The cooling days and lengthening nights signal the beginning of autumn migration, and while shops begin to display Christmas ornaments and the radio begins to play Christmas carols, birders are on the lookout for their first migrants of the season, usually the ubiquitous brown shrike, its arrival alerted by sharp calls in the morning of newly arrived individuals jostling for territory.
I had my first taste of migrants in the most unexpected place. I usually enjoy a well-planned trip to the more conventional birding sites to welcome migrant waders: either the swamps of Candaba or the hidden city environs of the Coastal Lagoon. But my first migrants were spotted a little bit closer to home. Literally. We were spending a weekend in our family house in Tarlac with some birder friends and to our delight, the rice fields just across our balcony were being plowed and flooded for the next round of planting. Even from a distance we could make out the graceful pink legs of black-winged stilts walking on the mud.
|Black-winged stilts are unmistakable with their long pink legs!|
Terns flew around the water-logged fields, picking up food from the water, and they were joined by many oriental pratincoles.
|Terns flying over the fields|
|Oriental pratincoles have both a resident and migrant population: |
it was my first time to see so many near our house!
A closer inspection with our binoculars and scopes revealed several little-ringed plovers, running across the drier mud. Some of them still sported breeding plumage and their bright yellow eye rings stood out against the somber browns of the empty fields.
|Little-ringed plovers could also be residents or migrants, |
and seeing them in their bright plumage is always a delight.
A few Pacific golden plovers were also present, and it was great to catch them in their distinctive black plumage, a contrast to their non-breeding golden hues.
|Not the usual look sported by golden plovers for the winter.|
Blending into the background were several wood sandpipers, and a few common sandpipers (although I had already seen some common sands at the airport a few months back), busy walking back and forth.
|A wood sandpiper and a common sandpiper: common migrants seen at rice fields|
A quick scan of the surrounding grassy areas revealed my first brown shrike for the season. It was spotted by Adri, who pointed it out to us and also noticed a second individual just beside the first one! It was very unusual for them to be sharing a space without much hullaballoo, so they must have just arrived.
|My first brown shrike for the season |
(you can catch a glimpse of my second brown shrike hidden in the grass below it)
There was also a common kingfisher patrolling the pond, a regular visitor to the farm. There are usually two or three of them, but it seems that only this one has arrived so far.
|My favorite migrant on the farm: a common kingfisher perched on the mulberry bush.|
We also had good looks of the usual residents: blue-tailed bee-eaters and pacific swallows flew gracefully over the waters. White-breasted waterhens walked gingerly on the vegetation at the edge of the pond while collared kingfishers called loudly all around. The white-throated kingfisher was also busy swooping down on the muddy fields for tasty snacks. Zebra doves and red turtle doves perched on the kapok trees lining the pond.
A cool find was a male greater painted snipe, walking with the other waders with three young birds! Unlike most birds, the male painted snipe is the parent tasked with incubating the eggs and raising the young. Its plumage is much more drab than the female.
|Do you see the well-camouflaged male greater painted snipe and one of its chicks beside it?|
A walk around the fields at sunset revealed a very interesting situation. There were also several (human) children running around the fields, each clutching a soda PET bottle as a receptacle for something they were gathering from the muddy ground. It turns out that the field in this condition were perfect for the breeding of camaro (mole crickets) which are a delicacy to Capampangans.
Nearby, a yellow bittern picked up a mole cricket from the mud and quickly swallowed it. It was unmindful of us as it continued to inspect the mud for more of the critters.
|A yellow bittern on the hunt at sunset.|
|Adobong camaro (mole cricket): yum!|