Thursday, November 21

you sow but you do not reap

Or as they say in Filipino: ikaw ang nagtanim iba ang kumain.

Looks like the cockroach the backyard brown shrike left in its larder was stolen by the red ants. 

Not such a great loss in my opinion.  

Wednesday, November 13

Expectations & surprises

When I tell my mom I'm going birding, she never fails to ask me why we keep returning to the same place for birding. "Are there birds there you haven't seen yet? Don't you get tired of going to the same place?"

Well... strictly speaking, the answers are always "Yes" and "No". In that order.  But let's be clear.  There are still many, many birds I haven't seen. Some of them are actually supposedly quite easy to see. Some of them have been regularly reported at the places I bird at... regularly. I cannot deny that even just the thought of a lifer excites me. But, most of the time, a new bird on my life list is not the driving force to go out and bird.  After all, even with the same birds, each birding outing is different. 

But there is comfort to going to a favorite birding site. Birds can be quite predictable and, boring as it may sound, I like routine. Makiling and the UP Los Baños campus and its environs are regular birding go-to's for us.  Quite near to the city, very accessible, forest plus grassland birding on the same day, what's not to like? I have heard many a local birder swear off Makiling as being difficult and un-birdy, but so far, Mariang Makiling has never let me down. And so to celebrate the end of a two-week break from school, we loaded up our car and headed south of Metro Manila.

Of course one of the most reliable inhabitants of the forest in Makiling is Spotty, the spotted wood-kingfisher.  There are few visits when he had let us down, and even then, he would give us a distant call, as if to assure us that he still occupied  the same bend.

Makiling is also where I first spotted both species of malkohas.  Ixi, Adri and I counted a family group of more than 20 red-crested malkohas traipsing through the trees! Up the trail near the buko stands, we had a close encounter with a pair of scale-feathered malkohas.

Philippine Serpent eagles are also quite easy to see at Makiling, giving away their presence with their sharp, piercing calls. One or two can often be glimpsed soaring against the blue skies, through breaks in the canopy. 

The Philippine Hawk-Eagle our trio spotted was a delightful surprise. I think it was only the second or third time I had encountered this less common raptor at Makiling!

With a bit of effort at dusk or dawn, Luzon Hawk-Owls are an almost sure thing. I remember quite recently how a pair of owls joined us for our al-fresco dinner, and how earlier this year campus residents had their dinners interrupted by a group of rowdy birders doing a paparazzi act on some neighborhood owls.

But owls during the daytime?  Ixi and I thought that Adri was kidding when, nearing noon, he (nonchalantly, as usual), motioned to a branch behind us saying, "uy, owl!"

We had entered a narrow path of the main trail looking for an accipiter which was flushed by a passing motorcycle.  Having lost it, we were taking our time looking around, admiring a coffee plant. When Adri mentioned the owl, we took our time turning around to look at the spot he was pointing at.  Sure enough, out in the open, was the clear silhouette of an owl!  It turned out to be a roosting Luzon Hawk-Owl!

"Always take someone who is calm seriously," said Ixi when I repeated that I thought Adri was joking.

It slowly turned to face us, regarding us with an equal amount of curiosity. Stumbling upon an owl during the day! How cool was that?

We were back at the beginning of the forest trail in time for lunch, but unfortunately, Ixi couldn't join us for campus and grassland birding in the afternoon. 

Because it was a holiday, the Botanical Gardens were closed, so Adri and I decided to drive around the residential areas of the campus to kill a couple of hours of "dead" time.   We almost ran over a grey wagtail walking by the sidewalk. It quickly flew up to the roof of a shed, and calmly walked away.

We dropped by the carabao and dairy center to get our chocolate milk (both those counters were open on a holiday!).  A small flock of ashy minivets were taking cover at a nearby tree from the incoming rainshowers. In contrast, the scaly-breasted munias were oblivious to the precipitation.

We headed over to the agricultural fields.  The rice paddies were in various stages of planting.  One field was newly planted and we spotted several waders: kentish plovers, little ringed plovers, wood sandpipers, common sandpipers and long-toed stints scurried back and forth on the muddy ground.  Yellow wagtails, crested mynas, striated grassbirds, common kingfishers and little egrets joined them while a few whiskered terns and barn swallows flew above the fields.

In the overgrown gullies between fields, white-breasted waterhens, barred rails, white-browed crakes, snipes, slaty-breasted rails and common moorhens walked cautiously.

In the fields where the rice plants were heavy with grain, not even a cheerful scarecrow could keep away the hundreds of munias!  Chestnut munias rested on the blades of wild grass, on electric wires and even on the ground!

To my surprise, aside from the very common chestnut and scaly-breasted munias, there were flocks and flocks of white-bellied munias! They were much more retiring than their cousins, staying hidden in the ripening palay, and quickly taking to the air in the hundreds when 

And so we ended another birding day at Los Baños. No binocular-shattering moments, but still a few pleasant surprises.  What else is there to expect?

Thursday, October 31

low tide at Balanga

With just a few days left to the semester break and hardly any birding done, Adri and I decided to travel up north to Balanga City to check on any interesting waders.  We had checked the tides, the peak of high tide was a couple of hours before sunrise and peak of low tide was after lunch.  That meant that we didn't have to get up so early which was a big plus!

Upon reaching Balanga we headed straight for the Wetlands Park in Tortugas. To our delight, the fishponds adjacent to the park were had just been harvested and drained! Even if the sun was quite high in the sky already, a quick scan revealed several Kentish plovers still holed up in their little burrows! Were they late risers just like us?  I wouldn't blame them, the cool and dry amihan winds are very conducive to oversleeping!

2 versions of the same picture:  Kentish Plovers holed up in their shallow burrows

The other fishponds further off were still in the process of being drained, and we could see hundreds of egrets and terns flying around, probably trying to get an easy meal.

Egrets flying around a newly-harvested pond
At the wetlands, a familiar little strip of land (from numerous AWCs- Asian Waterbird Censuses, we had taken a part off previously) was exposed and waders were running around searching for food.  Aside from the Kentish plovers, there were Stints, Lesser Sand plovers, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Black-winged Stilts, Whiskered Terns, Great-, Intermediate- and Little Egrets.  It was such a delight to see them on a non-AWC birding trip!

On the sea wall we spotted a dueling Common Kingfisher and Striated Heron. They chased each other off from two points: the end of the sea wall and a huge driftwood on the beach. What a territorial battle between a David and Goliath!

Striated Heron versus..
a feisty Common Kingfisher

In the meantime, Whiskered Terns, Egrets and Black-winged Stilts kept on flying in from inland and landing on the exposed mudflats offshore. Unfortunately, these mudflats were too far away for any good photographs.

One of several flocks of Black-winged Stilts flying in.

A Great Egret

A Whiskered Tern

Most of the mudflats on the adjacent beach were also still covered by the high tide, and so we decided to check out the fish ponds at nearby Brgy. Lote. We were greeted by another wonderful sight: the fishponds had also been drained and hundreds of egrets, terns and stilts were walking on the expanse of mud! 

Several of the Black-winged stilts were feeding near the dirt road, unmindful of our presence.  I always enjoy seeing this migrant, which is the flagship migrant species for the City.  Stilts are a cross of comical and graceful, as the walk on their unending thin pink-orange legs, gently probing the mud and water with their needle-like beaks. Some of them were so close that I could see their bright red eyes.

A pair of stilts walking in synchronicity

Poster bird of Balanga: a Black-winged Stilt

There were many other waders also.  Marsh Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers walked alongside the stilts. Blending well with the half-dry mud were Little-ringed Plovers and a few Common Sandpipers.

A Marsh Sandpiper up close and personal

Little-ringed Plovers blended well with the background

Marsh Sandpipers and a Black-winged Stilt

A couple of Wood Sandpipers with a Little Ringed Plover in the foreground.

In the harsh light, I spotted a bird which did not look like a wader.  It was a wild duck! It was a bit of a distance from us and constantly dipped its head in the water making it difficult to observe well, but it looked like a female Northern Shoveler!  It was all by its lonesome and tried as we might, we could not spot any other duck in the area.

A lone wild duck!

In the meantime, in the opposite ponds where there was still a bit of water, I was able to count an astounding 66 Little Grebes on the scope! A waterdance of grebes! Again, it was too bad that they were too far off for photographs.  I even spotted a family, with 4 young grebes taking turns riding on the parent's back! 

After spending a good part of the morning at the fishponds, we decided to check up again on the tides at wetland park.

A Collared Kingfisher was patrolling the waters from a bamboo stick perch.  Behind it, our fears were confirmed.  The tide was out, exposing several square meters of mud!  This time our problem was compounded.  The noontime light was harsher and now, the waders were scattered over a larger area!  We contemplated wading in the water to get nearer, but then decided against it.

A Collared Kingfisher on patrol

We walked through some of the mangroves to check out the adjacent beach, but most of the birds were egrets and very few waders. Several Black-winged stilts were flying in, their dark wings and pink legs in contrast to the white egrets.

Little egrets and Great egrets on the beach

And more stilts flying in.

We stayed for several minutes, the tide was turning again, but we decided that we should be on our way.  We were content with the large numbers of waders we had seen at our 2 regular AWC sites, this time, we didn't count them though!

A peaceful co-existence

Monday, October 28


It was a hot Sunday morning even at an early 6:30am.  We were on a club trip to Candaba to check out the migrants which have been coming in since last month. The route to the bird sanctuary was still impassable because of the recent rains, so we stuck to the main highway heading towards the town proper. Because the sun was out in full force, the farmers were spreading the palay (rice grains) out on the road to dry. In both Filipino and the Capampangan (the local dialect) the word for drying out in the sun is "bilad".  

Nagbibilad ng palay: farmers spreading out the rice grains on the road to dry under the sun.

This practice often provides a conundrum to many a driver passing through country roads and highways covered in a thin layer of rice grains. Running over the palay could crush the dry grains, leading to a loss to the farmer. But in spite of this, farmers regularly dry their harvest on the hot concrete, spreading it out in the morning, and sweeping it back into sacks before nightfall.  I suppose a few broken rice grains is better than wet, moldy rice grains!

The road was busy with farmers, workers and drivers, so we kept to the side of the road, occasionally showered with dust as sacks of rice were thrown onto the road behind us.  The rice fields were still unplanted, and were filled far and wide with hundreds, even thousands, of migratory birds.  They were all scattered as far as the eye could see, but some of them stayed pretty near the road. Egrets and black-winged stilts were among the more obvious birds busy feeding in the mud.

One of hundreds of black-winged stilts.

A buff-banded rail was preening quite near to us, unmindful of a large field rat scurrying in and out of a nearby burrow! Moorhens and crakes walked along the grasses edging the rice paddies, busy looking for food.

A buff-banded rail preening in the shade.
To the entire groups' delight, a snipe walked out into the open, probing the mud for food with its long bill. It even took the time to preen, as if making sure everyone got a good look and photo.

Snipe sp. We kept hoping it would fly off so we could catch a glimpse of its tail,
but it just kept on walking.
A closer inspection of the fields revealed hundreds of wood sandpipers!  The were also busy walking around in the mud, searching for food.  With them were some little-ringed plovers and red-necked stints.

A resting wood sandpiper - there were so many of them!
By the side of the road were several resident birds, out in the full sun.  A handsome long-tailed shrike allowed me to come close, probably thinking "this is one strange-looking farmer".  

A very curious long-tailed shrike.
Several pied bushchats were also flying around, crossing the road and taking bits of grain from the concrete. Or maybe looking for insects amidst the sea of grain. There were males, females and not-quite-adults!

An assortment of pied bushchats, from top to bottom: male, female and juvenile male.
Blue-throated bee-eaters flew gracefully in the sky, landing on the long grasses which swayed just as gracefully in the breeze.  We were distracted by a black-bittern flying low over the water hyacinth, landing in a clump and quickly ducking low out of site.  We didn't see any ducks in the extensive water-logged fields, but a few wandering-whistling ducks and Philippine ducks flew by, moving in the general direction of the vehicle-inaccessible sanctuary.

A blue-throated bee-eater, unmindful of the hot sun.
As we walked down the highway, it began to grow warmer and warmer and warmer! We would seek shade beside the large trucks hauling the rice grain because it soon felt that we were drying out under the sun together with the grain!

Some of the rice grain was still piled in small mounds in the center of the road, yet to be spread.  This seemed to be an irresistible feast for many birds! The usually shy barred rails came out from the side of the road to feast on the grains.

A barred rail looking out for vehicles before crossing the road!

White-breasted waterhens boldly indulged in the free buffet together with the eurasian tree sparrows. A more retiring juvenile waterhen was content to pick off the leftover grains by the side of the road.

An irresistible feast: tree sparrows, waterhens and bush chats enjoy the drying grain.
Guess what those black mounds are under the sparrows in flight?
Invasive janitor fish thrown on the road to die!
This shy young waterhen picked at leftovers at the side of the road.
It was not only the bush-chats who patrolled the grain for insects, but also striated grassbirds! These birds probably balance out the loss from the seed-eaters by cleaning up any insects which might otherwise ruin the grain later.

A grassbird picks off an insect attracted to the drying grain.
We had given up walking because of the heat, exchanging the hot road for the convenience of our vehicles, but after a couple of kilometers, we turned back and decided to inspect some of the inner rice fields on foot using a small dirt road. The fields revealed more waders: marsh and wood sandpipers, greenshanks, stints, plovers.  

Birders also drying under the sun!

But the heat of the sun was too much too bear at 1030am and we decided to call it a day. When we arrived back on the road, we saw that the farmers were much more practical than us birders.  The were enjoying their own feast - merienda under the cool shade of an acacia tree!

With the palay spread out to dry, the farmers can take a rest.