Birding Without Borders

Day 295: Jeepneys and Flycatchers

Noah enjoys an endemic form of public transportation in the Philippines.

October 22, 2015: Los Banos, Philippines — At the end of World War II, American troops leaving the Philippines sold hundreds of surplus Army jeeps to the Filipinos, who quickly modified the vehicles into makeshift buses to replace a devastated public transportation system. Thus was born the “jeepney,” a form of travel unique to the Philippines.

Jeepneys are everywhere on the streets here, and they are like no vehicle you’ve ever seen. A regular 4x4 is lengthened to limousine dimensions with a roofed, open-air bed in the back where people sit facing each other on two parallel benches. The jeepney’s exterior is typically plated with enough chrome and paint to make a Harley-Davidson chopper jealous, and they’re about as smooth as a steamroller fashioned from lava rock. People keep initiating efforts for a regular bus network, citing pollution and bad drivers and pickpockets, but meanwhile the jeepney just keeps trucking. These days they come in all makes and models, not just Army jeeps (though plenty of the originals are still around), but the basic construction remains the same.

No bus could have ventured where Nicky and I went this morning, up the flank of Mount Makiling, but a local jeepney driver was willing to go for it. At dawn we climbed a rough, overgrown track until it petered into a hiking trail in the humid forest, where we started walking.

For the first couple of hours, the birding was stellar: Philippine Trogon, Scale-feathered Malkoha, and Philippine Fairy-bluebird were highlights. Our jeepney driver spotted a bird which, on inspection, turned out to be a Ferruginous Flycatchera rare migrant in these parts. Then, after the morning rush, things heated up and the birds slowed down.

In the Philippines, you have to get up early to catch birds when they’re active. By about 9 a.m. it becomes difficult to hear bird sounds above the roar of cicadas, and the humidity sits like a hot blanket on activity. Of the 30 new birds I added yesterday, 22 were before 7:30 a.m., and the ratio was about the same today. You can keep birding for the rest of the day, as I have, but the pace slows down dramatically during the early afternoon siesta.

Might as well just get a cold pineapple juice from the local McDonald’s drive-thru, said Nicky. That sounded refreshing, but I was surprised when it was served in the usual fast-food beverage container with a lid but no straw. “Oh, yes, plastic has been banned in Los Banos,” Nicky commented. “No plastic bags allowed, and plastic straws are illegal, too. Guess McDonald’s hasn’t got the biodegradable ones yet.”

 

New birds today: 23

Year list: 4963

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