First Birding Trip of The Year!

It was ten days into the new year and Jops and I didn't have any birding trips planned yet. Of course, we had our birding trips wish list at the back of our heads but for now, they were nothing more than dreams.

But! A few minutes after midnight, an impromptu birding trip was decided between Joni, Jops, and me. I was going to be Jaiabird again for a morning and we were going birding in La Mesa.

Yeah, it wasn't a new place to explore, but it has been quite a while since we last birded there and it would great to check out the place again. We got to the park before 8AM, just as some ABS-CBN (a local tv network) vehicles started arriving too. Apparently there was a television shoot somewhere in the park scheduled that morning too. We were happy to learn their set wasn't in the mini-forest. Their cheesy background music made our birding a tiny bit dramatic though and all my videos of the Spotted Wood Kingfisher had a Filipino love song playing in the background.

The entrance road was quiet, with only some movement in the canopy of trees. But Joni, with her sharp forest-trained eyes, spotted a solitary bird perched above us. Upon closer inspection, we found it was an adult Brush Cuckoo! An amazing bird to start our morning with!

Cuckoo early in the morning!

The cuckoo flew off after a few minutes and we moved onwards down the road. We immediately heard high pitched calls which Joni confirmed as Guaiaberos. We moved closer to the trees to try and spot the parrots making all the noise.

Being the plump green birds they are, it was challenging trying to spot them among the trees in front of us. While scanning, we did see some Colasisi, another brightly colored green parrot, as well as some Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers, and Pied Trillers. Lots of Golden-bellied Flyeaters flitted among the branches and some Black-naped Orioles also made an appearance.

The Guaiaberos were calling very loudly and very insistently right in front of us but we couldn't spot them! Once again, Joni's sharp eyes zeroed in on a handsome male Guaiabero, perched (you guessed it) right in front of us.

Such a beautiful, plump Guaiabero!

The parrot stayed for quite a while, allowing us to take its photo and observe it as it called and shifted positions on its perch. Eventually, it flew away prompting us to move on towards the mini-forest. 

It was very quiet when we entered the trail. But we did see some movement on the ground and we quickly spotted an adult Ashy Ground Thrush. It perched on a high branch for a while before disappearing from view. We rounded the trail, hoping for the La Mesa residents but didn't see any. We kept our eyes open for the Scaly Ground Thrush that was reported a while back but it too was absent that morning.

I was hoping for some pittas but we didn't see nor hear any. I tried scratching at the ground with my finger and found it dry, dusty, and hard. I decided that if I were a pitta, I wouldn't risk damaging my tiny toes scratching at such compact earth for food. 

Common Emerald Doves were busy calling and foraging around for food that morning. We spotted one male as it preened while perched on a branch, giving us good views.

Male Common Emerald Dove

Jops went in search of the Spotted Wood Kingfisher while Joni and I took our time in the trail, entertaining ourselves with more Ashy Ground Thrushes that hopped near the trail's edges. We neared the tiny pond and seeing the ripe red fruits of the MacArthur's palms reminded me of the two lifers I saw feeding on them last year: Brown-headed Thrush and Eyebrowed Thrush. I hope to see them again soon! 

Joni and I were spotting another friendly Ashy Ground Thrush when Jops texted saying the Spotted Wood Kingfisher was sitting right in front of him. We carefully made our way to him and once again marveled at the handsome bird in front of us.

Male Spotted Wood Kingfisher
Always a treat seeing this bird. ALWAYS. =)

While observing the bird, the mini forest erupted in bird calls. Calls, not song. The birds all seemed alarmed at something and at first, we thought there might be a raptor nearby. What we found was not a raptor, but resembled something more like a velociraptor!

A big Monitor Lizard, locally called bayawak, was making its way up a big tree, causing panic among the birds in the area. The Pied Fantails made very brave swoops at the huge reptile as it dangled from its perch and the Oriental Magpie Robins were also loudly cursing at the lizard's bold presence in their neighborhood.

At first, all we could clearly see was a
mean-looking claw...
... and then it moved further up the tree,
revealing its dinosaur-like head
Varanus marmoratus

A bold, immature Ashy Ground Thrush flew across the trail, and landed very near us and posed for a while before it was chased by another one. 

I was so surprised by the proximity of the bird, this was the only
shot I was able to take of it before it flew away

It was already 10AM and we had to end our short morning in La Mesa. The birds had quieted down and the Spotted Wood Kingfisher still sat comfortable on its perch. As we headed out, a big flock of bats flew around us, flushed out of their roost, before settling back among the trees.

One of the bats that flew around us and perched
close to where we were standing.

A group of photographers and their forest nymph models decided to have their photo shoot at the entrance of the trail. As we passed them, we politely reminded them to stay on the trails saying there was a huge bayawak, as well as hornets, in the area, and we showed them the photo of the lizard. As their eyes widened, we were pretty sure they wouldn't be disturbing the kingfisher, sitting unseen, just a few meters from them.