The Scaly Thrush Teaches Me A Lesson

It was the first time I really felt frustrated with the lack of birds. My companions and I were in the La Mesa Ecopark for some post-Christmas birding and I was hoping for the best. The park wasn't so full and the trails were almost deserted except for us and the occasional passerby. But all we saw after a couple of hours birding were Black-naped Orioles and Brown Shrikes. Good thing we saw an Osprey in flight on our way into the trail. 

We moved further into the trail hoping to see the Red-bellied or Hooded Pittas, but the surroundings were so quiet. A light rain would fall in intervals, alternating with songs from unseen Golden-bellied Flyeaters and yes, more Orioles. Good thing the Ashy Ground-Thrushes were a bit active that morning or else I would have felt really down.

We rounded the trail without seeing any additional birds. No Mangrove Blue Flycatchers. No Tailorbirds. No Crakes. No Pittas. Not even a Yellow-vented Bulbul! I was really beginning to feel sad. I decided to take our birder friend, Tinggay's advice to actually talk to the birds. I did (quietly.) I talked to the Red-bellied Pittas hiding in the brush to show themselves even for a few seconds. They didn't.

By this time, I was feeling really sad already so when it was suggested that we leave the trail to bird somewhere else in the park, I just pouted and followed my fellow birders as they started walking out the trail. There wouldn't be any more birds this morning.

It was then when a bird decided to teach me a lesson: no matter how frustrating and hopeless a situation may seem, God has something much, much better in store for you.

Walking out the trail, I saw what looked like a gigantic wader atop a fallen log. It flew off into the trees as soon as we stopped to take a better look. We followed it and saw a huge bird foraging on the ground. It was speckled... the spots looking like burnt fish scales. That's when it hit, we were actually looking at a Scaly Ground-Thrush (White's Thrush).

It was very easily flushed, flying off even when we were standing really still. I wasn't able to take a docu shot of my lifer before it flew away. Along the trail, we bumped into Bram and Kath. While we were waiting and scanning the area for the larger thrush, Bram saw a Red-bellied Pitta who apparently decided to answer my request earlier that morning and posed for their cameras. 

I guess talking to the birds really helps. I started talking to the Scaly Ground-Thrush (White's Thrush), this time asking permission for us to photograph it. We saw it one last time, perched a few meters above the ground, before we finally headed out the park. 

Thank you, Scaly Ground-Thrush, for teaching me the lesson I needed to learn the most =) 

Candaba Before Christmas

Two days before Christmas Day, I was enjoying the cool wind and picturesque landscape of Candaba in Pampanga. Away from the traffic, crowds, malls, and groceries, the quiet, laid back countryside was perfect for clearing one's mind, even for just an afternoon.

The relaxing landscape of Candaba.

The hanging Amihan (Northeastern monsoon winds) was blowing cool and strong that afternoon, as we birders scoped out Black-winged Stilts, Great and Little Egrets, Whiskered Terns, and some waders.

Some Black-winged Stilts and a Little Egret foraging for food.

Aside from the waders and egrets, around us were Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Yellow Bitterns, and lots of White-breasted Waterhens. We moved closer to the Mayor's house and along the way found a pond with ducks in it. We were hoping we'd still see the Common Shelduck which Jops and I were able to successfully twitch earlier in the month. Unfortunately, the Shelduck wasn't anywhere to be seen that afternoon. We did see some Little Grebes and some ducks: Philippine Ducks, Northern Shovellers, Wandering Whistling Ducks, Green-winged Teals, and Garganeys. Most were hiding in the reeds though.

A Philippine Duck (the large one in the center) and some
Tufted Ducks (the male has the whiter/paler chest.)

Most of the ducks were settled in the reeds.
(There's a male Green-winged Teal hiding in the middle of the photo.)

It was an easy afternoon of birding. We saw a hundred Grey Herons flying above us and saw even larger flocks of egrets flying over the marsh. Huge flocks taking flight is always an amazing sight to see! 

Egrets flying over the marsh.

Aside from the huge flocks, the highlights of the trip for me were seeing a Black Bittern in plain view and spotting a nesting Purple Heron. It was a nest lifer for me =)

The Purple Heron would stand and re-arrange some twigs on its nest...

.... before settling down again.
We found our way to the Mayor's house and birded a bit more in the area until the sun set. Our last bird for the day was a Purple Swamphen perched atop some bare branches.

The Purple Swamphen in the purple sunset.
With night settling in, we drove home but not before getting dinner and of course making our birdlist. We saw a total of 47 species that afternoon in Candaba, just before Christmas =)

A Wedding, A Lady, and A Sleeping Lifer

Last Friday at noon, Jops and I were driving to Concepcion, Tarlac to attend the wedding of our friends Adri and Trinket. We met up with other birder friends at the church and stood witness as two of the nicest people we know tied the knot.

The Wedding: Trinket and Adri tie the knot! =)

A fun reception followed where guests were treated to a Kapampangan buffet, fun games, and a wonderful brass band playing in the background. Of course, the company of birders made the evening even more fun! 

At around 10, we said our goodbyes and Jops and I headed to Tarlac City to spend the night there. We haven't been to the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag before and we planned to drive there the following day.

We were up and on the road early Saturday morning. The drive to Manaoag, Pangasinan was an easy one, save for some roadworks and busy town centers. We arrived at the church a little past 9am (it took us less than two hours from Tarlac City.) The place was very nice and well laid out. Behind the church was a rosary garden, a candle gallery, a museum, and a veneration area where you can pray and touch the clothing of the Lady of Manaoag.

The Lady: The altar of the church.
Our Lady of Manaoag is in the center of the altar.
There was a wedding and funerals while we were there.
A portion of the candle gallery.

We lit some candles, offered special intentions, visited the veneration room, and heard mass. On our way out, we heard a bird calling atop an acacia tree. We looked upwards which got some of the people around us interested. Mostly kids, they all joined us in the search of the bird. One of them pointed it out to us, "Ayun o, yung itim!" ("There, the black one!") We all focused to an Asian Glossy Starling calling from directly above us. Another one was perched closer and Jops was able to take some shots and show the photos to the kids. They were so curious and amazed when they saw the bird up close with its beady, red eyes! We gave them some bird stickers before we left, and we were pleased to see them sharing them with huge smiles on their faces. =)

We decided to take a road trip further into Pangasinan and found ourselves in Bgy. Bonuan Gueset in Dagupan City. Jops took me to Matutina's restaurant for lunch and we had the best buttered squid ever! After our scrumptious lunch, we decided to check out the beach just in front of the restaurant. As we prepared our gear, we were approached by curious locals and we asked them about birds they see in their area. We found a bird to show them and even some staff from the restaurant came out to look through the scope.

Even the cook from the restaurant came out to see what we were doing!
They all had huge smiles on their faces since they were looking at...
THIS macho Brown Shrike through the scope!

When the shrike flew off, we headed to the beach hoping for some waders but it was just too hot (and busy with swimmers.) After spotting some white-eyes on a coconut tree, we said goodbye to Bonuan and started the long drive back home. We were hoping to come across some fishponds teeming with birds but we didn't see much. We did see a Brahminy Kite with a fish dangling from its talons! The raptor would take bites from its still-wriggling prey while three terns chased it around... all this action in the air!

Digi-binned photo of the kite as it flew away with its catch.

After all that excitement, we finally drove straight to our last target for the weekend: Candaba to twitch the recently sighted Common Shelduck. We didn't realize that we had gotten so far! We found ourselves racing against the setting sun. Every hump, slow tricycle, dog, and chicken blocking our way cost us precious minutes of sunlight. 

We arrived at the site just as the sun was setting. No more waders in the immediate rice paddies but there were some ducks further out. We (almost frantically) scanned the flock and saw a distinct, white bird among the Philippine Ducks, its head nestled under its wing. The Common Shelduck!

The Sleeping Lifer:
 The clearest digiscoped photo of the Common Shelduck
 in the dwindling sunlight.

It would occasionally lift its head to look around, showing its red-orange bill, then return to its sleeping position again. We were given enough time before night settled in to observe the stark contrast of its brown breast band against the whiteness of its body and the orange color of the beak when it would raise its head. After a few minutes, the sun had completely set and a crescent moon took its place above us. We packed away, happy with our twitch, and grateful for the great weekend we had. =)

Jops and I racing against the setting sun to see the object of our twitch =)
Two very happy twitchers =)

Dusk at Candaba

Having a Ruff Time

We had a pretty rough morning going around Pampanga, searching for a great birding spot. First, we went to Sasmuan to check if the thousands of migratory birds have already made their way to the island called Bangkong Malapad. We spoke to some boatmen in the small port near the church, but were told what we already knew... it was already too hot in the day and the best time to see all the birds were early in the morning. We decided we'd come back again next time.

Our next stop was in Bgy. Baruya in Lubao. Our friend Mark Jason told us about his birding around the area when he would visit his relatives. We were allowed to enter a gated area with lots of huge fishponds! But again, we came at the wrong time. The big fishpond that had been drained was already a parched field of cracked mud while the other ponds were still full of water.

Dried and cracked mud in one of the many fishponds.

Of course we still birded in the area and saw a number of egrets and terns, as well as a couple of Yellow Wagtails running around in the blanched white mud. We also saw some Common Kingfishers noisily skimming over the water's surface.

A Yellow Wagtail forages on the parched landscape.

Common Kingfisher resting in the shade.

The heat from the sun was really burning by the time we headed back to the car. We decided to have lunch along the highway and then stop by Candaba on our way back to Manila. After a not-so-birdy morning in Sasmuan and Lubao, we were hoping Candaba would yield more birds for us. And again, Candaba did not disappoint.

Just a portion of the big flock of waders we saw along the road.

We did not take the usual turn to Bahay Pare that would lead us to the Mayor's ponds. Instead we drove straight and headed towards the duck ponds. Along the way, we spotted a big flock of waders! Jops stepped on the brakes, parked the car, and out came all the scopes. Out came the sunblock, hats, scarves, shades, and long sleeves... anything and everything to protect us from the blazing sun! There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun seemed intent on broiling us alive.

Our birding group in the scorching heat! 

No amount of heat took us away from our scopes though, and we scanned and scanned and scanned. We spotted around 7 Black-tailed Godwits in the flock, which we also saw in Bgy. Paralaya last month. It's always a good bird to see, with its long two-toned bill, relatively big size, and distinct way of probing for food (like a sewing machine's needle!)

One of the Black-tailed Godwits among the stilts.

It was really hard getting decent digiscoped photos, what with the sun reflecting off the water where the birds were. Looking through the scopes was challenging too with so much glare. But we continued to spot and count.

And lifers we did spot! We saw a chunky looking bird with a short, somewhat thick, slightly decurved, bill among the many Marsh Sandpipers. A Ruff! We scanned more carefully and found more of them foraging in the shallow water.

I tried my best to document the Ruff, but the glaring sun made it hard
to get a good photo. This was the best I got.

It was a lifer for me, Jops, and Jun! Mark also got a lifer that afternoon: Sharp-tailed Sandpiper! Standing under the sun never proved to be so worth the discomfort.

After doing our counts and taking in our lifers, we drove to the duck ponds and saw thousands of them. Unfortunately, they were too far off to really make out. But we did see some Philippine Ducks, Northern Shovellers, Garganeys, and some Eurasian Wigeons.

We bumped into birder friends Alex and Cel, and spent some time back at the rice paddies watching an enormous flock of terns flying low before settling down in the mud for the evening. It was breathtaking watching so many birds flying in one big flock!

After a very tiring day exploring parts of Pampanga, we drove home tired, hot, sticky, but happy having spent it with good friends and ending it with another lifer.

Dog Trumps Birds

I dipped out on this...

Grey-headed Lapwing (photo by Jun Osano)
They saw this on a guided trip I was supposed to
help guide but had to forego.

to be with this adorable little boy...

Our Furby boy =)

Furby is our 9-year old mixed breed little boy. He is 50% Schnauzer, 50% Spitz, and 100% pure love. He was diagnosed with petit mal seizures just last February. Petit mal seizures cause involuntary convulsions resulting coordination problems in dogs. He was prescribed with maintenance phenobarbital meds for the rest of his life to prevent or at least minimize the seizures.

Last week though, Furb got pretty excited when my dad came home from a long trip, and afterward slipped into one of his "episodes" which meant he would have mild muscular spasms and would be inactive for a day or two. Usually, he would recover quickly, as if nothing happened. But this time, Furby seemed to be getting worse.

Last Saturday, we rushed him to the emergency room of the UP Veterinary Hospital in Diliman. His attending doctor, Doc Rey, took excellent care of him, rushing to the E.R. minutes after we arrived.

After taking his temperature (which was a bit low) and taking some blood for tests, he was given a heating pad and was hooked up to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine which showed irregularities in his heartbeat...
Furby being hooked up to the ECG machine.

We transferred him to an examination room where the cardio vet, Doc Carlo, used the two-dimensional echocardiogram (2D Echo) to check Furby's heart and found that parts of his heart were not functioning so well anymore...
A very weak Furby beside all the hospital equipment.
Furby's heart being scanned.
2D Echo image of Furby's heart.
If I heard correctly, one of the heart's valves
wasn't pumping blood efficiently...
They also took Furby's blood pressure using a tiny cuff.
According to the vets, his BP was slightly elevated.
After all the tests were done, he was given an IV drip to give him some sustenance since he hadn't eaten for a day already.

Furby was very weak...
After settling our bill and buying Furby's meds, we drove home hopeful Furby will recover.

That evening, things took a turn for the worst... Furby stopped responding to us. My sister checked on his eyes and she said with tears in her eyes that he wasn't responding anymore and that his heart rate was really low. His neck was pulsating real hard... and we expected the worst. I broke down, broken hearted.

I woke the following morning, and rushed to my parent's room where Furby was staying. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as I opened the door. When I opened my eyes, I saw two round eyes staring back at me. Furby was wide awake!!!

I dropped down to the floor next to him and he looked at me with eyes that were alive and alert! I found myself crying again as our Furby blinked up at me from his pillow. I went out to get him some water and gave him some from my fingertips. He licked at them, thirsty. My parents woke up and watched him with big smiles. He finished a dish of water and tried to change his position. We tried giving him some dog food which he gently licked off my fingers.

Today, Furby was able to push himself up to a sitting position and after being helped into a standing position, was able to walk around a bit, usually to his water bowl. He gets tired very easily and sleeps most of the time. BUT he is eating and drinking water consistently and is a very good boy when it comes to drinking his medicines =)

Furby standing up to eat some food! =)

I may have dipped out on a lifer, but our Furby gained a new lease on life and I wouldn't miss it for the world =) The lapwing can wait =)

UP Birding Redux

It has been a while since we last birded in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus so the scheduled guided trip was a great opportunity to go around the different birdy sites. There were more birders than participants so we had a relatively relaxed activity. Even before the participants arrived, birders were already enjoying views of four Coppersmith Barbets on our scopes.

Here's one of the four barbets perched on a tall tree near the library.

We moved on towards the Beta Ep walkway and were treated to a noisy Pied Triller "laughing" atop a tree. When it flew away from its exposed perch, we entered the path and were surrounded by chirps of flowerpeckers and sunbirds moving unseen through the trees. We met up with the second group of participants who were lucky enough to see a Grey-streaked Flycatcher by the entrance of the walkway.

Nearing the other end of the path, we took our time observing two White-collared Kingfishers nonchalantly bathing in the warm morning light.

One of the two kingfishers we saw.

Walking along the oval, we saw more Pied Trillers (there were so many that morning!), Golden-bellied Flyeaters, and Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. The high school students we were guiding also enjoyed watching a Brown Shrike dive to the ground in search of a meal. As we were trying to spot some woodpeckers in the trees beside the tennis courts, a raptor flew just above the tree tops! As birders looked at each other with huge round eyes, the unspoken message of "Let's go after it!" was felt for a heartbeat. But the call of duty to guide was stronger and we proceeded to the Lagoon instead of chasing after the unexpected raptor.

We were rewarded though by another excellent sighting: an immature Brush Cuckoo! We were trying to spot a Grey Wagtail when Maan and Jasmin called our attention to the young cuckoo perched on a tree. Some of us got too close and it flew around us to perch on a higher tree. It stayed there for a while and everyone enjoyed watching the bird while it ate a very hairy caterpillar.

The immature Brush Cuckoo resting after its "hairy" meal. Photo by Jops Josef.

The rest of the lagoon area was quiet with the construction going on. The group was able to spot some Zebra Doves along the path though. Our last stop was to check out the Philippine Nightjar in its now-popular day roost.

Sleepy Philippine Nightjar... sorry we woke you with all the ruckus.

We ended our UP guided trip with this beautiful bird and the promise of possible raptor sightings in the campus. I guess its time for quickie birding trips in UP to start again. See you there! =)

A Birdy Candaba Morning

After the guided birdwatching trip we conducted in UP Diliman last Saturday, Jops and I were still itching to bird over the weekend. The nearest adventure we could think of to go to on a Sunday was Candaba (plus its promise of waders, of course!) After coordinating with Sir Leny of Candaba about the road conditions and consulting the so-far-reliable Accuweather for the weather forecast, we proceeded with our plans together with birder friends Jun, Alan, and Alex.

We braced for the worst possible road conditions (we've been getting reports of bad road conditions from fellow birders) even if our group was bringing an SUV and a pick-up. I was bracing for a long walk to the mayors house and more the hot walk back. But, to our pleasant surpirse (and relief!), we were blessed not only with dry, solid roads but also good weather for a great birding morning.

Grey Herons atop on of the houses in the mayor's property.

We took the Balagtas exit from the North Luzon Expressway, took the bypass road, and found ourselves birding in the empty rice fields of Candaba at 6AM. There were lots of egrets and terns, as well as Black-winged Stilts already foraging in the rice paddies right before the t-junction. Waders were also flying in to start searching for food and we were able to see pretty-looking Marsh Sandpipers and beautifully marked Wood Sandpipers.

Wood Sandpiper

We also spotted another lifer here! We saw smaller looking waders running around, probing the mud with their bills... Long-toed Stints!

Our lifer for the day: Long-toed Stint.

We then moved to the t-junction, parked our cars on the side of the road, and were treated to great views of  a Common Kingfisher, Yellow Bittern, and even a fly-by Black Bittern. The usual Purple and Grey Herons were there and there were small groups of Wandering Whistling Ducks flying around the marsh. A flock of White-shouldered Starlings also flew in and out of the trees lining the road.

Common Kingfisher

Yellow Bittern hiding in the grass.

We drove further up the road and saw a lot of White-breasted Waterhens, together with some Barred Rails, Zebra Doves, and Red Turtle Doves.

White-breasted Waterhen on the road. In the background is a dove.

We parked our cars outside the mayor's house and decided to just walk the rest of the way, since we were unsure of the road conditions in that area. We were targeting the large area just beyond the old watch tower where lots of ducks congregate. And lots of ducks we saw! Though too far to ID all the ducks accurately, we were able to spot Philippine Ducks, Northern Shovellers, and Garganeys making up a huge mixed flock of thousands of ducks in the water! We also enjoyed watching a Little Grebe in one of the ponds.

Little Grebe - one of the birds I always enjoy observing!
Photo by Jops Josef

In the surrounding ponds, we also saw a small flock of Tufted Ducks and also a lone Eurasian Coot! I love how the coot looks, with its stark white frontal shield and beak forming a unique shape and contrasting with a black head and charcoal body. This wasn't a lifer for me but I got such great views of it!!!

Eurasian Coot digiscoped by Jops

It was getting very hot by the time we reached the watch tower and we soon headed back to our cars. We took quick short breaks in the shade of the trees and saw more stilts and a huge flock of terns flying over a portion of the rice fields. Before noon, we were packed up and driving to the expressway to get lunch. It was Alan and Alex's first time to go to Candaba and they were really amazed at the place and Jops, Jun, and I were very happy with our bird list of more than 50 species for a half-day of birding.

PS We missed you, Rob!