Saturday, December 14, 2013

Balanga Mudflats: Sinking Closer to the Waders

After participating in the 4th Ibong Dayo Festival, Jops and I returned the following morning to the Balanga Wetland Park in Barangay Tortugas. The very low tide meant more waders foraging but it also meant that they were scattered farther from the view deck. We decided to rent a boat to take us out to the water and get closer to the gulls and plovers and other waders.

We spoke to some of the fishermen near the entrance to the park and was able to talk to Kuya Zander who, with his father's permission, agreed to take us out to the mudflats for P800.00. We got our gear, boarded our banca, and went out to sea.

That's our boat. It's actually sitting on the mudflats.

We were accompanied by Kuya Zander's
daughter and niece

We reached the edge of the mudflats where it got too shallow for the boat to go any further. Jops got off the boat first and sank! Kuya Zander suggested that we go barefoot which would make it easier for us. Jops was a good boy and obeyed. I, on the other hand, was confident that my Keens would do the job. I got off the boat, with Kuya Zander telling me again to remove my shoes, and I sank... to my knees!!! I tried pulling up my right leg and the soft mud threatened to claim my Keens! I kept telling myself: I wont lose my Keens to the ocean! I won't lose my Keens to the ocean! So with a roar, I pulled one leg and then the other, removing my beloved shoes and depositing them safely in the boat. The disobedient birder learns her lesson =P

Barefoot and muddy

It was an awkward walk to the exposed mudflats and it took me quite a while to get my bearings. The two little girls helped me when I would sink and giggle when I would yelp when I lost my balance. When we got to more "stable" land, Kuya Zander's daughter told me shyly "Ate, may putik ka sa leeg" ("You have mud on your neck") I guess I was a mess =P

I wiped the mud from my neck... and my hands and my arms and then... I saw the birds. My favorites for the day were the Black-headed Gulls. They were resting on  the mudflats in front of us, with other waders running around them. When they took flight, they were beautiful!

Jops photographing the flock of gulls in flight

I was so happy I was able to get a good-enough photo of them in flight =)

The gulls moved further away and joined a huge group of waders. We saw large groups of Common Greenshanks, some Common Redshanks, and Marsh Sandpipers. There were also a few Greater and Lesser Sand-Plovers which I enjoyed observing for quite a while. A small group of Curlew Sandpipers started coming in to forage too. Jops initially just spotted one and we were hopeful it was a Dunlin! But more of the started coming in and we got to observe them more and they were Curlew Sandpipers for sure.

Gulls. Shanks. Plovers.
The first Curlew Sandpiper we saw that morning

An assortment of terns were also resting on the mudflats and it was really challenging for me identifying them! I need a major review of terns!

Terns, terns, terns!
I know they're not all Whiskered!

We tried searching for the huge flock of Asian Golden Plovers but they were quite far from where we were. We decided to get back to the banca and check out another area. We saw lots of terns diving for fish and also saw fishermen catching alamang (small shrimp) with their nets.

Here's where your bagoong (shrimp paste) comes from!

As we reached the end of our trip, we spotted a group of birds perched on bamboo poles. A lone Black-headed Gull stood out from the smaller Whiskered Terns and Jops and I were able to take some shots before they flew off.

Terns perched on poles and nets

A handsome Black-headed Gull.
Can't wait to see this in breeding plumage!

We headed back to the wetland park towards mid-morning. We didn't get any lifers but it was an adventure going out on a boat, walking and sinking in the mudflats, and getting great views of the waders (particularly the gulls!) There is still a lot to discover in Balanga and it remains a wonderful place to bird, especially during migration season. We'll be back!

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