We picked up Raul and Marta and Anthony at the University Hotel at around 7:00am. And soon we were on the way to the City of Pines. Not being the driver, I promptly fell asleep (my wife says, my ability to snooze anywhere, anytime, on any surface is an art form, hehehe). We made a brief stopover at a gas station along NLEX for some late breakfast and to stretch our legs. But we were soon on the road again. Our next stop, (and the last before the ascending Kennon Road), was Sison, Pangasinan.
About to enter Pangasinan, where my grandfather, Dr. Guillermo Fernandez, came from, (Lolo Momoy was assigned to Culion in 1921 and met Lola Ana, who was from Coron, and I am one of the descendants, but that is another story)
Soon we were already entering the province of La Union
Followed by Benguet... being a history and a geography buff, I enjoy road trips. This particular one takes me back to my grade 4 Araling Panlipunan class where we studied the different regions, provinces and their capitals (I used to memorize it).
And with Kris exhibiting his "mad driver" qualities (a moniker that my kids gave him because of his fast driving and sharp reflexes), we were soon at the Lion's head along Kennon.
We soon reached Baguio city (after only about 4.5 hours), proceeded to Forrest Lodge at Camp John Hay. Our room was not ready yet so we had lunch. After lunch, Rafael, Marta, Anthony and I got our birding gear and went to the Eco-trail to bird.
Just at the entrance of the trail, we found a flowering tree with several birds in it - Colasisi, Mountain White-eyes, Elegant Tit. We could see the birds through the spotting scope and our bins (even with our naked eyes), but as usual taking photos is another challenge.
Docu shot of a Colasisi or Philippine Hanging Parrot
I managed a few blurry shots of the White-eye and none of the Tit. Still, the presence of a number of birds at the beginning of the trail was a good beginning. We did notice though that the sky was overcast and rain was a possibility. We walked on, enjoying the cool weather. But I noticed that the forest was quiet. One thing we learned quickly was that the trees are so tall and the birds tended to stay at the top or near the top.
A common scene during our Baguio sortie
We encountered a lot of Elegant Tits during our two day stop in Baguio but I was never able to get a good shot. We also saw the Sulphur-billed Nuthatch and Mountain White-eye, quite a lot. We were hoping to see a Mountain Shrike and other "lifers". Another ever present bird was the Large-billed Crows. However, Anthony told Rafa that in the Philippines, we do not usually take photos of crows because it is considered bad luck. Meaning you will not find anymore birds for the rest of your birding trip (or words to that effect).
After walking about 45 minutes, it started to drizzle. Both Marta and Rafa, donned their ponchos and whipped out umbrellas. Anthony had a jacket. All I had was a rain cover for my camera backpack and a hat :-(. We did not know how far the trail went so we were not sure which way was nearer to shelter in case the rain got stronger. We started to go back. Once we have decided on going back (and packed our gear), the rain stopped. Grrr...
Along the way, we saw a Guiabero, on a very distant branch. We could hear some birds but could not really see them. We stopped on a small shed near a stream and rested for a while. We could hear some noisy rails nearby. And when there are no birds... we photograph the flowers...
Used my iphone on this one. Any help on the ID would be highly appreciated.
We continued our way back after a brief rest. We intended to check out the Yellow Trail. But Anthony saw another trail branch out from the main trail so we decided to check it out. It was quite difficult, lots of up and down but when we reached a small clearing, we could hear birds chirping. And soon, we saw Elegant Tits (again), Sulphur-billed Nuthatch (again), and Mountain White-eyes (again). There were a couple of unfamiliar ones that did a quick fly-by but I was not able to identify them.
Docu shot of a Mountain White-Eye
Docu-shot of a Sulphur-billed Nuthatch with a photobomber (Elegant Tit)
We soon found our way to the main road. We set out to look for the Yellow trail which was near the horseback riding circuit. It was already almost 5pm but still we decided to look. We soon reached flat area on top of a small hill. And we saw crows, and started shooting. Rafa looked at me and said, "we are now shootin' crows..." and we had a laugh. After a few minutes, we heard another chirp and what else could it be but a pair of Elegant Tits. This time Rafa was able to get some good shots (I didn't shoot anymore). As it was getting dark, we headed back to the horseback riding where Kris was waiting for us with his van.
Our guests wanted to see the market so we headed to the palengke. It turned out that Marta was a very good street photographer. Within a short time, she was able to get many good shots of the different wares being sold at the Baguio public market. Anthony still played tour guide showing Marta the different things. Meanwhile I introduced Rafael to banana Q and adobong mani. After about an hour in the market, we went to Session Road to eat. Rafa and I both ordered San Miguel Beer. He so eloquently declared... "at the end of the day you always need "cerveza", if good, many lifers, to celebrate, if not, then, to forget..."
We were back at the Forrest Lodge by 9:30pm and decided to have an early start the following day.
After breakfast, we went back to the Eco-Trail and decided to check out the area where we were last. Along the road, we saw several Crested Mynas. Then we were back at the Eco-Trail. But there were no birds at the place where we saw the Tits, Nuthatch and White-eye. So we trudged on.
And I was soon photographing other subjects.
Because of this, I was lagging behind. Then I saw a bird and for a moment, my heart leaped because I thought it was a Mountain Shrike. Unfortunately, it was a Brown Shrike.
I had to double time to catch up with the rest. I found Rafael along the trail. Anthony and Marta were exploring ahead. We saw a large grayish bird fly and perch on a tree. Then Anthony came running saying Cuckoo! Before we could photograph it, it flew again. Disappointed, we walked back but after several meters, we saw it again perched but there was no clear shot. Too many leaves and twigs. The bird flew again, and we followed and this time it stayed long enough for us to take good photos. Anthony ID'ed it as an Oriental Cuckoo.
Oriental Cuckoo, Lifer # 198
We walked on and again saw a Crested Myna and further on, a Tawny Grassbird, which is lifer # 199 for me. Alas, the bird was so far that I did not get even a decent docu shot. We met two marshals along the trail who asked us what we were doing and if we coordinated with their office. Anthony and I were already thinking that they will ask us to go to their office. But as it turned out, they were patrolling and on the look-out for couples dating...
By 10am, we found ourselves beside a gate of Camp John Hay (we were sort of lost). So we called Kris, who was at the hotel to pick us up. On the way back, we realized how far we have walked. We had Kris drop us at the horseback riding place and we "attacked" the Yellow Trail. Shortly upon entering the trail, our presence flushed several birds hiding in the grass and they flew to the trees. I was able to get a few docu-shot captures. Anthony ID'ed it as an Olive-tree Pipit, lifer #200 for me.
We continued walking downhill, (which was good, but at the back of my head, I was thinking that sooner or later, we will have to climb back). We encountered several Elegant Tits along the way. And one very friendly butterfly...
Walking on, we again flushed some Olive-tree Pipits from the grass. This time, one of them perched on an open branch long enough for me to get decent shots.
Olive-tree Pipit, Lifer # 200!
And then we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked some more. No people, no buildings, no birds... It was 1:00pm before we saw the back of a building. We finally exited in a residential area. I saw a "kasambahay" and a driver so I asked, "anong lugar po ito?". He answered, Camp John hay po (Grrrr...obvious ba???). It was starting to rain again so when we saw an empty taxi cab, we hailed it and called Kris to meet us at Dencio's for lunch.
We were a tired, wet, and almost empty handed bunch, when we sat down for lunch. So Rafa and I had a cerveza,...to forget...
After lunch, we headed to Mt. Sto. Tomas for the Crossbill site. And in keeping with our luck, it rained, and was foggy when we got to the spot. We could hear some chirping and Anthony saw a bird dart by among the rocks but the fog was just so thick that after a while we decided it was prudent to head back. So no Crossbill (which was the main reason Baguio and not BK was in the itinerary, at least that was what I was told). Considering the "bountiful harvest" at LMEP and UPD, Baguio was a bit of a disappointment. As the tour operator, the guests' satisfaction is always my foremost concern. On the positive side, I got my 200th lifer.
We went back to our hotel, rested, and then went out for dinner (with cerveza of course). Afterwards, we decided to retire early because we were facing an eight-hour (minimum), 200+km drive from Baguio to Banawe.