Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Birds After the Storm

I like seeing bird’s nests. That’s a fact. I get excited whenever a nest is spotted because I marvel at the architecture and uniqueness of each nest. Imagine a bird building such structures with only their beaks and feet! Look ma, no opposable thumbs! How awesome is that?!

I’ve written a post a long way back about the nests I’ve seen so far. I’m happy to add another nest that Jops and I spotted earlier this month. I didn’t post any photos about it since it was clearly an active nest, with the parents flying in and out to feed at least two chicks in it. We were lucky enough to see a nest of a pair of Mangrove Blue Flycatchers!

We noticed both parents staying in one area bringing food in their beaks. We saw the male Flycatcher perch on the side of the nest, where two hungry beaks opened up to receive the food!! That's when we realized the hollow in a small tree trunk was the nest! Upon checking our field guide to confirm our observation, we were surprised to read that their nests in the Philippines haven't been described yet at the time of publication. So it was even more exciting being able to observe something first hand that is not in the field guide yet =)

The shallow hollow in the trunk was about 8ft from
the ground and filled with some nesting material


We returned to the site a number of weeks after and I admit I was quite wary of what we would find. Typhoon Glenda had just passed the week before and we were expecting considerable damage in the trails. I was curious to know if the nest and chicks survived the storm.

The trails have been cleared of debris, but the inner portions of the trail showed considerable damage to the trees and other plants. 

The trails were cleared but were bordered by fallen branches and trees
A lot of the younger trees were bent or broken after the typhoon

Before reaching the nest area, we saw quite a number of birds hopping around the mini-forest's floor. The Hooded Pittas were busy foraging and a pair of Red-bellied Pittas showed up as well. Photographing these birds while they are hopping and sprinting away are a challenge on any given day, but add to that all the fallen branches and brambles... almost impossible to get a clear shot!

Spot the pitta!
Blurred and headless! I love the bright red though =)

We approached the nest and didn't see any bird activity. I tried my best to peep inside using my binoculars and found the nest empty. My heart sank a bit as I considered the worst, thinking that the chicks didn't survive the typhoon. Then Jops was calling me to the other side of the trail: immature Mangrove Blue Flycatchers! There were two!

I hurried to where he was and took some time spotting the small bird singing among the trees. We saw some small movement and there it was, still sporting the scaly feather pattern I love!

Immature Mangrove Blue Flycatcher

It stayed singing on its perch while another one answered back unseen from further inside the trails. I am hoping these two were the chicks we saw previously in the nest and that they had successfully fledged, although I really have no way to be sure of that.

It transferred to a different perch and even flew down to the ground to pluck some food from the soil before flying up a branch again.

Another view of the young Mangrove Blue Flycatcher

I had previously only got some fleeting views of young Mangrove Blue Flycatchers so I was really happy with the long, unobstructed views we got that morning =)

I also got a close encounter with a plump male Emerald Dove which was perched right in front of me at eye level at the edge of the trail.

It stared at me as if daring me to move...
I didn't.

There was also a LOT of Lowland White-eyes in the trails that day as well as very vocal Grey-backed Tailorbirds, although I did not see any of them.

Spot the White-eye!

We were beginning to miss the Ashy Thrushes when we saw one bringing a big, fat, and still-wriggling earthworm in its beak!

Nom nom nom! Hearty breakfast!

Seeing the breakfast worm reminded us we hadn't had any breakfast yet! We made our way out the trail but not before we spotted three Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers preening on a bare branch.

All lined up for take-off?
After preening, of course!

The woodpeckers were busy that morning as we spotted one more intently pecking away at a node of a tree. As it was working, it didn't notice a skink making its way slowly towards it! The skink left it alone after a quick peek.

Spot the woodpecker and the skink!


It was a short birding morning but I got to see the immature Mangrove Blue Flycatchers plus the pittas, thrush, woodpeckers, white-eyes, doves... our list was quite long! Even after a strong typhoon the birds are thriving and well, I guess I can take my cue from them =)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Bird Walk and some Mystery Wings

It has been a hectic month for me as my students' exams are fast approaching BUT I was lucky enough to sneak in a quick birding trip in the form of an Ateneo birdwalk last Friday.

The campus birdwalk was part of the activities lined up for the university's Ignatian Festival. Sponsored by the Ateneo Institute of Sustainability, led by the very enthusiastic Abby F., a total of four bird walks were conducted the past month with Trinket as the lead. Jops and I were able to volunteer and help guide for the first one earlier this month and I was happy to find an opening in my Friday schedule to volunteer for this last one.

I met up with Trinket, Doc Cha, and Abby around 4PM and, thankful for the break in the rainy weather that drenched the whole week, we began the birdwalk. Tita Lydia would join us later on.

Giving the introductory talk to birdwatching

We had quite a number of kids who joined us and they were raring to use their binoculars! A few steps from where we did the orientation, a well-behaved Collared Kingfisher gave every one excellent views. It stayed still and long enough for even the kids to see it through the scope =)

I was on "scope duty" so I didn't bring my camera, so...
I tried digiscoping again =)

We moved along and tried to spot some more birds along the road. It was dismissal time and the area was quite busy, so not much bird activity. We crossed to another part of the campus and spent some time observing a noisy bunch of White-breasted Woodswallows and a big flock of foraging Lowland White-eyes. Unfortunately, the Black-naped Orioles and Coppersmith Barbets chose to just fly by above us.

We stayed a while in the open meadow, hoping more birds would show. Aside from a brief appearance of a Yellow-vented Bulbul and a couple of flyby Pied Trillers, no more birds showed.

As we made our way back to the road, the group spotted a "crime scene" of sorts: a pair of bird wings lay near each other on the grass, just beside one of the tall towers in the area. A lot of questions were asked: What bird was it? Was it a victim of a raptor? Was the migratory Peregrine Falcon back on campus? Here are the photo I took of the mystery wings:

This was one of the wings our group found. I placed a 5-peso coin beside
it for size reference (diameter is 27 mm or 1.1 in.)
This is the second wing we saw, with part of what looked like
a breastbone still attached.

I would have loved to stay and look for other "clues" but we had a birdwalk to finish. After taking photos, we moved forward, leaving the mystery unsolved.

The rest of the walk was still quiet, but another Collared Kingfisher and a couple of Long-tailed Shrikes posed nicely for our group before we ended the trip.

One of the two Long-tailed Shrikes we saw

We ended the activity as the sun was starting to set. My birding afternoon was short and sweet, with a little bit of mystery mixed in as a bonus. Now, it's back to work for me and I am soooo looking forward to the next chance I will get to go birding.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Busy Time for the Mamas and the Papas

Jops and I were able to join a guided trip last Saturday and do a bit more birding after the official activity ended. We didn't get to see any new birds but the observations we got that day were pretty amazing.

As dark rain clouds rolled in, we began the birding activity and how lucky we were! Our group was standing just beneath a nest of some Olive-backed Sunbirds.

The group was standing under some trees and...
some busy sunbirds!

We saw a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds and the first-time birders were treated to seeing the female sunbird tending its nest and even sitting in it! How's that for a first birding experience =)

The mama sunbird tended the nest and chicks
She then sat in the nest for a while before flying off again.
A big chunk of the nest seemed to be falling apart
at the bottom...

We saw most of the usual suspects in the area but the Long-tailed Shrikes that frequent the campus were mysteriously absent! We heard a couple of them but saw none that morning.

Jops and I continued our Saturday with a bit more birding and saw that the sunbird parents weren't the only one's busy tending to their young.

We saw lots of Lowland White-eyes that day and spotted one nest. I remembered the first time I saw a Lowland White-eye nest and marveled at its construction. The delicate cup-shape nest is perfectly rounded at the bottom and anchored on thin branches.

The parent bird would sit on the nest, leave, then come back to sit again.
Can you see it?

We also saw a very active Ashy Thrush plucking some earthworms from the ground before hopping away into the trees, most probably to feed its nestlings.



We also got a few surprise observations as we saw a Hooded Pitta with a mouthful of worms too! It stayed still with the worms wriggling in its beak before flying off with its catch. We would see it back in the same area again, digging for more worms.

A slightly wet pitta with some worms in its beak.
It was a such a dark, gloomy, drizzly afternoon!

We then had an encounter with a pair of Mangrove Blue Flycatchers perched together on a leafless tree. The mama soon flew off but the papa stayed behind. It would come back to the same area with food in its mouth, ready to be delivered to its nestlings.

The papa Mangrove Blue came back with spiders and worms!

The weather didn't improve much so Jops and I decided to call it a day. We just got a handful of birds on our list but we got great observations of bird behavior.

It is always so much more interesting and rewarding when we get to see the birds' natural behavior. Behavior that is not manipulated in any way using any supplements or reinforcements. There is a different kind of joy in this kind of experience, knowing we were exactly at the right place at the right time with the birds =)