Sunday, February 15, 2015

Backyard Valentine Bird Count

I decided to go birding on the morning of Valentine's Day. I decided to go birding by myself in UP Diliman. It is so near where I live, it can pass as my backyard ;) The weekend also fell under eBird's Great Backyard Bird Count, so I was happy I would get to contribute to the Philippine list.

I had a couple of other goals for my solo birding morning: first was to bird with only my bins and no camera and second was to find the Ashy Drongo which was spotted in the campus last month.

The trees lining the UP Oval are almost completely bare

I haven't gone birding without my Canon SX50 ever since Jops gave it to me two years ago. I wanted to go back to just pure birding, even for a few hours and this was the perfect time to do that. Armed with only my bins and notebook, I set off from the AS parking lot and headed to the library.

Colasisis and Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers were calling from nearby and Yellow-vented Bulbuls were feeding on a tall, flowering African Tulip. I was spotting a Coppersmith Barbet on a tall tree when a grey bird flew past with a characteristic undulating flight. Could it be the Drongo??? After a bit of searching, I spotted the all-grey bird swallowing its prey. I spent some time observing it and taking note of its field marks: whitish face, splayed fish tail, and sharp bill. Found it! The Ashy Drongo I saw is the luecogenys ssp. which is a migrant.

Somewhere up that tree, there is an Ashy Drongo,
Coppersmith Barbet, and Yellow-vented Bulbul

I lingered a bit in the area, wishing for the unicorn (aka male Narcissus Flycatcher) to make an appearance. I soon left, the unicorn still being a unicorn.

I walked through the Beta Way but didn't see much birds except for a few Brown Shrikes and an Arctic/Kamchatka/Japanese Leaf Warbler.

I used to see so many birds here including
Grey-streaked Flycatchers and even an
Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo...

Next stop was the path leading to the U Lagoon and heard some Collared Kingfishers and Black-naped Orioles calling from the trees. I inspected the leftmost pond and found it to be slowly drying up. Instead of the usual Common Kingfisher, I saw a Grey Wagtail instead and also a couple of White-breasted Waterhens.

The usually muddy portions are now cracked earth

Along the path, I got great views of Colasisis and Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. As I approached the end of the trail, I was happy to see the Common Kingfisher. It transferred to an area that still had a considerable amount of water.

A wetter, more watery part of the lagoon

I exited at the UP Oval fronting the Vargas Musuem and I saw a lot of Golden-bellied Gerygones and Lowland White-eyes flitting among the trees. There were also a lot of Pied Trillers that morning. I walked to the Faculty Center and looked for the Philippine Nightjar but it wasn't in its usual roosting tree.

I checked my watch and it was already 10AM. I decided to walk back to the parking and drive home. I remember the times I spent a lot of time birding in UP years before and it still is a great site for a quick birding fix. I have yet to see that unicorn of a bird but I am very happy with my bird list for my solo Valentine backyard birding morning sans my camera =)

For those going birding anywhere from now until Monday (February 16), submit your bird lists on http://ebird.org to contribute to the Philippine Great Backyard Bird Count.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Twitch and Run

It was one of those twitches that was decided just the afternoon before. It was one of those twitches that put some pressure on a birder because the target was one of the rarest ducks in the region. It was one of those twitches that was finished before 7AM.

A few days ago, our birder friends Martin, Rob, and Irene spotted a male Baer's Pochard in Candaba. What luck! It was one, just one, individual out of the approximately 150-700 left in the world. The alarming decline of its population classifies it as a critically endangered species. This classification means that the species faces an incredibly high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.

It is a sad fact that this species has become critically endangered and it gives birdwatchers a strong sense of urgency to go see at least one of the few hundred remaining individuals in the wild that may very well become extinct in the near future.

So, on a cold Monday morning, I took the morning off from work to twitch the rare Baer's Pochard that made its way to Candaba.

Day break at Candaba

As soon as the sky started to lighten and our surroundings became clearer, we started scanning the ducks that were in the patches of water in front of us. I immediately saw a dark-headed duck through the scope, preening beside some Philippine Ducks. My heart skipped a beat. Could it be the Baer's Pochard? Could we be so lucky and see it this early? We were =)

In the poor light, you can make out the dark head of the
Baer's Pochard

As the sun rose, the ducks started becoming more active giving us good views of its field marks, we confirmed it: Baer's Pochard = check.

Suddenly, the Philippine Ducks started flying off! I kept my eye through the scope and saw Baer's Pochard look alert, stretch its neck, and take flight.

We transferred locations and tried to spot it again but couldn't find it! I was satisfied with my views but, of course, I wanted a better one. We went through the "collage" of ducks: Garganeys, Northern Shovellers, more Philippine Ducks, Wandering Whistling Ducks, Northern Pintails, Eurasian Teals, Tufted Ducks, some Common Pochards, and a lone Eurasian Coot.

The other Candaba residents were also coming alive in the warm sun: Common Moorhens, Purple Swamphens, Yellow Bitterns, and White-browed Crakes were coming out of the vegetation to forage. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Chestnut Munias, and a Common Kingfisher also showed very well. But still no duck.

Our friend Mark Jason arrived with a tour group and, with scopes all lined up, we all scanned for the rare duck. Nada.

I decided to go back to the spot where we first spotted the duck and promised to inform the group if we saw it. They joined us after a few minutes and then we got it on the scope! We trooped to where he was as he asked for confirmation: "White as*, right? White as*?" I nodded and semi-glared at him for his language around guests =P

The Baer's Pochard was sleeping (as you can see in the photo) with its head tucked under its wing, but it would raise its head to preen for a few seconds before tucking its head away again. Behind it, you can see the brown head
of a Common Pochard (plus a Philippine Duck showing off in the background)

I tried my best to get a photo of it with its head up, but unfortunately wasn't able to get one.

Here is a more heavily cropped photo, still with its head tucked under its wing

Happy that we were able to show Mark and his guests the duck, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Manila to go to work. It was only 9AM but as much as we wanted to stay and bird some more, we were already extending our twitch, especially since we saw our target bird before 7AM! It was time to run back to the city.

The future of the Baer's Pochard does seem bleak with the continuing loss of habitat in its breeding grounds. Add to that the conversion of its wintering grounds, just like what we witnessed in Candaba. As we were birding, a man was already plowing the area behind the water where the ducks were. He was converting it into a rice field. But who knows? If we make enough "noise" for this duck, and for the environment in general, a champion might emerge to forward our cause and maybe save this duck from extinction. Who knows?