Sunday, January 22, 2012

Return to Dumaguete, Day 1 - Boat for the Best

We had just landed at Dumaguete airport when out of the blue my wife declared, "Why don't we go to Siquijor today?" Interestingly I was also thinking about the same thing. It was still early - not even 9 am yet - and we didn't have any specific plans to begin with anyway. After a quick check-in at the Royal Suites Inn we rushed to the pier to inquire about the next departure time. Thankfully there was one leaving at 10:15. We bought two round trip tickets and boarded the M/BCA Jaziel. The weather was perfect and the sea as calm as can be.

About an hour later we docked at Siquijor and were immediately mobbed, along with the other passengers, by tricycle and minivan drivers. Not wanting to be taken advantage of, we stopped by the Tourist Information booth for advice. Inasmuch as this was our first time to visit this island, we were completely clueless as to where to go. We told the tourism agent our dilemma. We just want to see birds we explained rather sheepishly. What about Coco Grove? we asked. A bit expensive came the reply. How about Salagdoong? Too far. Then as if a light bulb suddenly switched on, he suggested "Why not Mt. Bandila-an? It has a forest and definitely got some birds in it." Well that definitely got our attention. 

From the throng of drivers that met our group when we disembarked, only one had the tenacity to stick with us. He was there when we were consulting with the tourism guy and so when we finally decided to go to Mt. Bandila-an he was more than willing to take us there. We agreed on a price and off we went. We explained to Ronald that we would be looking out for birds and we would at times ask him to stop so we could get a better view. Which happened quite soon enough. We have started our slow ascent up the mountain road when I saw a Blue Rock Thrush by the roadside. We asked our driver to stop. I jumped out as soon as he did. But the bird flew off before I could even raise my camera to my eyes. Going after the thrush I saw another bird. It was partially hidden from view but I could tell it was brownish with a black crown. Deep in my heart I knew it was the Streak-breasted Bulbul - a bird found nowhere else but here in the island of Siquijor. And I was unable to take its picture! All the while that Cynthia and I were chasing these birds, Ronald was down the road following a bird sound. Soon he was waving at us and pointing to something at the edge of the forest. I quickly ran to where he was and looked at where he was pointing. To my utter delight, two (yes, two!) Streak-breasted Bulbuls were hopping from branch to branch, pausing every now and then to see if this guy with a camera would be a disturbance to their feeding activities. They eventually flew off to the deeper part of the forest and I walked back to where Cynthia was waiting with a huge grin on my face. We have barely started and we already got our target bird!

Our destination was Camp Bandila-an which basically was a patch of forest managed by the DENR. The three of us (by now Ronald the driver was so into birding as well) spread out along the roadside trying to trace where all those bird sounds were coming from. Once again Ronald's sharp ears and eyes were able to locate an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker busily foraging on a mistletoe. I furiously tried to follow the non-stop foraging of this tiny bird. 

A brief pause and our diligent driver told me, "Sir, may ibon pa dito." (Sir, there's another bird here) and pointed me to where a brown bird with a yellow belly was flitting on the low branches. At first I thought it was just one those very common Golden-bellied Gerygones. But then, when I looked through the camera lens, it appeared to be bigger and even had a white-throat. Not only that, it didn't have the hyperactive habit of a gerygone. Whistler! It had to be a Whistler of some kind. Only when we got back to the hotel that I was able to properly identify it as a Yellow-bellied Whistler (well duh! the yellow belly was so prominent I wondered why I didn't think of that right away.)

Soon it was time to go. We had to be at the pier before 3:45 pm for our return trip to Dumaguete City. As we glided down the mountain road, Cynthia and I were both glad at how our first birding adventure in Siquijor turned out. Two lifers in less than three hours was not bad. Not bad at all. Actually it was the best!

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