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Searching for the Philippine Eagle in the Angat Watershed Forest Reserve

Posted on August 2, 2016

A 15-day expedition led by Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society, Inc. (SSMESI), in search for the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) in the Angat Watershed Forest Reserve (AWFR) in Bulacan, was concluded last July 30, 2016.

This expedition was triggered by the Dumagats’ quest to record the existence of the Philippine eagle in their ancestral domain, after they captured a photo of a large raptor (suspected to be the King of Birds) within the watershed in January 2016. SSMESI led the expedition to verify the existence of the resident Philippine eagles within the Angat Watershed, a lowland dipterocarp forest portion of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, using indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP) with scientific and technical assistance from the Philippine Eagle Foundation, Inc. (PEFI).

Duty station high up above the forest canopy   (Photos courtesy of Ron Taraya / PEFI)

SSMESI facilitated hands-on coaching on eagle identification with the Dumagats to spur Dumagat-led monitoring of the Philippine eagle. An initial information and education campaign (IEC) was conducted, with the distribution of the PEFI's Philippine Raptor Field Guide in the nearby Dumagat communities.

PEFI biologist Ron Taraya joined the 23-man expedition team with seven Dumagats, representatives from SSMESI, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), Haribon Foundation, and the National Power Corporation (NPC). The expedition members were trained in survey and data-gathering methods, as well as Philippine eagle biology. 

SSMESI's Ka Rudy peers into his binoculars around 60 feet aboveground hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive raptor  (Photo courtesy of Ron Taraya / PEFI)

The expedition team conducted surveys in two sites within the AWFR—first in Macua and then in Sinilaban—and broke out into four teams, with two teams in each site. From 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, teams stationed themselves on makeshift elevated platforms in trees 60 feet aboveground, and atop the forest canopy, in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the Philippine eagle. The teams spotted six raptors, and one of the eagle’s favored prey—the Rufous Hornbill (locally known as kalaw)in their 15 days out in the field, but there was no sign of the Philippine eagle.  

SSMESI's Bro. Gregory with PEFI's Ron Taraya, who introduced the Dumagats to the survey methods | The view from higher up (Photos courtesy of Ron Taraya / PEFI)

However, says Taraya, sightings and descriptions of five of the eagle’s usual prey—the Philippine Long-tailed Macaque, the Bisikot, Kappo, Luzon Giant Cloud Rat, and Luzon Rufous Hornbill—strongly indicate the presence of the Philippine eagle in the Angat Watershed. “At sa laki at ganda ng forest, imposibleng walang Philippine Eagle doon,” adds Taraya.

Though the occasional rain and difficult terrain proved challenging for the team—save for the Dumagats—the sheer breadth of the forest was the expedition’s greatest challenge. Taraya recommends a longer survey period of at least 2 months, and during the summer months, if SSMESI is intent on pursuing verification of the eagle’s presence and mapping of its whereabouts in the watershed.  Recommendations for next steps also include more intensive information, education and communication activities with the Dumagats.


Local stories portray the eagle as a feared predator who would take even humans as prey, a misconception Taraya sought to dispel | The expedition team     (Photos courtesy of Ron Taraya / PEFI)

Oral tradition and accurate descriptions of the eagle by resident Dumagat and Agtas, along with recorded sightings have long pointed towards the presence of the eagle in the larger Southern Sierra Madre (i.e. a PEF sighting of a single eagle in General Nakar, Quezon). SSMESI seeks to explore the potential of Dumagat led-monitoring and protection of eagles in their ancestral domain as a strategy towards biodiversity conservation in Angat Watershed.

The expedition is supported by Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation, Inc., the Philippine Eagle Foundation, the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, Center for Conservation Innovations, DENR-BMB, and NPC. 

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