Friday, April 8, 2016

Traversing Manila Bay: From Navotas to Pampanga

I signed up to join a trip led by Arne J. to gather bird data in the northern part of Manila Bay. The plan was to take a boat and do a bird survey from Navotas and go all the way to Sasmuan in Pampanga. We boarded our boat at the Batasan River in Navotas and made our way out to the bay.

Happy (and dry) birders: Arne, Tinggay, me, Christian, Jasmin, and Ivan
Photo from Tinggay Cinco
Starting point in Navotas

We took a big motorized boat and a smaller paddle boat trailed behind us so that some of us could enter smaller and shallower areas to survey.

The birds were coming out as we made our way along the river. Collared Kingfishers, Common Sandpipers, Little Egrets, and Whiskered Terns could be seen on both sides of the river. 

Collared Kingfisher
Common Sandpiper
Whiskered Tern

Black-crowned Night Herons flew overhead and there were quite a number of Zebra Doves that perched on the mangroves and old structures along the river banks.

We scanned and counted all the birds we could spot from the boat, which was a challenge especially at the start when I had to get accustomed to the continuous movement while looking through my binoculars. The fish pens were carefully scanned for the birds perched atop the bamboo poles. Jasmin was really good at it ;)

Most were Whiskered Terns in varying plumage

We stopped at an old church in Baluarte in Obando, Bulacan. Arne told us that they've surveyed the area from that spot before and they saw large numbers of waders then.

Chapel at Baluarte
Arne scanning for more birds

There weren't so many birds in the area but Arne did spot a Peregrine Falcon flying among the fish pens and Ivan was able to put it on the scope when it perched!

We clambered back into our boat and headed out to sea again. We would stop at certain points to scan and count birds. In one area, the usual Whiskered Terns on bamboo were replaced with much bigger Whimbrels!

Chunkier Whimbrels on the poles
First time to see them perched like this!

Further along the coast, we could see a small sandbar with lots of waders. The water was too shallow for the big boat so Christian, Ivan, and Jasmin got on the smaller paddle boat to get closer to the sandbar and count the birds there.

On the smaller paddle boat through shallow waters
Much closer vantage point to count the waders

They were able to spot Lesser Sand Plovers, most in their rufous breeding plumage, Asian Golden Plovers, more Whimbrels, more Whiskered Terns, and Jasmin and Ivan's first lifer: Ruddy Turnstone. After their count, they headed back to the boat and we were on our way again. We stopped at a broken sea wall and scanned the exposed land and shallow waters behind it.

Counting more birds

I went up on the wall to take a look through the scope and see the Lesser Sand Plovers in their breeding plumage for the first time. I clambered back into the big boat just when Christian told us there were Little Terns! I admit there was a lot of hesitancy to climb back on the wall for this lifer but I eventually did. It was worth it =)

We all got back in the boat and continued to scan the bamboo poles. We were happy to see a number of Greater Crested Terns among the Whiskered Terns! They are such funky looking birds!

Larger Greater Crested Tern
among the smaller Whiskered Terns
Funky tern! =)

We continued this process whenever we would spot large groups of waders on rocks, bamboo poles, or sand bars.

Arne, Christian, and Ivan getting really close to a group of waders
on some exposed rocks
Sand Plovers and Little Terns on the rocks

We passed by large rocks jutting out of the water. A lot of them had Little Terns perched on them giving me really good views of my lifer for the day!

Pretty Little Terns! I didn't really have to clamber back on the seawall
to see them =P
Ruddy Turnstone
Pacific Golden Plover

We made it all the way to Bulacan and docked for lunch in Paombong. After lunch, we got back on the boat and made our way to the Pampanga River mouth. It was interesting since I've been to that area but through the road passing through Macabebe and Masantol and this time we were approaching the area from the sea!

Our last stop for the trip

We entered the river and counted the birds perched on exposed slabs of concrete. Jasmin, Arne, Christian, and Ivan got on the paddle boat to go on shore to count the birds by the road while Tinggay and I stayed in the big boat.

Black-headed Gull with lots of Whiskered Terns

When the others came back (after they saw a possible Lesser Black-backed Gull!) we made our way back to sea and started our trip back to Navotas. That trip was very wet! The winds picked up as we sped through the bumpy sea causing big waves to come into the boat, soaking us. Some engine trouble made the trip a bit more longer but soon we entered the steady and calm waters of the Batasan River.

It was a tiring and hot day for us at sea which we ended very wet but we were all still smiling and happy to be back on dry land. Arne still has the rest of Manila Bay to survey, but I'm glad I was able to help out even in a tiny way.
Wet, tired, but happy birders =)
Photo from Tinggay Cinco

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