We had a brief but enjoyable trip to Palawan, where we stayed at the Astoria on the eastern side of the island overlooking the Sulu Sea. The resort is a long but scenic drive an hour north from Puerto Princessa, which is a fairly rural area.
Most of the birds that I managed to ID were present around the resort itself, the rice fields at the Karst Mountain, or on the mudflats at the port in Sabang where we waited for the boats to the Subterranean River. Not being very familiar with the area's birds, I saw and heard many that I wasn't able to identify. The few that I was able to make a positive ID on were the ones that sat still long enough for me to snap a photo to identify later:
Particularly excited about the Aurora sub-species of the Olive-Backed Sunbird, which is a Palawan distinctive, the dark phase Eastern Reef Egret, and the group of Black-winged Stilts at Karst Mountain which are fairly uncommon.
I learned some more small bits of Tagalog as well - I originally thought that the word tagak applied to only Little Egrets, but then realized that the term is used to describe a variety of egrets and herons.
Anong klaseng ibon iyan?
'What kind of bird is that?' is a useful phrase that I should have learned earlier, although I don't always understand the response.
I was surprised to see how arid parts of Palawan are. As the road north of Puerto Princessa winds through the hills above the sea, the ground becomes rocky, and the land cover changes from mangroves, fruit trees, and bamboo to grassy tussocks and bushes. This is actually the first time that I've seen a landscape that looks close to arid in the Philippines.
Perhaps this is due to the relative isolation of Palawan from the other islands of the Philippines, which attracts less moisture and precipitation? Or perhaps this is simply due to my limited experiences at lower altitudes during my travels in the Philippines? The drive actually reminded me of the many drives we've done through the area between Morogoro and Mikumi in Tanzania.
Livelihoods in the area also seemed to indicate a more arid climate: pastures were fenced, and the grasses in certain areas appeared to be heavily grazed. Little evidence of agriculture, though the transition zones between the coast and the hills did have mango and other fruit farms.
Fascinating and surprising and another reason that I enjoy visiting new places!
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