Friday, August 8, 2014

Highlands Birding

Jops and I, together with our friends Jon J., Tommy and Rose headed to Tagaytay last weekend for an ocular birdwatching trip. The road trip was fun, so was the stop over lunch we had in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and we were in high spirits as the skies cleared and the sun peeped out. The weekend weather forecast predicted rainy weather but we were hoping for the best.

Soon we were on the winding road up to Tagaytay Highlands. We went straight to our lodging and after checking in were met by Prince M. of Tagaytay Highlands. Wasting no time, we were on the way to our first site for the weekend: the Nature Trail. As we got off from our van, the sky started to darken and a steady rain fell. We waited for the rain to stop and met Dr. Byron (the in-house vet) and Kuya Mario (who would be our guide.)

As soon as the rain lessened to a faint drizzle, we made our way to the trail. Tagaytay Highlands was badly hit by Typhoon Glenda and we could still see a number of fallen trees and broken branches in their landscape.

A few meters into the trail, Jon immediately spotted a bignay tree heavy with fruit and Kuya Mario started pointing out a bird among the leaves: Coppersmith Barbet! There were at least two Barbets in the tree.

Coppersmith Barbet
Spotting the Barbets beside some fallen branches

We would spot more of these colorful birds along the Nature Trail. When the sun came out again, the trail became noisier! We could hear Grey-backed Tailorbirds singing from the brush and a lot of Scaly-breasted Munias came out to continue building their nests (we spotted three!)

We also got good scoping views of a Stripe-headed Rhabdornis which perched on a bare branch but was quite far away for a photograph. Soon, the Pied Trillers and Black-naped Orioles were out and the Philippine Bulbuls were becoming noisy. We reached the mini-zoo and were able to spot a White-throated Kingfisher, still wet from the rains.

Wet White-throated Kingfisher

We waited out another short rain shower beside the Cassowaries' cage in the mini-zoo. Dr. Byron and Kuya Mario shared with us an unhatched Cassowary egg and generously offered to give it to us. Jon volunteered to take it home.

Lovely green, speckled Cassowary egg

With the egg secured in Jon's backpack (we were joking it would hatch anytime!), we made our way to the next site which was the area behind the Madre de Dios Chapel. The sky was overcast and a drizzle started to fall, but the ravine behind the chapel was noisy with an assortment of bird calls: Lowland White-eyes, Elegant Tits, Black-naped Monarch, and Luzon Hornbills!!! We were waiting to see all these birds but only a pair of White-eared Brown Doves appeared on our side of the ravine to feed on a fruiting tree.

And then it rained. Quite hard. We found shelter from the rain and waited it out. It lasted a few minutes and when it stopped... out came the birds we heard earlier, including three Luzon Hornbills! Awesome!

It was soon getting dark and as we waited for our van to pick us up, a couple of Hooded Pittas called from the side of the church. Over dinner, we made our bird list and were happy with our sightings, especially given the rainy weather. Tomorrow was another day for birding though!

The next day, we did some roadside birding along Midlands Avenue and were joined by Mike and Gina.

Roadside birding

Some early birds that made an appearance include a Red Junglefowl flying (yes, flying) across the road, a cute Guaiabero, and a couple of Philippine Coucals.

Guaiabero having a breakfast of aratiles
Immature Philippine Coucal

Lowland White-eyes, Red-keeled Flowerpeckers, and Elegant Tits also came out to sing and feed. A Grey-backed Tailorbird gave us great views as it sang its heart out in some tangles.

Early morning songster =)

Bird activity slowed down a bit. We spent some time near a ravine and heard some Spotted Wood Kingfishers calling. Then Rose calmly announced "Tarictic" as she scanned a ravine. We all trotted to where she was and there on the other side was a handsome male Luzon Hornbill! They are really wonderful birds to see =)

Can you spot the Luzon Hornbill?

Other birds we saw by the roadside were Philippine Bulbuls, White-breasted Woodswallows, White-throated Kingfishers, and Blue-throated Bee-eaters.

We then proceeded to the Madre de Dios Chapel again but it was a bit quiet save for a White-eared Brown Dove, Lowland White-eyes, and White-breasted Woodswallows. And then it rained again... 

We headed to the Country Club to have lunch and make our final bird list which summed up 45 bird species! It was such a nice way to unwind after a grueling exam week with my students. The weather could have been better but the birds did cooperate despite the rains. For me, it was a much-appreciated out of town birding trip with friends, and also for making new ones =)

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