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Rare and critically endangered Philippine Eagle found in Apayao
Jayson C. Ibanez — in Philippine Eagle Conservation    Share

A pair and an offspring of the mighty Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi, one of the world’s rarest and most endangered “birds-of-prey”, were confirmed by a composite team of investigators from the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), DENR, and the San Roque Power Corporation Foundation during a 2-week expedition that began November 6, 2011 at Calanasan Town in Apayao Province.

The eagles were seen on three occasions. One was on Nov.6 during which a lone individual was briefly spotted resting on a tree. The second was on Nov 8; two eagles at flight were observed. The last was on Nov 19 which turned out to be the most eventful.

After scanning the thick forests of Barangay Eva for days, PEF investigators Tatiana Abaño and Adriano Oxales finally spotted a lone Philippine Eagle standing inside the crown of the tallest tree atop Mount Mamukaw. Moments later the adult eagle jumped and glided out of view only to reappear above Mamukaw 20 minutes later.

Adult Philippine Eagle spotted and photographed atop Mount Mamukaw using "digiscoping" techniques

A few minutes more it was back on the same perch, but this time harassed by a flock of Rufous Hornbills which were obviously bothered by the giant raptor’s presence. An eagle food item, the hornbills loudly wailed at the eagle for a couple of minutes but eventually gave up and left one by one. The eagle stood its ground, giving Abaño and Oxales ample time to fix a digital camera on their field telescope and take the first photo shoots of a wild adult eagle in the Cordillera Administrative Region. The eagle flew away after the last hornbill took off. But the day’s eagle show did not end here.

At half past noon, an eagle re-emerged from the canopy and rode the thermals in a spiral motion to great heights. To the team’s huge delight, another eagle joined in at mid-air, trailing the other for a couple of minutes. What the tandem saw was unmistakably a mutual soaring display which eagle mates often do on a clear sunny day. Experts at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City believe that such flight rituals are a means to strengthen pair bond during nesting or when jointly raising a young.

The next day, loud begging calls of a young Philippine Eagle were heard which further proved that the pair is already rearing an eaglet. Earlier this year, DENR Regional Eagle Watch Team investigators saw and photographed a young eagle at Mamukaw. Judging from what is known so far about the timing of nesting among eagles, the eagle pair might breed again either by the last quarter of next year or the first quarter of 2013. An eagle pair mates for life and the female lays only a single egg every other year.

The country’s national bird, the Philippine Eagle, is already at the brink of extinction because of continuous hunting and deforestation. Fortunately, the newly discovered eagle pair and its forest habitat at Calanasan town are within an Indigenous Protected Area. Called “Lapat”, this ancient and sacred forest of the Isnag tribe is spared from logging, hunting and other forms of human exploitation, keeping the eagles and other wildlife therein safe from harm.

For years, a number of investigators thought that the Cordillera Mountains support only a very small number of eagles, if at all. But based on the results of this survey, the extent of good forest habitats which the expedition team saw in Apayao and nearby provinces, and the few but reliable DENR records of eagles sighted and killed across the region, the Cordilleras seem to be an eagle stronghold too. Hopefully, this survey, being the first systematic survey for the species in the region, would yield more information about the true status of its population in the Cordilleras.

The San Roque Power Corporation funds and supports PEF eagle research at Apayao and across the Cordilleras.Surveys are carried out through a MOA and partnership with the DENR.

Jayson Ibañez and Tatiana Abaño

Philippine Eagle Foundation.

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