Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rainy Forest Birding in Tanay

June 12, 2012 = Philippine Independence Day = Holiday = Birding
Independence Day birders! Photo from Jun Osano

Members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) met up early Tuesday morning and efficiently convoyed up to the Tanay Rainforest Camp in Barangay Sampaloc, Rizal. It was a cool morning, having had strong downpour the night before. The weather forecast was rain and drizzle so we were more or less prepared for rain.

On the drive up, first came the fog...

Poor visibility going up to Tanay...

Then came the rain...
We had to roll our windows up...

We arrived at the Camp a little before 7AM and only a light shower was falling. We parked and immediately heard a Scale-feathered Malhoka and White-throated Kingfisher calling from somewhere inside the cluster of trees in front of us! We dropped off our things and picnic stuff at the mess hall and proceeded to the trail. The rain had finally stopped and we were blessed with pockets of blue skies.

There were patches of blue skies
but not long enough for more birds to come out

Along the trail, we could hear more Scale-feathered Malhokas, White-browed Shamas, Grey-backed Tailorbirds, and lots of Philippine Bulbuls. The trails are pretty easy, the one we first explored was going downhill. To get back to the main Camp, you had to go up the way you came, which was the most challenging part for me. One of my personal highlights was seeing three thermalling raptors! One Oriental Honey Buzzard and two Crested Serpent Eagles! It was amazing actually SEEING the Oriental Honey Buzzard calling while soaring above us! On our way back to the mess hall, we tried our luck with the Spotted Wood Kingfisher just seen a few minutes earlier by some fellow birders. As we reached the spot, heavy rain suddenly fell! Out came the ponchos and umbrellas and other rain gear, and we patiently waited for the rain to stop.

Birders in the rain... and no Spotted Wood Kingfisher =(

As soon as the rain let up, we headed back to the mess hall for some snacks and to dry up a bit. The rain would stop for a few minutes but would fall again, not as strong as the downpour we experienced, but enough to make the birds hide. We had our "picnic" lunch in the mess hall and went out again after. In the immediate area, we saw a couple of Ashy Ground-Thrushes near their nest.

The other trails were easy and pleasant to bird in. I could imagine it would be absolutely fantastic in good weather! In one area, I got superb views of a White-browed Shama and a small flock of Scale-feathered and Red-crested Malkohas! My best views of the Scale-feathered Malkoha yet! I could see every detail (even the white spots on the black stripe running down its throat!) AND saw it calling too! I wished I had a camera at that very moment!

My favorite part of the Camp during our trip!

We explored another trail but didn't see much birds, thanks to the rainy weather. We decided to draw up the bird list at around 3PM with a bit more birding in the area around the mess hall. Additional birds we saw there were Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Red-keeled Flowerpecker, and White-eared Brown Dove. We left the place with a Brush Cuckoo calling very close to us. That gave us a total of 43 bird species seen and heard =)

On the drive back, we talked about our Tanay Rainforest Camp adventure and decided to go back when the weather is more pleasant and with bigger promise of more birds. I still want to see the Rufous Paradise Flycatcher again =)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

First Flight!

Today, Jops and  I took out visiting birder friend from Boston, E.M. to the La Mesa Ecopark and the Angono Petroglyphs. We were joined by some of our birder friends (Leni, Jun, Yana, Christian, Rob, Mark Jason V., and Anthony A.) and met up early at the park. We also met some new friends, some were visiting birders and some were scuba divers who were newly discovering the wonderful world of birding!

We lingered a bit near the entrance and some of us were able to see a Red-bellied Pitta in the area. We then headed to the trails, most of us to try our luck with the Slaty-legged Crake. Unfortunately, the Crake was a no-show but we did get excellent views of more Ashy Ground Thrushes, hopping around and preening on the ground. A Mangrove Blue Flycatcher was noisily flying about, showcasing its different calls.

While waiting for the Slaty-legged Crake to show, we noticed a couple of Lowland White-eyes chirping away in a nearby tree. They flew in quite near us and we could clearly see little green worms in their beaks. They flitted from branch to branch, carrying the worms around. They weren't gobbling them down... nest with chicks,  maybe?

Never having seen a Lowland White-eye's nest in person, I didn't know what to look for. I scanned the area but didn't see anything. After moving further along the trail, Yana and I went back and saw the two White-eyes, still in the same area. I scanned a bit more thoroughly with my bins and voila! I found it! A small, neatly woven, cup-shaped nest was there right in front of us! The adult birds still had food in their beaks but did not approach the nest. We moved back to give them "space" and in just a few seconds of our retreat, one adult bird perched on the nest and deposited the bright green worm into the hungry mouth of a chick! AMAZING!

We left the nest and moved to another spot. Still no Crake. I headed back to the nest with Jops and Anthony, hoping to witness another feeding and also, I requested Jops to take a photo for me =). What we saw was the nest with a bird sitting very still right next to it. We thought it was the adult guarding the nest. After some shots were taken, we reviewed the photos and discovered that the bird was the Lowland White-eye chick! It still lacked the white eye-ring and the yellow color was just starting to show on its chin, like a bib. 


Baby Lowland White-eye sitting beside its nest. Photo by Jops =)

After a few minutes, and with the birders now regrouped in the area, the adults came back. One was carrying a red berry in its beak and fed it to the hungry, waiting chick! EVEN MORE AMAZING! Here's a video taken by Mark Jason of the adult feeding the chick with the berry! So cool that he was able to document it!!! Thank you, Mark for sharing this video! Here's a link to the video.


The parents flitted away from the nest after the "berry meal" but the chick started to follow them! It hopped further up the branch, then onto a nearby branch... following its parents! It was quite nerve-wracking to watch, to be honest. I was praying it wouldn't fall! It soon disappeared into the trees together with its parents, leaving us birders ecstatic upon watching its first flight out of its nest =)

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! =)