Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cuckoo Surprise and a Pair of Nightjars

I promised to deliver an ornamental banana plant to Prof. Bert the day after we went for the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove. The mother plant was given to me by Trinket and Adri years ago and has since bloomed and attracted many an Olive-backed Sunbird in our small pocket garden in Quezon City.

So not-so-early Saturday morning, Djop and I drove to UP Diliman to drop off Prof. Bert's banana plant in his gym. We brought our gear because we planned to stop by the nightjars after doing the plant-drop. We left the plant in the gym and were already getting in the car when we heard an Olive-backed Sunbird call loudly from above us. We looked up at the leaves of the talisay tree beside the car to spot the sunbird when Djop suddenly called out "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" He started to get his gear from the car while I grabbed my camera and tried my best to spot the cuckoo.

I started panicking when I couldn't find it but after some redirection, I was able to spot it: a pretty Rusty-breasted Cuckoo perched un-moving on an exposed branch.

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo

It moved to another branch and stayed still for a while, allowing us to photograph and admire it some more.

I'm amazed the photos looked like they were taken almost at eye level!
(They weren't hehe.)

The cuckoo transferred to a higher branch before it flew to a nearby mango tree, out of sight. It was such a pleasant surprise seeing the cuckoo when we were just about to leave the parking lot!

We packed up our gear and transferred to find the nightjars. We first spotted one, then the pair of Philippine Nightjars, perched beside each other on a branch, partially covered by leaves.

One Philippine Nightjar spotted...
... two Philippine Nightjars spotted!

We were in and out of the UP campus in an hour. Within that time, we were able to do our plant-drop, spotted not one, but two nightjars, and even had a bonus cuckoo! It was a good Saturday morning 😊

Here's a short video of the Philippine Nightjar looking as if it were rocking itself to sleep 😄

Friday, September 8, 2017

Peter's Colasisi

I’ve been seeing my friend Peter’s posts about the Colasisi (Philippine Hanging Parrot) that frequent his home which he affectionately coined as “his Colasisi.” His photos of these Philippine endemic were amazing, their colors highlighted in each capture.

When we birded with Peter in Prof Tirso’s home in Los Banos, Djop and I got an invitation to come see his Colasisi in Quezon City when we had some free time. We were lucky that that particular Monday was a holiday and we did, in fact, have some free time!

We made an early morning appointment to drop by Peter’s and check out the flowering tree the Colasisis fed on. It was a very rainy Monday morning when we drove back to Quezon City from the south. As we had our breakfast at McDonald’s we messaged Peter and said that we’d cancel if the rain didn’t let up. But as we were finishing our coffee, the rain stopped and the skies cleared! Colasisi, here we come!
  
This is one of the flowering trees the Colasisi feeds on

And these are the flowers they eat!

Peter met us by the gate and we followed him to the park. He pointed out the flowering trees to us and soon after we approached them, a Colasisi flew in! It perched on a high branch but it was backlit so we couldn’t take decent photos! Peter was calm and told us not to worry as the Colasisi would come down to lower perches to feed on the flowers, unmindful of people.

  

True enough, the parrot flew to the smaller tree and started feeding on the yellow flowers. It gave us great views and stayed quite a while.
  
Colasisi

It loved the yellow flowers!

It flew off to a high tree where we could see another Colasisi with it. There were at least 3 Colasisi that morning we were there, and they would come to feed on the flowers constantly. Around us, a pair of Collared Kingfishers called noisily and some Philippine Pied Fantails flew around in the shade of the trees. Some Golden-bellied Gerygones also made appearances and a flock of egrets flew overhead.

True to its name - Philippine Hanging Parrot!

Here is a video of the Colasisi as it fed on the flowers =) (Watch in HD!)



Soon the rain clouds crept in and we said our goodbyes and thank yous to Peter before the rain fell. How wonderful to have green spaces in the middle of the city that serve as the home and feeding ground for birds. And for my own selfish reasons, how wonderful to have bird-y areas such as Peter’s that allow for mega dude birding and super easy photo opportunities 😉


Thank you again for having us, Peter! 😊

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Awesome Lifer in the Fog

When news broke out about a new birding site a few hours away from Manila, I wished for an opportunity to check it out soon. As more and more people visited the site, more and more birds were spotted and photographed and my wish became some sort of silent desperation. Somewhere along the road to Infanta, Quezon, the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove called out to me to come find it.

I finally got my chance to try and see it last Friday when "Ninong" Chin generously let Djop and I hitch with him to Infanta. I was technically tagging along since it was also the 5th year anniversary of the Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines and part of their activities for the event was birding in Infanta that morning.

We were on the road before 5AM. The route is very straightforward and as we got further away from Manila, there were less and less vehicles on the road. The fog was heavy as we drove, limiting visibility considerably.

Foggy drive!

The sky lightened a bit but the fog still lay thick along the mountainside and road when we arrived at our destination at around 6:30. As I stepped out from the car into the road, the chilly wind greeted me and I took in all the fresh air and greenery around me. The place had the feel of the old Mt. Palay-Palay road back when the tunnel wasn't complete and no one but birders were there.

Road-side birding

Did I mention it was foggy? 

We walked into the fog and were soon joined by fellow birders. It was nice to see old friends and meet new ones too. We began our search for the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove among the tall trees, the fog still heavy and hazy around us, when (my nephew) Loel spotted it! There were a few seconds of rising panic when I couldn't find the large dove among all the trees in front of us but then it flew to another tree and perched out in the open. I looked at the bird through my bins and through the fog and thanked my lucky stars that I was able to tick off the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove as my lifer! It soon flew to a higher perch and started feeding on the ripe berries.

A gorgeous Flame-breasted Fruit Dove!

It spent some time in the tree transferring from perch to perch to eat the small red fruits. It was joined by a second dove but it stayed hidden behind the leaves, while a couple of Philippine Fairy Blue Birds joined them briefly. After a while, they flew off deeper into the trees and did not show again for the rest of the day.

Birders and photographers spotting the fruit doves

One of its perches that morning
More people arrived and some moved on to another spot along the road to try for more birds. We also drove to try for the Scarlet Minivets but did not see them. We did see a Philippine Serpent Eagle perched on a low tree just by the side of the road but it immediately flew off when we stopped the car. 

The fog had lifted by then but the wind had picked up. We decided to head back to the fruit dove area but stopped midway and joined a small group who spotted a Spotted Wood Kingfisher! It was a steep climb up and down a flight of stairs and I got an awful photo, but was still happy with this unexpected find.

Down the stairs to see what we can find...

Lousy shot of the Spotted Wood Kingfisher

We drove back to rejoin the others who were waiting for the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove to show again. Sadly, it didn't, but mixed flocks would come in waves to feed on the many fruiting trees by the roadside. Yellowish White Eyes, Philippine Bulbuls, Blue-headed Fantails, and pretty Lemon-throated Leaf Warblers would fly noisily into the trees and feed among the fruits. Buzzing and Pygmy Flowerpeckers also made brief appearances including my second lifer that morning: Olive-backed Flowerpecker (no photo though...)

Pretty Lemon-throated Leaf Warblers

Pygmy Flowerpecker
Got lucky with this shot since they move around so much!!!

The wind was still quite strong so the bird activity was not that busy the rest of the morning. We soon packed up and headed for lunch. our new friend Jet spotted a raptor soaring a distance away and we saw there were two Rufous-bellied Eagles struggling against the wind. After lunch, we returned for a quick peek at the fruit dove and other possible birds but there were none. 

It wasn't as birdy as the site promises, but I'm sure on a good-weather day, the bird life is fantastic! I'm grateful for the lifers I got that day, these are birds I didn't think I'd be seeing soon... but I did! And with great views too! And with no hiking involved! ;)

It was a happy day sharing lifers with friends. It would be wonderful to go back and see what else the forests of Infanta has to offer... maybe soon ;)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Garden to Forest Birding

There are some lucky birders that have a very bird-y backyard or garden or work very near a wonderful birding site. These places have fruiting and flowering trees and plants that attract birds and make for a relaxed and wonderful birding experience in their homes or offices. 

Last weekend, I found myself birding in the garden of Prof Tirso in Los Banos and in JC's office "front yard" - Mt. Makiling and the Makiling Botanic Gardens.

Secret Garden

Prof Tirso has been accommodating many groups of birders in his home in Los Banos for the past few weeks - us included. We all came to see the Purple-throated Sunbirds that have frequented the blooms of the ornamental banana plants in his garden. When I went the first time, I did not bring my birding bag which had my binoculars and camera and just sat and enjoyed the company that day. This time, I had my binoculars freshly cleaned and my camera's battery fully charged!

Djop and I arrived at Prof Tirso's "secret garden" and joined Tito Bob and Tita Cynthia, Wenxing, and Peter who had also driven up for the sunbird. It was quite a wait but we were happy with the sightings we got of a male, female, and immature male Purple-throated Sunbird

A male Purple-throated Sunbird

They would come to feed on the banana flower's nectar but only for a few
seconds before flying off again

A young male also came to feed, the colors of its feathers just barely
beginning to show
While waiting in between their appearances, we chatted with each other and entertained ourselves with the many beautiful butterflies flitting around the plants in the garden. Some Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Eurasian Tree Sparrows also fed around the garden and a Coppersmith Barbet also made a brief visit. We had some flyby Large-billed Crows and a single White-throated Kingfisher too. A very chubby skink also showed itself to us just below the banana plants.



Djop and I stayed for lunch with Ninong Prof while the rest of our friends said their goodbyes and tried their luck at the APEC fields. After lunch, only the young male sunbird showed and as the skies grew darker with rain clouds, we said our thanks to Prof and went on our way.



Mt. Makiling and Makiling Botanic Gardens

The following day, we were joined by Willem, Nikdye, and JC. We had our breakfast at the TREES Hostel and hoped for some sunbirds to show. Sadly, most of the banana plants had fallen due to the bad weather and only a single un-open blossom was there. We spotted a small group of Luzon Hornbills in some far away trees but that was all the bird activity in the area. We chatted a bit with Kuya Danny, the caretaker and after, set off for the Mt. Makiling trail. 

We were hoping to see a Philippine Trogon! Was that too much to ask? ;)

Visitor Registration center of the Mt. Makiling Trail where you have to log in,
pay the entrance fee, and leave a valid ID.
As we went up the trail, we could hear the hornbills calling around us. We encountered some Guaiabero's high up a tree but that was about it for bird sightings. Thankfully I was in good company and I learned a lot about plants, insects, spiders, lizards and more that morning =)



We turned into the trail towards the Flat Rocks. We encountered a big flock of Luzon Hornbills in a noisy feeding frenzy a number of times but we never got long, good, out-in-the-open views. So we just enjoyed being surrounded by the noisy hornbills.

Along the trail to the Flat Rocks
My one and only shot of a female Luzon Hornbill from that morning
We (or more accurately THEY) discovered a lot more along the forest floor: worms frogs, and longhorn beetles kept the walk very interesting in the absence of birds.



Spot the frog

Djop photographing the large Longhorn Beetle on a rock

This was the beetle, a Mango Longhorn Beetle Batocera rubus
Thank you, JC for the ID!
We reached the Flat Rocks at the end of the trail and after a short rest and survey of the area, we started our walk back out. 
  

Just before exiting the trail, JC and Willem spotted a Forest Dragon and everyone got excited (even me because it was my first time to encounter one!) We spent some time photographing it and it obliged, not moving from its position up a large tree trunk.

Forest Dragon
Gonocephalus sp.
We exited the trail and had a taho break at the entrance before transferring to the Makiling Botanic Gardens.


It wasn't a birdy day for us that morning: no sunbirds, no kingfisher, no birds basically... save for a lone Spotted Wood Kingfisher that Willem saw but flew before we could all spot it. We did see more butterflies and spiders though, and those kept us entertained.

JC pointed out this hoya

Lots of bird spiders along the trail

This butterfly enjoyed its salty snack ;)

First time I've photographed a birdwing!
As we headed back to the gate, we took a short break and waited for some sunbirds to show among some flowering ornamental banana plants. Still no birds for us so we decided to call it a morning and have lunch. It wasn't as birdy as we all hoped it would be, but as always, the good company made the morning a great one. We ended our morning with a yummy Thai lunch and ice cream for dessert. 


We'll be back, Makiling, and we'll see all them birds next time 😊

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

IRRI, TREES, LB

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 😊