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.


  1. Congrats again on the two lifers! Dream ko to go to Bani if only for the Ospreys! =)

    1. It's easy to go to Maia! But just a long drive from QC.
      Thanks thanks! :)