Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rain, Wind, Waves, and Dips

It was my second day in Puerto Princesa and Will, Kuya Joel, and I were early on the road and on our way to Sabang. After a great first day birding in the Irawan Ecopark, I was excited to see more birds on the road to Sabang. As the sun rose, our trio got a glimpse of the darkening skies and at our first stop to see the Palawan Flycatcher, it started to rain.

And it didn't really stop raining.

Thankfully, pockets of clear skies and some sunshine allowed us to continue birding along the road whenever possible.

Quick glimpse of the blue sky between rain showers

Blue-naped Parrots, Hill Mynas, and Asian Fairy Bluebirds came out to perch on high trees giving us open but severely back-lit photos.

Asian Fairy Bluebird

We made short stops at different parts of the road. The weather was kind enough to give us a couple of birds at every stop before raining down on us again. At one stop, we saw a Palawan Hornbill and a handsome Grey Wagtail.

Mud, mud everywhere ;)

We finally made it to the Sabang port and learned that boat trips to the Underground River were already cancelled due to the huge waves and bad weather. We were scheduled to go to to the Underground River the next day to see the Palawan Peacock Pheasant.

Gloomy skies over the port

As we had our buffet lunch, I looked at the skies and started accepting the possibility that our trip to see the pheasant the next day was going to be cancelled. After lunch, I took a walk near the beach and did my bird list, grateful that, at least, the rain has stopped. As I was walking, I saw a dark bird fly overhead, being blown in by the strong wind. It was flying quite low... curved beak, thin bent wings... frigatebird?? Hmmm.

Bird list by the beach

Most of the afternoon was spent indoors. The rain fell stronger and the wind continued to blow. We attempted to owl in the evening, but as soon as Will and I got out of the car... RAIN! Pouring rain literally dampening our chances of any owling! We drove back defeated but still laughing at our misfortune back to the hotel.

The following morning was still very gloomy and all boat rides still cancelled.

All bangkas parked along the shoreline

We could've walked to the Underground River but I decided not to and just explore part of the trail. I'll just come back on a sunnier time of year.

That's Will scanning the treetops for birds

Just by the entrance to the trail we saw a White-bellied Woodpecker swoop in to perch on a tall tree. The inside of the trail was very quiet and wet, but we did get to meet and chat with other birdwatchers which is always fun.

Love the flash of red!

As we were exiting the forest and heading back to the car, there it was again! The dark bird with hooked beak and bent wings!! Will and I ran to the beach and saw it clearly: Great Frigate Bird!

Unexpected lifer in Sabang! 

There were a total of 3 Great Frigatebirds that flew parallel to the beach while we stood there, being whipped by the wind. Not a bad "substitute" lifer after dipping on the pheasant ;)

Posing with Will on the beach!
Happy with my unexpected lifer =) 

The weather did not improve much throughout the drive back to the city proper and I was able to rest and relax back at Ellei's Place. Browsing through Facebook, I saw a recent posting of a Spotted Wood Owl and the location was very near my hotel! I dressed back into birding gear and was soon on a tricycle to try to spot the owl. The person who photographed the owl, Mr. Borja, was exceptionally kind to me and left me in the care of two of his colleagues to lead me to where the owl has been spotted. Sadly, I dipped on the owl which was no where to be found but I met some of the local residents and made friends with some of the children there.

With my new friends sans the owl ;)

The following day was a additional treat: a city tour! I've been around Palawan years before so I was interested to see what has changed since that time. We visited the Crocodile Farm, Binuatan Creations (where I got to try weaving!), Baker's Hill, Mitra Farm, the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral, and Plaza Cuartel. Of course, I did some birding on the side.

Asian Glossy Starling at the Crocodile Farm
Rufous Night Heron
There were a lot of nests in the Crocodile Farm!
Pale Spiderhunter in the Croodile Farm
White-bellied Sea Eagle soaring above Mitra's Farm

All in all, my trip back to Puerto was a mix of lifers and dips, sunny days and rainy days, but it was all good. I got to make new friends and was also able to reconnect with old ones. I have more than enough reasons to go back. Soon =)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Finally, Back in Puerto Princesa!

A long, long time ago (in 2002) my family spent the summer vacation months in Puerto Princesa in Palawan. My dad was based there for work and the whole family was able to spend a lot of time in Puerto with him. We went to the beach, the Underground River, island hopping in Honda Bay, ate pizza in Casa Rosa in Roxas (my favorite!), went to the beach again, island hopping... but I never paid attention to the birds. I wasn't a birdwatcher then.

My poor attempt at snorkeling at Honda Bay with mom
and my siblings. Yeah, that's me holding the snorkel
like a weapon =P
With my siblings at a very uncrowded Sabang to go see the
Underground River (and not the Pheasant!!!)

So, ever since I got into birding, going back to Puerto Princesa for the birds has always been on my mind. It took me more than 5 years (and a lot of excuses) before I was able to make that trip a reality. But it finally happened (thanks to Rommel Cruz and Will Cabanillas of WILD Expeditions Palawan and Birdwatch Palawan!!!) and it was awesome!

I was picked up at the airport by Will C. and Kuya Joel and we drove straight to the Irawan Ecopark which is a short drive from the airport.

Easy birding in Irawan

Birds were singing when we got out of the car. I think hearing new and unfamiliar birdsong is one of the best parts about birding in a new place. That and the lifers, of course. =)

The sunbirds were actively feeding on the trees surrounding us and three Hill Mynas made a brief appearance as well. Of course, the White-vented Shamas  were calling everywhere and a couple of Black-naped Monarchs chased each other among the trees.

White-vented Shama

Soon, Blue Paradise Flycatchers joined in on the fun and kept us company for the whole morning! It was like everywhere we looked, they were there!

Blue Paradise Flycatcher

The forest came alive with more birds and I was happy to tick of Asian Brown Flycatcher and Ashy-headed Babbler that morning. Other birds that came out included Hair-crested Drongo, Palawan Flowerpecker, Palawan Bulbul, and Ashy-fronted Bulbul

Hair-crested Drongo
Palawan Flowerpecker with breakfast ;)
We took a short break by midmorning and saw 4 Palawan Hornbills fly overhead before we birded in the short trail again. The Blue Paradise Flycatchers still accompanied us along the trail as well as the Black-naped Monarchs. Some Blue-naped Parrots flew in to perch on a tall tree and Slender-billed Crows also made brief appearances.

Blue-naped Parrot

Of course, other inhabitants of the forest were duly noticed, particularly a couple of gorgeous Emerald Tree Skinks (Thank you, Emerson, for the ID!)


Emerald Tree Skink
Lamprolepis smaragdina

There were also quite a lot of these smaller Eutropis skinks scurrying around the forest floor. They are much smaller than the Emerald Tree Skinks but look a bit mean-ner because of the bright red coloring on their mouths!

Most probably Eutropis indeprensa
(
Brown's Mabuya, if I'm not mistaken)

We moved further inside the park to try our luck with the Palawan Flycatcher. As we were walking along the trail, I saw a bird scurrying on the ground. For whatever reason, we decided to stalk it. I saw a flash of blue when I first saw the bird and my heart was beating so fast at the possibility of it being the rare Siberian Blue Robin that was spotted there recently. Our stalking paid off because the bird was indeed the rare Siberian Blue Robin

At first, my heart sank when the bird I was looking at turned out to be not blue, but brown! But when I saw all the field marks, particularly the distinct blue on the wings and rump and observed its behavior, we confirmed it was an immature male! My heart stopped palpitating after that. Rommel confirmed it later that evening too =)

Here's a super short (and shaky!) video of the robin. It was continuously walking around, bobbing its tail all the time! 



After some time observing the Siberian Blue, we watched it walk to a steeper part of the trail and out of sight. The Palawan Flycatcher seemed to think I would be too lucky if it showed up too, so it didn't. But I did get awesome views of Pin-striped Tit Babblers and a pair of Spot-throated Flamebacks! A Hooded Pitta also foraged in the same area where the robin was.

Female Spot-throated Flameback 
After a while, the male showed up to join the female.
Mr. and Mrs. Flameback

We transferred to another part of the park and took a short walk to the river which was quite dried up. It reminded me of the river in Pasonanca in Zamboanga =)


Dry river bed

At first, the surrounding area was very quiet. And then the birds came out seemingly all at once! I was able to see Black-headed Bulbuls, a Grey Wagtail, and a Common Kingfisher in quick succession. I also ticked off an unexpected lifer in the area: Plaintive Cuckoo.

Plaintive Cuckoo

As we headed back to the car, we flushed away a Rufous-backed Kingfisher which was perched near the road! We left the ecopark for a late lunch but not before a short stop to tick off a handsome Copper-throated Sunbird among a patch of mangroves! We returned to the ecopark after lunch and the forest was very quiet. We saw some birds, including some Thick-billed Green Pigeons but not much compared to the morning.

We went to Ellei's Place in the city where I would be staying and met the owner Ms. Den Wakefield, who is also a birder. Rommel dropped by and showed me another mega lifer to end my first day birding in Puerto Princesa: Palawan Frogmouth.

"Turn around...
... bright eyes"
(with a short cameo from a Musang or civet cat)
Will, me, and Rommel in Ellei's Place

Next stop: Sabang!