Saturday, March 30, 2013

Green Bird and Yellow Flowers

We were on the seventh day of a nine-day novena for Jops' grandmother who passed away last year. Family and friends gathered in the cemetery to pray for nine mornings and a tent was set up beside a Golden Shower tree, one of many scattered in the area. All the Golden Shower trees were laden with cascading, vibrant yellow flowers. So pretty!

The Golden Shower is the National Tree of Thailand.

The flowers would fall to the ground providing colorful ground cover under each tree. As a child, I would pick up parts of the fallen flowers from a Golden Shower tree near our house and link them together creating a delicate yellow chain.

While praying the novena for Jops' grandmother who passed away last year, we suddenly heard the sharp seep-seep call of a Colasisi (Philippine Hanging Parrot.) We looked up just in time to see it fly straight into the flowers of the Golden Shower tree right beside us! It perched out in the open and we found ourselves looking up at a very green and very hungry Colasisi feeding on the yellow flowers.



It stayed quite a while, busily munching on the flowers, twisting upright then turning upside down giving us a vibrant show of green and yellow... such beautiful summer colors!

We took a few shots, took a short video, and returned to our prayers. We said a quiet thank you to Jops' grandmother for sending a Colasisi our way that morning =) (You can hear the prayers in the video =))

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Listening Walk" in Makiling

We planned a morning side-trip up Mt. Makiling before a birdwatching talk and activity in Sta. Rosa, Laguna  later in the afternoon. Jun, Jops, and I headed straight for the trail which was recently opened to the public again and had high hopes of seeing lots of birds. Unfortunately, we didn't.

Perfect setting for a Luzon Bleeding Heart... OR
our Makiling listening walk

The trail was actually very noisy with birdsong. We could hear tailorbirds, flowerpeckers, shamas, even hornbills calling from the trees but we saw very little. I did get to see a Greater Flameback for the first time in Makiling. We heard it hammering away on a high branch before Jun was able to spot it.

A very busy Greater Flameback

Further up the trail, we could constantly hear a Black-chinned Fruit-Dove as well as more White-browed Shamas, tailorbirds, flowerpeckers, and Philippine Bulbuls. Our "heard only" list was getting longer and longer! But we did get to see a White-eared Brown-Dove feeding on the small flowers of a tree.



On the way up, a lot of bikers and hikers caught up with us. The hikers came in large, noisy groups and we decided their noise would drive away any chances of seeing any more birds. We headed down the trail. We heard a raptor calling loudly from above us and saw a Crested Serpent Eagle soaring over the forest. We were also able to see a Yellow-bellied Whistler perched quite low and near the trail. Additional birds we heard on our listening walk were some Colasisi and a Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo. That cuckoo has been evading me!

Of course, we also turned our attention to the other creatures in the forest. I was able to take a photo of this Flying Dragon Draco volans, showing off its yellow dewlap (the fold of loose skin on its throat.) I always like seeing this in the forest given that they have such great camouflage when seen against the tree bark.

I think I actually "heard" it land on this tree trunk!

I was also very pleased with myself being able to take a nice photo of this butterfly I haven't seen before. Or maybe I have and just didn't look close enough to see its beautiful circular wing patterns. Good thing it stayed still long enough for at least one good photo!

Mycalesis ita
Thanks to my friends who id'd it for me =)
It was the same scenario going down... lots of listening going on =) The only additional birds we saw were a couple of Balicassiao near the trail entrance. Plus a huge Golden Orbweaver on its web.

Spiders make lovely subjects... until they start moving!

We left the trail mid-morning with quite a good list of mostly heard only birds. We dropped by the Philippine Carabao Center to buy some fresh and chocolate milk (yum!) and also passed by one of the small bridges in the UPLB campus. We were hoping to see the Indigo-banded Kingfisher but didn't. We did get to see a couple of Yellow-wattled Bulbuls though! We were also treated to top views (and side views, and bottom views) of lots of Striated Swallows flying around the area.

I think they are my favorite kind of bulbul =)

So, it wasn't such a birdy morning but we did get to bird all the same. I think one full day of birding in Makiling is due very soon =)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Coastal Lagoon Level-Up!

The Coastal Lagoon or the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) is the last remaining wetlands in Metro Manila. After the neighboring mudflats and wetlands have been reclaimed and converted into the Mall of Asia, the soon-to-open casino complex, condominiums, and other establishments, the LPPCHEA is the last place in the Metro that houses mangrovesas well as a lot of bird species.




Aside from being the place where most of the city's garbage accumulates, the Coastal Lagoon also houses 47 migratory bird species which flock to the area during the migration season. Among these are Great Egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Asian Golden-Plovers, Whiskered Terns, the vulnerable Chinese Egret, and more. 

The beach in the LPPCHEA. Thanks to the clean-up efforts of different
groups, the garbage is being cleared revealing the sand underneath.

Yet many migratory birds find it a suitable habitat during the
wintering months.

Plans of reclaiming the LPPCHEA have been a major concern not only for birdwatchers but for other conservation groups as well as some officials of the local government who understand and value the importance of the place. 

Just last March 15, the LPPCHEA was officially included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, a monumental milestone in conserving and saving the site. It is the 6th site to be included in the list joining the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao (included in November 1999), the Naujan Lake Natural Park in Oriental Mindoro (November 1999), the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu (July 1994), the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan (June 2012), and the Tubbataha Reefs National Park in the Sulu Sea (November 1999.)

The site was actually designated as a Critical Habitat through a Presidential Proclamation in 2007 but this does not seem to serve as any "protection" from threats of reclamation stemming from the Philippine Reclamation Authority. Hopefully, the government will now open its eyes to the real significance of the LPPCHEA as an important natural heritage the country can be proud of. The international conservation community has seen it, our local conservation organizations have always seen it... why can't our government?

Deeper than the beauty of the Manila Bay sunset is a critical habitat
that needs the governments support to conserve it.

Of course, this inclusion in the Ramsar List would not be possible without the efforts from our dedicated friends from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who have worked hard to get this designation for LPPCHEA. Hopefully, the upper echelons of the department will see this with the same perspective they have and support all efforts to conserve the area. After all, they are the ones with the decision-making powers.

Now, the next question is: will the Philippine government see the true value and importance of LPPCHEA or will it continue to turn a blind eye and choose to see profit and development disguised through destruction? Will they listen this time? I hope so.

Birdwatchers on the "Toxic Beach" of LPPCHEA

Monday, March 18, 2013

For the Hornbills and Hornbill Lovers

Hornbills are not only beautiful and unique birds they are one of the most interesting too. Every time I see them, it's a surreal experience and you can't help but watch them until they're gone. They're not really the kind of bird you walk away from =)

The only (digiscoped) photo I have of a hornbill,
a male Luzon Hornbill or Tarictic Hornbill, who was feeding
on the ripe red berries of a ficus tree somewhere in Mt. Makiling.

I have only technically seen one species of hornbill, the Tarictic Hornbill, although I have seen the panini race in Negros (Visayan Tarictic Hornbill) and the samarensis race in Bohol (Samar Tarictic Hornbill.) I've heard wonderful stories from birder friends about how they felt when they saw the Rufous Hornbill and I can only imagine how I would feel when my time comes to see them in the wild.

This April, Manila will be hosting the 6th International Hornbill Conference. It will definitely be very interesting browsing through the poster presentations and listening to people from all over the world share their expertise and experiences with regards to their studies on hornbills as well as their conservation efforts to save these birds from so many threats to their survival.

Here's a very cool infographic about hornbills:


For more information regarding the upcoming conference, you may visit their Facebook community page here. You may also visit the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines website and click on the links about the conference as well as register here. Hope to see you in April! Invite your friends and colleagues too! =)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

More Owls in the City!



Jops and I have been waiting for the family of Philippine Scops-Owls that spent many nights in their backyard last year. We weren't really actively looking for them since it was still a few months early from when we last saw them (we saw them April last year.)

Call it a brilliant stroke of birding luck, but Jops was able to hear the call of the immature Philippine Scops-Owl when  he drove his mom to church one evening. He was able to spot three immature owls and got glimpses of the adults too!

Intermittent viewing schedules for birders and bird photographers were organized soon after. Each trip offered different experiences with the owls. On one night, the adult owl perched really low and in the open, showing off a dead, headless rat in its claw. It then proceeded to feed it in chunks to its three hungry owlets. Yum.

As they days wore on, the owlets were becoming more and more active, flying from tree to tree. It made for more difficult views and photos but still an experience in itself. I tried for several trips to take a photo of any of the owls but failed miserably. When the owls did show well, I didn't have my camera with me! =(

Finally, last Thursday, Jops and I accompanied Adri, Trinket, and Singaporean birder Albert to view the owl family. We decided to go to the area a bit earlier than usual and hope to see them before they actively flew around. I was a bit anxious since I did not want to go home empty-handed yet again. But I was blessed this time =)

We were able to see the three young owls and one adult owl perched in a line on a high branch, partially hidden by branches and leaves.

From left to right: adult owl, young owl, young owl, young owl

We spent some time watching the owls through our bins and through the scope. We could see them beginning to stir from their perches, the young ones moving their heads in a circular motion. As the sun began to set, they started moving to different branches but still staying close to each other.

Do you still see the four owls? And can you see the immature owl
with a cute (or creepy) 90° turn of the head? 

After just seconds, they all moved a bit further away from each other. By this time, the sun had almost completely set and the light was fading on us.

The adult owl perched out in the open while
two of the young owls perched above it.

And then in an instant, they all flew off in different directions! We were able to track the adult owl to where it perched and it sat quietly, looking around while the young owls continuously pssssst-ed around us. It transferred to another low tree before it flew away into the night. The young owls were continuously calling but were very hard to spot as they moved to higher parts of the trees. Before we left, we were able to get one more glimpse of the owls before they flew off again.

It would be nice to think that these owls are the next generation from the owl family we saw last year. Hopefully, they will continue to breed and allow us birdwatchers to see them as they grow and raise their families in the middle of a bustling city.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Two Thrush Lifers!

We spent another early evening owling with friends Adri and Trinket who brought Singaporean birder, Albert along to see the Philippine Scops Owls in the city. After owling, we all went out to have dinner and they mentioned they will be going to the La Mesa Ecopark the next morning and invited us to join them. Over sizzling sisig and after much internal deliberation, it was decided that any other morning plans (i.e. work) would be set aside so we could all bird.

Honestly, this was a twitching morning for most of us, having heard of a Brown-headed Thrush being seen and even photographed in the park recently. We were hoping to see it before it moved on up north.

After our group observed a very hungry Red-bellied Pitta near the entrance of the trail, we bumped into Bram in the trail and we tried to spot the thrush. We basically stayed in the area near the fruiting palm trees, waiting for the thrush to show. It didn't. High up a gemelina tree, we were able to spot some of them! But they flew off revealing quite a big flock of around 8 thrushes. They would come closer to us in smaller batches, and one individual gave us good views of its underside and side profile.

One of the Brown-headed Thrushes

Here's a short video of the Brownheaded Thrush downing a ripe berry:



The birds would fly in, usually on the fruiting palm tree, eat a berry or two, then fly off again. Their appearances would last only seconds to just a couple of minutes, but long enough for us to observe them and their field marks.

During one "appearance," Adri pointed out the very distinct white eyebrow on the thrush: Eyebrowed Thrush! We all focused on the bird again before it flew off. We all looked at each other and everyone definitely saw the white eyebrow. We actually couldn't believe we were seeing two kinds of new (for me, Jops, and Trinket) thrushes this morning.

After a few minutes of waiting, the thrushes returned to feed and we were all able to see both the Brown-headed and Eyebrowed Thrushes! Two thrush lifers for me, Jops, and Trinket and one thrush lifer for Albert, Adri, and Bram!

Eyebrowed Thrush. Note the diagnostic white eyebrow.

When the birds flew off again, we decided to check out the trail again. We saw a very handsomely spotted Ashy Ground Thrush perched on an open branch, warbling softly without opening its beak. When the bird flew away, Jops and I said our goodbyes as we still had to catch up with the reality that it was a workday after all. =P



Bram walked with us to get a drink in the food kiosks and along the way, we were able to see a pretty Emerald Dove as well as Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker busy boring a nest hole. It definitely was a morning very well-spent =)

Common Emerald Dove
Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker

Monday, March 11, 2013

Forest Bird, City Bird

A few months after Jops and I became birdwatchers we were lucky enough to have gotten big birding "breaks" that allowed us to see birds that were quite difficult to see before. I think it started with the Ferruginous Flycatcher that made an appearance in the UP Diliman campus way back in November 2010. That was our first ever twitch and we didn't know how lucky we were to see it so close to home. (Here's Trinket's blog post about it =) )

Our next lucky break was the Naked-faced Spiderhunter which was chanced upon by a bird photographer in the La Mesa Ecopark in December 2010. This got the ball rolling for the park, bringing in more birders and bird photographers and leading to more and more avian discoveries: Red-bellied Pitta, Hooded Pitta, Brush Cuckoo, Ashy Ground-Thrush, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Guaiabero, Grey-backed TailorbirdSlaty-legged Crake, Scaly Ground-Thrush... the list goes on. Who knew the mini-forest housed so many birds! 

Jops and I visited the park last Friday afternoon to check out something in the mini-forest. We weren't expecting anything bird-wise given that we just had a few hours before it got dark, but we were still hoping to see the Pechora Pipit. 

It was a nice, quiet weekday and there weren't that many people passing through the park. A very friendly Red-bellied Pitta showed up shortly after we entered the trail, busy foraging on the ground.

A very plump Red-bellied Pitta stayed close to the trail giving us
excellent views and allowing us to photograph it.

Another friendly bird, a male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, also kept giving us very close encounters, perching very near us at the edge of the trees.

Male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher kept surprising us with its appearances!

After a while, I saw some movement on the ground... a small brown bird with streaks was walking around the area. The Pechora Pipit! It was walking a bit slowly at first but then became more active as it foraged on the ground.

A blurry photo of lifer # 236 - Pechora Pipit

Also along the trail, we spotted a Lowland White-eye nest. The adult bird would make occasional visits to the nest but we did not see any chicks yet. The bird soon flew away after only a few seconds on the nest.

Lowland White-Eye on its nest

A group of noisy teenagers passed through the trail with matching blaring music from a cellphone. I stepped out of their way and let them pass before resuming my observation of the nest. Seeing the nest and remembering where I was made me realize how blessed I am to be able to witness this in the middle of the city -- how blessed and lucky us birdwatchers are to have access to these kinds of birds in Quezon City.

I remember some friends telling me and Jops that we didn't seem to realize how lucky we were to be able to spot the Ashy Ground-Thrush in the mini-forest when most birders have spent countless hours before dawn, up the trail in Mt. Makiling just to spot it. Yes, we didn't realize it at that time. And once we heard the stories from other birders, we did realize how lucky we and a lot of birders are to see it. The whole experience became more meaningful and memorable. 

Thinking more about the wonderful discoveries birdwatchers have had in the park, it made me think about how amazing it is that these forest birds have found a home and suitable habitat in this mini-forest in the middle of the city, how they have been thriving there possibly way before us birders "discovered" them, how they have survived even with the lack of awareness of their presence from the park administration and staff, and how they are able to continuously breed successfully with all the human traffic, intrusion, and noise around them. Amazing. 

Thanks to the efforts of birdwatchers, the park has now become more aware and conscious of the birds' presence. They may not be able to differentiate and appreciate the rarities and unique species in the park (just like we had in the beginning), but now they know that the mini-forest serves as a home and breeding ground for most of the birds and they have shown understanding and appreciation for that. Slowly, just like us, they will learn the real value of the birds and the park.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

One Fine Day in Subic

Subic has always been in our "to-go-to" list but all our previous trips there have either been rained out or quickie birding side-trips (usually lasting an hour only!) When our weekend opened up, we took the opportunity to spend more time birding in Subic. Jops and I were joined by fellow birders Tony, who is based in Subic, and Fr. Auckhs, who is based in Bataan. Unfortunately, Jun wasn't feeling well coming from his own adventure far, far away, so he wasn't able to join us.

We drove straight to Hill 394, a popular birding area where lots of birds have been reported. It was our first time to bird there and we were prepared with the necessary (?) permit from the Subic Ecology Center. We didn't see anyone who asked about any permits that morning though.

After parking and getting our gear ready, we heard a not-so-distant hammering indicating the presence of a woodpecker nearby. And by the loudness of the hammering, it wasn't Pygmy at all! Just by the entrance to the trail, we were able to see the very busy male White-bellied Woodpecker making the hammering sound.

I was able to get a photo of the gorgeous White-bellied Woodpecker
through all the leaves and branches. Yay!

It disappeared from view shortly after we spotted it and flew over us to the other side of the open space where we parked our cars. We headed into the trail to be welcomed by the calls of Philippine Bulbuls. The trail was an easy and pleasant walk, most of the time shaded by the trees. At times the surroundings would fall silent but would come alive with an assortment of bird calls.

Not a bad morning walk in the trail

We didn't get to see lots of birds but we were treated to a big flock of Pompadour Green-Pigeons soaking up some morning sun on the branches of a leafless tree. They were joined by a couple of male Luzon Hornbills, who perched for a few seconds before flying away. Some noisy Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes also joined them briefly on the tree.

Part of the big flock of Pompadour Green-Pigeons

We moved deeper into the trail and heard more than we saw. In one area, we heard a Luzon Hornbill calling loudly from the trees but we weren't able to spot it. In one area, we were able to see some Stripe-headed Rhabdornis together with a very skittish Blue-headed Fantail. It was mid-morning already and the trail was getting quieter and quieter so we decided to head back down.

In one of our conversations while walking, Fr. Auckhs and Tony mentioned birds coming out when you least expect them, and that's exactly what they did on our way out. We saw two raptors thermalling overhead: a Philippine Hawk-Eagle and a Crested Serpent Eagle. We also saw some noisy Blackish Cuckoo-Shrikes chasing each other in the tree tops. And we saw Jops' and my one lifer for the trip: White-lored Oriole, a subspecies of the Philippine Oriole. Sadly, no photos as it was very skittish, hopping from one branch to another and eventually flying off and disappearing into another tree. We did get good views of its yellow body, orangey beak, and of course, its white lores. =)

Before getting lunch, we dropped by the "tenement housing" of the Blue-throated Bee-eaters in the Crown Peak area. We also saw some Coletos, a Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Colasisi, and a couple of fly-by raptors.

Three Blue-throated Bee-eaters perched near their nesting holes.
We saw this bee-eater spread its wings over its nesting hole,
as if saying "This one's mine!"

We ate a delicious lunch and capped it off with equally delicious coffee. Tony had to go and couldn't join us for our afternoon in Nabasan Trail. The three of us left did some shopping first before hitting the trail. Along the way, I (miraculously!) spotted a raptor perched atop a tree. We parked our cars, got the spotting scope out, and admired a mean-looking immature Philippine Hawk-Eagle. I had always wanted a better view of this raptor since I first saw it in Ipo Dam three years ago.



Immature Philippine Hawk-Eagle, unbothered by the bats ;)

Next stop was the Nabasan Trail. We drove slowly down the road and we immediately saw a female Sooty Woodpecker hammering away at a dead tree trunk. It stayed quite a while allowing us to admire it to our heart's content. I also got a very short video of it pecking away at the tree =)

Female Sooty Woodpecker

I must say, after seeing the White-bellied and Sooty Woodpeckers, I think I've found my favorite birds =)  They are such handsome and amusing birds, I could watch them for hours! We would get glimpses of a Greater Flameback later in the trail but it was too hidden for a photo.

We drove through the trail slowly and saw Green Imperial Pigeons atop a tree. Other birds seen were a Dollarbird (which flew away as soon as we approached), Balicassiao, more Philippine Bulbul, flyby Philippine Ducks, and a Crested Serpent Eagle

While driving slowly, Jops stepped on the breaks because he saw a small parrot perched on what looked like a termite mound. Finding it a bit odd, we decided to wait for the bird to come back. Fr. Auckhs walked back to try and spot the Serpent Eagle while Jops and I discussed the possibility of the mound being the parrot's nest. The Kennedy guide offered little information about the nesting of the possible suspects: Colasisi and Guaiabero, and we hadn't really read up about nesting parrots. While waiting, a male Luzon Hornbill flew right above us.

The suspected nest. Jops saw the small parrot
clinging to the hole of the mound.

Jops tried his very best to keep still while waiting for the parrot to come back and it did: a Guaiabero perched very near the mound! It kept verrrry still and so did we. The only movement I made was with my bins to positively ID the bird and Jops took some shots. It stayed very still but did not enter the nest, instead it flew away to the other side of the trail.

Without a solid confirmation as to the mound being the Guaiabero's nest, we texted our friend Joni who is part of the Luzon Parrot Project, and she confirmed our observations! Nest lifer!

We rounded the trail and decided to stay and wait for the boobooks to come out. After pestering Rob (so sorry!) and being crawled on by what felt like hundreds of flying ants, we decided to drive through the trail again to try to spot some owls. We did get three chances to see owls, perched on the electric wires or atop posts, but they flew off into the darkness before we could ID them. Better luck next time =) At the entrance of the trail, we said goodbye to Fr. Auckhs. We had a great day in Subic but we know there is still so much more to see... next time =)