Calayan Island: Seeking the Calayan Rail (Piding) at Longog Wildlife Sanctuary

Calayan Rail. Photo by ISLA Biodiversity Conservation

What propelled remote Calayan Island to national attention a few years back were not its stunning coastlines, but an avian discovery in its thick forested interior. The Calayan Rail (Gallirallus calayanensis), locally known as piding, is an island-endemic species of flightless bird found only in the jungles of Calayan. It was discovered by science during a faunal survey only eight years ago, in 2004. 


In search for this very rare bird, we hiked for seven hours return to the summit and down the north slope of Mt. Bagasol, a heavily forested dome-shaped mountain in Brgy. Magsidel, partially designated as a protected area belonging to the 29 sq km Longog Wildlife Sanctuary. We attempted to spot this elusive animal at five “stations” in the sanctuary. One in our group spotted one briefly through the bush. While the rest of us only heard their chorus calls. For one thing, the thick vegetation of the forest proved to be a challenging environment to spot this creature, which forages the forest floor for snails and insects. And the seasonal din of cicadas drowned the playback of piding calls administered by our guide. Furthermore, a later reading of scientific reports provided by TPS Homestay revealed that pidings are usually quiet from April to May, because these months are their egg-laying and brooding seasons. According to the reports, the best months to see them would be from January to March. The annual scientific monitoring of the Calayan rail, however, occurs every late May, after cicada season.
Mt. Bagasol, Calayan Island
Mt. Bagasol as seen from the coastal road in Brgy. Magsidel in Calayan Island, Cagayan

Even without spotting the elusive rail, it was amazing to explore a primary forest intimately. Trudging through shin-deep mud through thick foliage of thorny palms and lianas, we spotted some smaller, curious residents of the sanctuary such as stick insects, strange spiders and red-eyed cicadas, which was responsible for the deafening noise that filled that tree canopy. Calayan’s forests are also home to the Philippine warty pig (Sus philippensis), also an endemic species. Jam, our hiking guide, pointed out their tracks along the trail.
Longong Wildlife Sanctuary
Calayan’s forests are old-growth, belonging the 11% remaining cover in the Philippines.
Illegal Logging in Longog Wildlife Sanctuary
Illegal logging persists deep within the Longog Wildlife Sanctuary

The saddest thing about our hike was witnessing firsthand the deforestation of significant portions of the protected area. Calayan has one of the remaining old-growth forests of the Philippines. As of 2010, the Philippines has only 11% primary forest cover remaining – the thinnest among Southeast Asian countries. And with the current rate of deforestation of 2%, old-growth forests will disappear in less than a decade. Was this the real reason why the pidings were a no-show? 

Deep in what was supposed to be a refuge for rare plants and animals were chain-sawed trees. Large pieces of lumber lay beside tree stumps. And more trees nearby were marked for logging. Besides illegal logging to supply house construction, boat building and the furniture industry, the remaining forests of Calayan is threatened by kaingin or slash-and-burn farming. More than biodiversity hotspot, the rainforest is a vital watershed for the local community. Moreover, the piding, in particular, being a weak flyer, is severely threatened by hunting, and predation from domestic animals, such as cats and dogs. As a final note, I hope the local government and concerned non-profits will immediately take firm action to address these crimes against nature, and truly protect the old-growth forests of the island.

Yellow Spider
A strange spider spins a web at the base of a tree marked for logging

HOW TO GET THERE: For transportation details to Calayan Island, check out my travel guide.

The jump-off point to Longog Wildlife Sanctuary is at Brgy. Magsidel, some 5 km west of poblacion. Take a bike, motorcycle or kuliglig to the jump-off for 20 minutes.  Jam Reynon, a knowledgeable guide with access to piding chorus call recordings to attract the birds, can guide you (PHP 500 for a group of up to five persons). Contact # +639215249680. The best time to go piding-watching is in the early morning. A return hike to the watching “stations” of Mt. Bagasol is usually 7 to 8 hours long.

3 comments

  1. I hate the illegal loggers. How come the local government unit can not regulate this… tsk tsk… This bird carries the whole name of the island and the Philippines as a whole, it is nowhere we can find this expect here. Sana naman mag-effort sila to save the forest..

  2. Photoblogger says:

    It’s really sad to see that there is so much illegal logging. The discovery of the Calayan rail was supposedly the hope of many ornithologists and biologists that there are still bird species out there to discover.

    I just hope that they don’t die out even before we know about them.

  3. @Edmar and Photoblogger: Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Perhaps one way we can help is to make people aware that this happening in one of the most fragile forests in the country. Feel free to share this post.

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