Day 8 – 24th October
The day began with a quick stop at a conservation organisation, the Katala Foundation; our full visit wouldn’t be until later, but a large-tailed nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus) had been spotted on the site, perfectly camouflaged in the undergrowth. It took a few moments to spot it for a photograph!
One of the Katala Foundation’s main focus species is the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), which is critically endangered, hit hard by habitat loss and illegal trapping for the pet trade. (‘Katala’ is the local name for this cockatoo.) A protected population exists on Rasa Island off the coast of Palawan, so we headed to the shore in the hopes of seeing one. Although no cockatoos turned up, it was still interesting to see the local fishing community, laying out their catch to dry.
We then went back to the Katala Foundation where the director, Sabine Schoppe, gave a lecture about the Foundation’s work. As well as the Philippine cockatoo, another flagship species of this organisation is the Palawan forest turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis). Recognisable by the white stripe behind its head, this turtle is also critically endangered, partly due to illegal collecting. In 2015, nearly 4000 Palawan forest turtles – a very large proportion of the remaining population – were seized from a warehouse in Palawan. Walking around the site, we were introduced to one of the turtles being temporarily kept at the centre, as well as some other animals, including a couple of the elusive cockatoos.
Lunchtime saw us take our bus into the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant, Jollibee; placing orders for about a dozen people was naturally a little chaotic. After that, we headed north towards the mountains. As we approached our campsite, we left the road and switched vehicles, clambering into three 4x4s: the final stretch took us along forest roads and across rivers, and even these savvy vehicles got stuck a couple of times. When we finally got to the end, it turned out that we would be camping on the edge of a village, home to the indigenous Batak tribe.
When we arrived, the Batak gave us quite a welcome, the men demonstrating what we later learned was a war dance, and the women playing a instrument fashioned from a log. After dinner, we were treated to more dancing and music around the fire, and once that was over, we went for a little walk, uncovering a few frogs and toads close to the river. Then it was time to get some shut-eye in our tents.
Day 9 – 25th October
It was a hot night in the tent; I barely needed a sleeping bag. In the morning, some other members of the group went out into the river for more herping, but as I hadn’t been able to fit suitable footwear for the slippery rocks into my rucksack, I joined another walk around the village instead. There were frogs (including a mating pair), a toad with fine head crests, and a young macaque that the village children were trying to catch.
In the afternoon, the villagers gave demonstrations of their traditional climbing and hunting techniques: spear-throwing, and archery, both of which were tested out on a wooden pig. After sunset, there was more herping, which this time revealed a viper!
Day 10 – 26th October
In the morning, we took some time to photograph the viper, a Tropidolaemus subannulatus, before departing the village. You can see the heat-sensing pit between the eye and nostril, which is why these snakes are known as pit vipers.
So far, we had been very lucky weather-wise: in the first few days, a super-typhoon had hit the northern part of the Philippines, prompting my family to email and ask if I was alright, but it had completely missed Bohol. As we left the village, however, some serious rain started coming down. It continued as we made it out of the forest, made a brief stop at a viewpoint, and crossed to Sabang on the west side of Palawan.
The afternoon was spent sheltering in our room at the Sheridan Beach Resort as it continued to rain. In the evening, I joined Nigel and a few others in walking down the beach in the dark to get to a local restaurant with more traditional foods: I went for a pork belly. The rain was coming on and off by then, but it was a tricky walk to and from the restaurant, given that there was limited light and some large puddles in our way! And while we couldn’t go looking for herps, they were making their presence known: all around the resort came the loud calls of Asian painted frogs (Kaloula pulchra), an introduced species in the Philippines.