Well... strictly speaking, the answers are always "Yes" and "No". In that order. But let's be clear. There are still many, many birds I haven't seen. Some of them are actually supposedly quite easy to see. Some of them have been regularly reported at the places I bird at... regularly. I cannot deny that even just the thought of a lifer excites me. But, most of the time, a new bird on my life list is not the driving force to go out and bird. After all, even with the same birds, each birding outing is different.
But there is comfort to going to a favorite birding site. Birds can be quite predictable and, boring as it may sound, I like routine. Makiling and the UP Los Baños campus and its environs are regular birding go-to's for us. Quite near to the city, very accessible, forest plus grassland birding on the same day, what's not to like? I have heard many a local birder swear off Makiling as being difficult and un-birdy, but so far, Mariang Makiling has never let me down. And so to celebrate the end of a two-week break from school, we loaded up our car and headed south of Metro Manila.
Of course one of the most reliable inhabitants of the forest in Makiling is Spotty, the spotted wood-kingfisher. There are few visits when he had let us down, and even then, he would give us a distant call, as if to assure us that he still occupied the same bend.
Makiling is also where I first spotted both species of malkohas. Ixi, Adri and I counted a family group of more than 20 red-crested malkohas traipsing through the trees! Up the trail near the buko stands, we had a close encounter with a pair of scale-feathered malkohas.
Philippine Serpent eagles are also quite easy to see at Makiling, giving away their presence with their sharp, piercing calls. One or two can often be glimpsed soaring against the blue skies, through breaks in the canopy.
The Philippine Hawk-Eagle our trio spotted was a delightful surprise. I think it was only the second or third time I had encountered this less common raptor at Makiling!
With a bit of effort at dusk or dawn, Luzon Hawk-Owls are an almost sure thing. I remember quite recently how a pair of owls joined us for our al-fresco dinner, and how earlier this year campus residents had their dinners interrupted by a group of rowdy birders doing a paparazzi act on some neighborhood owls.
But owls during the daytime? Ixi and I thought that Adri was kidding when, nearing noon, he (nonchalantly, as usual), motioned to a branch behind us saying, "uy, owl!"
We had entered a narrow path of the main trail looking for an accipiter which was flushed by a passing motorcycle. Having lost it, we were taking our time looking around, admiring a coffee plant. When Adri mentioned the owl, we took our time turning around to look at the spot he was pointing at. Sure enough, out in the open, was the clear silhouette of an owl! It turned out to be a roosting Luzon Hawk-Owl!
"Always take someone who is calm seriously," said Ixi when I repeated that I thought Adri was joking.
It slowly turned to face us, regarding us with an equal amount of curiosity. Stumbling upon an owl during the day! How cool was that?
We were back at the beginning of the forest trail in time for lunch, but unfortunately, Ixi couldn't join us for campus and grassland birding in the afternoon.
Because it was a holiday, the Botanical Gardens were closed, so Adri and I decided to drive around the residential areas of the campus to kill a couple of hours of "dead" time. We almost ran over a grey wagtail walking by the sidewalk. It quickly flew up to the roof of a shed, and calmly walked away.
We dropped by the carabao and dairy center to get our chocolate milk (both those counters were open on a holiday!). A small flock of ashy minivets were taking cover at a nearby tree from the incoming rainshowers. In contrast, the scaly-breasted munias were oblivious to the precipitation.
We headed over to the agricultural fields. The rice paddies were in various stages of planting. One field was newly planted and we spotted several waders: kentish plovers, little ringed plovers, wood sandpipers, common sandpipers and long-toed stints scurried back and forth on the muddy ground. Yellow wagtails, crested mynas, striated grassbirds, common kingfishers and little egrets joined them while a few whiskered terns and barn swallows flew above the fields.
In the overgrown gullies between fields, white-breasted waterhens, barred rails, white-browed crakes, snipes, slaty-breasted rails and common moorhens walked cautiously.
In the fields where the rice plants were heavy with grain, not even a cheerful scarecrow could keep away the hundreds of munias! Chestnut munias rested on the blades of wild grass, on electric wires and even on the ground!
To my surprise, aside from the very common chestnut and scaly-breasted munias, there were flocks and flocks of white-bellied munias! They were much more retiring than their cousins, staying hidden in the ripening palay, and quickly taking to the air in the hundreds when
And so we ended another birding day at Los Baños. No binocular-shattering moments, but still a few pleasant surprises. What else is there to expect?