Thursday, June 15, 2017

Birthday Lifer!

Up the mount I went
Third time to try for this bird
A birthday lifer!

Finally! Whiskered Pittas!

Hiked the muddy trail
I said I won't climb again
Up and up I went

We sat and waited
'Twas a lesson in patience
And then, there they were

The best birthday gift
Is of time, birds, and flowers
My heart is happy

Friday, May 26, 2017


We had another great morning birding areas of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños (LB) and it was all once again due to the generosity of Prof Tirso Paris 😊 It was also Global Big Day 2017, where birders all over the world are encouraged to go out and bird to support global conservation.

The day got pretty hot very quickly. Prof Tirso patiently drove Djop and me around the areas he usually found birds in, and birds we did find! There were large groups of Common Moorhens preening in the paths dividing rice paddies, with a Greater Painted Snipe or two among them.

Common Moorhens and a pair of Greater Painted Snipes in the grass

As we went around the rice paddies, we were surrounded by the calls of Striated Grassbirds and Zitting Cisticolas and some of them perched out in the open long enough for some photos. A couple of Java Sparrows also fed nonchalantly on the grains in the morning sun.

Striated Grassbird

Zitting Cisticola
Java Sparrow

Along the dirt roads were many Oriental Pratincoles, which was the highlight of the birding morning for me. These were the best views I've had of these birds and they were in their handsome breeding plumage too! Most of them allowed us to get close while in the car and take a lot of photos of them!

We were even treated to an unusual display by one of the Pratincoles, spreading its wings, and crouching low on the ground. It even walked forward towards another Pratincole, holding its wings in that outstretched manner.

We scanned the empty rice paddies for Oriental Pratincole chicks but didn't find any. Well, either they weren't visible that morning or we failed to see them camouflaged in the dried earth. We did see some adult Pratincoles sitting on the ground, but saw no chicks.

We moved to the reservoir and were greeted by a single Whiskered Tern. There were two Little Grebes in the water, diving and resurfacing as grebes do. They would venture out to the middle of the reservoir but would return to a specific corner where we found them to be building a nest in the floating vegetation! It was my first time to see a Little Grebe's nest!

Little Grebe trying out its unfinished nest

We soon left the reservoir and as we passed an empty rice paddy were surprised by a female Barred Buttonquail foraging out in the open! It has been years since I last saw buttonquails! It was so hard to photograph since it kept moving so quickly. When it walked out of view, a male Barred Buttonquail made an appearance and joined the female! What a treat!

Mr. and Mrs. Barred Buttonquail sprinting away from us

It was mid morning when we headed to the IRRI canteen and had snacks and an interesting chat with Prof 😉 After our snack, we said our thanks and goodbye to Prof and headed to pick up Erickson and check out the TREES Hostel for any sunbirds that may be feeding on the blooms of the banana plants.

Sadly, the sunbirds chose to ignore the pretty pink banana blossoms and did not show. Some Luzon Hornbills made an appearance and a Philippine Falconet as well. Bar-bellied Cuckoo Shrikes chased each other noisily among the trees, but aside from them, the area remained relatively quiet.

A male Luzon Hornbill.
The boys got much better shots (because I'm lazy 😝)

The sunbirds did not show that day nor the next... I have yet to see the beautiful sunbirds in TREES --- makes me think I'm a jinx and an "anti-sunbird" given that I've tried a number of times and the banana plants had so many blooms!!! I guess I'll have to keep coming back to test that theory 😊 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tubbataha Adventure Day3: South Atoll and Jessie Beazley Reef

It was our third day on board the M/Y Zameridus and we were greeted by a beautiful watercolor sunrise at Tubbataha's South Atoll.

The sky was painted with such beautiful colors that morning 💗

That's Doreen capturing the sunrise at the prow of the boat

Slowly, more of our companions joined us at the prow of the boat. We saw a silhouette of a ray skimming the surface of the water as it fed near our boat. It was exciting seeing a fin or two breach the water's surface from time to time.
Lu-Ann, Arne, and me with the lighthouse behind us

We had breakfast and headed out for some birding in South Atoll. As we were getting in the dinghy, the ray appeared quite close to the boat so we sped off to get a closer look. Rocco called out from the Zamerdius, "Maia! Put your GoPro in the water!!" So I grabbed firmly to my (cheap) selfie stick, plunged my Xiao Mi action cam in the water, and pointed it in the general direction of the ray all the time praying I would be able to get some footage of this ray! I had to wait until we got back to the Zamerdius to check if I did get any videos and I was so very lucky that I got an awesome video of a Manta Ray!!! Watch in HD! =)

When the ray swam away, we focused on getting closer to the lighthouse on South Atoll. Tubbataha Reefs' South Atoll has a lighthouse that was built in the 1980's. Currently, the islet is uninhabited and off-limits to humans but the lighthouse is still functioning.

Approaching the lighthouse

The crumbling lighthouse and seawall of  the South Atoll

South Atoll is a nesting place for Red-footed Boobies and Black Noddies, the subspecies of which is only found in the Sulu Sea. There are also small numbers of Brown Boobies and Great Crested Terns. As we approached, there were even some Frigatebirds perched atop the tall tree in front of us! Such prehistoric-looking birds!
One of the Frigatebirds on the leftmost perch with some
Brown Boobies and Red-footed Boobies

South Islet still has some trees but are slowly disappearing too
and cannot support the number of birds living on the islet

Red-footed Booby

Black Noddy sitting on its egg (and showing its strange tongue)

We went around the islet, taking in the close-up views of the birds. We were able to observe the Red-footed Boobies and Black Noddies sitting on their nests, most laced with bits of plastic. We even saw some birds come in carrying plastic in their beaks to use as nesting material...
Black Noddy on its nest with lots of plastic

Parent Red-footed Booby sits with its chick on its nest with plastic string

We circled around the islet a number of times, and I took the time to really take good looks are the birds I would most likely never see again this well (unless I am blessed enough to get to visit Tubbataha again in the future 🙏)

Handsome Black Noddy
It's really hard to describe how beautiful their coloration is.

Red-footed Booby showing its very red feet

Pair of Black Noddies looking beautiful without even trying

Frigatebird soaring above our small boat
We soon said goodbye to the the lighthouse and its birds and headed back to the Zamerdius. We made a quick stop at the Delsan wreck, which ran aground on the South Atoll in the 1970's. Some Brown Boobies and Pacific Reef Egrets were perched on the wreckage and flew off as we approached.
Birds on the wreckage
Gawin requested we go around the wreck one more time and as we circled, our boatmen spotted a pod of dolphins nearby! We sped closer to the dolphins and enjoyed another unexpected surprise!
We had some time to go snorkeling before we moved to our last stop, Jessie Beazley Reef. I was even more confident in the water and ventured further from the dinghy. I was rewarded with a sighting of Blacktip Reef Sharks, more turtles, and a big Grey Reef Shark! 😍

That's Ampy, one of the crew on the Zamerdius who led me to the
Grey Reef Shark!

We soon had to get out of the water, get back on the Zamerdius, and head to the Jessie Beazley Reef. Another bonus for me was being "kapitana" for a few minutes when the captains gave me the wheel of the Zamerdius on our way to the Reef.

Another bonus on this trip!

We soon approached the Jessie Beazley Reef which has a small islet made up of broken corals which gets submerged during high tide. It was added to the Park in 2006 which tripled the size of the Park. It was low tide when we got there exposing the islet which had a big number of Great Crested Terns.

Birding in the Jessie Beazley Reef

We just stayed for a few minutes and then started our journey back to Puerto Princesa. It had been an amazing 3 days in Tubbataha, with lots of unexpected sightings and experiences! Sharing the compilation of video clips from the trip below (watch in HD!) =)

Thank you again to Rommel of WILD Expeditions Palawan for organizing this amazing trip!
Thank you to Arne Jensen for being such a fantastic guide!
Thank you to everyone on the trip for the wonderful company!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tubbataha Adventure Day2: Ranger Station

I woke up refreshed and excited on our second day at sea aboard the M/Y Zamerdius. We were still anchored in Shark Airport in Tubbataha's North Atoll, surrounded by the clear waters of the Sulu Sea. The itinerary the same for the morning: divers head out before breakfast, snorkeling beside the boat, breakfast, then head out to Bird Islet for birding.

I was more confident getting in the water this time and I spent a longer time snorkeling too! Gibo and I were awed by the sight of a HUGE school of fish passing by the boat!

This is a poor photo of the wonderful sight we were treated to!

As I made my way up the boat, I heard Gibo call from the water "Maia! Look!" and look I did! I looked in the direction Gibo was facing and saw a small Blacktip Reef Shark swimming slowly just below us! How cool was that?! As the shark swam further away, I tore myself from the sea and went aboard the boat to have breakfast.

The divers arrived in very high spirits a few minutes after and we learned that they encountered a Whale Shark during their dive! How awesome it must have been! They excitedly shared their experience over breakfast and after, while we were slowly preparing to head out to Bird Islet, there were excited calls from the crew! Whale Shark just beside the boat!!!

Amazing sighting that morning!

I tugged at Arne's elbow towards the side of the boat as he was pouring some creamer into his cup of coffee just in time to see the Whale Shark slowly emerge from the deeper part of the water. It skimmed the water's surface just beside the boat and swam alongside it for a few seconds before circling and going under the boat. It made another appearance before it swam further away from us. THAT left us all exhilarated and in disbelief at our good luck! 

As our excitement subsided, we boarded the dinghy and made our way to Bird Islet. As we passed the sandbar, we spotted the Pacific Reef Egrets and Chinese Egrets together with the small flock of Great Crested Terns.

Dark phase Pacific Reef Egret and Chinese Egret

We approached the Islet and enjoyed the spectacle of birds flying around us and those on the islet. We spotted some Great Crested Terns with eggs on the sand!

Lots of bird activity!

Even point-and-shoot cameras and phone cameras produced awesome
photos from Bird Islet!

Dead center: Great Crested Tern with its egg!

We tried to spot the Masked Booby from the previous day, especially for Rocco and Monique, but sadly the bird did not show. Possibly it was out fishing or in a hidden spot in the Plaza. We had our fill of Bird Islet and bid it farewell. We found our way back to the Zamerdius and headed towards the Ranger Station, still on the North Atoll.

Ruddy Turnstone... they have been observed to break open other birds' eggs
that are on the sand! 😲

Brown Booby

After lunch on the boat, we made our way to the Ranger Station. It was low tide so we had to walk in shallow water to get to the station. It is the only place in Tubbataha where visitors are allowed ashore.

As we approached we spotted some Great Crested Terns
and a Little Tern on the sand
The Ranger Station and their volleyball court

Walking to the station

We logged in our names and met the park rangers. Of course we also went shopping! Too bad their shirts were too big for me, so I just bought pasalubongs: shirts, plushies, and a sticker for me! ;)

Goodies from the Ranger Station!

Completed in 2000, the Ranger Station, located at the southernmost tip of North Atoll, is home to the marine park rangers from the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, the Municipality of Cagayancillo, and the Tubbataha Management Office. They stay months at a time stationed at the ranger station. The rangers conduct patrols to make sure that illegal fishing and harvesting of marine life is controlled and stopped. They also have regular cleanups to prevent trash and debris from piling up in the different areas of the park.

The Ranger Station

That's me and Lu-Ann with some of the Park rangers

Gibo and I have been chatting about playing volleyball on the ranger station when we spotted their net and court. We asked some of the Rangers and they gamely agreed to play! I tried my best... but I am most definitely NOT a sports person, as my friends discovered first-hand that day. 😝

Volleyball in Tubbataha!

I look like I actually hit the ball in this photo!
(I didn't!)
Photo by Rommel Cruz

Volleyball team group hug!!!
Photo by Rommel Cruz

We said our goodbyes to the Rangers, took some photos, and headed back to the Zamerdius. We would be re-positioning to the South Atoll next.

Group shot!!! Photo by Rommel Cruz

We made our way to the South Atoll and as we approached, I took the time to setup an "office" on the top deck and write my notes for the day.

My work space with the lighthouse in the horizon

The South Atoll has a lighthouse that was build in the 1980's. 

We anchored in the area as the sun was setting and Arne gave a lecture about the area as we scanned the islet for birds and there were a lot of Noddies and Red-footed Boobies flying back to the islet.

Learning about South Islet from Arne

Soon it was dark and we were being served dinner. Gina shared her delicious chai masala tea (and shared her recipe with me too!!) as an after dinner treat 😍 Relaxed and overflowing with happiness from another wonderful day, I climbed into my bunk bed and went to sleep, excited for what the following day had in store for us.

To be continued...