saw a female on the way up, then after half an hours waiting, a male on the way down.
At the river crossing at 11.5362, 122.1278, just before the track goes up a steep hill. I was told about it's presence here by Stijn Cooleman, who photographed a male here a week or so before my sightings.
- According to the local guide the Kingfisher is often here, and can sometimes be seen at other places along the river as well. The guides helped me look for the kingfisher since I let them know I wanted to see it.
- My visit to Alegre was ably organised by Rhea Santillan at the PhilinCon (conservation ngo) office in Pandan. Email, phone on PhilinCon website and Tim Mitzen trip report. She organised successful trips for me to Sibaliw station (Negros Bleeding Heart) and Mt Madja-as (Panay Striped Babbler, with two other birders) as well.
- Costs (Philippine peso). 300 for fuel for c. 45 minute motorcycle ride from Pandan to Alegre with guide. 400 for food for myself plus 2 guides/porters (bought more than needed in case I had stay longer to see the hornbill). 1600 guides (400 per guide per day). 100 homestay. I paid the guide and homestay a little more than this, but these are the amounts I was told I had to pay. If you just go for one day (I stayed overnight hoping for better views/photos of the hornbill) obviously costs will be less.
- The place to watch for the hornbills is a valley about a 3km walk from the village the guide took me to by motorbike. There are a few bamboo cottages here where some families farming coconuts, bananas, etc live. We stayed in one of these for the night. I was told there are no toilet facilities of any sort available.
-The hornbills are usually seen at some distance in areas of remaining forest on the adjacent steep hillsides. Bring a spotting scope if you want to improve your chances of good views. I was lucky to have a hornbill fly across the valley relatively close by.
The guide said the best times for the hornbills are before 10am and after 3pm. But this can vary since I saw regular hornbill actually from at least 3 different males over the next couple of hours when I arrived at 10.30am, including the flyover. Then none in the late afternoon and comparatively little the next morning.
Subic Bay, near Olingapo, Luzon:

I visited here for c.3 days towards the end of March 2016.
I used the information on the Birding2Asia website http://www.birding2asia.com/W2W/Philippines/Subic.html and the Radstaak 2013 trip report (on cloudbirders) to plan my visit.

I stayed at the Sunshine Lodge Hotel right next to the Victory Liner bus depot. However, prices have gone up since Radstaak et al stayed there in 2013 and it cost me 800 peso for 24 hours (can also pay more per hour for shorter stays of various lengths). I didn't look for other accommodation, but based on experience in other parts of the Philippines since then I am pretty confident a cheaper place to stay could be found fairly easily. Maybe ask a tricycle driver, some know a lot about places to stay, some have little idea. Technically the room at the Sunshine Lodge Hotel was a double, but it was a bit cramped for even one person - the double bed was scarcely larger than a single bed, but still took up most of the room. On the plus side, I wasn't charged when I (temporarily) lost the key to my room, only warned that the spare key I was given was the last one.

Permit for road to hill 394:
I got a permit, but it turned out it didn't let me go along the road to hill 394 where I wanted to look for White fronted Tit (which I still haven't seen).
I spent most of my first day in Olongapo applying for a permit to visit Hill 394. I didn't get to Subic at all that day. Applying for a permit turned out to be much more difficult and time consuming than the info in Radstaak and Birding2Asia suggested. I tried following their instructions to find the office to apply for the permit, but it turned out there was no office near where I was looking (probably in the wrong place). I was told by several people that the office was located in gateway park (several KMs away), to get there I had to take a taxi.
The people at the office were very helpful, but it seemed that getting a permit was now a more lengthy process that required my presence to keep it moving along. Towards the end of the process, I was told by the staff at the office that there was another different office/department in Olongapo at a different location (I don't know where) which they had just found out was actually the correct office to go get the permit. Maybe things would go better for anyone who finds the correct office.
I had to be accompanied by a ranger while visiting the area covered by the permit. The people at the office helped me arrange a taxi to pick me up early from the Sunshine Lodge Hotel, go to the ranger station to pick up a ranger to accompany me, then take me to the location. Which turned out not to be Hill 394, but rather the Boton Falls track (not the side trail down to the falls themselves), but the main track which continues on for several kms after passing the side track down to the falls. The birding along here was good, especially early in the morning (Rufous and Luzon Hornbills, White-lored Oriole, Green RT, 2 Coucal, 2 Malkoha, flushed Spotted BQ at a hill which I think might have been Hill 394 itself). But I saw nothing to stop anyone from going here by themselves, no permit or ranger needed. All the ranger did (besides pointing out any birds he saw nearby, he didn't know species or calls, or at any rate couldn't communicate them to me in English) was tell me we couldn't go any further a short way past the hill the track eventually reaches.
The next day was the same, but I insisted we go to the road leading to the normal track to hill 394. However, I wasn't allowed to go past the second bunker along this road, despite the permit I had. My understanding (which could well be incorrect) is that the good area to see White fronted Tit is further along this road.
There were no signs or checkpoints to stop anyone going along the road, however what looked like security service vehicles passed by several times while I was there. So my guess is that anyone who just turns up and walks/drives along the road could probably get some (or maybe a lot) of birding time in before possibly being asked to leave. But having been told explicitly that I couldn't go along the road past the second bunker, I couldn't really try this myself.
The permit fee was 200 peso, and I gave 300 peso to the ranger (exact amount up to me). The taxi was 1200 peso each day.

Target species - Chocolate Boobook:
Chocolate Boobook should probably be considered a target species at Subic, but this isn't pointed out on the Birding2Asia website or Radstaak 2013. So I didn't really look for it here (too busy looking for the more common Hawk Owl and Scops Owl, which in the end I didn't see here anyway). Which I think was a mistake since it seems the only other usually visited spot in the Philippines where it is recorded often is PICOP, where it isn't always seen (I am not sure of this, double check for yourself).
Several other people/groups have seen Chocolate Boobook and/or Luzon Hawk Owl on streetlights?/electricity poles? by driving the side roads at night, but unfortunately I didn't try this.

Public Transport to Subic, and Camping in Subic
It turned out that there is in fact a bus that stops in Subic. I was told it runs every 20 or 30 minutes between 6am and 10pm (but later buses after say 8.30pm may not always run), and you can ask it to stop at several points including the Apaliin trail. I was told it runs on holidays and weekends.
Fare is 20 peso, far cheaper than a taxi. It only stops along the main road through Subic, but it's only a couple of kms to walk to most other birding spots from the main road, and good birds can often be seen by walking along the roads anyway.
The bus (which is kind of a minibus, larger than a van, but smaller than a full size bus) starts from the carpark of the Harbour Point shopping center, past the checkpoint to enter Subic Bay. On my last morning at Subic, I caught the first? bus in the morning from here, which left at 5.45am, it got to the Apaliin trail at about 6.20am. I didn't have to wait long to get a bus heading back to Olongapo (I waited near the Apaliin trail, on the opposite side of the road, flagged down the bus) during the middle of the day when I returned to Olongapo. However, the previous evening there were no more buses after 8.50pm (when I started waiting for a bus to turn up), and I had to call the taxi driver to come and get me after all (after just ringing him to say he didn't need to pick me up since I would be catching the bus back).
Camping in Subic is possible at the start of the Apaliin trail. I met Jago Garcia, the guy in charge of the guides for the Apaliin trail (you are supposed to be accompanied by a guide to walk on this trail, for a small tip, to prevent getting lost). He told me that if you bring your own tent and food (the guides can cook it inside bamboo apparently), then it is possible to camp here at any time of the year. I didn't ask about toilet facilities or water - neither were obviously available at the Apaliin trail, but obviously the guides there manage somehow. The guides at the Apaliin trail know the appearance and calls of the nightbirds at Subic (even Eagle Owl), and helped me look for Philippines Scops Owl and Luzon Hawk Owls which were calling nearby. I think a tip to the guides for camping there would be cheaper than staying anywhere in Olongapo, and more convenient too. But I found out all this too late to try camping here myself.
Our experience at Subic

We saw Chocolate Boobok on lower part of Nabusan trail, it was seen and heard near the well bored trees/power poles.
We actually found the area near the bunkers good for White-fronted Tit we had one respond to a call almost immediately.
Despite having a permit Hill 394 was not accessible due to blasting.
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