Monday, February 24, 2014

Three Teachers and A Student Go Birding One Day...

Three teachers agreed to go owling one afternoon, in a campus nearby
One had finished teaching in the morning
One just finished an hour earlier that day
And one had a class still ongoing.

Three teachers agreed to meet, near the owl’s roost, mid-afternoon
One had a tasty snack while waiting
One came from a workout at a gym nearby
And one approached the two, walking.

Three teachers agreed to spot the owl, hiding somewhere in the tangles
One went for a closer look, not making any sound
One went for a wider view, walking away from the tree
And one decided to follow the poo, splattered on the ground

Three teachers observed the owl, sleeping on its perch
One got her camera, taking a shot or two
One observed it through his bins
And one stood quietly as he took an awesome video



Three teachers walked to the nightjar, on a nearby tree
One of them saw a familiar jizz 
'Twas a fellow birder crossing the street
But she was on her way to a biology quiz!

Four birders took the time
To spot the nightjar on the tree
And there it was, ignoring our party
Because it was just so very sleepy



Three teachers and a student say their goodbyes
Each going their separate way
One got two lifers while the others were content
To go birding during the day.

A Mystery Flock and an Ocean Grebe

Jops and I conducted a guided birdwatching trip for a mountaineering group in the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area last Saturday morning. As we were giving the introductory talk, I spotted a fast-moving flock in V-formation passing overhead. They didn't look like the usual flock of egrets nor the Rock Pigeons that fly through the area. We took some documentary shots to help us ID them later and continued with the activity. It was cool to start with a mystery flock of birds!

These birds were fast! And their wingspan really long!
What do you think they are?

We started birding near the boulders and the usual LPPCHEA birds were there: lots of Collared Kingfishers, Whiskered Terns, and egrets. A Common Kingfisher also showed pretty well!


Collared Kingfisher, an abundant resident in LPPCHEA
Common Kingfisher, a yearly migrant visitor in the site

The ipil trees were getting quite huge and tangly already, making it difficult to see the birds out on the mudflats but we did get to see a Striated Heron perched atop a bamboo pole. The tide wasn't that low, but a bit of mudflat was showing and there we saw a mixed group of waders (although in small numbers): Black-winged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, Great Egret, Little Egret, Kentish Plover, and Jops was able to spot a lone Rufous Night Heron.

We walked towards the inner ponds and were happy to see that it was not empty of birds! There were a number of Yellow Bitterns out hunting for food, another Common Kingfisher noisily flew in and out of view, and a small group of Common Moorhens swam around the pond.

This Yellow Bittern stayed on this perch for a LONG time! 
This Yellow Bittern decided to stay partially hidden in the grass.

Our group moved further inside the trail, which has been widened and cleared, making it much easier to walk through. At the second pond, Jops was able to show the group a flock of 8 Philippine Ducks

At Pond 2, slowly approaching the ducks

They were a skittish bunch though, flying away at the slightest movement. We rounded the trail and ended up in the first pond where the Yellow Bittern was still having its breakfast.

It even extended its neck to its full length!

Next stop was the beach. The shore was green with algae and there weren't any small waders running around. Quite near the shore was a Little Egret plucking food from the seaweed.

First time I saw this much seaweed on the LPPCHEA beach...

Suddenly, Jops announced that he had a Grebe on the scope. I tore myself away from the egret and looked at where his scope was pointing to: out to sea. A Grebe here? I racked my brain for what I knew about Grebes and knew them to live in freshwater habitats. Definitely not here in the sea!

It took me some time to find the "misplaced" bird among the floating seaweeds and when I spotted it, there was no mistake that it was a Little Grebe.
 
The "Ocean Grebe"

Very curious to see a freshwater, diving bird out here just meters from the beach. I was wondering if it was feeding when it dove out of view, to the delight of some of the people who were observing it beside me. I guess it was feeding on the ocean floor =)

We ended our birdwatching at 9AM. The day was getting hot and the group still had a beach clean-up to do. Jops and I rounded the area, seeing more kingfishers and egrets but nothing more. We tallied our bird list and got 35 species, excluding the mystery flock of birds. Not bad for a few hours birding with a couple of bonuses too!

Birders on the beach

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Unexpected Barbet

It was one of those routine days. I had just finished my first tutorial session for the day and was walking back to the car when I saw a bird fly in and land on the tree beside my car. As I approached, I took the time to spot the bird which I assumed to be the very common Yellow-vented Bulbul. I didn't find the bulbul... because the bird turned out to be a Coppersmith Barbet! It was such an unexpected bird in the tree-deprived parking lot!

I think I let out a very huge gasp when I saw the Barbet out in the open because it flew away leaving a neat hole where it was perched. It was building a nest! I promised myself I would bring my camera the following day and try to photograph one of the most colorful birds I've seen (so far.)

A very neat barbet nest hole

The following day, I went to the school earlier than my usual schedule to check out the Barbet. As I got out of the car, I already saw the flash of red on the forehead of the Barbet which was now peeping from inside the hole. 

I slowly approached the kaimito tree and positioned myself behind another parked car. I took photos as the Coppersmith Barbet cocked its head this way and that, looking around at its surroundings. I did not venture any closer so as not to disturb the nesting bird. No matter how "unconventional" its nest is, a nest is still a nest and should not be disturbed. The Barbet would pop out of sight inside the nest, then pop its head right back out of the hole. I was smiling by myself and I thought I was probably the only person in the campus aware of this bird being in their school!



Soon, it was time for me to go to my student who would be quite upset if I were late for our tutorial session. I said goodbye to the unexpected barbet and wished it a successful breeding season. =)

Good luck, Barbet!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Endemics Were Friendly Today!

It was the day after Valentine's and Jops and I decided to go birding for a couple of hours in the La Mesa Ecopark. We weren't after any specific bird in particular, we just really wanted some good birding hours before we went ahead with a full Saturday. I have to say, it was an awesome two hours birding, allowing us great views of the birds. Unfortunately, it was also a quite frustrating day for photographing them.

The park was surprisingly empty of the usual Saturday crowds which was a good thing as not too many people would be entering the mini-forest. We tried our luck with the White's Thrush, and possible the other thrushes as well, but they were a no-show during the few hours we were there. We spent some time near the palm trees the thrushes feed on and spotted an Ashy Thrush hopping on the ground. It found its way to the fruits of the palm tress, plucked a few berries, then immediately flew off, leaving me with a photo of... the berries.

Missed the Ashy Thrush by seconds...

We were waiting for the bird to come back when another Ashy Thrush zoomed just beside Jops from the other side of the trail. We waited a bit, but the thrushes didn't return. Some noisy Oriental Magpie Robins made an appearance but they too didn't stay too long for a good photo.

The backside of an Oriental Magpie Robin

We moved further in the trail where Jops was hoping for an encounter with the quite unpredictable Slaty-legged Crake. We could hear a dove cooing loudly from somewhere in the tall trees when I saw something hopping on the ground. I eventually pinpointed the location of an adult Hooded Pitta, busy looking for food on the forest floor. The pitta chose to stay in the inner part of the forest, giving me good views through my binoculars but giving my camera a migraine from trying to focus past all the branches and leaves partially covering the bird. Jops moved further in the trail, while I stayed behind with the pitta.

No pitta here... couldn't get any photo

After a few minutes, I received a text from Jops that there was a flowering tree along the trail and that he got three flowerpeckers feeding there! I hurried to where he was and looked up just in time to see a flock of Lowland White-eyes arrive and take control of the blooms. No flowerpeckers for me. And no bird photo too. Very quickly, it was the Black-naped Orioles' turn to feed and the smaller birds gave way and so did I. I returned to the pitta while Jops went to find the crake.

The birds were all there seconds before I took this photo =P

I spotted the Hooded Pitta quickly and I squatted low on the ground for a better vantage point. I heard some loud scratching behind me so I slowly turned (wishing they weren't the chickens) and there, walking towards me, was a beautifully streaked Pechora Pipit! Alas, my upper body could only twist so much that I couldn't photograph the pipit now that it was SO close to me! It walked to the very edge of the forest cover before flying swiftly to the other side of the trail. I was excited to see it land just beside the Hooded Pitta who chose to finally come nearer the path! I had to make a choice: Pitta on the left or Pechora on the right.Which to follow???

I chose Pechora. We walked parallel to each other: the Pipit in the brush and me on the trail. I took photos at every opportunity it would be in a clear patch of forest but sadly, I didn't get any clear shot. The small bird wouldn't keep still!

Just the blurry back of the Pechora Pipit (such a nice pattern though)
Another blurred photo of the Pechora Pipit
Doesn't it look like a super fast moving bird?

I accepted my defeat and switched from camera to binoculars and just enjoyed the chance to observe this bird as it energetically looked for food. At times it looked like it was attacking its prey as it launched into flight to catch it.

As the Pechora Pipit moved out of sight, I decided to return to the palm trees and just wait there for a possible thrush and for Jops. As I positioned myself and my tripod, an Ashy Thrush landed in front of me and stared at me. Once more, this bird gave me a moment of fear that it would attack me. It stared a few seconds before tossing a dried leaf my way and flying off. 

A friendly (?) Ashy Thrush

I saw it engage in a short battle with another bird on the ground. I heard the flurry of wings before the two birds separated. The Ashy flew deeper into the trees while the other one perched on a nearby branch. I raised my binoculars and saw, to my delight, that it was the Spotted Wood Kingfisher

Always a treat to see this bird =)

I took my time photographing and observing this very handsome bird when Jops found me. We left the bird shortly as we had to meet our birder friends, Mads and Lu-Ann, in UP. We decided to meet in the area where the Philippine Scops Owl was seen recently. 

Jops was able to find the owl after only a few minutes of scanning and I marveled at the coloring of the owl. Unlike the owls in La Vista which were brownish, this owl was more grey, blending in with the nearby branches perfectly. Soon, Mads and Lu-Ann arrived and we allowed ourselves to be wow-ed by the owl. 

Philippine Scops Owl
I was amazed by the white patches underneath its eyes!
Makes it look awake even though its sleeping =)

It was a great way to end a quickie birding morning in Quezon City! Looking back, I did get great views of all the birds I saw but the bonuses were the very obliging Philippine endemics that posed very well for me that morning. And of course, sharing an owl encounter with friends =)

Happy daytime owlers! =)