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.

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