I just completed a 10-day tour of the Philippines as a guest of the country’s tourism board. Eight bird tour leaders and two media persons from across the United States came together for this “fam trip” to explore and familiarize ourselves with this intriguing island nation. We were graciously hosted by native-born birding and travel experts, all eager to show-off the national wonders of the Philippine Archipelago.
Our tour was timed for the end of the warm, dry season in late May. We experienced hot and unusually humid conditions, leading me to wonder what it might be like during the hot, rainy season! We spent our first night in the cosmopolitan city of Manila, the nation’s capitol, and one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with over 1.6 million people living within 39 square kilometers. The city bustles with a stable economy, thriving tourism trade, cultural attractions, museums, malls, giant billboards and incredible traffic jams! The country’s total population exceeds 85 million inhabitants, putting tremendous pressure on the natural resources of a nation whose total landmass barely equals the size of Arizona. Manila is situated on the island of Luzon, the largest of the 7,107 islands that comprise the archipelago, of which about 4,000 are inhabited by humans.
The Philippine islands feature a wide variety of topography and terrain, ranging from rugged, volcanic mountains and vast fertile plains to long coastlines with some of the world’s most colorful coral reefs. Agriculture is expanding mainly with crops of rice, corn and coconut. The diverse habitats form a rich, tropical environment, which is under increasing pressure for timber harvesting, agricultural expansion and human development.
Birders are attracted to the Philippines because of its high concentration of avian specialties – about 185 endemics out of nearly 600 recorded species. Unfortunately, for logistical reasons, we were unable to visit Mindanao Island, which hosts the most endemics, including the highly endangered Philippine Eagle. We were able to explore natural sights on 4 of the many islands, logging over 70 endemics and 210 species during our 9 full days of birding.
I look forward to describing more details about the islands in my next blogs.