Saturday, January 30

Twitching the Candaba teals

As I mentioned in my previous post on Candaba, a couple of days after Adri and I did our ocular, Rob and Irene and Mel spotted a new country record: a Baikal Teal.  After a few days, a duck which was spotted earlier by Kevin Artiaga (one of Lala's students), was identified as a Falcated Duck (also known as Falcated Teal), another country record!

Exciting times again for Candaba, after last year's Baer's Pochard.

With Adri out on tour, I was happy to tag along with Tere, Alex and Drew to twitch the country rarity.  Meeting us there were Tina and Neon ready with their bazooka lenses. Mads and Jude were also following.  A daily stream of visitors kept us up to date on the sightings, it was obviously a big deal to the local birding community to have two new country records at a very accessible location.

When we arrived, the plains and ponds were just being lit up by the golden morning light.  In front of us was the remaining pond, filled with thousands of ducks: mostly the endemic Philippine Ducks, some resident Wandering Whistling Ducks, and the migrants of course: Garganey, Northern Shovellers, Northern Pintails, Eurasian Wigeons, Green-winged Teal, Tufted Ducks.  The challenge was on to find a single Baikal Teal and a single Falcated Duck.

This pond is where we had to find the ducks.

As we surveyed the ponds, every now and then a flock of Black-winged Stilts would take to the air, elegant and graceful as ever.

Black-winged stilts in flight.

The skittish Philippine Ducks would also suddenly lift off noisily from the water's surface, joined by a few migrants.  They would circle the ponds and land again, with just as much splash as they made taking off.

A frenzy of Philippine ducks.

A Eurasian Coot swam quietly near us.

This coot was quite close.

We were all quietly concentrating on looking at each and every duck (something we really should do, even without specific target in mind: that's how unusual sightings are made!).

And then, in a sea of fl0ating kangkong leaves and blossoms, a brilliant emerald green suddenly popped out.  It was the Baikal Teal!

Can you spot the Baikal Teal in this photo? (See the close-up below)

A beautifully plumaged duck: the Baikal Teal in the floating vegetation.

It was quite a distance away, thankfully it was in the vicinity of a small bahay kubo in the middle of the pond, which made it easier to point out to the others.

The teal was somewhere here.


Watch this short video in HD (click play then the gear on the bottom to change quality to HD).  Thanks to Alex for sharing this i-phone-scoped video!

It was busy preening itself, so every now and then its head would disappear into the kangkong.  Later it would even go to sleep, its head tucked under its wings.

It became even harder to spot when it tucked its head in to sleep.

It's a good thing it had a very distinct head pattern and color, which made it easier to spot once you knew its general location.

Here it is!

Later it would move around, never flying up but paddling across the pond or flying low short distances. As long as we kept our eye on it from time to time, it was easy to keep track of it or even to find it again.

It moved about in the kangkong, mostly half hidden with only its head sticking out (thanks to Drew for the enhanced i-phone-scoped photo on the corner!)

High fives and thumbs up all around!

Birders and photographers enjoying the Teal, even if it was quite a distance away.

As we were observing the Teal, suddenly an Eastern Marsh Harrier showed up, spooking most of the ducks into the air (but thankfully not the teal).  

A majestic aerial display by an Eastern Marsh Harrier.

While we were watching the aerial display, Mads suddenly exclaimed: "Nakita ko na sya!" ("I've spotted it!") referring to the Falcated Duck.

Scopes, cameras and bins suddenly zoomed in on to the general location Mads was pointing to, which was even further than the location of the Teal!

The Falcated Duck is somewhere here, with some Philippine Ducks and Northern Pintail.

Sure enough, swimming with several Philippine Ducks was the target. It was a handsome duck, with a deep chocolate, head which glossed a bright green under the sun. It had a white throat and spot at the base of its beak.

The Falcated Duck was busy preening, it's green glossy head shimmering in the sunlight.

Like the Teal, it was busy preening itself, and every know and then we could see the curved feathers on its side and back after which it was named.

Yay again!

A short video of the Falcated Duck, thanks to Tere for sharing this i-phone scoped video! (Remember to watch it in HD)

It's great to have had the chance to observe these new country records.  We couldn't use our normal Kennedy field guide as it didn't have these species' descriptions, so we had to refer to other field guides.

No Kennedy guides were used that morning!

These sightings once again highlighted the need to preserve the remaining wetlands of Candaba which have all but been converted to great swathes of rice fields to feed the burgeoning population. The earth that feeds and shelters us needs to feed and shelter those we share it with too.

Mads writes about the latest Candaba sightings and a new initiative to save its remaining wetlands here:

Tuesday, January 19

Palawan is love


It's my personal paradise... birding, beaches and the great outdoors!  I was so excited that Adri and I finally got to fit a return trip to Puerto Princesa for a 5 day weekend at the end of November for an early wedding anniversary trip.

 Unfortunately, a cancelled flight made us lose an evening and a morning, but our optimism overtook our disappointment and soon we were in Puerto Princesa, ready to bird! I love Puerto Princesa!

We picked up our rental car, picked up some supplies at the NCCC, found our way to our downtown inn, had our lunch, took a nap and... off we were! Our agenda  for the afternoon was just to bird south of downtown Puerto Princesa. 

On site, we were greeted not by birds, but by the familiar noisy tree squirrels, squeaking away as they hyperactive-ly moved up and down the tree trunks.

A hyperactive Tree Squirrel

Blue-naped Parrot, migrant Grey-streaked Flycatchers, Philippine Cuckoo-doves, endemic Palawan Flowerpeckers, Black-naped monarchs and more!  Bulbuls (Ashy-fronted, Black-headed, Palawan) were especially nice to see as none of the species occurred anywhere in the rest of the Philippines!

When we parked our car to walk down the road, I quickly spotted this pair of Fiery Minivets feeding at the top of a tree.

A male and female Fiery Minivet

A pair of Spot-throated Flamebacks were busy creeping up and down a nearby tree trunk. We stayed til it was almost dark. In the distance we could hear Great Slaty Woodpeckers calling - my most wanted bird for the trip.  It sealed the decision to come back to bird the next morning before we headed out to Sabang.

A Spot-throated Woodpecker: head pecking motion blur
A Green Imperial Pigeon in the fading light.

When we arrived early the next morning, the Grey-streaked Flycatcher was still on the same perch, flying out to catch insects.  Hair-crested drongos were chasing each other noisily through the trees. 

A migrant Grey-streaked Flycatcher

I was crossing my fingers and praying hard... and then they came!

Four huge woodpeckers landing in a far off tree!  They moved up and down the tree and I admired great scoped views. Finally, on my 4th birding trip to Puerto Princesa, I bag the Great Slaty Woodpecker!  

I finally see a family of Great Slaty Woodpeckers!

Even better, after a few minutes they flew to a tree right beside us!  Even if they were grey-colored, the baby pink cheeks of the males and their corn yellow throats made me think of color combinations that were quite a hit in grade school! The woodpeckers would move around in the general area the entire morning we were there.

Adri walking down the road

There were other birds of course.  Some not so easy to photograph like the Pin-striped Tit Babblers and the very vocal Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds.

A Pin-striped Tit Babbler in the tangles

The Ashy Drongo however, was out in the open.  Lovely Sunbirds, Olive-backed Sunbirds and Purple-throated Sunbirds called loudly from the tops of trees; not even affording me with the opportunity to photograph them.  A Melodious Babbler lived up to its name, its musical call teasing us for several minutes but never showing itself clearly.

Ashy Drongo - never shy.

Soon we had to move on, we had a couple of hours' drive ahead of us.  It was a little past noon when we stopped at Buenavista.  A female Palawan Flowerpecker was busy feeding on a tree, allowing us much better photos than the male we had seen that morning.

Male and Female Palawan Flowerpecker

It must be a trend, because a female Olive-backed Sunbird followed suite, giving a much better photo than a male who visited the hibiscus flowers beside our room the next days.

Male and Female Olive-backed Sunbirds

You know a lot of birders visit Palawan, people at the rest stop hardly paid us and our optics any attention. They were thankful though when we pointed out that the cat was eyeing the fish they were drying.

This cat's up to no good.

A short walk down the road revealed more sunbirds, tailorbirds, drongos, bulbuls and even a few Yellow-throated Leafbirds.

On the way to the resort, we passed by a small wetland which would give us a few waterbirds each time we would pass, even if it was in the heat of the afternoon.  A common sandpiper, a lone Black-winged Stilt and several egrets would be busy feeding.

A Common Sandpiper

The lone Black-winged Stilt

An Intermediate Egret unfazed by quarreling Little Egrets.

Cattle Egret on its water buffalo

We decided to walk around in the afternoon and found ourselves at the river mouth.  There were several tourists but we decided to take the mangrove paddle boat tour anyway.  I loved the tour! The short paddle down the quiet river, surrounded by mangroves was very relaxing. 

The stillness of the mangroves.

There were a few birds (due to the number of tourists that had passed through already), but we did spot some Green Imperial Pigeons and a Stork-billed Kingfisher.  Long-tailed macaques perched on the fallen mangrove trunks, watching us as our boat passed by. The highlight for me though was seeing several mangrove snakes, small pythons and monitor lizards resting on the low branches, close enough almost to touch!

Mangrove Snake, Pynthon, Monitor Lizard: chilling at the mangroves.

Just before we arrived back at the dock, a small flock of eight Palawan Hornbills landed on some trees on our right.  Even if they were high up in the trees, we cold see them jumping from one branch to another.  The elegant black and creamy white Palawan Hornbill is definitely one of my favorite hornbills!

Palawan Hornbills taking a peek at us through the leaves.

It had been almost 7 years since I had last been to Sabang, it was nice to see that my favorite beach across the river was mostly as I remembered it (there was a zipline out over the water though).  I hate to think that this was what the long beach at Sabang looked like when I first saw it in 1996, but there is always the hope that this beach will remain untouched by establishments.

The river

My favorite beach

The next morning, we were up very early to try for the Palawan Scops Owl.  Which we heard. Only.

Maybe it was the full moon.

There was this tiny frog though.

Not an owl.

We proceeded to bird along the road. The road can now be officially called a highway.  What was once a bumpy, rocky, dirt road is now a smoothly cemented speedway. With emphasis on speed.  Vans shuttling tourist to the Underground River tour, trucks, motorcycles all drove a breakneck speeds!  I feared for our lives as we birded along the road.

Paved roads all the way.

Sadly, during one of our owling sessions,  Adri's flashlight revealed an unfortunate victim of the speeding vehicles.  A stink badger had probably been hit earlier that evening, the poor thing.  Wildlife once again pays the price in the name of progress.

Poor little Palawan Stink Badger :-(

Near the Lion's Cave we spotted a fruiting fig tree!  Fruiting fig = birds and birds there were! Thick-billed Green Pigeons, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Yellow-throated Leafbirds, Black-chinned Fruit Doves, bulbuls, and many other birds were all gorging on the yellow fruit.  Even the Palawan Hornbills made a brief (too brief!) appearance.

Fruiting tree by the road!

A pair of well camouflaged Thick-billed Green Pigeon

An Asian Fairy Bluebird perched on a fruiting fig.

Yellow-throated Leafbird

A Black-chinned Fruit Dove taking a break on the tree across the street.

Hill Mynas flew back and forth from a nearby tree. We counted 21 in that single tree!

21 Hill Mynas on a tree!

Adri motioned to me as he heard another of my target birds calling.  A Dark-throated Oriole! Another lifer for me.  

The morning sun began to brighten the day and so we decided to move on. We drove all the way to Tagabinet, parked the car and once again (risked our lives) birded along the busy road.

Up in the trees were several noisy Blue-naped Parrots. There were also many bulbuls, drongos, and Bar-bellied Cuckooshrikes.

A Blue-naped Parrot giving me a sideways glance before flying off.

Hair-crested Drongo

High up in the trees, smaller birds like Fiery Minivets, Common Ioras, Palawan Flowerpeckers, sunbirds and Palawan Tits carefully inspected the leaves for food.

A high up Fiery Minivet,...

Common Iora,...
and Palawan Tit

At the eye-level were White-vented Shamas, tailorbirds, tit-babblers, Ashy-headed babblers, spiderhunters and Black-naped Monarchs.

Soon, along came a Dark-throated Oriole.  I had a much better view of my lifer this second sighting.  

Lifer #2: Dark-throated Oriole!

Nearby, different bulbuls were feeding at a fruiting tree.  To our delight, a Sulphur-bellied Bulbul also came by to feed.

Bulbuls feeding

Sulphur-bellied Bulbul with the light eye.

We decided to head back to the resort for lunch and R and R.  It was sooo difficult to decide: do we go on birding? Do we enjoy the beach? Do we veg out in our very comfortable room at Daluyon? Choices, choices. 

Later though in the afternoon, we went out again.  We wanted to see Philippine Cockatoos and we waited in vain.  Good thing the sunset views were quite pretty.  We also spotted a lone Blue-headed Racket-tail far, far away.  Its loud calls gave away its location.

Can you spot the racket-tail?

The sun sets on another great birding day.

Before we returned to the resort for dinner, we decided to give owling one more try.  We heard the Palawan Frogmouth. And we heard the Palawan Scops Owl again. Heard. Only.

Too soon, our birding vacation had to come to an end. The next day (no more owling or birding) we woke up late (as you are supposed to on vacation), enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, lounged around til it was time to pack up and drive back downtown to catch our flight. As we drove away from Sabang, we glimpsed a pair of Palawan Hornbills flying by the side of the road.

I can hardly wait to go back!

We'll be back!