Saturday, February 25, 2012

Owls, Pellets and Petroglyphs

I've only recently learned about owls regurgitating pellets. I've also only recently learned about the petroglyphs in Angono. So when WBCP friend Vincent reported seeing an owl in the area, it would be a double treat for me!

En Route
It took us an hour and thirty minutes to drive to the site from Quezon City, with a brief Jollibee stopover for take-out breakfast. We drove through Imelda Avenue (which reminded me of the road conditions in Candaba.) We pushed further on towards the Thunderbird Resort (just follow the signs), left an ID at the guardhouse and missed the cave entrance to the site. If you're coming from the Cainta route, watch out for the BACK of this sign:

If you're coming from the Antipolo route, you'll be greeted with
the front of the sign.

The guard at the next gate, told us we missed the entrance to the petroglyph site by a few meters. We made a u-turn and saw the tunnel opening. Coming from Cainta, it will be on your left.


We parked before this tunnel, spent a few minutes observing some Tawny Grassbirds just beside our car, and then went in. It was a short walk from this point to the mini-museum in the site. Unfortunately, it was closed the time we were there since they were setting up an exhibit. We registered, paid the P20.00 entrance fee and walked up to the view deck.

The view deck to see the petroglyphs.
I love view decks!!! Perfect for dude birding!

Pellets
When we saw our first owl at the start of the year, it was only then that I learned that owls, like some other birds, regurgitate the indigestible parts of the prey they eat. Since they don't have teeth to chew their food, owls tear apart their meal and swallow large chunks whole. In their gizzard, the bones, fur and feathers are separated from the softer, digestible parts. The harder materials are then formed into a pellet and is expelled before the owl eats another meal. Amazing right?!

I was so excited to see my first owl pellet but I honestly completely forgot about them when I saw the Philippine Eagle Owl atop a mango tree.

Philippine Eagle Owl Bubo philippensis

I was so engrossed looking at this beautiful bird staring back down at me that I needed Jops to remind me about looking for some pellets! I took one last long look at the owl, then backtracked to scan the ground. At first I was strictly looking for rounded balls of hair and fur but didn't find any. Since I haven't seen any pellets before, I didn't really know what I was looking for. But then my eyes focused on a clump of bones! It was a semi-disintegrated pellet! 

The first pellet I found wasn't round anymore, but I could see a skull, part of a mandible,
some smaller bones and clumps of hair! My first owl pellet!

I then started noticing lots of bones and clusters of hair around the spot where I was standing! This owl has been eating A LOT! We also found some feathers on the ground. 

I collected some bones and a couple of feathers to examine closer. The small skull intrigued me since it had
tiny molars(!), also on the accompanying mandible it came with in the same pellet.

Petroglyphs
After getting my fill of the owl pellets, I took some time to study the petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are prehistoric carvings or line drawings on rocks. The 127 drawings on the rock face in front of me were discovered in the 1960's by National Artist Carlos "Botong" Francisco while camping in the area. 

The rock face where the petroglyphs can be seen.

According to the guide, Sir Roden, the petroglyphs were found to be dating back to the Neolithic Period which is around 3,000BC. Among the drawings, there are 51 distinct types which means that 51 different individuals contributed to the drawings at different times. These include human figures which are being associated with rituals (as evidenced by the bent arms and legs of the figures) and animal figures.

Can you make out the figures?

Another Owl!
We spent the rest of the morning in the view deck, enjoying the mixed flock of birds that would come and go around us. Elegant Tits, Lowland White-Eyes, Black-naped Monarchs would fly noisily overhead while a White-throated Kingfisher would make some appearances too. Philippine Coucals would skulk around before gliding above us towards the golf course below. We heard lots of rails and even a pitta calling! Suddenly, Jops was saying "Hello there!" to something on the wall, as if speaking to a baby. I looked up and saw the head of another Philippine Eagle Owl, peering at us from a crevice on the wall!

"Hello there!" indeed! It was so cute and it looked so fluffy!

It showed itself for a few minutes before moving deeper back into its "cave." We allowed ourselves to bird til noon. At exactly 12:00, we left the place happy with a full morning spent with the owls and petroglyphs plus 23 species in our bird list. =)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One for the Butterflies

Earlier today, Jops and I took a side-trip to the La Mesa Ecopark to deliver two field guides for the park and for the Nature Reserve (we recently conducted an introductory training on birdwatching for the park guides.) These were the Photographic Guide to Birds of the Philippines (by Tim Fisher and Nigel Hicks) which were donated by Ruben, a fellow WBCP member.

We looked for Sir Randy of the LMEP and were instantly directed to the new Butterfly Haven inside the park. We met him at the entrance and were invited in because it was their official launch! What luck!

The entrance to Butterfly Haven, just after the ticket booth of the park.

View of the park from the entrance steps.

We went to the pavilion which housed "cabinets" showing the different stages of the life cycle of a butterfly. A teacher's dream! 

Stage 1 shows the actual eggs of the butterfly on leaves!

Stage 2 shows small caterpillars a few days after they have hatched.
Stage 3 shows the caterpillars forming pupae and stage 4 shows the
butterflies emerging from their pupae!


I've taught this life cycle x number of times and the best material I've used then were time-lapse videos. This is way better! It is always amazing seeing life in different forms and it is even more wonderful seeing the metamorphosis as it unfolds in different stages. 

Dozens of brand new butterflies emerging from their pupae!

As we went around the butterfly park, we finally met the LMEP administrator Sir Dave Pardo and he then introduced us to ABS-CBN Foundation's Managing Director Miss Gina Lopez. He shared with her the efforts of the club to make the park more birdwatching friendly and she reminded us to support the fight against mining in Palawan.

Miss Gina Lopez (center) observes a caterpillar on her hand.

We also entered the "flight deck" which housed the new butterflies. Inside we observed 5 species of butterflies fluttering around, feeding on the flowers and on dishes with sugared water.


So, our short trip to La Mesa to turn over the field guides turned out to be a fun learning experience in their new butterfly park. More attractions for park goers. And more food for the birds? =)

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Gift of Lifers

This weekend, Jops and I together with friends Trinket, Tere, Drew, Alex and Jon J., gave an introductory talk about the basics of birdwatching to some park guides from the La Mesa Ecopark and from the Bantay Kalikasan-La Mesa Watershed Project.



We had our usual spiels about what birdwatching is all about and the basics of birding. This is more or less the stuff we talk about when we conduct guided bird watching trips and when we are invited to talk in schools. But it was quite different with this group since they were already aware of the birds in their respective areas. They have observed bird behavior in the field and were now ready to "level up" and identify these birds.

After the first part of the talk, our group took them out birding in the trail of La Mesa Ecopark. I personally found it wonderful to see their reactions when we identified some birds that they have been seeing but have been unable to ID. It was also great seeing their reactions when they did see a bird for the first time! Even if the bird isn't my own personal lifer and I've seen it many times, it was a lifer for them and it's such a joy every time I see someone seeing a lifer =)

Participants birding in the park

I don't see their eyes (since they're peering through their binoculars) but you see the corners of their eyes crinkle as they smile upon seeing the bird. Sometimes you see their eyebrows rise, sometimes you hear a gasp or a soundless "wow", sometimes an excited outburst and other times, even a profanity escapes the lips of a newly fledged birder seeing his/her spark bird.

Jops and I have participated in a number of guided birdwatching trips since we became members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and although people's reactions vary, showing them a bird and seeing their reactions is like getting a lifer again, or rather it is like I am reliving the time I saw that bird for the first time. It  makes me smile when I see a person bobbing up and down on his feet, waiting impatiently for his turn on the spotting scope, mumbling quietly to the bird "Wag ka aalis, wag ka aalis..." ("Don't fly away, don't fly away...") Priceless!

As we closed our activity with the park guides, they shared their insights and we saw that they now had  more tools about birdwatching that they can use in their work. They now wanted to have their own binoculars and saw the need and importance of having a good field guide. (Oh, if only I could just donate some binoculars and Kennedy guides to them!) We left the park happy that we have succeeded with our goal of teaching the basics of birdwatching and for giving them the opportunity to see their first set of lifers.

Group shot taken by Jops. Presenting new birders raring to go out in the field!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Break and Bird

At the school I used to teach in, we had this thing called D.E.A.R. time which stood for Drop Everything And Read. Simply put, it was library time when the kids were given an opportunity to just stay in the library, browse through the books and do nothing but read.

I'd love to have something like that for birding. But Drop Everything And Bird would spell D.E.A.B. and it really wouldn't sound quite so nice. So, I just went with "Break and Bird" for those moments when I just stop whatever it is I'm doing and watch some birds. And that's what we did on our way to have lunch a few days ago.

We were driving in the UP Diliman campus on our way to have lunch when we spotted hundreds of swiftlets flying in the airspace above our car! Jops mentioned seeing them earlier when he passed through UP. He stepped on the brakes and parked the car on the side of the road. Out came a couple of bins (luckily we were going to meet Mike to turn over the bins), notebook and pencil and we  observed the birds.

We stayed for around ten minutes, and when the birds flew further away, we drove on to have lunch. It was  really nice to just drop everything and bird for a moment to get lost in the world through my bins before settling back to "reality".

Friday, February 3, 2012

Olango is Love!

As soon as I saw the waders, I fell in love with the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary!

The viewdeck =)

I've been looking forward to this trip for months! When Jops and I, together with my cousins Ena, RS and Gabe and friends Eileen and Dels, reached the Hilton Pier before sunrise... it started to rain. Hard. I kept praying silently for the rain to stop... and after almost 30 minutes of downpour, it did. Out came my smile together with a rainbow =)

The rainbow beside the Movenpick Hotel buildings as seen from the Hilton pier.

The boat ride to the Sta. Rosa Pier in Olango Island takes a quick 20 minutes. The waves were quite strong that morning and I almost fell into the water as I was trying to get on our boat! That was the most challenging part of the trip: crossing the narrow "bridge" from the pier to the boat, at a sharp incline, while being tossed around by strong waves!

Getting on and off the boat was a challenge with the strong waves!

Upon arriving at the Sta. Rosa pier, we hired two tricycles to take us to the sanctuary and made arrangements for them to pick us up again in the afternoon to bring us back to the port. We registered at the Nature Center, paid the fees and marched on to the view deck to see the waders! Our first bird was an immature Rufous Night-Heron perched just inches from us. It was so accustomed to humans, it does not fly away nor leave the vicinity of the Nature Center. Quite sad to be honest...

Does not fly away, but squawks at anyone who comes too close...

We trudged on and saw a solitary Common Sandpiper by the shallows. Onwards and we saw Little Egrets searching for food near the mangroves. The sun was shining sooo bright and the colors around me were simply overwhelming: the white of the sand and the clouds, the green of the mangroves and the blue of the sky!

The beautiful colors of Olango!

We stayed a while in the view deck, looking out onto the vast mudflats that the low tide had left exposed. We could already see Little Egrets, Common Greenshanks and Whimbrels! More waders could be seen further out and our guide told us we could walk to get closer views. So, walk we did!

We were surrounded on all sides by wonderful waders!!! Terek Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Eurasian Curlews, Grey Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Rufous-necked Stints AND, my favorites, Bar-tailed Godwits and Chinese Egrets!!! Jops and I spent much time observing the Chinese Egret as it hunted just a few meters from us, walking in this amusing sideways movement just before it would plunge its beak into the sand. I would have wanted to sit on the wet sand and just watch all the bird behavior going on around us! It was amazing!

Waders galore! Happiness!

We took a break for lunch and afterwards, Jops and I returned to the view deck for more birding while the rest of our group went back to mainland Cebu. The tide was already coming in but we saw a bit more birds, including Ruddy Turnstones in their beautiful breeding plumage (another highlight of the trip for me!) The birds were now perched on top of the mangrove's roots and on higher areas, and were clumped together in mixed flocks. The larger curlews were farther away and, as it was getting a bit late, Jops and I decided to go back to the view deck and call it a (wonderful) day.

Tired, burnt but happy, we boarded out tricycle to the pier... only to discover with horror that we were short on cash and have left our wallets in Cebu City! We asked our friendly tricycle driver for a discount so we could buy our boat tickets (15 pesos each) and pay the terminal fee (1 peso each) and he kindly agreed with a kind smile... whew! (We sent an SOS to my mom who was in Cebu to pay for our taxi fare!)



We boarded our boat with only ten pesos left in our pockets but with 5 lifers in our list =) Adventure!!!