After driving up a dark, winding mountain road on a scooter for half an hour from Mambajao town proper, I was relieved to reach our destination safely with fellow travel blogger Elal Lasola on back ride. A day before our Mt. Hibok-Hibok climb, the Camiguin Tourism Office arranged for us to experience birdwatching (ie. birding among serious enthusiasts), the newest eco-tourism activity on the island.
We arrived at 5:30 am at the Mounts Timpoong–Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument (MTHNM) – Visitors Information Center in Sitio Itum, Barangay Baylao, Mambajao, where we were joined by our energetic guide Gloria Abian. Located at the shoulder of Mt. Hibok-Hibok, this facility is also the jumping-off point for Itum Trail, the newest, more challenging path to the volcano’s summit.
Owing to its rich biodiversity and endemism, the island province of Camiguin is said to be one of the best places in the Philippines for birdwatching. Spanning its forested interior of volcanic peaks, Mounts Timpoong–Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument (MTHNM) is a 2,228-hectare protected area that’s been globally recognized as an ASEAN Heritage Park since 2015. Among the endangered animals that call it home are the Philippine warty pig, Philippine long-tailed macaque, and two endemic rodents: the Camiguin forest mouse (Apomys camiguinensis) and Camiguin forest rat (Bullimus gamay). The island harbors at least 57 bird species, some of which are unique to the island and found no where else on the planet!
A forest guard for the past 10 years, Gloria is one of the most experienced guides. Armed with a cutlass to trim the overgrowth, she first took us around the forest behind the Visitors Information Center. There’s no trail to follow. We marched right through the forest, nimbly avoiding thorny rattan while making the least possible noise. We speak in hushed voices. When we hear a nearby birdcall, we stop to scan the forest canopy.
In a matter of minutes, Gloria points out our first lifer — a Camiguin bulbul (Hypsipetes catarmanensis). This island-endemic bird was formerly a subspecies of the yellowish bulbul (Hypsipetes everetti) but recent studies have found it to be distinct. It can be differentiated from the latter by its drabber coloration and larger bill.
Another rambunctious little fellow that repeatedly show up for a few moments, hopping from branch to branch, was the Camiguin yellowish white-eye (Zosterops nigrorum catarmanensis), also endemic to the island. But, in my opinion, the most eye-catching bird we spotted was the rufous paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone cinnamomea), native to the Philippines and Talaud islands (Indonesia), with its slender body and dark-orange plumage.
Flitting across the dense canopy, most of the birds were small and skittish, hence, they were challenging to observe, much less photograph. It was also a challenge to stay absolutely still and quiet with mosquitoes feasting on our legs (I was wearing shorts and forgot to bring the insect repellant!). In between sightings, I preoccupied myself with documenting some wild plants like epiphytic orchids, Medinilla, lipstick vines, wax flowers, and ant plants.
The only bird that wasn’t easily spooked by our presence was a fat, dull-colored individual with ruffled feathers perched on a fruiting fig tree next to the entrance arch of the park, spotted while we were headed to the forest on the other side of the road. I was able to take mediocre images of this seemingly lethargic animal, which, upon consultation with Davao-based birder Pete Simpson of Birding Mindanao, was most likely a juvenile pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans), commonly found throughout Southeast Asia.
Past the archway is a creek, where dimorphic dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx margarethae), endemic to central and southern Philippines, has been frequently spotted. Unfortunately, this species was missing in action during our visit. Crossing a concrete footbridge, we followed a trail to a wooden watchtower from where we spotted more bulbuls and white-eyes. A few small leeches from muddy sections of the path hitchhiked on our shoes along the way.
En route, Gloria identified the high-pitched call — a rapid-fire twit-twit-twit — from a sought-after bird: the Camiguin hanging parrot (Loriculus camiguinensis). Male birds of this green parrot species lack the distinguishing red throat-spots seen in the Philippine hanging parrot, also known as colasisi, (L. philippensis) found elsewhere in country. Both male and female birds have identical appearances. (The reclassification of the Camiguin hanging parrot as a separate species is still a subject of debate.)
The colasisi we heard were nowhere to be seen. They flew way above the canopy, as they live deeper in the forest and are extremely wary of humans. Gloria recounts guiding seasoned birders on multi-day expeditions up Mt. Hibok-Hibok to document this elusive parrot near the summit, only to be rewarded with nothing more than fleeting glimpses. I was grateful to have at least heard their call within a few hours of our birding tour.
Aside from deforestation, colasisi populations nationwide are threatened by poaching for the illegal pet trade. Since we weren’t able to see any parrots, Gloria shows off her sundáng (jungle knife) with a wooden sheath and handle carved into a pair of Camiguin colasisi. “That’s okay,” she joked, speaking in Cebuano, “you can take a photo of this instead!”
Thoroughly satisfied with our forest forays for the morning, we finished our birdwatching by around 9:00 am, and the three of us drove over to nearby Blackmountain Cafe, one of the newest restaurants in Camiguin, for brunch. As we were waiting for food to be served, we were treated with a final appearance of a brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) circling above the distant forest. Camiguin’s birdlife is wondrous, even when you least expect it.
What to Wear
- Comfortable active wear. Avoid bright colors!
- Long pants and high-cut socks (for protection from mosquitos, thorny plants and leeches)
- Lightweight, waterproof jacket (in case of sudden downpours)
What to Bring
- Camera with powerful telephoto lens, at least 400 mm (for documentation)
- Insect repellant (especially if you opt to wear shorts)
- Light breakfast / snacks
- Download this annotated checklist of Camiguin birds, published in 2006, for reference.
Registration & Fees
MTHNM visitors are required to register at the DENR-PENRO Office (near the Mambajao Municipal Hall) before proceeding to the protected area. Guiding fee is PHP 1,200 per group (3 persons maximum), plus an environmental fee of PHP 200 per person per day. For the latest information, visit the MTHNM Facebook page.
The best times to go birdwatching is from sunrise to 9:00 am and 3:00 pm to sunset. It’s most convenient to reach the MTHNM Visitors Information Center on your own rental scooter (PHP 350 – PHP 500 per day), but one may also arrange habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) transfers in advance.
Where to Stay
If you wish to go birdwatching for a number of days or don’t wish to be inconvenienced by the early morning travel up the mountain, one may rent one of the guest bungalows near the Visitor’s Information Center. Inquire about on-site accommodation at the DENR office.
For latest travel requirements and tourism inquiries, please contact the Camiguin Tourism Office.