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!