My first climb in Mt. Apo this year happened on January 24-25, one week before mountaineering in Sta. Cruz trail formally opens in February. I was with two guests from Davao City whom I permitted to join with me to do familiarization tour for its future undertaking with my office. With them were equally good accredited mountain guides Clyde and Michael. My colleague Froilan completed that 6-man cast of that expedition to the highest peak in a rainy occasion with Typhoon Amang still in its last phase within the Philippine Area of Responsibility.
|Black and Cinnamon Fantail|
I was picked up by the group from Davao City at about 5:00 in the morning and travelled to Kapatagan in an hour. After a short breakfast we headed to Baruring (jump off point) and started trekking by 8:00 AM. Just before we could get to the midpoint of the vertical track in Desander I already noticed plenty of small birds towards the northwestern part of sitio Colan near the Colan Blue River and waterfalls. The best that I could identify were flock of Mountain White Eyes and winter migrants Eyebrowed Thrush. These birds were very hard to photograph as I was standing in a steep trail and it was quite far with a bird location that was covered by huge trees.
|Eyebrowed Thrush (Perching separately in distance from where I stood in Desander Trail)|
We arrived in sitio Colan 15 minutes later and for 1 hour I conducted a brief meeting with the porter community. I was delighted to see the porters after almost 3 months, them being considered as part of my family already – the Bagobo-Tagabawa community of barangay Sibulan. Before the porters could convene majority of their members I roamed around and spotted common birds like Olive-backed Sunbirds, Brown Shrikes, Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Collared Kingfisher and Red-keeled Flowerpecker. Colan is 1,200 masl that hosts wide area of vegetable farms, that is why special birds could rarely be seen.
|The Porters of Sibulan Trail to Mt. Apo|
|Brown Shrike in a Bamboo Tree|
After the meeting we started our hike through dense montane forest of Sibulan. It was still raining very hard and instead of looking for birds I kept my camera and focused on trekking as I targeted to arrive in the campsite earlier to avoid getting extremely wet all throughout the trek. I and Froilan took a lunch break in Big Rock E-camp and we were lucky the rain stopped in time when we arrived in Tinikaran Camp 1. Tinikaran is a specie of endemic tree thriving well in Mt. Apo particularly in Sibulan Trail. The campsite was christened after the tree name because it is literally surrounded with tinikaran trees.
Late afternoon is best time for the birds to start coming out especially after a heavy downpour. Just before my tent I saw numbers of the Philippine endemic Black and Cinnamon Fantail. The tall trees in the camp gave me hardships in taking bird photos given with the limitation of my camera. It is also in Tinikaran were the Little Pied Flycatcher could be seen all over the place. I revisited the common site of the Everett’s White Eyes but they did not show up, instead, I saw tandem of Elegant Tits. I finished the afternoon by simply listening to the bird sounds in Tinikaran camp. The birds really provided smooth and soothing music that have been enriching my mind and soul. All of their music was truly amazing.
|Black and Cinnamon Fantail|
|Black and Cinnamon Fantail|
|Little Pied Flycatcher|
In the evening we had a good chat with my guest Sir Bong and the rest of the company over bottle of wine in a cold moment. That was coupled with some 90s alternative music I played to round off the first day.
I resumed my birding activity in the early morning of the second day while my two guests took off their assault to the boulder face. I walked as far as Tinikaran 2 and as usual, the birds were noticed more by their sounds, this time some Everett’s White Eyes were visible. Another Philippine endemic showed up, this time the Yellow-bellied Whistler and more numbers of Elegant Tits, as well as the Little Pied Flycatcher. As I hiked up the denser mossy forest of Tinikaran I surprisingly saw a squirrel quickly crawled up a tree branch I failed to photograph. Biodiversity is evidently flourishing in this part of Mt. Apo.
When I got back to the campsite for breakfast and packing up for descend I saw a Mountain-Verditer Flycatcher, a resident in the Philippines dwelling 800 masl and higher. This bird, according to expert Birder Pete Simpson, is now presently called Turquoise Flycatcher. The unique blue color was amazing, which is excellent for a lifer. Another bird appearing was a solitary Island Thrush spotted near the water source. This time also, more and more Black and Cinnamon Fantail played around the entire camp canopy.
Sir Bong and the group came back early from the boulders and after a short high mountain snacks we started moving back to the trail head. It was a quick downhill trekking and when I reached the portion below Big Rock E-camp I saw a crawling bird. It was never easy to identify and photograph because it roamed around the dark bushes and other ground vegetation, its movement almost similar to the Philippine Shortwing in Ang Tribung Bagobo Woodlands Resort last December. When I had it consulted to Pete the bird is Long-tailed Ground Warbler which happens to be an uncommon Philippine endemic recorded only in Northern Luzon and Mindanao.
|Not a good shot of a Long-tailed Ground Warbler|
Froilan was catching up with me in Basakan while I enjoyed some good sites of Elegant Tits and some lower elevation birds, most notable of them were Long-tailed Shrikes and Striated Grassbird. Basakan is a critical site because it serves as buffer separating Mt. Apo’s Multiple Use Zone and Strict Protection Zone. It is also the site of the existing reforestation program of the DENR and Aboitiz Power group. A short 1-kilometer stretch from Basakan is already an open area comprising sitios of Garuc, Tumpis and down further Mamaon, Mareras and Pogpog.
It was already 11:00 in the morning when I reached the farmlands of Tumpis. Some locals I caught harvesting their cabbage. One farmer told me they have been crying foul over the recent very low farm gate price of highland vegetables, a struggle usually experienced by the farmers in almost all parts of Mt. Apo area. After a short native coffee break with the farmers I continued trekking to Colan and leave the group home ahead.
|Farmers in Colan harvesting Cabbage|
My official record accounts for 29 species but I am pretty sure it could have stretched to bigger figure given with the sounds and unidentified seen species had my company of Davao birders been there to join the hike.
The 2-day trekking was quite fun and fruitful for me. This is the first time I visited Mt. Apo since I bought my new birding camera. The peaceful place of Colan and Tumpis are deafening to my ear which also gives tremendous reason for me to commune every now and then with the mountain I call my own. The Bagobo-Tagabawa people remains very accommodating and friendly, in fact always serving me food ration and coffee every time I live there for days. Truly, there is only so much in Mt. Apo other than trekking.