Monday, July 02, 2012

Puerto Princesa Birding - Day 3

"Angel" Come Lately

Let me start off by saying that our stay in Sabang was disastrous in terms of birding. The idiom "when it rains, it pours" certainly rang true for us and literally too. When we inquired at the desk of the hotel where we were staying regarding the tours they were offering to the Subterranean River we were told that they were no longer doing so. Apparently permits were needed to be able to enter the park area and  the place to get the permits was in the city of Puerto Princesa, some 80 kilometers away. From what we learned, a 30-day advance notice was required to get such permits.

We also declined to take the Mangrove Paddle Boat tour despite the promise of possibly seeing a lot of birds along the mangroves. For one thing it had been raining off and on and without sufficient cover, the odds of our cameras getting splashed by waves and raindrops were frightening.

Under these circumstances we decided to return to Puerto Princesa as early as possible. The public van leaves at 7:30 am we were informed. At 7:15 we were aboard the carabao-pulled cart which would takes us from the hotel to the van terminal. Eugene, our carabao cart driver, was curious about us. He said that he saw us yesterday toting cameras with long lenses. 

"We're bird photographers", we explained. He inquired if we have taken the tours. In so many words we poured out our frustrations. 

"You could have taken other options", he told us.

"Like what?" We were genuinely curious.

"Well, you could have taken the mountain trail behind Robert's Hotel. It's an easy trail through a dense forest. There were plenty of birds seen there. Or you could have taken the trail going to the zip line. You will have to wade a little through very shallow waters though then go up a forested hill. Many birds there, too!"

"But would that involve some strenuous hiking? We're no longer spring chickens, you know."

"Oh, you both can definitely handle those trails. Besides you'd be stopping every now and then to take pictures of birds, won't you?" He certainly made a lot of sense.

"Oh, Eugene!" I exclaimed. "Why did we meet you only now!"

It was too late to turn back, having checked out of the hotel already and we have already reserved a space on the van going to Puerto Princesa.

We were brooding on our seats as we left Sabang. Things even got worse when our van suffered a flat tire delaying our trip by some 30 minutes. We arrived at Puerto Princesa about 10 am, checked in at Palo Alto Bed and Breakfast and then went to Badjao Restaurant for lunch. 

Once again, we hoped to see the Stork-billed Kingfisher that supposedly inhabits the mangroves nearby. Once again, it was a no-show. After lunch we lingered outside the restaurant while waiting for the van that will take us to Iwahig to arrive. I texted birding friend, Gabs Buluran, and inquired where he found the Copper-throated Sunbird the last time he was here. Near the tricycle stand where the trees with red flowers are and next to where the Pied Fantails hang around, he told me. Pied Fantails, ok we got that. But where were the red flowers? Cynthia and I were in this mystified mood when rain fell.

Guido Ylaya, the owner of Palo Alto B&B, was very kind enough to let us use the hotel van and driver to take us to Iwahig at a very reasonable price. We've been trying to negotiate for transportation to take us to the famous Penal Colony but the quotes we were getting were bordering on the ridiculous.

Mervin, the driver, was the polar opposite of Frederick, our driver to Sabang. Where Frederick was laconic, Mervin was loquacious - and quite knowledgeable. Current events, history, name it, and he would expound on those subjects with admirable details. Our trip to Iwahig then was never boring and despite the intermittent rain we still saw some birds along the way - most of which were badly photographed. 

At Balsahan - the only place where we were allowed to go - it was dreary and scary. The locals who were manning the "pool" area were too cloying it seemed. It was when we left the "pool" area that we saw something blue fly across the road and alit on the tree nearby. Cynthia and I jumped out and saw a pair of Asian Fairy Bluebirds!

Then came a loud "wek-wek-wek". It was through our efforts at locating the source of that sound that we discovered the Balsahan trail - the widely known birding spot here in Iwahig. Unfortunately it was drizzling again and the despite Cynthia hearing a cacophony of bird songs, the place was too dark and wet to see any birds at all. It was now getting late and we still have a 6 o'clock reservation at Kalui Restaurant so we told Mervin that it was time to go.

On the way back, we passed by some newly fallowed ricefields. To our surprise, Spotted doves were plentiful. Mingling with them were Watercocks - a family of them. A Paddyfield Pipit was another surprise.

Spotted Dove
Watercock - male
Paddyfield  Pipit
As if on cue, just as we finished taking pictures of these birds, heavy rain fell again from the skies. We arrived at Kalui just in time, thanked Mervin and then endured a so-so dinner at an overrated restaurant.

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