Saturday, September 24

Saturday morning at the LPPCHEA

I was happy to be back at the LPPCHEA (Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area) for a bit of Saturday morning birding with some members of the WBCP. 

The beach at LPPCHEA on a Saturday morning.

I had not been back for a few years and I was curious to see the beach we once dubbed as "rubber slipper beach" when I was just starting out birding.  All sorts of trash littered the beach, from your usual plastic packaging to styrofoam boxes, discarded nets and rope, furniture, handbags, clothes, toys... ANYTHING you can think up, including A LOT of rubber slippers. Well, there was still a LOT of the city's trash washed up on the beach, but it was not as thick as previous times I was there (and no, I don't think we could play the finding a matching-pair-of-rubber-slippers thrown away game anymore).

I had hitched a ride from fellow QC-ers Art and Riza and we were joined by Cathy and Rage.  When we arrived, the group was just about ready to enter the inner trail of Long Island towards the ponds and DENR station.

I was impressed by how big the trees which had planted a few years ago have grown, especially the Agoho trees.  The ends of the Agoho leaf "needles" held drops of the previous nights' precipitation which twinkled in the morning light.

Agoho-lined trails at Long Island

I could not miss the harsh calls of the Brown Shrikes, I counted no less than 10 individuals perched on top of the different levels of vegetation.  The song of Philippine Pied Fantails, Pied Trillers, Zebra Doves and Golden-bellied Gerygones could be heard from the mangroves.  High above, egrets, Whiskered Terns and Rock Doves flew against the lightening skies.  Every so often, a Black-crowned Night Heron would call as it flew over.

I was happily surprised to see several pairs of Grey-backed Tailorbirds in the mangroves.  They were calling loudly as they chased each other in the dark undergrowth.

When we arrived at the ponds, I was disappointed not to find any of the Common Moorhens or Philippine Ducks that were usually there.

But I could see that some of the group had moved to the beach so I made my way through the mangroves. The tide was just beginning to go out, but a small strip of sand was barely visible under all the flotsam washed up, mostly trash and piles of the invasive water hyacinth.

Every time I get a glimpse of the sand at the LPPCHEA beach, I try to imagine what it would look like if there wasn't any garbage on the beach, fine grey sand full of white bleached shells.

Grey sand littered with broken shells.

Out over the water were several Whiskered Terns.  Towards the shallows of the river were Little Egrets. A few Black-crowned Night Heron were perched on sticks. A particularly tall stick seemed prime property as herons, egrets, terns and even a Common Sandpiper would take turns perching on it. A Collared Kingfisher was patrolling by one of the prickly amor plants.

A Black-crowned Night Heron and a Little Egret

On the beach,  we observed a Little Egret which was very successful in catching breakfast.  In the midst of all the pollution, the shallows still provided what seemed like an abundance of small fish. We would constantly see schools jumping at the surface of the water.

Fresh catch of the day by a Little Egret still sporting its plumes.

And it was not just the birds who were taking advantage of this bounty. One of the beach dogs had caught a large tilapia and was carrying it back to its home!

One of the LPPCHEA beach dogs not to be outdone by the fishing birds.

The rest of the dogs didn't even mind the arrival of the furry fisherman, and they continued to nap in the shade as beach dogs all over the world do.

While the other dogs are just living the life.

A little further on, we began spotting a some more migrants.  A trio of Pacific Golden Plovers were foraging in the sand near a lone Common Greenshank.

A pair of Pacific Golden Plovers

A lone Common Greenshank got me thinking about the next AWC.

Later, we were happy to see a pair of Whimbrels with their long curved bills.  As the pair were alternately foraging and engaging in a little cockfight, a third Whimbrel was bathing in the water at the shore.


We also saw the unmistakable pink legs of a Black-winged Stilt as a single individual flew past us.

We were all delighted by the sudden appearance of a Common Kingfisher which darted out of the mangroves and hovered for quite some time over the water before diving in for a catch.  It would do this several times, gaining appreciative "ooooohs" as it fluttered in place, suspended over the surf.

Suddenly, another bird landed on the beach: a Rufous Night Heron!  It stood quite still for several minutes, its neck and body all stretched out.  

A Rufous Night Heron looking all forlorn.

Eventually it was disturbed by some of the fishermen and it flew over the sea right in front of us.  It's slow flight gave me a perfect opportunity to catch it in mid flight.

Rufous Night Heron in flight!

Toward the end of our stay, several other groups of visitors began to arrive at the park.  One of the groups was a a busload of University students doing a coastal clean-up as part of their NSTP CWTS (National Service Training Program - Civic Welfare Training Service). They were at the start of the beach, and were performing the insurmountable task of hauling trash from the beach.

I was happy to run into Sir Rey Aguinaldo of the DENR who managed the LPPCHEA.  He said that they thankfully did have a lot of volunteers who participated in beach clean-ups. But still of course, the trash kept coming in, from that undending source which is all the human settlements around Manila Bay.

As I watched the kids cleaning up the beach, a Little Egret hunting in the foreground came into focus.  What a juxtaposition of images.

A Little Egret forages for food amid the trash as students clean-up the beach further down the shore.

I can only dream of the time when our trash does not end up in the ocean, and when the white shell beach of the LPPCHEA will sparkle under the tropical sun.  When a nature walk here will not only show trees and plants and birds and insects, but actual marine organisms of the intertidal zone! 

Do I dare hope it be in my lifetime?

Sunday, September 18

While waiting for BBS*

*BBS = Backyard Brown Shrike

The garden has been high in bird activity the past few weeks. This is mostly because the rambutan is fruiting, but it's also because the migrant brown shrikes are slowly trickling in. The ripening of the rambutan coincides with the return of these feisty birds leading to the jostling for position and re-drawing of territories for the season.

Probably least concerned with the return of the migrants are the Large-billed Crows. A pair of them always lands on the tree outside our bedroom window in the morning, their loud cawing in dissonance with the pleasant dawn chorus.

At center stage are the lovable green Colasisi, twittering the day away in the rambutan trees.  I have seen as many as 6 individuals on a single tree, slowly picking away at the thick red rind to get to the juicy white flesh of the fruit.

Small quarrels would erupt as they fought for the ripest fruit, or stood guard over their carefully opened treat.  

Joining in the feast are a few shrewd Yellow-vented Bulbuls, on the look out for already opened fruit.  They fly in to enjoy their own feast.

The Colasisi feed most actively during the morning and late afternoon.  At midday, we would hear their soft chirping as they rested. It was almost comical to watch them dropping their heads while falling asleep after their meal, their bellies probably full of the sweet fruit.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Philippine Pied Fantail still rules, its melodious call resonating from every corner. It flies back and forth around the yard, turning with a sharp snap of its wings and graceful fanning of its tail.

The pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds, which occupy the shared corner with the next door yard, are already being bullied by the neighbor's BBS. What can they do but sing loudly from their clothesline perch in protest.

I am certain that the large flocks of Eurasian Tree Sparrows will disperse as soon as BBS arrives, the young ones had better learn quickly to avoid the king when he returns.

True to their less popular name, the Peaceful Doves (Zebra Doves), continue to be placid amidst the haste of the changing season.  They quietly forage in the grass, or preen while perched on branch or electric wire.  Their quiet cooing is only interrupted when they take off, surprised by the slightest of movements.

And the wait for the arrival of BBS continues.

Saturday, September 10

1st Saturday of the month birdwalk at the PEC

Our Metro Manila-based group (Alex, Tere, Mark, Mel, Adri and myself) was wrapping up our Mindanao adventures when we fortuitously found ourselves in Davao City on the first Saturday of July. So we were invited by Pete of WBCP-Davao and Rai of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (and also WBCP-Davao) to join the regular birdwalk for the general public (also supported by Kenko Optics)  at the Philippine Eagle Center.

First Saturday of the Month Birdwalk at the Philippine Eagle Center
sponsored by the Philippine Eagle Foundation
in partnership with Wild Bird Club of the Philippines - Davao and Kenko Optics
(announcement from the PEF facebook page)

And so we made it a point to be at Malagos at 630am, a group of people of all ages was already starting out birding. They were looking at a white-collared kingfisher behind the souvenir and snack shacks at the entrance of the watershed.

First bird of the day: Collared Kingfisher
photo c/o Tere C.

It was great to see so much interest in the guided trip. It was a group of over 30 with photographers, PEF volunteers, birders, grade school and high school kids, parents (and even a baby!) who joined the birdwalk.  Some were first time birders, while others were already bitten by the birding bug. 

Some blue-throated bee-eaters perched on leafless branches earned oohs and aaahs, especially for those who were seeing them for the first time. Another bird which was spotted just outside the center was the purple-throated sunbird.  Adri first pointed out the juliae subspecies which was much more yellow in the belly (rather than red), and later the participants also spotted the more common trochilus subspecies (with the bright red breast).

Purple-throated Sunbird juliae

Birding at the entrance of the PEC
The group stopped at the sunny veranda of the pond at the PEC to look at flowerpeckers, bulbuls, doves, barbets and swallows. 

Getting some morning sun while birding
The children became engrossed with watching the pacific swallows feeding their young in mud nests built under the bridge.

The kids watching the Pacific Swallows under the bridge.

The party was split up to smaller groups and we all took different trails around the PEC. Our group walked around the enclosures and to the area where the Philippine Eagle Mindanao is exhibited. Above Mindanao is a large ficus tree, where we spotted more doves, barbets, flowerpeckers, bulbuls and starlings.  Near the bamboo clump, we saw Black-naped Monarchs, a White-throated Kingfisher and a Philippine Coucal.

Mindanao - always curiously watching the birders.

We ran into Alex's group, they were looking high up into the bamboo at a large Red-tailed Rat Snake!  The snake caught everyone's attention, probably even more than any bird that morning! 

A beautiful red-tailed rat snake up in the bamboo.

After a couple of hours, the whole group assembled at the seminar room and sat down to compile the bird list for the morning.  While settling down, we were joined by a glossy swiftlet who was nesting at a corner of the room.

Glossy swiftlet nests are all over the PEF offices

The neighborhood kids (who joined the birdwalk for the first time) contributing to the birdlist.

It was an impressive list of 33 species which was consolidated for the 3-hour birdwalk!

So happy to see a regular walk being conducted in Davao, thanks to the tremendous enthusiasm of the PEF staff and volunteers and WBCP-Davao!  This was one of the goals we had discussed at our workshop last year and it's great that it has come to fruition! 

Loving the realization of Rai's mind map from our 2015 workshop!

I hope to have the chance to join again soon. 

So anytime you find yourself in Davao on the first Saturday of the month, here's a fun, relaxing and enriching activity you can join!  There's so much to see at the PEC beyond the rescued and captive-bred animals. 

Here's the link to the PEF facebook page for more announcements and information.  (They also have a last Saturday of the month Nature Discovery Walk which doesn't start out so early in the morning!)

Birdlist c/o Pete:
Philippine Eagle Center, Davao City, Davao del Sur, PH
Jul 2, 2016 6:00 AM - 9:00 AM

33 species

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) 1
Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) 1
White-eared Brown Dove (Phapitreron leucotis) 8
Black-faced Coucal (Centropus melanops) 1
Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis) 2
Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta) 6
Southern Silvery Kingfisher (Ceyx argentatus) 1
White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon gularis) 2
Rufous-lored Kingfisher (Todiramphus winchelli) 1
Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) 3
Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops americanus) 4
Coppersmith Barbet (Psilopogon haemacephalus) 2
Buff-spotted Flameback (Chrysocolaptes lucidus) 1
Guaiabero (Bolbopsittacus lunulatus) 2
Philippine Hanging Parrot/Colasisi (Loriculus philippensis) 3
White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus) 2
Pied Triller (Lalage nigra) 2
Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea) 2
Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) 2
Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica) 8
Yellow-wattled Bulbul (Pycnonotus urostictus) 2
Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) 4
Philippine Bulbul (Hypsipetes philippinus) 5
Brown Tit-Babbler (Macronus striaticeps) 4
Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) 6
Coleto (Sarcops calvus) 4
Red-keeled Flowerpecker (Dicaeum australe) 4
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) 2
Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) 1
Purple-throated Sunbird (Leptocoma sperata) 7 ssp juliaeand ssp trochilus
Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) 4
Naked-faced Spiderhunter (Arachnothera clarae) 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) 10

Saturday, September 3

To the (Monfort) bat cave!

Although I've been to Davao City many times, I've never actually made the trip across the strait to the Island Garden City of Samal. Probably because I've always been to Davao on business or as jump off point heading off to somewhere else in Mindanao.  This last time though, we had a free day after arriving from our Mati adventure and before heading back to Manila and I finally got to go.

Of course one of the places on my list to visit  (aside from the beach!), was the Monfort Bat Sanctuary in Barangay Tambo.  This private establishment holds the world's largest known population of Geoffroy's Rousette fruit bats roosting in caves scattered around the property.

Geoffroy's Rousettes Fruit Bats!

Adri and I had recently seen an impressive colony of Geoffroy's Rousettes on Danjugan Island.  But that turned out to be a tiny community compared to the over 2 million bats estimated to be living at Monfort!

Welcome to the Island Garden City of Samal!

It was still early when we arrived: our group (Alex, Tere, Mel, Mark, Adri and me) was the first for the day.  Upon entering we paid the fee (a hundred pesos per adult).  We were on our way to the reception area to meet our guide when we were immediately stopped by the sight of a Brahminy Kite and a Large-billed Crow in a mid-air skirmish!

Aerial battle! Crow versus Kite!

We all watched, entertained by the back and forth retaliation of the 2 birds, and wondering what the quarrel was about.  

Crow chasing the Kite!

Or is it Kite chasing the Crow?!?

The engagement lasted several minutes before they finally flew out of our view behind the trees. So, back to the bats...

Lots of informative posters and photos.
There were a lot of informational posters and signage everywhere about the bats and the history of the sanctuary.  It was very interesting to read the material and look at the photos, but our guide was soon ready to give us a brief orientation and lead us...

To the batcave!!!  (yes, of course, cue the 1960's Batman TV series music theme here)

Cave number one: already pretty impressive. There were several more!

It was actually an underground system of several caves which the bats roosted in. Although you could approach quite near without disturbing the bats, bamboo fences were thoughtfully put up to remind visitors not to come too close to the resting animals.

It was easy viewing, and a bamboo fence reminded everyone to keep their distance.
After all, it was daytime and the nocturnal bats were resting.

Hundreds and hundreds of bats could be seen roosting on the outer walls of the caves and as far back as you could peer inside the caverns.

No personal bubble requirement for bats, I guess.

Many of the bats were asleep, some were busy grooming themselves while some were even flying around.

You have to admit they looked pretty adorable.

There was the distinctive smell of guano wafting from the caves, but it wasn't so bad if you were upwind.

Our guide mentioned that each of the caves housed a specific population of bats: one cave had mostly young bats, another had mostly pregnant and nursing bats and yet another had senior citizen bats.

Each cave had a specific bat demographic occupying it!

It was almost mesmerizing to watch the bats pack the walls of the cave at such a high density.  It must be a great sight to see them leave the roost at sundown!

Just hanging out. How can you sleep?!?

At one of the caves, we even spotted a large rat crawling on a blank, unoccupied area of the wall! It was sniffing its way up the wall, right side up, long tail and wingless! Not blending in at all and yet the bats paid it no obvious attention.

Wait, that's no bat!

We were asked to look out for young bats still clinging to their mothers.  With our binoculars, we easily spotted one, and later, several of the young bats!

Mother and child:  aaaaw.

They were easier to spot when we realized that, aside from their tinier size, they were grayer in color. We also noticed and that, while clutching their mom by their feet, they would be flapping their pale wings in an effort to position themselves better to suckle at mom's milk or to sleep tucked in tight under her wings.

Many of the young ones were quite restless and kept flapping their wings.

We got a glimpse of how important it was for the babies to hang on tight to mom. One of the large-billed crows was hanging out on the bamboo fences, looking down at the bats thoughtfully.

This crow's up to no good. (You can almost imagine a thought bubble above its head!)

Suddenly it dove in to the hole!  What was it up to?!?  It came up from the cave's interior and perched again on the bamboo fence, still looking at the bats.

On a second dive, it flew up to a mango tree carrying a baby bat! We could clearly see the baby bat flailing in the crow's beak. Eventually, the crow flew up to a higher branch and held down the bat with its claws. We could see it picking at the bat in its feet, but the large branch thankfully obscured the more gory details.

Oh no!  Poor little baby bat!
(bottom- Adri got a better view and photo compared to mine- top)

Our guide explained to us that this predation by crows was quite common!  Despite the grisly situation, it was pretty interesting that we were able to witness this "nature is red in tooth and claw" event. Other common predators were pythons (we didn't see any!) and rats (so that was what that fellow was up to!).

As we took one last look at the bats, we noticed even more young bats in the colony.  They looked especially fragile now, after we had witnessed the violent demise of one them.  Still, our guide had mentioned that the population of this colony has increased significantly in the past few years. 

There were many more babies!

The Monfort Bat Colony made it to the Guiness Book of World Records in 2010 as the largest colony of Geoffroy's Rousettes Fruit Bats, and it had surprised scientists by having such a large number of pregnant bats even outside the known breeding season!  The protection given to these bats is in stark contrast to many other colonies which are often persecuted by hunting for food or harvesting of their guano. 

Bats are friends... not food!

It is great to see the efforts of the Monfort Bat Sanctuary to protect and promote this important species.  After all, fruit bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers. Where better to appreciate the Geoffroy's Rousettes than in a region known for tropical rainforests and fruit production (did I hear someone say durian?)!