Monday, June 4, 2012

Birthday Birding in Makiling

This year, I was blessed to celebrate my birthday birding in Mt. Makiling. Jops and I, together with friends Jun, Rob, Mark Jason, Leni and Jon J., braved the rainy weather and pushed on with our birding plans.

Welcome the Monsoon
We planned to leave for Laguna by Friday at noon, pick up friends along the way and meet up with Leni at TREES in the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) campus. Just our luck that a storm signal was raised Thursday evening over Catanduanes, south of Manila, marking the start of the monsoon season. Great. I hoped and prayed for good weather but I didn't expect much sunshine. As we exited the South Luzon Expressway, I got a text from Leni saying that she was entering the UPLB campus and that "the rain was letting up." I crossed my fingers and toes that the rain won't spoil our weekend.

Quails Come to Those Who Wait
We arrived at TREES a little past 3PM and found Leni birding in the area. It was quiet in the area, but we did see a lone Coppersmith Barbet atop the dead tree. After checking in, we proceeded to the DTRI area to bird in the grasslands there and hopefully see some quails. That would be Jops and my first quail species!

Very cloudy view of the grasslands we would bird in (and see some Barred Buttonquails!!!)
It was rainy almost the whole time we were in the area. We stood in a moderately falling rain for almost an hour! But then the rain finally stopped and we saw them: Barred Buttonquails on the dirt road! Lifer! We first saw a male BBQ (Barred Buttonquail) with some chicks on the path, scurrying about, staying close to the edge of the road. We were also treated to amazing  views of two female BBQs, clearly seeing the beautiful barring on their throats and bellies as well as their yellow beaks and amazing rufous necks! We stayed a bit seeing some Oriental Magpie Robins, Bright-capped Cisticolas, a Lesser Coucal and listening to the calls of a Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo that refused to show itself.

Dinner with Paul
We headed back to TREES and prepared to go out for dinner and some owling afterwards. We met up with fellow birder Paul Bourdin at the Thai restaurant just outside the UPLB campus. Over good food and great company, we exchanged stories about birds and birding =)

Happy birders getting ready for a Thai dinner =)

It was also a celebratory meal for getting
excellent views of the Barred Buttonquails!

Owling Time
After dinner, we said goodbye to Paul and our group headed back to TREES to try and spot some owls. As we headed out into the night, a soft rain started to fall. It came together with the loud calls of some Philippine Hawk-Owls!

Birders in the night, looking and listening for owls =)
The Hawk-Owls were calling from almost all sides! It was amazing hearing their different calls... and they call so loudly! Finally we saw them! At first we saw one, then two, and amazingly three Philippine Hawk-Owls chasing each other in the canopy of the tree above us! It was such a great display for all of us! When finally the owls "settled down" we were able to observe one of the owls who perched in the open for a few minutes.

This is a photo of two of the Philippine Hawk-Owls we saw.
Rob took this picture and shared it with me for my birthday! Thank you, Rob!
The owls soon flew off just as the rain really began to fall, making us run for cover. We spotted two Glossy Swiftlets on the ceiling of the lobby and, of course, took the time to observe and photograph them before calling it a night.

Up the Muddy Mountain
We woke up early the next morning to steady rainfall. After getting some take-out breakfast, we waited at the hostel for the jeepney to arrive. It didn't come since the driver assumed we wouldn't proceed up the mountain because of the weather. Good thing Mark Jason had a back-up plan and after an hour, a Looney Tunes jeepney came to take us up. The rain was getting weaker as we rode up the mountain, but it did leave patches of mud that made parts of the trail too slippery for the jeepney. Finally, the driver gave up and said he could go no further. We all got out of the jeep and started walking up the forest trail. I expected my heart to sink... with the weather, the trail... but I didn't. It was my birthday week and I was going to enjoy it any way it turned out.

And it turned out very well indeed =)

When we started up the trail, the rain finally stopped (praise God!) =) Some parts of the trail came alive with bird song and we soon got to see a Philippine Trogon (Jops' lifer!) Moving further up the trail, we spotted a White-browed Shama engaging Mark Jason in a sing-off! It perched really close to the trail and sang for us a long time!

This White-browed Shama put on a show for us!
 This photo is a gift from Jun =) Thank you, Jun!
Further along the trail, we saw Spotted Wood Kingfishers. It was the first time I saw them on Mt. Makiling. We tried looking for a Bleeding Heart and some were able to hear one calling but none came out. We started to head back down the trail, and on the way down we encountered a mixed flock of Elegant Tits, Yellow-wattled Bulbuls, Yellow-bellied Whistlers, and a male Flaming Sunbird.

Birders in action! =)
Winding It Down
We got back to TREES happy with the amazing sights of the amazing birds we saw on the trail. We checked out, said goodbye to Leni who had to go home, and drove to IRRI for lunch. We relaxed a bit in a gazebo before heading to the APEC area for a last birding stop before going home to Manila.

In the APEC rice fields, we saw Common Moorhens, Greater Painted Snipes, and Scaly-breasted Munias bathing in a puddle. There were other birds in the field but the highlight was being dive-bombed by White-breasted Woodswallows as some of us passed by its nest and chicks atop an electric post! That was something else! We drove around and spotted some Oriental Skylarks looking handsome in a small field.

Last stop was back at DTRI to buy some chocolate milk. We were treated to another lifer: Asian Palm Swifts flying low over a field!!! Wonderful way to end my birthday birding trip! =)


  1. I thought it was WBCP practice to hike into the Mother Mountain... I recall an intense (almost heated) discussion about that some years back... leave no trace... low carbon, low impact.

    1. Hi Ned! This was the first time I've gone up (or partially up) riding a jeep but we have heard of this being done. I am also not aware of any official WBCP pratice about how to go up the mountain.