Sunday, June 30

a lifer, a marauder and mixed flocks at bk valley

before the rainy season made up its mind to dominate the days (and more especially the weekends!) with cloudy skies and buckets of precipitation, adri and i joined our friends jops and maia and visiting birder dave for some relaxed birding at bangkong kahoy valley.

a view of mt. banahaw from bangkong kahoy valley

settled between the mythical mountains of mt. cristobal and mt. banahaw, bangkong kahoy is a favorite go-to, mostly because of the pleasant weather, the good food and the friendly hospitality of our host dion.  adri and i had been up several times, although not so much for birding as to take my mom, siblings and nieces for fresh and cool mountain air.  our last birding adventure was up the mountain with jops, maia, jon j and jun o.  it was a memorable (if not slightly traumatic) experience, as it was a strenuous and difficult hike up slippery trails and moss-covered rocks. to top it off, we dipped on our target, a nesting whiskered pitta!  we vowed that we would be back for a more laid back birding holiday.

first on our agenda was to check on some besras which had recently fledged.  we had also dipped on a previous nesting the last time and i was hoping for better luck this time round as the besra would be a lifer for me. i didn't want to get too excited, given that the besras had already fledged, and according to our guide chris, were no longer seen daily at the nest site.

as we walked along the road, we encountered our first mixed flock of elegant tits, citrine canary flycatchers, blue-headed fantails, yellowish white-eyes and sulphur- billed nuthatches.  i've always enjoyed these high elevation flocks of cheerful and colorful birds and we all took the time to watch these energetic little birds as they zipped around a small tree.

as we were leaving, i had a mini-lifer: a common nawab was perched on the ground, sipping minerals from the ground. i had always wanted to see this particular nymphalid, and there it was, for all of us to admire. i took it as a good sign for the weekend that had just begun.

a sign? the common nawab was a lifer butte for me

we continued on to the small village through trellis laden fields of chayote and beans to the edge of a forested area where the nest was found.  chris, who was walking ahead of all of us, quickly signaled us to hurry and position ourselves beside him.

perched above us were 2 young besras! sunlight filtered through an opening in the canopy above and lighted their perch in the surrounding green.  there were supposed to be 3 fledglings, so 2 out of 3 was a pretty good sighting.  they were calling softly, perhaps their sibling and parents were nearby, well-hidden.

a pair of fledging besras

we watched them and they watched as as well, 4 raptor eyes on us and 10 human eyes on them.  they preened and stretched for several minutes and then took off for another perch, not far, but hidden from our view.

looking at us looking at them

around us, insects teemed: a dragonfly perched on a nearby stick and metallic green bugs went about their business on a taro leaf.

a blue and red dragonfly

metallic green and orange beetles going about their business

as we left the site, chris suggested we go up the mountain to check on a mountain verditer flycatcher nest he was observing.

UP the mountain?

not far he said.  and the trail was not difficult he added.

uhm ok. so off we went.

this was the part of the weekend which was not relaxing!  we found ourselves scrambling up steep trails and mossy stones. again! i couldn't believe i fell for the "easy trail" description... for the THIRD time!

and so at the last part of the trail, i eyed the moss covered rocks angled steeply, and adri and i decided to pass.  a mountain verditer flycatcher nest just did not seem worth the effort to me.  and we had recently had our fill of mountain verditer flycatchers a few weeks ago anyway. (yes, i had all sorts of rationalizations in my head). kung gusto may paraan, kung ayaw maraming dahilan. truly.

jops coming down the steep part we climbed up halfway before deciding not to go  on.

maia decided to wait it out with us too, and we scrambled down the rocks (yes, laughing with a tinge of hysteria) to wait for chris, jops and dave at a more level area. there weren't too many birds to entertain us, so it seemed quite a while before dave and then chris and jops came down the trail.  they had been distracted by a largish bird on the ground which they had flushed.  was it the elusive whiskered pitta? they couldn't be sure.

chris decided to take us through another route down (one i had taken before), and we stopped along the way to enjoy some of the birds. near a small house, chris spotted a scale-feathered malkoha which quickly disappeared in the undergrowth. while waiting for it to reappear, a pair of buzzing flowerpeckers suddenly arrived, perching very near us.

a singing buzzing flowerpecker 

a pretty orange mycalesis

further down we ran into some chestnut-faced babblers and mountain white-eyes which seemed to be feeding at one of the trees we passed. a larger flock of elegant tits, blue-headed fantails, sulphur-billed nuthatches and even a green-backed whistler made us stop for several minutes.

one of several chestnut-faced babblers on the trail

we arrived back at the homestead at lunch and we enjoyed a long delicious lunch served with fresh lipote juice. after lunch, we parked ourselves at the deck of the private home of ramon q, having obtained his permission to bird from his very comfortable terrace facing the forest.

in the early afternoon, there was very little bird activity, and i distracted myself by looking at the various moths on the walls of the house and the butterflies perching on a tree with lovely lavender-pink flowers. 

buttes and beetles on the lavender flowers

an interesting caterpillar on the table

later in the afternoon, a movement in another tree in front of us caught our attention.  it was a a brush cuckoo busy eating caterpillars! at first we had quite a hard time getting good views of it, but later on it was more bold and came out to perch in the open.

a brush cuckoo busy eating caterpillars

as the sunlight waned, more birds came.  a pair of philippine cuckoo doves flew across the forest. philippine coucals, a red-crested malkoha and a scale-feathered malkoha skulked nearby.  maia was even able to observe and catch on video the red-crested malkoha raiding a nest!  we were all aghast as we viewed maia's playback (watch it here), even if we knew theoretically of the malkoha's dining habits. the image of a marauding malkoha is something i will remember for a long time!

the remains of the marauded nest

we had such a good time on the deck that we decided to spend the next morning there as well.  dion even had our yummy breakfast served on site!  all that relaxation definitely made up for our exertions the previous morning.

a very delicious breakfast!!!

in the early morning, a few balicassiaos were the first to perch on the tree tops. a lone tarictic also made a brief appearance. maia and i even saw another philippine coucal with what looked like an egg in its beak! 

a balicassiao showing its blues

a male tarictic perched far away

as the fog lifted from the mountain tops and the sunshine warmed the valley, the mixed flocks of small birds began to come in.  more elegant tits, grey-backed tailorbirds,  blue-headed fantails, citrine canary flycathers and yellowish white-eyes made the trees fronting us buzz with activity and cheerful song.

a very, very active blue-headed fantail

in the busy mixed flock, dave even spotted a trio of fledgling citrine canary flycatchers all huddled together as their parents diligently gathered food for them. 

cutie-pies: a trio of fledgling citrine canary flycatchers

as the bird activity died down, our adrenalin rush subsided as well. too soon it was time to go. our relaxing weekend birding was over. there will be surely be more to come! 

Thursday, June 13

the butterflies (& birds!) of radar hill

since we had traveled all the way to ilocos norte for the great spimp twitch, we decided to spend an additional morning exploring other birding sites in the area.  one area which looked  good to explore was radar hill. off the main highway, a road around 9 km long, led up the hill and ended at a military camp, the jose paredes air station, around 550 masl.

the area looked quite promising, many parts looked like they were part of a well-forested area spanning several hillsides. we did see and hear several  birds on the road.  philippine coucals and blue-throated bee-eaters were quite common. several whiskered-treeswifts were perched on the trees by the road. there were philippine pygmy woodpeckers, colasisis, white-browed shamas, blue-headed fantails, elegant tits and black-naped monarchs. there were also white-throated, collared and spotted wood-kingfishers.  hooded pitas were quite common too, we heard a different one calling at almost every turn.  a small spotted buttonquail was seen twice at the same stretch of raod.

one of several whiskered tree-swifts

a trio of bee-eaters in a row

we had a surprise raptor too! actually 3 of them: 3 common buzzards flew above us heading northeast! unusually low altitude as they are most often reported in the high mountain provinces of the cordilleras. it was an extension of our raptorwatch for migrating birds of prey last month!

on a not-so-good note- there were only a few doves: pompadour green-pigeon, white-eared, yellow-breasted, black-chinned, reddish cuckoo-, and common emerald doves were all heard or seen. however, we had a feeling there must be some hunting going on as they were all extremely skittish, as were the other medium-sized birds like the blackish and bar-bellied cuckoo shrikes.  we also observed a lot of old large woodpecker holes on the wooden posts along the road, however, we did not glimpse a single one!

we did observe at least one pair of birds who had successfully fledged their young: a pair of yellowish white-eyes were busy feeding 2 young birds perched below their nest, probably having just left the nest that day. (we also saw some lowland white-eyes, unusually overlapping in habitat with the yellowish!)

a yellowish white-eye busy looking for food

a fluffy white-eye fldgeling under its nest
(can you see the other fledgling and the nest near the top of the photo?)

mom/dad with food!  each fledgling had its turn getting fed, very efficient!

we also observed a pair of scale-feathered malkohas who were just starting out: they were in the process of building a nest. definitely not nest parasites these relatives of the cuckoos.

one of a pair of scale-feathered malkohas building a nest

as the others walked ahead of me, i got distracted by the many, many butterflies flying around! 

we first noticed them puddling underneath a huge tree.  fine drops were falling to the road, was it dripping tree sap that was gathering butterflies underneath its shade?

several of these papilios were puddling under a tree

the papilios' wings showed varying degrees of wear and tear 

quite a beaten specimen of one of my favorite lycaenids: caleta roxus

there were a lot of interesting looking plants as well.  at one area, all the duhat trees were host to a now familiar mistletoe. the bright red flowers were a beautiful sight, and many of them invited olive-backed sunbirds to sip their nectar.

the trees were dripping with the red flowers of the mistletoe amyema incarnatiflora

a female  olive-backed sunbird taking a sip of nectar

by the side of the road i saw at least two different kinds of vines, both with clusters of star-shaped flowers.

this reminded me of a hoya but the flowers and leaves weren't so succulent

one of them grew profusely over the small trees, and its flowers attracted quite a few lycaenids and pierrids.

a lycaenid (one of those whose identity eludes me: it had a bright orange upper side)
sipping nectar from the flowers of a very profuse vine.

caleta roxus joining the lycaenid in the previous picture (do you see its false head?)

some of the butterflies were attracted to less pleasant things: a pair of cruisers were joined by a skipper another nymphalid taking in minerals from the remains of a dead lizard.

a variety of butterflies attracted to a dead thing on the road!

as i hurrried to catch up with the others,  i saw that they were in the same predicament as i was.  they were being distracted by the butterflies! how could they not be?  several small lycaenids were perching on our shirts, bags, and even our hands and faces!

a fresher specimen of c. roxus on adri's bag

another lycaenid stayed perched on my hand as i walked for several meters!

some of the butterflies were perching on the road and the rocks by the side of the road, bathing in the hot mid-morning sun!

another cruiser on a lily flower planted near a grotto

a common jester perched on the grotto walls 
how i wish i got a better photo of this skipper!

i was not familiar with this sunning nymphalid so i took pictures of its underside... 
... and its upperside!

a tiger sipping from the rocks

and a crow sipping from the concrete road!

many of the them were chasing each other, perhaps guided by the scent of another chemical (not salts nor flowers nor decay but love!): pheromones!

the chase of ages

guided by the scent of lurve!

it's too bad that radar hill is quite far away from metro manila.  it looks like such a promising place to watch both birds and butterflies!

Monday, June 10

spotting the spimps*

little did i imagine that i would travel all the way up to ilocos norte to see a bird.

or that i would go back to ilocos norte within the space of a month. to see another bird!

back in the same company of alex, tere and mang boy, with the addition of leni and jude, adri and i headed up north for the third time this past summer to meet up with richard in ilocos norte. we had originally planned to go after our sagada trip, but then decided to go with the others upon learning that they had planned to go too.

the bird to be seen this time was neither small, nor a migrant nor by itself.  richard had reported flocks of the endemic spotted imperial-pigeons, normally shy forest dwellers, were coming down to the seaside!  it was unusual behaviour we had never heard of, so the chance to see this endemic which had been on my most wanted list since i started birding was well worth the trip!

early in the morning, richard led us to the site.  the rocky beach could be seen across an expanse of meadow.  the grass was kept naturally short by the rocky soil and the ocean breeze. jagged limestone rocks and eternal tide pools dotted the landscape. the scenery was dramatic, it probably endured harsh weather for a good part of the year, but on a summer morning it was almost serene.  a cow and its calf were but a pair of many bovines and caprines grazing quietly, probably wondering what this group of humans was up to.

richard's pipits ran about the grassy ground, pompadour green pigeons perched on nearby vegetation, philippine cuckoo-doves flew back-and-forth, and invisible magpie-robins and mangrove blue flycatchers sang melodiously.

barely had we arrived and takenin the sights and sounds when we sighted a flock of pigeons coming in from the east. 23 spotted imperial-pigeons!  richard was delighted and we all oohed and aaahed!  it was a long-awaited lifer for us all (except richard of course!)

they flew above us as a flock of domestic pigeons would, turning in unison as they surveyed the expanse of pasture. they circled back and soon disappeared from sight. 

as if the long views of this large endemic pigeon in flight was not enough, on a second fly-by: bam! a few of the birds landed several meters right in front of our group on the bare grassy beach!

as the pigeons foraged in the foreground, the waves crashed on the beach behind them. it was an astonishing sight!  what prompted these forest-dwelling birds to come out in the open landscape?  perhaps the nesting season drew them to the seaside to supplement much needed minerals, salts and calcium?  

what call were these pigeons heeding by exposing themselves to such a vulnerable situation? because exposed they were! in the golden light of morning on the grassy field the patterns of their plumage could clearly be admired, the vibrant colors of their eyes and beaks lumnious through our binoculars and scopes. 

the mystery of the pigeons coming to the beach has probably yet to be solved, but we were all thankful for the chance to meet on neutral ground.

* SpImp is spotted imperial-pigeon. Just as GrImp is the more common green imperial-pigeon.

(a thousand thanks to richard for once again sharing the avian wonders of his "backyard"!)