Wednesday, February 16

horticulture show 2011

since feb 7 was a school holiday, i volunteered to drive mom to the manila seedling bank for the last day of the horticulture show.

there was not much truly exciting at the sale booths, but at the exhibit area i loved the display of the philippine native plants conservation society.  aside from the beautiful plant display (native philippine plants i presume!), they had wonderful posters of philippine hoyas, pitcher plants and mistletoe plus a fibreglass rafflesia.  and of course a lovely tribute to the late prof leonard co. 

another booth which caught my attention had a wall garden of succulents. it looked like a pretty hard maintenance job to have one in real life  but i loved all the kalanchoe colors they displayed.

Tuesday, February 15

a sunset cruise on manila bay

i have lived my (almost) entire life in metro manila and yet there are sooo many things i haven't seen or tried.  one of them is the manila bay sunset cruise.

i finally got the chance a few weeks ago, a dinner organized for my biosafety training workshop.  it was a pleasant experience ... live music, the sunset, and a slight sea breeze blowing (but the dinner itself... ergh... let's just say, had a lot of room for improvement).  we cruised from the folk arts theater at the ccp complex to the sm mall of asia, down roxas boulevard to the manila oceanarium. this time of the year is probably best because the weather was perfect (although we missed the famous manila bay sunset because of the clouds), and the water calm.  the lights of manila by the night masked the hustle and bustle of the metro. very morantic.

i suppose it's best to take the cruise during sunset, not only because the city is prettier by night light, but also because it paints the sea a flat black, and you can't see the pollution!  interestingly enough, each time the ship passed through a "wave" of trash, we noticed that the green luminescence of marine microorganisms shone the brightest!

the whole trip lasted 2 hours, and we were back docked at the pier behind the folk arts theater. the entire thing cost 550 pesos, something to try out especially for residents of manila. at least i can place that experience int he "been there, done that" category.

(we took the sun cruises m/v spirit of manila, the boat in my picture was the other company's - forgot the name!  couldn't take a picture of our own boat obviously, while i was on it!)

Wednesday, February 9

the awc experience

i don't exactly know why i look forward to the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC).  waders aren't exactly my favorite group of birds.  id'ing them isn't one of my strongest birding skills.  i'd rather go bird in a forest than in a wetland. but i keep coming every year to volunteer. why? here are 3 reasons just off the top of my head:

1.  it's a thrill to see so many birds (many different kinds of birds!) in a single place that won't fly off when i make minuscule movements. (even if they are all grey or white or brown some similar monochromatic hue)
2.  do you remember bringing 500 mongo seeds to school and learning to count them and group them by tens?  well, i've finally found a practical purpose for that!
3.  i get to see more than a thousand wild birds in the space of a six hours!

Garganey take to the air, spooked by an Eastern Marsh Harrier on the hunt.

Graceful Black-winged Stilts preening and feeding in large flocks.

this year i joined the balanga waterbird census and the candaba waterbird census.  seeing these birds take to the air and dance in synchronicity is one of the best birding experiences.

The Balanga Nature & Wetland Park information center in Tortugas at 6am

Balanga AWC - 15 January 2011
Total # of species: 37
Total bird count: 13,984
Top 3 species:
Whiskered Terns  Chlidonias hybridus - 3,646
Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus - 2,190
Kentish Plovers Charadrius alexandrinus - 1,210

The roads of barangay Paralaya with Mt. Arayat on the horizon at 6am.

Candaba AWC - 23 January 2011
Total # of species: 39
Total bird count: 8,725
Top 3 species:
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus - 2,415 
Garganey Anas querquedula - 1,332   
Egret species Egretta sp. - 1,319 

unfortunately, the bird counts went down this year.  perhaps one of the reasons is wrong timing.  in balanga, the tides were already high, covering the mudflats in water deep enough to discourage waders.  in candaba, the fields surrounding the sanctuary were all drained and planted the week before.  i'd like to think that the drop in numbers is due to this, and not to an actual drop in the bird population. but sadly, this seems to be the trend in the whole region. climate change? loss of habitat? all of the above?

Monday, February 7

a train story

an annoying thing happened on the train monday morning...

most of my friends know that i have avoided any form of employment south of aurora blvd.  so when i learned i had to attend a 2-week workshop in manila, i cringed inwardly.

so, for the past several days, i've been attending a workshop which is held at pedro gil in ermita.  normally, i hate the idea of having to commute to up manila everyday, but the lrt line 1 has been extended all the way to congressional corner edsa (roosevelt station) and it has made my commute so much more convenient. congressional ave. to pedro gil in 30 minutes! it was unbelievable.  for me to drive at 730am to manila would mean a 2 hour drive (possibly more), to take the bus or an fx would take almost as much time.  taking the mrt line 2 from katipunan then changing trains at d. jose to lrt 1 would be shorter than an hour, but would have me changing transport 4 times (2 jeeps, 2 trains), not to mention longer walks between jeepney stops/train stations.

i've actually been enjoying my commute... enjoying the scenery from quezon city to manila froma different point of view, above street level.  the balintawak cloverleaf, the monumento, the chinese temple, the chinese, north and la loma cemeteries, avenida rizal, the pasig river, rizal park, the national museum, the department of justice, the philippine general hospital... these are sights i don't see very often, since i do live and work (and entertain myself) in quezon city. i find myself mesmerized by the urban sprawl of downtown manila.

after a week of commuting, i fell into routine, leaving my house a few minutes later, knowing that i would still make it in around an hour.  but last monday was a different story.  as the train pulled up to the monumento station and the doors opened, a throng of people forced themselves to fit in the cars.  Pushing and shoving was accompanied by angry shouts.  I was thankful that adri and i gotten seats, the standing commuters were packed like sardines.  The doors closed and as the train started to pull away, it suddenly ground to halt after less than a meter!

"pakiusap lang po, wag hawakan ang mga emergency button, hindi tayo makakaalis dito!" the driver announced.  aaargh.  somebody had turned the emergency button located above the doors! the security guards and technicians ran back and forth outside the trains frantically looking for the culprit. everyone in the packed train groaned.  after around fifteen minutes they announced that the passengers had to be unloaded and the train brought back to the reversing area to be serviced.

"paano kami lalabas eh puno ng tao! saan kami dadaan?" the people inside the train complained angrily.  outside, the crowd stood unmoving on the platform.  the impasse lasted for almost 20 minutes when people on the platform finally began leaving.  the train on the opposite direction was at a standstill as well, probably, all the trains in all the stations stopped.  eventually, there were just a few of us left in the car.  the crowd outside had thinned slightly, but was still formidable. adri kept telling me "wag tayong bababa, gagawan nila ng paraan yan!". the other passengers, mostly those who had caught the train in the earlier stations, roosevelt and balintawak refused to leave as well.  (it was definitely a case of patigasan ng ulo, myself wone of the matitigas ang ulo!) eventually, the doors closed and it was announced over the sound system that the train was reversing, and we would be assisted on to another train. so the doors opened, we jumped down to the tracks, walked back towards the direction of the station, and went back into one of the forward cars on our train.  because the monumento station was previously the last station, there was a reversing section where there were three sets of tracks.  we waited for another train to come in from balintawak, stopping beside our train. They were planning for us to "jump" trains, but it took three trains before they finally got the doors between the 2 aligned, and we could cross over to the new train!

getting down the train onto the tracks, getting into the next car & jumping to the next train

all in all, i was about 45 minutes late for my class, not so bad, i'm glad we didn't get down at monumento to take the bus all the way to taft which would have probably taken hours at that time. when i got to class, i found out that one of my workshop-mates, who got on the train at tayuman, was late as well, and that they had announced that they had a problem at the monumento station.  yes, i told her.  it was MY train!  imagine how much trouble that guy who had (hopefully accidentaly, at least) pulled the emergency button had caused!  How many people he had hassled, on a monday morning at that! while it was an interesting experience (what are the chances i'd experience it in the space of a week of riding the train!), i'm glad its not something i might experience often.  of course i feel that it completes my train experience, and i'm thankful that's the worst i've experienced.

i'm on the last few days of my workshop, and my daily commute to manila.  soon i'll be back to my 15 minute drive to work!

perhaps i'll be using the train again soon, maybe to explore more of manila on foot.

Thursday, February 3

birdwalk for the boys

Last December 14, I left my CelMol class with my TA and, together with Adri, handled an alternative class at the High School.  The class?  Birdwatching for Beginners of course! 

A handful of students and their faculty handler, Ms. Agnes, willingly showed up at the designated time of 730am beside the Cafeteria.  Adri and I had a Long-tailed Shrike ready on the scope.

We had a very short birdwalk (I had after all left my class!) through the drive in front of the High School, to the Moro Lorenzo SC Parking Lot, back across the High School Parking Lot to the Church of the Gesu.

The students were surprisingly enthusiastic, asking a lot of questions about birds and their habitats.  (Boys will be boys of course, they thought up a whole lot of alternative uses for their binoculars) Thankfully, we were able to rack up a good enough list... Adri and I had prepared a set of photos of birds we expected them to see on the birdwalk, and we saw most of them. We even had an "unexpected" sighting of a barred rail!  It was a good view from across the ground barrier in front of the Math & Science building, the barred rail unusually calm and not paranoid, foraging in the grass, giving everyone a clear (if brief) view.

We had good views of the LTS, brown shrikes, zebra doves, black-naped orioles, collared kingfisher and a lesson in bird-listening to the songs of the gerygone, white-eyes, philippine woodpecker and the orioles.  All in all we were able to get around 15 species on our list.

At the end of our 2 hour walk, we asked the students what they had learned and one student summed it up in a simple statement that made me feel "mission accomplished!"

"Hindi lahat ng ibon maya!"

Not all birds are (eurasian tree) sparrows!  Which is exactly what we wanted them to learn.  All you  need is to know what's out there to see.

(thanks to ms.  agnes for all the photos!)