Tuesday, April 30

target qc birding

it was another target birding trip, but this time we were not working on our own targets, but stuart m.'s target birds. and we didn't have to travel far as these targets were found around quezon city.

fresh from giving a workshop at the recently concluded 6th international hornbill conference in makati, stuart was eye-ing to see philippine endemics found at the nearby la mesa reservoir area.  he had heard about these endmic superstars from his student, wbcp-er lala e., who had just very recently finished her ph.d. (congratulations dr. lala!!!).

not surprisingly, number one on our target list for the day was the ever popular ashy ground thrush of the la mesa eco park.  however, a recently reported philippine frogmouth on a nest at the la mesa nature reserve was our first agenda for the morning.

so stuart, adri and myself met up with wbcp-er and bird photographer neon at 630am at the la mesa nature reserve.  it was our first time to visit the nature reserve, but i was happy to be met by kuya efren, who remembered me from a birdwatching workshop jops, maia, jon j, drew and myself had facilitated at the lmep last year! it was he who had found the frogmouth nest, on the day that his wife had just given birth to twins!

neon was already on site when we arrived and was busy documenting a nearby guaiabero nest.  at a nearby tree, the two parents were busy with a young bird who had apparently just fledged. another young bird was still peeking out of the nest! instead of the black beak of the adult, it still sported a yellow orange beak, which was more hook-shaped, more like a colasisi's than a guaiabero's!

a juvenile guaiabero peeks out of its nest, ready to fledge soon

kuya efren approached us, in complete birding attire (he change his bright yellow uniform for a dull colored long sleeved shirt... according to him he was afraid that i would scold him for not remembering the lessons from our workshop!) and gear: a pair of binoculars and even a scope donated by wbcp-er propjerry!

we set out for our target, and of course birded along the way.  guaiaberos, collared kingfishers, white-eared brown doves, yellow vented bulbuls, black naped orioles and white-breasted wood-swallows were a-plenty. a hooded pitta even called from one of the gullys we crossed.

as we neared the site for the frogmouth nest, kuya efren gave us a few very sensible reminders.  they had cordoned off the nest area to prevent people from approaching the nest too closely.  no going past the marked area, no noise, no sudden movements and no actions to disturb the nesting bird.

and so he led us off the trail and sure enough, there was target bird number 1: a philippine frogmouth sitting very quietly and perfectly camouflaged on its nest.

the strange looking philippine frogmouth incubating an egg on its nest

although not a lifer for me (i had added it to my lifelist in bohol 3 years ago), it was the first time i for me to see the luzon subspecies fo this bizarre looking bird.  again, i had flashbacks of the australian picture books i had read when i was younger, about the tawny frogmouth, which would sit perfectly still, bill pointed to the sky, its feathers blending perfectly with the tree bark color and texture.  and here it was, even better. the philippine version, posed exactly like it did in the picture books, huge mouth and all.

it was still sitting on a white egg... fingers crossed that it's a successful endeavor!

kuya efren had one more nest to show us, this time a nightjar nest. so we doubled back to head over to the second location.  as we walked single file on the path, we passed a collared kingfisher nest, and another guaiabero nest. a loud melodious call filled the air: "ashy ground thrush singing!" adri exclaimed. as we caught glimpses of this handsome bird, kuya efren (who had gone ahead of the group) came back with sad news.  the nightjar nest had been raided.  he showed us bits of eggshell in his hand. the perils of ground nesting birds.

before we left, we thanked kuya efren for helping us out and for his responsible nest discoveries.  it looks like there are many more discoveries awaiting birders at the lmnr.

our second target was already anti-climactic, since we had already seen an ashy ground-thrush at the nature reserve.  still, the la mesa ecopark is hassle free birding and promised better views of this once super elusive endemic.

true enough, upon entering the gate to the park, we immediately heard another ashy ground thrush singing! we set up the scope across the road and as people flowed into the park, it was stuart who quickly found the bird. it was just behind the plants lining the main walkway, singing loudly from its perch.

as we entered the mini-forest trail, we bumped into birder/photographers bob, cynthia and peter, who had been staking out the red-bellied pitta all morning in vain.  the good news they had for us that all the other expected birds were just around and we quickly found them: more ashy ground thrushes busy turning over leaves on the ground, very loud grey-backed tailorbirds, several vocal hooded pittas, busy lowland white-eyes still nesting. 

the always handsome ashy ground thrush

close encounters with a grey-backed tailorbird

one of several hooded pittas calling loudly

busy as bees, the lowland white-eyes were still gathering nesting material

there were barred rails, mangrove blue flycatchers, colasisis, arctic warblers and even a pechora pipit among the usual oriental magpie robins, philippine pygmy woodpeckers, black-naped orioles, collared kingfishers and more. pretty good birds for a handful of forest.  soon the heat was building up as noon approached and we decided to move on.

while having a quick snack, we called wbcp-er jops to ask if his neighborhood scops owl family was still at their day roost. this was target number four.  (unfortunately, target number 3, the philippine nightjar at up diliman, was not to be found at its usual mango tree roost since the tree was fruiting and the fruit being harvested).  a sudden summer downpour had us trapped at the restaurant. we spent a very pleasant hour exchanging birding stories and talking philippine pop culture and politics while waiting for the rain to let up.

it was mid afternoon when we arrived at the philippine scops owl site. we were quite nervous as the young scops owls were several weeks old now and we were not sure if they would still be in the same roost. jops said that he had last seen them a week before, when he and maia had checked on them after receiving the news that one of the three fledglings had  been found dead. without jops or the neighborhood security guards with us, we weren't sure if we could find the owls.

fortunately, we spotted the two young owls huddled together in the same tree, a little wet from the afternoon rain. they had spotted us first from their high perch aand by the time we had them on the scope, they were glaring at us with their large orange eyes!

after a few minutes though they went back to sleep, catching up on a few more hours of rest before night fell. the adult owls were nowhere to be seen, but with the two juvenile scops olws, our final target was achieved!

the young philippine scops owls glare at us with huge orange eyes

we dropped off a very happy and fulfilled stuart in makati, with an hour to spare before the conference final dinner. target birding in quezon city was a success! 

Monday, April 29

a ruby red lifer (plus a dusky one too)

after 8 years with the bird club, i finally have the siberian rubythroat on my lifelist.

when i had joined the bird club way back in 2005, one of the few promotional materials available back then was a green info card with a picture by singaporean resident and visiting birder ivor lee of a male siberian rubythroat. a photograph taken at the now long gone tambo grasslands... bulldozed over and developed into various sorts of commercial enterprises, another green space which vanished at the blink of an eye.

rubythroat is certainly an apt name, ruby red (yes, as red as the wicked witch of the east's shoes!) feathers line that anatomical region of the bird often found in grasslands near wetland areas. each migration season, we would be on the lookout for this skulker, in tambo (when it was still there), at the coastal lagoon protected area (which is still there... for now and hopefully forever) and at candaba.  often we would hear it calling cheerfully, but i had never glimpsed it myself, relegating it to ho ("heard only") status. so when several birders reported the regularity of sighting it at candaba the past few weeks, adri and i were off at the first opportunity!

candaba is predictably scorching at this time of the year, so we arrived before the sun was high enough to burn off the cool of the early morning.  even at half past five it was quite light already. we immediately positioned ourselves at the recommended stretch of dirt road. 

wait, wait, wait. 

a few clamorous reed warblers sang loudly around us. zebra doves and red turtle doves perched on the tree above us, coo-ing softly.   rails ran back and forth across the dirt road.  egrets and herons glided quietly above us while oriental pratincoles whooshed in every direction. a pair of noisy pied fantails chased each other, maneuvering smoothly through the grasses and shrubs.

a clamorous reed warbler in mid-hop

one of the many coo-ing red turtle doves around the ponds

barred rails on the road

adri trained his bins on the ground of a nearby camachile tree and the wait was over!  a beautiful male siberia rubythroat was quietly moving about the lower bushes! 

lifer! a male siberian rubythroat

it was very skittish, and flew back and forth in and out of the brambles. even in the shadows, its bright red throat glowed. the siberian rubythroat is certainly a beautiful grassland bird.

eventually, a tricycle passed between the bird and ourselves and it disappeared into the long grasses.

having shot so-so pictures (i think the technical term is "documentary shots") myself and with adri not being able to take any digiscoped photos, we decided to move on. after all, we had fabulous views of a bird we had been waiting 8 years to find!

we drove around the ponds, many of which had been or were currently being drained and converted to rice fields.  several wandering whistling ducks flew above us, and we spotted a pair of philippine ducks resting at a shallow watering hole.

2 philippine ducks at the quickly drying-up ponds

there were several white-breasted waterhens walking along the road, some of them providing comical entertainment.

a pair displayed high flying kung-fu moves as they battled each other while a third bird waddled around them.

everybody goes kung-fu fighting! even the white-breasted waterhens

another adult pair had a couple of juveniles in tow.  they peered at the road carefully from the grasses before crossing the dirt road, much like a human child and his nanny crossing a busy street. the juveniles looked very awkward, certainly a face only a mother could love!

isn't that a face only a mother could love?!?

the migratory grey herons were gone but it seems that the purple herons have multiplied in number, and several young birds and several adults could be seen with the black crowned night herons at the back ponds, totaling in the hundreds.

purple herons everywhere!

toward the end of the circuitous road, we decided to check the area where a dusky warbler had been reported regularly since december. we had put off adding this warbler to our lifelists, it falling into the category of "it looks like a warbler." so there was no better time than then to check it out, in case it was still hanging around.

we racked our brains recalling which side of the road it should be at, and adri tried taping it in with the call he had downloaded from the internet the night before.  and finally- movement!  a little hop and jump behind the tall grasses near the ground, and out comes a...nother male siberian rubythroat!

this one was much more cooperative than the one we had seen earlier that morning, and after several minutes of close encounters in the tall grass, adri decided to give digiscoping another try.  as he ran back to the car to get his scope and camera, i tried my best to keep up with the bird which was actively running around in the grass. at one point i lost it and i kept my eyes open for any movement.  finally, something caught my eye, and it was the original target:  the very plain looking dusky warbler! a 2nd lifer for both adri and myself!

finally, the rubythroat showed itself again. it was busy eating some of the camachile fruit which had fallen to the ground! 

another siberial rubythroat wresting with the fallen camichile fruit

just as our photo session was getting intense, one of the local men suddenly stood right beside adri and myself and began gathering fruit from the camachile tree with a sungkit! he kept shaking the tree and most of the fruit did not actually fall into the bag of the sungkit but to the ground where the rubythroat was!  i gave adri a "what the...?" look.  this man was certainly oblivious to what we were doing!  not surprisingly, the rubythroat was flushed and crossed the road to perch on a thorny bramble.

and that turned out to be a good thing actually! adri and i got our photos, 2 lifers and were on our way back in time for lunch at home.

a very cheerful siberian rubythroat singing softly on a hot candaba morning!

Thursday, April 4

a garden by the stream and a green-eyed butterfly

it turned out to be another bird turned butte trip. maybe because it was butterfly lady/guru lydia who arranged the outing!

it was supposed to be a casual affair, we had been invited by teacher emma to visit her home & garden at a residential area just on the outskirts of metro manila. adri & i had heard of the place before, although we had never been, as there was a school there which actively exposed their students to nature through various activities including birdwatching. a small stream ran thru the subdivision, and it became the school-wide base for lessons in natural history.

as we entered the gate, we were greeted by a beautiful garden which complemented the natural rolling landscape. a little green chirping frog sitting on a lily pad on the pond welcomed us.

that same stream championed by the school flowed beside the property of  teacher emma, providing the soothing sound of gurgling water coupled with the creaking of bamboo stems swaying in the wind. bird calls filled the air as we sat down to exchange stories with teacher emma and teacher henry (who heads the school projects centered around the conservation of the river ecosystem) over breakfast. teacher emma's dining area was surrounded by huge open bay windows which made the inside feel like the outside.

later, we took a walk around the property and went down to the stream. on our walk, we spotted several birds including yellow-vented and philippine bulbuls, red-keeled flowerpeckers, elegant tits, grey-backed tailorbirds, pied fantails, oriental magpie robins, brown shrikes, black-naped orioles and a white-throated kingfisher.

a barred rail quickly ran up stream's bank upon sighting us. as we sat down on the dry rocks on the stream bed, a grey wagtail moved in the vegetation several meters downstream and an indigo-banded kingfisher zipped between us.

despite the abundance of birds, opportunities to photograph birds were very limited for that morning, but the more delicate winged creatures made up for that. in fact,  lycaenids were very common, flitting about like lights opening and closing as their undersides peeked through. we were able to document at least four species, and this thrilled both lydia and myself as we were bid fans of this family of lepidopterans.

one butterfly decided lydia's skin was a salty treat.

little lycaenids tinier than my small fingers' nail  flew around the grass at our feet.

another species was busy drinking up salts and minerals from dried leaves and the wet ground by the stream...

... and was even caught in the act of starting a new generation.

the most interesting one was a pale grey lycaenid with beautiful celadon green eyes!  at least 2 individuals posed quite politely, and we were able to get excellent documentation.

there were other butterflies as well, although most of the larger ones flew about actively in the heat of the day, refusing to perch.

a common leopard (Phalantha phalantha phalantha -love its scientific name!) finally perched on a bougainvillea leaf, although quite a distance from me.

as we were leaving, a mapwing suddenly appeared and we quickly retrieved our  cameras for a shot,

and an Ypthima sp. satyrid perched nearby to show us its owl eyes on both the upper-  and under-side.

as the morning progressed, we moved back indoors and drank super refreshing iced tamarind juice as more stories were exchanged.  when it was finally time to go, we said our long goodbyes, hesitant to leave such a lovely place. much thanks for the hospitality shown to us by our (just as lovely) host.