"Blind" Birder Gets a "Headless" Lifer

Jops and I decided to go to the La Mesa Ecopark Sunday morning for some easy birding and also to test his spanking new camera. We didn't rush ourselves, arriving in the park at almost 8am. We were setting up our cameras when I realized... I forgot my binoculars. For the first time in three years, I forgot my bins on a birding trip. I set aside my shock and frustration at my self for forgetting, put on my glasses, and went in the park, decided to go birding "blind" in the trail.

Surprisingly, there weren't many people yet and it was a nice quiet walk to the trail and we even saw a White-eared Brown Dove called loudly from a fruiting ficus tree just before the orchidarium. I wasn't able to see that up close but got to see a second one land and disappear into the leaves.

We approached the trail from the right side and saw a Barred Rail walking along the path. We followed it quietly but were distracted by the loud calls of some Grey-backed Tailorbirds. We tracked the skittish birds until one of them finally went out from the brush long enough for a decent photograph (well, decent based on my standards =P)

This friendly Grey-backed Tailorbird gave me a decent photo
and let me view it through my camera's LCD =)

A male Olive-backed Sunbird started calling loudly from the heliconias along the edge of a clearing and entertained us while it fed on the flower's nectar. It stayed quite a while, diverting our attention from the tailorbirds that stayed almost hidden in the brush.

Male Olive-backed Sunbird balancing on a
heliconia flower

And then a black bird perched on a low branch near us... could it be the elusive Philippine Drongo Cuckoo?! It was! I focused my camera on the bird and took a shot. I was pleased to get a good enough view through my camera but the photo of my lifer was headless though =P

My "headless" lifer for the day:
Philippine Drongo Cuckoo

The bird flew around us, picking up a small worm along the way before disappearing into the tall trees. We refocused on the tailorbirds but we heard a very loud, metallic-sounding call. Then lots of Black-naped Orioles started sounding out their alarm calls very noisily. All the ruckus seemed to come from the top of the hill beside us. For some reason, I was able to spot a silhouette of a large bird perched atop an acacia tree. A raptor! Jops and I tried our best to find a good vantage point to better see the raptor and these are the best shots I got:

The long neck and pale eye was very evident
Got some help from friends and identified this as an
Oriental Honey Buzzard

The huge raptor flew down the other side of the hill after quite a few minutes looking around its perch and being swooped in on by agitated orioles. Jops and I finally got to enter the trail after spending an hour in just one area (and got a lifer too!) The effects of the heavy rains of the past week were quite evident, leaving muddy patches here and there and empty "streams" where flood waters flowed.

We kept an eye out for the pittas but found none. We checked on the nest of the Ashy Ground Thrush and saw two chicks peeping out. A lone adult thrush was seen foraging nearby.

We were happy to see that the nest survived the strong rains

We left the nest and rounded the trail. I lagged behind a bit when I thought I heard some scratching on the ground when I saw Jops gesturing urgently at me. I hurried to where he was standing and he pointed out an orange bird, flitting from perch to perch. The Rufous Paradise Flycatcher! It was back! I finally got to see it in LMEP!

As a bonus, I got a documentary shot of the Rufous Paradise Flycatcher!

It flitted deeper into the trees and was soon out of sight. We waited a bit but the bird didn't come back to the area. We rounded the trail, shushing some very noisy park goers along they way. We didn't find any additional birds and since it was nearing noon, decided it was time to go.

Birding without my binoculars wasn't as bad as I expected but I did want to see the birds up close through them. Jops very generously would lend me his whenever we saw birds but I didn't want to deprive him good views because of my forgetfulness. I hope I don't forget them again as I don't want to go birding "blind" again!

A Windswept Lifer

A storm or typhoon in the Philippines can be a major inconvenience, with the very high probability of flooding that usually comes with it. For birders though, there is the rare chance of spotting a few pelagic species, usually just one to three birds, that are blown in by the strong winds. Some of our birder friends have been lucky enough to spot some seabirds during storms. Back in September 2011, our friend Mark Jason was able to spot a Bulwers Petrel and Red-footed Boobies from his place along Roxas Boulevard which looks out to Manila Bay. Just last January, our friend Jasmin was also lucky to photograph a Christmas Island Frigatebird flying over La Mesa Ecopark when a low pressure area brought strong winds and rains... and that’s in the middle of the city!

Christmas Island Frigatebird in Quezon City.
Photo by Jasmin Meren

Seeing their reports and hearing their stories, I wished I would get a chance to experience something like that, but deep down inside I knew my chances were slim. And then there was last Sunday.

Mike, Jops, and I were in the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) on a stormy Sunday morning. We were there primarily for an activity with Earth Island Institute (EII) and Save Freedom Island Movement (SFIM), two NGOs fighting to save the area from reclamation. Dark clouds covered the sky and the high tide crashed to the garbage-laden beach. 

We were hoping to see some early waders and we spotted some Common Sandpipers perched on the exposed rocks. I worked with our friends from EII and SFIM by the beach while Mike and Jops walked around to find more birds. I saw lots of flyby Little Egrets, some Great Egrets, and quite a number of Black-crowned Night-Herons. Mike and Jops walked past the grotto and were able to spot some Grey-tailed Tatlers atop an abandoned barge. They passed by our group on the beach and headed towards the inner ponds where they saw a Rufous Night-Heron. On their way back, the rain started to pour. We all stayed under the tents that EII put up for the activity and waited for the rain and wind to stop.

I was looking out to sea when, from the far left, I saw a huge, dark bird flying very close to the water’s surface. At first I thought it was a gull, but as it came closer, it became very clear what it was… a Booby! It flew parallel to the beach and right in front of us banked its body showing its underparts - pale almost conical bill, solid brown head and neck which was very clearly contrasted with a white breast and belly! Brown Booby! In Manila Bay! An awesome windswept lifer!

There goes the Brown Booby!

It continued flying over the road and out of sight. Jops ran after it but the huge bird did not make a u-turn and kept flying away from us. We weren’t able to photograph this complete surprise of a lifer but we got superb views and took in all its field marks as our jaws dropped at this totally unexpected sighting. Jops and I did get to experience seeing a storm-blown bird!

Marked my field guide as soon as I could!

Brown Boobies are seabirds, foraging out in open sea and living and breeding on small islands. I think the best  place to find them are on the islands in the Tubbataha Reef so I feel super lucky to have seen it in Manila Bay. What an unforgettable experience! Who knows what birds the next storm will bring! =)

New Birders, New Pitta, New Friends

Last Sunday, the WBCP partnered with the UP Mountaineers (UPM) and organized a guided bird watching trip for UPM applicants in the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife in Quezon City. The group of 50 applicants were divided into five birding groups led by WBCP guides and saw more or less 10 birds in the park.

Jops giving the introduction to the activity to lots of possible new birders!

Of course, birding is not for everyone but there were some really interested people in the group who I hope will continue birding after that weekend. We had to end the bird walk at 9AM since the applicants still had a tree walk to do, to be led by the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society. I really wanted to join the tree walk, as I've been wanting to learn more about how to identify trees but Jops and I promised to meet James M. and his family in the La Mesa Ecopark that morning. We invited our fellow guides to join us and of course they said yes!

Off to La Mesa we went. I went straight to the spillway to try to see the Plaintive Cuckoo (would be a lifer!) our friends Adri and Trinket spotted the last time they were there. Unfortunately, the cuckoo wasn't there and we decided to go into the park where we fortuitously bumped into James and his family! We all trooped to the mini-forest where we saw an immature Red-bellied Pitta busily foraging for food.

The immature pitta just starting to develop the red color
in splotches across its belly
It posed very kindly for quite a while... with its back turned =P
A new pitta addition to the LMEP mini-forest

We moved around the trail, looking out for more birds. The muggy weather didn't make it an ideal morning for lots of birds but we did see an Ashy Ground Thrush scurrying about and tending its nest. It looks like the Ashy's are breeding almost the whole year round despite all the human traffic and, at times, human disturbance from getting too close to nests.

Ashy Ground Thrush - always a star in the mini-forest
Sitting on its nest very close to the trail, hopefully it will be observed and
photographed FROM the trail and not from inside the trees

We observed the bird for a few minutes before saying our goodbyes and moving away from the nest. It was almost noon and we all had to leave. Even with just a couple of hours birding, we were happy with the sightings of two awesome birds. It was such a pleasure meeting and birding with James, Natalie, and their kids. James is one of the founders of the WBCP and it was an honor to meet and bird with him =) It was their first time in the park and seeing their reactions upon spotting the birds (especially the kids!) made me realize again how lucky we birders are to have this patch of green in the middle of the city and so close to home too.

Birding with new friends, James, Natalie, and kids,
in the LMEP mini-forest