Monday, August 19, 2013

A Windswept Lifer

A storm or typhoon in the Philippines can be a major inconvenience, with the very high probability of flooding that usually comes with it. For birders though, there is the rare chance of spotting a few pelagic species, usually just one to three birds, that are blown in by the strong winds. Some of our birder friends have been lucky enough to spot some seabirds during storms. Back in September 2011, our friend Mark Jason was able to spot a Bulwers Petrel and Red-footed Boobies from his place along Roxas Boulevard which looks out to Manila Bay. Just last January, our friend Jasmin was also lucky to photograph a Christmas Island Frigatebird flying over La Mesa Ecopark when a low pressure area brought strong winds and rains... and that’s in the middle of the city!

Christmas Island Frigatebird in Quezon City.
Photo by Jasmin Meren

Seeing their reports and hearing their stories, I wished I would get a chance to experience something like that, but deep down inside I knew my chances were slim. And then there was last Sunday.

Mike, Jops, and I were in the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) on a stormy Sunday morning. We were there primarily for an activity with Earth Island Institute (EII) and Save Freedom Island Movement (SFIM), two NGOs fighting to save the area from reclamation. Dark clouds covered the sky and the high tide crashed to the garbage-laden beach. 

We were hoping to see some early waders and we spotted some Common Sandpipers perched on the exposed rocks. I worked with our friends from EII and SFIM by the beach while Mike and Jops walked around to find more birds. I saw lots of flyby Little Egrets, some Great Egrets, and quite a number of Black-crowned Night-Herons. Mike and Jops walked past the grotto and were able to spot some Grey-tailed Tatlers atop an abandoned barge. They passed by our group on the beach and headed towards the inner ponds where they saw a Rufous Night-Heron. On their way back, the rain started to pour. We all stayed under the tents that EII put up for the activity and waited for the rain and wind to stop.

I was looking out to sea when, from the far left, I saw a huge, dark bird flying very close to the water’s surface. At first I thought it was a gull, but as it came closer, it became very clear what it was… a Booby! It flew parallel to the beach and right in front of us banked its body showing its underparts - pale almost conical bill, solid brown head and neck which was very clearly contrasted with a white breast and belly! Brown Booby! In Manila Bay! An awesome windswept lifer!

There goes the Brown Booby!

It continued flying over the road and out of sight. Jops ran after it but the huge bird did not make a u-turn and kept flying away from us. We weren’t able to photograph this complete surprise of a lifer but we got superb views and took in all its field marks as our jaws dropped at this totally unexpected sighting. Jops and I did get to experience seeing a storm-blown bird!

Marked my field guide as soon as I could!

Brown Boobies are seabirds, foraging out in open sea and living and breeding on small islands. I think the best  place to find them are on the islands in the Tubbataha Reef so I feel super lucky to have seen it in Manila Bay. What an unforgettable experience! Who knows what birds the next storm will bring! =)

1 comment:

  1. wowowow! great sighting, congrats on the lifer!