Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Side-trip to "Alligator Lake"


Our view of the mountains from Alligator Lake aka Enchanted Lake
aka Tadlac Lake.


We were under time pressure. Jops needed to be back in Manila after lunch. We spent the most part of our morning dude birding in UPLB and checking out their farm. We had an early lunch before visiting their family friend who lived just outside the UPLB campus. During a snack of warm buko pie and Hawaiian punch, we got to talking about birding and they asked us if we’ve been to Alligator Lake, just by the boundary of Calamba and Los Banos.  Jops and I looked at each other, as if saying "We have time to check that out, right?" They gave us directions to the site, and after Donaire was declared the winner of the boxing fight for that morning, we said our goodbyes and drove to the highway.

After following the directions and asking around a bit, we found ourselves entering what looked like a half-abandoned subdivision full of vacant lots. The roads were cemented and we could see an abandoned house atop a small hill. We drove past the house and further down the road saw a small, well-mantained "mansion." We could also see Laguna de Bay to our left but no sign of any other body of water.

We decided to park near the mansion and that's when we saw it: a placid lake dotted with houses on some portions of its banks.



Our friends told us this was called Tadlac Lake,
which is found in Bgy. Tadlac in Los Banos.

We were soon approached by an elderly man with a bolo (!) but he turned out to be very friendly. His name was Mang Victor and he was technically the caretaker of some portions of the subdivision. We asked if there was any way to access the lake and he pointed us to a small path cutting through one of the vacant lots. Alex, Jops’ cousin, went through first, followed by Jops and then me. Mang Victor followed behind us. The path curved a bit and when I saw the incline of the slope, images of our Bangkong Kahoy climb flashed before me. I knew it was nothing compared to THAT trail, but I still didn’t have the energy to go down the steep path. I stayed put while Jops and Alex disappeared from view, going towards the banks of the lake. 

The incline wasn't so steep, but I wasn't willing to
exert any effort after our adventure in BK Valley =P

I was chatting with Mang Victor about birds he sees in the area when I heard them: pirik pirik! I looked up and saw a small flocks of Blue-tailed Bee-Eaters gliding above me! I called out to Jops below, “Pirik pirik!” and his response was an excited “White-throated Kingfisher!” Before we left the area, we saw two Little Herons fly overhead.

Large drops of rain forced us back onto the road, but it cleared up immediately. We could hear Tawny Grassbirds and Bright-capped Cisticolas along with the Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. As we chatted with Mang Victor,  we learned that the vice mayor plans to have floating restaurants built on the lake. He called the lake “Enchanted Lake” and said that it was the mouth of a volcano. He told us that at certain months he would see lots and lots of white birds flying around over the water catching fish and that there used to be wild ducks in the area. Unfortunately the ducks have all gone because people in the area shoot birds for fun. =( 

Back lit digiscoped picture of a Bright-capped Cisticola.

After sharing part of his life story, we said goodbye to Mang Victor and the lake and the amazing view of the mountains in the background. We think Alligator Lake aka Lake Enchanted is worth going back to when the migration season starts.


Jops and I have our picture taken with Mang Victor.
Oh, we never got to find out why they called it Alligator Lake or Enchanted Lake. Our other birder friends who have visited the site all call it Tadlac Lake =)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Have Fruiting Tree, Will Bird

Jops and I had a few hours in the morning to go birding in the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) campus. The trip was initially to check out a property of theirs in Los Banos, so we took the opportunity to sneak some birding hours in the campus before visiting the farm. There are quite a number of spots we could visit, but we chose to go to TREES (Training Center for Tropical Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability) for some easy dude birding in their area. I silently prayed for the large ficus tree in front of the hostel to be fruiting.

As soon as Jops parked, I had to look up to the heavens, return God's smile, and say a short prayer of thanks for all the bright orange, ripe fruits adorning the ficus tree. "It's fruiting!" I exclaimed to Jops and his cousin Alex, who came along on this trip. We immediately got out of the car and scanned the tree. It was fruiting all right!

The ficus tree was full of these ripe, orange berries! 

The TREES caretaker, Kuya Danny, passed by and told us to patiently wait for the birds to come feast on the fruits. He told us of a flock of Tarictics that came in yesterday, fighting over the berries! We positioned ourselves in the elevated cement "platform" facing the tree and waited. 

My dude birding "work station" =)

After a few minutes of waiting, we started hearing bird calls. A couple of Balicassiaos chased each other in the trees in front of us. Then a Coppersmith Barbet perched on the dead tree...


... followed by another...


... until there were as many as five Barbets perched on the trunk! They would fly from their perch to feed on the ficus tree, and would fly back to perch again. A couple of times, they were joined by an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker.

Digiscoped Orange-bellied Flowerpecker perched on one of the branches of the dead tree.

Also feasting on the ripe fruits were Red-keeled Flowerpeckers and Colasisis. We also saw a pretty Guaiabero perch quite close to us! Small flocks of noisy Stripe-headed Rhabdornises would also come and go, singing loudly from a nearby caimito (star apple) tree.

While looking at the noisy flock, I spotted something black and big perch on a tree further from us. A female Luzon Hornbill!

A blurry digiscoped photo of a female Tarictic Horbill (Luzon Hornbill) perched on a dark, dense part of the trees.

The Tarictic then flew to the right... closer to the fruiting ficus! We moved to a better vantage point and saw their flock: around seven Hornbills (males and females) hopping around the tree, eating the berries!

A male Tarictic Hornbill eating the berries of the ficus tree (digiscoped).

They ate a bit noisily, making their honking calls while they plucked the berries off the tree. Then, one by one, they dove downwards from the tree, disappearing from sight. Seeing Hornbills is always such a treat! 

When they didn't come back in the minutes that followed, we took that as our cue to pack up and head to our next, and primary, destination for the morning. But our Los Banos adventure did not stop there!

To be continued...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mega Twitch

So far, Jops and I have twitched a number of birds since we started bird watching in 2010. There was the Ferruginous Flycatcher in UP Diliman a couple of years back (read about that twitch in my friend Trinket's blog). That was a pretty easy twitch, being in the middle of Quezon City. Then there was the Naked-faced Spiderhunter, which was in the La Mesa Ecopark also in Quezon City. We also twitched the Ashy Ground-Thrush and Red-bellied Pitta there. I think the last successful twitch we got was the Philippine Eagle Owl also in Quezon City early this year. Of course, we've also dipped out on lots of twitching trips, failing to see the target bird (like the unicorn bird, aka the male Narcissus Flycatcher, of UP Diliman =P) but all these trips have been very easy.

This latest twitch of ours got me on all fours, crawling under fallen tree trunks, and scooting down slippery stones on my behind leaving me sore and verrrrry muddy! All this was to try our luck to see the Whiskered Pitta in Dolores, Quezon. Jops and I went a-twitching with Adri and Trinket, Jun, and Jon J.

See those "low" clouds? We were there!!! 1,085 masl! Yeah baby!

6:15AM

We arrived at Bangkong Kahoy Valley and were greeted by the owner, Dion. We also chatted with Tita Lydia, fellow birder and butterfly watcher before we drove up to the community.

7:10AM

We headed up the trail through the community to the site where the Whiskered Pitta was seen nesting by Sir Neon a few days back. The community was still very picturesque, the houses being very quaint and their path lined with flowers.


This is the trail through the community.

We stopped for a few minutes at 845masl (meters above sea level) as our guide had to return to BK Valley to clarify something. While waiting, we entertained ourselves with spiders and Buzzing Flowerpeckers circling over our heads.

8:15AM

We were on the move again. The trail narrowed, passing through a sayote plantation.

This was the view in front of me...

... and this was the view behind me =)

9:50AM

At this point, I felt as if we've passed the hardest part of the trail. We've climbed over rocks and fallen logs. Hoisted ourselves over high roots and slithered our way between the most slippery rocks in the world!

Jops, Jun, and Jon climbing up the trail.

Trinket and Adri climbing up one of the many
"obstacles."

Jun climbing up the slippery stones.

One of the more challenging parts were
climbing up (and then back down again)
these slippery, moss-covered stones.

10:45AM

We finally reach the site! We could see the nest from 25meters away. It was empty and there was no activity in the vicinity around it. We decided to stay put in our area and wait for it to show itself.

While waiting for the Pitta, Jun and Jops went to get
spring water from a broken pipe.

11:00AM

Rain fell. First, it just showered and Trinket and I didn't even bother getting our umbrellas out. But then it really started to pour drenching our hair, even as we stood under trees. Out came the umbrellas and we stood there patiently waiting for the rain to stop. It would stop every now and then, allowing the sun to shine for a few minutes, before it fell again.

We had our lunch there, under our umbrellas. We ate ham and cheese sandwiches and boiled (Hulk) eggs courtesy of Adri and Trinket, still hoping to see some birds. We did see a small flock of Chestnut-faced Babblers during a pocket of good weather and even heard a White-browed Shortwing calling nearby.

Pausing during the trek back down because of strong rain.

1:15PM

We decided the Whiskered Pitta wouldn't show and the rain wouldn't stop. We packed up and started our descent. The rain had made the already difficult trail even more challenging... even treacherous in many parts. The rain had loosened the soil, and we would either sink or slip together with the loose soil. I had to go on all fours at some parts, holding on to dear life lest I slip and fall into the rocky ravine below.

Aside from the loose soil and mud, we had to manage around the slippery rocks which was now twice as slippery as when we first passed through! I gritted my teeth, told myself I could do it, continuously said prayers and even sang some praise songs.

The trip back down felt like it wasn't going to end. And at some point, even some bird songs couldn't bring me to raise my bins to check them out. But maybe it was because my hands were too busy holding on to rocks or trees to keep me from slipping and falling. =P

4:15PM

Pitstop at the area where we waited for our guide earlier in the day. There was a fruiting ficus tree and Jops spotted a Bicolored Flowerpecker shortly before it flew away. Limatic check. One on Jun.

4:30PM

At last, we saw the Fortuner parked at the community! I could feel my knees locking already and couldn't find the strength to go see the Besra nest. Trinket, Adri, Jun, and Jon went while Jops and I waited by the car. As we settled down, we did another limatic check and I saw two crawling hungrily up my pants! I flicked them away before I could take a photo... they were moving sooo fast!

Jops discovered one near his wrist, already plump with his blood. Jun also had a baby one on his ankle. After photo-documenting the parasites, they were dislodged with a lighted cigarette.


After cleaning up a bit, we drove back to BK Valley to further wash up and get ready to go. Dion generously shared with us some passion fruit and lipote lambanog and some coffee too, to warm us after being soaked in the cold rain.

I tasted and liked the lipote flavored lambanog =)

After some picture-taking (we did jump shots, can you believe it?!) and saying our goodbyes, we drove back towards Manila, aching, tired but grateful and happy with our major adventure. I was really proud of our group, and surprised myself, since I knew I was not physically ready for something like that. But we pushed on, kept a positive outlook (we would still be laughing at times =P) and we did it. I did it. We all did it. And we deserve (gentle) pats of the back for it =)

Oh, and about the birds we twitched? No, we didn't see any of them =)