Saturday, April 28

from heard to seen

after several years of just hearing this bird occasionally pok-pok-pok-pok-ing in the neighborhood, i finally spotted it this afternoon!

it was uncharacteristically quiet, perched on the fire (aka flamboyant) tree, hopping from branch to branch in the hot afternoon sun.

the coppersmith barbet is supposed to be a forest to forest edge bird, but several years ago, the bird club discovered that they were quite common in the up campus and even in ateneo!  perhaps they have been pushed to the greener parts of the metro by habitat loss, but at least they seem to be adapting well, nests have been regularly reported in up.

with a green back, a yellow breast striped with green and red on its crown and on the skin around its eyes and across its breast, the coppersmith barbet (or as we fondly call it: the pok-pok bird) is one of the more colorful backyard birds. its loud pok-pok-pok-pok call can be heard any time of the day, but it's so subtle (despite its volume) you might not even realize you're hearing it.

it was pretty high up in the tree and the lighting was harsh, but i managed a few photos.

yay to the new backyard (well, strictly speaking front yard) bird!

speaking of front yard, the fire tree and the golden shower are on their way to coloring the summer yard with orange and yellow... hot colors for a hot summer!

and the ylang-ylang, with its less showy flowers, is making the air heavy with its fragrance.

(i'm learning quickly from the native plant people: which of the 3 trees i mentioned above do you think is native to the philippines?)

i've been spending weekends at home so expect more garden stories coming up as the summer temperatures peak...

Sunday, April 22

the heat is on in candaba!

and i find myself back in candaba. again.  i'd better stop counting how many times i've been and will be there this year!

it's a hot, hot summer and there's nothing like birding in candaba til noon to highlight the heat!

but it's more than the temperature that's hot in candaba... with almost all the migrants gone, the residents are looking fine!

and the hottest bird in candaba at the moment? in my opinion it's the pheasant-tailed jacana!  we couldn't miss it if we tried that morning. almost all of them sported their long, beautiful tails, and their white heads and wings stood out in the green fields. their golden necks glinted under the hot sun.

they seemed to be everywhere, and they were very vocal! in fact, i thinks it's the first time i've actually heard the call of the jacana!  several of them formed small flocks of 20 or so individuals, some with their pheasant tails and golden napes, some still immature.

even while looking at the other birds, a jacana would occasionally fly into the picture, its long tail, huge feet and white wings trailing like ribbons behind its body and its brilliant white and golden head and neck gleaming under the summer sun.

on more than one occasion, a "jacana-fight" (not sure if it's just the males so i can't say cock-fight!) would erupt between 2 or 3 individuals!

of course, in spite of the jacana-action, the other birds were not to be outdone:

the philippine ducks at the other ponds still numbered at a few hundred, their metallic green speculums sparkling in the sunlight when they took to the air.

there were hardly any migrants left, save for some little and great egrets and a few garganey.  we did spot this flock of waders flying, perhaps over-staying stints?

the pratincoles still looked very handsome in their breeding plumage.  the bird below, like most of the birds we saw, had their mouths open to help cool them from the rising temperatures.

cisticolas zipped and sang cheerfully, and would approach very close to the car, allowing close encounters like the one below (it's not a giant zitting cisiticola, just a very close regular sized one!)

at the ponds by the mayors' house, the water seemed to be quickly disappearing in the summer heat.  in fact,  the heat had all but dried up that pond, a few philippine and wandering-whistling ducks were waddling on the mud which was quickly drying up as the sun rose higher. a few ducks were swimming back-and-forth on the few watering holes left.

we did spot a black bittern hiding in the hyacinth, something i was happy to see because it was my secret wish bird for the trip.

it was a  hot summer morning. the white, shimmering heat contributed to our discomfort while birding and didn't do anything to improve my photos. it's a good thing the bird action more than made up for the summer heat!

Friday, April 20

(not my) backyard owl family

unfortunately for me, not my backyard this time!

 i was so envious of co-birder & friend jops j when he had reported a fledgling philippine scops owl at his qc residence backyard!

i jumped at the opportunity to do the ultimate dude-birding:  chatting with fellow birders at jops' garden veranda while waiting for the owl to show up!  every now and then somebody from the household would pop in to ask "are they there yet?" everyone in the house had already seen the owls, and who wouldn't be thrilled to have owls in the backyard?

finally, we (myself more belatedly than the others!) heard a soft, high-pitched hissing sound. the young owl was nearby!  it was such an unfamiliar sound to me, i had never seen a young scops owl before and all i was familiar with was the grunting call of the adult. who would've thought we'd all get this lesson in scops owl calls in a birder's garden in the middle of the city?!?

sitting quietly on a bench, we finally spotted the juvenile bird perched on the mango tree at the neighbors' house.  illuminated by  flashlight, it was eating a small house gecko! as it was enjoying its meal, we heard a second juvenile calling somewhere nearby! 2 young owls! we were all in a flurry of excitement and we spotted the adults soon after. 

such a fluffy juvenile philippine scops owl!

one of the adults still looking out after the young owls

angry young bird: "isn't it time you birders went home?"

the combination of comfortable and convenient location (garden benches), friendly conversation (birders will never run out of bird stories!) and a very good endemic bird (note: an owl!) was dangerous: our "quick" birding sortie ended 6 hours after we arrived! thank you jops for a thoroughly wonderful experience, sorry to have kept you up so late!

coincidentally, although he had been hearing the owl prior to that, he and partner maia, first sighted the fledgling on the day marking their 2nd year as birders! what a wonderful reward to such a generous birding couple.

as the juveniles expand their range, i am hoping that more people get to enjoy owls in their backyards too! here's to having even more owls in the city, large or small! 

Monday, April 16

another noisy LTS at my window

a noisy chattering at my office cubicle window made me look out.  sure enough, LTS junior was making a racket, begging its parent for food.  the adult (codenamed einstein by sir raffy s) immediately flew off at the sight of my face in the window (as if he wasn't used to me after all these years!), but LTS junior just stared at me.

took my point-and-shoot out and took these crappy photos (p&s will never focus where i want it when it counts, notice the perfectly focused grass!) through the glass. LTS junior just stared back at me. just as i opened the window to attempt better photos, our secretary's voice booms behind me, "anong pini-picture-an mo ma'am?" startling both myself and LTS jr.

oh well. good to see another generation of ateneo LTSs at my window.

Tuesday, April 10

the empty nest?

it was saturday morning, and as i arrived at the trail of the mini forest at the la mesa eco park, i found myself again in the company of jops, maia and peter (whom i had joined just a few days before at candaba) and other wbcp members who were there to give a public guided birdwalk.  

all of us arrived earlier at the park to do a little pre-guided trip birding.  we got terrific views of a red-bellied pitta and a couple of the endemic ashy ground thrushes.

later, as the others left to prepare for the guided trip, i stayed behind to get better views of the ashy ground thrushes.  peter was standing very quietly and motioned to the pair very quietly foraging on the ground. "they would be invisible if they weren't for their movement," peter exclaimed in a hushed voice.  suddenly, one of them hopped up from the ground to a small tree obscured from our sight by a large tree trunk. i quietly moved to my right to get a good view.

"a nest!"

sure enough, there on the branches of a young tree, just above eye level, maybe 6 feet up from the ground, was a familiar sight.  just like last september's nest, it was nestled in the thin branches of the palo santo, quite a large, and very untidy nest. it was made from several large dried leaves, twigs and even some moss. it was located across the mini-forest from the nest observed last year.

just then, the ashy ground thrush on the nest was joined by a second adult and for a very brief moment both of them were on the nest, and then gone.  one of them would return to inspect the nest very briefly, perhaps twice in the 20 minutes we watched the nest.  a cheerful pair of lowland white-eyes which were flitting about int he low undergrowth all morning (probably with a nest of their own) even inspected the nest on at least one occasion. we wondered it they were still building the nest, as it seemed they left it unattended for a longer period than they were actually at the nest, and even then their visits were very short.  not wanting to disturb them, we left the nest, elated at our find.

later in the afternoon, joni, maia and i, attempted to show mike the ashy ground thrushes, but all joni could spot was a very young bird hopping about in the shadows.  was this the immature thrush, recently fledged from the nest? we wondered.

i would be back at that same spot sunday and tuesday with different groups.

on sunday morning, i joined nicky, mel, ju lin and her group of singaporean birders.  we split up into 2 groups, with one of the groups spotting a very accommodating hooded pitta further in the trail, and our group once again observing the pair of ashy ground thrushes visiting the nest briefly.  this time, the lowland white-eye was back, stealing some nesting material and also catching some insects in the nest.  one of the ashy ground thrushes seemed a bit more attentive at the nest, rearranging some to the nesting material and sitting on the nest as if to improve its shape. still, most of the time, the nest was left unattended.

and again, the red-bellied pitta walked wandered across the path several times, as curious about us as we were about it.

tuesday afternoon, and i was back.  this time to join adri and dion h. of vent and also alex t. 

who would greet us on the trail but the red-bellied pitta, very obliging for 2 o'clock in the afternoon. 

this time, there was no activity at the nest.  we stayed almost an hour but there was no sign of the ashy ground thrushes on the nest or on the ground.  even the white-eye pair, which still busy in the undergrowth did not inspect the nest.

empty nest or preparation for a second brood, it is still good news to see that the ashy ground thrushes, once-evil-birds in my book, seem to be thriving in this park-in-the-city. this is the second record of a nest in a small patch of second growth in the middle of the residential area.  it may be adjacent to the water reservoir, but it only emphasizes what surprises can reveal themselves in these green corridors of the city.

Sunday, April 8

the mayor's OTHER ponds

the most popular birdwatching site in candaba where many birders gather to enjoy flocks of migratory and resident ducks is actually private property owned by the mayor of the town.  he had set aside part of his private estate, allowing it to remain undeveloped for agricultural use, thus retaining the original swamp ecosystem.

on my personal record-breaking 5th visit to candaba for the year, i volunteered to help out jops & maia guide 4th grade students on their field trip for their ecosystems module.  veteran birder peter, who had just recently moved to the philippines, joined us as well.

at the main pond, we pointed out the large black-crowned night heron rookery and purple herons to the kids, their parents and their teacher. the black-crowned night herons were at the height of breeding plumage, looking very handsome indeed- something that would be true for many of the birds we saw that day. some grey herons were also seen with the other herons.

we moved to the duck pond, and saw hundreds of philippine duck plus wandering whistling duck.  there was also a lone male tufted duck with 4 females.  a few pheasant tailed jacanas sported their pheasant tails, which waved like flags as the foraged in the floating vegetation, tails held high. the boys excitedly took turns trying to spot the birds on the scope, while the girls quietly took down notes and asked maia questions.  a peregrine falcon flying over was quickly spotted by one of the boys.

at noon, our guests were getting hungry and happy with their lifers.  one of the kids, mark, even asked his teacher: can we go at 4pm? he was enjoying the outdoors so much! after expressing their thanks, they soon left jops, maia, peter and myself to continue birding on our own.

we were keen on exploring a site reported earlier by alex l, and it seemed like the place to be since even the mayor's people had suggested that we go there.  "pero ducks lang makikita nyo dun," they said.

ducks were good enough reason for us, and with careful directions from alex l and the people at the mayor's, we were on our way.

many of the birds were looking handsome at this time of the year, and we admired them on the dirt roads to our destination.  the oriental pratincoles were looking smart in breeding plumage, as were the cattle egrets.

when we got to the other ponds, we were amazed at the number of philippine duck (over a thousand), as well as the migrant garganey (over a thousand still!) and northern shovellers (at least 80)!  the garganey were also looking good, bright white marks stood out in the weed-choked ponds.  as the northern shovellers took flight, we could see that they had bright red-orange boots on! 

skylarks did their air dance, rising higher and higher into the air as they called loudly, more pratincoles stood at attention quietly in the fields and several pheasant-tailed jacanas, with their long plumes sticking into the air, foraged for food. 

jops, maia, peter and i were in awe.  the mayor's other ponds were certainly a revelation. i can hardly wait for next season's migration!

Sunday, April 1

birding at anvaya: summer's here!

with the finals over, i was looking forward to joining anna g, jun o and karen o in leading a guided trip for the employees and members of anvaya cove beach and nature club. they picked me up immediately after (the longest ever) graduation of class 2012 and we took the 2 hour drive to morong, bataan via subic, arriving at almost midnight! i literally collapsed into the bed after my long day. call time was 530 the next morning.

i woke up refreshed despite my less than usual number of sleep hours. jun o was already outside the manager's quarters, watching a pied bushchat and some glossy starlings perched on a nearby leafless tree. the starlings were soon replaced by bar-bellied cuckoo shrikes with their distinctive calls.  then it was time for us to move to the main pavillion to start our guided trip!

the guided trip was a class on its own. we started at a tent set up by the main pavilion facing the landscaped lawn. chestnut munias, glossy swiftlets, yellow-vented bulbuls, eurasian tree swallows, a brown shrike and a striated grassbird, and even a small group of pet ducks led by a lone geese acted as true to life props for our introductory birding lecture. the munias were even building nests at the bamboo right beside the tent!

this grassbird provided a good "prop" to our outdoor lecture!

munias were busy building their nests right beside our lecture area

 it was an easy walk in the bright morning sunshine around the main lawn, many birds easily seen and even their calls heard clearly by the whole group.  the ever-reliable collared kingfisher with its brilliant blue and the stunning yellow black-naped orioles drew oooohs and aaaahs from the participants.  pretty soon, one of the staff members took charge of the scope, expertly focusing it on nearby birds for the others! karen spotted a common kingfisher perched on the pond plants, and a ripple of excitement went through the group. at the end of the hour and a half walk, everyone had good looks at at least 14 species! 

the participants gamely described the birds they saw through their bins 
and through the scope

a little egret was one of the more visible birds that morning

a pied triller sang and preened for several minutes, unmindful of his audience

the cabana complexes were all named after birds!

some of the staff and management participants expressed surprise at how much they enjoyed the morning birdwalk (something they obviously were not expecting)! among the guests, a couple had drove in all the way from manila the night before just to join the birdwalk, while a father and daughter tandem from san juan were enthusiastically sharing their own backyard birding anecdotes. the whole group ended the session with coffee and snacks back at the tent before going separate ways.

while the guiding team was having breakfast, the father and daughter tandem excitedly came up to us to show us a chestnut munia that had hit the glass walls of the restaurant!  the poor thing was dazed, and we suggested to merely let it rest in a quiet place to allow it to recover. the father offered to just allow it it rest on his open hand, and his daughter (and all the rest of us!) watched it recover until it surprised all of us by taking off after a few minutes!  his daughter, miki, then showed us her notes for the morning... a birdlist with side notes and even a sketch of the collared kingfisher!  a birder in the making!

bird strike victim recovering in hand

miki's notes: birder in the making!

after another lecture and a short brunch meeting with the activities manager and her team, we were free to do as we pleased for the rest of the afternoon.  while karen and anna decided to go for a quick dip in the pool, jun and i went to explore the nature and fitness trail.  we were able to add a few more species to our bird list for the day as we walked thru the trail which crisscrossed a stream several times.

busy woodpeckers at the nature trail

several of these lycaenids too!

as we made our way back to the pavillion, we stopped by the ponds on the main lawn again, happily clicking away at several chestnut munias, and even attempting to shoot at the glossy swiftlets gliding over the water.

munias still gathering nesting material

 there were several immature munias also

trying my luck with the glossy swiflets: blurred in flight

we caught up with karen and anna at the pool, and they advised us to climb up the tower across the pool for some eye-level views of lowland white-eyes.

it turns out, the white-eyes were building a nest!  the nest was hidden well away behind the leaves of the mango tree, and the pair ignored our ogling and shutters clicking away. gerygones hopped and sang noisily while ets's hung around.

a very charming pair of lowland white-eyes were busy with their nest building

can you see the very carefully hidden nest?

noisy gerygones filling the air with song

and a very sleepy ets

beach! the summer icon

pretty soon we were getting hungry and we all settled down by the pool for an early dinner (or was it a super late lunch?). as we chowed down, we noticed a white-breasted wood-swallow perching on a coconut tree by the pool and we thought how strange it looked.  as we watched, it suddenly plopped down at the space between the coconut leaves. another nest!  and this had the best location yet: poolside with a view of the beach!

a cozy wood-swallow nest by the pool

as the sunset, the staff teasingly asked us if we were ready to go yet, four hours behind our original schedule!

tropical drinks by the pool at the start of summer

a relaxing dinner by the pool at sunset after a day of dude birding: it was a great way to start the summer break!

thanks to anna for organizing and leading the team and to anvaya for their gracious hospitality!