Monday, August 31

Unusual at the usual

It was great to have met new birding buddies on campus!

Fr. Vic is a budding birder and bird photographer and had taken great documentation of two cuckoo species on campus: the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo and the Philippine Drongo Cuckoo (a new record for the campus).  Alex had crossed paths with him in the virtual world of social media and we set up a Saturday afternoon birdwalk to meet up.  We were happily joined by Temay and Joy who worked at the admin offices.

Our walk started out with the usual suspects: a Black-naped Oriole was calling loudly from a tree in front of the admin building.  Zebra Doves patrolled the grassy areas between the trees, almost oblivious to our presence.

Zebra or Peaceful, both these names fit this dove perfectly!

At the parking lot, a Coppersmith Barbet was calling loudly, but it took some effort to spot him.  There was also a younger barbet, with much less red on his head.  Neither would keep still enough for a clear enough photo though.

A partially hidden Coppersmith Barbet.

Suddenly Adri spotted a different bird shape up in the tree.  A Rusty- breasted Cuckoo (Brush Cuckoo)!  I had not seen this bird on campus in a looooooong time.  It was still a juvenile, the barring across its breast and underparts very distinctive.  It flew quietly and purposefully around the tree until we lost track of it.

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo!  You can just see the start of the "rusty breast" in this juvenile.

All this while, a Zebra Dove was lying, very relaxed I must say,  on the gravel behind us, probably wondering what the fuss was about.

I'm calm and relaxed...

In the shallow trough beside the parking lot, a White-breasted Waterhen was moving quietly behind the grass while invisible Barred Rails called loudly.  A Philippine Coucal made a surprise appearance as it flew low over the ground and disappeared behind the vegetation.  The cogon grass was left long enough to allow it to go flower and seed, and small flocks of Scaly-breasted Munias were enjoying a snack.

Munias in the grass

In the overgrown bamboo, a Philippine Magpie Robin and a Philippine Pied Fantail played hide-and-seek.  Changes in taxonomy had elevated these birds to endemics recently, nice for birds easily seen/heard on campus.

A Philippine Pied Fantail guarding his secret territory.

Yellow-vented Bulbuls flew around us, often perching for a bit of preening.

Yellow-vented Bulbul in mid-preen pose.

As the afternoon slipped to sunset, we hurried along towards where Fr. Vic had spotted the cuckoos, hoping for a glimpse or maybe to hear some calls.  

As we entered the back garden, a Long-tailed Shrike perched against the valley of Marikina, with the Sierra Madre mountains in the distance.  

A not-so-neat looking Long-tailed Shrike, maybe in mid-molt.

As we approached the slope for a better view of the valley, we flushed a Common Emerald Dove from its tree on a low mango tree. We walked to the side and back around the parking lot.  On a bare-branched tree in the distance, another  Coppersmith Barbet was calling loudly.  Above us, a flock of Lowland White-eyes was moving through the canopy of the huge rain tree, maybe one last snack before roosting for the night.

Suddenly, Tere called out "Imperial Pigeon!"

Wow, that was unusual!  Green Imperial Pigeons were relatively common in forested areas but hardly sighted in the city. We all took a look, and sure enough, in place of the diminutive Coppersmith Barbet  was a large Pigeon, clearly silhouetted against the sky!

A surprise sighting in the distant tree.

And an even bigger surprise when Adri exclaimed "It's a Spotted Imperial Pigeon!", telling us to take a good look at its breast and underparts which, even in the dwindling light,  were clearly brownish!

Bird alert: SpImp on campus! SpImp on campus!

Imagine having a spotted a Spotted Imperial Pigeon, a hard to find endemic, right at one's workplace!  It was such a pleasant surprise!  We explained to our birding companions (who were probably initially surprised at OUR surprise!)  that our group had traveled all the way to Ilocos Norte to spot these elusive birds!

Local migration?  Lost in the city?  Whatever the reason that particular individual decided to stop and perch at that particular tree at that particular time - it was serendipitous for our little birding group. 

Happy to have more birding eyes now on campus! Since then, Fr. Vic has also documented an immature Black-chinned Fruit Dove, another new record for our "backyard"!  I'm hoping now our campus bird list will grow and there will be more exciting finds for us. 

Sunday, August 9

When school is out

With a new semester starting, the campus will be alive once more with the student population going about their daily routine. Having had an extended break because of the adjustment to a new school year (with the "summer" term moving to June - July and the first semester starting in August), the campus was pretty quiet for most of April and May with only the regular staff and the faculty coming to work.

With a few bird walks scheduled as a fun activity to fill in the student-free work load for the staff, we were quick to observe a few campus birds not regularly seen during the busy school year.

A family of Philippine Magpie Robins were regulars at an empty student parking lot near our office.  It was great to see this family of four every afternoon, with the young busy following their parents around.  They were an easy bird to point out to newbie birders, distinctive black and white birds flitting around actively the parking slots shaded by a couple of ficus trees.

Dad in a typical pose.

Mum in another typical pose.

One of the young ones looking at me curiously.

The young ones would often beg loudly for food.  When this was observed by one of my high school students on a summer internship, she exclaimed excitedly " It's shouting! It's shouting!"


Their beautiful melodious call was clearly heard in the relatively silent campus.  The parking lot was adjacent to an overgrown area where they presumably stayed most of the year when they would be reported as "heard but not seen".

I'm glad to have verified that the campus Magpie Robin population seems to be doing well and growing in number.

Aside from the Magpie Robins, a short observation at the ficus trees also gave good sightings of White-eared Brown Doves.

A quiet pair of endemic White-eared Brown Doves.

These endemic doves are usually very shy and skittish.  They are not common in the city, except in pockets of greenery.  This pair was calmly preening at a talisay tree behind the ficus, after having enjoyed a snack of ficus fruit.

In the afternoon, several Barred Rails could often be called calling, hidden in the long grass. With a few people around, a few ventured out into the open areas.

With a bit of patience, a brief  Barred Rail sighting in the grassy fields.

It's good to document these not-so-often-seen-birds-on-campus.  While I expect them to fall back into the "heard only" category now that school has started, I look forward to catching even brief glimpses every now and then.

In the meantime it's back to the regular campus birds...

The very common Zebra Dove.

Sunday, July 19

Alukon, white-eyes and dinengdeng

Ilocanos might be very familiar with the himbabao tree (Brousonnetia luzonica) whose flowers they use in a variety of vegetable dishes, like the yummy dinengdeng.

While I love the diluted saltiness (and the obvious healthy attributes of a leafy viand) of dinengdeng, it was only recently that I became familiar with this native tree.

On one birding outing I found myself seeking refuge from the hot summer sun under one such tree, and I was delighted to see a pair of lowland white-eyes moving around the canopy, ignoring the birder sheltered in the shade beneath them.

One of a pair of  lowland white-eyes on a himbabao tree.

Inspecting each and every leaf.

Careful scrutiny leads to success - is that some sort of insect pupa?

I then noticed that the tree was in full flower, with long, worm-like flowers (often described as spike-like inflorescence) dripping in profusion from its branches.  

The long pendulous flowers of the himababao or alukon
One of my birding companions, said that the Ilocanos called this alukon, and that it was actually the male of the species (female trees were distinct from males - in botanical terms, the himbabao is dioecious, and had flowers which looked different). During flowering season, they would actually cut down the branches of the tree to more easily harvest the flowers which can be cooked for personal consumption or sold in the market.

Sure enough, I saw alukon flowers being sold in the market, even back in Metro Manila!

Is this a good bird attracting tree then?  From my short observation, I suppose it could be. A quick internet search revealed it is recommended as a pioneer species for reforestation and for urban greening.  It is used in agroforestry as an intercrop, the wood for paper pulp, furniture and dugout canoes. Although not outstanding in its appearance, it can be planted in edible gardens.

Later in the day I also saw that the ubiquitous backyard bird which is the yellow-vented bubul also came to the tree to regularly inspect the leaves and flowers.

A bulbul grabbing onto one of the alukon flowers.

So, food for humans, food for birds and a native tree.  I guess you can't go wrong with that?

Friday, July 10

10 Years a Birder

10 years and 6 months ago, on the 8th of January 2005, I joined my first guided trip with the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. It was a Saturday afternoon birdwalk at a very familiar place: the University of the Philippines. Led by WBCP founders Michael Lu and Lala Española, I joined a large group of first-time birders - one of the few times I had worked up the courage to join a group where I didn't know a single soul.  Lala and Mike pointed out birds I had hardly noticed in my 10+ years on campus. I will never forget the end of that day:  we watched a Eurasian Kestrel flying over the rice fields at Hardin ng Bougainvillea, plucking a bat in mid-flight for its early evening meal.  Little did I know that this particular afternoon would be the start of something big. I was hooked!

Birding has definitely changed me: the way I plan my weekends, the way I plan my out-of-town trips, the places I have been, the people I have met, my views of my neighborhood, my city, country - the way I look at the world!  It is not quite as dramatic as it sounds,  but birding actually HAS given me a whole new outlook, not only of the great outdoors, but also about how other people view the environment as well.

In the past 10 years, I have seen more of and learned more about the Philippines than I had ever thought I would!

I've climbed hills and mountains (and I am NOT a climber) to see magnificent (and not so magnificent) birds.
The Great Philippine Eagle in Mt Kitanglad, 2009

A horrible photo of the Whiskered Flowerpecker, Mt. Talomo, 2014

I've seen sunsets, slept under starry skies and woken up to glorious sunrise unmarred by electric lights.

Waiting for the Philippine Cockatoos to wake up at Rasa Island, 2005

A glorious sunrise at Agusan Marsh, 2008

The Southern Cross at Bucas Grande, 2013

I've been to tourist spots looking beyond the usual.
Watching Ashy Drongos at Mt. Tapyas at Coron, 2011

Ospreys at Lake Balinsasayao, Negros Oriental, 2007

Birding at the northern end of the country, Batanes, 2014

I've returned to places I had been before, seeing them again through a birder's eyes.
At the Banaue Rice Terraces, 2010

Birding in Bohol, 2010, photo from Melanie

Rainy Days at Puerto Princesa, near the Underground River, 2008

Watching tits and nuthatches in Sagada, 2006

I've been back and again, year after year,  For what? To count birds!

Waders and locals enjoying the Balanga Wetlands Park, 2013

Philippine Ducks at Candaba, 2013

Raptorwatch in Ilocos, 2015, photo from Alex

I've visited places off the popular tourist trail.

Getting ready for a river crossing at Pasonanca, Zamboanga, 2012

Searching for the Asiatic Dowitchers at Olango, Cebu, 2013

Osprey and milkfish at Bani Pangasinan, 2012

The Ikalahan community at Imugan, Sta. Fe, 2006

Spotting a Koel at the Onoda Trail, Lubang island, 2011
The Dubduban watershed in the town of San Agustin in Tablas gave us the Tablas Drongo, 2012

I've been to back and again to favorite birding sites I know like the back of my hand

Sunlight on the forest trail, Makiling, Laguna

The hidden backroads at Subic, Morong

And I've seen them change over the years.

The Candaba wetlands, 2007, now converted to rice fields.
Mt. Palay-palay, 2005.  This is where I got most of my lowland Luzon forest lifers, now the site of the Ternate-Nasugbu highway and the Kaybiang tunnel.

I've transformed from light traveler to one willing to carry a few extra kilos for a pair of binoculars, a camera and a field guide in her pack (good thing Adri carries the scope and tripod!)

Our typical check-in luggage.
I've seen the secret (and not-so-secret) places of Metro Manila where greenery and wild things thrive in the middle (or edges) of a bustling city.
For a quick birding fix: La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City, 2011

The last mangroves of Manila:  the Las Piñas Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotoursim Area (LPPCHEA), 2012
A guided bird walk at the Ateneo katipunan campus, 2015. Photo from Lydia.

I've discovered hidden corners of my backyard where natural history comes alive.

Our backyard brown shrike picking off the remains of a tree frog, 2009

A yellow-vented bulbul nest in our front yard 2014

In the past 10 years, I have met Filipinos from all walks of life!

I've been led through the forest by the most experienced, and sometimes, the most unlikely guides.

Zardo at PICOP, Bislig (2011)

With Danny and Carlito at Kitanglad after seeing the Apo Sunbird (2009)

A butterfly lands on the foot of our guide, one of the inmates at the penal colony  in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental (2010)

Ryan of Bohol's Raja Sikatuna National Park leads us on a very successful sweep of our target birds, 2010

Laoag-resident Richard, always on the look out for unusual migrants up north, 2013, photo from Tere

Warden, Oking's dog who scrambled up the limestone cliffs of Tabunan, Cebu with amazing ease, 2013

I've worked with people with a passion for conserving Philippine biodiversity and sustaining communities.
Peter and Indira of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (2015)

The PEF staff and stakeholders in preserving the Philippine Eagle and its habitat. (2014)

Peace Corps Volunteer Rhonda and the fisherfolk of Ginablan, Romblon (2012)
Fredd and the UP mountaineers fighting to save the Ipo watershed (2010)
The WBCP with Mayor Joet of Balanga after the waterbird census (2012), photo from Leny

DOT Regional Director MJune showing us the migratory Barn Swallows congregating at downtown Zamboanga City, 2012

With the always enthusiastic staff of Anvaya Cove (2014), photo from Tinggay

And of course all the hard-working birders and volunteers of the WBCP! (2015) photo from Marites

I've learned about the Philippine's natural heritage from academics, enthusiasts, volunteers, guides, fishermen, farmers, forest rangers, students: all devoted to their fields. I've met leaders with a clear vision that includes the environment.

And I have seen children who will inherit all that is left behind.

The families of the Ipo Watershed, Bulacan (2010)

Children of PICOP in Surigao, 2011)

An impromptu guided trip with the children at Ginablan, Romblon, 2012

Kid and their slingshots at Siargao 2015

Students filming a project at La Mesa, sidetracked by birders and a thrush, 2014
Birding has become a passion for me.  A passion I have shared with fellow birders and with non-birders as well.

Promoting the 4th Philippine Birdfestival held in Puerto Princesa at ROX, 2008

At the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, 2015

Guiding the staff and guests at Anvaya Cove, 2013, photo from Raymond

Birding friends have become part of my life.

The birders' tables at our wedding, 2012. Photo from Kim, Imagine Nation.

I am thankful to have crossed paths with all these people. They have changed me and my world.

Birding has opened my eyes and my ears, challenged me physically and mentally, given me space to breathe.

Adri and myself in Dumaguete, 2011, photo from Drew.
We're 10-year birders and looking forward to more!

10 years and 400+ Philippine bird species later, I am still hooked. And I am excited and looking forward to where the next 10 years of birding will take me!