Monday, April 20

A River of Raptors

It was the tail end of the migration season and I hadn't participated in the spring raptorwatch yet!  Luckily I had a weekend when I didn't have any work and when Adri was also free.  So onFriday night we jumped on a pink public transport bus heading up north and arrived at Pannzian Resort in the town of Pagudpud to join master raptor-watchers Alex and Tere (plus Mang Boy!) who were doing an entire season's count of raptors leaving the country from Ilocos heading north to Taiwan and mainland Asia.  We had already established Pannzian as an excellent raptorwatch site during exploratory trips in 2013.

We arrived at Panziann at 730am, welcomed by a sun-kissed Tere and in time for a hearty longanisa breakfast prepared by Mang Boy.  After a quick update (they had been on the field for over a month!), we quickly joined Alex near the beach where they had set up the watch under a small grove.  The trees provided shade from the searing summer sun and had a nice view of 4 hills behind which kettles of raptor formed, riding on thermals created on the slopes of Mt. Pico de Loro behind the hills.

Now and again we were joined by Efren, an employee of the resort who had taken interest in the raptorwatch and was already in training to monitor local migration.  Curious guests at the resort also joined us that morning. We were eager to see raptors, the group down South at Tanay (Rizal) having reported over 4,000 Chinese Sparrowhawks (Chinese Goshawks) the previous day.  But our first morning was slow, and we only observed a few kettles of Grey-faced Buzzards and Chinese Sparrowhawks, totaling 321 and 870 individuals respectively.  We also counted 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards and 3 Osprey.  These were only the migrants, as Pansian is also home to several resident raptors which we also saw: Philippine Serpent Eagles, Philippine Hawk Eagles, While-bellied Sea Eagles and Brahminy Kites.

The next morning, we were up and about early and as Alex and I were having our coffee up near the cottage (which also provided a view of the hills, but at another angle), we spotted an early kettle of Grey-faced Buzzards forming over the first peak.  These were probably birds who had roosted on the hills and were preparing for an early morning ocean crossing. 

This year's spring migration headquarters

At half past 6 am, we spotted lone Chinese Sparrowhawk against the blue sky dotted with wispy cumulocirrus clouds.  As we followed it with our bins we spotted a huge kettle of goshawks forming over the hills!  To our amazement, raptors flying in from the west were joining the kettle making it even larger!

Can you count the Chinese Sparrowhawks?  (The blur is a jackfruit tree in the foreground)

A River of raptors!

Then as the raptors achieved height, as if on cue, one by one, the raptors began streaming off towards the north east.  After a certain distance, the kettle would reform and the two kettles of swirling raptors were connected by a river of soaring, gliding and flapping birds of prey.  It was a magnificent sight.

Wings flickering as the flap and glide, like shimmering water or starlight in the day.

Chinese Sparrowhawks are easily identified by their small size and flapping flight.  They have white underparts with black wingtips while their upperparts are brownish grey.  Because they tend to flap a lot, they look like twinkling water drops (stars even! in broad daylight!) catching the sunlight.  And so the river of sparrowhawks was alive with flickering, shimmering wings.

An iron eagle behind a kettle of goshawks.

Many of the resort employees joined us, awestruck by the spectacle.  Later in the morning we were also joined by Laoag-based birders Doc Pete and his guests. We ended the day with a record 12,283 Chinese Sparrowhawks, with peak migration at 630 to 8 o'clock in the morning.  Despite the fact that it was past the peak of Grey-faced Buzzard migration (they leave earlier and, in autumn, arrive later), we still counted 322 of them.  Plus 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards.  It was an outstanding migratory raptor count.

As you can see, raptorwatching is a sedentary affair!

It was a good day for raptorwatch, Alex's and Tere's (and Mang Boy's!) 39th day on the spring count, and a fitting tribute to these raptorwatchers who are quickly filling the black hole of information for raptor migration in the country. 

P.S.  A huge thanks also to Bing and Ken of Pannzian for their huge support of this year's spring raptor migration count!  We definitely (heart) Pannzian!

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