Wednesday, December 31

Making up for lost birding months

Sad to say, 2014, especially the last half, was not a very productive birding (or blogging!) year for me. Caught up in work and other duties, my binoculars, camera and birding gear hardly left their respective confines in my room.

The start of the year wasn't so bad:  a trip to Batanes highlighted my summer, and I wrote about the birding here.  I had a trip to Davao where I racked up 3 lifers - which I never got to blog about (hopefully I can revisit that in a blog post next year!).  A return to Davao in August to help out the WBCP and the Philippine Eagle Foundation was a very fulfilling adventure which I wrote about for e-bon (here), plus an additional lifer on the beach for that trip care of Pete Simpson.

And that was mostly it for my birding year!  I had a few trips to the neighborhood LMEP, joined a couple of raptorwatches in Tanay and even did some migrant spotting in Concepcion, Tarlac and volunteered to lead a guided trip for grade-schoolers at UP - but that was it! Where did my birding year go?

By November I was wallowing in misery over my non-birding season. As soon as the classes ended in December for the Christmas break, Adri took me on a 3 day trip to nearby Candaba and Subic to try to make up for 6 months of birding deprivation. To say that I was super excited is an understatement!  

We set off for Candaba early in morning... a routine I had severely missed! I had packed food, water, overnight necessities and birding clothes for 3 days.  Checked my binoculars, my camera and extra batteries and my (slightly dusty) birding notebook. Ready and rarin' to go!

And when we got to Candaba, the calls of cisticolas and flocks of egrets were welcome sounds and sights.  I immediately began practicing photographing roadside grassbirds and munias.  

Striated Grassbirds called loudly from the side of the road.

Chestnut munias twittering at sunrise.

When we got the the mayor's ponds: ducks galore!  And it was then I realised my huge mistake!  I had forgotten to pack the tripod like Adri had asked me! I wanted to cry (in fact I actually did!)  How stupid of me!  All the ducks in front of us, and no tripod for the scope!  Worse of all, Adri could not set up his digiscoping rig without the tripod or scope! Our birding weekend had not even started and I felt like I had ruined it already! 

Adri, the best husband in the world, comforted me saying that we did not need the scope and it was ok that he didn't take any photos.  I was inconsolable.  Even a show of supremacy by the eastern Marsh Harrier and the showy displays of the Purple Swamphens couldn't make me feel better.  

A Little Grebe fishing for breakfast.

Purple Swamphens were displaying aggressively.

To make matters worse, we ran into a hunter on his motorbike, carrying his long firearm complete with silencer.  On his second time to pass us, Adri asked him "Hunting?" to which he immediately answered "Yes!".  Adri gently reminded him that hunting was not allowed to which he answered "Yes, I know the ducks can't be hunted, I'm only shooting the doves."  Adri again reminded him that RA 9147 included all birds, to which he again countered "But the doves eat the seeds we broadcast in the fields!"  And Adri (for the nth time) says "All living things CANNOT be hunted!"  Thankfully he gives a resigned "Ganun ba?" and drives away.  We think that he was also warned by the locals further down the road.

A hunter in the marshes... click on the photo and take notice of his commemorative plate.

I couldn't have been more down. Finally, Adri (did I say best husband in the world?), said we could detour back to home to grab the scope and then go on our way to Subic. We would lose some time, but most of it was dead birding time anyway.  At least we could still have a good rest for an early start of Subic birding the next day.  We left Candaba just as a Peregrine Falcon was hunting over the main ponds.

A Peregrine Falcon hunting over the ponds.

We made good time despite the horrendous Christmas season traffic, and found ourselves in Subic by mid-afternoon.  Yay! Weekend: restart!

It was, thankfully, a very birdy weekend.  

The Blue-naped Parrots and Green Racket-tails were very racuous... their loud calls giving away their perches and identifying them as they flew above.  Guiabaros were unusually shy, but the Colasisis were very showy, an unusual switch in character.

A Green Racket-tail trying to hide... but its calls give away its location!

Colasisi - I usually get photos of this parrot at home!

All the woodpeckers were busy moving up and down tree trunks, often oblivious to our presence.

A female Sooty Woodpecker.

An extremely busy White-bellied Woodpecker.

A Luzon Flameback on a Cupang tree.

Black-naped Orioles, Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes, Blackish Cuckooshrikes, Coletos and Balicassiaos were active throughout the day, from sunrise to sundown.

The Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes were extremely active the whole day.

There were an unusually large number of monkeys hanging out, not my favorite mammals, but one young male of a troop caught my attention: he sat comfortably on some electric cables, hands grasping his feet as he watched us bird. Talk about chilling out.

A Long-tailed macaque chillin' by the roadside.

We found a fruiting tree along one of the main roads and that gave as a few hours of time observing Green Imperial Pigeons and Philippine (formerly Pompadour) Green Pigeons.

The backside of a Philippine Green Pigeon

A GrImp approaching the feeding tree.

At Nabasan, the Cupang trees were in bloom and they housed not only cuckoo-shrikes, woodpeckers and parrots, but also a very quiet immature Rusty-breasted Cuckoo, searching actively for caterpillars in the foliage.

An immature Rusty-breasted Cuckoo high up a Cupang tree.

Of course not to be missed were pairs of Luzon Hornbills, trumpeting around the trees.  

A male Luzon Hornbill calling out to its mate at a nearby tree.

The usual suspects were also very friendly and compliant to having their photos taken: the funky looking Whiskered Treeswifts, both males and females, were at their usual perches.

A female Whiskered Treeswift...

... and a male Whiskered Treeswift.

A noisy White-throated Kingfisher also allowed his portrait taken - and he chose a natural perch!

This White-throated Kingfisher forgot to wipe its mouth after its last meal.

But the best bird of the trip was one I had never seen before in Subic.  A quiet Philippine Drongo Cuckoo paid us no heed as he flew in and out of the trees along the road, even flying in closer to us as we were observing it!

A Philippine Drongo Cuckoo oblivious to our prescence.

Although nothing could make up for 6 months of lost birding, my momentary thirst for birding was definitely quenched!  Birding at a relaxed pace! Subic is the best! I hope this last birding go for the year is a prelude to the coming year!

By the way, remember my first lifer for the year involved breaking the curse of the Chocolate Boobook? I bungled my shot, but it looks like the curse is truly broken: we had an (almost) effortless sighting of it again! Now I wonder why it took me so long to see it. 

My shot has improved, but I didn't say it was any good! 

A joyful and birdy 2015 to everyone!