Thursday, January 31

a nymph in the garden

this large butterfly was hard to miss. mom pointed it out while we were having breakfast this morning, said it's been hanging around for the past 3 days.

idea leuconoe flies slowly and gracefully, so it's referred to as a "nymph" or "ghost" or even "spectre". very popular in butterfly farms, this one probably was released at a wedding during the weekend and found its way to our garden.

its one ghost i don't mind having in the backyard!

Tuesday, January 29

Super-twitch: double lucky

when doc joey emailed the group about the appearance of large flocks of green-faced parrotfinches near his farm i absolutely knew i had to go see it. i also knew that birders would descend upon the town of samal in bataan to come and try to get this uncommon endemic on their life lists and document it.

the green-faced parrotfinch is an endemic, rare and hard to find bird mostly reported from luzon.  however, when the bamboo  blooms, there is an irruption of these birds, and they can be common locally. for as long as the bamboo blooms are available, that is. bamboo flowers infrequently, over long intervals of several decades, and mass flowering is often observed in several species. the sudden availability of this preferred food is what brings the increase in green-faced parrotfinch reports.

with my schedule full for the next weekend with the bani awc and then with adri in dumaguete during the week, it was a difficult few days reading report after report of the birders who had gone to see the bird, with varying degrees of success. the days crawled by and the anticipation was difficult to endure, distracting me from work until THE day.

adri and i had planned the whole weekend around bataan: the green-faced parrotfinch in samal, taking up an invitation to bird in san juan de letran in abucay and finally, the awc in balanga.

we were up early to maximize our time at the site and increase our chances of seeing the bird. joining us were tere (who was also spending the entire weekend in bataan) and mel and nicky. we arrived at brgy palili at 7am, picked up our guide, stimson, at doc joey's farm and headed straight for the site at the next baranggay, brgy bangkal.

as we got out of our cars, the roadside was alive with bird calls. philippine bulbuls, olive-backed sunbirds, and even a philippine tailorbird were singing their songs.  the parrotfinch site was a short walk from the road.  bird calls resounded like noisy chattering at a market, mostly coming from several trees heavy with orange flowers nearby. this high bird activity was uncharacteristically ignored as we had only one goal in mind! we descended down a ridge and up the next hill past a small grassy clearing.  the bamboo plants all around were clearly in various stages of bloom. the ground dipped down into a valley where a small stream ran through and across from us, was a view of the next hill, with even more bamboo plants in bloom.

bamboo in bloom on yonder hill! far away much?
as we were catching our breath from the steep hike, adri and nicky set-up the scopes trained across the ravine. we were quite anxious as stimson had said that the last visitors from 2 days ago had spent all day waiting for the parrotfinches that did not come.  but our anxiety was soon relieved when adri called out "ayun sila!" true enough, the tiny movements of the bamboo flowers gave away the presence of feeding birds: green-faced parrotfinches!  such tiny birds and so far away, but clear as crystal through our binoculars and the scope!

how many little green birds and red tails can you count?
 this was taken with a 300 mm  x 1.4 from across the ravine

i cheated and took another picture with my point and shoot and adri's scope!

trying out all sorts of gadgets:
a team effort to i-phone scope the parrotfinch using mel's phone.


we spent the next three or so hours watching the birds: sometimes just a small flock of 6 to 10 birds, sometimes a larger flock of more than 20 birds! at one time, a small flock flew to our side of the ridge, and rested on one of the trees on our side!  but most of the time they would be busy picking seeds from the sprays of bamboo flowers.  despite their red tails, they were difficult to spot at rest, their bodies leaf-green and blending well in the vegetation.

this was the closest they got, resting on a tree on our side.
how well they blended in with the leaves!
a most satisfying twitch of a super bird!

but it was not the end of our encounter.  the next day, having spent the night at letran in the neighboring town of abucay, we (tere, adri and myself) returned with our new birder friend fr auckhs, and the other wbcp-ers who had followed that morning for a birdwalk at letran: jops, maia, jun, gina, bee-choo and allan. when we got to bangkal, we were met by the ecstatic group of bob and cynthia and peter who had just successfully photographed the birds!

we scurried down and up the trail once more, and this time, just before the grassy clearing, we saw several other birder/photographers clicking away with a ferocious intensity!  the parrotfinches were a mere 5 meters away, feeding at a nearby bamboo plant! we quickly joined the others, admiring the small flock busy at work on the bamboo blooms. 

a much closer view the second time around! some birds like the one in the lower right had  flesh (instead of green) colored underparts and shorter tails.  juveniles? females?

when the flocked moved on, everyone heaved a sigh of relief and a quiet cheer rippled through us. our smiles were bright and wide. even as our attention finally turned to other birds around us, the parrotfinches would make reappearances which would bring silence to the group.  

apparently, the small flock never left our vicinity, and would only take short rests inside the bamboo clump nearby!

aha! they never go far, they just rest inside the bamboo clump

like paying homage to the bamboo clump we were!
a huge thanks to doc joey for being so generous with the information and for being so helpful welcoming all of us birders!  two straight days sighting the rarely seen endemic green-faced parrotfinch.  who would've thought we'd be doubly lucky, and even luckier the second time around?

the green-faced parrotfinch: a super bird worth the twitch!

(to be continued: more on our bataan adventures in the following blog posts!)

Thursday, January 24

bonus birds at bani

since becoming a birder and joining the wbcp, i have reserved 2 or 3 weekends of january for the asian waterbird census. this year, with the much-anticipated romblon awc scrapped, my first awc was in bani, pangasinan.  it was the second time in 2 years that i was joining the bani trip, along with the original group composed of juan m, alex, tere, adri and myself. a co-worker of juan, max, joined us.  sadly, rene c, who led the group last year, could not make it this time. 

we arrived in the afternoon on saturday, settled in at the lovely old woods by the sea resort, and did some casual birding around the area.  it was lovely weather to go afternoon birding, with the cool temperatures, slight ocean breeze and clear skies.  we were happy to see several birds along the trail leading away from the resort and road: aside from philippine- and yellow-vented bulbuls, orioles, sunbirds and other more common birds, we also glimpsed a pair of black-naped monarchs, white-browed shamas, philippine tailorbirds, a scale-feathered malkoha and some doves.

the charming old woods by the sea resort: very idyllic place to while away time
the resort was a good half an hour or more from the awc site so we were up by 4am the next day, refreshed from a restful sleep, and off to the mangrove sanctuary.  when we got to the jump off point at baranggay aporao, the orange light of dusk chasing away the purple darkness of evening, and we could already see egrets flying over on their way to their feeding grounds.

morning breaks: an orange and pink sky
when we arrived at the viewing station and boardwalk of the bangrin mangrove sanctuary, it was already light and we walked up to the roof deck.  it was good to do a census with a group that had been doing it together for many years and we automatically assumed our roles for counting different waterbirds. the tides were still receding and we could see waders feeding at the mudflats around the mangroves.  on the opposite side, towards the fishpens, alex would get excited over the several osprey hunting bangus so early in the morning.

arriving at the viewing station at first light

the fishpens were bereft of terns... but the osprey were still there
hunting bangus in the fishpens - these osprey have got it good!
our vantage point made counting quick and painless (except for alex who had to count the egrets which were flying off in large numbers!), so we took a break and had our breakfast (sinangag + scrambled egg + longganisa + daing + red banana).  it was a very short break because immediately after finishing off the food, we took a boat to go around the mangroves.  the tide was too low for us to go inside, but we were able to go around quite easily, anchoring on the side opposite the viewing station to continue our count.

the ease of our first station was now offset by the difficult task of counting and id-ing waders from a floating bangka, through bins and scope! several waders were out feeding, used to boats and fishermen, they ignored our presence a few meters away from them.  aside from egrets and herons, there were redshanks, greenshanks, grey and pacific plovers,  marsh and wood sandpipers and a few whimbrel.

counting from a rocking boat is quite a challenge

nearer to the mangroves, quite a distance from us was a large flock of philippine ducks!  they were on the water, coming out of the mangroves where the water was presumably disappearing with the ebbing of the tides.  we counted more than four hundred of them, with still several (hundred?) more trickling out from the mangroves.

philippine duck bobbing on the ocean's surface
and then adri quickly pointed out a small flock of 19 waders a few meters in front of our boat. they were probing the mud for food with their long bills.  black-tailed godwits!!!  a lifer for adri and myself!  this was a good record for bangrin, the black-tailed godwits are a near-threatened species owing to the decline in their population the past years.

lifer: black-tailed godwits!

there was a general hustle to get a good view, since the length of the bangka was perpendicular to where the birds were.  good thing that i was up front and center so i got excellent views.  as a fisherman passed them on another bangka, they took to the air, giving us good looks at their tails and rumps and confirming adri's id.

black-tailed godwits take to the air...

... and land gracefully on the water (showing their black tails!)

the sun was already mid-apex and we decided to take the boat back to the dock at aporao to check out the fishponds.

more waders and egrets on the way back

the nearby fishponds were full of water, though we did walk quite a distance (through barking dogs and escaped goats) to get to a pond which was full of white egrets.  every now and then we would spot a random wader, a common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, redshank or greenshank. not too many though.  a couple of black-winged stilts would fly in the distance only to disappear behind the grassy borders separating the ponds.

and even MORE egrets!

of high entertainment value were 3 osprey, all hunting bangus at the pond, and quite successfully.  it is always exciting to watch a bird of prey at work, and the great splashes the osprey maded as they dove for the fish was as action-packed as you can get at the awc!  they had quite a good success rate i must say, carrying off maybe one fish for every three attempts. 

another osprey with another bangus!
it was just 11am when we decided to head back, when william (the denr rep) asked if we wanted to check out the dam at another site. he had heard reports of wild duck being spotted there.  

why not?  

as we were leaving aporao, we would stop from time to time at dry fishponds.  finally we spotted more little-ringed plovers and kentish plovers and long-toed stints!  we had all commented previously on how we hardly saw any. we even added buff-banded rail to our census.

an adult little-ringed plover

and an immature little ringed-plover

a kentish plover

the ever-elegant black winged stilt
a  buff-banded rail
the dam, a small reservoir irrigation project (srip) of the nia (national irrigation authority) was not a long way off, although the roads (dirt roads) were pretty bad.  we passed through almost bone dry landscape, and i wondered were the dam could be.

when we arrived at the dam at high noon and we quickly got our of our vehicles and walked up for a view of the reservoir.  ducks!!! quite a distance away across the water, still ducks! once again, they were quickly drifting into a small cove, away from sight so we walked across the dam to get a better vantage point.

the guy stationed at the small office mentioned that the ducks would usually arrive at the dam in the morning and leave in the early evening.  their numbers were usually highest in the late afternoon.

even from the distance it was obvious that while most of the ducks were the endemic philippine duck, there were migratory species as well.  the bright white breasts of the pintails stood out in the flock. on the scope, adri was able to single out a few eurasian widgeons and a lone female shoveller. nearer to us, separate from the larger group, were a couple of tufted duck. while counting, i was able to pick out a couple of garganey, their smaller size evident even in the distance.

ducks far, far, faaaaaar away
most of the ducks were sleeping, but one duck had a nicely patterned back, the scalloped design more distinct than the ducks around it.  while i was looking at it, it lifted its hidden head and... an orange bill!!!  i quickly called adri before it floated out of view and disappeared into the flock, or worse, before it decided to go back to sleep and hide its head again.

we had a hard time keeping it on the scope for everyone to get good views and check out diagnostic marks. it was too far to take a photo, even through the scope so we had to be sure.

it turned out to be my second lifer for that sunday: a female gadwall!

the gadwall, as well as the discovery of several hundred wild ducks sheltering at the three-year old dam was certainly worth the detour we had taken.

two lifers for my first 2013 awc. not bad at all.

thanks to the mayor of bani, mayor cel navarro, for hosting us once again.

Monday, January 21

a journey with no destination (part 2)

(continued from here)

on day 2 of our agenda-less drive, we joined ixi and mikeli in visiting carmela at villa escudero.  it was a cloudy day, rain threatened to fall from the grey skies as we followed mother and daughter on the road to tiaong.

once again, the orphaned travelers were welcomed with open arms by our friends. the rain had started to fall even before we reached san pablo, and it looked like it was going to be a lazy day hanging out with friends.

rainy days =  lazy days

thankfully, the riverside cottage had a great view of the main pavillion and the river, and offered the ultimate in dude-birding: birding from the hummock while: a) munching, b) drinking, c) chatting it up with friends or d) catching up on some snooze time (not necessarily in that order!)

the spiral ginger just outside our cottage was the favorite perch for a common kingfisher who didn't seem to mind the rain. 

pacific swallows took refuge in the wooden beams above the cottage

we had a late lunch and the rain let up a bit so carmela took us to see her long-term guests: the rescued laguna pit bulls. excited barks greeted us as we approached, and many of the dogs wagged tails, picked up their dishes, jumped up and down in their cages in various attempts to catch our attention.  it was heart-breaking to think of what these dogs had been through!  many of them looked so sweet, pressing up against the cages for a little head and tummy scratch.  hope springs eternal for these saved canines for as long as people like carmela and mikeli strive to better the dogs' lives.

as rain began to pour again, we retreated back to our cozy cottage, where we stayed for rest of the day, save for a short trip to the pavillion for late dinner.

the next day was no different, skies were still grey and overcast. when the sun decided to peek through the clouds, after breakfast, we hurried to the waterfalls for some quick birding.  a fruiting tree was noisy with flowerpeckers voraciously devouring the tiny fruit. 

red-keeled flowerpeckers zipped back and forth picking up and swallowing fruit

other birds were out enjoying the bit of sunshine, preening and drying themselves out in the open.

this brown shrike was joined but 20 or so sparrows drying themselves of on a bougainvillea bush.

as we headed down to the iconic eating area, we quickly spotted the star bird of villa: a male indigo banded kingfisher perched on the railings across the river!  too bad it quickly moved into the darker area upstream as the place came alive with activity from people preparing for lunch.

quite a horrible picture of the star of villa escudero!

we were not left without avian companions though, as a pair of oriental magpie robins displayed themselves quite well.  one of them came close enough for us to see that it had an ant (most probably dead) attached near its eye.  oooh how i wanted to reach out and pinch it off!

argh!  if i could just reach out and remove that ant from the  corner of the eye of this friendly magpie-robin!

alas, the sunshine didn't last for very long, and the rain chased us back once again to our cottage. how we filled up the day i can hardly remember now, time passes so quickly when you are with friends and having fun!  sooner than we would have liked it was already 5pm and we had to go!

we thanked our gracious hosts for the past three days in calamba and tiaong and began the drive back to the city. after all, every journey will eventually have the travelers coming home.

Wednesday, January 16

a journey with no destination (part 1)

our impending trip to romblon had been canceled due to unforseen circumstances leaving mel, adri and myself free for a four day weekend. we had planned to return to ginablan to check out our friends from the mangrove sanctuary and to do a waterbird census for the awc. we were miffed by the last minute change of plans but there was a low pressure area hovering near the central philippines which lightened our frustration at our canceled trip- at least we wouldn't be rained out in romblon for a second time!

what to do? what to do?

with no clear agenda in sight, we decided to take a drive south of manila, joined by nicky. thankfully we were welcomed with open arms by good friends who took us in for the weekend.

ixi and mikeli had a sumptuous luncheon and a furry welcoming committee to greet us upon arrival in calamba. after checking out a newly opened hostel in the boy scout reservation at makiling in the afternoon, we dropped by trees lodge for a quick peak at the dead tree.  a lone falconet was perched at its apex and the glossy swiftlet was predictably nesting on the ceiling of the balcony. the forest trail was still closed, a more permanent gate built across the beginning of the trail.

i'm beginning to  suspect that this glossy swftlet nest is a permanent structure!

we then made the most of the dwindling light with a quick drive through the up campus and the surrounding agricultural fields. in one of the newly turned fields we spotted a good company of birds: a family of common moorhens, a pair of buff-banded rails, several white-browed crakes and even a lone slaty-breasted rail (which turned out to be a lifer for mel and ixi).  darting back and forth from the overgrown boundary of the field was a large field mouse, challenging the buff-banded rails, much to their consternation. a yellow bittern would fly across the field more than once.

afterwards, we tried calling in philippine hawk owls at several locations near the residential areas on campus.  as the evening darkness crept in, we still had no owls, and we all piled begrudgingly into the car, ready to call it a day.  barely had we driven a few meters when adri suddenly stepped on the brakes and pointed right above the car: owl!  

owl at 12 o'clock: a bottom-side view
we all got down in the middle of the road and nicky illuminated a pair of very obliging philippine hawk owls with his torch.  we caused quite a commotion, with all the neighborhood dogs barking at us and with the car in the middle of the road, some of the residents came out of their houses and regarded us curiously.  "just looking at some owls," we explained.  upon which most of them shrugged their shoulders and answered: "ah, ok.  those owls are always there," and walked back into their homes. 

one of a very handsome pair of philippine hawk owls

oooooh, how envious i was.  i wonder if i would ever have owls so common and familiar in my backyard!

the owls were very cooperative, staying on even after we had taken several shots, and even after ixi had set-up her tripod and adri his digiscoping equipment (after he had parked the car more appropriately by the side of the road of course!).  we could smell the dinner being cooked wafting from the kitchens around us and our stomachs began to grumble so we decided to pack up and go.

what large yellow eyes you have!

needless to say it was a long dinner and after-dinner, filled with conversation and laughter (and mikeli's freshly squeezed juice!). and we no longer remembered that we had planned to be somewhere else for the weekend.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, January 15

new year birding!

happy new year!

no, i haven't been not birding! it's been a long hiatus from blogging because of major life projects in the works but it's back to the (new) normal for me!

my birding year began on the 2nd day of the new year with a lifer!  following last years' tradition of a twitchy new year, adri and i met up with felix and mel (and ixi and mikeli and gina and irene and bob and cynthia and jo and doc charo) at the LMEP and quickly spotted the newest LMEP sensation: a very quiet and exceedingly shy scaly ground thrush!

(sorry folks, no picture - a frustratingly difficult to photograph bird! but here's a blurry pic of a close cousin, the once hard to find but now very confiding ashy ground thrush)
the super popular ashy ground thrush of the lmep

on our way out of the park, adri and i spotted a pair of crested mynas busy cleaning out a tree hollow for their nest.
a crested myna busy cleaning: a new home for the new year

but my new year's birding didn't end with a twitch, it ended with a non-twitch.

on the 3rd day of the new year...

adri and i decided to take some of my nieces and my nephew out to candaba.

still waters at candaba
towards the end of the old year, wbcp-ers rob h. and irene d. reported a dusky warbler in candaba which was quickly twitched (and photographed!) by several birders. when we got to the mayor's house, the caretaker asked: titignan nyo ba yung maliit na ibon na hinahanap nila dun? (complete with motion of hands to indicate a tiny bird and the general location of where it could be found).

hmmm... small warbler = lbj. 
we doubted the kids birding for the first time would appreciate that. so we decided to pass on it. and that was our non-twitch.

so we took the kids (plus my brother george) around the ponds.  the planting season was early this year, in anticipation of the early summer/early rains, and we saw very few waders.  there were less ducks too, or maybe they were just well hidden.  we were able to show some philippine ducks, wandering whistling ducks and tufted ducks clearly.  strangely, we saw a wild philippine duck in flock of domestic ducks in the duck pens!  

philippine ducks in flight

there was a flock of over 50 turtle-doves flying around perched on the trees and equally many common moorhens walking around the pond vegetation. as usual, the tiny but impressive common kingfisher was a favorite as was the graceful blue-tailed bee-eater. 
a white-browed crake busy preening

the grey and purple herons were like sentinels standing in the middle of the main pond, together with some egrets and black-crowned night-herons. we were busy birding from the back of a pick-up truck when adri (who was following the pick up in another vehicle with my brother) suddenly jumped down and yelled "raptor!".  we looked in the direction he was pointing and glimpsed an eastern marsh harrier taking to the air after surprising a purple heron. as he flew further away, he was mobbed by a flock of white-shouldered starlings.


we stayed until sunset, with all it's pink splendor reflected on the waters. in the waning light, a purple swamphen caught everyone's attention as it walked on the water hyacinth nearby, flicking its white tail in the air. "it's a dinosaur!" said one of the kids.

purple swamphen showing its huge feet

as we listed all the birds we saw in issa's notebook, the young birders were surprised that we listed 27 species seen.  they didn't realise that we'd seen that many!  

another dramatic sunset at candaba

it was good to start the birding year at a relaxed pace. twitch or non-twitch.