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 in time for an afternoon birding which will likely produce a good selection of 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 with Palawan Hornbill, Blue-headed Racquet-tail, Blue-naped Parrot, Palawan Tit and Blue Paradise Flycatcher exciting possibilities. In the late afternoon we will visit a regular area for Philippine Cockatoo and hope to see these Critically Endangered birds as they head to roost. Night in Sabang.

Day 3: Today we will spend a full day birding around St. Paul’s National Park. In the beautiful, untouched forest within the park we will expect to find most of the islands remaining endemics, although we need some luck to find the spectacular but very elusive Palawan Peacock Pheasant (since the well-known tame individual died several years ago). Outside the park we will explore other forest patches where we hope to find Ashy-headed Babbler, the skulking yet beautiful Falcated Ground Babbler, Red-headed and Spot-throated Flameback, Black-chinned Fruit Dove and any other endemics not yet seen. Palawan shares much of its avifauna with neighboring Borneo and there are therefore many more widespread species that we don’t find elsewhere on the tour such as Fiery Minivet, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Common Hill Myna, Black-headed Bulbul, Ashy Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.The area near our resort is a good area to search for Palawan Frogmouth and Palawan Scops Owl and we will make a special effort to search for these elusive birds. 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, a true small-island specialist. Night in Puerto Princesa.

Day 5: Today we will bird along the Balsahan river within the Iwahig penal colony. There is considerable overlap with species present at St. Paul’s so we have last chances at anything missed so far, plus Melodious Babbler and Palawan Flycatcher which are very difficult elsewhere. We then fly to Cebu and take the fast ferry to Bohol where we will spend the last two nights of the tour.

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 which still has some of the finest forest in the Philippines. We can expect to see several widespread endemics together more difficult species including the stunning Scale-feathered Malkoha, Red-crested Malkoha, Philippine Trogon, Luzon Hornbill, Luzon (White-browed Shama), Flaming Sunbird, Spotted Wood Kingfisher and even rarities such Luzon Bleeding-heart are occasionally seen. 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 three-night stay.

Day 11-12: 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, White-browed Shama, Luzon Balicassiao, Philippine Falconet, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Red-crested Malkoha, Spotted Wood Kingfisher, White-eared Brown Dove, Philippine Green Pigeon, and two recently recognised endemics; Brown-breasted Kingfisher and Rufous-crowned Bee-eater. At night we will concentrate on finding Chocolate Boobook but we might also find Luzon Boobook and have another chance for Philippine Scops Owl. Night at Subic Bay.

Day 13: From Subic we will head northwards into the Central Cordillera Mountain Range to Banaue where we will arrive in the afternoon, 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 14: We will spend the full day birding around Mount Polis, departing early morning to make the most of the dawn bird activity. The remnant montane forest here still holds many Luzon montane endemics including Chestnut-faced Babbler, Luzon Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Bush Warbler, Long-tailed Ground Warbler, Luzon Sunbird and Green-backed Whistler. Some of these join with mixed species flocks which might give us our first views of more widespread endemics like Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Philippine Mountain Warbler or Scale-feathered Malkoha, and non-endemics such as Mountain Tailorbird, Tawny Grassbird, Turquoise Flycatcher and if the weather is fine, soaring Eastern Buzzard. Scarcer species we will look for include Mountain Shrike and Luzon Flame-crowned Flowerpecker, Red Crossbill and in lower altitude grassland; Benguet Bush Warbler which is widespread here but extremely difficult to see. During the day we will visit the scenic village of Bay-yo where nearby rivers at the bottom of a steep valley are a reliable site for Luzon Water Redstart. Night in Banaue.

Day 15: Final morning at Mount Polis in search of any specialties we are still missing while keeping an eye out for rarer species like Luzon Racquet-tail, Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, or White-cheeked Bullfinch. We then take the long 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!

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.