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.