Saturday, March 31

mistletoe + butterfly update

ever since discovering the mistletoe  (Amyema incarnatiflora) in the house in tarlac, adri and i've kept a close eye on it, each of us having been back on 2 separate occasions.

when adri went several weeks ago, he saw more flowers in full bloom, interspersed with the host tree's (duhat, Syzygium cuminiflowers:

i was back last week and there were only a few flowers left:

there were several butterflies, painted jezebels (Delias hyparete luzonensis) flitting around the mistletoe and there was one that started laying eggs on one of the fresh leaves of the mistletoe!

it laid its eggs in 2 neat rows!  

hopefully i get to go back soon and get to see the cats!

Wednesday, March 28

remembering jack (the) sparrow

it's breeding season for a lot of the residents and i've been hearing several reports and getting several text messages about fledglings falling from nests and other growing pains lately.

and it made me think of a little bird i spent a month with a couple of years ago.

my officemates had been handed a baby eurasian tree sparrow by some students who found it on campus on the ground. it was a few days old, its feathers all sheathed and hardly covering its body. and of course what do my officemates do with it? hand it over to me!

at first i was adamant about refusing to take care of it. 
"put it back where they found it!" 
"but it will die!" 
"then it was meant to die"
"kawawa naman"
"ganyan talaga ang buhay"
"it fell from its nest"
"it was probably pushed out by its parents or siblings."
"you have to take care of it"
"what? you accepted it, you take care of it!"
"but you're a birdwatcher! you know about birds!"
"yes, i know enough NOT to take care of it."
"you have to take care of it, it will die."
"do you know that it needs to be fed every hour or two all day all night? NO!"
"... ??? ..."
"No, no, no, NO!"

i ended up taking a baby bird home.

i had to ask adri that we pass by mercury drug to get some cerelac and a medicine dropper. adri was flabbergasted at my accepting the responsibility.

"it'll probably be dead by tomorrow, it's too tiny," i try to justify my weakness.

jack on his first night, in a box warmed with tissue and warmed by my night lamp

what happened? 

it lived. 

jack after a few days... feathers unsheathed with a little help from myself 
(good thing i wasn't allergic to bird dander, thanks to charlie)

and i brought it with me to the office. and my officemates were happy. and i brought it with me to the office for at least 2 weeks after that.  and my officemates soon became somewhat annoyed.

well, someone HAD to feed it when i had a four hour class.

it eventually learned to fly around the office.

and poop on everyone's things and papers.

and hop around on keyboards begging for food.

i called him jack. jack the sparrow (yes, johnny depp fan here).

it soon learned that the warmest places in an airconditioned room was beside anyone's laptop. and that it was also the best place to poop.

hanging out at my computer's lan connection

favorite place: anyone's (warm) computer. here, jack studies the topography of DNA.

of course, no one would dare complain (at least not to my face).

that was what they wanted, right?  for that tiny bird to live.

when it was time to go home i would whistle and it would chirp back. and i would get him from whose ever cubicle he answered from, put him in a box and let him out when i got home to my room.

when i went out for dinner or watch a movie, i kept him in my jacket pocket the whole evening. (it's a good thing my friends accept me for who i am)

and then he finally learned to eat by himself and i could leave him in my room the whole day. he also learned to fly, and would zip from the curtain rod, to the window to my books.

one of his favorite perches in my room... perched and facing the wall

i would wake up every morning because there was a bird insisting to be fed, pecking at my fingers, toes, or face.  and it kinda hurt. especially the pecking at the toes.

i would return home from work, and a bird would attack me as soon as i got into the room, begging for... cerelac.

soon the picture frames in my room and my books and my wall clock were white with bird poop.

this went on for almost four whole weeks!

on an especially annoying morning and sore toes, i told adri: "this has got to stop. this bird is good to go. i still can't believe he survived." to which adri answered "why do you think there are so many of them?"

and i promptly (and literally) threw jack (the) sparrow out the window.

in less than a second, i missed him already. i knew he would survive, i just hope he didn't suddenly decide to land on the next person's shoulder thinking person = food.

how long do tree sparrows live?  even today, i sometimes look at the sparrows around in the garage and yard and ask "is that you jack?"

(fair warning to all who attempt to take on abandoned baby birds)

Monday, March 26

a sunday morning tree walk

i was excited to receive a text message from cel t. inviting me to join a pnpcsi (philippine native plants conservation society, inc) tree walk at the up diliman campus on sunday morning.

i met up with a small group at the admin building behind the oblation and we got up and started soon enough at a very familiar corner: university avenue cor. jacinto st, right near albert hall (my second home for oh so many years).

our guide, arch. patrick gozon ( began with a short introduction on the definitions of native, indigenous, endemic and introduced (so similar to how we start our bird walks!), pointing to several palm trees right there at the outpost, beside the lady bathing. obviously, aside from the huge palm oil palms and coconuts, i had never noticed these other palms!

it was a very educational and interesting morning. we walked from university avenue to the up lagoon area (horrors, the lagoon had been half filled in and overlaid with concrete!) on the side of vargas museum, to the back of the main library by the beach house, to engineering and beta way, back to the as building and the faculty center to nsri and msi.

it was a good time to go around, several of the trees were in bloom.

pili (Canarium ovatum) trees in bloom and fruiting on university avenue! imagine that!

a lifer tree: the salingbobog (Crateva religiosa) by the lagoon had such pretty flowers! they must be pretty sweet too, several pierid butterflies were drinking their fill.

the kalumpit (Terminalia microcarpa) tree in by the library in front of phan was still blooming. i know the fruit but i've never seen the flowers (or knew what the tree looked like!)  

katmon (Dillenia philippinensisin up!  i know katmon because i kept on seeing its lovely flowers in the forest while birding, and the first time in palaypalay.  i learned in agusan that the fruit was used as a souring agent. 

this is a botong/putat (Barringtonia asiatica) flower and dried fruit.  i've seen this at the cbd at subic and even in ateneo! i didn't even notice the one at the msi!

(this isn't a tree but how can i resist the msi blue rock thrush when it lands right beside me and picks up a huge juicy caterpillar? silent note: when my main agenda ISN'T birding! it may be my last sighting of this handsome fellow for the season. )

i'd best be joining more of the tree walks and hitting the books and the internet... i definitely have a LOT more to learn about our native trees... even in up where i stayed for more than 10 years! i'm definitely looking forward to learning more!

Thursday, March 22

sunday birding part 2: sunset at the bay

after meeting the angono petroglyph philippine eagle owl, my sunday was only half done.

i had promised to meet some of my freshmen students who were doing their zoology project on the reclamation of the coastal lagoon and migratory birds. i get a thrill when the students are interested in this issue and i didn't hesitate to offer help.  mike, mark w, jon v and of course adri were all willing to give my students a special guided trip to the lppchea.

i had't been to the las pinas-paranaque coastal habitat and ecotourism area in quite a while. during my first few years as a member of the club, this was one of the places i would often visit, long before the the sm complex replaced the grasslands of tambo.  i was always amazed at the beach littered with seashells and rubber slippers.  the mudflats were where i practiced id-ing waders while sitting on the (now-gone) almost collapsed houses on stilts.  it was amazing to see so many birds in a place with so much trash.  equally amazing was how many fishermen were fishing for food in the polluted waters. migrant and resident birds, mangroves, fish, trash, people: the universal truth of the current environmental problems was summarized right there in front of us while we scoped birds and made up dialogues of imagined conversations between them.

high tide at the tail end of migration season was not the best time for a guided trip to the coastal lagoon, but i think my students were still impressed by the flocks of whiskered terns skimming the water for food and the few egrets perched on floating bamboo rafts.  the beautiful sunset on the half clean (thanks to several coastal clean-ups!) with the terns flying around prompted one of my students to say: "ang ganda, sana may ganito sa manila!" ("how beautiful, i wish there a place like this in manila!") at which i had to reply: "nasa manila ka pa!" ("you're still in manila!")

is that a piece of plastic that the terns have mistaken for food?

whiskered terns changing to breeding plumage toward the end of breeding season

little egrets doing a courtship dance on the beach

a moorhen party at the pond

as we walked quietly back to our vehicles after birding on freedom island, the sunset had bathed the sky pink and we could see the airplanes all lined up in the sky, waiting for their turn to land on the runway.  

flocks of terns and gulls in the late afternoon

a golden sunset on the bay

enjoying the pink and lavender sunset

will this show of nature be replaced soon by the neon glow of casino lights?  will the crunch of sand underfoot be replaced with asphalt? will the residents of metro manila have to travel further westward to enjoy the manila bay sunset?

i hope not.

Sunday, March 11

sunday birding part 1: natural + cultural history

"ah mga birdwatcher sila, pinapayagan namin silang lumabas sa viewing deck kasi ino-observe nila ung pamilya dyan ng philippine eagle owl.  para sa kanila, secondary lang itong mga petroglyph!" - curator to other visitors (they're birdwatchers, we allow them to go past the viewing deck because they're here to observe a family of philippine eagle owls roosting there.  the petroglyphs are only secondary to their purpose here!)

ooops.  truthfully, i would not have finally visited the angono-binangonan petroglyphs if it weren't for a report from wbcp-er vincent about a very accomodating family of owls living in the area. and i suppose this holds for a lot of birders who had recently flocked (pun intended) to the site. another eagle owl sighting, the 2nd for the year! suddenly the eagle owl is not such a difficult bird to bag!

so, it was an excellent opportunity to hit two birds (not literally!) with one stone. 

the angono-binangonan petroglyphs were "discovered" by national artist botong francisco in 1965. the townspeople were aware of the drawings, but apparently no one had realised their importance.  it turned out that these figures, scratched into the rock, are the oldest known rock art in the philippines, estimated to have been created in 3,000 bc. it is a collection of 127 drawings made by several individuals and it has been declared a national cultural treasure.

ironically, these treasure is located in the vicinity of a golf course and a resort!  thankfully, the area has been preserved, and hopefully, it will continue to be. 

to make the area more accessible, a tunnel was created in the adjacent rock barrier.  in the beginning they tried to blast their way through, obviously not a good idea as the rock they were blasting was continuous with the rock shelter with the petroglyphs!  so they hired igorot miners to tunnel through by hand!  i can imagine how long it took them to finish the tunnel, but looking at the stone wall at the start of the tunnel, i appreciate the artistry the laborers put into the rip-rap, creating the puzzle-piece wall, each stone probably filed to fit exactly. truly reflective of the stone work skills of the igorot.

light at the end of the tunnel

jigsaw puzzle wall: the pieces fit perfectly

when we arrived at the viewing deck and mini-museum, adri and i found alex & tere already there with a guest singaporean birder.  also there was toto, a bird photographer and of course also vincent, who was on his regular sunday hike which led him to the owl discovery.  wow, these owls were really popular!  so many visitors on a sunday!

the deck for viewing the petroglyphs

can you spot the philippine eagle owl up in the tree?

we quickly joined them (outside the petroglyph view deck area!) to see an adult owl perched on a gmelina tree branch, in full view. it was regarding all the humans with ... curiosity? disdain? apprehension?  hopefully, it was more of the former, as it didn't seem concerned at all with our presence, its huge eyes blinking slowly in the bright sunshine as it watched us. 

i can see you with my big yellow eyes!

ever seen an owl wink?

the juvenile was in a more concealed spot on a neighboring tree, we could see it from the bottom and it looked like it still had soft downy, feathers. from time to time it would play with a branch with its beak, and alternated between falling asleep (well, its eyes were closed) and looking down at us.

baby in the tree: the newly fledged eagle owl

whoooooo's there?

when the others had their fill and left, i took a cue from my friend maia and started looking for signs of what these huge birds (the philippine eagle owl is the largest owl in the philippines) were eating.  Small bones, looking mostly like rodents from the skulls (maia writes about that here), littered the bottom of the rock face.  i remember when i was very small, we had a hamlyn guide to natural history collecting and a whole section was devoted to owl pellets.  these aren't owl poop, but regurgitated pellets containing indigestible parts like bones.  finally, after 20+ years i get to see the real thing!

various bones from a previous meal

finally, after almost an hour, we decided to move on to the actual attraction at the site. the petroglyphs!  almost all the rock engravings looked human, some of them even had "fingers"!  i wonder what the place looked like in 3,000 bc when the ancient people had carved these drawings!  definitely no resorts and golf courses or sprawling subdivisions. how many eagle owls lived in the company of these humans? did they regard them with as much wonder and respect? did the owls' strange calls at night inspire superstition?

the angono petroglyphs in binangonan: the oldest known art in the philippines

nature's censorship :-)

check out adri's video of the owls:

after a short conversation with the national museum dude roden and vincent, we were on our way.  the day was only half over and we had to move to another birding site in the city, this time by the coast.

Wednesday, March 7

kissing under a mistletoe

adri, myself and george went with mom when she last checked in on the renovations at the house in concep, and we discovered this growing on one of the duhat trees lining the pond:

i wouldn't have noticed it if it weren't for the beautiful red flowers which just didn't fit in as i was staring at a very old duhat tree.

it often comes as a surprise to people that mistletoe (yes, the popular kiss-under-a-sprig-of-mistletoe-at-christmas mistletoe) is native to the philippines.  i have also learned this only relatively recently... side information from birding of course.

flowerpeckers enjoy eating mistletoe fruit, and as they pass the seeds, they are so sticky they have to wipe them on a branch, securing a spot for the mistletoe to grow and flourish, its roots digging into the host plant for nutrients.  yes, mistletoe is a semi- parasitic plant.  and the literal translation of "mistletoe" is "dung on a twig," maybe because of the way it is propagated?  adri did a very nice video from some of nicky's recordings for bap which you can watch here, here and here.

i also learned that certain butterflies, the jezebels (delias sp.) use the mistletoe as a host plant (from lydia of course).

it took me some time to search the net (and it didn't help that justin bieber had a song with the title mistletoe! try googling it!), but i finally found a reference which led me to think this one with nice red flowers is Amyema incarnatiflora.  

my internet search even brought up a set of stamps issued by the philippine postal office in 2007. (it's the 3rd on the top row)

i'm hoping for confirmation of my id from experts.

in the meantime, i'm excited by this discovery, mistletoe in the garden! i had seen plenty of these parasitic plants while birding, although it's ironic that the first flowering specimen i would observe would be so close to home. another thing to look forward to when going home to tarlac (& i don't just mean the kissing)!