Wednesday, February 26

Once more with feeling

And I was back at the La Mesa EcoPark!  For the school holiday, Adri and I decided to have a relaxed morning birding.  The park was quite busy, a school was holding its family day at the amphitheater and loud music, prayer and cheering reverberated through the mini forest.  Fortunately, it was still a good day for us, birding and photography-wise, as the birds didn't seem to mind the noise.

Barely had we entered the trail, when we quickly spotted a red-bellied pitta, very shy and retiring, it quickly disappeared fast as its little legs could run.  We also ran into LMEP regular, Anthony B., who informed us that WBCP-ers Linda G. and Jo S. were also there. Walking onward, we came across Peter T., who was with an eager group of Hong Kong birder/photographers, stalking a hooded pitta with huge lenses.  Not wanting to get in their way, we proceeded on.

Enticed by the loud calling of a grey-backed tailorbird, we almost missed a flock of eye-browed thrushes!  There were five or six of them flying around, and one of them perched for quite a while, busy preening itself.  Was I glad I had a camera with me this time!

The eye-browed thrush is quite a handsome bird.

As we enjoyed close views of the thrushes, the resident ashy thrush scuttled quickly across the trail, while above us a Philippine coucal moved cautiously in the tangles.  Guaiaberos, arctic warblers, gerygones, lowland white-eyes, olive-backed sunbirds, red-keeled flowerpeckers, magpie-robins and pied fantails moved noisily about the foliage, bird songs competing with pop music amplified by a sound system.

We moved on and to our surprise, we ran into the eye-browed thrushes again!  Just like my last visit, they took quick trips to the palm trees by the trail to grab some of the bright red fruit.

Another look at the eye-browed thrush.

Not to be outdone by its migrant cousins, a very photogenic ashy thrush was sitting on an acacia buttress. It was a shady perch, but it sat just where a shaft of sunlight broke through the leaves, making a beautifully dramatic photo.  

I don;t think I shall tire of seeing this endemic.

It stood quite still for a good half an hour, trilling ever so softly.  Linda and Jo found us standing there in the middle of the path, admiring it. 

The thrush makes such lovely pictures

A group of high school students from nearby Diliman Preparatory School (looking like they were filming a school project) regarded us curiously, and we pointed out the thrush.  It was great to hear and see them get all excited (complete with exaggerated arm movements and jumping up and down!) as they successfully spotted the bird which was well inside the small forest patch. 

Curious kids are always a delight.

Linda and Jo had just seen the mangrove blue flycatcher, a bird which had been conspicuously hard to find at the park recently.  So we all moved on, Adri and I out to look for the flycatcher and the hooded pitta, and Linda and Jo to look for the red-bellied pitta we had seen earlier.

While looking for the pitta, we did spot the mangrove blue flycatcher, but it only afforded us a brief view, before flying into the undergrowth. 

A very shy mangrove blue flycatcher

We settled ourselves down and decided to wait for the pitta to come out, as it was hopping behind the branches and leaves, barely in our view.

And come out it finally did! Just like the thrushes, it was very cooperative, coming out in the open to forage for food, scurrying back into hiding as people passed behind us on the trail, only to come out as their voices faded away when they moved on.

A very pitta pose for the hooded.

After watching it for several minutes, Adri and I were both satisfied with our shots and decided that it was time to head back.

And another view of the hooded pitta

Just as we were about to leave the mini forest, we again spotted the red-bellied pitta!  It was also scrounging the ground for food.  Like its hooded cousin, it would scurry out of sight when people passed by the trail.  It would stay very still behind some plants for several minutes, but eventually would come out into the open again.

The red-bellied pitta busy with a worm (even if it wasn't so early)

The pitta trying to hide behind some leaves.

Adri and I again settled down and lay in wait.  A slight movement on our left revealed an emerald dove likewise walking on the ground.

An emerald dove attempting to distract us.

The pitta had probably decided we weren't a threat, so it came out in the open for quite some time.  The high school students we had talked to earlier passed by us once more and asked (in hushed voices now) if we were again looking at a bird.  I quietly pointed to my camera's LCD display and then to where the bird was standing.  It was much easier to spot of course than the ashy thrush, a bright red belly pretty much stands out against the dried leaves! 

And the red-bellied pitta yet again.

The students could hardly contain their excitement. Even toned down, their repressed squeals of delight and hurried whispers surprised the pitta and it ran for cover.  But Adri and I didn't mind so much as we had already been observing the pitta for some time. 

Actually, I don't know if I was more pleased with our pitta sighting or with these excitable kids finding the birds, in their words, "Cool!"

Monday, February 3

The one with just us girls and I had no camera*

* Yes, I was a Friends (1994 - 2004) fan, and I can't believe it's been 10 years since the series ended!

With Adri away on tour for a month, and Jops likewise on a guiding trip, Maia and I decided to have a girls-only birding morning at La Mesa Ecopark.

I was so excited to go birding, Maia had told me that they had seen the White's (Scaly ground) Thrush during the weekend.  It was a lifer for me the previous new year and I wanted a better look at it.

I arrived ahead of Maia by just a few minutes so I waited for her at the path by the entrance, entertained by a hungry Brush Cuckoo which was picking out some caterpillars inside the tangles of a Thumbergia vine.

It was great to get to LMEP on a weekday morning as the usual weekend crowds were absent and we shared the park with only the regular joggers.  As we entered the mini-forest, a small movement in the undergrowth caught Maia's attention. It was a Pechora Pipit running around looking for food.

We immediately headed for the fruiting palm trees and within a few minutes, our target arrived!  In flight the White's Thrush's large size was obvious. It perched right on a clump of bright red palm fruit and began eating.  This was a much better view than my fleeting glance from last year!  Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me, but you can check out Maia's pictures on her blog here.

We watched the thrush for some time, until suddenly an Ashy (Ashy Ground) Thrush flew in and chase away the bigger thrush.  How strange for these ground birds to be up in trees for extended periods!

The bright red fruit of the McArthur palms

We tried to find the Spotted Wood Kingfisher, but we didn't find it, so I still had not seen this popularly photographed bird in this park.  The usual park residents: Large billed crows, Red-keeled Flowerpeckers, Philippine Magpie-Robins, the Phlippine Pied Fantail (recently promoted to an endemic!), Colasisis, Guaiaberos, Arctic Warblers, Olive-backed Sunbirds, called incessantly around us.

We walked back to the palm trees, where the Yellow-vented Bulbuls were taking their turn at the ripe fruit.

Maia decided to wait for the thrushes for a better photo, and I went in search for a second target: a would-be lifer which was often seen and photographed at the park but which I had yet to see clearly.  All my previous sightings were of a bird scurrying into the undergrowth in my peripheral vision. As I walked quietly on the trail, a movement on my right revealed the Pechora Pipit again, looking comical as it jumped up and down from the ground to reach a caterpillar on some high leaves.

As I rounded the turn, there it was! On the middle of the path, as clear a view as I could wish for, was the Slaty-legged Crake!  It was nicely framed by the greenery on the side of the path (this was where the path was narrowest for the entire trail). It stood still for several seconds so I could drink in all the wonderful details: its bright red-orange head and breast, distinct black and white barring on its belly, its bright red eyes delicately ringed with the thinnest yellow line.  (Really, with all those distinctive features jumping out at you, it had to be named after its grey legs?!?!?)  

Woohoo!  Without a camera in hand, I committed to memory the picture.

"Alam mo bakit mo nakita?"
"Kasi wala kang camera!"

("Do you know why you saw it? Because you didn't have a camera with you!")
Those were my husband's words to me when I had immediately texted him of my victory.

Without a camera, i was forced to sketch!

I gleefully returned to Maia at the palm trees and reported my lifer to her. As we fell in to random chitchat, the bulbuls and both thrushes continued to return to the red fruit. It was funny watching both the Ashy Thrush and the Yellow-vented Bulbuls dive-bombing the much larger white's Thrush when it landed on the red fruit.  Those fruits must have a high commodity value! We got to talking about the other thrushes we had seen at the exact same place the year before.  And, as if in response to our reminiscing, what would perch on the red fruit but an Eye-browed Thrush!  It was much more reticent than its cousins, and just grabbed a few fruit and immediately left.

After a few more minutes, some school kids on a field trip came walking up the trail, engaged in loud chatter. With that, Maia and I decided to end our girls'-morning-out.  And what a very productive morning it was!

Second lifer for 2014: Slaty-legged Crake (hmmm... still no photo!)