Two Candaba Lifers and a Reptilian Road Block

Upon hearing the news from friend and WBCP member Felix that the roads to the Candaba Wetlands Bird Sanctuary were now passable even to sedans, we immediately planned our trip for the following day. The drive was easy and the roads dry and firm. When we arrived at around 7AM, farmers were already starting to work in the fields. Some of the paddies along the road were dry with cracked mud and so no waders were seen, except for a lone Common Sandpiper, as we drove up to the mayor's house. The grassy area was filled with hundreds of roosting Black-crowned Night Herons and Grey Herons, carefully hidden among the reeds. But once you focus your binoculars on the area, they suddenly "pop out" and become visible.

The ponds beside the mayor's house were filled with water but were relatively quiet. Except for the Red Turtle-Doves and Zebra Doves along the path and the occasional Yellow Bittern and Purple Swamphen, no other birds were seen. Photos of birds now line the area. 

We walked towards the right side of the mayor's house where we could see more Grey Herons roosting with some Purple Herons standing among the tall grasses. Walking further along the road, we flushed out more bitterns and some White-breasted Waterhens. Reaching the curb, we saw egrets in some rice paddies. There were about 20 of them, and I was starting to feel a bit disappointed. Where were the huge flocks of Candaba? As we turned the curb, I got my answer. Hundreds of egrets and terns could be seen in the fields in front of us. As we scanned the area, we were excited to see hundreds of ducks just behind the white wall of egrets! We hustled towards the area for closer views and to ID the sea of brown. But even before we could get a closer look, the huge flock took to the skies and flew to a farther pond. We were amazed at the huge flock covering the sky! Jops and I quickly back tracked to head to the pond where they settled in.

En route, we passed by a smaller pond where we saw a small group of Tufted Ducks. On the other side of the road was a larger pond where a flock of around 180 Wandering Whistling Ducks would fly around, land on the water, fly up again before settling down among the reeds. We were also entertained by the aerial battle between an Eastern Marsh Harrier and a much smaller raptor (which we weren't able to identify, tsk.) But is was the first time we were able to see raptors soaring and diving with talons aimed at each other. A Grey Heron also did a solo "dance" for us in the air =)

Can you see the heads of the Wandering Whistling Ducks?

As we neared the large pond, we saw two WBCP members Raul and Riza already scanning the area. A few minutes later, Alex and Cel, also WBCP members arrived. Here, we saw thousands of ducks in the water: Philippine Ducks, Garganeys, Northern Shovelers and our two lifers of the trip: Northern Pintails and a male Common Pochard! The mixed flock was amazing to watch! Jops and I, with the help of Alex and Cel, did a count and came up with an approximate total of 3,000 birds in that single pond! (They would see thousands more in another pond!)

Just a portion of the view of the thousands of ducks we saw

After doing our counts, Jops and I decided to walk back to the mayor's house through the bamboo hides on the other side of the fishponds. We stopped to view the Wandering Whistling Ducks again before entering the path leading back to where we parked the car.

Walking in between two walls made of bamboo, we could peep through windows into the ponds on both sides. Sadly for us, there were few birds to be seen in that area that day. Almost halfway along the path, we saw a White-throated Kingfisher fly from the pond on the right and perch near the bamboo wall in front of us. We slowly crept up to the area where it landed and took a peek through the nearest window...

We weren't able to spot the kingfisher so we started to move forward, Jops going ahead of me. Just a few steps from where we stopped, I noticed a "log" that was slowly moving our way (take note: LOG not branch!) Yikes! The log had a head! And beautiful yellow markings! I calmly asked Jops to come back slowly towards me. I think he noticed the seriousness and calm urgency in my voice because he did as he was told but was already looking around him, asking what was wrong. As soon as he was beside me, I pointed out the huuuuge snake crawling beside the bamboo wall headed straight at us! I couldn't believe our luck!

We backed up a bit more and observed what the snake would do next. It started to raise its head towards the bamboo wall, as if trying to find an opening. It would also crawl forward and try to crawl under the bamboo. We backed up a bit more. I asked Jops if he wanted to turn back and go back the way we came, but explained that the snake obviously wanted to go to the pond and we could just wait for it to find its way. He bravely said we should wait and push forward once the snake went away. So, we set up the spotting scope and enjoyed the beautiful markings on the 8-foot long reticulated python blocking our path.

We watched as it slowly inspected the bamboo wall blocking its way to the pond...

We watched as it found a way through the bamboo wall and slithered slowly towards the pond...
We stayed until the tip of its tail disappeared through the bamboo wall and it was completely gone from our sight...

When it was gone, we both breathed a sigh of relief and after a couple of minutes, trudged on. Of course we were more alert and kept our eyes on the trail lest we step on any more pythons crossing our path! =)

Discovering Wawa Dam

I have just spent most of my day in the Pamitinan Protected Landscape. I bet most of you don't know this place I am talking about. After my day there, I am quite shocked to know that most Manila and Quezon City-based folks, myself included, have been going around not knowing of this beautiful and historic place! 

Miss Meyan of the Gaia Exploration Club (GEC) invited members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines to go birding in the site to do a bird survey and some caving afterwards. Joining us were the protected area superintendent, representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and some local barangay officials. Even in the early pre-dawn rain, our group drove to Rodriguez, Rizal (formerly Montalban) to discover and re-discover (for some of us) the place. 

Approximately an hour's drive away from the Quezon Memorial Circle, the Pamitinan Protected Landscape includes the sites of the Wawa Dam, the Montalban Gorge and the Pamitinan Cave. We were greeted with mist-covered mountains as we parked our convoy at the entrance to the trails. Here you can already see large, white limestone rocks and a short walk reveals a rushing river coming from the dam.

We were met by the rest of our party at the parking area and after giving a brief introduction to birdwatching, we made our way up the trail. The dam greeted us with the loud sound of falling water pouring into a ravine. The Wawa Dam was built by the American's in 1903 and became operational in 1909 where it used to supply water to nearby places. The dam was closed in the early 1960's and its services were replaced by the much larger La Mesa Dam.

The Wawa Dam

Past the dam and the almost deafening sound of the water, the surroundings suddenly become quiet and the trail opens up into the riverbanks. As one looks back at the dam, you can now see more clearly the Montalban Gorge. This narrow valley is the origin of the Philippine legend of Bernardo Carpio, who is said to be trapped in between the mountains (or holding them apart ala-Atlas) and is the cause of earthquakes.

The Montalban Gorge

Houses line the side of the trail but the opposite side remains mostly uninhabited and we could hear coucals and tailorbirds calling from the trees. Some of us saw a small flock of Elegant Tits in the area.

Birding along the trail

Along the trail, we saw an Indigo-banded Kingfisher, seemingly undisturbed by nearby human activity. We also saw a Common Kingfisher and a White-throated Kingfisher.

A male Indigo-banded Kingfisher

Even though there were quite a number of houses along the trail, we were able to see some Scale-feathered Malkohas and an immature Crested Serpent Eagle in their backyard trees! Also seen in a mixed flock were pretty Elegant Tits, Black-naped Monarchs and even a Purple-throated Sunbird!

Immature Crested Serpent Eagle

After more than two hours birding, our group walked back to the parking lot where most of us would be getting ready for their caving adventure in the Pamitinan Cave. This cave, one of the many in the area, is the site where Andres Bonifacio and seven other Katipuneros met way back in 1895, inscribed their names on the walls and formalized their fight for Philippine independence. As a teacher, I wondered why schools don't conduct their field trips here. Students don't (and shouldn't) have to go inside the caves. They only need to see for themselves how far the revolution reached and how real it was by seeing this concrete piece of our history.

Two cave openings seen just by the entrance, before the dam

I personally chickened out and didn't join the group of brave birder-cavers (yes, I admit it.) But hearing their stories and seeing some of their photos from inside the cave was enough of a caving experience for me. =)

After having lunch and drawing up our bird list, we said our thanks and goodbyes to the friendly people who accompanied us in our Wawa Dam adventure. We will definitely be back and are planning to stay a whole day birding.!

To bird and/or go caving in the Pamitinan Protected Landscape, one must secure a permit from their Tourism Office. Send me a message if interested. It's worth exploring!

Bored Birder in a Bank

I found myself in a long line in a bank the other day. There were more than 10 people ahead of me and the line was moving verrrry slowly. I wasn’t able to bring a book to read and bringing out my phone in the bank to play Sudoku was out of the question. I finished singing a Christmas carol quietly and still the line had barely moved. I stared blankly at the bank’s initials in large, blue letters on the wall behind the tellers and my brain suddenly started imagining birds perched on each letter.

But as I was starting to “choose” which birds should be perched, I decided that the birds on each letter should have names beginning with that specific letter. Nice! It started out quite easily and made waiting in line more tolerable, if not fun. But it got quite challenging with some letters though. The letters and words on the wall read: "BDO We find ways". Here’s what I came up with:

B – Blue Fantail. There are lots of birds starting with the letter B but it was a toss up between the Blue Fantail or the Blue-headed Fantail.

D – Dollarbird. This was the first bird that came to mind. It had it perched on D in all its metallic beauty.

O – Olive-backed Sunbird. I want to put the Philippine Oriole but I decided to be strict about it and have birds with first names that begin with that specific letter.

W – White Wagtail. Of course! It’s my newest lifer!

E – Elegant Tit. I think this was the first and only E bird I could think of.

F – Ferruginous Flycatcher. Got me thinking if I would ever get the chance to see this bird again in UP.

I – Indigo-banded Kingfisher. I haven't seen this bird in a while...

N – Narcissus Flycatcher. Female. Not that it should really matter, but in this case it does. I still haven't seen the male Narcissus, so I perched a female for now. (the bird in the link is the male Narcissus)

D  - Hmm. D. Dollarbird is already perched... Hmm. I couldn't think of any other D bird!

W – White-breasted Woodswallow. I perched a couple of them on W =)

A – Asian Golden Plover. One of my favorite waders especially in their breeding plumage.

Y – Yellow-vented Bulbul. Yes, it deserved a perch in the bank, being the urban bird that it is.

S – Scale-feathered Malkoha. One of my latest and more unique-looking lifers to cap off the bird "display" in my head.

Voila! Beautiful birds atop a bank's display and I was third in line already =) I think I'll be playing this "game" more often...

A Lifer in Black and White

I thought I saw a White Wagtail once. But I was never convinced a hundred percent it was indeed a White Wagtail. It was scribbled with a big question mark in my notebook.

Just last month, Jops and I saw small groups of Yellow Wagtails in rice paddies during our last trip to Bohol, and some of them had mostly white bodies convincing me more that the bird I saw wasn't a White Wagtail. After reading my birder friend Trinket's blog about seeing hundreds of Yellow Wagtails in various plumage, including white,  I finally wrote it off my life list. Reports of seeing White Wagtails in Batanes convinced me I wouldn't be seeing this bird anytime soon.

Almost a week after I erased it from my list, White Wagtails were reported and photographed in the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City. I couldn't believe it. I had just written off this bird and suddenly, here comes a perfect opportunity to actually see it! And in a location not even 30 minutes away from my home!

We waited patiently for the weekend to come. That was a full four days of waiting since the sighting was initially reported and of seeing more and more pictures being posted by friends who have seen and photographed the birds. Tito Bob K. and Trinket have also blogged about them!

Trinket, Jops and I arrived at the park at 7AM. We found Sir Bong already positioned in the area, reviewing some photos on his camera. He had just photographed the bird a few minutes before we arrived. And it had now flown away. More birder friends started to arrive and we each took a spot facing the wire fence which separated the vermiculture area from the actual spillway. (We offered our unsolicited pruning services for the vines crawling up the wire fence too.)

Patient birders waiting for the black and white migratory birds to arrive

We waited an hour and a half and still no White Wagtails. We did get to see a Colasisi, a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Brown Shrikes, fly-by Ospreys, Little Egrets, a Common Sandpiper, a Little Heron, some White-collared Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails. A Common Kingfisher made a very brief appearance and stayed hidden from view. Jops couldn't keep still any longer and decided to walk to the other side of the parking area, of course with the request that we call him on his cell phone should the White Wagtails appear. 

Just a minute after he left the area, two White Wagtails flew in! I quickly focused my bins on the birds and with one hand pulled out my phone and dialled his number. He dropped my call and as I looked back at the parking area, I saw a flash of brown running towards us. I pointed to where the birds were and we all admired these gorgeous black and white lifers.

Digiscoped  photos by Jops

The two individuals were different. One had a solid black color on the top of its head, running down up to its nape. It's back and wings were grey. It had a black kidney-shaped bib across its white chest (this is the bird in all the photos here.) The other bird had a lighter, grey color on top of its head and its bib was smaller, almost heart-shaped (sorry, no pics of this one.) Could they be a female and an immature White Wagtail? Need to study them more later =)

More digiscoped photos by Jops of the White Wagtail

The birds stayed awhile, even bullying and stealing food from a Grey Wagtail who was trying to eat his meal in peace. The White Wagtails also chased away a White-collared Kingfisher who flew into their area! As the wagtails flew off, so did us birders... satisfied with seeing our target bird for that morning.

When I settled down at home, I was able to write the White Wagtail leucopsis ssp. officially as my lifer. The subspecies in Batanes will have to wait. =)


Adjective:     Reddish brown in color.
Noun:            A reddish brown color.
Synonyms:    rubiginous - russet

I have only birded in Subic twice. The first time was with a group of friends where I saw around 30 species and got myself 3 lifers: Blue-naped Parrot (I don't think I'm fond of parrots...) and forever WOW-birds: White-bellied Woodpeckers and Sooty Woodpeckers. That was an overnight trip but was unfortunately marred by rainy weather, so we did not get to see most of what the patches of forests Subic has to offer.

That first trip was before I developed the habit of listing down birds species that have been recorded in the place I would be visiting. But I did keep my eyes out for the woodpeckers =) So, when our birder friend Adri stopped our convoy for a Rufous Coucal, I didn't really expect that it would be such a hard bird to spot and see completely! All I saw back then were flashes of orangey-brown feathers gliding from one side of the road and into the thick trees and bushes on the other side. That was it. The end. Moving on. Let it go.

After that, the Rufous Coucal became a "need-to-see" bird for me the next time I found myself in Subic.

Last weekend, we were travelling back home to Manila after a two-day birding trip in Masinloc, Zambales.  When the opportunity of a quickie side-trip to the Nabasan Trail in Subic "presented" itself to us birders in the van, I was so happy we took it. "Rufous Coucal" in hot, glowing letters immediately flashed in my head.

We had very limited time, arriving at the trail around 4:30 in the afternoon, so we didn't bother to walk and just drove through. We saw Whiskered Treeswifts, Dollarbirds and lots of Blue-throated Bee-eaters! My brain was so tired from the long roadtrip, that I was already zoning out when the van abruptly stopped and the excited whisper of "Rufous Coucal!" was heard. I don't even remember who said it! 

We stopped the van and all got out to check the rustling of leaves above us. And there it was, in all its rufous glory: a Rufous Coucal. There was more rustling in the area and we discovered there were more of them! (I actually mistook one as a squirrel, since its head was covered and it was creeping up a branch, until I saw the feathers on its tail!) We also saw a Philippine Coucal near the group of Rufous Coucals. It was a coucal party! Then, one at a time, they glided from the trees above us to the other side of the road. I think there were at least 10 of them! The scene was jaw-dropping for me. Instead of "coolness", I think the more appropriate reaction would be "rufousness!"

PS1 - Before leaving the trail (just about 30 minutes after we got there), we spotted a male Tarictic Hornbill and a White-bellied Woodpecker!

PS2 - My glowing Rufous Coucal logo courtesy of Cool Text: Logo and Graphics Generator