Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ending October with a Crake

After getting some unexpected lifers in Candaba just last week, I wasn't expecting to see any new birds in the immediate future. I didn't consider myself THAT lucky. Add to that the rains brought by Bagyong Ofel (Tropical Storm Son-Tinh), I didn't even expect any birding trips.

But Jops was adamant about birding in the La Mesa Ecopark on Friday, after a super rainy Thursday. His weather app predicted good weather for Friday even if it was still raining well into Thursday evening. But what the heck, if it still rained then we'd dude bird in the spillway area and if the sun came out, then well and good.

Turns out AccuWeather.com is reliable and we were given a sunny morning in the park. Jops, Jun, Alex, and I walked into the seemingly empty park and headed up the trails. We kept our eyes open for any birds but we only saw Black-naped Orioles and Brown Shrikes. A Coppersmith Barbet perched for a while on a leafless tree before it flew away from sight. Just the usual suspects here and there: Lowland White-eyes, Zebra Doves, and White-breasted Woodswallows until...

Jops and Alex spotted some movement in the bushes. Alex described the bird he was seeing as looking like a very dark chicken. We all crowded together for a better view of the bird. It was foraging on the ground, picking up damp leaves... and it walked out to give us a great view: a Slaty-legged Crake!

Slaty-legged Crake walking around, foraging. Photo by Jops Josef.

It had a reddish head and nape and it had a beautiful, pale yellow eye ring. Its underparts were barred with white stripes and its beak was mint-green colored. Such a beautifully marked bird! And did I mention it had a pretty eye ring? Oh yes, I did!

Slaty-legged Crake picking up a leaf. Photo by Alex Josef.

Finally, I got to see it! October was coming to a close and I got to end it with another great and unexpected lifer! God is good! =)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Couple of Candaba Lifers

Jops and I weren't able to see waders while we were in Taiwan, our trip to the North Coast was cancelled as the migrants have passed through already. So the weekend after we arrived, we texted our friend Jun and the three of us went on a Sunday morning trip to Candaba to check out the waders.

After a few wrong turns, we finally saw the empty rice fields of Barangay Paralaya. At first, the muddy plots of land looked empty but upon closer inspection, we could see stints, plovers and sandpipers aplenty!

There were lots of cute Little Ringed Plovers in the dry mud.

Lots of Long-toed Stints wading in the shallow water.

While scanning the waders, Jops was able to spot a couple of them with distinct bills curved downward. They would probe the water with their bills, sinking them quite deep. Jun, Jops, and I deliberated and suspected them to be Curlew Sandpipers which was later confirmed when we consulted with other birders. We just got an unexpected Candaba lifer!

A pair of Curlew Sandpipers wading the water.

Along with the waders were other grassland birds that would come out from the plants now and then to forage in the open. 

There were LOTS of Buff-banded Rails, some staying out
in the open. We even saw a couple walking beside a cat!

In the corner of the nearest paddy field, a Buff-banded Rail would keep popping out of the vegetation and would be closely followed by a darker rail. We got excited at the possibility of it being a Brown-banded Rail - a bird that would be a lifer for us three. Unfortunately, it turned out the bird was a juvenile Slaty-breasted Rail, still a nice bird to see and observe.

Slaty-breasted Rail (juvenile) coming out of the grass.

When the rail stayed out of view, we turned our attention to the other fields. More and more birds were flying in and it was exciting spotting and identifying them. We saw Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, and Kentish Plovers. Other birds we saw were Yellow Bitterns, Pied Bushchats, and a Common Kingfisher. Jops was at his "spotting best" and saw a snipe in plain view!

We were thrilled to see a snipe out in the open, foraging for food
and preening by the water's edge.

All around us, birds were coming out: White-breasted Waterhens kept crossing the road and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters glided above us calling "Pirik! Pirik!" A flock of Chestnut Munias hopped along the dirt road and tiny Zitting Cisticolas would fly in and land among the tall grass. Lots of egrets also flew in and landed in the pond in front of us and we were able to study the differences between a Great Egret and an Intermediate Egret. In the inner paddy fields, terns flew as a huge white flock and pipits ran around the edge of the road.

Jops was the only one of us diligent enough to count the birds, and his efforts paid off. He spotted a couple of birds in the water, probing the shallows with their long, two-toned beaks. Jun also noticed them earlier and we concentrated our efforts documenting the birds and trying to identify them. Our best guess was that they were Black-tailed Godwits but we needed confirmation. And confirmation we got! After emailing birder friends Desmond and Felix, we got the same ID: Black-tailed Godwits

The pair of Black-tailed Godwits.

With two unexpected lifers for me and Jops to add to our list (one for Jun), we drove back to Manila with growling stomachs for a well-deserved lunch. =)

List of Taiwan Lifers

After spending 5 awesome days in Taipei, Jops and I were lucky enough to see 23 lifers. Here's our list of the wonderful birds we saw in the city, in the Guandu Nature Park, in the Wulai Township, and also in Yangmingshan. I was lucky enough to digiscope some of them =)

Lifer #1 - Grey Treepie

Lifer #2 - Light-vented Bulbul

Lifer #3 - Black Bulbul

Lifer #4 - Taiwan Barbet

Lifer #5 - Common Magpie

Lifer #6 - Sacred Ibis

Lifer #7 - Oriental Turtle Dove

Lifer #8 - Black Drongo

Lifer #9 - Black-collared Starling

Lifer #10 - Javan Myna

Lifer #11 - Collared Scops Owl

Lifer #12 - Japanese White-eye

Lifer #13 - Spot-billed Duck

Lifer #14 - Plumbeous Redstart

Lifer #15 - Grey-chinned Minivet

Lifer #16 - Grey-cheeked Fulvetta

Lifer #17 - Varied Tit

Lifer #18 - Taiwan Sibia

Lifer #19 - Indian Black Eagle
Photo published with permission from the owner,
Chithrabhanu Pakaravoor.


Lifer #20 - Mountain Hawk Eagle

Lifer #21 - Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Lifer #22 - Taiwan Whistling Thrush

Lifer#23 - Brown Dipper

Monday, October 22, 2012

Birding in Wulai

After participating in the 14th TaipeiInternational Birdwatching Fair at the Guandu Park in Taipei, Jops and I signed up for the post-festival birding trip organized by the Wild Bird Society of Taipei (WBST.)

Initially, we were supposed to have a 3-day trip to the Kenting National Park which was way down south of Taipei. Kenting is a famous site for raptor watching but a few weeks before we flew to Taiwan, we received an email saying the Kenting trip was cancelled and would be replaced with a 1-day birding trip in the North Coast. Not a bad change in plans because it would give us a couple more days to go elsewhere. We planned to go on our own to the town of Wulai on our extra day and started asking our friends in Taiwan for tips on how to get there. Logistics and commuting directions were quite complicated so we just decided on visiting the nearer Yangmingshan National Park.

Come the day of the post-festival trip, we discovered within a few minutes riding our rented van that we were not going to the North Coast. Our guide, Pei Wan, was taking us to Wulai. =)

One of the views you can see from the trail: lush greens and refreshing blues.

The Wulai Township is the largest and only mountainous township in Taipei County. It is surrounded by mountains and has become a popular tourist spot for their hot springs. Most of the inhabitants of Wulai are the Atayal aboriginals and the Ataya word “wulay” means hot springs. (Referenced from “Birdwatching in Taipei” by the Wild Bird Society of Taipei)

The drive to the Wulai Township was already a good place to do roadside birding. At our first stop to view a waterfall, some Grey Treepies were already seen. Further down the road, Pei Wan asked the driver to stop at a small slowing stream by the road and after some scanning, she pointed out to us our first Wulai lifer: a male Plumbeous Redstart flitting atop the rocks.

We stopped at this small stream and saw
our first Wulai lifer on the rocks...

... a male Plumbeous Redstart! (Digiscoped photo)

We drove a bit further and our other companions requested to stop at one of the waterfalls to take pictures. We saw another Plumbeous Redstart as well as some Black Drongos and a Grey Wagtail. Moving along, Pei Wan heard some bird calls in a wooded area. We all got out of the van and were treated to a very active mixed flock! We got a lot of lifers here: Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, Grey-chinned Minivets (both male and female), Japanese White-eyes, lots of Varied Tits, Taiwan Barbets, and even a small flock of Taiwan Sibias!

Our small group enjoying the lively mixed flock in the trees in front of us =)

When the mixed flock moved further into the trees, we piled back into our van and drove to Fushan Village for a bathroom break in their very clean public toilet. While waiting for the others, some of us were walking along the bridge when I saw a huge black raptor thermalling just above the mountain ridge! Indian Black Eagle! And not just one Indian Black Eagle, but two! They were huge raptors with a very V-shape when gliding, with its wing "fingers" splayed upward. We watched them as they circled the sky above us and eventually thermalled in sync with each other as they disappeared behind the mountain. Pei Wan explained that the Black Eagle is the second largest eagle in Taiwan, the largest being the Mountain Hawk Eagle.

I don't have any photo of the Black Eagle but I did
take down a lot of notes as the pair thermalled above us.

We were still gushing over the eagles when our Greek friend Eirini spotted another raptor on the other side of the bridge… this one was even bigger and more brown than black. Pei Wan exclaimed that we were very lucky: it was the biggest raptor in Taiwan, the Mountain Hawk Eagle!

When the raptors all thermalled away, we moved along as well and proceeded up the mountain. We got out at the end of the road and took a birding walk back down. We didn’t see any birds save for Light-vented Bulbuls and more Grey Treepies along the way but we did hear a Chinese Bamboo Partridge calling loudly from, yes, a grove of bamboos.

We drove towards Wulai Village to get lunch, stopping at a huge suspension bridge along the way.


The bridge had touches of the Atayal aboriginal designs.

We were treated to a very, VERY delicious Wulai lunch made with the freshest vegetables from the mountains and fish and shrimp from the river =)

The small Wulai bridge leading to the main town which has lots of
restaurant, food stalls, and souvenir shops.
Everything that was served was delicious but my favorite were the shrimps
and small fish caught from the river!
The vegetables were all fresh and delicious too!

After lunch, we headed the Yaka Trail which is near Wulai Main Street. It was a relatively short uphill walk, passing by the elementary school and a cemetery, and the only birds we saw were a noisy flock of Grey-chinned Fulvettas. The forest was very quiet so we decided to head back down. On the last bend, I saw some movements in the undergrowth and after a bit of waiting, a couple of Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers came out in the open! Such beautiful, beautiful birds! They are probably my favorite Taiwan lifer for that trip =)

As we approached the parking area beside the river, we heard this loud whistling call. Pei Wan started scanning the rocks in the river below us and there atop a huge rock was this big, almost metallic blue bird whistling away: a Taiwan Whistling Thrush! It hopped down to the water to bathe while we enjoyed watching it and listening to its call.

A very blurry digiscoped photo of the Taiwan Whistling Thrush.
It's call is amazingly loud and it's color a bright, almost metallic blue!

Just beside the huge rock was a smaller brown shape… could it be a bird? It moved! Yes! A Brown Dipper! We spent some time observing the bird, dipping its head and body and even walking around while almost completely underwater!

Another blurry but ok-enough-for-me photo of the Brown Dipper.
It's so amusing for me to learn that this bird can walk underwater!

Pei Wan had to pry us away from the Dipper, as our companion Pong has a bus ride to catch in Taipei. We packed up and rode back to Chientan. We didn’t get to see loads of birds but we got excellent views of excellent birds on our one-day, impromptu trip to Wulai. I can't wait for my next chance to go back =)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Taipei International Birdwatching Fair 2012

I have never been out of the country, so when the opportunity to go to Taiwan to attend their annual birdwatching fair came along, I took it. Jops and I flew to Taipei to represent the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines in the 14th Taipei International Birdwatching Fair.

We arrived at the Taoyuan International Airport Friday afternoon and were arranged to be picked up by Mr. David Fang from the Wild Bird Society of Taipei (WBST.) To our pleasant surprise, we also found Andrew of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) there at the airport waiting for us (our flight was delayed...)

David drove us to the Chientan Overseas Youth Activity Center where we would be staying for the next few days. We were greeted by other WBST volunteers and were given our festival shirts. They were really nice, blue dri-fit shirts =) We checked-in, dropped of our bags, and were off to the Jiantan train station that would bring us to the welcome dinner.

The Chientan Overseas Youth Activity Center is a cluster of buildings
with a nice pond in the front.

Riding the train was just one of the many enjoyable parts of my Taipei adventure. It was so organized, clean, and efficient!

We got off the Zhuwei station and took a short walk to the Danshui Farm for the welcome dinner. It was a small river-side area with a stage and benches all around. A simple informal buffet was set up beside a whole roasted pig, Taiwan draft beer, and a juice station. After dinner, we were called to gather around a bonfire where we had a number of activities.

Delicious buffet!

Free-flowing Taiwan draft beer =)

Some chanting around the bonfire.

We took turns running around the bonfire with a lighted torch.

Some of the parlor games we played.

We sure had lots of games that night! I had a nasty bout of vertigo after the games (with WBST President James waving his hand in front of me as I stared blankly ahead to steady my vision!) but recovered by the time we headed back to the train station. The walk by the riverside helped clear my head. We settled in for the night, preparing for the bird fair the following day.

The Taipei bird fair was held at the Guandu Nature Park. We arrived mid-morning and immediately set-up our booth. We were situated with the other WBST do-it-yourself booths which had arts and crafts activities.

The WBCP booth =)

Since Jops and I were the only delegates from the Philippines, we had limited time to go around the fair and took turns manning the booth to go around a bit when we had no kids doing the activities. I was able to attend the opening ceremonies which included a cultural performance and some speeches.

Cultural dance number.
A portion of the well-attended bird fair.

Jops and I spent most of our time in the booth, with a steady stream of children dropping by and doing some coloring activities and making felt owls. Even with the language barrier, the joy in their faces upon seeing their finished artwork was communicated loud and clear =)

Jops helping some kids make their felt owls while other kids color.
Just look at her happy smile!!!

This little girl was really proud of her owl!

We were asked to pack-up around 4:30PM so we could take a tour around the park followed by a short film showing and then dinner. 

After dinner, as we were walking out of the park, Andrew heard an owl calling in the trees by the pathway. Without a second thought, Andrew, Jops, and I stalked towards the one-note call. It was getting louder! It was so near! A WBST volunteer followed us into the trail, telling us it was time to go, but we were drawn to the owl. After a few minutes, Andrew scanned the trees in front of us with Jops' flashlight. And there it was: a gorgeous Collared Scops Owl just a few feet away staring straight at us in an unobstructed view! We switched off the flashlight while Jops got his camera out, but when we switched it on again, the owl was gone. We were ecstatic with our owl sighting! Such a great and unexpected Taiwan lifer! The three of us were all big smiles as we ended day one =)

And so day two begins. Even if our booth was away from the other international organizations, Jops and I were quite lucky since we were situated with a great view of the wetlands. On our first day, we were able to see some female Green-winged Teals and a couple of Sacred Ibis. On the second day, a big flock of Ibis were already there when we arrived to setup! Around us were Light-vented Bulbus, Black Drongos, and Grey Treepies. We also saw Common Magpies (such nice birds!) and Oriental Turtle Doves.

A big flock of Sacred Ibis in the wetlands just in front of our booth!
A Black Drongo kept returning to perch near our booth.

Black-collared Starling. But we saw a HUGE flock of them in the park!

In the afternoon, Andrew was nice enough to drop by our booth and tell us about some Spot-billed Ducks in another area of the park. He offered to watch the booth while Jops and I ran to see the ducks =)

The two-day bird fair passed by too quickly. It was a lot of fun meeting new friends and seeing old ones (and  also the quick birding in between work.) We thoroughly enjoyed Guandu but we'd love for another chance to just bird and go around their excellent facilities. Who knows, maybe next year, we'd get that chance =)