Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Different Candaba Experience

Even if it was still a bit early in the migration season, Jops and I headed to Candaba, Pampanga last Sunday to check out the waders that have already arrived. We were joined by Juan and Willem and we were soon scoping out the first group of waders we spotted along the concrete road.

We brake for waders!!!

We saw Black-winged Stilts, Long-toed Stints, Whiskered Terns, and Wood Sandpipers in a small patch of mud. The surrounding paddies, and those on the other side of the road, were already planted on. It was a good time to review and refresh wader identification! Out came the field guides!

Thank you again, Jun for the Shorebirds field guide! =)

We were able to talk to some of the people on the side of the road and they told us of the birds they would see. One of them mentioned a black egret they've been seeing, "May itim na tagak na dumating... doon" and my heart skipped a beat at the possibility of a Glossy Ibis in Candaba! I asked if it was smaller than the white egrets and he said they were the same size. I asked if the beak was curved downwards and he gave me a funny look and insisted it looked like the regular white egrets. So much for an ibis =P

We drove further down the concrete road and were saddened to see the place overgrown with plants. No waders or ducks in sight! We did see the usual Candaba birds: large flocks of Red Turtle Doves, Yellow Bitterns, Pied Bushchats, White-browed Crakes, and... we saw exactly what the man was describing earlier: a black egret!

Yellow Bittern

The lone all-black bird was flying high above the fields. It was definitely not a Black Bittern, which usually doesn't fly that high and it lacked the streaking on a Black Bittern's throat. Could it be an Eastern Reef Egret? Why was it inland? Soon the black egret flew away, out of sight.

We inspected a nearby pond which contained some ducks the last migration season. It was empty save for a Little Grebe and another Yellow Bittern.


Overgrown much?

We decided to check out the ex-mayor's property. Along the way, we would ask people about the road conditions and we got varying answers about the softness/muddiness of the road. We did get a consistent answer: we'd definitely get stuck if we bring the car.

While talking to some people, we got distracted by a flock of soaring birds. We got very very excited as the birds looked new to all of us. We spent time observing them though our binoculars, taking photos, and listing field notes. We thought we got a lifer! But it turned out, the birds were Oriental Pratincoles taking flight to hunt for food. Not lifers for Jops and me, but lifers for Willem and Juan =)

Oriental Pratincole in flight

Seeing the Pratincoles soaring so high was new behavior to me and Jops. We've always seen Oriental Pratincoles just standing still or flying low over the fields, that the behavior we saw didn't make us think of them initially.

We were approached by Say-say, a young lady we asked about the road condition. She offered to take us into the property on her tricycle. We all agreed to brave the heat, roads, and transportation choice. We parked the Fortuner in Say-say's property along the road, boarded the trike and were off the muddy, bumpy road.

On board our stainless steel trike with Say-say driving
At some points, we had to get off and walk so the trike could get though
the deep muddy portions of the road

The rice paddies along the road were all overgrown and we didn't see any birds there. =( When we reached the big pond, we were surprised to see a backhoe! Say-say told us they were building a path that would cut across the big pond so people could get across faster. The pond, which used to have ducks and also house a big rookery of Purple Herons, was also overgrown. No ducks and the Purple Herons were "pushed" to the right side of the pond. Too much disturbance, too little water... Where will the birds go??

The backhoe did serve as a good "watchtower"

Jops was able to spot some Pheasant-tailed Jacanas among the vegetation, which was a lifer for Willem. There were still a few Black-crowned Night Herons but zero ducks, swamphens, and crakes. We decided to walk away from the ex-mayor's house towards the back pond which used to hold a lot of ducks.

We stopped by the adjacent pond and saw more jacanas flying around and some Common Moorhens. On the other pond, we saw a total of three Wandering Whistling Ducks. AND! We also did see another black egret flying in and across the pond. Hmmm... 

The view of the overgrown pond behind the ex-mayor's house
Our last stop was another pond were we usually see Tufted Ducks and Eurasian Coots. No Tufteds and no Coots but we did see four Philippine Ducks. Four. Only four. And they soon flew away. =(

The only four Philippine Ducks we saw that morning.

We decided to head back and call it a day. It was still good birding but it was noticeably a different Candaba we birded in. Aside from it being my first time to ride a trike there, it was also my first time to see a black egret that was possibly not an Eastern Reef Egret! Also, sadly, the landscape has changed so much. I wouldn't be surprised if the birds decide to look elsewhere to stop during their migration. It definitely wasn't the same Candaba we frequented in the past...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Birding in Caylabne Bay

Taking advantage of the Ninoy Aquino Day holiday, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines had a club trip for members in Caylabne Bay Resort in Mt. Palay-Palay, Cavite. It was nice birding with fellow members, some I haven't seen for quite some time now and some I've met for the very first time.

Jops and I carpooled with Adora and started birding along the road going up the resort. Aside from the thermalling Brahminy Kites and the occasional White-throated Kingfisher perched on the electric wires, we also saw a flock of five Sooty Woodpeckers in one area! They were joined by a noisy flock of Guaiaberos.

One of the five Sooty Woodpeckers we saw

We pushed forward to the resort but were distracted along the way buy a line of Striated  Swallows preening on electric wires along the road. A few electric posts away were a small group of White-breasted Woodswallows.

Striated Swallows
White-breasted Woodswallow

We entered the gate's resort, distracted by a low-flying Brahminy Kite just behind the guard we were talking to and a Philippine Coucal that flew across the road in front of us. As we drove down the road, we saw the rest of the group intently staring at a creek. 

Intense!
We joined the group and were able to observe a male Indigo-banded Kingfisher hunting down in the creek below. The kingfisher eventually flew away and we moved along. Adri soon spotted a pair of Whiskered Treeswifts perched on a far tree. Thankfully, a lot of members brought their spotting scopes and we were all able to enjoy scoping views of the birds.

A Red-crested Malkoha decided to make an appearance by flying across the road we were on, perched for a few seconds out in the open, and flew to hide among the trees. 

All I got was a photo of the malkoha flying away...

Trudging further along the road, we met up with Mike A. who was staking out the garbage dump site which used to be a very good birdy area. We did get to see a Blue-headed Fantail in the area and also a cute male Black-naped Monarch which stayed partially hidden in the brush, but came out into the open for Mike A. later on =)

The male Black-naped Monarch stayed behind this curtain of twigs

We left the dump site and continued birding along the road. A number of Brahminy Kites thermalled overhead and were joined by three Philippine Serpent Eagles, calling loudly while soaring. Some Hooded Pittas were also calling from both sides of the road and a skulking Scale-feathered Malkoha peeped out from some thick brambles. A Philippine Coucal made a couple of brief appearances too.

Spotting a Philippine Coucal skulking among the trees

Soon, we were in our cars and on the way to the site near the restaurant where the Philippine Ducks have previously been seen. We passed by the empty swimming pool and crossed the bridge to the residential area. We saw a flock of Pacific Swallows and a lone Striated Heron in the water's edge but sadly, no ducks.

So much green!

We birded in the residential area until it was time to head back to the restaurant for lunch. On the walk back, we saw some noisy Guaiaberos on a low tree above the path.

Spotting the Guaiabero from the leaves
Quite challenging to spot a parrot the same color as the leaves!

By the time we reached the restaurant, it was very very hot already! After a yummy lunch, we gathered the group and made the bird list for the trip. We missed seeing some of the expected Mt. Palay-Palay species --only a small group of birders saw Luzon Hornbills early in the morning and almost no pigeons seen -- but it was still a great birding trip with friends =)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Starlings and Bee-eaters in the 'Hood!

Living in one of the busiest streets in my part of Quezon City, I've been very happy with the birds I've seen inside our small compound. Aside from the very common urban birds, the Eurasian Tree Sparrows, we also have our own community of Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Philippine Pied Fantails, Olive-backed Sunbirds, and Golden-bellied Gerygones.

On some mornings, we hear the loud calls of Black-naped Orioles calling from high up our neighbor's gmelina tree and also the trilling calls of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers.

One of the noisy neighborhood Black-naped Orioles

When the weather is a bit wet, the Collared Kingfishers also make an appearance by the small creek near our house. We usually have a lot of fly-by Colasisis (Philippine Hanging Parrot) but there are some lucky days they come and perch. One early morning, I even saw one perched beside a Collared Kingfisher!

Kingfisher on the left and Colasisi (face hidden) on the right

We also have Zebra Doves in the compound but I rarely see them, usually just hear them calling from somewhere up in the trees. We've also have some visitors such as a Red-keeled Flowerpecker and even a Rose-ringed Parakeet! The Parakeet must have been an escapee though. We've also seen some Asian Glossy Starlings once before but we haven't seen them again.

Until last week! My mom pointed them out to me atop our neighbor's mango tree and upon closer inspection with my bins, found quite a number of them: adults and lots of immature birds! We've gotten quite used to their noisy calls early in the morning as they fly to and fro the mango tree. By mid-morning, the starlings transfer near the entrance of the compound and perch on a neighbor's window grills to escape the heat of the sun.

Asian Glossy Starlings
The adult birds have all-black plumage and red eyes while the immature
birds have streaked bodies and not-so-red eyes yet

The latest sighting, and one that got me really excited, were a trio of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters! I was jogging around the compound when I saw a kite-like bird swoop above me and land on an electric wire. I tripped and almost fell but was able to catch myself and properly look at the bird! It was indeed a bee-eater! I finished my jog, ran up to my room for my bins and camera, and went back to find three of them. They were catching bugs on the fly and swallowing them while perched on the electric wires. I was thrilled to have seen the bee-eaters in our neighborhood in the middle of the city!

Blue-tailed Bee-eater gulping down its catch!

I wasn't able to check them our over the weekend though and I wasn't able to spot them during my early morning jog today. Maybe they were just passing through and saw a yummy swarm of insects in our airspace that day. The number of starlings I saw were also considerably less today and they haven't been to the mango tree too. I really do hope they stay...

I'm still on the lookout for any Crested Mynas in our compound since I see them along nearby Visayas Avenue already. Who knows who will visit our neighborhood next! =)

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 =)