Saturday, January 28

swamphen crossing

it was a beautiful afternoon in candaba! we had arrived in the afternoon and the skies were blue, a cool wind was blowing and there were birds, birds, birds!

herons and egrets were scattered all over the ponds, and of course there were the ducks. we took our time enjoying the ducks, their numbers already thinning as summer approaches:  a large flock of garganey, several philippine ducks, a few northern shovellers, a couple of tufted ducks, a lone green-winged teal and a pintail hidden in the grass. as the light turned golden with the sunset, we reluctantly made our way back to drew's car with waders flying noisily over our heads.  we were surprised at the number of them flying up from the recently planted rice fields, as they were well hidden by the young rice, we didn't have a clue they were there. as a going-away bonus, we spotted 9 wandering-whistling ducks in the water a few meters from us, bathed in the dying light.

heron & egret central

the ever-skittish philippine ducks

garganey take to the air

wandering-whistling ducks in the golden light

as we made our way from the mayor's house (unusually busy and crowded, they were shooting what seemed like a tv teleserye episode), darkness was falling fast. before the first turn on the dirt road, we were surprised by a large lavender bird in the middle of the road, bathed in the bright of the headlights.

a purple swamphen stood still, seemingly taking stock of the situation. after a few seconds, it must have decided that the unusual light didn't signal danger, and went on foraging on the ground for food, oblivious to our presence. it went on eating, and we watched it from inside the car.  a sleeping cow by the side of the road woke up, probably wondering what was going on with the light.

after several minutes the swamphen reached the far side of the road, and again took a long look at us (well, the car). we slowly inched the car forward, and finally it flew off to disappear in the dark vegetation of the pond.

and to think i always thought night-time birding was reserved for owls and nightjars and frogmouths only! it seems that in candaba, even the night is for the birds!

illuminated by the headlights: a purple swamphen feeding on the dirt road!

and it continues to peck at the ground...

... for several minutes

cow: what's going on? turn off the light! i'm sleeping here!

hello! who are you?

gotta get going! bye!

Monday, January 16

8 backyard birds on a saturday morning

on saturday i woke up to the soft che-che-che-che-che of pied trillers outside my bedroom window. with no agenda for the morning, i decided to do some back yard (and front yard!) birding before breakfast.

1.  a pair of pied trillers flitted from the fire tree to the ylang-ylang giving me excellent (but against the sun) views.

2. a small flock of 5 gerygones wheeze-zeeet'd noisily as they did their skittish dance while gleaning for insects in the canopy of the fire tree.

3. i moved to the backyard where sure enough a couple of fantails were snapping up insects low over the lawn.

4. i was distracted by the cooing of zebra doves... and saw the strange sight of 2 doves "bowing" to each other, tails in the air. i thought it was a courting ritual, when suddenly one of them flew up the golden shower where a third dove was inspecting a possible nest site. no wonder they're also called peaceful doves, even territory disputes were gentle.

5. movement on the macopa tree caught my eye. a very quiet arctic warbler was hopping from branch to branch. not too many of these migrants in the garden this year.

6.  the ornamental banana plant blooms were hidden behind large leaves, so i almost missed this male olive-backed sunbird.  and i would have if it wasn't so cheerfully noisy!

7.  the yellow vented bulbuls had just finished inspecting the capsicum plant, once again getting all of the ripe chilis and leaving none for me! they flew to the cinnamon tree and started preening.

8. and the surprise of the morning: a pair of colasisis were perched on the mango tree!  without the rambutan in bloom, these birds normally just whiz by the house with a high-pitched zeet zeet. it took me several minutes to spot them in the greenery, until a hop gave one away.

strangely absent were the ubiquitous eurasian tree sparrows and the brown shrike.  a flock of lowland white-eyes flew from the neighbors caimito over our house to an unknown destination. from the neighbor's balete, i could hear calling orioles.

but i was getting hungery and my breakfast (fried egg, spicy spanish sardines in olive oil, fried rice, quesong puti and hot malunggay pandesal) was waiting! (no picture of that... i ate everything before i though of taking a snapshot!)

Friday, January 6

the Concep house "downtown"

Young tricycle driver to Tita Mel (please excuse poor kapampangan spelling)

"Madam! Kasipag da naman ding bisita yu. Alas-4 ning abak atin ng atlung matwang mamalis ampong mipag-istorya king balkun yu!"  

          lola Noning 1901 - 1994
          lola Luming 1907 - 1999
          lola Pat 1913 - 2004

My mother's aunts who stayed in Concepcion (lola Embing moved to Manila and lola Madre stayed at the convent) lived in this house across the town plaza when her father, lolo Edong (the only brother in a family of 6), moved his family to the
house in the barrio.  My mom says it was built in the 1930's, one of the few residential houses designed by National Artist Juan Nakpil.

My mom's cousin, Tita Mel, now lives by herself at a second house behind the original house.  When I was small, I remember coming to Concepcion to these houses full of people: my grandmothers, cousins and aunts and uncles.  Marriage, family, career, migration, death has silenced the old house. Now, it still looks the same as all those years ago, still pretty but now showing its age and oh so much quieter.

Tuesday, January 3

a twitchy new year

how my birding has changed in the past year!  for a self proclaimed non-twitcher, i could not resist sightings near my home and place of work!  and it all started with a ferruginous flycatcher in late 2010.  i twitched a red-bellied pitta, leading to the discovery of the now famous ashy ground thrush. then a ruddy kingfisher. then white wagtails.  and now i start my birding year twitching a family of philippine eagle owls!

i had not connected with the internet since the school break started on december 16 and so i was completely (but refreshingly) out of the loop.  andrew had texted me yesterday if i wanted to see the owl.  of course my response was:
what owl?

apparently the latest city bird sensations were a family of philippine eagle owls in diliman!  i was suffering from a low grade fever and very bad sore throat (the worst i had ever!) and it was the day before school resumed, but a few text messages and encouragement from maia & jops (who dropped by the house after an owl encounter) and adri & i were set to meet the owls. it would be a lifer for adri & a definite upgrade for me.  i had seen the owl several years ago on the dark highway of mt. palaypalay with alex, tere and mang boy.
at 5pm, just before sunset, they were not hard at all to find, beginning with an adult high up in a rain tree, staring down at us. such a large bird up an equally large tree!  there it was, probably wondering what all the commotion was about several days in a row.  we (karen, tonji & sylvia, christian, mark jason, bram, arne, melanie, adri & i) could not help but gawk.
an very large adult philippine eagle-owl was perched on a rain tree as we drove up.  this is my picture using a 420 (300mm + 1.4x TC) lens

it was probably the female, being a bit paler. later, a very dark reddish brown juvenile hopped up on a planter box ledge on the neighboring building to poop outside of the box.  was this the nest of this elusive owl? then a darker adult (perhaps the male?) flew in and perched on a fire tree on our left, several meters from the first adult.  it was a delight to watch the owl family, especially the juvenile, which waddled like a penguin on the edge of the planter box and bobbed its head up and down in a circular motion like a dashboard doggy. later as the light waned a night fell, both adults flew silently in separate directions. in less than 10 minutes one of them returned with a large rat in its claws! it momentarily perched on the rain tree before flying to the planter box where the hungry juvenile immediately dropped into the planter box out of sight.  soon they were joined by the second adult, and we imagined the nice family dinner they were having.

here are adri's pictures using his lumix attached to his swarovski spotting scope:
adult philippine eagle owl #1 perched on a rain tree: female? notice the paler belly

adult philippine eagle owl #2 perched on a fire tree: male? compare to the first 2 pictures above

juvenile philippine eagle owl perched on a building flowerbox: much smaller than the adults and much more rufous-y. not to mention much, much cuter!

after a few minutes both adults flew out again eventually and we heard a very low hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo in the dark.

kennedy describes the habits of Bubo philippensis as "lives in forest and forest edge... also coconut plantations with patched of second growth. little is known about this secretive owl. no breeding information."

now we can add... prefers to nest in concrete planter boxes four to five storeys high!

much thanks to karen o. for sharing another wonderful city discovery!