9th ABF Chiayi - Arrivals, Museum, Food!

Once again I have been blessed with the golden opportunity to join another Asian Bird Fair, the 9th ABF in Chiayi, Taiwan. So far, this is my fourth ABF since it started in 2010 and I am truly amazed at how big the ABF family has grown. The ABF slogan is “Celebrating Birds Across Borders” and each Asian Bird Fair lives up to that, connecting birders across the world with each other.

Logo featuring the Pied Avocet designed by Arnel Telesforo
This year’s ABF is the largest so far, with more than 180 delegates from 29 countries flying to Taiwan and making their way to Chiayi. Upon landing in Taipei, we immediately saw Boris, Patricio, and Eduardo from Ecuador. Ecuador! I haven’t even stepped out of the airport and I was making new friends with people from a continent away! 
Group shot at the Taoyuan Airport!
We said goodbye to Boris, Patricio, and Eduardo who were staying in Taipei for a night. Victor, Andrew, Mike, and I boarded a van and headed for Chiayi to prepare for the different activities in the next few days. That meant meetings, rehearsals, site inspections, and of course... eating! 

Dinner at a chicken restaurant as we arrived in Chiayi
The specialty! Tender and flavorful chicken! It was served
with the delicious black pepper salt that I love!
Other delicious dishes to go with the chicken
The chicken are cooked in these ovens!
Site inspection as the tents were being set-up
Rehearsals for the opening ceremony with Greg, my co-emcee
Lunch! Eating again!
Dumplings, noodles, tofu, beef soup! I loved everything!!!
After our dumpling lunch, we headed to the Southern Branch of National Palace Museum for a tour with the delegates who have arrived early in Chiayi.

Andrew and I joined the delegates at the museum
View of the bridge and museum building. It was quite a
walk from the parking/drop-off area to the museum
building itself.
Museum building
We were given a guide map and earphones to better hear
our tour guide as she brought us around the different
exhibit rooms,
The ABF delegates on tour
The tour ended and we made our way to the Renyi Lake Hotel where the Welcome Dinner was held. The Renyi Lake Hotel is located in a remote place near the Renyi Lake and is quite bird-y! Some delegates went birding after the Welcome Dinner and even saw an owl!!! 

Entrance of Renyi Lake Hotel
Morning view from my room at Renyi Lake Hotel

The next day was the official start of the 9th ABF! That's another post coming up next!

To be continued...

4th PPUR International Bird Photography Race 2018

Sometimes, things just fall into place and happen. That's exactly what happened last weekend when Djop and I found ourselves riding on the wave of excitement that was the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) 4th International Bird Photography Race.

It was through the urging of Sir Alain and the sponsorship of MISLATEL and Netpoleon Philippines through Sir Roy that Djop and I were able to sign up at the last minute. We booked our flights and were soon flying to Palawan for our first bird race.

The 4th International Bird Photography Race was part of the Subaraw Biodiversity Festival - PPUR Day Celebration which is held every November 11 as commemoration of the declaration of the Underground River as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2011. Subaraw comes from the words suba meaning "river" and taraw meaning "limestone cliff."

We arrived at Puerto Princesa together with a big contingent of birder friends who were also participating in the race and after a few photos at the airport were shuttled to the Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa. The official start of the activities was still the Welcome Dinner affording us a whole day to go out and bird!

Accommodations for the participants of the bird race
"Warming up" at the hotel lobby
As soon as everyone "transformed" from traveller to birder, we were on our way! We first dropped by the Badjao Seafront Restaurant to check for any birds that may have been showing. The Spotted Wood Owls were seen the night before just by the parking lot! We were too early for the owls, and I guess, too late for the other birds. We decided to proceed to Atremaru Jungle Retreat Resort in Bgy. Buenavista, approximately a 1-hour drive from the resort.

Atremaru is a charming resort with cottages and trails offering great opportunities for birding. We were greeted by Palawan Flowerpeckers and Palawan Tits busily feeding in the trees around us. I spent most of my time at the balcony of the Carne Norte cottage and saw Hair-crested Drongo, Palawan Blue Flycatcher, Slender-billed Crow, and Palawan Bulbul.

Hair-crested Drongo
Palawan Tit
Along the trail, the Palawan Tit put on a show while a peculiar tail-less Chestnut-breasted Malkoha made a brief appearance. More and more birders congregated at Atremaru and the birds continued to show. We were waiting for more birds to show when Sir Ramon and Cris told us that the Ashy-headed Babbler was showing quite well at the end of the trail. We headed there and true enough, a pair was skulking in the undergrowth. They flitted in and out of view in the shadows, not allowing us any good photos.

Birders in Atremaru. Their walkways afford great eye-level
views of birds flitting among the trees
We decided to move to another area and headed to the Magarwak Ecopark. We checked out the hides for the Palawan Flycatcher and the Blue-eared Kingfisher, but it was too late in the day and the birds did not show.

We boarded our van and headed to Viet Ville for a late pho lunch. After wiping out our meal, we headed back to Badjao Seafront Restaurant and try our luck with the owls. A group of international delegates to the race were already there and after a few minutes of waiting, the owls made their appearance. The light was already dwindling and the Spotted Wood Owls perched on the high trees, staying at the back while checking out the group of humans taking their photos. The owls soon flew off unseen and we headed back to our hotel for the Welcome Dinner.

Finally! Good views (but horrible photos!) of the Spotted Wood Owl!
The following two days were a blur! And my team wasn't really in competitive-mode for the race! I can only imagine the other teams rushing around Puerto Princesa, seeing and photographing as many birds as the can. Djop and I were on separate teams, and I went with Sir Alain, Sir Roy, and Ka Leny.

We went to a number of sites the next two days: back to Magarwak for the Palawan Flycatcher (success!) 
At the hide
Palawan Flycatcher
We went back to Atremaru and enjoyed our non-competitive pace and ordered some coffee and eggs while waiting for the birds. We were rewarded by a brief but exciting visit from a Red-headed Flameback, plus some Fiery Minivets, a Hill Myna, and a Black-chinned Fruit Dove.
Having coffee and omelet while waiting for birds
Spot the Minivet having a meal ;)
Hill Myna, Sir Roy's lifer!
We then proceeded to the nearby view deck and spotted a thermalling Crested Serpent Eagle. We stopped by a beach area along the road but only saw a lone Common Sandpiper and a solitary Common Kingfisher. The view was great though.

We headed back towards the city proper but stopped for lunch first at Pho Saigon. After another great Vietnamese lunch, we proceeded to the Crocodile Farm. Alas, the park was void of birds except for one juvenile night-heron. When no birds showed, we left and went to Irawan Ecopark where we hoped we would find the Melodious Babbler. Two of them approached us but stayed in the shadows, chasing each other but refusing to come out. We drove deeper into the park and stopped at the hides. 

Signage at Irawan
After checking out the Palawan Flycatcher, we made our way to catch the cockatoos and hopefully spot the frigatebirds that made an appearance the previous day. We positioned ourselves by the mudflats and after a short wait, heard the noisy flock of Philippine Cockatoos.

Lifer! Finally!
The rest of the flock soon followed to the tree.
The following day we went to zigzag road and there got the Melodious Babbler! The bird sang and teased us with quick in-you-face views before flying off hidden again. A Spot-throated Flameback also showed on a high tree as well as a handsome Blue Paradise Flycatcher. (Thank you, Capt. Floyd and Atty. Carlo for the correction on the flameback ID =) )

Melodious Babbler
Blue Paradise Flycatcher
Spot-throated Flameback
We tried our luck with the Falcated Wren Babbler but no matter how close it was calling, almost to our faces, the bird did not show. A quick trip to Iwahig didn't give us any birds so we drove back to the hotel. I was happy to have some time for a quick afternoon dip in the pool before the closing dinner and the awarding ceremonies.

It was quite a different experience shared with friends and was able to make new ones as well. I rediscovered that I am not a competitive person, but I do admire those that engage in healthy competition. There are different ways we experience birds and nature and I am grateful to be given a chance to experience this bird race.

Thanks again to our sponsors MISLATEL and Netpoleon Philippines! Thank you, Sir Roy and Sir Alain! And congratulations to all the winners and participants. Birding in Palawan, race or no race, is reason enough to feel like a winner! =)

See you again soon, Palawan!

A Lesson from Masipag the Succulent

A couple of months ago, a rat attacked our balcony garden of succulents. It may have been more than one rat but with the damage it did to some of our plants, we think it was just one rodent sneaking in at night to nibble on our juicy plants.

We are slowly filling up our balcony with a growing number cacti and succulents and we've named most of them. Others we have pet names like "Sadness" for the droopy one and "Pechay" for the one that looks like, well, a pechay.


We also have a Frailea grahliana which we call "Masipag" (industrious) because it continuously produced seed pods, its seeds we have successfully sown.

That's a blurry photo of Masipag
sporting a budding seed pod in the middle.
Sadly, that horrid rat attacked Masipag, stole its seed pod, and gnawed at it, leaving a nasty crater at its center. Djop and I were very sad (and infuriated!) when we saw what happened to one of our favorite succulents...

The rat took a large chunk out of Masipag...
It also took bites out of our first Astrophytum asteria...
The rat also "tasted"our other plants, even the spiny cacti but those damages were nothing compared to Masipag's. Those cactus spines really work!

So we took some steps to prevent and deter any future rat attacks on our plants, including placing a mosquito net over our plant shelf every evening.

Day time
Night time
Eventually, after a couple more unwanted visits from the rat (as evidenced by pee, scattered pebbles, and some damaged leaves here and there), the attacks finally stopped. 

We left Masipag and the asteria alone and hoped they would callous and recover from their damage. We weren't so hopeful though... their "wounds" have already dried up but Masipag stopped producing seed pods. 

But it turns out that Masipag was a fighter. After some time, from the fringes of the damage the rat caused, small buds started to grow. Here is Masipag now...

How many buds can you count? We count 4!!!
So now, everyday when I check our plants, I smile when I pick up Masipag and inspect the fast-growing baby fraileas flourishing from its wound. I guess this experience has reminded me of that famous quote from Rumi: "The wound is the place where the light enters you." In Masipag's case, the wound was where new life began.

At this point in time, it is a lesson much appreciated. We face many bad and problematic situations, but in those negative events, good things, even better things, can emerge and grow.

Succulents Save the Day!

I haven't been out birding in quite a while. Hectic work schedules have taken away most weekends and on the only free weekends I have, I either use to rest or am confined indoors because of the rainy weather. I am saved from frustration by my newfound passion in succulents.

I have always been surrounded by plants having parents who love gardening. No matter how small the allotted space in our home, our family always had plants. I've always wanted to be like them with the aptitude and the "green thumb" for making a variety of plants thrive under their care. Growing up, they always supported my efforts but, sadly, I've always failed. I tried vegetable gardening and was rewarded with a tray full of weeds. I also studied the art of bonsai but ended up killing the poor plants! I've bought sunflower growing kits but was never successful in growing them and seeing them flower.

It is only now that, with Djop, I tried my hand at succulents and cacti. And, finally, I have found my inner green thumb!

We got our first batch of succulents during a plant show in February and started with 4 plants. My brother Mark added to my collection and got me an additional 2 more plants! I researched and read about the proper care for the plants and got to work. Experience is really the best teacher... most of those plants died under my inexperienced care but, with the encouragement of Djop, my family, and friends who are also into succulents, I got a new batch and this time, took extra care and learned to respond to the plants.

First batch of succulents which I named (but regretted since most of them died...)

Gifts from my enabler brother =P

Now, 5 months after we got our first plants, Djop and I have a mostly-thriving collection of succulents and cacti! Most plants we buy in the plant area adjacent to Farmer's Market in Cubao (I included a map at the end of this post for reference), some are generously given by family members, and others are cuttings given by friends.

Another batch bought at another plant show in the Quezon Memorial Circle

We learned how to use pumice in our potting mix
 and also how to do leaf propagation

Recently, we've spent a lot of our free time and weekends working on our small balcony garden. We've still had some casualties here and there and putting them on the list of "To Buy Again Soon."

We've also had some pretty exciting milestones with our plants! Our frailea's are very generous in producing seed pods and some of our plants have gifted us with their pretty flowers.

Our aptenia continues to bloom!

Thank you, mom, for our gymnocalycium!!!

We've just sowed our frailea seedlings after harvesting from the seed pod and we're hoping for the best! The first batch that Djop sowed have already sprouted!!!

So, since I do not have any time and energy for birding, and because I am saddened and getting depressed and anxious because of it... our succulents save the day (and my sanity!)

To those wanting to check out the shops in Farmer's, here's a map to the Farmer's Garden area with walking directions from the MRT Araneta Cubao station. I included other landmarks such as the Smart Araneta Coliseum and the LRT2 Araneta Center Cubao Station so you can orient yourself: