The Reluctant Twitcher Strikes Again

 For the Spoon.

I have become, admittedly, a somewhat reluctant twitcher. The past few years have been very slow in terms of birding for me, although I try my best to volunteer and guide for the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines as much as I can. So, one can only imagine the drive I have when it comes to twitching nowadays.

It felt like only a few months ago since I last went out in search of a particular bird - but it turns out that my last twitch was in April LAST YEAR for the Eurasian Oystercatcher. Which was a success, by the way, given that I decided to finally try for it quite late in the season.

After getting permission from the boss to go and spend a Wednesday morning twitching, I was still contemplating if I should really go, up until the night before. Reluctant twitcher indeed! But I pushed all hesitancy aside and repeated my good friend Mark's words about going out to find the rarest bird I will most likely see - For those still trying for it, Believe. Holy Grails can be found.

So off we went to Balanga, Bataan at 3AM on a Wednesday morning. Djop, Prof. Bert, and I chatted nonchalantly about small stuff during the drive and a quick breakfast stop, but deep down inside I was conditioning myself that we might dip on this bird.

We arrived at the entrance of the Balanga Wetland Park at roughly 6:30AM and were greeted by a large flock of egrets busy with their breakfast. We parked, got our stuff ready, and met Jenny and her husband Jason who would be our boatman that morning. Jenny was pushing a stroller which held a cheerful baby Jerson who I believed gave us good juju =)

We boarded our bangka and crossed the river, greeted by a beautiful sky as the sun continued to rise. 

After only a couple of minutes, we found ourselves standing and staring at an expanse of mudflats, silently praying to the birding gods that we find the lone Spoonbilled Sandpiper that made an appearance for the first time ever in the Philippines in this very area.

After a short discussion on our "gameplan", we immediately started scanning the area for the critically endangered species that had me squishing my way in the mud.

It took one hour before Djop found the bird and both him and Prof Bert were whisper-yelling me over to where they were standing - "MAI!" "MAIA!!!" then emphatically pointing to a spot near the water's edge. 

I think my heart stopped beating for a second or two before I started making my way to the guys. At the same time, a noisy bangka ran along the river, parallel to me, towards the bird!!! Noooooo! Would I have to outrun a motorized boat to the bird before the boat flushed it away?! 

Squelch squelch squelch. 

I don't know how I managed to walk that fast on slippery, treacherously soft mud without slipping or falling on my behind! Of course, the bangka reached the bird before I did, successfully flushing it....

towards me! 

It flew past me and banked further away before landing, but since the three of us had eyes on it THE WHOLE TIME we were able to reposition ourselves and put the bird on our scopes, bins, and cameras! 

HUZZAH! Lifer! Mega lifer!

Spoonbilled Sandpiper

This was the first official twitch of my Canon SX70 and what a lucky camera it is! The bird actively fed with a small group of Red-necked Stints, foraging between snails and, sadly, bits of garbage. We "lost" the bird a couple of time but reacquired it after a few minutes of searching.

"Found it!"


"Just in front of the blue piece of plastic."

"The big one or the small one?

"The small one."

It is quite a sad thing that reference points to find the bird involved differentiating between sizes of trash or between shades of "SM blue" and "Watsons blue" plastic and it actually working - but here we are.

A critically endangered species feeding amidst, well, trash.

The sighting of this bird in Manila Bay should bring to light its importance and the need to protect the habitat. "It also highlights the significance of Manila Bay as a crucial feeding area for migratory waterbirds, including species of international importance." writes our birder friend Lu-Ann Bajarias in an article published on (Read more:

A successful twitch and surrounded by wonderful waders (the Pacific Golden Plovers were transitioning to breeding plumage!!!!), my birder heart was very happy and, yes, much relieved. Mark said to believe, and I did! 

Happy twitchers who were back to work in Manila after lunch

We returned to the other side of the river and took a celebratory selfie with Jason, Jenny, and Jerson who shared our smiles and happiness from finding the bird.

I also promised to volunteer to guide once a month for the rest of the year if I saw the bird. So, Mike... 😜

Sharing some video clips of this most awesome lifer!! Thank you to Mark, Jas, Mads, and Lu-Ann for the tips and good luck wishes! 💖

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