Sunday, June 2, 2013

Birthday Birding: A Surprise Owl and A Sneaky Crake

Has it been a year already?! It seems like only months since I spent my birthday last year birding in Makiling and here I am celebrating another one. Time flies... and so do the birds =)

Yesterday, Jops and I, together with Joni, Alex, Tere, Trinket, Marites, Brian, and Mang Boy, conducted a guided trip for members of the Nikon Club Philippines (NCP) in the La Mesa Ecopark. I have to say, it was one of the most exciting guided trips... everyone got to see a Philippine Eagle Owl! There haven't been any reports of it being seen in the park although our friends Adri and Nicky have already been hearing it there before in the wee hours of the morning.

We had just started birding in the trail when a huge bird swooped in above us and perched high up an acacia tree. Jops and I didn't have our cameras since we were guiding but NPC member Earl Santos was able to photograph the owl just after it perched! It looked at us briefly, looked around, then flew away. The short and very unexpected encounter with the largest species of owl in the Philippines gave me goosebumps!

Philippine Eagle Owl photo by Earl Santos (Nikon Club Philippines)
Thank you, Earl, for allowing me to post your photo of your amazing lifer!

Everyone in the group also got to see some Ashy Ground Thrush, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, and Emerald Dove. It was a really lucky day because aside from the "LMEP specialties" lots of other birds came out in the open to be observed: Grey-backed Tailorbird (yes, out in the open!), Lowland White-Eye, Black-naped Oriole, Collared Kingfisher, Golden-bellied Flyeaters (with a nest!), and lots (and I mean LOTS) of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. One was even observed noisily building a nest! The trip ended towards mid-morning and we all went home happy about such a great morning and an amazing bird list.

Jops and I decided to go back to the Ecopark the following day for my birthday birding. I didn't feel like going anywhere far and La Mesa seemed like the perfect place to bird for my birthday this year. We didn't even get up too early, arriving in the park around 7AM. This time we had our cameras with us. Who knows, we might be lucky enough to see the owl again. Unfortunately, we didn't. We were just really, really lucky yesterday!

Of course, La Mesa did not disappoint. Near the lagoon, we checked out the fruiting ficus tree Joni spotted yesterday and saw a handsome Guaiabero feeding on some of the ripe berries. Lots of Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Lowland White-Eyes were also starting to feast on the fruits. We moved into the mini-forest and saw a nest of an Ashy Ground Thrush very close to the trail. After a few minutes, the parent sat on it allowing me to take a quick photo before leaving it in peace.

Ashy Ground Thrush sitting on its nest.

A few meters away, we saw a Red-bellied Pitta being chased away by a Hooded Pitta! The Hooded Pitta won the battle, driving the Red-bellied Pitta away from the area. We would see both species again foraging in different places in the mini-forest later that morning.

I finally got a photo of the Hooded Pitta showing the red under its tail =)

Further in, we saw a Slaty-legged Crake busy foraging in the scrub. Jops went ahead and waited for it to come out while I checked up on the nesting Common Emerald Dove we saw yesterday. The male dove was still sitting on the nest, so I snapped a couple of photos and left the area to join Jops look for the crake.

The male Emerald Dove sitting on its nest.

I found Jops sitting on the trail, camera ready for the crake if it crossed the path. It did just that yesterday as the group was observing an Ashy Ground Thrush on the path. I won't forget the surprised and happy look on Joni's face as the crake walked right in front of the group as she pointed to the thrush =)

I joined Jops, crouching low, and waited for the bird to cross the trail. I heard some rustling a couple of feet behind me on my right. I slowly turned my head, expecting to see a skink come out. But it wasn't a skink... it was the crake! It was less than two feet behind me... crossing the trail behind our backs! I think I gasped (or squeaked) but didn't move so as not to scare it and announced (quite loudly) to Jops that the bird was behind me. He turned just in time to see the crake disappear into the other side of the trail. It was amazing seeing the bird THAT close! I could clearly see its yellow eye ring with just my glasses on! It didn't allow for any photos though as we were facing the other way. Such a sneaky crake! 

The trail was alive with orioles, kingfishers, white-eyes, and a Large-billed Crow even perched above us. We also got to see the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker from yesterday, still busy boring a hole for its nest. 

Not yet done with its nest-building!

I didn't get any lifers this year (although who knows what tomorrow brings!) but I did get to meet new friends, we all got to share an unexpected sighting of a Philippine Eagle Owl, and Jops and I had a very close encounter with a Slaty-legged Crake! Happy birthday to me! =)


  1. Happy Birthday Maia!

  2. Happy birthday to youuuuuu Maia!
    You know I still haven't had a full view of the slaty legged crake? It would be a lifer for me!
    Hope you have many birding adventures to come!

    1. Thank you Trinket!!! =)
      Ah really?! We should go back to LMEP then! Let's have that picnic or big sit we've been talking about =)

  3. Happy birthday, Maia!

    We had a similar experience with the Crakes (we saw 3 all at once!). One of them approached us and was too close for our long lenses. :)

    Interesting that despite Mike Lu's "rule" of no cameras on the birding trip, there was one "violator" who was able to photograph the PEO. Now at least there's proof. :)

    1. Thank you Tito Bob =) Cool experience with the Crakes! I now look forward to seeing them again and again and again hehe =)

      Haha, yeah. We didn't really ask them to keep their cameras since they were very compliant with "spot before shot" =)