Birding Side-Trip #2

Another opportunity for side-trip birding opened up when I wanted to visit my paternal grandparents' graves in Tarlac for All Souls Day. Usually, our whole family drives up to Tarlac to spend time with them at the family mausoleum. But this year, having our helper still en route back from a vacation, our family had to go home in batches. Jops and I were batch 1.

We chose to pass through the Capas road going to Tarlac City. We've been reading good birding stories from this place and so we drove through the Barangay O'Donnell road instead of the main high way or the SCTEX.

The Capas Memorial Shrine

This back road was lined with dry grasslands and rice paddies. This afforded us good views of Bright-capped Cisticolas, Striated Grassbirds and the occasional Lesser Coucal just feet away from the car. We drove very slowly hoping for rails or quails to cross the road, but sadly there were none that morning. There was quite a number of motorcycles, tricycles and trucks passing through the road.

We stopped at rice paddies to look for waders and at our first stop, I got my lifer! A pretty Wood Sandpiper (though it could have been a male)! It was feeding in one paddy while Pied Bushchats, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Long-tailed Shrikes flew in the area. Arctic Warblers flitted among the branches of the tree beside us while a White-Eared Brown-Dove sat for a few seconds before flying away. I have to say, rice paddies and wetlands are fast becoming my favorite birding sites!

One of the paddies we stopped at to bird.

We stopped at a small paddy, just beside the road and spotted some waders in the mud. Some farmers who were taking a break were looking curiously at us, so we called them over and showed them some plates from our Kennedy field guide. We told them we were also on the lookout for the Watercock and showed them the illustration. Their faces lit up with recognition but they told us we were too late! They said these birds came out from the tall reeds early in the morning. They said there were lots of them in the area. They told me they were delicious =P

We drove on since we were planning to go to the Tarlac Ecopark in San Jose City before going to Tarlac to visit the cemetery. On our last stop, we spotted some birds that looked like quails! Alas, the birds walked into the grass and didn't come out again. Our first quails would have to wait. But we did see a beautiful Yellow Wagtail preening atop a stick.

Yellow Wagtail
When we arrived at the Tarlac Ecopark, it was an hour before noon (we spent so much time in the O'Donnell road!) We heard some Guaiaberos and saw one fly by. As we were walking, I saw another fly away from a fruiting guava tree just in front of us! Aaargh! It was so close and very well camouflaged among the leaves! So, we sat in the grass, waiting for it to show itself, surrounded by so many different bird songs! For a while,  the area was so noisy with bird calls... some familiar and some completely new to us! Then, the singing died down and we were left with the not so distant calls of the Guaiabero who decided not to come back down to the guava tree.

A nice spot in the Tarlac Ecopark
We walked further down the park and we were able to get close-up views of a mixed flock of Elegant Tit, Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Bulbul and some Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. I was also given a treat of observing a Black-naped Monarch for quite some time. We stayed for an hour and a half before heading down to Tarlac City and for the main purpose of our trip. Next time we go home, I'll make sure to go birding in the family's mango orchard and see what birds are in that magical place from my childhood.

Birding Side-Trip #1

Sometimes, you find yourself having to do something and that opens up an opportunity for a birding side-trip. This past week, I was lucky enough to find myself birding in two new sites and getting one lifer from each! Our first birding side-trip was in Cavite State University.

Jops was invited to give a talk in Tagaytay and he thought it would be a perfect chance for a birding side-trip in the Cavite State University campus. His talk was scheduled in the afternoon, so that afforded us a whole morning of birding. He'd been there numerous times before for work and has been telling me that it was a good birding site. He got some lifers there before! So, we packed our bags and drove south.

Some of the trees in the pool area
The campus is big and in some portions, still dense with trees. We birded in the area of the swimming pool, which was basically a deserted portion of the university. Some pools had no water in them and since it was already the semestral break, there were almost no students on campus.

From the gated entrance, the path leading down to the pools reminded me of the trail of Mt. Makiling. Large trees lined the path and bird calls could be heard all around. I could already see Philippine Bulbuls flying among the trees!

We reached the steps leading down to the pools and here we saw a large fruiting tree! Within minutes, we spotted Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Lowland White-eyes, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and more Philippine Bulbuls.

Half-way down the steps, I saw a couple of birds perch on the small tree above us. From their form, they looked like munias... best guess: Scaly-breasted Munias. I trained my binoculars to where they were perched and I felt my heart beat faster as I saw their white bellies lined with brown speckles! LIFER! I didn't expect to get any lifers on the trip but there they were, perched just meters above me!

Further down by the empty pool, a couple of White-throated Kingfishers perched on a tree, occasionally swooping down to grab an earthworm before perching again and enjoying its meal. (Observing this quite large kingfisher, whacking the worm against the tree branch made me wonder if the earthworm was actually putting up a fight.)

We also got nice views of a Black-naped Monarch in the same tree!

I chose to sit half-way down the steps, enjoying the eye-level view of the fruiting tree while Jops made his way down to the pool area. I just sat there taking in the views of the Stripe-headed Rhabdornis feeding above me. Such beautiful markings!

Stripe-headed Rhabdornis. Photo by Jops (taken in Subic)

We birded in other areas of the campus but had to cut the trip short since we had to travel to Tagaytay City for the main purpose of this trip: Jops' Globe Negostar talk. It would be great to go back and explore the area more. WBCP club trip maybe? =)

Jops' Globe Negostar talk!

Birding side-trip #2, coming up!

Birdwatching on the Local News!

The recent birdwatching activity organized by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines in the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City was featured by a GMA7 news team. They were able to see some birders in action and interview kids who were first time birdwatchers. Hearing the kids talk about birdwatching made me smile and gave me much affirmation that we are indeed doing something good =) 

Here's the video that came out on the local news a few days ago...

A Ruddy Good Morning!


Adjective: Having a healthy red color

I remember looking at the kingfishers plate in my Kennedy Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. I remember staring at the illustrations of the Stork-billed Kingfishers and beside them, the Ruddy Kingfishers, surprised at their large size and their large bills compared to the other kingfishers. I also remember saying to myself: "Good luck, Maia if you get to see these birds!" (especially upon reading the word "uncommon" at the start of their descriptions.) So, I didn't really think I'd see a Ruddy Kingfisher this year. But I did. Just before lunch today.

When reports and photos of a Ruddy Kingfisher sighted in Quezon City came out recently, I got excited at the possibility of seeing this bird (although there still was this tiny voice that said "Don't get your hopes up too much!") Jops and I didn't schedule a twitching trip, no matter how close to home the sighting was. We were gearing up for a birdwatching activity in La Mesa Ecopark this Sunday but I guess the Ruddy Kingfisher was at the back of our minds the past few days. So, when we found a couple of hours free this Saturday morning, we decided to give in and check if we would be lucky enough to see it.

It was already 11AM when we reached the area where the bird was spotted and I needed to be back home for lunch! I said a silent prayer and scanned the trees. Brown Shrike. Yellow-vented Bulbul. Another Brown Shrike. Time check: 11:15. No Ruddy. We also kept our eyes open for the Spotted Wood Kingfisher recently spotted in the area. Negative. SOS Sir JV. =)

With more directions so generously sent our way (thank you Sir JV!), we backtracked a bit and immediately saw a reddish bird flying among the trees. The Ruddy! After a few minutes of scanning, we finally saw it perched with its back towards us. Its back was a solid reddish brown color with some blue peeking out on its rump. The bird suddenly faced us and allowed us to admire the fine markings/barring on its white throat and chest and, of course, its huge orange bill! It was just too bad that it was perched too far back for a good photograph.

It transferred once more, much closer to us but partially covered. This time we could only see its head and neck. But what a wonderful view! I could clearly see its eyes and the white patch running down the side of its neck. 

Jops' documentary shot of the immature Ruddy Kingfisher

It flew deeper into the trees and we could no longer see it. We waited a bit for it to come out again. Time check: 11:45. I really needed to go! So, very thankful that we were able to see it, we said goodbye to our lifer for the day with a silent promise to come back and spend more time with it. With 15 minutes left before noon, I can say it was a very ruddy good morning!

Back to Basics

I have been wanting to write about the wonderful week I spent in Negros Oriental but I honestly don't know where to start! So I will fast forward to my birding adventures back here in Manila the past weeks. We revisited the more familiar sites we frequented as we were newly fledged birders. After exploring the unique wonders of Negros, we went back to the "basics."

Lots of Little and Great Egrets!
Coastal Lagoon. We, or rather I, wasn't able to visit any mudflats during our stay in Negros and was feeling deprived of waders. So the first birding trip on our list was the Coastal Lagoon. I don't know why but I have this new fascination for them no matter how difficult most of them may be to ID. We stopped at the fishing wharf and  saw hundreds of egrets and terns and lots of waders on the exposed mudflats too! We went a few days after the storm and thanks to the mangroves, the area did not suffer any damage from any storm surge (unlike the area of Roxas Blvd..) We saw lots of Asian Golden Plovers and was able to get a lifer: a Marsh Sandpiper!

My first Ruddy Turnstone turning stones!!!
We proceeded to the Coastal Lagoon and saw that the storm had washed more garbage up the beach as well as on the path leading to the inner ponds. The low tide allowed us great views of another lifer for me, a Ruddy Turnstone! I could have stayed there all day watching it busily turning rocks on the beach! We scoped out the beach and were able to spot some waders foraging in all that waste (it's quite a sad sight.) After a few minutes of scanning the trash, Jops, Mark Jason, Jelaine and Ned were able to spot a Sanderling! They all saw it! Except for me! Note to self: go back asap!

UP Beta Way. I have always birded in this place and come back regularly to check on what surprises it may show me (like the Oriental Cuckoo a few months back.) This time, we found the place full of Brown Shrikes! There was also a flock of Lowland White-eyes in the area and White-collared Kingfishers calling from afar.

UP NIGS. We revisited the site of our first guided trip and I was quite saddened with all the construction going on. The central portion which used to be home for Striated Grassbirds was now walled in and... gone. We didn't see the resident Long-talied Shrikes in the area too. Hmmm.

UP Hardin ng Rosas. The last time I went here the place was overgrown and you couldn't see the pond and rice fields. But last weekend, the place was clear enough to bird in! We saw a Common Kingfisher trying its best to swallow quite a large fish until it dropped it and flew away. There were some egrets in the rice fields too as well as a single Java Sparrow. The Peregrine Falcon also made an appearance and we were able to spot a Common Sandpiper in a muddy patch!

Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (photo by Jops)
La Mesa Ecopark. We've been wanting to scout this place for other birdy areas and we were able to do so last Sunday. We also kept an eye out for the family of Ashy Ground Thrushes but were unable to spot them. Lots of trees were felled by the storm and others had lots of broken branches. We went on through the trail and were able to see a beautiful Mangrove Blue Flycatcher perched just in front of us as well as a Red-bellied Pitta a bit far off from its "usual" area. A brief sighting of an immature Brush Cuckoo sent my heart palpitating!

These, for me, are my "basic" birding sites. I wish for everyone to have these kinds of birding places, where you can rush to on a sunny weekend morning or when you just feel the need to bird. After going on an adventure, it was nice to go back to the familiar places and rediscover them again.