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!)


  1. Such an exciting twitch! With lots of birds pa in the area. We should go back and explore some more =)

    1. Yes! So many birds in such a small area.