Sunday, January 27, 2019

Birding along Tinikaran Trail to Mt. Apo

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
Collared Kingfisher
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.

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
Elegant Tit
Elegant Tit
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.

Yellow-bellied Whistler
Yellow-bellied Whistler
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.

Turquoise Flycatcher 
Turquoise Flycatcher
Turquoise Flycatcher
Island Thrush
Island Thrush
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.

Striated Grassbird
Long-tailed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
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.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A quick look at the Year of the Dog

2018 was a year full of ups and downs for me. As I turned 41 years old some worthy things have come and gone, reaffirming the idea that life indeed begins at forty and beyond. Travel, mountaineering, running, birding and photography; these are the spices that added color to my existence as a person. There had been a lot of frowning, too, and some tears flowed away as remedy and reconciliation pill to the undesirables. Friends go away, while new friends (plenty of them) came in as replacements. 2018 was truly a year that deserves to be considered as one of the bests ever.

In this article I enumerated several significant events, both personal and official, representing each month of 2018.

JANUARY: Mt. Apo Climb with Robi Domingo and the Lakwatsero Team
One of the most significant events during this month was a Mt. Apo climb with Lakwatsero Team, a travel show of ABS-CBN. The climb was spearheaded by show host Robi Domingo who was instrumental in spreading the advocacy on conservation and protection of Mt. Apo.

FEBRUARY: Sisterhood Agreement Signing between Sta. Cruz and Mandaluyong City
Definitely a milestone in the chequered existence of my beloved hometown, this sisterhood agreement was formalized through a signing of manifesto between the officials of the two local government units. Several programs were considered with the said partnership and among them were on the aspect of education, trade and commerce, investment promotions, economic enterprise and tourism.

MARCH: Ironman 70.3 Davao
After several years of waiting the Ironman 70.3 series finally arrived in Davao and will be staying, as per organizers, in the next two years. The 2018 version was extra special because aside from being first time here in Mindanao I was able to contend into it. Thanks to the adrenalin-minded Sir Benjie Lizada who invited me to complete Team Taps in the all-male relay category along with biker Dominic Carpio of Mindanao Times and University of Mindanao. 


APRIL: Mt. Apo Boulder Face Challenge 10th Edition
The most extreme adventure race in Southeast Asia turned 10 years old this month. As one of the program propellers I am proud that we have come this far as an LGU-initiated tourism event with a touch of environmental advocacy campaign. For the second straight year we intertwined it with a mountain ultra-marathon called Mt. Apo Sky and Vertical Race where foreign contingents flocked in order to gain points for Ultra Trail Mont Blonc and Asia Trail Master and to personally enjoy racing in the country’s highest peak.


MAY: Philippine Bird Festival in Tacurong City
Birding is the newest craze that I was into in 2018 and it was levelled up even more when I participated the Philippine Bird Festival in Tacurong City. During the 2-day event I visited one of Mindanao’s famous birding site, the Baras Bird Sanctuary where I saw multiple number of bird species, most notable among them are the variety of herons and egrets making the site their home. I met a lot of birders in the venue from all over Asian region and got acquainted to some interesting birds in their respective locations.  


JUNE: Mt. Loay Independence Climb
This mountain was a scene stealer in 2018. Personally I never expected that this could be a hit in the ecotourism market especially mountaineering but when I had a first-hand climbing experience I said to myself that Mt. Loay is a sure boost to the overall tourism picture in the municipality of Sta. Cruz. Standing tall at 1,040 masl Mt. Loay, which is situated in the mountain ranges of barangay Zone 2, is a prevailing day hiking destination in region XI and it only takes a better policy placement before this place will be another sensational adventure site that Sta. Cruz should be proud of.


JULY: Mt. Apo Climb via Kapatagan Trail
This month the Tourism Office of Digos City invited me to panel to its selection mechanism for mountain guide applicants in preparation for its Kapatagan Trail opening. The selection was a requirement prior to giving go signal for an LGU to reopen a trail in Mt. Apo. The last day of this seminar had us climbing via Kapatagan Trail as practicum. It was the very first time I took this trail through the summit of Mt. Apo and reaffirmed that the boulder face is shared by two trails, Digos City and Sta. Cruz. This climb also enabled me to witness the huge sulfur vent of Mt. Apo and my very first encounter up close and personal with the other visible hill in Davao del Sur called Baby Apo.

AUGUST: San Miguel Brewery’s Buhayin ang Kalikasan Mangrove Planting
After conducting the Buhayin ang Kalikasan in Davao City for successive years, the San Miguel Brewery, Inc. shifted its attention to Sta. Cruz as host venue for its annual Trees Brew Life initiative. The exact location was at My Paradise Resort in barangay Tuban. I am proud to have been part of the event as I assisted SMB in site identification, coordination, actual implementation and monitoring. A total of 2,500 mangrove propagules were grown and higher rate of survival were attained, at least up to this writing.


SEPTEMBER: Mt. Fuji Climb and Japan Trip
This month happened to be the most memorable of all the months in 2018. Despite typhoon signals in Japan we pursued a trip and made the Fuji climb where I considered it life threatening because of the weather condition. After the climb we had enough days to tour around Tokyo and enjoyed Japanese shopping and food trip. The saddest part of the trip, though, was when I got the news a day prior to our return to the Philippines that my wife was confined to the hospital for miscarriage. It was supposed to be our second baby but just simply was not meant for us again.

OCTOBER: 122nd Araw ng Sta. Cruz
The first time I was tasked to take the lead in the planning and actual implementation of the 122nd celebration of Araw ng Sta. Cruz, a job that requires extraordinary level of patience and perseverance, paving me to turn off other travel opportunities and other invitations. The celebration somehow got better remarks and once again made Sta. Cruz a promising destination to visit in terms of events and festivities.

NOVEMBER: Central Visayas Trip
The convention of Philippine Environmental Planners was held during this month and my participation paved way for me to discover several good places in Central Visayas particularly in the city of Iloilo and the province of Guimaras where I had some worthy side trips. These places highlight natural attractions and heritage sites. Equally interesting was a day hike in Mt. Napulak, a prominent climbing destination located in the town of Igbaras in Iloilo province. 


DECEMBER: Magnolia Hotshots won PBA Governors Cup Title
The last time this franchise won a championship was 2014 during that historic grand slam feat. After that, it took four long years for the team to win again a championship under new coach Chito Victolero. The title was a fitting celebration for me personally who is considering basketball a part of my system.

These are just very few but more than enough to define my 2018. And in 2019 I am pretty sure there are a lot of surprises ahead. I will be radiating my advocacy even more to be fruitful in whatever ways I could this year.