Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Scaly Thrush Teaches Me A Lesson

It was the first time I really felt frustrated with the lack of birds. Jops, Jun, and I were in the La Mesa Ecopark for some post-Christmas birding and I was hoping for the best. The park wasn't so full and the trails were almost deserted except for us and the occasional passerby. But all we saw after a couple of hours birding were Black-naped Orioles and Brown Shrikes. Good thing we saw an Osprey in flight on our way into the trail. 

We moved further into the trail hoping to see the Red-bellied or Hooded Pittas, but the surroundings were so quiet. A light rain would fall in intervals, alternating with songs from unseen Golden-bellied Flyeaters and yes, more Orioles. Good thing the Ashy Ground-Thrushes were a bit active that morning or else I would have felt really down.

We rounded the trail without seeing any additional birds. No Mangrove Blue Flycatchers. No Tailorbirds. No Crakes. No Pittas. Not even a Yellow-vented Bulbul! I was really beginning to feel sad. I decided to take our birder friend, Tinggay's advice to actually talk to the birds. I did (quietly.) I talked to the Red-bellied Pittas hiding in the brush to show themselves even for a few seconds. They didn't.

By this time, I was feeling really sad already so when Jops suggested we leave the trail to bird somewhere else in the park, I just pouted and followed the boys as they started walking. There wouldn't be any more birds this morning.

It was then when a bird decided to teach me a lesson: no matter how frustrating and hopeless a situation may seem, God has something much, much better in store for you.

Walking out the trail, I saw what looked like a gigantic wader atop a fallen log. It flew off into the trees as soon as we stopped to take a better look. We followed it and saw a huge bird foraging on the ground. It was speckled... the spots looking like burnt fish scales. That's when it hit, we were actually looking at a Scaly Ground-Thrush.

The Scaly Ground-Thrush is described as an uncommon migrant and the largest thrush in the Philippines.
Also known as Scaly Thrush and White's Thrush.

It was very easily flushed, flying off even when we were standing really still. Jops was initially able to take a docu shot of our lifer before it flew away. Along the trail, we bumped into Bram and his lady friend. While we were waiting and scanning the area for the larger thrush, Bram saw a Red-bellied Pitta who apparently decided to answer my request earlier that morning and posed for the cameras. 

The very kind and obliging Red-bellied Pitta. Photo by Jops Josef.

I guess talking to the birds really helps. I started talking to the Scaly Ground-Thrush, this time asking permission for us to photograph it. The Thrush's photo above was taken on our third sighting for the morning =) We saw it one last time, perched a few meters above the ground, before we finally headed out the park. 

Thank you, Scaly Ground-Thrush, for teaching me the lesson I needed to learn the most =) Here's a video of the thrush =)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Candaba Before Christmas

Two days before Christmas Day, I was enjoying the cool wind and picturesque landscape of Candaba in Pampanga. Away from the traffic, crowds, malls, and groceries, the quiet, laid back countryside was perfect for clearing one's mind, even for just an afternoon.

The relaxing landscape of Candaba.

The hanging Amihan (Northeastern monsoon winds) was blowing cool and strong that afternoon, as we birders scoped out Black-winged Stilts, Great and Little Egrets, Whiskered Terns, and some waders.

Some Black-winged Stilts and a Little Egret foraging for food.

Aside from the waders and egrets, around us were Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Yellow Bitterns, and lots of White-breasted Waterhens. We moved closer to the Mayor's house and along the way found a pond with ducks in it. We were hoping we'd still see the Common Shelduck which Jops and I were able to successfully twitch earlier in the month. Unfortunately, the Shelduck wasn't anywhere to be seen that afternoon. We did see some Little Grebes and some ducks: Philippine Ducks, Northern Shovellers, Wandering Whistling Ducks, Green-winged Teals, and Garganeys. Most were hiding in the reeds though.

A Philippine Duck (the large one in the center) and some
Tufted Ducks (the male has the whiter/paler chest.)

Most of the ducks were settled in the reeds.
(There's a male Green-winged Teal hiding in the middle of the photo.)

It was an easy afternoon of birding. We saw a hundred Grey Herons flying above us and saw even larger flocks of egrets flying over the marsh. Huge flocks taking flight is always an amazing sight to see! 

Egrets flying over the marsh.

Aside from the huge flocks, the highlights of the trip for me were seeing a Black Bittern in plain view and spotting a nesting Purple Heron. It was a nest lifer for me =)

The Purple Heron would stand and re-arrange some twigs on its nest...

.... before settling down again.
We found our way to the Mayor's house and birded a bit more in the area until the sun set. Our last bird for the day was a Purple Swamphen perched atop some bare branches.

The Purple Swamphen in the purple sunset.
With night settling in, we drove home but not before getting dinner and of course making our birdlist. We saw a total of 47 species that afternoon in Candaba, just before Christmas =)

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Wedding, A Lady, and A Sleeping Lifer

Last Friday at noon, Jops and I were driving to Concepcion, Tarlac to attend the wedding of our friends Adri and Trinket. We met up with other birder friends at the church and stood witness as two of the nicest people we know tied the knot.

The Wedding: Trinket and Adri tie the knot! =)

A fun reception followed where guests were treated to a Kapampangan buffet, fun games, and a wonderful brass band playing in the background. Of course, the company of birders made the evening even more fun! 

At around 10, we said our goodbyes and Jops and I headed to Tarlac City to spend the night there. We haven't been to the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag before and we planned to drive there the following day.

We were up and on the road early Saturday morning. The drive to Manaoag, Pangasinan was an easy one, save for some roadworks and busy town centers. We arrived at the church a little past 9am (it took us less than two hours from Tarlac City.) The place was very nice and well laid out. Behind the church was a rosary garden, a candle gallery, a museum, and a veneration area where you can pray and touch the clothing of the Lady of Manaoag.

The Lady: The altar of the church.
Our Lady of Manaoag is in the center of the altar.
There was a wedding and funerals while we were there.
A portion of the candle gallery.

We lit some candles, offered special intentions, visited the veneration room, and heard mass. On our way out, we heard a bird calling atop an acacia tree. We looked upwards which got some of the people around us interested. Mostly kids, they all joined us in the search of the bird. One of them pointed it out to us, "Ayun o, yung itim!" ("There, the black one!") We all focused to an Asian Glossy Starling calling from directly above us. Another one was perched closer and Jops was able to take some shots and show the photos to the kids. They were so curious and amazed when they saw the bird up close with its beady, red eyes! We gave them some bird stickers before we left, and we were pleased to see them sharing them with huge smiles on their faces. =)

We decided to take a road trip further into Pangasinan and found ourselves in Bgy. Bonuan Gueset in Dagupan City. Jops took me to Matutina's restaurant for lunch and we had the best buttered squid ever! After our scrumptious lunch, we decided to check out the beach just in front of the restaurant. As we prepared our gear, we were approached by curious locals and we asked them about birds they see in their area. We found a bird to show them and even some staff from the restaurant came out to look through the scope.

Even the cook from the restaurant came out to see what we were doing!
They all had huge smiles on their faces since they were looking at...
THIS macho Brown Shrike through the scope!

When the shrike flew off, we headed to the beach hoping for some waders but it was just too hot (and busy with swimmers.) After spotting some white-eyes on a coconut tree, we said goodbye to Bonuan and started the long drive back home. We were hoping to come across some fishponds teeming with birds but we didn't see much. We did see a Brahminy Kite with a fish dangling from its talons! The raptor would take bites from its still-wriggling prey while three terns chased it around... all this action in the air!

Digi-binned photo of the kite as it flew away with its catch.

After all that excitement, we finally drove straight to our last target for the weekend: Candaba to twitch the recently sighted Common Shelduck. We didn't realize that we had gotten so far! We found ourselves racing against the setting sun. Every hump, slow tricycle, dog, and chicken blocking our way cost us precious minutes of sunlight. 

We arrived at the site just as the sun was setting. No more waders in the immediate rice paddies but there were some ducks further out. We (almost frantically) scanned the flock and saw a distinct, white bird among the Philippine Ducks, its head nestled under its wing. The Common Shelduck!

The Sleeping Lifer:
 The clearest digiscoped photo of the Common Shelduck
 in the dwindling sunlight.

It would occasionally lift its head to look around, showing its red-orange bill, then return to its sleeping position again. We were given enough time before night settled in to observe the stark contrast of its brown breast band against the whiteness of its body and the orange color of the beak when it would raise its head. After a few minutes, the sun had completely set and a crescent moon took its place above us. We packed away, happy with our twitch, and grateful for the great weekend we had. =)

Jops and I racing against the setting sun to see the object of our twitch =)
Two very happy twitchers =)

Dusk at Candaba