Feels Like A Lifer

There are some birds that feel like a lifer each time you see them. It's like that for me when I see a wader I've seen before but now seeing it in its breeding plumage. Or when I see a male Narcissus Flycatcher again, my former unicorn. I just wondered aloud a few days ago if I would get to see it again and as fate would have it, I saw it again yesterday, exactly a year and 10 days after I ticked it off as a lifer.

After Lala mentioned seeing the Narcissus Flycatcher recently in UP, my friend Nic went to twitch it and he was able to see and photograph both the male and female! I had an hour to spare the following day and so after dropping my dad off, I grabbed by birding bag, lathered on some mosquito repellent, and went to try for the Narcissus.

I arrived at the area and was immediately swarmed with mosquitoes. Large ones. That buzzed loudly in your ears and attacked your eyeballs. I was very fidgety. I picked a spot and waited, straining my eyes for any movement. Nothing. I got impatient and transferred to another spot. Nothing.

The minutes ticked by and I was worried I wouldn't see it. I consciously told myself to calm down and chill. It's only been 15 minutes anyway (well, Nic spotted it immediately upon arriving but hey.... no pressure.) I forced myself to relax. Yes, forced. For 15 minutes more.

The birds suddenly started singing: Golden-bellied Flyeaters, Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers, flyby Colasisi, Black-naped Orioles, and Yellow-vented Bulbuls. A couple of Pied Fantails flew around me and a Barred Rail fed on the concrete walkway. Even the sky opened up and released beautiful rays of light as if pointing me towards the bird I was looking for. I started to really relax and I took some photos of the beautiful morning I was almost missing out on and then, movement.

A small bird perched high on the bamboo to my left and I knew. I raised my binoculars and there it was: the male Narcissus Flycatcher.

It was feeding actively, flying from one perch to the next, moving closer and closer, and at one time even perching a few feet from my face! I only managed a few shots before it flew off leaving me overwhelmed at the brief encounter. I stayed for a few more minutes hoping it would return but it didn't and I had to go home.

It really was a beautiful morning, one I needed to slow down, relax, and release some stress. Seeing the Narcissus Flycather was the cherry on top and felt like I was getting a lifer again.

Birding with My Ears

When guiding new birdwatchers, I always say that birding involves not only our sense of sight but our sense of hearing as well; that in birding we both open our eyes and our ears. I guess I never really understood and appreciated the concept until I met Aga.

Born Mark Joseph Casidsid, he was nicknamed Aga because he was born two months too soon ("aga" means early in Filipino.) He was diagnosed with an eye disease that affects premature babies which meant that he would completely lose his eyesight as he got older. This happened before he turned 20 years old... I can only imagine how he felt, but after some time, he was able to pick himself up and got involved in running. This path brought him to join marathons and to his application to join the UP Mountaineers (UPM.) (Read more about Aga here.)

Part of the UPM's activities for its applicants is a birdwalk, usually in the UP Diliman campus. Birder friend and UPM member Fredd asked if I could volunteer and help guide Aga during the birdwalk. Admittedly, at first I was unsure... how could I guide a person with visual impairment on a birding trip? I closed my eyes and tried to visualize how I could do it. After a few minutes, I told Fredd to count me in.

Djop and I met up with the rest of the WBCP volunteers and the UPM at their tamabayan in UP and we were soon off to bird! I introduced myself to Aga and Gabo, Aga's running coach and navigator, and we followed Prop Jerry, our group's lead guide.

I brought out my iPod and earphones which I loaded with the calls of the birds commonly seen in UP: Yellow-vented Bulbul, Black-naped Oriole, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, Colasisi, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Lowland White-eye, Pied Triller, Philippine Pied Fantail, Brown Shrike, and other birds. I would let Aga listen to the bird call of the particular bird the group was looking at so he was still actively involved in the experience. Most of the time though, the birds themselves sang live 😊

The birds really did not disappoint! Even the flowerpeckers were out and calling as they fed on some mistletoe, to be joined by Olive-backed Sunbirds. Aga's sense of hearing was very keen and he could easily determine where the sounds were coming from. His recall of the different bird calls and their names was also amazing.

I almost forgot about my binoculars because I had become so focused on listening. Suddenly, I could hear even faraway gerygones and sunbirds and I would discuss them with Aga. Many times, Aga would ask me about a bird call he was hearing and I had to keep still before I could pick out the sound among all the other noise around me.

Our group spent some time in front of the Marine Science Institute when a Colasisi/Philippine Hanging Parrot perched on a high tree and called noisily. It gave both a great visual and auditory show! Soon, we were walking back to the UPM tambayan. We took some group photos and chatted a bit about the bird walk. The applicants had a tree walk lined up next and the birders had to go.

It was a unique experience for me, focusing on sound more than the visual. It's easy to take for granted all other things when we are too busy looking and looking. That bird walk was different. Suddenly, visuals were not enough. When we encountered a bird, I silently willed it to call and sing so Aga could experience its presence. 

It was an honor to have met such a brave and determined person. I taught him the birds he was hearing, and he taught me another level of appreciation for them. He taught me a new way to really experience and appreciate them. I hope you continue to go birding, Aga! And I hope to go birding with you again soon 😊

Gabo, Aga, me, and Djop after the bird walk

PS I wrote an article for the WBCP's online newsletter about 10 common urban birds and I included some bird calls in the article. Read it here.

More to Explore in Beautiful Coron: Day 3

It was our third and last day in Coron and Djop and I were excited with what we would find in the half-day we had before our flight back to Manila. We checked out of Darayonan at 5:30am and were on the road with Ninong Chin to bird in the Yulo King Ranch (YKR.)

The landscape changed when we entered the 40,000-hectare ranch. Both sides of the road were green with grazing land and Slender-billed Crows flew around and perched on the roadside fences.

Slender-billed Crow
We were hoping for another sighting of the Changeable Hawk Eagle that we spotted shortly after we arrived in Coron a couple of days ago. Sadly, the raptor was nowhere to be seen when we passed through the area. There were quite a number of egrets, Spotted DovesBlack-naped Orioles, Striated Grassbirds, and Paddyfield Pipits around. We reached the airport road and took some time stalking a couple of snipes feeding in the grassy area beside the parking lot.

We stayed until one of the snipes came out in the open to pose for us.
Such lovely feathers!
There were more Paddyfield Pipits running about in the grass very close to the van. We spotted two male Blue Rock Thrushes chasing each other around the airport parking lot and some Scaly-breasted Munias posed in the morning sun, while Collared Kingfishers called loudly from the trees and wire fences.
Paddyfield Pipit

Scaly-breasted Munia
We left the airport and drove further into the ranch. We spotted a raptor up a tree but it was chased away by some crows! It moved to a farther tree where it was almost completely hidden from view. It flew off before we could get decent shots and a proper ID.
Finding the raptor and more birds along the road.
We got back in the van and continued down the road. From the van, we saw a couple of Lesser Coucals out drying their feathers and a Black-chinned Fruit Dove also getting some morning sun, although they were all far from the road.
Out drying its feathers
Getting some morning sun
We passed by an empty field where there were some egrets, Little Ringed Plovers and also a lone Black-winged Stilt. We soon left the ranch "proper" and entered Barangay Decalachao and headed straight towards a surprise destination: The Riverhouse

We entered the driveway and were surprised to see modern-looking cottages dotted along the road. I could imagine the wonderful view from each cottage! We stopped at the reception area and went straight to the restaurant area. It offered a great view of the Decalachao River and the vast mangroves around it.

While waiting for our breakfast to be prepared, we birded along the road. We were treated to a male Olive-backed Sunbird busy feeding on some heliconias.
A Rufous-tailed Tailorbird sang around us, flitting this way and that, avoiding having its picture taken! I gave up on the skittish bird and just photographed some pretty butterflies and flowers around me.

We started walking back to the restaurant when Ninong Chin pointed out an immature White-vented Shama. A female Olive-backed Sunbird also made an appearance among the heliconias near the restaurant.
Reminded me of a juvenile Mangrove Blue Flycatcher

Female Olive-backed Sunbird
We returned to the restaurant where we had a big, hearty breakfast with a wonderful view 💖 Thank you again, Ninong Chin, for bringing us there!

After breakfast, the rain fell. We stayed in the restaurant and began wishing for awesome birds to perch on a nearby broken trunk. We did gets birds that perched there: Asian Glossy Starlings.

More birds came out even if it was raining. Ashy-fronted Bulbuls and Palawan Flowerpeckers perched on nearby trees. 

Sitting out in the rain

Enjoying a little shower
When the rain stopped, we decided to check out the pier where there was a possibility of Stork-billed Kingfishers. We got out of the van and walked to the water's edge.


We scanned the mangroves and I spotted a spot of blue! Stork-billed Kingfisher faaaaaaar away! Just above it, a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha preened in the drizzling rain.

Spotted the flash of blue on this kingfisher

Can you spot the malkoha?
 We headed back to the van when the rain started to fall again. We drove back towards the airport but before that decided to check the new road being constructed. 

As we were driving through, Djop spotted a raptor perched on a leafless tree. It was being mobbed by Slender-billed Crows and also a Black-naped Oriole. The raptor stood its ground and did not move.

We left the raptor and went further down the road. The fields gave way to trees and soon both sides of the road was lined with tall trees. There were some Chestnut-breasted Malkohas skulking in some trees but we did not have the luxury of time to stalk them. We reached the end of the newly constructed road and turned back. It was time to go to the airport. 

But not before a quick check at the raptor! It was still there but had adjusted to a clearer perch.

Angry-looking bird!
It flew away after  a few minutes and it was really time to go. We made our way back to the airport and said our goodbyes and thank yous. It was a wonderful three days in Coron, thanks to our gracious host, Ninong Chin 😊

Coron is such a wonderful place for birding and we have so much more to explore! Next time, we'll be sure to spend more time there (three days is definitely not enough!!!) and we'll include the other touristy spots to our itinerary. Maybe some snorkelling too? IF I'm brave enough 😉 But, my bravery aside, one thing's for sure... we'll be back!

Surprises for the Birthday Boy: Coron Day 2

It was Djop's birthday on our second day in Coron and we were up and ready to go at 5:30am! Great early start to celebrate his birthday! 😉 We were going back to Capayas Creek after an amazing first day birding in the area. We arrived at the site and immediately set up in the hut for the day. The Blue-eared Kingfishers were in the same spot we saw them the previous day but they kept to the shadows. We were waiting for them to show better when we were distracted by the call of a Blue Paradise Flycatcher

Kuya Erwin led us closer to where the bird was calling and we saw two of them flying around some low trees. I was able to get some nice views through my binoculars but the birds did not come out for any photos. While we were looking at the flycatcher, Sir Chin was photographing a juvenile Hooded Pitta that was busy preening on a low branch. It was soon joined by an adult before they flew off.

Many birds were calling around us, Palawan Flowerpeckers, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Ashy-fronted Bulbuls, but not many showed. A couple of Blue-headed Raquet-tails made their presence heard as they flew above us. One perched on a nearby tree but did not come out to show itself. I distracted myself with a beautiful caterpillar busy munching on a leaf.

We decided to walk to the other side of the road and search for more birds there. We realized Djop hasn't been able to get good views and any photos of the White-vented Shama, one of the more common birds in Coron! Unacceptable!

Well, the birthday boy was in for a surprise because we hadn't even reached the main road when we were treated to nice long views of a singing White-vented Shama! We also got another one just across the road!


We walked further down the road while Black-naped Orioles flew around the canopy of trees above us. We were hoping for better views of the Rufous-backed Kingfisher that only showed briefly the previous day. We got to the small bridge and spotted a Grey Wagtail and a Common Kingfisher along the banks of the creek.

Djop and Kuya Erwin went exploring for the kingfisher while Sir Chin and I waited by the river bank. We were chatting when a small orange bird flew across the water to land unseen in the bamboo across us! Rufous-backed Kingfsher! We were still trying to spot the bird when it flew back to our side of the creek and towards the area where Djop and Kuya Erwin were. We gingerly made our way to where they were and they pointed out a juvenile Rufous-backed Kingfisher! They told us it was being fed by an adult bird, which was probably the one Sir Chin and I saw by the creek! Another birthday surprise for the birthday boy! What a treat to be able to observe this kind of behavior!

Such a beautifully-colored bird 😍

The birds transferred to a more hidden perch but I was lucky enough to have found an opening in the foliage to witness the adult bringing food to the young one. I managed to get a short video too!

It started to drizzle soon after the kingfishers left, so we started walking back to the hut. We had to stop at the barangay hall when a light rain fell, and we compared notes and took some group photos 😁

Taking a break during the rainshower!
After this shot, Sir Chin's camera fell!!! 😨
Thankfully, no major damage! 

When the rain slowed down to a light drizzle, we made our way back to the hut for breakfast. The birds weren't so active but a Black-chinned Fruit Dove had its own breakfast on a nearby tree and the Black-naped Monarch made a brief appearance (so no picture hehe.)

It was a hazy, drizzly morning!

It was soon noon time and the Blue-eared Kingfishers were back in their usual spot. To our delight, they stayed for quite a long time, unperturbed by our presence.

This is my favorite shot of the Blue-eared Kingfisher. I like its pose 😊

We were having our lunch of chili crabs and steamed fish when a male Lovely Sunbird perched close to the hut! We quickly washed our chili crab-soaked hands and ran to our cameras but the bird had gone! Back to the crabs...

After lunch, we walked to the area near Kuya Erwin's house and chased a male Lovely Sunbird as it flitted around the trees. I hope Djop and Sir Chin got good shots because these were all I got:

Would've made an awesome photo 

Let's play: Guess the Sunbird!

Ashy-fronted Bulbuls and Yellow-throated Leafbirds also surrounded us, while a Blue-Paradise Flycatcher teased us by calling but not showing. We returned to the hut and enjoyed our views of the kingfishers diving for fish in the creek.

The pair of Blue-eared Kingfishers hunting for fish! We were treated to lots
of diving action and whack-the-fish action that morning.
 As I was observing the kingfishers, I was surprised to see a branch slither away. Slither?! Snake!

My friend Emerson identified this as
Dendrelaphis levitoni, a Palawan faunal region endemic

I excitedly pointed it out to Djop (another birthday surprise!) and Sir Chin, mainly so I had witnesses and people would believe I saw a snake and did not just imagine a branch moving 😂 But the snake stayed in view for a bit, allowing us to observe its beautiful patterns and movements before it disappeared among the rocks. So cool! It was actually our second snake of the trip. Djop saw a thin, bright green snake up a coconut tree the previous day. Bird activity died down in the late afternoon so we decided to pack up and head to Villa Khadine to check out the birds there.

We arrived in Villa Khadine where we were welcomed by Tita Gigi, the owner and friend of Sir Chin. They had spotted a Stork-billed Kingfisher earlier that day and we were hoping we could see it too.

At the entrance of Villa Khadine

Tita Gigi pointed out the spot where they had seen the kingfisher but there was a large group of Asian Glossy Starlings already settling to roost. We walked to the view deck and took in the view of the mangroves in the dwindling day light. So much green!!!

As we were taking photos, Djop suddenly pointed out a bird perched on a tall and very far tree. Looking through our bins... Chestnut-breasted Malkoha!

Another surprise sighting for the day!

There were two malkohas in the tree and they flew closer to us but stayed hidden. Tita Gigi invited us for coffee and we chatted about the birds they could see in the resort.
Thank you, Tita Gigi, for the welcome and the coffee!

We soon said our thank yous and goodbyes and walked to the van. It was a great birthday birding day and we were looking forward to a yummy celebratory dinner in Darayonan

But there was another surprise in store for the birthday boy! As we were approaching the van, a Spot-throated Flameback called loudly and flew above us and perched! It was too far and covered for good photos but we did get good views as it moved its head back and forth.

Last surprise of the day!

It was quickly getting dark so we said our goodbye to Tita Gigi and drove back to Darayonan. Little did we know that Sir Chin had another surprise for the birthday boy! 

At Darayonan, we shared a wonderful and delicious birthday dinner for Djop of adobo, shrimps, and lobsters!!! Plus a yummy chocolate birthday cake for dessert!

Yummy (and easy to shell) birthday lobsters!

With our stomachs and our hearts full, we finished our dinner and said our heartfelt thanks to our host (and ninong) 😊 We still had another exciting day ahead of us before our flight back to Manila!!!

Thank you, Ninong Chin!!! 😊
To be continued...

Three Kings (Plus More!) in Coron: Day 1

I celebrated my birthday this year ticking off one of my most sought after lifers, so I felt it was only fair to return the favor and also give a birthday gift of lifers. Thankfully, Djop's birthday weekend was a long weekend in school, so we were able to take an early flight to Coron from Manila on a Friday.

We were on-time!

We were picked up at the Busuanga Airport by our friend and fellow birder, Sir Chin, who owns the Darayonan Lodge in Coron where we would be staying for the weekend. We hadn't taken twenty steps from the airport lobby when Sir Chin pointed out some Scaly-breasted Munias busy building a nest in a low palm tree. Looks like it was going to be a birdy day!

We boarded the van and started our trip to town. The airport is inside the Yulo King Ranch (YKR)  and is already a very birdy area! Sir Chin was telling us about the birds he has seen and photographed in the area including the Changeable Hawk-Eagle. He told us to scan the area for it and of course, other birds. Sir Chin spotted something perched on one of the fences and, it was our lucky day!!! A Changeable Hawk-Eagle sat on a wooden fence out in the open, in the middle of a field. Binocs and cameras were brought out and we managed a few shots before the large raptor flew over the field and perched on a leafless tree.

I took this shot from inside the van, through the tinted window =)

The raptor stayed on its perch but was too far for good photos. So we proceeded to Darayonan to check in and leave our things and prepare for the "official" start of our birding trip in Capayas Creek.

We arrived in the Capayas Bird Reserve a little past 9am and proceeded to the hut beside the actual creek where the kingfishers can be seen. The "3 kings" of Capayas are the Blue-eared Kingfisher, the Rufous-backed Kingfisher, and the Ruddy Kingfisher. I've seen them all before on previous trips to Coron but they would all be (birthday) lifers for Djop. 

As we approached the hut, Sir Chin pointed out a Rufous-backed Kingfisher already perched under the bamboo just in front of us! I managed one shot before the brightly-colored bird flew off downstream.

First "king" of the trip!
We set up our gear and waited for the kingfisher to come back. While waiting, some birds flew among the trees above the hut and we could hear flowerpeckers and sunbirds around us. We were joined by Kuya Erwin, the resident bird guide in Capayas. He called us to the area in front of his house (a few steps away from our hut) where flowerpeckers, bulbuls, and sunbirds were feeding in the trees and flowers.

Male Palawan Flowerpecker
Soon the feeding frenzy died down and we returned to our stakeout for the kingfishers. Kuya Erwin spotted something in the trees and excitedly pointed out a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha! I honestly did not expect to get any more lifers on this trip... but I did!!!

I didn't expect any lifers for myself on this trip but I got two already
on our first day!
The malkoha moved to the inner branches of the mango tree and stayed hidden for some time before flying off. We returned to the hut again and waited for the kingfishers to show.  An Ashy Drongo was nice enough to perch low and close to us while we waited and had breakfast.

I love its fishtail =)
There was some movement in the bamboo grove in front of us and a White-bellied Munia (!) came out to perch for a few seconds. It wasn't a lifer for me but I've always wanted to see it again after my very brief and unsatisfactory first encounter with it some years back.

This time I got great views! But an unsatisfactory shot 😅
After some time, and a quick check back at Kuya Erwin's house, the Rufous-backed Kingfisher returned but stayed partially hidden. It stayed above the banks on the same side as the hut, making it extra hard to spot and photograph.

Quite a shy bird, with a flair for dramatic poses

It was almost noon time and so far we've only had sightings of the Rufous-backed Kingfisher. We had our lunch in the hut and after was able to photograph some Yellow-throated Leafbirds and Ashy-fronted Bulbuls just outside Kuya Erwin's house. More handsome Palawan Flowerpeckers also showed very well =)

Yellow-throated Leafbirds are always a delight to see 

Ashy-fronted Bulbul

Such a handsome flowerpecker!!!

After lunch, we continued our stakeout for the kings when a handsome Black-naped Monarch appeared in the trees in front of me. It was quite dark and the bird was very skittish so I just managed a couple of shots, both of which were terribly blurred 😢

This would've been a good shot 😢
(I love the bird's bright blue legs though 😁)

When the kingfishers didn't show, we decided to walk to the area where the Ruddy Kingfisher could be seen. Djop, Kuya Erwin, and Anthony went in deeper in the trail parallel to the creek and spotted the Ruddy Kingfisher but it flew off quickly. They did see a male and female Palawan Blue Flycatcher which would have been a lifer for me but, due to my usual laziness, I missed.

As we walked back to the hut, Kuya Erwin managed to spot the Ruddy Kingfisher perched partially hidden in a thick bamboo grove. It stayed quite long but it was getting dark already and its perch not so good for photographs.
Ruddy Kingfisher: King Number 2
We walked back to the hut but stopped along the way when we were surrounded by the noisy calls of a group of Northern Palawan Tree Squirrels, locally called bising. We could see some of them on the tree trunks, busy flicking their tails as they called around us. 

We arrived at the hut to find a male Blue-eared Kingfisher perched close to the water, hunting for food in the creek! To our delight, it was soon joined by a female!!! It was already 5PM and the sun was beginning to set when we saw the third king of Capayas. 
Male (left) and female (right, with more red on the bill)
Blue-eared Kingfishers.
We got the 3 kings on our first day in Coron! Yay!
The pair soon flew into the bamboo grove unseen and we started to pack up for the day. It was quite hard to believe that we had just arrived that same morning because we saw quite a lot of birds in just a small area and I got some unexpected lifers too! We boarded the van and headed back to Darayonan for a well-deserved rest and a pre-birthday dinner for the birthday boy 😊

To be continued...