Philippines: Highlights

Tours to the Philippines are typically characterised by tough birding in degraded habitat, but this unique itinerary focuses on the best patches of forest with a huge array of special endemics possible! Focusing on Luzon, Palawan and Bohol, we should enjoy some excellent and easy birding without hours of trudging along birdless trails like is typically experienced on other islands! Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, Whiskered Pitta, Azure-breasted Pitta, Flame-breasted Fruit-Dove, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, Northern Silvery Kingfisher, Indigo-banded Kingfisher, Ashy Thrush, Red-headed Flameback and Visayan Wattled Broadbill are some of the standout species, but we expect to record more than 100 endemics!

Next dates

13-27 February 2024

Tour length: 15 days

Group size limit: 7


Joshua Bergmark and a local leader

Guaranteed departure

Day 1: International arrivals into Manila International Airport (MNL), for overnight at a nearby hotel.

Day 2: After a morning flight to Puerto Princesa we drive to Sabang on the edge of St. Paul’s National Park. Here will begn our search for Palawan endemics like Lovely Sunbird, Pale Spiderhunter, Palawan Flowerpecker, Yellow-throated Leafbird, Palawan Fairy Bluebird, Palawan Blue Flycatcher, White-vented Shama, Sulphur-bellied, Ashy-fronted and Palawan Bulbul, and chances for Palawan Hornbill, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Palawan Tit and Blue Paradise Flycatcher. The evening will see us at an overlook where Critically Endangered Philippine Cockatoo regularly come to roost. Spotlighting will give us chances for both Palawan Frogmouth and Palawan Scops Owl. Night in Sabang.

Day 3: Focusing on the remaining endemics, various forest patches may old find Ashy-headed Babbler, Falcated Ground Babbler, Red-headed and Spot-throated Flameback, Black-chinned Fruit Dove and more. The unique Palawan Peacock Pheasant has become difficult (since the well-known tame individual died several years ago), but we will be trying out best. Night in Sabang.

Day 4: We will spend a final day birding in the St. Paul’s area before heading back across the island in the afternoon to Honda Bay where we will take a boat out to an offshore island in search of Mantanani Scops Owl. Night in Puerto Princesa.

Day 5: Today we will bird along the Balsahan River within the Iwahig penal colony. We will have more chances here for any missing endemics, particularly Melodious Babbler and Palawan Flycatcher which are tricky elsewhere. We then fly to Cebu and take the fast ferry to Bohol where we will spend two nights.

Day 6: Bohol has an avifauna somewhat intermediate between neighbouring Leyte, Samar and Mindanao, but is a safer place and retains some easily accessible forest! In the lovely Chocolate Hills, we will spend the day exploring Rajah Sikatuna National Park in search of the sublime Azure-breasted Pitta, strange Visayan Wattled Broadbill, and stunning Northern Silvery Kingfisher. Other new birds might include Samar Hornbill, Bohol Sunbird, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Buff-spotted Flameback, Striated Wren-Babbler, Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher, Visayan Blue Fantail, Black-faced Coucal, Philippine Trogon, Philippine Pitta, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Philippine Oriole, Philippine Bulbul, Brown Tit-Babbler, Philippine Leaf Warbler, Philippine Leafbird, Yellow-breasted Tailorbird, plus Red-keeled and Buzzing Flowerpeckers. After dark we have a good chance of finding the superb Philippine Frogmouth, Everett’s Scops Owl and the strange Philippine Colugo or Philippine Flying-Lemur which is particularly common here.

Day 7: After morning birding on Bohol, we take a midday flight back to Manila and transfer to Los Banos for overnight. After dinner we will take a short excursion to look for Philippine Boobook and Philippine Scops Owl.

Day 8: Morning birding at Mount Makiling. Many endemics are present in these forests, including Scale-feathered Malkoha, Red-crested Malkoha, Philippine Trogon, Luzon Hornbill, “Luzon” White-browed Shama, Flaming Sunbird, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, and even Luzon Bleeding-heart with some luck. Afternoon birding in the nearby grasslands where both Spotted and Barred Buttonquails are possible, with occasional sightings of the elusive Plain Bush-hen. Night in Los Banos.

Day 9: Departing predawn we will head up into the Sierra Madre, positioning ourselves at first light to hopefully spot the enigmatic Whiskered Pitta, plus rarely seen endemics like Bicol Ground Warbler, Cream-bellied Fruit Dove, Black-crowned Babbler, Grand Rhabdornis and Northern Rufous Hornbill. It is also our best chance to see tricky species like Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, Luzon Hawk Eagle, Lemon-throated Leaf Warbler, and Yellowish White-eye. In the mid-afternoon we will return to Manila and visit a well-known roost of the rare Philippine Eagle-Owl. Night in Manila.

Day 10: Visiting a large park on the outskies of Manila this morning we expect to see the remarkably tame Ashy Thrush, a typically skulking bird which is almost never seen anywhere else on the island! There is also a good chance for Lowland White-eye, Grey-backed Tailorbird and Philippine Magpie Robin here before we head west towards Subic Bay for a two-night stay.

Day 11: We will spend our days at Subic searching for the many lowland endemics present here. Green Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Rufous Coucal, Luzon Hawk Eagle, Rufous Coucal, White-lored Oriole, Blackish Cuckooshrike, Philippine Fairy Bluebird, Luzon Flameback, Philippine Pygmy and Northern Sooty Woodpecker, Green-backed Tailorbird, Luzon Hornbill and hopefully the localised White-fronted Tit. More widespread species found on several other islands in the Philippines might include Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike, “Luzon” Balicassiao, Philippine Falconet, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Red-crested Malkoha, White-eared Brown Dove, Philippine Green Pigeon, Brown-breasted Kingfisher, and Rufous-crowned Bee-eater. Spotighting here often produces Chocolate Boobook, Luzon Boobook, and hopefully Philippine Scops Owl. Night at Subic Bay.

Day 12: After spending the full morning at Subic, we will head northwards into the Central Cordillera Mountain Range to Banaue where we will arrive in the evening, perhaps having added Indigo-banded Kingfisher along the way. We will make our first night-time excursion for Luzon Scops Owl, which is usually easy to hear on the surrounding slopes but difficult to see! Night in Banaue.

Day 13-14: Two full days birding on Mount Polis will give us opportunities to connect with most of the higher elevation Luzon endemics, here in good densities with the forested slopes still in good shape. The Luzon endemics usually found here include Chestnut-faced Babbler, Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Bush Warbler, Long-tailed Ground Warbler (here of the N Luzon subspecies), Luzon Sunbird and Green-backed Whistler. More widespread endemics occur here in mixed flocks passing by, and we stand good chances to see Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Philippine Mountain Warbler or Scale-feathered Malkoha, and some more globally widespread birds such as Mountain Tailorbird, Tawny Grassbird, Turquoise Flycatcher and more. Some rarer species occur here, and we’ll make sure to do our best to connect with Mountain Shrike, Luzon Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, and the endemic subspecies of Red Crossbill, while we will certainly hear Benguet Bush Warbler, but seeing it is a different story although well possible! We will visit some river gorges lower down and look for the endemic Luzon Water Redstart, here at its easiest location. Night in Banaue.

Day 15: After some final birding at Mount Polis looking for any remaining targets (Flame-breasted Fruit Dove in particular can be tricky to find!), we will drive back to Manila where the tour ends this evening, with dropoffs at Manila International Airport (MNL) for late departures, or at a nearby hotel for anyone wishing to depart the next day. ‍NOTE: We can arrange an extension for Philippine Eagle closer to the date, but it must be remembered that the hike is quite tough, accommodation basic, and views typically distant unless a nest has been found!

Tour details

Cost: $ 4,800
Deposit: $ 750
Single room supplement: $ 650

Accommodation: Comfortable hotels throughout, unlike most other Philippines birding tours!

Walking difficulty: Mostly easy roadside and trail birding, also very different to most other Philippines birding tours!

Tour cost includes: All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes: Flights before and after the tour start/end, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature.