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!