Bohol Birding Marathon

Being gifted with free plane tickets to Bohol courtesy of free air miles, we decided we should do two things: re-visit birding sites we've been to before and discover new ones as well.

Site #1 - New Site: Co-management Area in Talibon, Bohol
18 November (Friday) - Before leaving for Bohol, we asked my Tita if she could recommend new sites we could go to for bird watching in Bohol. The requirement: as many birds as possible! She immediately recommended Talibon. Accompanied by my two cousins, we drove almost 2 hours from Tagbilaran to the coastal municipality of Talibon and went to their environmental office to introduce ourselves (my Tita helped set up the co-management sites, which are the first ones in the country!) They were very helpful and assigned up Kuya Florencio as our guide.

We drove a few minutes into the site which were composed of drained out fishponds. We immediately saw lots of waders in the exposed mud, foraging around in small groups. With the scope out and bins ready, we identifies them as Common Redshanks, Common Sandpipers and Rufous-necked Stints! There was even a fly-by Osprey! As we further scanned the area, I spotted a couple of Black-winged Stilts on the fishponds further inland. We decided to check those out.

Wow! I could have spent the whole day there! Great Egrets, Stilts, Terek Sandpipers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and Grey Plovers were all there in the fishpond! Mixed with them were Marsh and Wood Sandpipers as well.I was listing down so many birds and thinking at the back of my mind: Hey, I'm getting lifers here! We also chanced upon a single Pond-Heron perched on a sand bag in the middle of a fishpond.

We had to leave at 4:30 but we're sure to go back and spend more time in this area. We also plan to explore the nearby islands accessible by boat from Talibon. Exciting new discovery!!!

Site #2 - Revisited Site: Villa Salvador, Catigbian, Bohol
19 November (Saturday) - Villa Salvador is the family farm my parents put up which rents out cottages and offers delicious food. It is part of the bigger property, Segura Farms. I've spent months here before becoming a birder and now that I am, I am raring to discover the birds in the farm.

We've started exploring the area last March and after getting a fantastic 47-species bird list from a group of friends who visited the farm last September, we were all too excited to go! We weren't as lucky as they were but we saw new species we weren't able to see on our previous trip. The Hooded Pittas called soooo closely to us but didn't show themselves this time. The people there told us about the pittas with chicks as well as Philippine Ducks (they call them "wild ducks") with at least 5 chicks! We just saw two Philippine Ducks in flight though. Again, we'll be back and hopefully I'll get to stay a week in the farm just birding and exploring!

Site #3 - Revisited Site: Rajah Sikatuna Park, Bilar, Bohol
20 November (Sunday) - The last time we were here, I was amazed with the birds I saw. This time, we didn't get to see some of them but our first bird of the trip was no less than a Silvery Kingfisher! Our guide, Ryan Sugala, accompanied us along the trails and also to other nearby sites. The birds were most active in the morning, but towards the afternoon, the forest was really quiet! No wonder... the rain poured heavily on us just minutes after a Steere's Pitta called loudly in front of us (still a no-show.) Wet and cold, we went back to Magsaysay Park towards dusk to look for owls. We heard a Philippine Scops Owl AND a Philippine Eagle Owl calling but weren't fortunate enough to see them. We drove home still owl-less. *sigh* Another reason to keep coming back!

Site #4 - New Site: Mangrove Boardwalk, Maribojoc, Bohol
21 November (Monday) - On our way to the airport, we decided to drop by the town on Maribojoc and check out their new mangrove boardwalk. The site we visited was one of a couple being constructed and has a huge potential for birding. We arrived a little past 8AM and the sun was really shining full-force on us. We could hear bird calls from the mangroves but were unable to see the birds. We stayed for around 15 minutes only (lest we miss our flight!) The owner told us about birds they see in the mangroves: egrets, kingfishers, herons and Philippine Ducks! We really have to discover this area soon!

As we were on the plane going home to Manila, I started re-writing our bird lists from the birding marathon we just finished over the weekend: 10 lifers, 2 new sites, and so much more reasons to go back to Bohol.

I'll Do My Birding in the Rain

Oh yes, I am singing that line to the tune of the Everly Brothers' "Crying In The Rain". 

Last weekend, despite forecasts of heavy rains, Jops, Jun, Jelaine and I (yes, I was Jaiabird for the day) trooped to Los BaƱos, Laguna to bird in Mt. Makiling and some surrounding sites. The morning was cloudy but we were blessed with sunny patches and just a couple of light rain showers (more on this on my previous post). We came down the trail half past noon and went straight to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) canteen for lunch. Half-way through my curried vegetables and beef with gravy, it started to rain.

I think we were all silently praying that it was only a passing downpour. But as we packed away our plates and trays, the rain hadn't stopped but had at least weakened into a fine shower. We walked towards the back of the building where we were parked and were pleasantly surprised to discover the field dotted with birds!

We took refuge from the rain and settled in one of the concrete sheds just beside the field. We got out our binoculars, scope and cameras, notebooks, field guides and cupcakes and just watched. 

It was quite pleasant for me, sitting there staring out onto the green, enjoying the cool wind and occasional spray of rain, knowing there were birds on the field. They were Richard's Pipits and some Yellow Wagtails. They were standing in the rain, looking for food in the wet soil. Some birds were bathing in the puddles too! There were also some White-breasted Woodswallows and swallows flying above and around us. A couple of Brown Shrikes would dive down onto the grass, easily pick out a worm from the ground and fly back to a nearby perch to eat. Curiously, the Shrikes did not prey on a frog who was hopping just a few inches from them as they landed on the ground. We concluded that the Brown Shrikes of IRRI prefer a diet of worms than a meaty frog.

I really enjoyed the hour we spent there, waiting for the rain to stop. It was a nice, cool break from all the walking we did up the Mt. Makiling trail that morning. I usually don't take a nap after lunch but I almost fell asleep if not for the birds that refused to leave the field even though it was raining.

When Mariang Makiling Smiled on Us...

The weather forecast predicted heavy rains for that day, but our morning hike up the Mt. Makiling trail was sunny with just a couple of light rain showers. I felt Mariang Makiling, the guardian of the mountain according to Philippine folklore, smiling on us. As the sunlight filtered through the trees, I had to smile back =) 
Cheers, Mariang Makiling! Thank you!

It was raining quite hard when I woke up at 3AM. A text from a friend based in Los Banos informed me that it had been raining the whole day yesterday and it looks like its going to be raining that day too. But, knowing my companions, I was pretty sure we'd still push through with our planned trip to Mt. Makiling. I got up and got ready.

It was almost 7AM when we arrived at the UP Los Banos campus but the sun still wasn't out. We already laid out a Plan B just in case it rained. No more trail if it rained. But it didn't =)

TREES was very quiet but a mixed flock of Stripe-headed Rhabdornis and Coleto flew in for a few minutes and a couple of Balicassiao stopped for a while too. We then started on the trail.

Our party going up the Mt. Makiling trail
This was my third time going up Mt. Makiling. Both times, we had to go back down before reaching the "bukohan" area. Jops and I were determined to reach it this time, providing it wouldn't rain. So, up the trail we went with Jun and Jelaine. I honestly wasn't expecting any lifers. Mt. Makiling can appear quite devoid of birds on some instances and the weather wasn't really ideal for lots of birds. But I kept my fingers crossed.

As we made our way up the mountain, the sun started to come out and I could see patches of sunlight on the trail. Sometimes, the forest would come alive with bird calls. We spotted a mixed flock of Elegant Tit, Philippine Bulbul and a Sulphur-billed Nuthatch --> lifer for Jun! And Jelaine!

Further along the trail, we heard a sharp and very loud call. "Scale Feathered Malkoha!" Jun exclaimed excitedly. After a few minutes, he spotted the bird and pointed our lifer to us! Thanks Jun! Such a fantastic (and kinda strange-looking) bird! The bird stayed a while hopping from one perch to another, preening its feathers along the way. We were even able to show it to a family hiking up the trail! After some time, it flew further back into the trees where we could still hear its calls but could no longer see it. I would definitely want to observe this bird again and again!

Further up the trail, we encountered a couple of light rain showers but not even strong enough for me to take out my umbrella. We finally made it to the bukohan at around 11AM. Third time's a charm! We celebrated our feat with... fresh buko juice! =)

More than any lifers, this bukohan was my target for the morning =P
The walk back down was quick (probably because we were getting hungry) and almost uneventful save for a couple of Crested Serpent Eagles that perched quite near us on two separate instances. We heard the Spotted Wood Kingfishers but weren't able to spot them. We were all wishing for the Philippine Trogons to show, but they didn't show too as well as the Colasisis who chose to just keep flying by.

We reached the parking area past noon and we were all starving. We saw less than 10 species of birds up the trail but I was so grateful for that one special lifer and the fact that it didn't rain! As I got in the car, I looked back at the trail and once again said my thank you to Mariang Makiling. 'Til our next climb =)

Trying Hard

Hey, at least I tried. =)

My practice model for the afternoon: Mr. Blue Rock-Thrush
I haven't really tried bird photography in earnest. I admit I am intimidated with the technical aspect of it and having major limitations in terms of gear, somehow elevates the "challenge" factor. But I would LOVE to take wonderful photos of  wild birds like so many of my friends do. Looking at them in action and seeing their photos... wow. They make it look so easy! But there is always that silent wish that I could capture these beautiful birds and do them justice in photographs I could take.

So, after seeing the Blue Rock-Thrush pretty close-up, playing with its food just a couple of days ago, I decided to go back alone and try photographing it. As I was driving to the site, the sky darkened and there was a foreboding of strong rain. As I parked, some fine raindrops began to fall and the sky was getting darker still. I scanned the area, watching out for the bird in the grass, on some shrubs, on the large tree. It wasn't there. I turned around to face the building and immediately saw a figure of a bird, standing tall atop the roof. A quick look through my bins confirmed that it was the male BRT. I gave it a few minutes, silently wishing it would fly and perch anywhere near me. But as the sky grew darker and the bird not moving from its perch, I sighed, took one last look at it through my bins and went in the car. I started the engine and with my head down, told myself it was ok. When I looked up through the wind shield, there it was: Mr. Blue Rock-Thrush perched just in front of me!

I turned off the engine. It didn't move.
I opened my door. It didn't move.
I ever so sloooowly got out of the car. It. Didn't. Move!!!

Crouching to be at level with the car, I pointed my D40 with a 28-300mm borrowed lens from Jops and tried my very best to remember what Sir Alain and Sir Rey talked about during their bird photography lecture at the Philippine Bird Festival: ISO. Shutter speed. Aperture. Oh my god it's too dark! No light! What do I do when it's too dark? (Was it pack up and leave?) It's starting to rain!!! Nooo!

I managed to get a few shots. As in: few. After a few minutes, it flew down to the grass, hopped around a bit before it flew away out of sight just as the drizzle got stronger. I got back in the car, excited to see what I got. And I got.... lots of blurred pictures.

I initially got lots of suuuper blurry pictures like this:

I also had lots of shaky pictures like this (no thanks to my pasmado hands and the hour I spent playing the guitar earlier that afternoon!):

I got semi-blurred images of the BRT. I'm so thankful it stayed that long on its perch right in front of the car!

And this was the best shot I got of it. Not as sharp as I'd want it to be but I do need to practice.

Oh well, I was happy enough being able to practice on such a handsome subject who posed so close to me! And I'm happy I tried very hard =)