Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Candaba Lifers and a Reptilian Road Block


Upon hearing the news from friend and WBCP member Felix that the roads to the Candaba Wetlands Bird Sanctuary were now passable even to sedans, we immediately planned our trip for the following day. The drive was easy and the roads dry and firm. When we arrived at around 7AM, farmers were already starting to work in the fields. Some of the paddies along the road were dry with cracked mud and so no waders were seen, except for a lone Common Sandpiper, as we drove up to the mayor's house. The grassy area was filled with hundreds of roosting Black-crowned Night Herons and Grey Herons, carefully hidden among the reeds. But once you focus your binoculars on the area, they suddenly "pop out" and become visible.




The ponds beside the mayor's house were filled with water but were relatively quiet. Except for the Red Turtle-Doves and Zebra Doves along the path and the occasional Yellow Bittern and Purple Swamphen, no other birds were seen. Photos of birds now line the area. 



We walked towards the right side of the mayor's house where we could see more Grey Herons roosting with some Purple Herons standing among the tall grasses. Walking further along the road, we flushed out more bitterns and some White-breasted Waterhens. Reaching the curb, we saw egrets in some rice paddies. There were about 20 of them, and I was starting to feel a bit disappointed. Where were the huge flocks of Candaba? As we turned the curb, I got my answer. Hundreds of egrets and terns could be seen in the fields in front of us. As we scanned the area, we were excited to see hundreds of ducks just behind the white wall of egrets! We hustled towards the area for closer views and to ID the sea of brown. But even before we could get a closer look, the huge flock took to the skies and flew to a farther pond. We were amazed at the huge flock covering the sky! Jops and I quickly back tracked to head to the pond where they settled in.

En route, we passed by a smaller pond where we saw a small group of Tufted Ducks. On the other side of the road was a larger pond where a flock of around 180 Wandering Whistling Ducks would fly around, land on the water, fly up again before settling down among the reeds. We were also entertained by the aerial battle between an Eastern Marsh Harrier and a much smaller raptor (which we weren't able to identify, tsk.) But is was the first time we were able to see raptors soaring and diving with talons aimed at each other. A Grey Heron also did a solo "dance" for us in the air =)

Can you see the heads of the Wandering Whistling Ducks?


As we neared the large pond, we saw two WBCP members Raul and Riza already scanning the area. A few minutes later, Alex and Cel, also WBCP members arrived. Here, we saw thousands of ducks in the water: Philippine Ducks, Garganeys, Northern Shovelers and our two lifers of the trip: Northern Pintails and a male Common Pochard! The mixed flock was amazing to watch! Jops and I, with the help of Alex and Cel, did a count and came up with an approximate total of 3,000 birds in that single pond! (They would see thousands more in another pond!)


Just a portion of the view of the thousands of ducks we saw


After doing our counts, Jops and I decided to walk back to the mayor's house through the bamboo hides on the other side of the fishponds. We stopped to view the Wandering Whistling Ducks again before entering the path leading back to where we parked the car.



Walking in between two walls made of bamboo, we could peep through windows into the ponds on both sides. Sadly for us, there were few birds to be seen in that area that day. Almost halfway along the path, we saw a White-throated Kingfisher fly from the pond on the right and perch near the bamboo wall in front of us. We slowly crept up to the area where it landed and took a peek through the nearest window...



We weren't able to spot the kingfisher so we started to move forward, Jops going ahead of me. Just a few steps from where we stopped, I noticed a "log" that was slowly moving our way (take note: LOG not branch!) Yikes! The log had a head! And beautiful yellow markings! I calmly asked Jops to come back slowly towards me. I think he noticed the seriousness and calm urgency in my voice because he did as he was told but was already looking around him, asking what was wrong. As soon as he was beside me, I pointed out the huuuuge snake crawling beside the bamboo wall headed straight at us! I couldn't believe our luck!



We backed up a bit more and observed what the snake would do next. It started to raise its head towards the bamboo wall, as if trying to find an opening. It would also crawl forward and try to crawl under the bamboo. We backed up a bit more. I asked Jops if he wanted to turn back and go back the way we came, but explained that the snake obviously wanted to go to the pond and we could just wait for it to find its way. He bravely said we should wait and push forward once the snake went away. So, we set up the spotting scope and enjoyed the beautiful markings on the 8-foot long reticulated python blocking our path.

We watched as it slowly inspected the bamboo wall blocking its way to the pond...

We watched as it found a way through the bamboo wall and slithered slowly towards the pond...
We stayed until the tip of its tail disappeared through the bamboo wall and it was completely gone from our sight...


When it was gone, we both breathed a sigh of relief and after a couple of minutes, trudged on. Of course we were more alert and kept our eyes on the trail lest we step on any more pythons crossing our path! =)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Discovering Wawa Dam

I have just spent most of my day in the Pamitinan Protected Landscape. I bet most of you don't know this place I am talking about. After my day there, I am quite shocked to know that most Manila and Quezon City-based folks, myself included, have been going around not knowing of this beautiful and historic place! 

Miss Meyan of the Gaia Exploration Club (GEC) invited members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines to go birding in the site to do a bird survey and some caving afterwards. Joining us were the protected area superintendent, representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and some local barangay officials. Even in the early pre-dawn rain, our group drove to Rodriguez, Rizal (formerly Montalban) to discover and re-discover (for some of us) the place. 

Approximately an hour's drive away from the Quezon Memorial Circle, the Pamitinan Protected Landscape includes the sites of the Wawa Dam, the Montalban Gorge and the Pamitinan Cave. We were greeted with mist-covered mountains as we parked our convoy at the entrance to the trails. Here you can already see large, white limestone rocks and a short walk reveals a rushing river coming from the dam.


We were met by the rest of our party at the parking area and after giving a brief introduction to birdwatching, we made our way up the trail. The dam greeted us with the loud sound of falling water pouring into a ravine. The Wawa Dam was built by the American's in 1903 and became operational in 1909 where it used to supply water to nearby places. The dam was closed in the early 1960's and its services were replaced by the much larger La Mesa Dam.

The Wawa Dam

Past the dam and the almost deafening sound of the water, the surroundings suddenly become quiet and the trail opens up into the riverbanks. As one looks back at the dam, you can now see more clearly the Montalban Gorge. This narrow valley is the origin of the Philippine legend of Bernardo Carpio, who is said to be trapped in between the mountains (or holding them apart ala-Atlas) and is the cause of earthquakes.

The Montalban Gorge

Houses line the side of the trail but the opposite side remains mostly uninhabited and we could hear coucals and tailorbirds calling from the trees. Some of us saw a small flock of Elegant Tits in the area.

Birding along the trail

Along the trail, we saw an Indigo-banded Kingfisher, seemingly undisturbed by nearby human activity. We also saw a Common Kingfisher and a White-throated Kingfisher.

A male Indigo-banded Kingfisher

Even though there were quite a number of houses along the trail, we were able to see some Scale-feathered Malkohas and an immature Crested Serpent Eagle in their backyard trees! Also seen in a mixed flock were pretty Elegant Tits, Black-naped Monarchs and even a Purple-throated Sunbird!

Immature Crested Serpent Eagle

After more than two hours birding, our group walked back to the parking lot where most of us would be getting ready for their caving adventure in the Pamitinan Cave. This cave, one of the many in the area, is the site where Andres Bonifacio and seven other Katipuneros met way back in 1895, inscribed their names on the walls and formalized their fight for Philippine independence. As a teacher, I wondered why schools don't conduct their field trips here. Students don't (and shouldn't) have to go inside the caves. They only need to see for themselves how far the revolution reached and how real it was by seeing this concrete piece of our history.

Two cave openings seen just by the entrance, before the dam

I personally chickened out and didn't join the group of brave birder-cavers (yes, I admit it.) But hearing their stories and seeing some of their photos from inside the cave was enough of a caving experience for me. =)

After having lunch and drawing up our bird list, we said our thanks and goodbyes to the friendly people who accompanied us in our Wawa Dam adventure. We will definitely be back and are planning to stay a whole day birding.!

To bird and/or go caving in the Pamitinan Protected Landscape, one must secure a permit from their Tourism Office. Send me a message if interested. It's worth exploring!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bored Birder in a Bank


I found myself in a long line in a bank the other day. There were more than 10 people ahead of me and the line was moving verrrry slowly. I wasn’t able to bring a book to read and bringing out my phone in the bank to play Sudoku was out of the question. I finished singing a Christmas carol quietly and still the line had barely moved. I stared blankly at the bank’s initials in large, blue letters on the wall behind the tellers and my brain suddenly started imagining birds perched on each letter.

But as I was starting to “choose” which birds should be perched, I decided that the birds on each letter should have names beginning with that specific letter. Nice! It started out quite easily and made waiting in line more tolerable, if not fun. But it got quite challenging with some letters though. The letters and words on the wall read: "BDO We find ways". Here’s what I came up with:

B – Blue Fantail. There are lots of birds starting with the letter B but it was a toss up between the Blue Fantail or the Blue-headed Fantail.

D – Dollarbird. This was the first bird that came to mind. It had it perched on D in all its metallic beauty.

O – Olive-backed Sunbird. I want to put the Philippine Oriole but I decided to be strict about it and have birds with first names that begin with that specific letter.

W – White Wagtail. Of course! It’s my newest lifer!

E – Elegant Tit. I think this was the first and only E bird I could think of.

F – Ferruginous Flycatcher. Got me thinking if I would ever get the chance to see this bird again in UP.

I – Indigo-banded Kingfisher. I haven't seen this bird in a while...

N – Narcissus Flycatcher. Female. Not that it should really matter, but in this case it does. I still haven't seen the male Narcissus, so I perched a female for now. (the bird in the link is the male Narcissus)

D  - Hmm. D. Dollarbird is already perched... Hmm. I couldn't think of any other D bird!

W – White-breasted Woodswallow. I perched a couple of them on W =)

A – Asian Golden Plover. One of my favorite waders especially in their breeding plumage.

Y – Yellow-vented Bulbul. Yes, it deserved a perch in the bank, being the urban bird that it is.

S – Scale-feathered Malkoha. One of my latest and more unique-looking lifers to cap off the bird "display" in my head.

Voila! Beautiful birds atop a bank's display and I was third in line already =) I think I'll be playing this "game" more often...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Lifer in Black and White

I thought I saw a White Wagtail once. But I was never convinced a hundred percent it was indeed a White Wagtail. It was scribbled with a big question mark in my notebook.

Just last month, Jops and I saw small groups of Yellow Wagtails in rice paddies during our last trip to Bohol, and some of them had mostly white bodies convincing me more that the bird I saw wasn't a White Wagtail. After reading my birder friend Trinket's blog about seeing hundreds of Yellow Wagtails in various plumage, including white,  I finally wrote it off my life list. Reports of seeing White Wagtails in Batanes convinced me I wouldn't be seeing this bird anytime soon.

Almost a week after I erased it from my list, White Wagtails were reported and photographed in the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City. I couldn't believe it. I had just written off this bird and suddenly, here comes a perfect opportunity to actually see it! And in a location not even 30 minutes away from my home!

We waited patiently for the weekend to come. That was a full four days of waiting since the sighting was initially reported and of seeing more and more pictures being posted by friends who have seen and photographed the birds. Tito Bob K. and Trinket have also blogged about them!

Trinket, Jops and I arrived at the park at 7AM. We found Sir Bong already positioned in the area, reviewing some photos on his camera. He had just photographed the bird a few minutes before we arrived. And it had now flown away. More birder friends started to arrive and we each took a spot facing the wire fence which separated the vermiculture area from the actual spillway. (We offered our unsolicited pruning services for the vines crawling up the wire fence too.)

Patient birders waiting for the black and white migratory birds to arrive

We waited an hour and a half and still no White Wagtails. We did get to see a Colasisi, a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Brown Shrikes, fly-by Ospreys, Little Egrets, a Common Sandpiper, a Little Heron, some White-collared Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails. A Common Kingfisher made a very brief appearance and stayed hidden from view. Jops couldn't keep still any longer and decided to walk to the other side of the parking area, of course with the request that we call him on his cell phone should the White Wagtails appear. 

Just a minute after he left the area, two White Wagtails flew in! I quickly focused my bins on the birds and with one hand pulled out my phone and dialled his number. He dropped my call and as I looked back at the parking area, I saw a flash of brown running towards us. I pointed to where the birds were and we all admired these gorgeous black and white lifers.

Digiscoped  photos by Jops

The two individuals were different. One had a solid black color on the top of its head, running down up to its nape. It's back and wings were grey. It had a black kidney-shaped bib across its white chest (this is the bird in all the photos here.) The other bird had a lighter, grey color on top of its head and its bib was smaller, almost heart-shaped (sorry, no pics of this one.) Could they be a female and an immature White Wagtail? Need to study them more later =)

More digiscoped photos by Jops of the White Wagtail

The birds stayed awhile, even bullying and stealing food from a Grey Wagtail who was trying to eat his meal in peace. The White Wagtails also chased away a White-collared Kingfisher who flew into their area! As the wagtails flew off, so did us birders... satisfied with seeing our target bird for that morning.

When I settled down at home, I was able to write the White Wagtail leucopsis ssp. officially as my lifer. The subspecies in Batanes will have to wait. =)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rufousness!!!


ru-fous
Adjective:     Reddish brown in color.
Noun:            A reddish brown color.
Synonyms:    rubiginous - russet


I have only birded in Subic twice. The first time was with a group of friends where I saw around 30 species and got myself 3 lifers: Blue-naped Parrot (I don't think I'm fond of parrots...) and forever WOW-birds: White-bellied Woodpeckers and Sooty Woodpeckers. That was an overnight trip but was unfortunately marred by rainy weather, so we did not get to see most of what the patches of forests Subic has to offer.

That first trip was before I developed the habit of listing down birds species that have been recorded in the place I would be visiting. But I did keep my eyes out for the woodpeckers =) So, when our birder friend Adri stopped our convoy for a Rufous Coucal, I didn't really expect that it would be such a hard bird to spot and see completely! All I saw back then were flashes of orangey-brown feathers gliding from one side of the road and into the thick trees and bushes on the other side. That was it. The end. Moving on. Let it go.

After that, the Rufous Coucal became a "need-to-see" bird for me the next time I found myself in Subic.

Last weekend, we were travelling back home to Manila after a two-day birding trip in Masinloc, Zambales.  When the opportunity of a quickie side-trip to the Nabasan Trail in Subic "presented" itself to us birders in the van, I was so happy we took it. "Rufous Coucal" in hot, glowing letters immediately flashed in my head.


We had very limited time, arriving at the trail around 4:30 in the afternoon, so we didn't bother to walk and just drove through. We saw Whiskered Treeswifts, Dollarbirds and lots of Blue-throated Bee-eaters! My brain was so tired from the long roadtrip, that I was already zoning out when the van abruptly stopped and the excited whisper of "Rufous Coucal!" was heard. I don't even remember who said it! 

We stopped the van and all got out to check the rustling of leaves above us. And there it was, in all its rufous glory: a Rufous Coucal. There was more rustling in the area and we discovered there were more of them! (I actually mistook one as a squirrel, since its head was covered and it was creeping up a branch, until I saw the feathers on its tail!) We also saw a Philippine Coucal near the group of Rufous Coucals. It was a coucal party! Then, one at a time, they glided from the trees above us to the other side of the road. I think there were at least 10 of them! The scene was jaw-dropping for me. Instead of "coolness", I think the more appropriate reaction would be "rufousness!"

PS1 - Before leaving the trail (just about 30 minutes after we got there), we spotted a male Tarictic Hornbill and a White-bellied Woodpecker!

PS2 - My glowing Rufous Coucal logo courtesy of Cool Text: Logo and Graphics Generator  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bohol Birding Marathon

Being gifted with free plane tickets to Bohol courtesy of free air miles, we decided we should do two things: re-visit birding sites we've been to before and discover new ones as well.

Site #1 - New Site: Co-management Area in Talibon, Bohol
18 November (Friday) - Before leaving for Bohol, we asked my Tita if she could recommend new sites we could go to for bird watching in Bohol. The requirement: as many birds as possible! She immediately recommended Talibon. Accompanied by my two cousins, we drove almost 2 hours from Tagbilaran to the coastal municipality of Talibon and went to their environmental office to introduce ourselves (my Tita helped set up the co-management sites, which are the first ones in the country!) They were very helpful and assigned up Kuya Florencio as our guide.

We drove a few minutes into the site which were composed of drained out fishponds. We immediately saw lots of waders in the exposed mud, foraging around in small groups. With the scope out and bins ready, we identifies them as Common Redshanks, Common Sandpipers and Rufous-necked Stints! There was even a fly-by Osprey! As we further scanned the area, I spotted a couple of Black-winged Stilts on the fishponds further inland. We decided to check those out.

Wow! I could have spent the whole day there! Great Egrets, Stilts, Terek Sandpipers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and Grey Plovers were all there in the fishpond! Mixed with them were Marsh and Wood Sandpipers as well.I was listing down so many birds and thinking at the back of my mind: Hey, I'm getting lifers here! We also chanced upon a single Pond-Heron perched on a sand bag in the middle of a fishpond.

We had to leave at 4:30 but we're sure to go back and spend more time in this area. We also plan to explore the nearby islands accessible by boat from Talibon. Exciting new discovery!!!

Site #2 - Revisited Site: Villa Salvador, Catigbian, Bohol
19 November (Saturday) - Villa Salvador is the family farm my parents put up which rents out cottages and offers delicious food. It is part of the bigger property, Segura Farms. I've spent months here before becoming a birder and now that I am, I am raring to discover the birds in the farm.


We've started exploring the area last March and after getting a fantastic 47-species bird list from a group of friends who visited the farm last September, we were all too excited to go! We weren't as lucky as they were but we saw new species we weren't able to see on our previous trip. The Hooded Pittas called soooo closely to us but didn't show themselves this time. The people there told us about the pittas with chicks as well as Philippine Ducks (they call them "wild ducks") with at least 5 chicks! We just saw two Philippine Ducks in flight though. Again, we'll be back and hopefully I'll get to stay a week in the farm just birding and exploring!

Site #3 - Revisited Site: Rajah Sikatuna Park, Bilar, Bohol
20 November (Sunday) - The last time we were here, I was amazed with the birds I saw. This time, we didn't get to see some of them but our first bird of the trip was no less than a Silvery Kingfisher! Our guide, Ryan Sugala, accompanied us along the trails and also to other nearby sites. The birds were most active in the morning, but towards the afternoon, the forest was really quiet! No wonder... the rain poured heavily on us just minutes after a Steere's Pitta called loudly in front of us (still a no-show.) Wet and cold, we went back to Magsaysay Park towards dusk to look for owls. We heard a Philippine Scops Owl AND a Philippine Eagle Owl calling but weren't fortunate enough to see them. We drove home still owl-less. *sigh* Another reason to keep coming back!

Site #4 - New Site: Mangrove Boardwalk, Maribojoc, Bohol
21 November (Monday) - On our way to the airport, we decided to drop by the town on Maribojoc and check out their new mangrove boardwalk. The site we visited was one of a couple being constructed and has a huge potential for birding. We arrived a little past 8AM and the sun was really shining full-force on us. We could hear bird calls from the mangroves but were unable to see the birds. We stayed for around 15 minutes only (lest we miss our flight!) The owner told us about birds they see in the mangroves: egrets, kingfishers, herons and Philippine Ducks! We really have to discover this area soon!

As we were on the plane going home to Manila, I started re-writing our bird lists from the birding marathon we just finished over the weekend: 10 lifers, 2 new sites, and so much more reasons to go back to Bohol.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'll Do My Birding in the Rain

Oh yes, I am singing that line to the tune of the Everly Brothers' "Crying In The Rain". 

Last weekend, despite forecasts of heavy rains, Jops, Jun, Jelaine and I (yes, I was Jaiabird for the day) trooped to Los BaƱos, Laguna to bird in Mt. Makiling and some surrounding sites. The morning was cloudy but we were blessed with sunny patches and just a couple of light rain showers (more on this on my previous post). We came down the trail half past noon and went straight to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) canteen for lunch. Half-way through my curried vegetables and beef with gravy, it started to rain.

I think we were all silently praying that it was only a passing downpour. But as we packed away our plates and trays, the rain hadn't stopped but had at least weakened into a fine shower. We walked towards the back of the building where we were parked and were pleasantly surprised to discover the field dotted with birds!

We took refuge from the rain and settled in one of the concrete sheds just beside the field. We got out our binoculars, scope and cameras, notebooks, field guides and cupcakes and just watched. 


It was quite pleasant for me, sitting there staring out onto the green, enjoying the cool wind and occasional spray of rain, knowing there were birds on the field. They were Richard's Pipits and some Yellow Wagtails. They were standing in the rain, looking for food in the wet soil. Some birds were bathing in the puddles too! There were also some White-breasted Woodswallows and swallows flying above and around us. A couple of Brown Shrikes would dive down onto the grass, easily pick out a worm from the ground and fly back to a nearby perch to eat. Curiously, the Shrikes did not prey on a frog who was hopping just a few inches from them as they landed on the ground. We concluded that the Brown Shrikes of IRRI prefer a diet of worms than a meaty frog.


I really enjoyed the hour we spent there, waiting for the rain to stop. It was a nice, cool break from all the walking we did up the Mt. Makiling trail that morning. I usually don't take a nap after lunch but I almost fell asleep if not for the birds that refused to leave the field even though it was raining.

Monday, November 7, 2011

When Mariang Makiling Smiled on Us...

The weather forecast predicted heavy rains for that day, but our morning hike up the Mt. Makiling trail was sunny with just a couple of light rain showers. I felt Mariang Makiling, the guardian of the mountain according to Philippine folklore, smiling on us. As the sunlight filtered through the trees, I had to smile back =) 
Cheers, Mariang Makiling! Thank you!

It was raining quite hard when I woke up at 3AM. A text from a friend based in Los Banos informed me that it had been raining the whole day yesterday and it looks like its going to be raining that day too. But, knowing my companions, I was pretty sure we'd still push through with our planned trip to Mt. Makiling. I got up and got ready.

It was almost 7AM when we arrived at the UP Los Banos campus but the sun still wasn't out. We already laid out a Plan B just in case it rained. No more trail if it rained. But it didn't =)

TREES was very quiet but a mixed flock of Stripe-headed Rhabdornis and Coleto flew in for a few minutes and a couple of Balicassiao stopped for a while too. We then started on the trail.

Our party going up the Mt. Makiling trail
This was my third time going up Mt. Makiling. Both times, we had to go back down before reaching the "bukohan" area. Jops and I were determined to reach it this time, providing it wouldn't rain. So, up the trail we went with Jun and Jelaine. I honestly wasn't expecting any lifers. Mt. Makiling can appear quite devoid of birds on some instances and the weather wasn't really ideal for lots of birds. But I kept my fingers crossed.

As we made our way up the mountain, the sun started to come out and I could see patches of sunlight on the trail. Sometimes, the forest would come alive with bird calls. We spotted a mixed flock of Elegant Tit, Philippine Bulbul and a Sulphur-billed Nuthatch --> lifer for Jun! And Jelaine!

Further along the trail, we heard a sharp and very loud call. "Scale Feathered Malkoha!" Jun exclaimed excitedly. After a few minutes, he spotted the bird and pointed our lifer to us! Thanks Jun! Such a fantastic (and kinda strange-looking) bird! The bird stayed a while hopping from one perch to another, preening its feathers along the way. We were even able to show it to a family hiking up the trail! After some time, it flew further back into the trees where we could still hear its calls but could no longer see it. I would definitely want to observe this bird again and again!

Further up the trail, we encountered a couple of light rain showers but not even strong enough for me to take out my umbrella. We finally made it to the bukohan at around 11AM. Third time's a charm! We celebrated our feat with... fresh buko juice! =)

More than any lifers, this bukohan was my target for the morning =P
The walk back down was quick (probably because we were getting hungry) and almost uneventful save for a couple of Crested Serpent Eagles that perched quite near us on two separate instances. We heard the Spotted Wood Kingfishers but weren't able to spot them. We were all wishing for the Philippine Trogons to show, but they didn't show too as well as the Colasisis who chose to just keep flying by.

We reached the parking area past noon and we were all starving. We saw less than 10 species of birds up the trail but I was so grateful for that one special lifer and the fact that it didn't rain! As I got in the car, I looked back at the trail and once again said my thank you to Mariang Makiling. 'Til our next climb =)


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trying Hard


Hey, at least I tried. =)

My practice model for the afternoon: Mr. Blue Rock-Thrush
I haven't really tried bird photography in earnest. I admit I am intimidated with the technical aspect of it and having major limitations in terms of gear, somehow elevates the "challenge" factor. But I would LOVE to take wonderful photos of  wild birds like so many of my friends do. Looking at them in action and seeing their photos... wow. They make it look so easy! But there is always that silent wish that I could capture these beautiful birds and do them justice in photographs I could take.

So, after seeing the Blue Rock-Thrush pretty close-up, playing with its food just a couple of days ago, I decided to go back alone and try photographing it. As I was driving to the site, the sky darkened and there was a foreboding of strong rain. As I parked, some fine raindrops began to fall and the sky was getting darker still. I scanned the area, watching out for the bird in the grass, on some shrubs, on the large tree. It wasn't there. I turned around to face the building and immediately saw a figure of a bird, standing tall atop the roof. A quick look through my bins confirmed that it was the male BRT. I gave it a few minutes, silently wishing it would fly and perch anywhere near me. But as the sky grew darker and the bird not moving from its perch, I sighed, took one last look at it through my bins and went in the car. I started the engine and with my head down, told myself it was ok. When I looked up through the wind shield, there it was: Mr. Blue Rock-Thrush perched just in front of me!

I turned off the engine. It didn't move.
I opened my door. It didn't move.
I ever so sloooowly got out of the car. It. Didn't. Move!!!

Crouching to be at level with the car, I pointed my D40 with a 28-300mm borrowed lens from Jops and tried my very best to remember what Sir Alain and Sir Rey talked about during their bird photography lecture at the Philippine Bird Festival: ISO. Shutter speed. Aperture. Oh my god it's too dark! No light! What do I do when it's too dark? (Was it pack up and leave?) It's starting to rain!!! Nooo!

I managed to get a few shots. As in: few. After a few minutes, it flew down to the grass, hopped around a bit before it flew away out of sight just as the drizzle got stronger. I got back in the car, excited to see what I got. And I got.... lots of blurred pictures.

I initially got lots of suuuper blurry pictures like this:


I also had lots of shaky pictures like this (no thanks to my pasmado hands and the hour I spent playing the guitar earlier that afternoon!):


I got semi-blurred images of the BRT. I'm so thankful it stayed that long on its perch right in front of the car!

And this was the best shot I got of it. Not as sharp as I'd want it to be but I do need to practice.

Oh well, I was happy enough being able to practice on such a handsome subject who posed so close to me! And I'm happy I tried very hard =)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Birding Side-Trip #2

Another opportunity for side-trip birding opened up when I wanted to visit my paternal grandparents' graves in Tarlac for All Souls Day. Usually, our whole family drives up to Tarlac to spend time with them at the family mausoleum. But this year, having our helper still en route back from a vacation, our family had to go home in batches. Jops and I were batch 1.

We chose to pass through the Capas road going to Tarlac City. We've been reading good birding stories from this place and so we drove through the Barangay O'Donnell road instead of the main high way or the SCTEX.

The Capas Memorial Shrine

This back road was lined with dry grasslands and rice paddies. This afforded us good views of Bright-capped Cisticolas, Striated Grassbirds and the occasional Lesser Coucal just feet away from the car. We drove very slowly hoping for rails or quails to cross the road, but sadly there were none that morning. There was quite a number of motorcycles, tricycles and trucks passing through the road.

We stopped at rice paddies to look for waders and at our first stop, I got my lifer! A pretty Wood Sandpiper (though it could have been a male)! It was feeding in one paddy while Pied Bushchats, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Long-tailed Shrikes flew in the area. Arctic Warblers flitted among the branches of the tree beside us while a White-Eared Brown-Dove sat for a few seconds before flying away. I have to say, rice paddies and wetlands are fast becoming my favorite birding sites!

One of the paddies we stopped at to bird.

We stopped at a small paddy, just beside the road and spotted some waders in the mud. Some farmers who were taking a break were looking curiously at us, so we called them over and showed them some plates from our Kennedy field guide. We told them we were also on the lookout for the Watercock and showed them the illustration. Their faces lit up with recognition but they told us we were too late! They said these birds came out from the tall reeds early in the morning. They said there were lots of them in the area. They told me they were delicious =P

We drove on since we were planning to go to the Tarlac Ecopark in San Jose City before going to Tarlac to visit the cemetery. On our last stop, we spotted some birds that looked like quails! Alas, the birds walked into the grass and didn't come out again. Our first quails would have to wait. But we did see a beautiful Yellow Wagtail preening atop a stick.

Yellow Wagtail
When we arrived at the Tarlac Ecopark, it was an hour before noon (we spent so much time in the O'Donnell road!) We heard some Guaiaberos and saw one fly by. As we were walking, I saw another fly away from a fruiting guava tree just in front of us! Aaargh! It was so close and very well camouflaged among the leaves! So, we sat in the grass, waiting for it to show itself, surrounded by so many different bird songs! For a while,  the area was so noisy with bird calls... some familiar and some completely new to us! Then, the singing died down and we were left with the not so distant calls of the Guaiabero who decided not to come back down to the guava tree.

A nice spot in the Tarlac Ecopark
We walked further down the park and we were able to get close-up views of a mixed flock of Elegant Tit, Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Bulbul and some Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. I was also given a treat of observing a Black-naped Monarch for quite some time. We stayed for an hour and a half before heading down to Tarlac City and for the main purpose of our trip. Next time we go home, I'll make sure to go birding in the family's mango orchard and see what birds are in that magical place from my childhood.

Birding Side-Trip #1

Sometimes, you find yourself having to do something and that opens up an opportunity for a birding side-trip. This past week, I was lucky enough to find myself birding in two new sites and getting one lifer from each! Our first birding side-trip was in Cavite State University.


Jops was invited to give a talk in Tagaytay and he thought it would be a perfect chance for a birding side-trip in the Cavite State University campus. His talk was scheduled in the afternoon, so that afforded us a whole morning of birding. He'd been there numerous times before for work and has been telling me that it was a good birding site. He got some lifers there before! So, we packed our bags and drove south.


Some of the trees in the pool area
The campus is big and in some portions, still dense with trees. We birded in the area of the swimming pool, which was basically a deserted portion of the university. Some pools had no water in them and since it was already the semestral break, there were almost no students on campus.

From the gated entrance, the path leading down to the pools reminded me of the trail of Mt. Makiling. Large trees lined the path and bird calls could be heard all around. I could already see Philippine Bulbuls flying among the trees!

We reached the steps leading down to the pools and here we saw a large fruiting tree! Within minutes, we spotted Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Lowland White-eyes, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and more Philippine Bulbuls.


Half-way down the steps, I saw a couple of birds perch on the small tree above us. From their form, they looked like munias... best guess: Scaly-breasted Munias. I trained my binoculars to where they were perched and I felt my heart beat faster as I saw their white bellies lined with brown speckles! LIFER! I didn't expect to get any lifers on the trip but there they were, perched just meters above me!

Further down by the empty pool, a couple of White-throated Kingfishers perched on a tree, occasionally swooping down to grab an earthworm before perching again and enjoying its meal. (Observing this quite large kingfisher, whacking the worm against the tree branch made me wonder if the earthworm was actually putting up a fight.)

We also got nice views of a Black-naped Monarch in the same tree!

I chose to sit half-way down the steps, enjoying the eye-level view of the fruiting tree while Jops made his way down to the pool area. I just sat there taking in the views of the Stripe-headed Rhabdornis feeding above me. Such beautiful markings!

Stripe-headed Rhabdornis. Photo by Jops (taken in Subic)

We birded in other areas of the campus but had to cut the trip short since we had to travel to Tagaytay City for the main purpose of this trip: Jops' Globe Negostar talk. It would be great to go back and explore the area more. WBCP club trip maybe? =)

Jops' Globe Negostar talk!

Birding side-trip #2, coming up!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Birdwatching on the Local News!

The recent birdwatching activity organized by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines in the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City was featured by a GMA7 news team. They were able to see some birders in action and interview kids who were first time birdwatchers. Hearing the kids talk about birdwatching made me smile and gave me much affirmation that we are indeed doing something good =) 

Here's the video that came out on the local news a few days ago...


Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Ruddy Good Morning!


rud·dy

Adjective: Having a healthy red color


I remember looking at the kingfishers plate in my Kennedy Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. I remember staring at the illustrations of the Stork-billed Kingfishers and beside them, the Ruddy Kingfishers, surprised at their large size and their large bills compared to the other kingfishers. I also remember saying to myself: "Good luck, Maia if you get to see these birds!" (especially upon reading the word "uncommon" at the start of their descriptions.) So, I didn't really think I'd see a Ruddy Kingfisher this year. But I did. Just before lunch today.


When reports and photos of a Ruddy Kingfisher sighted in Quezon City came out recently, I got excited at the possibility of seeing this bird (although there still was this tiny voice that said "Don't get your hopes up too much!") Jops and I didn't schedule a twitching trip, no matter how close to home the sighting was. We were gearing up for a birdwatching activity in La Mesa Ecopark this Sunday but I guess the Ruddy Kingfisher was at the back of our minds the past few days. So, when we found a couple of hours free this Saturday morning, we decided to give in and check if we would be lucky enough to see it.


It was already 11AM when we reached the area where the bird was spotted and I needed to be back home for lunch! I said a silent prayer and scanned the trees. Brown Shrike. Yellow-vented Bulbul. Another Brown Shrike. Time check: 11:15. No Ruddy. We also kept our eyes open for the Spotted Wood Kingfisher recently spotted in the area. Negative. SOS Sir JV. =)


With more directions so generously sent our way (thank you Sir JV!), we backtracked a bit and immediately saw a reddish bird flying among the trees. The Ruddy! After a few minutes of scanning, we finally saw it perched with its back towards us. Its back was a solid reddish brown color with some blue peeking out on its rump. The bird suddenly faced us and allowed us to admire the fine markings/barring on its white throat and chest and, of course, its huge orange bill! It was just too bad that it was perched too far back for a good photograph.


It transferred once more, much closer to us but partially covered. This time we could only see its head and neck. But what a wonderful view! I could clearly see its eyes and the white patch running down the side of its neck. 

Jops' documentary shot of the immature Ruddy Kingfisher

It flew deeper into the trees and we could no longer see it. We waited a bit for it to come out again. Time check: 11:45. I really needed to go! So, very thankful that we were able to see it, we said goodbye to our lifer for the day with a silent promise to come back and spend more time with it. With 15 minutes left before noon, I can say it was a very ruddy good morning!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back to Basics

I have been wanting to write about the wonderful week I spent in Negros Oriental but I honestly don't know where to start! So I will fast forward to my birding adventures back here in Manila the past weeks. We revisited the more familiar sites we frequented as we were newly fledged birders. After exploring the unique wonders of Negros, we went back to the "basics."

Lots of Little and Great Egrets!
Coastal Lagoon. We, or rather I, wasn't able to visit any mudflats during our stay in Negros and was feeling deprived of waders. So the first birding trip on our list was the Coastal Lagoon. I don't know why but I have this new fascination for them no matter how difficult most of them may be to ID. We stopped at the fishing wharf and  saw hundreds of egrets and terns and lots of waders on the exposed mudflats too! We went a few days after the storm and thanks to the mangroves, the area did not suffer any damage from any storm surge (unlike the area of Roxas Blvd..) We saw lots of Asian Golden Plovers and was able to get a lifer: a Marsh Sandpiper!

My first Ruddy Turnstone turning stones!!!
We proceeded to the Coastal Lagoon and saw that the storm had washed more garbage up the beach as well as on the path leading to the inner ponds. The low tide allowed us great views of another lifer for me, a Ruddy Turnstone! I could have stayed there all day watching it busily turning rocks on the beach! We scoped out the beach and were able to spot some waders foraging in all that waste (it's quite a sad sight.) After a few minutes of scanning the trash, Jops, Mark Jason, Jelaine and Ned were able to spot a Sanderling! They all saw it! Except for me! Note to self: go back asap!

UP Beta Way. I have always birded in this place and come back regularly to check on what surprises it may show me (like the Oriental Cuckoo a few months back.) This time, we found the place full of Brown Shrikes! There was also a flock of Lowland White-eyes in the area and White-collared Kingfishers calling from afar.





UP NIGS. We revisited the site of our first guided trip and I was quite saddened with all the construction going on. The central portion which used to be home for Striated Grassbirds was now walled in and... gone. We didn't see the resident Long-talied Shrikes in the area too. Hmmm.

UP Hardin ng Rosas. The last time I went here the place was overgrown and you couldn't see the pond and rice fields. But last weekend, the place was clear enough to bird in! We saw a Common Kingfisher trying its best to swallow quite a large fish until it dropped it and flew away. There were some egrets in the rice fields too as well as a single Java Sparrow. The Peregrine Falcon also made an appearance and we were able to spot a Common Sandpiper in a muddy patch!



Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (photo by Jops)
La Mesa Ecopark. We've been wanting to scout this place for other birdy areas and we were able to do so last Sunday. We also kept an eye out for the family of Ashy Ground Thrushes but were unable to spot them. Lots of trees were felled by the storm and others had lots of broken branches. We went on through the trail and were able to see a beautiful Mangrove Blue Flycatcher perched just in front of us as well as a Red-bellied Pitta a bit far off from its "usual" area. A brief sighting of an immature Brush Cuckoo sent my heart palpitating!

These, for me, are my "basic" birding sites. I wish for everyone to have these kinds of birding places, where you can rush to on a sunny weekend morning or when you just feel the need to bird. After going on an adventure, it was nice to go back to the familiar places and rediscover them again.