Sunday, April 16, 2017

Let's Find 'Em Avocets

I think my life is one very long lesson in patience. And sometimes, I get rewarded handsomely.

I've waited for a chance to see Pied Avocets since I started birding in 2010. Every time I went to Candaba during migration season, I would hope for at least one of them to be there. Sadly, I wasn't that lucky a birder.

So when some of them were spotted in Obando, Bulacan by my friend Jasmin, my sleeping inner twitcher lifted her head, picked up her bins and said "Let's find 'em Avocets."

It was a hot, cloudless day to be twitching...

Maundy Thursday morning, Bob, Djop and I parked and started our walk under the scorching sun. Through the dried grass and the swarms of pesky insects that try to get into your mouth, nose, and eyes.

Scan, scan, scan.

Walk on further, marching through narrowing dikes, and avoiding holes the boys would point out to me, making extra effort to remember if they said to keep left or keep right 😂

We stopped at a pond with lots of Black-winged Stilts and other waders and scanned for the avocets.

Lots of Black-winged Stilts
Nope, not there...

We also scanned the waders mixed with the stilts and egrets, hoping for the Dunlin or something else out of the ordinary. We saw Common Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers but nothing else. Then a couple of rust-colored waders popped up into view and I got my first views of Black-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage!!

Sleeping in this photo but they raised their heads long enough
also to get a good look at their bills

 At this point Mr. Sun was really shining down on us and with limited choices for shade, my hopes of seeing the Avocets was slowly draining away. We moved further into the fishponds and again through brambles and hidden holes until Bob said the words we were waiting for: "Avocets."

Maybe our expressions showed doubt and disbelief because Bob had to convince us a bit before we shared in his excitement and finally saw our lifers.

Successful twitch!
We saw five Pied Avocets standing in a line
The boys went down the dried fishpond to find a better vantage point and some shade, but as I looked at the ditch I had to traverse, I gave them a firm "No, thank you." and made myself comfortable in my spot under the sun.

Two of the five Pied Avocets

The Avocets were sleeping most of the time we observed them but they would raise their heads and preen now and then revealing their delicate upturned bills.

Pied Avocets
They were in a pond with quite a lot of terns so we scanned and spotted some Curlew Sandpipers that we really, really hoped would be Dunlins but they weren't, so...

Terns, terns, terns

Also got to see Curlew Sandpipers in breeding plumage!!!

Yup, another Curlew Sandpiper among the terns and NOT a Dunlin

There was also a lone Pacific Golden Plover, a Rufous-necked Stint, and a hiding Greater Sand-Plover also in its breeding plumage! Oh, an a handsome Gull-billed Tern as well.

Pacific Golden Plover (who seriously looked it just woke up
and was shocked to be alone among the terns)

Spot the Greater Sand Plover! It was my first time to see it in its
breeding plumage too!

After getting our fill of the Pied Avocets and the other birds, we decided to head back but not before taking photos of Black-winged Stilts that settled quietly in the pond behind us.

Black-winged Stilts

The walk back was hotter but easier because there was no longer any pressure to find the Avocets. We chanced upon a group of egrets and some waders and also a Javan Pond Heron.

Javan Pond Heron

So, we spent approximately two hours under the sun, traipsing through brambles and hidden holes but I finally got to see Pied Avocets! Here's a short video of my latest lifers and how far they were from where I stood 😉 Enjoy it in HD! 👌

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Counting Non-Ducks

The dates for the 2017 Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) were up on the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines e-group and I found just one schedule that I was free to volunteer for: Candaba. I haven't been back to the site since I twitched the Falcated Duck and Baikal Teal last January 2016! Yes, one whole year ago!!! I signed up and was raring to go and count hundreds of birds in the marshland.

I've read the reports of birders who have visited the site last December saying that the ponds were overgrown and you couldn't see the ducks. I was hoping it wasn't THAT bad, but sadly, it was. Here are some photos I took over the years of the Candaba landscape to give you an idea of how much it has changed...
This photo was taken in January 2012

Mayor's pond in January 2015

And this is mostly what the area looks like now...

January 2017 - This used to be the pond behind the Mayor's house
(see the "tower" on the right side of the photo)

The big pond is now choked with vegetation and the surrounding areas converted to rice fields. I looked around at the count site and was saddened by how much it has changed. But, we had a job to do and so we got right down to it. But not before we got distracted by an Eastern Marsh Harrier patrolling the big pond.

Eastern Marsh Harrier (and Purple Swamphen?)

We made our groupings and assigned areas to each group and went our separate ways. The WBCP volunteers were joined by DENR personnel and LGU representatives.

Bob taking the lead before we headed to our different areas =)

I was grouped with Art, Riza, and Patty and we were joined by Ian from DENR. We drove to the back ponds and started scanning our area. There weren't really much birds since the land had been planted with rice already. Through the scope, I spotted some movement on the ground and hoped for waders, but the birds turned out to be Red-turtle Doves which seem to have proliferated in the area.

Art pointed out that there were some ducks near the old hut in the middle of the big pond and since we were done scanning our side of that particular area, we pointed our scopes to the small patches of water peeking from the plants. True enough, the ducks were there but it was very difficult getting any clear views! I saw there almost all of them were Philippine Ducks and I spotted a male Northern Pintail and some Garganey. I was beginning to get dizzy straining my eyes to see more details and spot more ducks so I tore myself away from the scope and we proceeded with our count.

Maybe if I squint really hard, the ducks will come into focus better!

Sadly, we saw more grassland birds than waders all the way until we came up the concrete highway. We did count some Little Ringed Plovers, some Kentish Plovers, a couple of Long-toed Stints, and some Common Sandpipers.
Let's play "Spot the Plovers"!

There were quite a number of Barred Rails, White-browed Crakes, White-breasted Waterhens, and even a Buff-banded Rail came out to preen. We had good views of Philippine Coucals and a Lesser Coucal while the Chestnut Munias and Striated Grassbirds were in abundance among the tall reeds of grass on both sides of the road.
Riza, Art, and Patty counting egrets far, far away.

Soon, there was nothing left to count. Zero ducks in our site, though we did see a lone Little Grebe on our drive back to the Mayor's house.
A silhouette of a Little Grebe in very harsh light

We drove back to the Mayor's house and waited for the other teams to arrive so we could tally our numbers and get the total count for this year's AWC. Not surprisingly, our counts were quite low given the change in the habitat.
There were some big numbers of non-ducks in our list. Some.

Our total for that morning reached around 2,600. But that isn't the final count as figures from the ponds in the mayor's other property haven't been tallied yet. I'm hoping the number of birds counted this year isn't too low compared to last year's count (around 5,000) but I'm not keeping my hopes up... The highest count I've experienced participating in in Candaba was in 2012 with a high count of 10,456 while the lowest was in 2013 with a count of 1,631. Let's see. I shall bite my nails anxiously awaiting our final total and seeing what becomes of the Candaba bird sanctuary and marshlands.
My team for this year's count: Patty, Riza, and Art =)

Update: The final tally just came in! The total count for the 2017 Candaba AWC is 6,466!