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!

Wednesday, October 26

almost lifers

Recently Adri & I caught the twitching bug when a Ruddy Kingfisher was reported at a nearby gated subdivision in Quezon City.  At first I shrugged off a text from WBCPer Jops, "No pressing need for me to see that bird," I told him arrogantly, thinking of the final grades due in a week and the pile of tests I had to finish checking.  And after all, I had just achieved getting that kingfisher on my lifelist on a trip to Coron.  Curiosity got the better of me though, with Adri reminding me that the new kingfisher sensation was most certainly of a different race, the migrant subspecies bangsi or majorcompared to the endemic linae of Palawan.  We just couldn't resist when Jops & Maia asked if we wanted to have a go at it after a guided public birdwalk at the La Mesa Eco Park on Sunday morning.  So after a "break" for lunch (it was actually a birding lunch, but that's another story), we met up at Jops' for a (crossed fingers) date with the Ruddy Kingfisher.

On the short drive, Maia & Jops were telling us about their brief encounter with the kingfisher the day before, so brief that they wanted an upgrade.  As we were driving up to the hotspot, Adri immediately exclaimed "Ayun sya o!," causing us to all lurch forward as Jops stepped on the brakes abruptly.  Sure enough, perched on a scraggly kakawate tree, was a rufous bird with a magenta-ish wash and huge bill.  

This twitch was looking like a drive-thru bird, it was a far cry from all the futile mangrove treks in Puerto Princesa or even the short river walk in Coron I had gone through to see this bird. 

We spent almost 2 hours enjoying the bird which, after sometime (when it was nearly dark), seemed to decide that we were not enemies, and causally flew from one kakawate to another, sometimes dropping to the ground to pick up an occasional earthworm. It was already late afternoon, bad light for any decent pictures, but I got these:

The magenta back tells me it must be of the bangsi subspecies... so this Ruddy Kingfisher isn't quite a full lifer, but it upgrades my Coron subspecies.  Probably not to bank bird status though,  I haven't heard of any possible splitting of the species, but definitely they look different enough to me to warrant subspecies listing.

We decided that the morning light would be better for documentation, so we agreed to come back during the work week if the chance came up.

That chance came on Wednesday morning, when we met up once again with Jops and Maia, and this time Bob & Cynthia as well as JV (who lived a couple of blocks down from the kingfisher spot).  Bob & Cynthia had dipped on the Ruddy but had seen & photographed a Spotted Wood-kingfisher (also out of place as it is usually found in the forest) in the same area.  We jokingly concluded that our combination would bring a sure sighting of both the Ruddy and the Spotted Wood!

What happened was just the opposite.  No Ruddy, no Spotted Wood either! And so with none of the target birds in sight, we contented our selves with an exchange of bird stories and the latest gossip in local birding.  All this while watching "normal" birds:  brown shrikes, arctic warblers, gerygones - as they wove in and out of the canopy of the flamboyant trees which lined the street.  

Suddenly, Maia stood at full attention and exclaimed " That doesn't look like an arctic warbler!" It was a flycatcher! And that got our full attention on a little nondescript LBJ (little brown job).  After photos were taken and the bird gone we attempted to identify the bird. I was really counting on it being an Asian Brown Flycatcher... while Adri, wishing for a lifer, wanted a Dark Sided Flycatcher.  Not really the wisest way to go about bird identification, with heavy biases! Later, having we checked the guidebook, wondered out loud at field marks (little brown job? hello.), beak length, wing length compared to tail and body, our conclusion was: we needed help.

Later on, after photos were uploaded on the internet for experts to help, it was identified as either a female or a first year male Narcissus Flycatcher. I'd seen the Narcissus several years ago in a kakawate grove in UP Diliman, again not a lifer. But then again, I'd only seen the full adult male of the species never the female.

Pwede na din.

Postscript: the next day, a migratory Brown Hawk Owl was spotted and photographed at the same spot... it seems I arrived a day too early for a "real" lifer!

Thursday, October 13

the annual rambutan-fest

Perhaps among the most popular of trees in our garden are 3 rambutan trees. They are the favorite of everyone in the family and the envy of the neighborhood when their fruits start to ripen a bright red and we get Christmas trees in September.

My mom acquired the trees in the late 80's from a local grower. Two of them are of the tuklapin (the flesh easily falls off the seed) variety, while the third is supsupin (you have to suck on the seed to get the most of the flesh, it's almost impossible to get all the flesh separated from the seed). We have one in the front yard, one in the backyard, and one at the side of the house. They were already fruit-bearing when my mom got them, through the years they have grown bigger and so has our harvest of fruit. The whole family has looked forward to baskets and baskets of red fruit, picked and eaten during Sunday family lunches, given to neighbors and officemates, and several even picked by the passersby from the sidewalk - since all 3 trees are planted so that half the tree (in other words half the fruit!) grows over the fence.  My labs had even learned to peel and eat the fruit that fall to the ground, seed and all!

I had heard from Ned L, (bird club founding member from Quezon province: rambutan and lanzones country) that the departure of backyard migrant brown shrike is timed with the start of the flowering of the rambutan early in the summer, and that his (in our case, her) return is associated with the ripening of the fruits in September.  What a wonderful way to welcome the change in seasons!  This is probably well known to those who live or grew up in the provinces, but I'm glad that I actually experience this annual event in our garden in the city. 

Beyond signalling the onset and conclusion of the migratory season, there is another very wonderful "bird" reason I look forward to the rambutan fruiting.  It's because the fruit attract a wonderful jewel of a bird to come to the garden - the colasisi. I hear these little parrots throughout the year, high pitch zzzwitzitzits, zipping past.  On lucky days, I may spot one perched in the shade of the fire (a.k.a. flamboyant) tree.  But when the rambutan are ripe, it's like a welcome sign for them to stay and eat the juicy fruit.  Even with their noisy chatter, it's sometimes difficult to spot them... they blend in perfectly with the green and red of the rambutan tree.  Sometimes they are very quiet, landing with a loud zweeeeet, then silence.  I know that they are in the tree somewhere, clambering and hopping from branch to branch, nibbling away at the thick red skin to get to the juicy ivory flesh.

The colasisis aren't the only birds interested in the fruit. The yellow-vented bulbuls, who eat anything - fruit, insects, nectar, enjoy the rambutan fruit too.  My mom has often complained that half of the fruit we pick are just empty shells of skin with the fruit eaten out by the birds.  Of course half is a great exaggeration (except in my mom's mind), and I have to argue and convince my mom to leave some of the fruit on the tree for the birds.

Last Sunday, it was finally the last rambutan harvest for the season.  The supsupin tree is most often the last to fruit, and so the last tree to have fruit left on it.  The bulbuls were hard at work at the already over-ripe fruit, picking out the flesh in small bits.  They aren't the neatest of eaters, drops of sticky-sweet juice squirted out in fine spray as the struggled with the fruit.  Wasps and other insects hovered at the fruit which had holes on the skin, revealing the soft flesh underneath.  (I have a feeling that at night, the bats get more than the birds do from the rambutan, and they help out the birds by biting off most of the skin).  All the insects buzzing about made the pied fantails very happy, and they hopped and swooshed from branch to branch as they caught these insects on the wing.  While enjoying this sight, Adri and I heard a familiar high-pitched call.  A colasisi had landed somewhere on the tree!  

Luckily, Adri spotted it at the top of the tree, a female which had landed in the middle of a bunch of fruit.  Unfortunately, our quiet observation was given away by my exuberant lab Maggie, who seemed to feel and imbibe our excitement.  After a half-hearted attempt at breaking the thick skin of the fruit, the little green parrot must have realised that she was in full view, out in the open, and calmly hopped out of view to disappear into the foliage.  (See the video below, if it doesn't load, just refresh this page please)

After Sunday lunch with the family, my brother, who was smoking his cigar in the terrace, excitedly pointed to 3 more colasisis on the rambutan tree, one of them seemingly the same female we had seen earlier that morning.  The commotion made everyone in the dining room become conscious of the fruit remaining on the tree still to be harvested, and so down came the last of the fruit.  Thankfully, they left some fruit on the tree for our feathered friends.

With this years' fruit almost gone, there is always next year's rambutan season to look forward to.

(thanks to adri for the video, all photos are by me... yay! i love our new equipment!)

Monday, October 10

langgam paluparon!

i had never missed a birdfest before and i didn't want to miss this one!  so against better judgement (and possibly a crime against the earth), i hopped on a plane to dumaguete on saturday morning just to spend the weekend and to catch the last day of the 7th philippine bird festival!

the festival this year was held on the grounds of historic silliman university, in the beautiful seaside city of dumaguete.

the mood for each birdfest has been unique... and true to the setting, i found this one quite laid back and relaxed. 

i think the best thing i look forward to each birdfest is meeting friends, old friends and new. it was another chance to share birding stories and a love for our wild feathered friends and the earth we share. langgam paluparon, lasang palambuon! (birds in the wild, help forests thrive!)

the birding adventure philippines booth

budding artists at peter sutcliffe's very successful art booth!

what a large feather that is! learning about raptors at the arrcn booth!

the indefatigable astro -birders: henry, dennis, rose & vincent  (plus karen o., james b. + 1 and mark jason a.) manning the wbcp booth

asian birdfest - from davao to tainan

body painting contest

kids - the constant factor at all pbf's!

and even in the short time i was in dumaguete, i got the chance to go birding. a spotted wood kingfisher spotted at the centrop and was fast becoming the star of the day. a few minutes away by tricycle, who could resist? after all, the spotted wood kingfisher was not a bird you could see so easily (and this race was endemic to negros and panay!)

drew, adri & i hopped on a tricycle with our bins and scope, and spent a good half an hour at the center enjoying great views of a very friendly kingfisher. not a bad first bird to baptize my new bins and to try out digiscoping with the new scope!

hello there mr. spotted wood king fisher!

testing the new stuff... thanks to swarovski for sponsoring bap!
(& to drew for taking this picture)

a very accommodating kingfisher!

when i checked the time stamp on my camera, i realized we had spent 33 minutes birding (or should i say.. twitching?!?!?) at centrop. what a coincidence, i spent exactly 33 hours in dumaguete!

Tuesday, October 4

look what the typhoons blew in...

as the wind and rain of back-to-back typhoons pedring and quiel blow and pour, there is an uneasy truce in the backyard.

the migrant brown shrike has arrived in the garden, much to the dismay of the current ruling species, the pied fantail (well, at least i imagine the pied fantail must feel something akin to dismay).  yesterday, i saw a pair of fantails still whizzing  across the garden to catch insects from their favorite pot perches, while the brown shrike picked at something it had caught and impaled on the kafir lime bush. a noisy skirmish would transpire when they would meet up at the gumamela bush and the swing base, ending with both parties retreating to their secured territory.  the bulbuls must be amused at this tug-of-war for dominance over the backyard.  

unfortunately, if all goes the way of previous years, the resident fantails will be relegated to the next door empty lot and the high canopy of the mango tree while the brown shrike will rule over the yard for the rest of the season until summer.

the pied fantail's days of lording of the backyard will soon be over... until summer that is

the brown shrike, the new boss of the backyard, back with his old murderous ways

hardly a week since it arrived, adri and i already caught the shrike with a victim. another poor tree frog slaughtered into choice meat sections strung up on the thorns of the kafir lime.  once again the small head was pierced thru its eye socket, and limbs suspended at the joints. flies and the stench of death surround the crime scene.

flies hovering over a poor decapitated tree frog's head, pierced thru its eye socket

spindly legs, still with a lot of muscle, blood vessels and skin...

the brown shrike making the most of its latest victim/meal
(try to ignore the panting dog in the background... it's just maggie)

small animals of the backyard beware.  the butcher is back.