Birds of the Luzon tropical pine forests

2008 November 9
by David J. Ringer

QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES — I’ve been attending some meetings here in the Philippines and had a chance to bird at Camp John Hay in Baguio City. Baguio is nestled in Luzon’s Cordillera Central mountain range, and Camp John Hay has a nice “eco-trail” through montane pine forest. Come with me for an early-morning walk:


Elegant Tits twitter high in the pines. Tawny Grassbirds skulk in the open, ferny understory, offering quick looks at their rusty caps and streaked backs to the patient. The Luzon tropical pine forests cover (or covered) much of the Cordillera Central and provide habitat for some surprising birds, like an endemic subspecies of the widespread Red Crossbill.


Tree ferns and pines? It seemed an odd combination to me, but they seem to coexist quite happily in the mountains of Luzon. This forest provides a home for the smoky blue and rufous Blue-headed Fantail and brilliant yellow Citrine Canary-Flycatcher. A mix of Palearctic and Indo-Malayan avifauna have carved out niches here.


Here’s a less-than-stellar shot of a nice Philippine endemic, the Elegant Tit (Periparus elegans). To North Americans, it would seem most similar to a chickadee; to Europeans, a Coal Tit. They are dapper in yellow, black, and white as they move in flocks through the forest, extracting seeds from pine cones or plucking small insects from the large fronds of tree ferns.


Large-billed Crows range widely across Asia and do reach the Philippines. I liked the shot of this bird silhouetted through the pines. The steep forehead, long bill with an arched culmen, and long tail are all field marks for this species. Sometimes they skulk in the forest, but they are also capable and spectacular aerialists, soaring on winds that sweep up from the valleys.


As winter approaches, many species have retreated from northern Asia to warmer tropical lands like the Philippines, Indonesia, and New Guinea. One of these is the Grey-streaked Flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta), which perches on limbs and stubs below the canopy, flying out to snag small insects.

The Brown Shrike is another migrant, and it seems widespread and common on the island. It’s also rather noisy.


A resident shrike species, the Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach), is quite variable across its wide range. Birds in the Philippines have solid black caps and grayish backs. They are fairly common in the forest understory and in more open areas.


Red Crossbills range widely through North and Central America and all across the Old World. There is an endemic subspecies in the mountains of Luzon, and I really wanted to see these birds. Finally, my last morning, I watched a bird sitting high in a dead pine, singing and singing and singing in the morning sun. I sat and watched him until he flew away.


Hundreds of species still await me in the forests of the Philippines: bleeding-hearts, racket-tails, malkohas, the Celestial Monarch, and the Philippine Eagle. I can only hope for a chance to return on a real birding trip someday — and that at least small fragments of the islands’ extraordinary ecosystems will survive in the years ahead.

Related posts:

  1. Sulphur-billed Nuthatch
  2. Birds of Tropical Storm Lee, Part 1
  3. Magnificent Frigatebird plumages (Tropical Storm Lee Part 2)
  4. Dead birds-of-paradise
  5. Caddo Lake count: Birds of the Piney Woods
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