Day 297: Chocolate Hills of Bohol

Noah gets a dozen more birds, one species at a time, and closes in on 5,000.

October 24, 2015: Bohol, Philippines — The center of Bohol Island presents a peculiar landscape: Perfectly dome-shaped mounds, 100-350 feet high, cover an area of 20 square miles. The mounds are bare except for a grassy covering and rise out of the forest like melted chocolate kisses (the grass turns brown during the summer). These are the so-called Chocolate Hills, Bohol’s most famous attraction.

The hills are formed of karst limestone, made of ancient coral reefs and eroded by the elements, wormholed with all sorts of caves, cracks, fossils, and springs. It’s not the world’s greatest birding spot, but Nicky and I stopped long enough for me to climb to the top of one of the Chocolate Hills (there are an estimated 1,200 of them) for a view.

Otherwise, this morning was tough work. We spent hours in a sweaty forest while bird activity remained stubbornly quiet, slowly teasing out one new bird at a time. One of our most-wished-for targets, the Azure-breasted Pitta, remained elusive even though Nicky said they are usually quite common here. After a couple of hours we finally spotted one in a distant, thick tangle, and had a good-enough view through the spotting scope, but it was an assemble-by-parts sighting: See the head, then see the feet, then see the body, one piece at a time.

Nevertheless, by day’s end we’d swept up a dozen new birds, which puts me just 12 away from the big Five Oh Oh Oh! I’ve anticipated this milestone for a very long time. Will it come tomorrow, or maybe the day after?

Cristy, at the butterfly garden, had some good news when Nicky and I returned there this evening. Her pair of tarsiers (a pocket-sized species of primate), which she is trying to breed in captivity, had just mated for the first time. “It lasted almost five minutes!” she said happily. Just yesterday she was wondering whether the two “even like each other,” so this was a welcome development. Earlier I watched some common sailor butterflies get together, so it seems all is well with butterflies and tarsiers today.

New birds today: 12

Year list: 4988

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