Friday, October 9

A morning at Malalag with Pete

Adri and I were in Davao for a birding workshop with the PEF and we were able to fit in a bit of birding time with Davao-based-go-to-birder Pete!

Despite our tiring schedule, we were sooo happy that Pete was free to take us to one of his birding sites... and so on our free morning before our flight back home, we found ourselves being sped off to Davao del Sur even before the sun was in the sky!

Our destination was Malalag, and our target birds: waders!  I was looking forward to brushing up on my wader identification skills, migration season brings flocks of these birds to our wetlands where they escape the harsh winters of their breeding grounds.

Over an hour's drive away, Malalag hosts fish- and prawn ponds bordering the coastline. The habitat was reminiscent of Balanga, our own wader wonderland 2 hours away from Manila.

A resident Collared Kingfisher looking over the fish ponds.

I was especially looking forward to seeing a lifer which I was positive we would spot.  Sure enough, at the first set of fishponds were a few White-headed Stilts!

Lifer!  The elegant White-headed Stilt,
now recognized as separate species from Black-winged Stilt.

These have been recently split from the more common Black-winged Stilts which we see by the hundreds in Luzon. The White-headed Stilts are thought to migrate from the South with most likely a local breeding population. Their distribution is described as Australasian species resident in Borneo, the Philippines and Java. WBCP-er Christian writes a great article about their identification in ebon.

The stilts were surprisingly vocal, even as the stood in the water and foraged. I was used to hearing Black-winged Stilts almost exclusively when they were flushed or flying.

There were also several Javan Pond Heron around, all sporting summer plumage.  These are resident birds, also more common in Mindanao compared to back home.

Adri studying a Javan Pond Heron.

Three Javan Pond Heron and  Little Egret.

Pete pointed out a Little Tern flying around.  It turned out that there were several of them hunting around the ponds.  I watched them dive into the waters, catching small fish.  I had only seen Little Tern twice before (in Olango and in Balanga), but never in the numbers (final count for the day was 80!) that were in Malalag that day.

Little Tern in flight.

Close-up: One of the Little Terns was perched on the ground quite near us.
It looked exhausted!

It was quite a surprise for me to see more Little Tern that morning that Whiskered Tern! There was also a larger Gull-billed Tern flying around.

As we moved on, we saw more of the usual waders: Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Grey-tailed Tattlers, Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers and Whimbrels.

A Common Redshank foraging with a White-headed Stilt.

Quite a few Marsh Sandpipers around that morning.

From the car, we could observe the birds relatively closely; Common Sandpipers paid no heed to our heads and lenses sticking out the windows.

Easy to approach this Common Sandpiper - if you're in the car!

We moved on to other ponds and saw more waders!
The fish- and prawn- ponds at Malalag

There were also a few Eurasian Curlew, looking graceful even with their ridiculously long and curved bills.

What a long-beak you have! Eurasian Curlew.

At one instance, a Far Eastern Curlew stood between 2 Eurasian Curlew and it was nice to compare the two similar looking birds. 

Comparing the Eurasian and Far-eastern Curlews in this digiscoped photo by Adri.

Several Grey Plovers, many of them in transition plumage, stood in the middle of a huge drained pond. There were also a few Lesser Sand Plovers, Little Ringed Plovers and Terek Sandpiper running around. Pete also spotted a spotted a Ruff which we missed.

Grey Plovers quite a distance away.

We were trying to count several Red-necked Stint, when they all suddenly took to the air! This sudden airborne exhibition revealed that there were actually many, many more than we thought!

Count the Red-necked Stints in flight!

It was soon turning out to be a dizzying-ly hot day, so we began to head back towards where we had parked after a couple of hours. On our way back, we saw a largish flock of around 70 Curlew Sandpiper resting with a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Whiskered Terns.

Spot the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper hiding with the Curlew Sandpipers.

Nearby, more Red-necked Stints were walking along the waterline.

Busy-as-bees Red-necked Stints.

As we approached the beach, I was surprise by the huge expanse of the mudflats that the receding tide was exposing!  A quick look through our binoculars and scopes showed that it was literally crawling with waders! 

Adri and Pete surveying the expanse of mudflats.

I certainly don't envy Pete's Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) duties!

We moved under the shade of some mangroves, and watched some of the waders successfully foraging for food.  Near us, a Pacific Golden Plover, a Grey-tailed Tattler, a Ruddy Turnstone and more Red-necked Stints were pocking the soft mud to find food.

A Pacific Golden Plover,
a Grey-tailed Tattler,

a Ruddy Turnstone,
and more Red-necked Stints. All foraging for food!

There were several fiddler crabs walking around, and it looked like these were among the morsels picked up by the birds.

Fiddler Crabs! Is this wader food?

Further on, there were several Broad-billed Sandpipers feeding too.

Some Broad-billed Sandpipers: I loved seeing these again!

A confiding Javan Pond Heron allowed us to take his photo at close range, looking as curious of us as we were of it.

A Javan Pond Heron in summer plumage posing for us.
 We reached the car just in time as the morning heat (Surprise! It was actually  noontime already!) was getting quite unbearable.  My last bird for the ponds was another migrant: a Brown Shrike taking refuge in a mangrove tree.

Not a wader but still a migrant: a Brown Shrike in the shade.

As Pete said, no rarities but still quite a productive morning!  Visiting a new site is always exciting. Plus a lifer for me... what more could I ask for? Thanks again Pete!

Sunday, September 20

autumn movements

As the months grow colder in the northern hemisphere, birders in our part of the world begin the lookout for the fall migration.  And what better way to officially start our migratory season birding than with raptorwatch!

We hitched a ride with the indefatigable raptorwatchers Alex and Tere to the Pag-asa Station in Tanay where we were joined by a motley crew of birders, all excited to check if the migrant raptors were moving down south.

It was a warm morning, but the weather changed quickly back and forth from cloudy to sunny back to cloudy then to rainy and then sunny once again! We watched rain clouds move over the mountains of the Sierra Madre, eagerly looking for little dots in the northern skies which would hopefully be the awaited Chinese Sparrowhawks.

Around the watch tower, we spotted the more familiar migrants: a Brown Shrike was creating quite a racket, calling out loudly.

Later, a female Blue Rock Thrush caught our attention as it flew back and forth, perching on the electrical wires, fences and the roofs of the adjacent buildings.

Our first raptor sighting was not a migrant, but of a resident Rufous Bellied Hawk Eagle.  It soared high above the valley, and would perform spectacular stoops, suddenly disappearing out of view as it dove towards some unseen prey.

The Chinese Sparrowhawks began appearing slowly, strangely travelling solo and not in large kettles that we expected.  Still we were happy to get a few sightings, a good signal to the onset of fall movements.

One of the nearest kettles to fly over was a flock of 8 Sparrowhawks, quickly rising with the thermal and gliding from one to another, forming a loose kettle.

Even though the sightings were far in between, we found ourselves entertained by some of the residents. A pair of Purple Needletails performed their supersonic swoops and glides close to the tower, their white "horseshoe" pattern underparts shining brightly in the sun.

Every know and then someone would spot a Chinese Sparrowhawk, prompting everyone to get up from their seats and leave the shade for better looks.  Also spotted were some unidentified falcons, a Peregrine Falcon, an Osprey and Crested Honey Buzzards.

Our lunch hour entertainment came in the form of a Philippine Serpent Eagle being dive bombed by a White-breasted Woodswallow.

It is always comical to watch the audacious woodswallows attack the larger raptors in flight.  Why do they do it?  Is it a territorial dispute? Sometimes it seems that they just want to annoy the much larger birds!

This woodswallow kept on coming from behind the serpent eagle, hitting it on the rump or back before flying off and circling back again for a follow-up attack.

All the stately raptor can do is give an annoyed glance at the pesky little attacker!

Later in the afternoon, as we were wrapping up, eagle-eyed Linda spotted a few kettles of around 20 Sparrowhawks forming in the distance.  The distant specks were sooo hard to spot and follow!

It was a great afternoon to jump start the raptorwatch season for the fall.  Hopefully we'll get to see more of these migrants in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, September 9

Sunday Garden Buffet

The last of the ripe rambutan has been gathered from our garden, leaving only some of the fruit on the tree for our regular guests.  The Colasisi are always expected this time of the year, dropping by and perching for long periods (rather than just the quick twittering call as they fly past the house's airspace).

A Colasisi surveying the scene before committing to the feast.

This female was partaking of the remaining feast, quite oblivious to our admiring eyes and lenses.  She patiently took bites of the thick red rind, until the juicy white pulp was exposed.

Dainty bites.

We have garden benches that are situated under the rambutan trees, and a sure sign of a feeding colasisi (they are quite quiet as they munch along), are bits of red fruit skin falling on your hair or lap from above.

Unfortunately, the sweet scent of the juicy white fruit soon attracts huge wasps (hornets? I confuse the two). They quickly come around, buzzing all over the hard working Colasisi.

And along came a big, buzzing wasp!

Soon, the Colasisi is so bothered by the large hovering insect that it takes its leave, twittering harshly as it flies off.

This year, many of us rambutan pickers fell victim to the painful sting of hairy caterpillars (higad).  These large creepy crawlies love the rambutan leaves, but it is only this year that the height of the hairy caterpillar population boom coincided with harvest season.

So it was good to see that the caterpillars fall victim too, we saw a strange-looking bug (beetle?) grasping to one of the caterpillars, sucking up its juices through its mouth parts. Sluuuuuuuurp. Yummy.

Predator and prey. Sluuuuurp!

Of course many of the backyard birds also scour the leafy foliage for these juicy prey.  

The Pied Triller is a regular visitor to the Flamboyant Tree in front of the garage, just across the garden from one of the rambutans.  Its soft che-che-che-che can often be hear as it ambles about the branches looking for smaller hairy caterpillars.

A Pied Triller patiently looking for creepy crawling food.

While we were watching this particular male individual, a flash of yellow in the Narra beside the Flamboyant Tree caught my attention.  A young (and very quiet!) Black-naped Oriole was also on the hunt!

Soon it had in its beak a wiggling, huge hairy caterpillar!  

And another caterpillar falls prey!

It hopped and down a large branch, slapping the prey on the wood.  Does the slapping stun the caterpillar? Does it remove some of the stinging spines? Maybe both? (Does it tenderize the soft body even further?!?)

Oriole versus hairy caterpillar.

SLAP, slap, slap. Back and forth (somewhat violently!) until it is quite satisfied, and gulps down the caterpillar in one swallowing motion.

Some violent slapping going on.

I eat rambutan, I get stung by a caterpillar. Caterpillar gets slapped silly and then eaten by the oriole.

(In the meantime, a Colasisi is quietly eating rambutan at the top of the tree I can't reach. And the bug is still sucking up caterpillar juice.)


Fair enough.

Sunday, September 6

On being green

Strangely this season, I have not been seeing too many of the jumping tree frogs (Common Tree Frog Polypedates leucomystax) which usually terrorize me during the rainy season. Sadly, I think my mom's efficient removal of foamy frog eggs from the ponds and bird baths contributed to their almost disappearance from the garden.

The tree frogs were quite prolific, as you can see.
Here, 3 males attempt to fertilize the larger females eggs which are placed in a foamy ball at the edge of the pond.

In their place now we have green frogs (Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea)  adorning our ponds, chirping away into the night.  Cute as they are though, these frogs are an introduced species, unlike the native tree frogs.

More colorful frogs now in the pond: a green paddy frog.

I am less intimidated of these green frogs who do not have the propensity to "jump towards you when frightened".  These tend to stay in place, much like ornamental decorations placed strategically on a rock or lotus leaf.

They're out even in the heat of the day, when the tree frogs have taken refuge in the dark and wet corners of the garden.  Once, I was watching a tiny lycaenid butterfly on a flower pondside, only for it to be quickly whipped up by a sticky tongue, straight into a green frogs mouth!

A green paddy frog and a sun skink sunning side by side.

I don't know where they popped in from but they are now taking advantage of the ponds to multiply. Their eggs are jelly-like balls submerged in the water, suddenly appearing in the morning as if out of nowhere.

Eggs of the green paddy frog, newly laid (above) 
and already starting to develop into tadpoles (below).

Mom (?) looking over the newly laid eggs.

The ponds are full of tadpoles now, and hopefully they will complete their life cycle and we'll start seeing miniature green frogs around.

Tadpoles are starting to outnumber the guppies in the pond!

I do miss the tree frogs though.