Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Jacana Run

So, we had sizzling sisig for breakfast this rainy morning while a family of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas walked around on a field behind us.

Lifer #152 - Pheasant-tailed Jacana!

No, I wasn't dreaming. I was wide awake at 5AM when Jops picked me up for our "Jacana run." Some time back, Fearless Master Guide Alex posted a report of seeing Jacanas from a gas station along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX.) We started talking about sneaking a drive to the place to see these birds for the first time. It took us a while to fit this road trip into our schedule and we finally decided it was going to be this Saturday morning.

Upon waking though, the rain was really pouring and for a brief, sad moment we both considered calling off our adventure. But we decided that we really wanted to see this bird and that if the weather didn't improve (or got worse) at any point along the NLEX, we'd exit and head back home. At least we tried, right?

So, after gassing up and airing our tires, we drove along the expressway in rainy, but definitely not stormy and dangerous, weather. We spotted the gas station before the San Simon exit and parked in front of a restaurant at the rightmost corner of the lot. The rain had slowed to a soft drizzle at this time. The restaurant was still closed (even if its sign said "Open 24 hours") so we walked through a gap between the buildings and found ourselves looking over wetlands. We immediately saw a Purple Heron, Barred Rails and White-browed Crakes. We also saw a Blue-tailed Bee-Eater flying around and returning to the same perch to swallow something it probably caught midair. Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns were flying in and out of view. Then, we saw these white-winged birds with black bodies. The Jacanas? They would come flying in but upon landing would instantly disappear among the plants! We couldn't be a hundred percent sure!

The field where we saw the family of Jacanas walking around

We heard someone walking around in the restaurant and approached him to ask if we could go in just to get better view of the birds. The guy was nice enough to let us in. He ushered us towards the huts which looked out over less water-logged fields and another part of the wetland.

This was the walkway connecting the kubos which were above ponds with very active hito!

We showed him the Kennedy Guide picture of the Jacana and he said they have been seeing this bird walking around and pointed to the field. They were wondering if it was a kind of chicken. We scanned the fields and wetlands and saw some Purple Swamphens, lots of Common Moorhens and more White-browed Crakes as well as a Little Grebe swimming, darting and diving in the water. The rain started to fall harder again but we kept looking for the Jacanas. Jops stayed in one kubo overlooking the marsh while I stayed in another kubo overlooking the field.

Jops in his kubo scanning the wetlands, looking for the Jacanas

Suddenly, Jops started gesturing for me to go to his kubo! The Jacana was in the field in front of his hut! Under the drizzle, we spotted a Jacana making its way over the plants, our view partially obscured by dangling acacia branches. It was such a wonderful bird to see! I went back to my kubo and immediately saw another Jacana, walking on the left side of the field! I called Jops to my kubo this time so we could both enjoy this better view of the bird. Surprise! It had a chick! As we put down our binoculars, we saw that there was another Jacana walking around the same field. This time, we could clearly see its long pheasant tail, the fantastic golden color on the back of its head and the long, thin toes on its feet. It stuck around long enough for us to order and eat our sisig and liempo! After breakfast, we took time reading the field guide's descriptions, took down field notes, and birded a bit more before we decided to head back home at 9AM.

Our celebratory breakfast of garlic rice, sisig and liempo

As we drove back home to Quezon City, we were happy and satisfied with our successful Jacana run. I was out birding in the rain at 6:30AM and back home in my jammies at 10 with a Jacana for a lifer and a big smile on my face. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bird Stare

Yesterday, I woke up feeling strange and weak. Something I imagine I would feel if I hiked up a mountain and back again without seeing any birds at all. I went down to get myself a mug of coffee and my first sip felt like drinking sawdust as it went down my throat. I knew at that point that I was sick.

I took my temperature and yes indeed, I had a fever. Immediately, I felt sicker. I haven't had a fever in... years! I forgot how bad it felt. But there I was, lying in bed, light headed and weak. I drifted in and out of restless sleep. I heard my mom come into my room and asked me if I wanted to close the curtains over my window. I said no. I wanted to see the outside. The outside of my bedroom window overlooks cables and a light post as well as some trees and the other houses in our small compound. When I woke up, I heard a sunbird swit-swit-ing away just outside my window. I didn't hesitate about getting up from bed and creeping slowly to the window. There it was! Perched on a cable just outside the window!


I rushed to get my camera and opened the door to the veranda ever so slowly so as not make any sound. The tiny yellow bird was still there, shaking away the wetness from its feathers from a rain shower earlier that day.


I forgot I was weak and sick! I was just plain happy, even with my messed up hair, bare feet and fever. A cool breeze blew making me feel instantly cold, reminding me I was sick. The sunbird and I looked up at the exact same moment and I was able to catch its stare in a photo.


We were both startled at each other for a few seconds, before it looked away and flew off. I smiled and returned inside my room, feeling a lot better after my big dose of bird stare.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Last Minute Lifer

Last Thursday, I got a text message from a friend with GPS coordinates on the location of a bird. A Red-bellied Pitta! In Quezon City! I haven't seen this bird yet and here was a perfect opportunity to see it so close to home! Good thing we had a scheduled guided birdwatching trip to the same area the following day. 

Our group, mostly twitchers in denial Jops, Jun, Mailyn, Yana, Joni and Jon J., made arrangements to meet up earlier than usual to go see the Pitta as well as other birds such as the Grey-backed Tailorbird which was also spotted in the same area. A few minutes after arriving in the park, we heard the Tailorbids already! We were able to spot a couple in a small area just by the side of the road but after just a few minutes, they disappeared into the undergrowth. Not all of us were able to get good views but we decided to move on to see the Pitta.

Going up the path, we bumped into fellow birders and bird photographers Bob, Cynthia, Gabs and Edu. They had just left the Pitta which was foraging for food on the ground. Just like any good birders, they pointed us to the Pitta spot and we pointed them to the Tailorbird area.

Alas! Both our groups weren't able to see the other species we were looking for! Our group spent some time waiting for the Pitta to come out but it didn't. We decided to leave the area and start our guided trip after a black cat stalked the area where the Pitta was last seen hopping around. With disappointment-laced hearts, we turned our backs on the Pitta and went to spread the joys of birdwatching to other people.

Participants of a guided trip in the La Mesa Eopark spotting a bird!

I think that's one great thing about birdwatching. We all get disappointed and sad when we fail to see a target bird. But once you accept the fact that you just ain't gonna see the bird today, you move on not with bitterness but with hope and seeds of excitement for the next possibility of seeing it. I don't think everyone has the capacity to handle such disappointment and if you're not so good at handling it now, after some time being a birder... you'll get the hang of it. It makes for much resilient people. 

Well, a couple of resilient birders made an impromptu trip back to the park today to try again to spot the Pitta. We allotted two hours tops to wait for the bird before we had to head home to a busy day ahead. We arrived at the park around 7AM and marched straight to the spot. No Pitta. We heard the Tailorbirds, Black-naped Orioles, Coucals, Kingfishers and Jops even spotted the immature Cuckoo high above us. We waited and we waited. An hour passed and the area became really quiet. I knew our time for the bird was running out and we soon had to leave. I was silently comforting myself that it was ok not seeing the bird today. Jops and I looked at each other, he said 'Let's go" and I sighed and nodded silently.

The "Pitta path"...

We haven't taken two steps when we saw Alain and Rocky coming our way! We told them we hadn't seen the Pitta and Alain simply told us that we were facing the wrong way! After maybe 15 minutes of waiting, Alain called out silently to me to stand beside him. I went as quietly as I could. He pointed to a green form on the ground. I focused my binoculars on the spot just as the bird turned its red belly on me. I was staring straight at the Pitta. When both Jops and I were able to enjoy the sight of this beautiful bird, we said our thanks and goodbyes and left the park happy and contented especially since we got to see our last minute lifer.

Note: All links to the bird photos are from the Facebook page of Wild Birds of the Philippines.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Patch of Green

I had to run an errand early this morning in UP Diliman and I found myself walking the first floor corridor of Palma Hall. I suddenly remembered being a Thomasian holed up in the UST Main Building for four years a decade ago.

I was used to seeing old walls, narrow staircases, statues of saints, glass cabinets with laboratory equipment and large windows looking out into small courtyards with palm trees, shrubs and stone benches. I would disembark from my jeepney at the Espana gate a little before 6AM and take my time walking through the tree-lined paths leading to the Main Building. During rainy days, a symphony of frogs would surround me as I splosh through the puddles as I made my way to my college. I think the other students would wonder why this student, in her all white uniform, chose to walk on the muddiest, wettest and messiest path to the Main Building (yung gitna, yung tumbok si Benavides), when there was a covered walkway on the side anyways. I enjoyed being under the old trees, listening to all the frogs slowly drown out the noise of the jeeps. When I got to the end of the path, that was basically the end of the greens.

As I walked the short stretch of the Palma Hall corridors, I suddenly appreciated the huge "windows" framing the trees of the acad oval. Students were keeping a safe distance from me as I stopped, sighed and stared at the open space. I hoped they shared some of my appreciation and happiness at all the green surrounding us. My parents would tell me stories of how beautiful the UP Campus was when they were studying there, how nice it was to just walk around and how cool the climate was back then. Imagine all that and sitting in class, looking out to this:

So nice to look out to this big patch of green instead of mostly concrete, steel and glass =)

I'm glad I live quite near the UP Diliman Campus. It's a fresh patch of green amidst all the concrete. And it's home to lots of birds too! So, as the migration season begins, I will once again frequent this green campus (but also saying goodbye to some areas which are now being built on.) As walked back to the parking lot, a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker trilled a loud hello from the acacia tree overhead before I entered my car and drove back into the concrete jungle.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Birder Connection

I can proudly say that one of the best things that has happened to me is becoming a birder. Yes, it could have come sooner in my life but I believe 100% that I became a birder at the most perfect moment. I have just finished reading two novels about bird watching: The Big Year and Life List. The former is being made into a movie and is based on the experiences of three Americans doing a big year. The latter is a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, an American birder who, upon being diagnosed with cancer, took every opportunity to see as many birds around the world with her “remaining time” left. After reading both books, the first thoughts I had were about my own life list and began listing my target birds for the year. I got called a twitcher* for that!


But seriously, the more amazing thing that I’ve realized after reading the experiences of these other birders is not the competitiveness of the race nor the importance of the numbers on your list. It’s the fact that there is a unique connectedness among birders. There is a connection between our experiences as bird watchers whether you started birding this year or during the 60’s, whether you’re from this continent or that.

It’s the same! The sudden stutters and gagging we develop when we see a rare or unexpected lifer… the silent (or loud) profanities that come out of our mouths when a bird makes a fleeting, split-second appearance then disappears into the bushes… the disappointment when we fail to see a target bird in a specific place but mixed with excitement and anticipation for the future return trip to try again… the offering of one's blood to swarms of thirsty mosquitoes while walking through trails... and of course, the simple satisfaction and pure JOY of seeing a bird in the wild. I guess it does vary from one birder to another (there ARE hard core twitchers out there).  But the connection and understanding is definitely there.

Going deep into uncharted mosquito land

I just read friend and fellow birder Bob’s blog this morning and I felt that wonderful birder connection again. I invite you to read his blog and tell me if you don’t understand his reaction upon seeing the Watercock. But if you do understand, and you feel his excitement and share in his happiness upon seeing the bird, and you find yourself smiling upon reading his experience… then you’ve just experienced the birder connection. What a wonderful world to belong to!


*twitch·er/ˈtwiCHər/Noun

1. A person or thing that twitches.
2. A birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

AHA! My Parents are Closet Birders!

I've been waking up the past week to find my binoculars out of its bag, placed neatly on the edge of my sister's bed... USED. 


My groggy brain and unfocused eyes immediately conjured images of happy little birder elves, assembling a spotting scope for me to find upon waking (think: Elves and the Shoemaker). But as my brain cells slowly started working, I thought if there were indeed birder elves in my room, they were just there to use my bins (without permission!) for early morning birding! User-friendly elves! Get your own bins! 

With half my brain awake, I asked myself: did I go sleep-birding this morning? When I really did wake up and both hemispheres of my brain have warmed up into action, I realized there are no elves. Just early morning risers: my mom and dad. 

I went downstairs with a smile on my face and asked them as they sipped their coffee while reading the papers: Sino sa inyo nag-bird? (Who went birding?) My mom smiled at me guiltily and raised her hand. She put down the newspaper she was reading and proceeded to tell me all about this bird who kept eating a mango from our neighbor’s tree. My mom has been sneaking in my room to get my bins and birding on our veranda almost every morning the past week! I told her to watch out if it was a colasisi as I’ve been hearing them fly-by our house in the mornings.

The following morning, my mom was helping my dad pack for a work trip to Baguio when I heard a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker trilling away somewhere outside our house. I quickly went to the veranda and scanned the gmelina tree of our neighbor. There it was! Creeping its way up an exposed branch. I called my mom , “Mom! The woodpecker is here!” Guess who was brisk walking to my room? My dad. I handed him my bins and pointed out the bird. I was really happy when he saw it. He even commented how small it was. At this point, my mom joined us on the veranda but my dad was still using my bins and wouldn’t hand it to my mom who was almost bobbing up and down behind him. When my dad put down the bins, the woodpecker had flown away. I looked at my mom because I knew she was in some non-birder way, disappointed at not having seen the bird. I told her I’ll keep a look out for the woodpecker for her to see.

The bird my mom saw eating mangoes turned out to be a Yellow-vented Bulbul and we spent two to three mornings in the veranda, watching the bird slowly eat away three mangoes until there was none. I wish for my parents to see the birds I’ve seen… even just the one’s in our backyard or in UP. I promised myself I’d take them birding when we all go home to our farm in Bohol... whether they were still in denial or not.

But this morning, as I was preparing for my first tutorial session, I got a text from my mom: Saw d woodpecker in d gmelina.

I guess she’s out of the closet =) 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cloudy With a Chance of Lifers

LIFER - First ever sighting of a bird in its natural habitat. 


I think it's perfect that I start my blog with a story about getting my 150th lifer.


I was looking at my precious birding notebook (Yes, one of my few prized material possessions is a little black notebook containing notes of birds I've seen since becoming a birder last year) and I realized that since that time, I've had at least one lifer for each month until July this year! In scary way, it all blended together: my life list, reading The Big Year and just finishing reading Life List... I needed my August lifer.


Good thing a birdwatching trip was organized for August 7! It was my first chance for my August lifer! I was excited since the site would be Newtown Subdivision in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan. I was wishing for a white morph coucal maybe...? =) 


Saturday night was really rainy and threatening to cancel our trip the following day. But thankfully, the rain eased up and then stopped completely as we were on our way to the site. I got out my bins, snapped on my belt bag and got ready to take it all in. As soon as I spotted my first birds, a foursome of White-breasted Woodswallows huddled together on a electric wire, I realized I didn't really need a lifer. I just need to bird.


A few minutes after spotting the Woodswallows, Mang Boy spotted some Crested Mynahs atop an electric post. I felt all my stress and worries melt away. This was going to be a good day.


I honestly wasn't really looking for any lifers throughout the morning (yes, I let go of the possible sighting of a white morph coucal). But guess what? I did get one! A Philippine Cuckoo-Dove... large, chunky and brand new to me. It's so much more exciting getting a lifer without expecting one.


That Sunday morning started out a bit shaky what with the weather and all... but I got to bird with good friends and made new ones as well. I ended the morning happy (albeit really hungry) and satisfied and energized for the week ahead.


Class picture of the Fearless Newtown Birders