a field guide to the planet - by Damon Ramsey
I stayed here in the middle of an extremely wet wet season in august 2016. It was wet.
Subic bay is a holiday area for Philippinos, especially from Manila. It includes a military 'freeport zone' that has long been locked off, and thus Subic bay has inherited a relatively large area of rainforest that remained undeveloped and unmolested. Because the Philippines is difficult to birdwatch in, this area has gained a reputation for it’s relative ease of birdwatching.
To take advantage of the birding and the rainforest, you actually want to be in the rainforest, or at least near it. There are not many options, and they are all pricey compared to the usual cheaper accommodation in Philippines towns.
The best option by far, as far as I can tell, is Kamana Sanctuary. It is pricey, about U$200 night, but is the closest to the forest trails and roads. Best of all it’s access road has great birding potential, with little of the usual traffic, and a mix of forest and open areas. It is also suitable for spotlighting (although it raining so heavily when I was there, I didn't see much).
There are other options about a twenty minute drive away in the freeport area, where there are numerous hotels, shops etc. But if you are nearer the rainforest, then you can bird or explore before breakfast. I think it is worth paying the extra money.
Even further away and even cheaper is the area outside the freeport zone. This is where most locals and budget tourists stay. But there doesn’t seem to be much reason to stay here. The beaches are not nice, and it feels like a shanty town compared to freeport. The only reason you might hang around in the Subic Bay area outside of the freeport zone is for the girls (you are better off in Angeles) or you are there for a night or two hunting around for a car or bike.
You can get to Subic bay from Manila or Angeles, the latter is from where most guys go.
To explore the rainforest properly, you really need your own transport.
There are overseas based bird-watching tours that include Subic Bay in their itineraries.
But if you want to explore the area by yourself and with some freedom, there is no way around it, you need your own private transport.
Scooters are convenient and cheap, and can be rented in the Subic Bay area. You’ll have to ask around, it is not always obvious; it might just be home made sign, or ask your tour desk and they might have a brochure and a contact number. The area of hotels between Blue Rock and Treasure Island have some small shops that hire them, but no doubt it changes every season, so you’ll have to ask around.
The other option is a car. Cars can be rented from pretty much anywhere, and at reasonable prices. But then you have to drive them through the traffic and park them some where. The advantage is you can keep all your gear somewhere, you can stay drier, and you can go further. You are also less likely to die in an accident. There was a place renting jeeps in the main street of Subic where all the girlie bars are (bario). He wasn’t very helpful for me, but you might have better luck.
Because so much of the Philippines has been deforested, and there are no lodges or industry set up for birdwatching, Sufic Bay has gained a reputation as one of the few spots you can see some birds in the wild.
It is still hard work though. The birds are pretty shy of humans. If you are just a twitcher, you should be able to tick them off. However, if you are naturalist who wants to observe, or a photographer that wants shots, you might find it frustrating.
There are some other wildlife species to be seen, including monkey, lizards, and many butterflies...
A lot of the options that were once here for nature and birdwatching have disappeared. Unfortunately, the local tourism industry doesn’t seem to recognize the possibilities here and have not kept or developed things.
The ‘Bat Kingdom’ is closed. It looks like there was a fire or something.
The Hill 394, famous with birdwatchers, is behind a checkpoint which was previously a military area and you could get access with a permit. It is now closed off due to “private owners not wanting people in there”.
Te Botanical Gardens is very overgrown.
The Boltan Falls track is overgrown.
The mangrove walk (at the - unmanned - gate onto the coastal road into the rainforest). Iit might be open in the non-monsoon season.
So that leaves a bit of birding on the tracks.
The short and quiet non-car access track that goes to the water tank looked promising. It is between a river and large truckyard, a few minutes from the ‘Wildlife in Need” (WIN).
One of the highlights of the area are the wild bats...
One of the highlights of the area are the bat colonies. The main groups are located near the airport. Follow the road out of Subic and out to the airport. Drive along the coast road with the ocean and airport on your right. Keep going and around the corner on the left will be hundreds of bats hanging from defoliated trees. When I was there in 2016 there was a sign there reminding locals not to throw things at the flying fox, but that sign may have fallen over by the time you get there. Most of the locals know where they are.
There are usually two main species here.
The species with the uniformly darker wings and orange back is the 'Large Flying Fox' Pteropus vampyrus, a widespread species throughout Asia. It is also thought to be have the largest wingspan of any bat in the world.
The other species is the 'Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox' Acerodon jubatus. This is the heaviest flying fox in the world. It has an orange cap...
and much lighter coloured and splotchy wings...
So this one large colony has the biggest and the heaviest bats in the world.
This is probably the most central option. It is an upmarket hotel, so it is pricey compared to most cheaper Philippines hotels, starting at about U$200 a day. The food in the restaurant is also subsequently more expensive. But it is nice.
The roads in and out of this hotel are probably the nicest for birding.
The birds I saw (sometimes just a fleeting glimpse) on the access road here included: Brahminy Kite, Barred Rail, Fruit Dove (which one?), Emerald Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, White-Eared Brown Dove,
Blue-naped Parrot, Coucal (which one? Philppine or Lesser?), Malkoa?, Collared Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Luzon Hornbill, White-breasted Woodswallow, Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Balicasiao Drongo, White-eye (which one lowland or yellowish), Philippine Fairy blue-bird, Coleto, Crow, and a few more I can't remember...
Actually not too bad a list, but it was slow going, and hardly any good light or looks for decent photographs!
You can also spotlight along this road, and there are always some small critters around...
Thinking of travelling again after everything settles down? One of the first expeditions I am booked to work on is the NZ sub-Antarctics with Silversea Expeditions and Australia with Coral Expeditions. And here is a shortened version of one of my lectures in a warmer part of the world.