Monday, November 30, 2015

November, That's a Wrap!

November has been an awesome month for me. I slowed down and faded from birdwatching halfway into 2015 but I was able to ease back into it this past month. I even got a lifer!

All of my birding trips was confined to nearby La Mesa Ecopark so it was a treat to be able to join friends from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) go out of town for a bird survey.

I met up with Karen O. and James B. and we were soon on our way to Terrazas de Punta Fuego in Nasugbu, Batangas. We passed through Mt. Palay-Palay and reminisced about our wonderful birding experiences before the highway was completed. As we drove through the road, we saw a bird fly up and perch on a tall tree... Luzon Hornbill! A small flock of Luzon Hornbills followed, flying from one side of the road to the other. It was nice to know that they still thrive in the forests despite the increased vehicular traffic passing through.

I got dizzy from all the twists and turns of the road and I was really thankful when we finally arrived in Terrazas. I splashed some cold water on my face and soon was ready to bird. We met Sir William of Terrazas de Punta Fuego and he brought us to the Nature Trail.

At the entrance to the trail,
we spotted a Collared Kingfisher
The Nature Trail has a nice cement path all through out
making birding very easy!

We started quite late already and the birds weren't as active any more. But even if we were approaching noon time, some birds came out! We saw a lone Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, an Arctic Warbler, a couple of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers, and a total of six Black-naped Monarchs!

A pair of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers
Black-naped Monarch
I wish I got at least one clear shot but the birds were
either very skittish of hidden behind many branches.
But I'm happy to get this shot showing its black nape =)

We exited the trail, but not before seeing some Yellow-vented Bulbuls feeding on a far tree.

Can you spot the Yellow-vented Bulbul?

We dropped by the pool area and took in the view and the additional birds to our list: Pied Bushchat, Glossy Swiftlets, and Long-tailed Shrike.

Female Pied Bushchat. The male was also seen =)
This Long-tailed Shrike posed for us for a few seconds.

We left the pool area to have lunch which was more like a feast! And then it was off to the beach! We didn't see any waders but we saw three flyby Black-winged Stilts


We were treated to a "binalot" lunch =)
Hanging out by the beach,
making our bird list.

Soon it was time to go. We listed twenty five species after a few hours birding and we knew the list would definitely be longer if we had started out earlier on the Nature Trail. Maybe there would be a next time, who knows? =)

As we drove back to Manila, we made a quick stop to view and photograph the colorful sunset that marked the end of another great day. For me, it was a good ending to my November and I can't wait for what December may bring!

Good bye, November!
Hello, December!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Another Cuckoo Morning

November has been a cuckoo month for me and I'm definitely not complaining. Each visit to try see the Violet Cuckoo was a lot of fun and spent with different people, including the first attempt when I didn't even see the bird!

This fourth visit to La Mesa to see the Violet Cuckoo yielded awful photos, but I was still very happy. I felt like I was with my people... my tribe. Not meaning to say they were cuckoo like me (well, some of them definitely were! Ang coucal nga ng iba e =P) but it was something else seeing old friends and meeting new ones, all brought together by this awesome pair of birds.

This was the first time I got to observe the female Violet Cuckoo, which is not violet at all. It was still very pretty in its un-violet-ness, with its own mix of colors and barring. I got to enjoy my upgraded binocs and took in all the details of the female cuckoo, which was the first to show itself that morning. It preferred to stay in the branches and shadows of the tree while it fed.

This was the most common view of the female Violet Cuckoo,
behind a lot of leaves and branches.

But it came out in the open too, but I chose to use my binocs first and camera second (Sayang naman, bago e), so I wasn't able to get any decent shots.

Would've been a great shot if I had given more effort ;)

After a few minutes, the male Violet Cuckoo showed up in all its violet-ness. Like the female, it first chose to stay in the shadows.

Again, not much effort on my part here...

Like the female, it would give us out-in-the-open views too! I tried taking some shots but I was more intent in looking through my binocs for that "iridescent chin" the field guide mentioned, a detail I failed to observe the first few times I saw it. I finally saw it that morning! Apir! 

Still not a good shot though...

At some point, both cuckoos sat near each other, with the male getting all fidgety and the female just keeping still, watching its partners antics. Got some video clips of it here: (Click the gear icon and choose HD. And pardon the noisy rooster in the background and the gerygone's cameo.)



The pair of cuckoos drew a big crowd in the small clearing and some park goers were getting curious about what we were looking at in the tall tree.



As more people started arriving, Jon V., Bob N., Djop T., and our new friend Roger S. headed to the mini-forest to try to see more birds. It was a quiet walk through the trail and with the presence of some bikers speeding through the mini-forest, most of the birds have been flushed away. We did get to see Ashy Thrush, Hooded Pitta, Black-naped Orioles, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Philippine Magpie Robins, and a trio of Philippine Coucals, who were engaged in a teleserye-like display (teleserye analogy brought to you by the human cuckoos in the group.)

We made our way out of the forest and returned to the Violet Cuckoos where more people had arrived to spot them. Rob H. and I signed some copies of the Naturalist's Guide to the Birds of the Philippines that Roger had brought with him. Roger works for the Virginia Zoo and will be having a fundraiser selling the signed copies to help raise funds for Philippine hornbills. =)

That's Rob, me, and Roger =)

I had to leave after that, but got delayed by around 30 more minutes goofing around with my friends. On top of a successful twitch for Jon, being around all these human cuckoos really filled my bucket. Imagine laughing about Indian Peafowls turned into giant Zebra Doves and using "coucal" in passive-aggressive friendliness! Such fun to be around birders! =)

Since I wasn't able to get any good shot of the cuckoos, I'm sharing the artwork of the male Violet Cuckoo that Jon V. created after he ticked it off as a lifer. Enjoy! =)


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bird-and-Go

I found myself back in La Mesa a week after seeing my first Violet Cuckoo there. I was really happy to see my birder friends and also meet some new ones as well. Of course, I was also thrilled to see the cuckoo again.

I only had a couple of hours to bird that morning so I went directly to Neptune's pond. I only had my bins and camera with me since I knew it would be a "bird-and-go" morning. I approached the trio of birders intently observing a bird I assumed to be the Violet Cuckoo. I was right! But first, I said my hello's to Matthew and Irene, introduced myself to Muel, then viewed the handsome Violet Cuckoo up the tree. It stayed for quite a while but even if it perched for some potentially good shots, I didn't get any since I didn't have my tripod with me. So, no good shots in this blog post ;)

Violet Cuckoo
Violet Cuckoo

Like my previous visit to La Mesa, the Violet Cuckoo shared the tree with a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo. At one point, the Rusty-breasted even chased the Violet around the branches!

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo

We were soon joined by Rob and David who just came from the mini-forest and were rewarded by a very obliging Ashy Thrush. The cuckoos stayed for a while and soon a curious group of boys had gathered around us. I showed them some (bad) pictures of the Violet Cuckoo and chatted to them about what we were doing. I had to answer the usual questions as "Pwede bang hulihin yan, ate?" ("Can we catch that, miss?") but was quite pleased when some of the older boys retorted "G*go! Kaya nga birdwatching e! Bawal hulihin yan!" ("Stupid! That's why it's called birdwatching! It's illegal to catch them!") And so, the "Intro to Birdwatching" talk began =)

Showing some bird photos to the kids and chatting to them about birdwatching.
Photo by Irene Dy (Thank you, Irene!)
They were a very interested group. I hope they remember what we told them =)
Photo by Rob Hutchinson (Thank you, Rob!)

The kids were able to spot the cuckoo moving around the branches (that got them excited) and David generously showed them his awesome video of a Philippine Eagle Owl (which really wow-ed the kids!) The group left us to bird in peace and soon Karen arrived with some friends she was taking out on their first birding trip.

By then the cuckoo had moved on, so our group trudged to the mini-forest where a Barred Rail was foraging by the entrance of the trail. We flushed the Indigo-banded Kingfisher from its perch and while we waited for it to return, entertained ourselves with the other birds around us. A Pied Triller sunned and preened on a high perch while Philippine Magpie Robins chased each other around noisily. A Colasisi perched for a few seconds before being displaced by an Olive-backed Sunbird

An overexposed Pied Triller

When the kingfisher didn't show, we each went our own ways in the mini-forest. We were all hoping to see the Spotted Woodkingfisher, but only some of us in the group saw it that morning. I was also hoping to see the Ashy Thrush which I hadn't seen in a while, but sadly didn't see any. I did see a Hooded Pitta skulking in the darkness which was a treat! It's always nice seeing pittas =)

Hooded Pitta in the shadows

Walking around the trail, I lost track of time and when I checked my watch it was time for me to go. I was able to say goodbye to Karen and her friends and just sent a text message to Irene. I spent just around two hours in the park with great company and awesome birds. I also got to talk to some kids about birding which I really missed doing. All in all, it was a fruitful bird-and-go trip =)

Post Script: This is the sculpture of Neptune and Aphrodite atop a giant turtle by Philippine National Artist Napoleon Abueva. I have yet to find the story behind this sculpture =)


Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Violet Lifer

It was a conscious effort to think positive thoughts as I got ready for my second attempt to twitch the Violet Cuckoo. My first attempt was no good. I read and reread the texts and messages of friends saying I was not a jinxed birder and convinced myself that I would get to see my target that morning.

I donned my brand new binoculars and silently prayed that it would give me some luck. Lucky indeed! On its first day in the field, I saw my first Violet Cuckoo through them!

Lifer!!! Male Violet Cuckoo
Not the best of photos but I got superb views!

But let me backtrack a bit...

I got to the park around 7AM and walked as fast as my socks-and-Keens would allow me. That combination is not only an awful fashion faux pas but is also slippery when brisk walking! I got to the area my friends told me the Violet Cuckoo frequents and began my wait. There were already a lot of Yellow-vented Bulbuls feeding among the trees and I was soon surrounded with bird song. The Black-naped Orioles and Olive-backed Sunbirds came out to sing and eat in the surrounding trees. A Coppersmith Barbet made a brief appearance as well as a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker and a Pied Triller. I tried my best to photograph them but I was very, very rusty and couldn't focus fast enough!

It was already 7:30AM and still no cuckoo. I scanned the trees and saw something fly in! Could it be?! It was a cuckoo! A Rusty-breasted Cuckoo. It stayed long enough for a photograph but never turned its head my way.

The back view of a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.

When it flew off, I walked over to where another birder just arrived and was photographing some birds. I met Sir Nes and found out that he was also looking for the Violet Cuckoo, although he'd already seen it there before. While we were chatting, a Common Kingfisher perched into view, sadly too far to photograph, and a pair of Philippine Coucals flew awkwardly across the lagoon. A couple of Zebra Doves also entertained us for a while.

A pair of Zebra Doves on a faaaaaaar tree.

And then it came. A small, dark bird flew in and flitted in the canopy above us... male Violet Cuckoo! I raised my spankin' new bins and took in all its wonderful details: the rich violet color, the barring pattern, the red eye ring, the bright orange bill... awesome! It flew out of view and I looked at Nes, completely dumbstruck and close to tears. I wasn't a jinxed birder. I just got a lifer!

Although it stayed high up in the canopy, I was able to get great views!

The cuckoo was still in the branches above us busy foraging for food among the clumps of leaves. It would come into view for a few seconds before returning to forage some more. It perched on an exposed branch but was backlit against the sky making for a horrible photo. And then it disappeared.

Would've been an awesome photo...

As if taking turns feeding, the Yellow-vented Bulbuls swooped in. We stayed in the area and waited for the Violet Cuckoo to come back. We were hopeful because the Rusty-breasted Cuckoo returned to the tree.

This was exactly my view... through all the leaves and branches.

We were not to be disappointed! The Violet Cuckoo came back, showing the same feeding behavior. The female Violet Cuckoo flew in for a super quick hairy caterpillar meal before flying off to the other side of the lagoon.

Here's a short video of the male Violet Cuckoo. Please watch it in HD otherwise it's all blurry! I have yet to learn to edit videos properly ;)



I said goodbye to Sir Nes and left the park at 9AM. I almost skipped towards the parking area, ecstatic with my successful twitch of an awesome bird and also with my regained confidence in birding. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jinxed Birding

Let me start by apologizing to Sean. Sorry, Sean, for the bad juju I brought when we went a-searching for the violet one and the black one.

Have you ever went out birdwatching, ended up with a verrrrry short birdlist, and felt that it was your fault? Well, that was exactly how I felt yesterday. 

After seeing Sean’s photos of some birds in La Mesa Ecopark, I finally got the urge to bring out my binoculars, recharge my camera’s battery, and rummage through my closet for my birding pants (they fit!) As I was preparing, I discovered my 5-year old birding shoes have given up on me and decided to disintegrate while I was on a birding hiatus. So I decided to use my pair of Chucks -- not such a good idea. Note to self: buy new birding shoes.

All dressed and geared up, I was soon on the road to LMEP. I joined Sean hoping to spot the violet one that was seen and photographed there recently. I felt so positive that we would see it! The sun was up but it wasn’t too hot and the yellow-vented ones were actively feeding all around us. 

Well, it began and ended there.

When the violet one didn’t show up, we entered the park and decided to stake out the black one that was also recently seen and photographed there. I felt so positive that we would see it! It was a Monday, the park wasn’t filled with people, and the noise levels and activity around the lagoon was very minimal. A pair of the common ones made very brief appearances while we waited. 

Even the Common Kingfisher stayed away!

A brown bully made the far side of the lagoon its hunting ground while a white-breasted one foraged on the far banks side by side a chicken. 

Brown Shrike
White-breasted Waterhen

Well, it began and ended there.

That was when the thought crept up on me: I'm jinxed! I'm driving all the birds away! I looked apologetically at Sean and voiced out my feelings. He said he was thinking the same thing. But I told him he usually got good photos, never a zero, and even if there were "bad days" it was never "this bad." THAT he had to agree with. We further analyzed the situation and we sort of figured out the possible source of all the bad juju. I have to test out that theory though...

We went to the mini-forest and... you guessed it: no birds! 

So, no violet, no black, no kings of fishers, and to top it all off, we got rained out. Jinxed.

The skies cleared up after that and we tried again for the violet one. After a few minutes, we decided to accept our defeat and pack up.

I really, really hope I'm not jinxed (or cursed!!!) and I do hope my birding adventures return to becoming really exciting ones again. Let's see...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Round and Round in La Mesa

The last time I was in La Mesa, I went alone on my birthday and to be honest, it didn't turn out so well. No birds, lots of tears, and full of sad thoughts. So, I stayed away.

Two months after, I found myself in the ecopark again, and this time I was happy. 

I accompanied fellow birders from Palawan, Erickson and Philip, on their first trip to LMEP. We were all hoping to see the pair of Spotted Wood Kingfishers which have been seen in the park the past few days, and of course the other birds to see there. I didn't have my camera with me, so all bird photos in this post are courtesy of Erickson (thank you again, Erickson!)

The sky was overcast when we arrived in the park, but thankfully we didn't get rained out that morning. Upon entering the trail, a Hooded Pitta was already hopping around, showing flashes of its aqua wing patch through the vegetation. 

As we rounded the bend, we saw a group of photographers already positioned on the trail. When I saw they weren't shooting anything, I knew we missed the kingfisher. I said a silent prayer for it to come back. We greeted each other, made introductions, and chatted a bit before our trio decided to walk further in the trail and try to spot the female kingfisher in another area of the trail. 

We didn't see it but a very friendly Slaty-legged Crake crossed the trail right in front of us! It was so close I managed a blurry shot of it with my phone camera!

Spot the blurry crake!

There wasn't much bird activity then, save for some singing Mangrove Blue Flycatchers and Grey-backed Tailorbirds, so we decided to head back to the kingfisher's spot. As we approached, we saw the photographers snapping away! The Spotted Wood Kingfisher was back!

Male Spotted Wood Kingfisher.
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

My gosh, it took me so long to spot it! Four, maybe five, friends were pointing it out to me and I couldn't spot it! Talk about being rusty... I suddenly missed the waders, out in the open on vacant mudflats or rice fields. But suddenly, I got my birding eyes back and I saw it. =)

The kingfisher showed wonderfully and as I got my fill of observing the bird through my binoculars, the others filled up their memory cards with awesome shots. Erickson, Philip, and I walked around the trail with Anthony B. to try and spot the Ashy Thrush. We soon heard one singing and Anthony was able to spot a singing thrush on a high perch. The thrush flew to a different perch and we enjoyed more of its singing.

Ashy Thrush
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

After a few seconds, it was followed by another Ashy Thrush and we were treated to a thrush sing-off! The smaller one eventually made a quiet exit, while the "winner" continued its song as we walked away.

Singing Ashy Thrush and the winner of the sing-off
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

We walked around the trail again and spotted a Philippine Pied Fantail crossing the trail back and forth. As we headed back to the area of the Spotted Wood Kingfisher, we heard the one-note call of a Hooded Pitta and found ourselves face-to-face with an immature Hooded Pitta.

Immature Hooded Pitta
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

It stayed a while on its perch while the adult pitta hopped in the background. Finally, the young bird heeded the call of its parent, and flew off to join it.

We joined the photographers again, and were treated to views of the Spotted Wood Kingfisher looking for prey on the ground before flying up again to its perch. 

Another perch of the male Spotted Wood Kingfisher
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

After some more shots, we decided to go around the trail completely. The surroundings became very quite as we walked the trail and we didn't see any other birds except for a skulking Grey-backed Tailorbird.

We completed the small trail of the mini-forest and as we started to head out, were side-tracked by an immature Ashy Thrush, which called and preened at the very edge of the trail's vegetation.

Immature Ashy Thrush making its amusing "brrrrrrr" call
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

It even hopped closer to us and posed for a full frontal shot!

Immature Ashy Thrush
Photo by Erickson Tabayag

Just like the Hooded Pittas, the parent thrush hopped around in the background, and the younger bird flew to join it. That was our cue to exit the trail. We did a number of rounds and saw different birds each time, although there is definitely more to be seen. On our way out, we made a quick climb to the dam, which was my first time ever to do that!

View from the top!

As I looked down at all the greenery from the top of the steps, I felt happy. It was very different from the last time I was in the park and it felt good.  It was a really fun morning spent birding, meeting old friends and making new ones, plus getting great views of awesome birds. =)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Rusty Birder

I had to go to work on the day of the Metro Manila Shake Drill and as I didn't want to be caught in possible traffic and be late (I hate being late!), I decided to go to work before the 10:30am city-wide earthquake drill and also sneak in an hour of birding in the UP Diliman campus.

I drove straight to the Marine Science Institute building and was greeted by a small flock of Lowland White-eyes flitting in the tall acacia tree by the parking lot. As I got my gear ready, I could already hear Black-naped Orioles and Coppersmith Barbets calling. I got a bit excited: could the balete trees be fruiting?!

I walked towards the small row of ficus trees and I was right! Dark red berries dotted two of the three trees in front of me. A Black-naped Oriole was there busy feeding on the ripe fruit.

Black-naped Oriole

I tried taking some shots and realized with some frustration that I was verrrrry rusty. I haven't been birding for more than a month and knew that I needed to "flex" my birding muscles first. It didn't help to have faulty equipment but that's another blog post.

The Oriole finished its breakfast and flew across the street. My birding eyes started focusing properly again and I saw one, then two, then three, then more Coppersmith Barbets! They were there feeding on the fruits, hopping from one branch to the next!

Of course, as I struggled with my camera, I couldn't get any decent shot...

The best shot I got of a Coppersmith Barbet that morning...

I sat on the sidewalk, like how I sat there many times before, and allowed myself to watch the Barbets feeding. After a while, they kept still, probably already full from all the fruits they ate. And then the Yellow-vented Bulbuls came. It was their turn to feed =)

An out-of-focus Yellow-vented Bulbul. Sadly, my best shot...

A Collared Kingfisher stated calling from behind the building so I stood and tried to spot it. Spot it I did but I was too rusty to get any photo, even as it stayed preening on an exposed perch for quite a while. Oh well, I got good views anyway =)

I checked the time and it was time to go. It was a quick birding trip and a not so birdy morning, but I did get great views of the birds and that was more than enough for me. For now =)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Zebra with a Message

A Zebra Dove, that is. And it told me it was time to be brave.

I admit, I went into hibernation. Or maybe the better term is “self-induced social coma.” I was blind-sided by a sudden rejection and betrayal, which really, really hurt a lot because it came literally out of nowhere. No warning, no build-up of events, nada. None of that drama.  Just a big bombshell of a phone call and my reality was altered. It shook past, present, and future and I was lost. I am now a testament to the term “hot potato.” Add to that the fact that it came from a person whom I least expected to hurt me, it really shook me off balance in so many ways.  Strangely, my reaction wasn’t the usual fight or flight. I actually stagnated.

Which was sad.

And then, after a month or so, a Zebra Dove paid me a visit.  

I came home from work one day and I saw it just outside our garage gate. I parked the car and still there it was. I suddenly felt scared for it. It might be injured and one of the many free-range cats in our subdivision might get it! I stepped closer to it to check if it was hurt. It didn’t look like it was hurt in any way. It actually looked very clean and healthy! It shifted on its tiny feet towards my direction and cocked its head as if to look me in the eye. For a few seconds, we stared at each other: a Maia and a Zebra Dove.



I took my phone out thinking “Should I take a selfie?” but decided to just take a photo of the dove sans my face. It stayed a few more seconds before it flew calmly to a nearby guava tree. It looked down at me one more time before flying away to a higher mango tree.

I know it’s just a chance encounter with one of the more common birds in the city, but I may be suffering from some mild Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, so I’m probably reading into it more than I should. But I will indulge myself.


I posted that photo on Facebook and it has gotten more than a hundred likes! It’s either the common Zebra Doves have become a “wow” bird or my friends are just happy that I’ve finally woken up and have decided to go out and bird again. I choose to believe the latter (sorry, Zebra Doves.) 

A friend asked me "Why'd you stop?" and that made me think long and hard. Why did I stop birding? Simple answer: I was scared. Of a lot of things which I will not elaborate anymore. 

That Zebra Dove told me it’s now time to be brave (PTSD speaking) and I choose to look forward and live again. To hell with closure.