Searching for the Philippine Eagle, Part 2

by Peter Barto on July 1st, 2011

Morning once again came way too early up on Mt. Kitanglad. Our group’s night had been a bit restless, with a wayward bat deciding to forego it’s echolocation skills and spend it’s time whizzing past our sleeping bags, ramming into the walls of the lodge, and basically making a nuisance of itself (I was not especially pleased when it temporarily landed on my head, but had been alert enough to be buried safely in my bag – no rabies shots for me!). That and the scurrying of rodents kept us from any kind of deep slumber. Once up, though, dressed, fed and caffeinated, we were anxious to start out. We were greeted by an amazing sunrise, foretelling a beautiful morning, and we were confident we had left the rain behind us.



We once again hiked passed the small farm plots and into the trees, the warming air bringing to motion colorful butterflies, dragonflies, and other critters of the day. I also got my first look at a pitcher plant. Although hiking the same trails we had covered the previous day, everything in the forest looked different with the changing light, and the walk to the same clearing we staked yesterday went quickly.



Setting up for the day, we put the spotting scope up, binoculars in hand, and began to scout the skies. The day passed and the air heated up – we broke out the umbrellas to keep from getting too saturated with the rays. We continued to scan the sky, excitement growing when we’d spot a Serpent Eagle or some other avian beauty, but still not sign of the Eagle.

I found myself staring at certain areas across the valley, not really focusing on anything in particular. The buzz of insects merged with the hot air and made us drowsy.

Carlito continued to give out his Philippine Eagle call, a mournful whistle that trailed off into the breeze. It was not long after one of these calls that we had our first response – a cry from across the valley that seemed to echo that of Carlito. This woke us up.

With renewed enthusiasm, we all grabbed our binoculars and began searching the skies and distant trees across the valley. Nicky and Danny pointed the scope towards where we thought the cry of the eagle was coming from. Still no sign. Time passed, with the occasional call of the eagle getting our excitement level ramped up. I again began to passively search the wall of green that made up the far hill through my glasses. It was then I spotted the eagle – a flash of gray, brown and white. It was the bird, bouncing from one tree branch to another. I gave out a shout, and tried my damndest to explain where I was seeing the bird without losing sight. Soon the others had put eyes on the bird as well and, with the help of the spotting scope, we found the nest, as well as another eagle. Success!

The viewing became better. It would look up (at us?), giving us fantastic views through the scope. It was obvious that one or both birds were eating something – even across that distance we could make out the eagle’s head bending down and tearing at something, possibly a macaque or tarsier? Could there be that there’s a third bird, a juvenile? It was difficult to keep track from such a distance. It was while at the scope that Ian saw something even more unbelievable – a long-tailed macaque running up the tree towards the eagle’s nest. This sighting was soon corroborated by me and others, as we began to spot the monkeys running on tree limbs near the eagle. This was amazing – some of us hypothesized that this one macaque was searching for its juvenile, which had become a meal for our eagles. Not exactly sure what was happening, we all felt a great joy in having the honor of seeing this gorgeous bird in the wild, let alone flying, eating, and interacting with the macaques. During the rest of that day and the next we were treated to more views of the eagle flying, but nothing would ever surpass that initial sighting – that moment alone was the high point to the entire adventure.


Go back to Searching for the Philippine Eagle, Part 1