Thursday, January 2

ending 2013 with a couple of lifers

the end of the year saw me neglecting birding for work!  but while my birding activities slowed down considerably compared to the last few years, i was still able to slip in a few day trips to candaba to enjoy both resident and migrants.

on the first trip, adri wanted to check out the condition of the dirt roads. this year was a bit drier for the -ber months and so, except for some deep ruts, the road was not a problem for a vehicle with a high clearance.

most of the philippine ducks, wandering whistling ducks and stilts we found were by the main highway, enjoying the water-logged earth which was still not being planted.

at the mayor's ponds, several purple swamphens were out in the open, looking more like dinosaurs than modern-day birds.

there were several little grebes also, both adults and juveniles.  it's always fun to watch them swimming around and diving under water, only to pop out several meters away.

blue-tailed bee-eaters perched on the tall flowering grass, gracefully gliding to and from their perches.

adult and juvenile purple herons were also a-plenty, together with grey herons, black-crowned night-herons and an assortment of egrets.

at the back of the mayor's house, adri and i pointed out to mel a small colony of bats which we discovered roosting earlier in the year. (no, bats are not birds!)

wood sandpipers were busy foraging through the mud of the un-planted fields.  a closer inspection revealed a few sharp-tailed sandpipers, a lifer for adri.

the next trip to candaba was to twitch a very rare migrant.  wbcp-ers linda g. and brian e. had reported seeing a pair of black-faced spoonbills a few days before! they had seen it just as the last week of school before  christmas break was ending and i was impatient (i think i was literally twitching!) for monday to come to see if they were still around.  the weekend passed with daily reports of birders seeing the spoonbills in exactly the same spot. i was hoping and praying they would stay put.

on monday morning adri, andrew and i met up with mike a., tonji and tito along THE spot on the baliuag-candaba highway. i was surprised at the changes in the landscape in the past 2 and a half weeks. many of the fields had been planted already, those which weren't were quickly being drained and plowed.  egrets and terns followed the farmers tilling the fields.

when we got to the reported site, we were greeted by probably a thousand black-winged stilts!  there were several waders as well: some greenshanks, asian golden plovers, little-ringed plovers and more. 

although the sun had just risen, our targets were nowhere in site. wait, wait, wait. soon we were joined by other birders and photographers.  at exactly 9am, adri came shouting and running down the road (he was talking to ruth who was parked a few meters away) "spoonbill! spoonbill!"

and sure enough, at the far end of the field in front of us, were 3 black-faced spoonbills!  they were chunkier than the egrets and herons around them, and of course, their black-faces and spoon-shaped bills gave them away.

black-faced spoonbills breed in china and korea, migrating south for the winter to hong kong and taiwan.  there are less than 3,000 individuals in the world, and this small population justifies its status as endangered. there have been a handful of reports of the black-faced spoonbill in the philippines, i remember a photograph being taken at an awc at candaba several years ago, seen only by that photgrapher, rey, and missed by all of us census-takers. the black-faced spoonbill is one of 6 spoonbill species world-wide, and the only one which is endangered.  (it is also my second spoonbill species, the first being the roseate spoonbill which i had seen in the Louisiana bayou in 2005!)

the spoonbills seemed quite at ease, taking turns, sleeping, preening and once in a while, walking in unison for a few meters. after a several minutes, they took to the air, circled around and landed in almost the exact same place.  

having satisfied our twitch, we decided to walk away.  as we came to our vehicles, the spoonbills again took to the air and this time landed in the tall grass, out of site.  a truly wonderful experience and a very pleasant christmas present for all of us birders from candaba.

while the others headed home, adri, drew and i decided to drop by the mayor's ponds.  there were a few ducks in the area: mostly philippine and wandering whistling ducks.  there were also some tufted ducks, garganey and some shovellers.  

the whistling ducks were quite close to the road, looking very handsome in the bright noon light.  it's amazing how many there were, considering that when i started birding in 2005, there were no reported wandering whistling ducks in candaba and i had to pick it up as a lifer in far off agusan marsh!

we checked on a very friendly siberian ruby throat and the very hard to see dusky warbler.  the dusky warlber was skulking around the exact same bush we found it in last migration season in january.  we also had a very brief and unsatisfying view of a middendorff's grasshopper-warbler, what would've been a lifer for me.  (i counted it as a third of a lifer - yes, not even half a lifer).

we were getting hungry and the sun was high in the sky, so we decided to head back.  the farmers were still busy in the fields, probably to get in as much work before christmas day.

i thought that would be my last birding day at candaba for 2013, but then, 2 days after christmas, melanie wanted to see the spoonbills too!  she and mark jason picked us up at 430am and we met up with her friends: first time birders cindy and flyn.

when we arrived at the ponds, we were again surprised at the changes over a few days!  half the pond had been tilled as was being readied for planting! uh oh.  the black-winged stilts were still there, although less in number, probably having transferred to undisturbed fields.  while waiting, a group of waders caught adri's and mark's eye.  some greenshanks were preening, and there was one bird that seemed to have a different jizz than the others.  

closer inspection on the scope revealed it to be a dowitcher!  was it the very rarely reported long-billed dowitcher?  there had been less than 5 reports of it in the country, and it wasn't even in the philippine field guide!  it was a lifer for all of us!

we had almost forgotten about the spoonbills, which were still nowhere in sight.  having heard that the previous group to visit had sighted them at the adjoining fields, we walked up the grass covered ground separating the fields.  it was a short walk but it was challenging walking through the tall grass on uneven ground!  we were rewarded with closer views of the spoonbills!  they were busy foraging (and again sleeping and preening) among the stilts, herons and egrets.  they must have gotten used to the farmers because they were unmindful of the farmers who worked nearby.  

knowing that it would probably be the last time i would see them, i took my time looking at them and taking in details including the ridges on their bills, their red eyes, and the short feathers on the backs of their necks.  one of them had a yellow patch in front of the eyes - a sign of a mature individual.

hopefully, as global attention is brought to the plight of these spoonbills, their population continues to increase (their status was downgraded from critically endangered to endangered in 2000), and they will be seen regularly in candaba in the future.

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