A Tale of Two Eagles

Haring ibón.

King of birds.

Philippine eagle1 6 June 2018

I rarely photograph captive animals, but made an exception at this moment.

This majestic Philippine eagle is part of the conservation programme run by the Philippine Eagle Foundation in Davao City, southern Philippines. According to the order of wild things, the Philippine eagle is the undisputed apex predator of the sweltering tropical forests of this complex archipelago. Unfortunately, like top predators everywhere, they have not fared well in human company and their status in the wild is now extremely precarious.

The foundation where this eagle lives is the species’ lifeline. Hopefully, one day it will be easier to see them in the wild again.

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‘Wild’ still exists elsewhere, of course. My recent travels slipped briefly into northern Australia, a land of fire and termites which I will relate in later posts.

And over those flickering forests soars another of the world’s great raptors – the wedge-tailed eagle. I spotted this one perched on the carcass of a roadkilled-wallaby, and it flew calmly into the tree.

Raptor NT Jun 2018

It is related to the golden eagle of the northern hemisphere, and has been heavily persecuted by Australian farmers in the past, although the Northern Territory protects them.

Two eagles but one sky. It would take a lifetime – many lifetimes – to learn all the living things in the forests of south-east Asia and Australasia. This journey only caught a snapshot, but I will relate its highlights over the next few days.

Natural Mindanao

March 2017

I’ve never seen a Philippine eagle – outside of a book, anyway. I do know that they are glorious, improbable, grey-beaked giants of the eagle clan, very nearly the largest of all. It might be a surprise that until 1995, the national bird of the Philippines was something far humbler.

The chestnut munia or red maya is a finch-like bird unafraid of urban life. It is found throughout south-east Asia, from Burma to Vietnam.

Chestnut munia Philippines

Tree sparrows are also strongly associated with people, and have an even wider range. They are clinging to survival in Britain, where they are far outnumbered by the also declining house sparrow. Tree sparrows have a huge international range however and not likely to disappear altogether.

Tree sparrow Philippines

The Philippines has significant environmental challenges, but there are whale sharks and dugongs (large marine mammals similar to manatees) off the coast, and critically endangered warty pigs roam remote areas.

And, naturally, some of these: golden orb-weavers, quite large but harmless. The tropics would not be the tropics without spiders.

Golden orb weaver Samal Mar 2017

Or without palm trees and sand, I suppose.

Samal Island

Samal Island watches us pass.

Banana seller Samal

Fruit seller Mar 2017

Across the Wallace Line

March 2017

Back to the map of southeast Asia. Draw a line across it, written in tigers, foxes and deer. On side walks the great megafauna of Asia. On the other, the strange creatures of Australasia hop, bounce and glide.

Wallace line map

The so-called Wallace Line was discovered in 1859 by Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Later, other scientists realised that it cut a bit further north, and I’ve taken the liberty of drawing that in red on in this 1863 map.

Few wild mammals ever cross the Wallace Line, but on this trip I’m flying above it, repeatedly, catching glimpses of the exotic Sulu Sea.

Sulu Sea

Sulu Sea2

It is not safe down there; once the Sulu Sea was famous for its pirates, and today for its terrorists. But from 30,000 feet, you can get some idea of the tropical beauty of the waters.

I cross the Wallace Line just east of Borneo. A little further, and the Philippines come into view. This island nation sits astride the line – Palawan, on the Asian side, once hosted tigers, and leopard cats probably still survive. I’m headed to Mindanao, which lies on the Australian side and has no native felids.

Cats may be famous for their sleeping, but here a volcano dozes instead.

Mt Apo

Mount Apo towers 2,954 metres (9,692 ft) above southern Mindanao. It is sleeping, a comatose monument to the blazing power of the Pacific Rim of Fire.

The rest of Mindanao rolls up to Apo’s feet in ridges.

Mindanao

At ground level, green, white and blue dominate.

Jack's Ridge

It’s hard to visit Davao City without noticing exotic fruit. Durian is famous, possibly infamous. This sign on the Metro back in Singapore caught my eye:

No Durian

Maybe Davao’s jeepneys don’t object to durian?

Jeep

The reason for the anxiety is durian’s fantastically horrific smell. It is, however, known as the king of fruits because the taste is valued so highly. I sampled some in a milkshake; it’s complex, and your taste buds process it in stages. Very ripe melon is probably the closest description.

Meanwhile, Davao’s streets brim with coconuts…

Coconuts

…and venders turning them into buko.

Coconut sellers

Certainly that is appreciated in the tropical heat.