Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Held a Bird in My Hand Today...

I held a bird in my hand today
It was small and soft and tiny
It felt warm and fragile in my palm
Its bright green feathers were so shiny

I held a bird in my hand today 
It had just let out its last breath
I felt the warmth slowly leaving its body
A innocent life sentenced to death




I held a bird in my hand today
And I struggled hard not to cry
The bird had landed at birders feet
As if it had chosen where to die

I held a bird in my hand today
It doesn't make for a happy story
A single bullet took its life
A poor victim to some men's folly

I held a bird in my hand today
It has been hours, but my tears still fall
My sadness is laced with rising anger
There is no logic to this at all...

(I'll write more about what happened to this poor Philippine Hanging Parrot when I'm not so weepy anymore...)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

El Nido Adventure: Final Hurrah and the Mystery Blue Flycatcher

I woke up early Saturday morning, decided to make the most of the one or two hours we had before we boarded our plane and left El Nido.

Nature has the most awesome colors!

Our first day was a great exploratory adventure and I was able to see 8 lifers. Our second day wasn't as birdy but we were lucky enough to have spent an hour in Lagen island (huge thanks to Noel B. for the generosity!) where I added more lifers bringing my total El Nido lifers to 12! I wasn't expecting any lifers on our last morning in El Nido Cove, but I did want better views of one of my lifers, the Stork-billed Kingfisher.

The sea and beach was very calm early in the morning

Jops and I walked to the far end of the beach to the area where we saw the kingfisher two days ago. Jops was able to spot it on a leafless tree through the spotting scope on our first morning in El Nido Cove. While walking, we spotted a Little Egret feeding in the shallows and an Osprey flew past over the sea.

Soon we were near the leafless tree and, hiding under the leaves of a talisay, we waited for the kingfisher to show. It did but was quite shy and very sensitive to any movements we made. I was able to get a photo of it hiding behind a tree trunk =P

Handsome Stork-billed Kingfisher

The kingfisher disappeared from view but would come back to perch on a different tree on the beach a number of times. In between these appearances, a number of other birds showed themselves.

A couple of Thick-billed Green Pigeons landed on a fruiting ficus tree, quickly disappearing into the thick branches as they fed. A Grey-streaked Flycatcher also decided to perch very close to us and stayed unmoving on its exposed perch.

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

A pair of Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds also came out into the open and surprisingly stayed quite a while, flitting from perch to perch. On of them perched just in front of us an stayed put long enough for a mini photo shoot!


Some Palawan Bulbuls also joined the tailorbirds in the brush but didn't show very well. The very common Asian Glossy Starlings also started to become active around us and a pair of Brown-backed Needletails soared overhead. A Collared Kingfisher also made a brief appearance. Soon, it was time for us to walk back to the resort for our breakfast before going to the airport. We said goodbye to Marco, the manager of El Nido Cove, and thanked him for our wonderful stay.

Group shot on the deck!

Soon, we were in the van heading towards the airport. After depositing our luggage and checking in, we decided to check out the mangrove area behind the huts as a final birding hurrah. We heard a flycatcher singing and soon spotted a handsome blue flycatcher perched on the mangrove roots! We got all excited at the possibility of it being a Palawan Blue Flycatcher, another would-be lifer to bring my total to 13! The Palawan Blue Flycatcher looks extremely like the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, so we took lots of photos and the bird posed beautifully for us.

Mangrove Blue Flycatcher

Alas, upon checking and consulting our friends, and with the help of our friend Christian (who has seen and photographed both the Palawan Blue and Mangrove Blue Flycatchers), we were able to identify the bird: it was a Mangrove Blue Flycatcher.  Not a lifer, but I did get a pretty good picture =) 

My life list for El Nido remained at 12 which was a bonus in itself.  On top of that, we also got to meet lots of super nice people, fledged a few more birders, and added lasting memories from our trip. I can't wait for the next adventure!

Monday, May 5, 2014

El Nido Adventure: Back on the Trail and a Quick Island Stop

Our second day in El Nido was dedicated to a guided trip back in the Dalimatan trail for more staff of the El Nido Resorts which perfectly coincided with the Pledge2Fledge weekend. We were joined by staff of three of their island resorts: Lagen, Miniloc, and Pangulasian and our group was on the trail before 8AM.

Anna giving the intro talk at the trail entrance

As Anna turned over the introduction to Jops, I noticed some movements on a tangle of vines just above the group. I inspected the small bird hopping around and my eyes went wide when I saw a Pale Spiderhunter among the tangles! I shamelessly interrupted the talk so that Jops, Anna, and the rest of the group could also spot it but as soon as they looked up, the bird flew into the trees on the other side of the trail! I was the only one who saw it...

Birders on a shaded area of the trail

We moved into the trail and saw the Philippine Ducks we saw the previous day. As we walked along the wooden planks, we flushed out a Blue-eared Kingfisher which disappeared into a thick clump of trees near the water! Pity we weren't able to get really good views of the this handsome kingfisher.

As we entered the wooded area of the trail, we could hear the Hooded Pittas calling from within the trees but none showed. Our group was entertained by a flyby bird which we initially thought was a raptor but turned out to be a Dollarbird. Some Hair-crested Drongos showed quite well, giving us good long views through the scope as it perched openly and stayed for quite a bit.

Hair-crested Drongo showing its pretty
"fish tail" tail =)

We also saw a squirrel pestering a drongo in one area (or was it the other way around? =P) We walked slowly along the trail, which was very quiet compared to the previous day. The very active Spot-throated Flameback from yesterday was absent and was only heard calling from afar. We did spot a lone Grey-streaked Flycatcher perched on an exposed branch and the Asian Glossy Starlings flew in for a brief appearance.

Asian Glossy Starling
locally called "mamajang"

And then it started to rain. It was only a drizzle but I felt it kept the birds at bay. We moved towards the mangrove boardwalk and just like yesterday, it was very quiet in the area. At the end of the boardwalk, a pink-orange "bullet" streaked past our group, crossed the trail in front of us, and disappeared into the brush. Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher! Those who saw the small, fast-flying bird got excited at having seen such a brightly-colored bird in the trail! Too bad it didn't perch where we could see it...

Before we exited the trail, our group got distracted by a trail of termites crossing the road. We were one curious bunch!

Termites crossing!
Curious birders

We left the trail and found ourselves crossing the runway. It was almost noon and it was getting very, very bright and hot! We spotted some Paddyfield Pipits before finding shade in the airport. After a group shot, we said goodbye to the others as they headed back to their respective island-paradise-offices while we went to town for lunch. 

Crossing the runway towards the airport:
we looked both ways before crossing =))

And we got very good news! Through the kindness of one of our new friends who arranged for a boat, our group would be making a quick trip to Lagen island that afternoon! Yay! Soon we were boarding the boat that would be taking us to Lagen island... and to possibly seeing the Palawan Hornbills there! 

That's Anna and Sir Mesach on our boat to Lagen

We approached the island at 4PM and before we docked, Jops was able to spot a Palawan Hornbill among the trees! We hadn't gotten off the boat yet and we already had amazing views of the black and white Palawan endemic! We got off the boat and were welcomed by familiar faces, Cari and Geegee, who joined us earlier in Dalimatan. We were introduced to Sir Lover (yes, that is his real name and upon seeing my face he emphasized that that is the name on his birth certificate) and he acted as our guide during the one hour we were there. 

From the dock, we walked past some villas towards the forest area
of the resort

We almost immediately saw some Slender-billed Crows flying from one tree to the next, cawing loudly (and very differently from the Large-billed Crows!) We also saw a very clean-looking Green Imperial Pigeon sunning itself on a high tree. We approached a heavily wooded area and saw lots of bird activity in the trees! A closer inspection of the mixed flock gave me two lifers: Palawan Tit and Pin-striped Tit Babblers! I didn't let go of the babblers on my bins even when Sir Lover was loudly calling to me to check out the White-vented Shama that showed itself.

No wonder Sir Lover was excited, the shama was
perched just beside our group!

We had to move forward and I had to pull myself from the mixed flock as we only had an hour in the resort. We needed to take the 5PM boat back to the town otherwise, we'd need to spend the night. Our group walked further in the resort with more Slender-billed Crows flying around us. We stopped at an area where Sir Lover showed us a nesting Hair-crested Drongo. While observing the bird, a Palawan Hornbill decided to perch in the same area giving everyone up-close, amazing views!

Palawan Hornbill

The Palawan Hornbill, being so close to the nest, got dive bombed a couple of times by the drongo until it hopped to another tree, away from the nest. I was a bit sad I wasn't able to get a better shot given all the out-in-the-open perches the hornbill had, but I just had to enjoy looking at it through my bins that by the time I started taking pictures, it had moved to a more hidden perch.

A small mixed flock also decided to join us in that area: Olive-backed Sunbirds, Palawan Flowerpeckers, and another friendly White-vented Shama. Soon the area quieted down, the hornbill flew off into the trees, and it was time for us to leave. But not before we were treated to refreshing fresh mango shakes!

Celebrating the awesome views of the
Palawan Hornbill with refreshing mango shakes!

At the dock, Anna wrote down our contributions to their very cute bulletin board of wildlife sightings for the day!

Our bird sightings were added to this board!

We said our thank you's and our goodbye's to the new friends we made that day and boarded the sunset boat back to town. I enjoyed the steady movement of our boat, the sea breeze, and the sun set view. I reviewed my birding notebook and saw that I was able to add 3 lifers in the one hour we were at Lagen! That brought my total El Nido lifers to 12. That was really cool =)

Sunset as we crossed Bacuit Bay going back to town

(To be continued...)

Friday, May 2, 2014

El Nido Adventure: Exploring the Trails and Impromptu Owling

Jops and I had the great opportunity to go El Nido in Palawan with Anna G. for an ocular and bird survey for a beach-front resort that is being developed. It was Jops and my first time to go birding in El Nido and we were more than excited to go.

We arrived at the beautifully decorated pre-departure area of ITI (Island Transvoyager Inc.) and were welcomed with a simple breakfast buffet. I loved ALL the details including the wooden boarding passes and the pre-assigned seating area in the pre-dep area! I’m a sucker for labels =P

The cozy pre-departure area of ITI.
My boarding pass (that the stewardess collects
after everyone is seated)

We were shuttled to our plane and were soon on our way to El Nido! In an hour, we landed in the Lio airport and were welcomed with a folk song just at the entrance to the “main airport” – which was basically two bahay kubos: one was the arrival area and the other the pre-departure area. We were once again served food and drinks while waiting for our pick-up vehicles to arrive. The guests staying in the island resorts were shuttled by jeepney to a nearby jetty to their boats while we were picked up by a van to take us to our resort: El Nido Cove.
  
Our plane
The welcoming committee at the airport
The snack table for arrivals

Anna, Jops, and I were picked up by Sir Mesach from El Nido Cove and were also joined by Sheryl of Ten Knots Development Corp. We arrived shortly in El Nido Cove and I was immediately drawn by the beach front of the hotel. We walked to a small deck with a tree adorned with capiz lanterns and took in the refreshing view.

El Nido Cove faces El Nido Bay and Cadlao Island

Just standing on the deck, we saw Asian Glossy Starlings, Collared Kingfishers, and a small squadron of Brown-backed Needletails. After checking into our rooms and another breakfast, we gave in to the many bird calls coming from the trees in front of the hotel lobby. We were joined by Sir Alex and Marko of El Nido Cove as well. We immediately saw a mixed flock of birds including my first lifer: the bright yellow Common Iora.



Other birds in the mixed flock were a number of sunbird species: Olive-backed Sunbird (aurora race), Brown-throated Sunbird(split from Plain-throated Sunbird,) and Copper-throated Sunbird. A lot of Ashy-fronted Bulbuls also joined in the frenzy and we even spotted a couple of them building a nest!

Ashy-fronted Bulbul

After a few minutes, we had to pull ourselves away from the birds because it was time to leave for the Dalimatan trail. Day 1 was dedicated to exploring the trails. We were also joined by Sir Alex of El Nido Cove. A short drive from the resort, we entered the trail from the main road and immediately saw a pond with some Philippine Ducks as well as a single Dollarbird that was perched atop a leafless tree, bathing in the hot morning sun.

Spotting the Dollarbird at the entrance of the trail

We pushed inward the trail and immediately heard some Hooded Pittas calling from both sides of the trail. There was quite a number of them although we only saw one (thanks to the super sharp eyes of one of our companions in the trail!) Walking through the trail we saw a number of Hair-crested Drongos and a couple of Crested Serpent Eagles thermalled overhead.

We reached a small clearing and a small flock of pigeons fly in and land on a fruiting ficus tree. Upon closer inspection, we saw that they were Thick-billed Green Pigeons, hungrily eating the ripe red berries on the tree. It was an unexpected lifer for me!

Another lifer made its appearance in a flash of red and gold: a Spot-throated Flameback! The gorgeous woodpecker stayed quite long, flying from one coconut tree to the next, calling loudly from its perch. Another awesome lifer and it wasn't even noon time yet!



Eventually, the woodpecker flew and perched on a far coconut tree. We moved along the trail and soon approached a boardwalk. The surrounding landscape was quite dry and quiet in this area so we just walked quietly to the end. Maybe in the rainy season, more birds will stay in that area.

Birding on the boardwalk

The trail opened up and we found ourselves perpendicular to the Lio airport runway! We walked the grassy trail alongside the airport and got glimpses of a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird crossing the path. When we re-entered the wooded area, a handsome male Black-chinned Fruit Dove appeared beside us, looked curiously at our group, then flew to the other side of the trail. This has been my best views of this bird so far =)

Black-chinned Fruit Dove

We soon exited the trail and found Sir Mesach waiting with the van. It was already past noon and we were hungry! We headed to town for a scrumptious lunch and I was reunited with the delicious rostii I had in the same restaurant when I was in El Nido way back in 2007.

Our day wasn't over yet and we spent the afternoon exploring a patch of mangroves on a make-shift raft (powered by kayak!) The area looked like it had a lot of potential but since it was kind of late in the afternoon already, all we saw were some bulbuls and a Rufous Night Heron. We did hear a loud call coming from the mangroves and with the help of Kuya Mesach and Kuya Alex, we were able to ID it as a Greater Coucal! The local staff were very helpful and are quite knowledgeable of the different birds in the area. They are very familiar with most bird calls and can identify them usually with their local names. We left the area, but not before we spotted a flock of Germain's Swiftlets (Edible-nest Swiftlet) flying just above us.

Exploring the mangroves on the make-shift raft

"Power steering" from the kuyas on the kayak

We returned to El Nido Cove for dinner and initially planned to go to Sir Alex's house to check out a possible Spotted Wood Owl he has been hearing. Unfortunately, we were too tired to leave after dinner so we cancelled that owling trip. BUT...!!! Little did we know it would be a lucky night for us!

As we were all preparing for bed, Jops heard a Spotted Wood Owl calling... from just behind our hotel room!!! 

Jops raced to call Anna, followed by a guard who was alarmed at the urgency at which Jops was running. We, together with the guard, walked to the beach, where another Spotted Wood Owl was calling very loudly! The guard reported seeing the owl just the previous night and after a few minutes, a pair of Spotted Wood Owls showed themselves. They were very sensitive to any kind of movement, flying to another tree, even if they were perched far away. The best views we got were of the owls soaring right above us as they transferred from one perch to the next. We didn't get any photos, but it was such a thrilling (and not to mention unexpected) owling adventure!

We said our good nights once more, ecstatic at having seen the owls right there in the resort we were staying in! How cool was that!? So, we ended our first day in El Nido with the owls and we all went to sleep that night with owl-induced smiles on our faces. 

(To be continued...)