Friday, February 22, 2013

Bird Lifer, Tree Lifer, Frog Lifer

We woke up early Saturday morning excited to explore more of Zamboanga. Our first day was chock-full of activities but there was still much to see. We were picked up at our hotel by Ma'am June and the rest of the team plus staff from the water district, whose 4x4 jeep we were going to need to go up to our site for the morning, Baluno which is within the Pasonanca protected area. We switched from the van to the truck near the Baluno barangay hall.

Our group posing behind the
water district's 4x4 jeep

Along the way to the Baluno Ecological Training Center, some of us saw a flash of red fly into the trees: trogon! The jeep was immediately asked to stop and out came the binoculars, cameras, and scope. We were able to spot a male and female Philippine Trogon, flying among the trees on the side of the road.

The male Philippine Trogon perched long enough for me to snap a few
photos. The female was more difficult to spot, always hiding in the foliage.

After the trogons flew away, we all climbed aboard the jeep and headed to the training center. We were welcomed by a beautiful bagras tree just by the turn from the main road. It was the first time I saw this Mindanao native and I was ecstatic!

One of the four (or five?) bagras trees in the
immediate area of the training center.

I pulled myself away from the tree and followed the group headed towards the trail. It was a very easy walk along the unpaved road with greenery on both sides. However, that morning, not much birds were in the area (we did see a Philippine Falconet) so I found myself busy chasing and stalking after butterflies flying around us. At first, it was challenging trying to "catch" them sitting still on a flower or leaf but I managed to get a few decent shots =)

I was chasing a pretty black butterfly when the guard accompanying us asked if I was going to go in the trail. Apparently, Jops and Sir Joel were already in the trail and radioed the guard to ask if I was going to join them. I said yes and the guard and I left the road and entered the Baluno forest.

The "entrance" to the inner trails

The trail was very steep in some parts... both going up and going down. The one-sided wooden railings helped A LOT and I didn't feel afraid of slipping and falling too much. There were lots of "challenges" along the trails, but there was always something to hang on to for balance and support.

An example of a "challenge" along the trial.
Thank God they put rails!

It took us two hours to get through the trail, our stops were very brief as there wasn't any bird activity most of the time we were in the forest. The cicadas were singing so loudly they drowned out any other sound with their steady buzz. Evidence of their numbers were scattered along the trail in the form of cast-off skins still clinging to trunks and branches.

This trunk has three cast-off skins!
I had to look where I put my hands =P

Now, back to the two hours in the trail... 

We would stop at certain areas, sometimes hearing the faint song of a drongo or see some movement high up in the trees. We did see some birds - Blue Fantail, Pied Triller, a fly-by Philippine Trogon, Yellow-bellied Whistler, and Brahminy Kites and Crested Serpent Eagles soaring above us. But that was about it for the trail. 

The trail was lush with trees but sadly, not
much birds that morning we were there.
Another reason to go back! =)

We exited the trail but not before spotting some curious looking frogs, very well camouflaged on the forest floor. One was the Mindanao Horned Frog which Sir Joel pointed out to us. It was amazing seeing it "pop out" from the ground once my eyes focused on it. So cool to observe!

I felt lucky to see the Mindanao Horned Frog Megophrys stejnegeri
classified as a vulnerable species (IUCN Red List)

The trail opened up to the road and the rest of our group was there having lunch. It was a nice place to sit and rest, being near a quiet body of water. They even saw a Silvery Kingfisher earlier! We ate our lunch with   a noisy Bicolored Flowerpecker perched right above us. After eating, we kept watch for the Silvery Kingfisher. It didn't show up anymore but we were able to get great views of another lifer: a Philippine Needletail. It kept circling above us and diving close to the water. We didn't leave the area until everyone saw its identifying marks of white under each wing and under its chin. It flew so fast it was impossible to keep track with it on our bins!

Where they spotted the Silvery Kingfisher and also where we saw
the superfast Philippine Needletail.

We decided to walk a bit back to the van (before having the truck pick us up) and try to spot the Zamboanga Bulbul. The other group was able to see them along the road, as well as a pair of, um, randy Philippine Falconets. It was a bit challenging to spot the bulbuls as they would fly from one perch to the next very quickly, making them very difficult to photograph. But even so, we did get good views of a couple of them, allowing us to observe the stark contrast between their rust-colored head, neck, and throat and their whitish bellies. Further down the road, we saw some Black-faced Coucals skulking in the thick canopy of trees, calling in a deep, whooping voice.

Birding along the Baluno road

The truck then picked us up and we drove to the barangay hall where the van was waiting to take us back to the city. Our next stop was to see the mudflats in the Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology campus.

We didn't get to see that many birds with a halfday of birding in Baluno, but that's ok. We did get to see the Zamboanga Bulbul and Philippine Needletail (bird lifers), the bagras trees (tree lifer), and the Mindanao Horned Frog (frog lifer)! And we were sure we'd get to go exploring more on our next trip =)

Coming up next.... breeding Great Egrets!

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