Selection of Philippine avian wildlife all captured in habitat, plus nature and miscellaneous images.

Philippine endemics

Close-up of a Philippine Woodpecker

This bird was previously called the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker. As its former common name implies it’s a micro-jackhammer, with a total length of merely 5.5 inches.

It is found only in the Philippines, where it ranges in most major islands except the Palawan group and Masbate. It is often seen creeping up tree trunks and branches in forest, edge, and even in city parks. It has a loud trilling call.

I was birding at Subic rainforest in 2006 when I noticed this individual pecking low at a tree trunk. I inched my way towards the bird,  lifting and setting my gear + tripod slowly, and taking some shots at each closer position until I got near enough for frame-filling, eye-level captures. 🙂

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Zambales, Philippines, October 11, 2006, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/125 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Philippine Woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Lowland and montane forest and edge, in understory and canopy.

Here are some footage of the bird, including a clip where it is calling.


Stripe-headed Rhabdornis

Very active in the forest canopy or middle story and sporting a contrasting plumage that complicates exposure work, this smallish bird  (6-1/4″ total length) is not easy to photograph well in its habitat.

I just got extremely fortunate that this individual perched for several seconds on a well-lit branch at Subic rainforest, allowing me to squeeze off a few frames at low ISO and fairly fast, motion-stopping shutter speed.

This photo was published at page 189 of the Handbook of the Birds of the WorldVolume 13.  The publisher, Lynx Edicions, sent me a complimentary copy of the impressive tome, but it got destroyed when we were submerged in typhoon Ondoy’s flood in 2009. At a retail price of $ 314 per copy, I think I wouldn’t be able to afford a replacement book for now. 😦

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Zambales, Philippines, February 23, 2006, Canon 20D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 800 mm, f/9, ISO 200, 1/320 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Stripe-headed Rhabdornis (Rhabdornis mystacalis, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Canopy or middle story of lowland forest, edge and second growth.

The amazing Indigo-banded Kingfisher

This little bird is among the most colorful of  the kingfishers found only in the Philippines. At 5.5 inches length, it is also among the smallest.

I got close to this individual at a nature resort in Tiaong, Quezon province, in 2009.  The single breast band indicates this is female (the male has two breast bands).

The bird’s habit of perching in one spot for a few minutes allowed me enough time to manually focus with precision. To make it bigger in the 5D2’s frame I had to shoot at a focal length of 1374 mm (Sigma 300 – 800 DG + 2x TC).  The bird was in low light, so I slowed down my shutter to 1/6 sec for sufficient exposure and I tried to shoot  in between the bird’s head-bobbing movement (see video below).

If I were to choose the most technically challenging shot I ever executed, this is probably the front-runner. The reward of surmounting the difficulties is a 21-MP capture, tack-sharp at the pixel level, that’s printable to really big sizes (24″ x 36″ and beyond).

Shooting Info – Tiaong, Quezon, Philippines, March 20, 2009, Canon 5D MII + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG) + Canon 2x TC, 1374 mm, f/18, ISO 640, 1/6 sec, 475B/3421 support, uncropped full frame, manual focus, manual exposure in available light.

Indigo-banded Kingfisher (Alcedo cyanopecta , a Philippine endemic, female)

Habitat – Uncommon, restricted to clear fresh water streams up to at least 1500 m.


A short video of the amazing Indigo-banded Kingfisher.

Special thanks to Carmela B. of Villa Escudero for the support during filming.

Philippine Coucal

I chanced upon this endemic Philippine Coucal spreading and drying its wings in the open, along a trail at Subic rainforest in 2006. This bird has an average length of 17 inches and it ranges in all major Philippine islands except the Palawan group.

Like other coucals, this one is normally shy. It skulks in dense vegetation, where a clean shot is nearly impossible. This is compounded further by the difficulty of exposing a dark bird in dim light.

I used my vehicle as a blind to get close to this individual.

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Bataan, Philippines, July 28, 2006, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, manual exposure in available light, hand held.

Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis,a Philippine endemic )

Scientific name – Habitat – Common from grasslands to forest up to 2000 m.


Ranging only in the Philippines, the Guaiabero is a plump parrot with a short tail. It’s about 6.5 inches in length and found in Luzon, Mindanao, Samar and Leyte islands. The Kennedey Guide describes its flight as “very fast bullet like.”

I’ve seen it munching guavas (see video link below) in Tarlac, hence I suspect its name was originally derived from “guayaba” which is Spanish for guava.  “Guaiabero”  perhaps meant guava-eater. The Philippines was of course under Spanish rule for over three centuries.

This individual was nibbling at buds of a macopa tree in Mt. Makiling way back in 2006.

Shooting Info – Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, May 10, 2006, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/80 sec, 475B/3421 support.

 Guaiabero (Bolbopsittacus lunulatus,  Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Forest and forest edge, usually below 1000 m. 

Short video of a Guaiabero eating guavas.

Philippine Cuckoo-Dove

This colorful endemic dove was captured in the foothills of Antipolo mountains in 2009. A birdshooter friend ( Ding C.)  informed me that these birds were frequenting a certain fruiting tree beside his house. I immediately convinced Ding to “invite” me to his abode. He did just that and I “accepted” the invitation pronto. 

The challenge in capturing decent photos of this species in-habitat is how to find a fruiting tree they feed on. Once the feeding area is known, it becomes a pretty easy job – just go to the spot before sunrise and wait for the doves to come in and feed in the early morning golden light.

Many thanks to Ding for the hospitality, the sumptuous breakfast and the exciting birding tales. Ding’s very nice house is situated at a hillside, surrounded by bird-laden vegetation and trees, and overlooking Metro Manila.

Shooting Info – Antipolo City, Philippines, February 4, 2009, Canon 5D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/8, ISO 320, 1/500 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

Philippine Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia tenuirostris, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Lowland forest to montane mossy forest.

Click here for some video clips of this endemic dove.

The skulking Red-crested Malkoha


Preference to skulk in the dense foliage of the forest understory.

Low light that precludes the use of motion-stopping fast shutter speeds.

Dark plumage contrasting with the bright bill.

All prime ingredients for a classic tough bird shot.

In-habitat wild bird photography in our islands, sans the use of calls and baits (such technique won’t work on this species anyway), is probably among the most difficult in the world. This is a well known fact among local birdnuts. And maybe known as well to many visiting foreign photographers who try (often unsuccessfully) to get good captures of the most number of species in a limited period.

The key to getting decent captures of tough-to-shoot local birds is simply to go out in as many sorties as possible. Sooner or later, a birdnut breaks through the tough technicals imposed by the difficult conditions, and be able to grab a decent shot.  It’s simply beating the odds by doing many, many attempts.

Such is my case with this species. I’ve seen it a lot of times in Mt. Makiling and other places, but it was at Subic rainforest in 2005 when I was finally able to get a useable image.  The fine feather detail was reasonably sharp even with the slow shutter speed of 1/60 sec. It might not be as aesthetically pleasing as I wish for especially if we go by tame birds or set-up standards, but this image knocked the Red-crested Malkoha many notches down my most wanted list. 🙂

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Bataan, Philippines, August 22, 2005, Canon 20D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 648 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, available light .

Red-crested Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus superciliosus, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Lowland forest, edge and second growth.

Luzon Hornbill

This male Luzon Hornbill was hopping from branch to branch, feeding on the fruits of a balete tree (local fig tree) at Mt. Makiling in 2007.

I was following it through the Canon 20D’s viewfinder (my camera was in portrait orientation), wishing that it pauses for a moment. My shutter speed was at 1/80 sec because I wanted to use a maximum of ISO 400 for better processability of the RAW files later. But this shutter speed was way too slow for an active subject…. the bird better stop moving otherwise I wouldn’t get a chance. Even bumping the ISO to 800 and opening the aperture to f/5.6 from f/6.3 would only yield 1/200 sec – still slowish to stop subject motion.

The birding gods must have heard my wish.

For a couple of seconds, the hornbill stopped hopping and feeding and briefly stared at me. That was enough window of opportunity to get a shot that I like – with strong eye contact, good detail even with the slow shutter and a “well groomed” branch/foliage surrounding the subject.

Shooting info – Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/6.3, ISO 400, manual exposure in available light, near full frame, 475B/3421 support.

Luzon Hornbill (Penelopides manillae, a Philippine endemic, male)

Habitat – Forest and edge up to 1500 m.

Philippine Duck in flight

I have many captures of the endemic Philippine Duck in flight, but this one should be my favorite. I just like the way the wings were frozen in the full downstroke position, and the angle of light  was just right to show the iridescence of the speculum *  well.

(* colorful patch on the wing)

That herons and egrets can fly is not too impressive to me – their large wing area and light slender bodies allow them to soar even in the slightest wind. Duck flight is a different matter though. Beneath the streamlined curves of the duck’s body, there are hints of powerful flight muscles that enable this relatively heavy bird to get to the air even with stubby wings.

Quackers fly by sheer muscle power, and when they come in to land on the pond water (belly-flop, actually), they drop almost like a rock  as soon as their wingbeats slow down.

This frame came from the middle of a burst of over half a dozen shots, most in good focus and each shows a different wing position.  The background was out-of-focus pond water with some vegetation. Amazing what modern autofocus technology and fast frame rates can do at birds-in-flight photography.

Shooting Info - Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 3, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, manual exposure in available light.

Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica, a Philippine endemic) 

Habitat – Freshwater marshes, shallow lakes and ricefields.

Video clips of the Philippine Duck.

Plain Bush-Hen strutting in golden light

This medium large bird (12 inches total length) is found only in the Philippines. It is shy and more often heard than seen.

Based on my previous observations at Candaba wetlands, it appears to stay in one general territory. So I thought the key in capturing it well is to stake out a known spot where the bird is seen often and wait patiently for an appearance.

And this I did way back in 2005.

I fully retracted the legs of my tripod and mounted my camera low for a more pleasing shooting angle. I waited and puffed on numerous sticks of lung-busters and waited more. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, a couple of these birds started crossing the wetlands trail back and forth. On one such crossings, a downy young even  joined the parents!

I got several sharp photos of the family bathed in the late afternoon golden light. This is my favorite of the set because of the bird’s cocky strut.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 18, 2005, Canon 300D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 687 mm, f/8, /1800 sec, ISO 200, jpeg capture, 475B/3421 support.

Plain Bush-Hen (Amaurornis olivaceus, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Drier grasslands and scrub, nests on wetter areas.