October 19, 2015: Palawan, Philippines — For the past couple of days, I have been watching Super Typhoon Lando, a near-Category 5 strength cyclone that was projected to hit Luzon Island in the Philippines on the same day I arrived there. Lando made landfall yesterday morning and my flight from Taiwan to Manila (on Luzon) was scheduled at midnight last night.
The typhoon struck about 90 miles north of Manila with 150-mph winds and torrential rain, and is currently stalled over the northern half of the island amid flood and landslide warnings. Some places are predicted to receive between one and two meters of rain! It’s too early to tell what the damage will be, because people are hunkered down and some towns have been cut off, but it sounds like northern Luzon is getting pounded right now.
Unsurprisingly, my midnight flight was delayed because of heavy rain in Manila. But the city is just far enough south to have escaped the worst of the typhoon, and the flight took off two and a half hours later, bound for the Philippines. I touched down in Manila early this morning with zero sleep, wondering what I might be flying into.
A local birder named Nicky Icarangal picked me up, shook my hand, and explained our plan: For the next 10 days, the two of us will be island hopping around the Philippines, but, to avoid the typhoon, we’ll switch the order of our schedule. Instead of birding Luzon first, Nicky and I walked over to the domestic departures and checked in for an immediate flight to Palawan, a skinny island down by Borneo, which is out of Lando’s reach.
We landed in Puerto Princesa, the largest town on Palawan, just before lunch under blue skies. White sand beaches, palm trees, mangroves, reefs, and little white boats filled the view. Meanwhile, Christmas songs rotated on the plane’s intercom—an unexpected reminder that this year will end someday. Shouldn’t it be illegal to play Christmas music in October?
I soon had my first taste of island-style birding. Nicky and I made several stops and found some good stuff this afternoon: Palawan Tit, Philippine Cockatoo, Palawan Flowerpecker, and Palawan Hornbill. As darkness fell after a very long day, the two of us were standing in a forest with a bizarre Palawan Frogmouth in Nicky’s spotlight. Welcome to the Philippines, home of more than 200 endemic species of birds!
New birds today: 29
Year list: 4895