Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chick, Crake, Pitta, Owl

Our friend Leni invited us to go birding with her in the La Mesa Ecopark on Tuesday. As we were discussing our plans, we decided to include a visit to the nesting Philippine Frogmouth that was recently spotted in the La Mesa Nature Reserve. Our new birder friend from Taiwan, Wayne (who participated in the 6th International Hornbill Conference) also wanted to see the Luzon subspecies of the Philippine Frogmouth. So the plan was set: La Mesa Nature Reserve first, then La Mesa Ecopark next.

Jops unfortunately couldn't escape from work that day, so he just brought me to Jollibee to meet up with Leni, Joni, and Wayne. And we were off!

Kuya Efren was once more our guide in the LMNR and we took a nice walk to the nest site. Along the way, we were treated to great views of a very green and plump Guaiabero. We also saw an active Collared Kingfisher nest visible from the trail and saw the adult bird fly out of the nest hole.



We soon reached the nest site and saw that the Frogmouth was sitting on a white ball of fluff! Upon closer inspection (of course through our binoculars and camera LCD screens) we confirmed that it was indeed a chick! The egg has hatched!


The Philippine Frogmouth sitting on a white ball of fluff
A closer look at the newly hatched chick
The young bird moved a bit and here you can partially see
the yellow eye ring of the chick.

After spending a few minutes observing the birds, we exited the area and headed back up to the parking lot. We spoke to Kuya Efren and Sir Jo about being more careful now that the egg has hatched. We said our goodbyes and headed to the La Mesa Ecopark.

It was mid-morning and getting a bit hot already. Thankfully, the trails were shaded by the trees and it was nice and cool to bird in. We bumped into new WBCP member Anthony who was photographing birds in the trails and chatted for a while. We walked deeper into the trails and soon found one of Leni's most wanted birds for that morning: a Slaty-legged Crake.



When the bird disappeared from view, we back-tracked to find the next bird on her list: Hooded Pitta. Joni almost immediately spotted one, sitting very still on the ground. It was my first time to photograph this bird and I was very happy that it stayed very still =)



It was approaching noontime and even in the heat, lots of birds were calling and flying about: Grey-backed Tailorbirds, Black-naped Orioles, and Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. It was also nest-building season for Lowland White-eyes and I was able to count at least four nests being constructed.



We dipped on the Red-bellied Pittas though which were nowhere to be seen that morning. On the way out of the trail, we saw an Ashy Ground Thrush singing loudly very close to the trail and another Slaty-legged Crake foraging on the ground.

We already had a very birdy morning but we ended it with a quick visit to the Philippine Scops Owls in Quezon City after a delicious lunch. We were able to see two juveniles and one adult. 

Adult and juvenile owl sitting side by side

The second juvenile owl stared at us
with its huge, round eyes!

We left after a few minutes, said goodbye, and went our separate ways. Quezon City did not disappoint us birders with so many wonderful birds we saw that Tuesday morning =)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Death of an Owl

And then there were two.

It was a sad morning when Jops was awoken by the visit of a security guard to their home. He was carrying the remains of a dead juvenile Philippine Scops-Owl. The guard found the owl along the road, meters away from where the family of owls roost and hunt.

So sad seeing this lifeless young owl...

Already emptied of its internal parts and eyes, you can still see the
beautiful feathers, sharp beak, and deadly talons.

The owl family of five (two adults and three juveniles) was first spotted by Jops last February 26 and has since been observed in the same area. We were able to find their day roost and have been seeing all three chicks regularly, usually with only one adult, perched high up in the trees.

Recently though, we've only been seeing two chicks roosting with an adult. We just assumed that the other chick was roosting unseen nearby with the other parent. That was until the guard found the dead owlet. We couldn't really tell the cause of death in the state of the owl's body but there were no obvious external injuries that we could see.

One adult and two juvenile owls in this recent photo taken a few days ago

Last year, we also saw a family of Philippine Scops-Owls with two chicks. I've read that these owls usually lay 1-2 eggs (although one journal article said 4-5 eggs!) so maybe two is really the average number of chicks for these owls.

We spent some time discussing the possible scenarios: could it be the third owlet? Or could it be from a different owl family? Was this the owl that fell to the ground a few weeks ago? Was it the "runt of litter"? What did it die of? Was it driven away by its much stronger and dominant siblings?

We have so many questions worthy of wildlife CSI! We just put our hope in the two remaining juvenile owls to survive until adulthood and continue to breed and live in the middle of a bustling city.

Hopefully, the two remaining chicks will grow into
adulthood like their parent.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Anniversary Frogmouth

Time flies by so fast! I felt like it was just a few months ago when I wrote about Jops and my second "birding birthday" or "birding anniversary." April 9 marks the first time we went birdwatching with the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and we got hooked on birding since then =)

We have been very blessed with quite amazing lifers the past two birding anniversaries. On our first year, we were able to spot a Chinese Francolin with a group of friends in Nuvali in Sta. Rosa. On our second year, we went birding in Canyon Cove in Batangas where we didn't get any lifers until we got back home in Quezon City and we spotted an immature Philippine Scops-Owl in the evening!

Today is our third birding anniversary and Jops and I didn't have any plans to find lifers. We just wanted to spend some time birding nearby to celebrate. I even told our friend Rob that I didn't think we'd get any lifers this time since we just planned to bird in the La Mesa Ecopark in the morning. That was until our birder friend Jasmin posted a photo of a nesting Philippine Frogmouth spotted nearby!

NO WAY! We got in touch with her immediately and she very kindly helped facilitate getting permission for us to bird in the La Mesa Nature Reserve in Greater Lagro, Quezon City since prior arrangements need to be made to enter the nature reserve.

So, at 6:30AM on our third birding anniversary, Jops and I, together with Rob and Irene, found ourselves in the La Mesa Nature Reserve, preparing for the trail that would possibly give us an awesome anniversary lifer. We were met by Sir Dave who is part of the management and our guide, Kuya Efren. It was really nice that both of them remembered us from the introductory training we gave about birdwatching February last year!

We soon hit the trail and I had butterflies in my stomach! Would we be so lucky and blessed to see a frogmouth on an impromptu twitch on our birding birthday??

On the trail as the sun (and temperature) rose

Even if I wanted to brisk-walk directly to where it was spotted, we of course couldn't help but bird along the way. The trail was alive with bird calls and we got to see Collared Kingfishers, Black-naped Orioles, Guaiaberos, White-breasted Woodswallows, Lowland White-Eyes, and lots more.

Collared Kingfisher bathing in the morning sun.
One of many Guaiaberos we saw and heard along the trails.

We walked around a bend and Kuya Efren suddenly entered a small path off the side of the trail - we were at the frogmouth's site. As I followed him and Jops into the brush, I saw Kuya Efren pointing further into the greens and I knew I would be getting to see the Philippine Frogmouth in a few seconds.

And it was amazing =)

Philippine Frogmouth:
our 3rd birding anniversary lifer!

The frogmouth was sitting very still on its small nest which was snugly built on a small bend of a thin trunk. It had its head raised up, doing its best to camouflage itself as a dry leaf, and doing a very good job at it =) We each took our positions at a safe distance from the nest and started photographing this very unique-looking bird. I couldn't believe it! We still got a lifer! 

We kept a safe distance from the nest so as not to disturb the bird,
and we took different positions to photograph the frogmouth. 
We were all squatting, kneeling, or sitting since the nest was quite low

It was quite a bird to observe! The markings on its back were beautiful, it's "hairy" face very unique looking, and its posture so peculiar. We got to see the bird at different angles which was such a treat! I love it when I am able to take my time studying a bird's field marks =)

Showing its chin and its underparts
Amazing patterns on its feathers!

 We soon left the nest and decided to bird until mid-morning. Back at the information center, we showed Sir Dave our photos and chatted with him and some of the guides and bikers and some of the nature reserve's staff asked if they could join us the next time we visited to go birding =)

Up to now that I am writing this, I am overwhelmed by the fact that we were still gifted with a lifer on our birding anniverary. And not just any lifer... an uncommon endemic frogmouth lifer =)

Thank you again, Jasmin! You showed us our 200th lifer in Candaba last year and now paved the way for this one =) Milkshakes and milk tea for everyone! 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fallen Chick

It was a great birding morning with visiting birder friends Dave, Eric, and Penn. We were able to see some Ashy Ground-Thrushes (and even heard one singing beautifully just by the park entrance!) and also got to see glimpses of a handsome Hooded Pitta, even though it was very easily flushed away. It was the second time I've seen the Hooded Pitta in the La Mesa Ecopark so it was a special treat for me too =)

The trail was alive with bird calls: Grey-backed Tailorbirds sang loudly but unseen from the trees, Black-naped Orioles called loudly from the treetops, and Lowland White-eyes chirped all around us. A Mangrove Blue Flycatcher posed well for us, allowing Dave and Eric to take lots of photos.

We weren't so lucky with the usually friendly Red-bellied Pitta though. We searched and scanned and listened for it but it simply didn't show. Oh well, it means our friends will have to come back again for it =)

While searching for the pitta and more birds, I noticed some Lowland White-eyes flitting around the branches just above my head. It was then that I noticed that they had a nest just above the trail. Upon closer observation, we saw that the nest actually had a gaping hole underneath and you could actually see an egg resting in the "crack"! How precarious!

Even more scarier was what we saw next... a newly hatched chick dangling from the nest's edge by its leg! It was such a disturbing sight for me and I was a bit glad I didn't have my camera. The adult white-eye kept coming back to the nest and kept trying to feed the chick with a small worm. The chick wriggled and wriggled and we were all dreading that it might fall. And it did. It dropped silently to the ground. And I saw it with my own two eyes. =(

Dave, who was nearest me, heard my gasp and we immediately approached the area to check on the tiny chick... Eric joined us and he spotted the tiny bird and gently scooped it up with dried leaves. It was still alive. Eric handed my the leaf and the fallen chick... and I looked at it sadly.

One of the saddest things I've seen while birding...

We all knew its chances of survival were close to (or practically) none... but we had to do something! Jops found an old, discarded nest nearby. We placed the chick as gently as we could inside and positioned it near its original nest hoping the parents would notice it and continue caring for it. With a deep sigh, I walked away from the area and took a last look at the nest. I was quite surprised to see the adult Lowland White-eye sitting on the nest, warming the egg inside.

Hmm, did the parents push the chick out of the nest or did it fall by itself? Was the chick falling out of the nest a consequence of "poor nest construction"? Whatever the reason or cause, it was just sad seeing such a frail living thing so defenseless and us feeling helpless to do anything. We left the trail hoping for the impossible that the chick would survive.

All that sadness was washed away when we were able to see two healthy and wide-awake juvenile Philippine Scops-Owls perched comfortably (and securely) beside one of their parents right after we had lunch. Even in nature, you win some and you lose some.. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Raptorwatch and Exploring an Uncharted Trail

It's raptorwatch season again! It is now time for the great raptors to migrate back up North passing through certain parts of the Philippines. The club has made the PAG-ASA Weather Station in Tanay, Rizal the main "base" for counting raptors.

The entrance to the weather station

After the novena for Jops grandmother (where we got to observe a hungry Colasisi), we drove to Tanay to help Randy W. count raptors for the day. We arrived at the weather station around 11AM and found that more birders had come to count! We joined Randy, Rene C., and Juan M. at the deck. We set-up our gear (i.e. scope, folding chairs, cooler) and began to scan the sky for raptors.

Binoculars trained up in the clear skies for raptors

Seeing the green landscape and blue sky paired with the cool wind
was a great respite from the summer heat

It was a very windy day that day we counted. While looking up at the sky, I would sometimes have to step back, pushed by a strong gust of wind! The wind, although bad for the migrating raptors, was a welcome treat in the horrible heat beating down on us. We would constantly return to the shade of the tower to escape the harsh midday sun.

Scanning for raptors in the shade

Some of your typical raptorwatch "workstations" =)

Honestly, I am not very good at identifying flying raptors. I've studied the field marks, shape, size comparisons but I didn't feel confident I could contribute significantly in the field. All my past raptorwatches were with larger groups of birders and with more experienced members who I left the ID-ing to. This trip was different, we were only 5 counters and everyone had to step up... including me!

I was actually nervous and quite insecure raptor-wise, but I was pleasantly surprised that after two or three groups of passing raptors, I was able to differentiate a Grey-faced Buzzard from a Chinese Goshawk from an Oriental Honeybuzzard! Experience really is the best teacher and I was very happy discovering I could ID the raptors by myself!

Those "spots" are actually raptors thermalling, which basically means
riding on the upward current of warm air that helps the birds
conserve energy.

Towards 3PM, the count had slowed down to almost nothing. We decided to call it a day with a total of 664 raptors counted (mix of Grey-faced Buzzards, Oriental Honeybuzzard, and Chinese Goshawks.)

Since it was still quite early, Randy suggested that we check out a trail off the side of the road which he explored earlier. Jops and I decided to join him and we found ourselves walking down a slope towards a small stream.

Randy lead us through this forest trail accessed
by the side of the road.

We ended up in this small stream.

The place was quite undisturbed and we could hear tailorbirds and doves calling from the brush. We saw some Philippine Bulbuls in the area too. Randy reported having seen Red-crested Malkoha in the area when he visited earlier in the day. Jops and Randy walked along the stream, with me trailing hesitantly behind (I was feeling inexplicably uncomfortable in the trail...)

Jops and Randy went ahead and were able to see an
Indigo-banded Kingfisher which was a lifer for Randy!

A short way along the stream, we bumped into three armed guards who were patrolling the area. They advised us not to go further in the trail and to coordinate with them next time we plan to enter the trail since the area is also accessible to rebels. We decided to turn back and follow them out the trail. We said our goodbyes to Randy when we reached our parked vehicles by the side of the road and drove home. I am actually looking forward to the next time I get to join the raptorwatch =)