On the last full day of our Philippines Fam Tour, we were roused early to take a 15-minute outrigger boat (above) ride from the sandy beach in front of our resort. Our destination was the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The park features a limestone karst mountain landscape, with the world’s second-longest underground navigable river, that winds through a cave before flowing out into the South China Sea. This natural wonder of cathedral caves and river has been carved and honed by nature for millions of years. The cavern stretches for miles of unknown distance, decorated with a staggering array of colorful stalactites, stalagmites and multi-faceted rock to awe visitors.
From the white sandy beach, a thick canopy of trees carpets the mountainous hillside as it rises from the coast line. We first took a brief stroll through the forest behind the park headquarters, where we saw Long-tailed Macaques and Monitor Lizards, along with Tabon Scrub Fowl, and a gorgeous male Palawan Peacock-Pheasant (above).
From the beach, we saw dark morph Eastern Reef-Heron. Palawan Hornbill’s (above), Blue-naped Parrot and Blue-headed Racquet-tail were seen feeding in the early morning light. Looking at the cave’s entrance, we could see a Stork-billed Kingfisher perched and Glossy and Palawan Swifts exiting in large numbers.
We were eager to enter the cavern, to see it’s famed wonders for ourselves. Our group split-up to fill two small “Banca” boats, which took us about 400 yards into the semi-darkness. Our guide illuminated the brilliant rock formations with his torch, and pointed out their features – this required some imagination to find stalactites named for vegetable shapes! Many swifts were flying over our heads, as well as numbers of 8 different bat species.
On our way back to the resort, we detoured briefly to another section of the park, known as “Central Park,” where White-bellied Shama, Lovely Sunbird (above), and Yellow-throated Leafbird showed exceptionally well.
After lunch, we took a wonderfully relaxing boat ride along the Puyoy-Puyoy River, meandering through the open mangroves.
Besides Reticulated Python (above) and Yellow-banded Mangrove Snakes, we saw a few birds, including Palawan Blue Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, and Little Spiderhunter. Simon spotted a Copper-throated Sunbird over our heads.
When we stepped off the boats, we found the local staff busy chopping Mangrove branches to retrieve squirming wood worms inside. Considered a local delicacy, they are washed and prepared in vinegar with onion. Edna (above) took great pride in showing us how to eat a 10-incher – two of them, actually, since we weren’t ready with our cameras for her first quick gulp!
An afternoon walk through a countryside trail at Lion’s Cave produced a quick, flyover Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Ashy-headed Babblers, Striped Tit-Babbler, and Grey-cheeked Bulbul. A wetland near the base of the limestone cliffs held Intermediate Egrets, while a Crested Serpent-Eagle perched atop a cliff tree.
Our final morning of birding was along the Cabayugan Road as we headed back to the city to catch our flight to Manila. We enjoyed a flurry of four wonderful species in succession. First we spotted a beautiful Thick-billed Green-Pigeon, with a maroon back and two-toned yellow and red bill, perched in a tree. This was followed by an uncommon Ruddy Kingfisher that we heard calling and then saw flying over the road to land close by in full view. A Drongo Cuckoo, a medium sized blue-black cuckoo with a slightly forked tail and slender decurved bill, flitted about overhead. Then three white birds were spotted perched atop bare branches in the distance. Could they be Pied Imperial-Pigeons? Egrets? In the scope they are none other than one of the rarest endemics, the Philippine Cockatoo! Their reddish-salmon undertail coverts with a yellow wash was exposed when preening. In flight they look remarkably un-psittacidae-like, with a very broad wing base, rounded wingtips and slow deep wing-beats reminiscent of Cattle Egrets. What a way to finish this marvelous trip!
From Palawan we flew back to the capitol city of Manila for our last evening together before flying home to the United States. Thank you to Vernie and the ‘girls’ for organizing this special trip, and to Nicky and Adrian for ably guiding us through the impressive wonders of the Philippine Islands.