Sunday, December 18

wagtails & friends

as i said previously, adri had not yet seen the white wagtail... and it was just 15 minutes away from my home.  he had attempted an entire afternoon stakeout with felix, and they failed miserably, to the great concern of several people who heard about it.

but everyone can relax now, adri (but unfortunately not felix!) has seen the white wagtails of la mesa!

so now adri has all 4 reported wagtails of the philippines on his life list:  yellow, grey, forest and white.  i do hope i get the forest wagtail on my list soon!

enough said on that.

we saw 3 individual white wagtails.  it was a good opportunity for me to improve on my previous photos, and i was able to document the 3 individuals.

white wagtail #1

white wagtail #2

white wagtail #3

and adri was able to get several minutes worth of video, which he put together to make this:

on top of the white wagtails there were also several sandpipers, a very scraggly common kingfisher and a bully little egret who chased all the other little egrets away.

a very bedraggled common king clashed with the collared king more than once!

several common sandpipers wagged their tails too n the spillway

a little egret noisily chased away any other little egret that came to feed on the spillway. such an unpleasant call for such a graceful bird!

despite their common niche, the wagtails seemed to peacefully coexist with the other birds...
a grey wag and a white wag feeding very close to each other

white wagtails 2 & 3 seemed unfazed by the several common sandpipers

i hope these rare migrants stay for the rest of the season & give everyone a chance to enjoy them! 

Saturday, December 17

under a red moon

under the red moon 
friends celebrate.
thankful for the year that has passed
and looking forward to the year that comes.

total lunar eclipse
09:59:40 PM
10 december 2011

Sunday, December 4

a season for wagtails

i have never really paid too much attention to wagtails before.  they came and went along with all the migrants, pretty much a given during the migratory season. at least the yellow and the grey wagtails.

there are four species of wagtails reported in the philippines: grey, yellow, white and forest. i had recently written about the hundred or so yellow wagtails i saw in lipa, and i had run into several greys in makiling and tanay during recent trips.

during a  tour a couple of weeks ago, adri added the forest wagtail to his list... described as rare by the philippine field guide.  he had seen it in makiling, where it had been reported a few times before the past few years.  we had hoped to see it during our bonifacio day birding in makiling, and were disappointed.  still, at the back of my mind, i was looking forward to adding white wagtail to my list (also described as rare), thanks to a tip from wbcp-er ruth f.

where would this rare wagtail be found? at la mesa eco park, a mere 20 minutes from my home !

i was hopeful that these were not merely passing through as they had been reported (and photographed) everyday of the week, the latest of the bird sensations to be discovered at the la mesa eco park.

how could i resist the twitch?

on friday i was impatiently looking for friends  jops & maia and alex & tere online, wanting to set-up a date with the white wagtails for the weekend. thankfully, they were as twitchy as i was, and we set our date at 7am. (adri, unfortunately was on a trip to mindanao. but with his forest wagtail one-up, i didn't think he'd mind i went ahead to meet the white one)

arriving at la mesa at 7am, i met up not only with jops, maia, alex and tere, but other birder/photographer friends!  bong n. told us that we had just missed the targets, and showed us his photo.  we hoped that the previous reports that the wagtails would return to the spillway like clockwork would hold true. so we made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the small space between a wire fence separating the spillway and a vermiculture plot.  it was not hard to figure out the best place to be to spot the birds, as those who had come before us had done a bit of gardening on the vines which had covered the fence.

little heron, little egrets, common kingfisher, common sandpiper, grey wagtails. nuninuninu. osprey, zebra doves, collared kingfisher.  another osprey. each high pitched peeeeepeeet had us all focusing on the bottom of the spillway several meters down.  argh. another grey wagtail.

after around an hour and a half, at last!  somebody declared, "ayan na sila! anjan na sila!"  all conversation stopped as several binoculars and several camera lenses focused on the black and white birds which had landed on the  low wall at the bottom of the spillway.

this subspecies, leucopsis, was not even reported in the kennedy guide. i had always found black and white birds beautiful and elegant, and this pair was no exception. one was greyer than the other, and had a smaller dark patch on its breast.  they went about the spillway with their wagtail habits, bobbing their tails as they picked up food from the surface of the ground/cement/water.  each even spent a few moments preening. action moments included a white wagtail suddenly stealing the food from its cousin grey's beak and a sudden air attack by a collared kingfisher.

they allowed us to enjoy our observation for over half an hour! despite the distance of the birds from us, it was a very, very good sighting.

white wagtail... check!

Thursday, December 1

a trogon pair saves the birding day!

a philippine hawk owl suddenly swooped in front of our car, in pursuit of an insect which was probably attracted to our headlights.  it was 530am and we were on our way up to makiling.

it seemed like a good omen.  we were on a reunion birding trip with felix who had set aside most of his life the past few months to study for the recently concluded bar exams.

and that was it for the rest of the morning.

a male trogon gave us a hard time, hiding himself in the tangles.

even ever reliable spotty (the spotted wood-kingfisher) let us down.  he gave a distant (really distant) call when we reached his bend, nothing more.

at least felix got his first lifer for the year: a pechora pipit landed on the trail, almost disappearing in the (short) grass. it was actually an upgrade for me, we spent almost 5 minutes watching him disappear and reappear in the grass, giving us good back and front views with an occasional jump at an insect on a leaf.

and then more down time.

you know it's a slow birding day when we spent as much time as we did admiring this land planarian...

...and when we spent twenty minutes gawking at this beautiful lizard (later id'd by drew as Gonocephalus sophiae (Gray, 1845)) near the forestry nursery.

feeling as tired as one can be, i trudged behind adri and felix up makiling on a hot, humid morning with nothing more than a few sightings that left me more frustrated than hopeful. even the sighting of a plain throated sunbird early in the morning and an unusually large number of flaming sunbirds (a total of 8!) did not put much energy in me, especially since they were either too flighty or too high up (or on one occasion i was too stupid to figure out to the branch felix was pointing to) for me to even get a chance at a photo.

and then the mountain deity suddenly decided that we should get some reward.

what would make up for the slow morning but my current makiling favorites: a pair of very cooperative philippine trogons!

we spotted the male first, always striking with this red breast.  when he flew off to another perch, felix found the female. then we lost the female and saw the male again. while adri was digiscoping and i was taking pictures, i realized that the female was on the branch just above it!!!  talk about missing the forest for the trees. i was fortunate enough to frame both of them in a single picture.

later, back at trees lodge, we counted 8 falconets on the dead tree!  

they are actually quite scary when you see them tearing up some small creature with their serrated beaks while being held tightly in their sharp talons.

and so even with the (super) slow start, makiling's treasures found a way to save the day!

Sunday, November 27

a model bird (literally)

today i finally got to visit this yearly visitor to the msi!

we had failed to find the narcissus flycatcher at the library (yes, quite a belated attempt since the first report almost a month ago). we had carelessly lost sight of a philippine hawk-cuckoo at the nismed. 

it's a good thing this guy's as predictable as old faithful.

he's my first (male) blue rock thrush for this season (several weeks ago, i spotted a female in my neighborhood for another backyard record). my first blue rock thrush ever was seen at the same spot 6 years ago!  same goes for adri. coincidence or not? could he be one and the same year in and year out?!? 

whatever the answer to that question, the msi thrush is loved by photographers. left profile, right profile, head on, back view, perched straight, stooping, eating, pooping, regurgitating, on  a branch, on the grass, on the sidewalk, on the driveway, on a lamp, on the roof, on the wall... you name the pose, there's some picture of him in it out there on the net! this is probably one the most photographed bird in the university!  never was there a more cooperative and dependable avian model!  adri got to practice his digiscoping, and i got to practice using the long lens.  we were even joined by lydia who slipped in a little bird photography time before church!

i hope to have several more encounters with this guy for the rest of the season! and i look forward to seeing his growing portfolio as well.

Sunday, November 20

birds (& horses)

last weekend when my brother texted me:

"Big flock of birds on the sandy riding pen. Like bulbul, same shape.  Dark brown back, yellow breast. They seem to have white beards. Never saw them before. Hundreds."

i couldn't figure it out immediately but after a few minutes adri said: "wagtails!"

so this weekend, when my brother asked if i wanted to come i immediately said yes! why not?  2 weeks into the semester and i'm already itching to bird! (adri was on a tour) the bonus of seeing beautiful horses wasn't bad either!

it was afternoon when we got to lipa. no wagtails in the riding pen, but hundreds of swallows (pacific and barn) on the wires and roof top.  while george was out riding, carmela dropped in to look at the horses and rescue some piggies (guinea piggies, that is!). unfortunately mela had to go back to work, so i took a long walk to find myself some birds. i did spot a few wagtails but nowhere near hundreds (or even tens).  

can you spot the wagtail in this picture?

we (george joined me later) spotted a pygmy woodpecker, and i was delighted to see a patch of red exposed on its crown, a very rare sight.  cattle egrets flew around the horses (equine egrets???),  coucals slipped into the tall grasses as we passed by them.  near the river, invisible rails would burst into loud cackling.  long tailed and brown shrikes patrolled the borders of the corrals and where they were absent, pairs of pied bushchats kept themselves busy.

swallows in a line

sparrows in a line

mr. bushchat at his post

horses & an (equine) egret

a spot of red in his crown! (you'll have to click on the picture to see it)

by the time we had gotten to the now empty (of horses) riding pen, it was almost dark.  and what did we see? wagtails!  

yellow wagtails in various plumage!  not as many as the last time according to my brother, but still largest flock of them i had ever seen.  i estimated around a hundred of them, strutting about the sandy soil, many of them busy preening.  i did spot a few  sheltering in the shallow hoof marks, which made me think they were settling in for the night.  they reminded me of the waders i had seen in balanga which magically appeared from holes in the drained fishpond as the sun rose.  some of them were in the neighboring grassy pen, carrying out the same activities as their neighbors. walking back and forth, or even standing still, their tails wagged continuously.  as alex t said recently, wasn't it exhausting to be in constant motion? 

yellow wagtails!

and not so yellow-yellow wagtails!

left to right: not so yellow, yellowish and really yellow-yellow wagtails

are they holing up for the night?

preening poses

more of them in the field!

aaack! where's its head?!?!?

as we walked away from the birds i wondered if they were there to stay for the season, or were just passing through.  only another trip later in the season will answer that question! horses and birds... a good combination for a feast for the eyes.

for more pictures of this outing go to:

Friday, November 18


(click to enlarge)

my mom found this frog fast asleep under one of her african violets.  she let out a squeal when she accidentally touched it trying to pick out a dead leaf.  it didn't budge the whole day!

my first thought?

kung tarat lang ako patay ka na!

Friday, November 11

the industrious ants

while waiting for the female violet cuckoo to reappear last week in tanay, i accidently disturbed an ant nest.  i was kicking around the smooth stones lining the path, looking for fossils, when i found this under one of them:

(click the photo for a larger view)

the poor things suddenly rushed into a frenzy to bring their clean, white eggs to safety!  amazingly, in less than 2 minutes, every single one of the eggs was gone from the exposed hole! in what seemed to me like organized chaos, each ant had carried egg after egg to a more secure location.  all that was left was clean and bare dent in the soil which had no trace of the treasure that had been stashed there.

pretty cool if you ask me!

(i've heard ant eggs are a delicacy in some provinces, although i've never tasted or even seen them.  seeing how small they are, it must take a lot of ant eggs to make a big enough snack!)

Monday, November 7

roses are red, violets are blue-violet cuckoos...

i got this lifer waaaaaay back in october 2008 while birding with adri, leni & tinggay in subic.  i remember it distinctly because of a clarification from des asking us whether the bird we saw was "real violet purple" or a "deep blue violet".  it being my lifer my reaction to the inquiry was...
 according to kennedy, the endemic race amethystinus is described as blue-violet above, while the resident race xanthorynchus is purple violet.  let me copy-and-paste the exact email from des (circa 2008!) below:

Hi Trinket, Adri, Leni,
Just a quick query before I send this through: the Violet Cuckoo. Was
this a real violet purple colour (as we saw at PICOP Leni) or a deep
blue-violet? All the birds I have seen photographed in the Phils have
been the same violet that we saw and which is typical of Violet
cuckoos in SE Asia. However the endemic race amethystinus is supposed
to be violet blue - and there are skins showing this. However, I have
never seen it. The violet-purple birds always seem to be seen in
winter, leaving the possibility that they are migrants from abroad. If
so, what has happened to the endemic race?

well, my reply to that query was that in my opinion, the birds we saw then (as well as the violet cuckoos felix, nicky, ixi & i saw in makiling a couple of weeks after that) were deep violet purple & not bluish.  i remember jokingly asking for a pantone reference since it was so hard to differentiate  "bluish violet" from "violet purple" when the colors are spelled out on paper after the fact.
and so, when alex, tere, mang boy, adri & i came across this beautiful bird last weekend in rizal, i voiced out this concern, "we had better take note of whether it is bluish violet or purple violet!"  alex thought i wasn't making sense until i reminded him of des's comment from 3 years ago!
 we were all in agreement, it was definitely blue-violet.

 so is this the endemic amethystinus?
 or merely a trick of the light?

the cuckoo was perched on a large trema orientalis, its iridescent back and breast shining in the morning light.  the bright orange bill & eyering stood out.  its clean white belly was  striped, not with black as i thought previously, but with the same dark iridescence that shimmered as its little body moved from left to right.  super thanks to adri for the digiscoped pictures and video! 
unfortunately our same group (minus mang boy and plus carmela b.) had dipped several times on the violet cuckoo on our recent trip to picop... it was listed as HO ("heard only").  (but christian p. had just recently come from a trip there and shared a picture of a purple-violet looking bird with his fb friends!)
we also got good views of the equally beautiful (but not so purple) female violet cuckoo which is actually a greenish gold version.   unfortunately no pictures. the female i had also seen in subic, makiling and palawan previously.  actually greenish gold is my personal description. kennedy describes it as "greenish bronze"!
whatever the actual color or correct term for it, one thing's for sure. on each occasion I've seen this bird,  its mere sighting has sent myself and everyone i was with, literally... cuckoo!

thanks to alex & tere for inviting us to bird with you! it was a wonderful end to my sem break run of short birding trips!

Thursday, November 3

close encounters at subic

close encounter #1- nabasan road, 8:52 am
adri: spotty!
trinket: saan?
adri: ayan lang sa harap natin!
trinket: saan?
adri: kita mo ung curved na branch?
trinket: oo.
adri: andun sya.
adri: ayun o.
trinket: ok, ok.
*click, click, click...*
brown shrike: traaatatatatatata...
the spotted wood-kingfisher flies into the thick vegetation
adri & trinket:  *&%&^%##^%&&!!!

close encounter #2- nabasan road, 10:20 am
adri & trinket watching a pair of black-naped monarchs on the branches above them
adri:  itong ibon na 'to and likot, never ako pinag bigyan ng magandang picture.
trinket: try ko nga.
after 30 minutes:
trinket: ayaw ko na, iwan na nga natin tong 2 bwiset na to.

close encounter #3- nabasan road, 11:23am
a brown bird flies across the path and lands on a tree a few meters away
adri & trinket: white-eared brown dove!!!
*click click click click*
after 1 minute of watching the birders, the bird flies away

not counted close encounter- nabasan road 11:40am
adri: and ganda nung draco o! 
trinket: saan?
adri: dun sa puno na may pulang paint.
trinket:  oo nga.
adri: i-video nga natin.
after 26 minutes the lizard hasn't budged.
adri: buti pa sya gusto nyang nag pa pa video at picture!

close encounter #4- nabasan road, 1:41pm
trinket wakes up from an after-lunch nap in the car.
trinket: di ka nakatulog? (to adri in the driver's seat)
adri: iniinis ako nitong white-browed shama eh. pag matutulog ako kakanta sya ng mahina (points across the road)
trinket: ayaw lumabas?
adri: anjan lang eh, hanapin natin.
adri scans the undergrowth with his bins
adri: ayun sya! medyo tago
adri & trinket watch the now quiet white-browed shama which seems to be watching them as it quietly moves from one "hidden" perch to another. they let it go at 2:08pm
adri: tara na nga, lakad nalang ulit tayo.

close encounter #5- botanical gardens, 3:52pm
adri & trinket are driving slowly looking out for raptors on the side of the road
trinket:  grabe, wala pa tayong serpent eagle at hawk-eagle. diba dito natin dati nakikita ung immature na hawk eagle?
a large bird swoops right in front of the car.  adri slowly brings the car to a stop..
trinket: omigosh! hawk-eagle!
adri & trinket fawn over the raptor perched on a low branch on the side of the road on the drivers side.
adri: masyadong malapit! aalis yan kung bababa ako!
trinket: heto yung camera! picture-an mo! bilis!
trinket: (don't leave, don't leave, don't leave)
the birders observe the delicious sight of the large brown bird: crest, feathered tarsi, huge yellow eyes, barred tail. the hawk-eagle looks back at them then suddenly disappears into the trees.
adri & trinket exchange high-5s.
much, much later on when reviewing the pictures they see it: a large rat clutched in the talons of the raptor.

close encounter #6: the grand finale- nabasan, 6:15pm
adri explaining to trinket the call of the chocolate boobook, while an occasional philippine scops-owl and philippine hawk-owl calls in the darkness
trinket: ang dilim na! ayaw ko na. 
adri: last 15 minutes nalang.
trinket: ok
after 10 minutes.
trinket: ayaw ko na talaga! creepy, wala na kong makita! masyado akong maraming pinanood na horror movies this week!
adri: sige na nga, tara na. next time nalang yung chocolate boobook.
trinket reaches for the car door.
trinket: woah!  may lumipad right above us! nakita mo?
adri: hindi, saan?
trinket: nag-land siguro yun jan (pointing to the trees by the road)
adri: dito? (shining a light on the trees)
trinket: hindi, mas mababa pa, dito siguro (guiding adri's hand)
adri & trinket: ^%^$%$&&%*!
a philippine scops-owl is staring right at them with large red eyes, less than 3 meters away just above eye-level.
trinket: kunin ko ba camera?
adri: tignan mo nalang sa bins mo!
both admire the small owl: large red eyes, ear tufts, strong claws, mottled brown back.
trinket: try ko kunin ung camera. (don't leave! don't leave!)
and the small owl turns its back to them and flies away without a sound.
trinket (looks at adri): let's go!

(and because i believe that the frequency of carrying a camera is inversely proportional to the chance of seeing an owl, i don't have a picture of that indescribable last close encounter for the day)

to see some of the not-so-close-encounters from the same day, see this video of the green racquet-tail, and more pictures here.

Saturday, October 29

... and an actual lifer!

With a very short semestral break and a busy schedule for the long undas weekend, I wasn't able to fit in a long birding trip like last year's Sablayan adventure.  So Adri & I decided to go on short birding trips when we had the chance.  The first chance that came up was a trip to Makiling.  It yielded an unexpected lifer for me... but the lifer came well at the tail end of a very long birding day!  And so dear reader, bear with me as I go through the events of the day before I reveal what my lifer was.

It was on the day when the amihan blew into the country, and the gentle wind blowing as we hiked up the mountain was no longer heavy with humidity, but cool and very dry.  We had unfortunately come two weeks too late to witness the feeding frenzy at the balete at the TREES lodge. With barely any fruit left on the balete, there was only the option of birding on the forest trail.  Thankfully it was a weekday,and the trail was not as busy as it was on the weekends (at least when we started up the mountain).  A scale-feathered malkoha (with one bad eye) was our first bird (not counting the philippine bulbuls, balicassiaos and rhabdornises) a few meters into the trail - a good omen to start the day.  A cheerful mixed flock composed of elegant tits, sulfur-billed nuthatches, stripe-headed rhabdornises, a Philippine pygmy woodpecker, a lemon-throated leaf warbler and a striped flowerpecker delighted our eyes and lightened our steps. It seemed that Mariang Makiling was going to bless our birding day.  

We spent some time with a very sleepy white-eared brown dove, its feathers all fluffed out giving it quite a comical look. 

The yellow-bellied whistlers, grey-backed tailorbirds and white-browed shamas teased us with their calls only, but it did not matter so much that we didn't see even a shadow of any of them that day.  Common emerald doves crossed the trails, large flocks of ashy minivets frolicked in the canopy and a Philippine serpent eagle called mournfully from the clear blue skies.  

Lizards large and small surprised us with their rustling in the dried leaves on the forest floor.

Spotty the spotted wood-kingfisher was at his usual bend, together with a female, while further up the trail we were delighted to see a pair of Philippine trogons playing hide and seek with us among the vines and tangles.  

When we reached the bukohan it was nearly lunch, we stopped to eat and chat with Tita Glo, the sari-sari store owner.  

After our brief rest, we attempted to continue up the trail, only to be thwarted by ashort but heavy down pour!  We decided that it was probably time to head back down, it was getting very warm and sunny after the rain, and it was also getting very quiet.

The hike back to TREES was uneventful bird-wise, however as we neared the bottom, the silence was broken by loud shouts, laughter and all sorts of boisterous noises of students.We wondered if they could be at the Botanical Garden, but the voices seemed so much nearer. When we got to near where the path forked leading down to flat rocks, we were dismayed to see a battalion of maybe 50 high school students tramping through a non-existent trail!  Adri and I were very annoyed and Adri requested the teachers to advise their students to keep the noise down since they were technically in the forest.  The teachers shrugged politely and I noticed that their guide, who was struggling to keep the students under control, wore a shirt printed with Outbound Adventure, was he from Lakbay Kalikasan? I guess that you really can't force young students to appreciate what they have not learned to value. Such a shame.

So anyway, Adri & I found out that the troop we ran into was just one of the groups of several students on field trip that day.  Deciding that we didn't want to take a chance that there were other students at the Botanical Gardens, we just drove around the campus for more birding before heading off to the DTRI meadows and the rice fields around IRRI and Biotech.  There had been several reports of various rails and waders in the area and it was worth a look, especially since that route was not our usual Los Baños itenarary.  

It was good to see a pair of indigo-banded kingfishers, busily catching small crabs and fish on a clear, fast flowing stream.  Grey wagtails hopped from rock to rock, wagging... their tails.

We were also able to add a  good number of swifts and swiftlets while buying chocolate milk: a noisy flock of house swifts, fork-tailed swifts, asian palm swifts, pygmy and glossy swiflets as well as pacific swallows were busy gliding gracefully through the air as they snapped up insects on the wing.  We also saw a Eurasian Kestrel flying over the fields.  We followed it with our binoculars as it flew out of sight over the nearby hills.

When we finally got to the rice fields, the late afternoon sun was well below the zenith, with golden light spilling into the green fields.  Not the best of situations to go birding in, tall grasses against the light.  We stopped where muddy gullies separated the rice paddies, successfully getting glimpses of hiding snipes and bitterns, of crakes and rails walking in and out from the thickly planted rice. All this while striated grassbirds, cisticolas, zebra doves and crows filled the air with all sorts of birdsong.  

I had definitely taken this part of Los Baños for granted.  Grasslands so near to the forest!  Two habitats in one birding day!  My bias for forest birding gave in to the enticing activity of the grassland birds.

And then we saw it.  A head peeked out from the palay.  That was no white-breasted waterhen!  It disappeared back into the palay.  Argh.  And peeked out again!  A rail slowly walked into the open furrow. Brown crown, grey breast, patterned back... even in the blinding yellow light we could see it clearly: a juvenile slaty-breasted rail!  It was maddening how it would keep walking back and forth into the tall grasses, giving us only a few seconds of full views.  And an immature white-breasted waterhen parading just a few feet away, as if to just confuse us further, did not help lessen our exasperation. With patience we had maybe a five second full view (it could be a case of the usual time dilation associated with good bird sightings though) before it walked away and finally disappeared into the tall palay.  Lifer!!!

We continued driving on to the Biotech building, enjoying several Richards pipits, a gazillion grassbirds and finally spotting a long-tailed shrike (we thought there should've been more of them).  

We spotted another Falco, this time a peregrine falcon, flapping hard in the still air. As it got darker, we started to drive back, stopping again at the gully where we saw the rail.  The snipes were still there, as well as a white-browed crake, which jumped into hole in a pile of dried grass - probably a nest.  A bittern stood silently still... its features mocking us as we strove to see it through our scope and bins in the waning light.  Was it a female cinnamon bittern or the elusive Shrenck's bittern (which had been reported fairly recently)?  Before we could perform any sort of documentation, the still figure suddenly came alive and looked right, then left... and then it actually left.  It left the gully and left us perplexed in the near dark.  

No choice but to leave that lifer for another day!