Saturday, March 25

Manila idylls: Terns and Gulls of the Pasig River

Old Manila conjures up images of the walled city of Intramuros - adobe fortifications and cobblestone walks, churches and ruins, bridges over the river Pasig and plazas.  But wildlife?  Not really on the radar when one thinks of the historical district!

A view of Pasig River with the old Manila Post Office on the right bank
and the Binondo district across

Last February 26, the Battle of Manila in 1945 was commemorated with an open-to-all festival in the park at Buluarte San Diego organized by Carlos Celdran.  Before the party kicked off, the WBCP decided to introduce another side of the city to its residents: birds of course!

Late in the afternoon, we met a small group of mostly first time birders at the Plaza Mexico

No traffic on Sundays!  Facing the Aduana building ruins.

Participants included repeat guided walk participants, urban sketchers, families and barkadas looking to try out birdwatching and curious about the birds of Manila.

Mike and some of our participants.

No worries about spotting birds: the Pasig River was alive with Whiskered Terns and even a few Black-headed Gulls!

Terns perched on the wires crossing the river (Can you spot the gull?)

We spent a lot of time admiring the graceful birds as they skimmed over the dark waters of the Pasig.

Whiskered Terns

Black-headed Gull

While many coastal cities all over the world are plagued by aggressive gulls, the birds here were still wary of people. WBCP-er and Manila-resident Rache G. says that they used to be persecuted by those who lived along the banks, who made them targets for their slingshots and airguns.  Thankfully, the recent initiatives to clean up the river side has diminished these threats, and now more of these coastal birds are commonly sighted along the river banks inland.

The Whiskered Terns perched on electric and communications wires were dwarfed by the much larger gulls, and it was amusing to see them give way so their larger neighbor could have some perching space.

In (almost) perfect alignment!

One of the Black-headed Gulls was already approaching full breeding plumage and it actually had a black head!  It was an excellent example to explain winter plumage and migration to the bird walk participants.

Black-headed Gull approaching full breeding plumage:
so that's why it's called Black-headed!

Besides the gulls and terns, we were able to spot several other birds.  Pacific Swallows, and Glossy Swiftlets glided smoothly over the waters also.

Along the banks were several Little Egrets perched on floating clumps of water hyacinth.  On the few trees and electrical posts we spotted Zebra Doves, Asian Glossy Starlings and Yellow-vented Bulbuls.  

At the Maestranza ruins, Eurasian Tree Sparrows were enjoying dust baths. A lone Brown Shrike was hunting amongst some bougainvillea bushes.  We were surprised when one of the participants pointed out a Java Sparrow in one of the trees!

A lone Java Sparrow int he parking lot.

As sunset approached, we were treated to playful pair of Philippine Pied Fantails and to cap off the birdwalk, a beautiful Common Kingfisher was spotted!

Urban landscapes are more than just buildings and people, more than historic monuments and modern structures.  Cities are home to wildlife as well!  All we have to do is open our eyes to see our wild urban neighbors whom we share the city with.

After birding: the Transitio Manila party at Buluarte San Diego

Cheers to urban biodiversity!
A cold jar of purple kamote leaf Bayani Brew never tasted so good.

Sunday, January 22

A day in Rizal

A morning in Antipolo...

Midway through December last year, Adri and I took a short trip east of Manila to Rizal to visit our friend with a lovely home and garden, teacher Emma.  It is always a delightful visit, to sit down with her over a leisurely breakfast and talk about this and that in the world while surrounded by greenery and beautiful things.

Before leaving (our morning visit had lasted until noon - as good conversation always makes us lose track of the time), we took a short walk down her street and came across a few birds.

A Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker was keeping busy up a huge rain tree, together with several Lowland White Eyes, a migrant Arctic Warbler, a few Gerygones and a pair of Pied Fantails.

Further down, we spotted a White-throated Kingfisher and a few Philippine Bulbuls.  A Grey backed Tailorbird called loudly from the tangle of vines and bamboo while an invisible Mangrove Blue Flycatcher sang melodiously. Above us a Philippine Serpent Eagle circled twice before gliding gracefully over the hill.

Back at the gate of the house, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Red-keeled Flowerpeckers were gorging on the the bubbly white fruit of a small tree.

I've seen this tree in thickets here and there but never found out what it was.  I asked help online and one of the suggestions was Dalunot, Pipturus arborescens.

Found this botanical print from Fr. Blanco online

What I always thought of as its flowers, were actually its fruit!  The small, soft, white and fleshy fruit looked to me like thick soapy foam bubbles and the birds love it! 

The red-keeled flowerpecker we were busy observing was no exception.  I was happy to find out that it was a native plant. (Please do correct me if the identification is wrong!)

Right above us a Philippine Coucal was skulking in the thick vines.  How wonderful to be in a place where the birds do not seem so afraid of humans!

On to Angono...

Since we were already in Rizal and we had the whole day free, we decided to drive further and check on the family of Philippine Eagle Owls at the Angono Petroglyphs.

When we got there, we were delighted to here the news from the curator Roden that the young owl had just fledged that morning!  We quickly spotted him quietly perched in front of the cave wall.

Higher up above the cave was mom, carefully hidden but keeping an eye out.

And even further out was dad, also well hidden but still in view.

We spent a good hour on the viewing platform for the petroglyphs chatting with Roden talking about the owls, the museum, and of course, the state of the nation.  Such serious topics!  All the while a pair of tiny Scaly-breasted Munias were busy with their nest just above the cave. 

Life seems so fleeting when standing before a centuries-old testament to history.

Sunday, January 15

A bat in the backyard

While puttering about the garden, I saw a small pile of talisay (Terminalia catappa) fruit on the ground together with a small unripe macopa (Syzygium samarangense) fruit. This was several feet away from the nearest tree of either species. The talisay fruit was gnawed down to the seed, bite marks very clearly scarring the surfaces. Hmmmm...

Having some idea of the culprit, I looked up, and sure enough, there was a tiny bat hanging upside down from the tree canopy above me.

Ooops, I think I've been spotted! Here's the little bat taking a look down at me looking up at him.

How cool!

Frugivorous bats are well-known dispersers of talisay seeds, so if you come across a talisay seedling with no mother plant nearby, this flying mammal could be your sower.

I've always wondered where the bats I hear flying around at night roost.  Nice to know the garden is home to another wild animal.

(And yes, I scattered the pile of seeds after I took the photo... didn't want my mom finding about our furry friend. I don't think she would be pleased.)

UPDATE: My friend (and wildlife biologist) JC identified batty as Cynopterus brachyotis, lesser dog-faced fruit bat (common short-nosed fruit bat, lesser short-nosed fruit bat).  And this weekend, when I checked, there were two of them! Hope they hang around (haha).

Monday, January 2

Subic is also butterflies!

Since we were already in the area and still had the weekend free after the Ibong Dayo Festival in Balanga, Adri and I decided to spend the night in Subic so we could go birding the next day.

Birding in Subic almost never disappoints and that Friday afternoon and Saturday morning was no exception.  Woodpeckers, pigeons, coucals, malkohas, kingfishers, cuckoo shrikes, raptors, hornbills, barbets, tree swifts, dollarbirds, owls, plus all the other usual suspects were present. But my attention to the birds was distracted by another Subic flying attraction: buttterflies!

The moment I saw several Painted Jezebels, Delias hyparete, (looking freshly eclosed) flying around the flowering hagonoy, I knew butterly-ing would overtake birding (for me at least) that weekend!

Hagonoy, Chromolaena odorata Linn., is introduced from North America and is one of the world's worst invasive plants.  Among its common names are Devil weed, Christmas bush  and Butterfly weed: all reflecting its nature.  It is very difficult to control and eradicate, it flowers  around December and it is a nectaring plant for lepidopterans.

As the morning wore on, Adri was busy with the birds, and I was focused on the butterflies feeding on the profusion of white hagonoy flowers.

The easiest to photograph was the large and always friendly Cruiser, Vindula dejone

It would alternate between feeding and sunning itself on nearby leaves.

Many other nymphalids were out feeding:

Satyr, Ptychandra lorquinii 

Crow, Euploea sp.

Sailor (or one of those butterflies with a military rank, sergeant? How will I ever learn to get the ID correctly?!)

Zethera pimplea 

Perhaps the star of the morning was a beautiful Banded Peacock, Achillides palinurus.  It was unusually cooperative, perching on the white flowers rather than just the usually fast flight.  

Its wings were still flapping very swiftly, the hindwings moving in figure of 8 pattern, so it took several tries to get it showing the upper side. 

It was such a beauty, even Adri was pulled away from the Dollarbird he was photographing to join me in stalking this swallowtail.

Another papilionid present was the elegant Green Dragontail, Lamproptera meges.

Although much smaller, they were no less speedy, and darted from blossom to blossom.

There were also several skippers (hesperids) out and about.  The easiest for me to identify (about the only one I can!) is this snow flat, Tagiades japetus.

Other skippers:

While a lot of the skippers were feeding, some were attracted to our equipment and to our clothes and skin!  Probably in search of the minerals in our sweat.

This one spent a lot of time perched on the tripod.

While another one followed Adri around while he birded.

Skippers were not the only ones on the lookout for non-botanical perches!

Here is the same Vindula dejone as above, eye to eye with me as it rested on the camera strap on top of the car.

One of the few lycaenids that day was quite friendly, perching not only on our camera equipment, but on me and Adri alternately!

Aside from the Delias, several different types of pierids were actively feeding.  It is easy to see why this family is referred to as whites and sulfurs/yellows.

There were several Chocolate Albatrosses, Appias lyncida.

Tree yellows, Gandaca harina  (not sure on this ID either!)

White Albatrosses,  Appias albina

Several very vibrantly colored Orange Albatrosses, Appias nero  (one was quite larger, so I am not sure if this is the correct species) also were plenty.

Later,  just as we were about to leave, it was a pleasant surprise to find several of the pierids puddling on the asphalt.

Side by side, I realised that the Chocolate Albatross (3rd from left on foreground in photo below) looked very similar (but not!) to the pierids beside it (2nd, 5th and 6th).  Perhaps these were Cepora boisduvaliana

Notice the yellow and white mark on the apex of the forewing, as opposed to the single yellow mark. Argh to butterfly identification!

A common mormon, Menelaides polytes, joined the puddling pierids, looking like a giant beside them.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a favorite, the tiny lycaenid Caleta roxus also gathering minerals.

It was fast approaching noon and we had to drive back to the business district to check out of our hotel.  It was difficult to leave such a beautiful sight, so we took a few (and by that I mean maybe a hundred) parting shots of the kaleidoscope on the road.

Birds AND butterflies.  I love Subic.

Bird identification is sooo much easier than butterfly identification!  I would appreciate identification and corrections to the ones I've made here. :-)