Monday, May 30

Back in raptor-land

We were back!

I had just been to Pagudpud and Claveria a month before for the peak of Grey-faced Buzzard migration and a series of community conservation fora, but I woke up again bright and early on the bus from an all-night trip and I was back in Pannzian for the weekend!  This time, Adri was free to come along and look out for the migration spectacle. We were hoping for a repeat of last year's river of raptors at the tail end of the peak of Chinese Sparrowhawk migration! Suzanne had also tagged along for some R&R away from the city.

After breakfast, Adri and I headed straight for the raptorwatch command centre, where Alex, Tere and Mike were already settled and counting.

It was sizzling hot!  The heat was soon broken by a sudden summer shower, making the air humid and sticky!

We settled down with the counters and watched the hills for the raptors rising high into the skies.

We were not disappointed.  Although our count was not as high as last year's weekend, the sight of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of raptors swirling around in a tornado pattern was still breath-taking!

As the sparrowhawks rode the wind thermals to gain height, they flapped their wings fast and hard, alternating dark upper parts with their bright white under wings.  This gave them a twinkling pattern, like diamonds shimmering in the blue summer sky. 

Sometimes they were quite far, right above the hills, looking like tiny dots.

Other times they flew nearer to us...

And fewer times we would be surprised to have them suddenly thermaling or streaming right above us!

A stray individual would pass very close every now and then, allowing us to admire the classic Chinese Sparrowhawk silhouette and diagnostic black "fingertips".

During the times that there weren't any migrants, the resident raptors such as the Honey -buzzards, Serpent Eagles and Hawk-eagles, would keep us entertained.

Several Brahminy kites flew by.

The huge and always majestic White-bellied Sea-eagle was always exciting to see up close.

Resident Spotted Doves and Red Turtledoves paid no attention to us and foraged around our watch site, peering at us curiously.

Admittedly, raptorwatch can get quite tedious, especially if the kettles are few and far in between.  

But there is always something else to see, and not only birds! Even the daily routine of the community was a feast for our eyes. A clanging bell would signal the arrival of the fishing boats, and the locals would rush to the beach to help bring in the boats.

But of course the highlight was definitely the Chinese Sparrowhawk migration!  Once you catch a glimpse of a kettle of hundreds of raptors forming, and watch the raptors eventually achieve an altitude so high it hurts the eyes to be staring up in the sky, and eventually count them as the stream off: it sends shivers up your spine. It is surely a sight to behold.

I have yet to tire seeing these small raptors embark on their long journey across the ocean back to their breeding grounds.  It is truly one of the wonders of the natural world.

See you next year!

Friday, May 20

Have figs, will feed

On our raptorwatch weekend trip up north, we were able to squeeze in a short visit to Jelaine and Lala's field study site. The site was mostly agricultural lands with patches of secondary forest. We were not only rewarded with views of perched Grey-faced Buzzards, but a trio of fruiting fig trees revealed some prize birds also!

Fig trees heavy with fruit, coupled with careful inspection and patient waiting, can bring in a bonanza of birds!

Migrant Brown-headed Thrushes actively flying around in the canopy of the trees. They are always a delight to see as they are not so commonly sighted.

Guaiaberos blended in quite well with the foliage, looking like chubby, brighter than normal, green leaves. Only their sharp calls gave a clue as to where they were.

Philippine Green Pigeons flew back and forth from a nearby leafless tree. They took turns feeding and resting, and we observed a huge flock of around 42 birds!

Joining the green pigeons in their feed-rest routine were three Coppersmith Barbets.  They would pok-pok-pok-pok loudly from their perches.

Soon, a quiet pair of Luzon Hornbills joined the feeding frenzy. They were quiet a contrast to the riotous and noisy Yellow-vented and Philippine Bulbuls.

I was quite sure there had to be a White-eared Brown Dove somewhere. After a few minutes of searching, I finally spotted one!

Fruiting fig trees - always a good harvest for both birds and birders!

Monday, May 16

In raptor country

Migration waits for no one!  The new school year moved the second semester from November - March to January - May, which meant that migration was right smack at the middle of the classes!  Unable to join raptorwatch for an extended time, I was happy to spend an extended weekend (the Holy Week holiday coincided with the extrapolated peak for Grey-faced Buzzard migration) up north with the raptorwatch team. The weekend coincided with a lecture series (sponsored by the Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network - ARRCN) by both Japanese and Filipino biologists for a conservation forum to be held at Brgy. Pancian in Ilocos Norte and at the Cagayan State U in Sanchez Mira. It was wonderful timing!

So on Friday night, Maia, Jelaine, Lala and I hopped on a bus to join the WBCP raptorwatchers (led by the indefatigable Alex and Tere!), based at our home up north, the Panziann Beach and Mountain Resort.

We were welcomed with the usual sumptuous breakfast at Panziann and almost immediately whisked off to the charming town of Adams, a few kilometers away.  We stopped in the middle of the road up the mountain to admire a pair of Rufous-bellied Eagles soaring in the sky! 

An adult Rufous-bellied Eagle soaring int he hot summer sky.

We stopped along the road several times: for Luzon and Rufous Hornbills, Philippine Fairy Bluebirds, Philippine Falconets, Crested Honey Buzzards, Philippine Serpent Eagles and many other birds out in the open despite the summer heat.

At Adams, we checked out a hill where we watched out for migrating raptors, and we were not disappointed!  Two large kettles of Grey-faced Buzzards (locally called Sawi, pronounced saah-weeh, emphasis on the first syllable) were soon spotted thermaling right above us!

A kettle of Grey-faced Buzzards, Sawi, in the skies above Adams.

ARRCN members looking out for both resident and migrant raptors.

Soon, the noonday sun (and our rumbling stomachs) called us to lunch.  Our hosts' had lunch prepared at a house by the river.  Some locals were having a picnic, escaping the summer heat by dipping in the river. It was certainly a good day to do your laundry!

A good day to dry laundry (in Adams) or some octupi (in Sta. Praxedes)

Of course birders could not resist taking a peek at a migrant Common Kingfisher perched in the vines across the river.

Birders (don't forget the cold beer!) stalking a...

Common Kingfisher across the river.

A Brahminy Kite flew above us, in search of prey at high noon.

A Brahminy Kite floating gently with the winds.

On our way back to the lowlands, we stopped to admire the quaint town: we visited a small bignay (Antidesa bunius) winery and admired a long hanging bridge over the river.

And a river runs through it.

On the way down, we also stopped to admire a beautiful jade vine in bloom.  Its flowers were not the usual celadon green but a deep indigo color.

A beautiful jade vine just along the road.

What a wonderful first day on the field!

There was hardly enough time to go birdwatching the next couple of days, when the back-to-back conservation forum was held.  On the first day, we gathered the local communities of Adams, Pancian and other nearby barangays.  In the morning there were lectures on birds, birdwatching, raptor migration, Grey-faced Buzzard conservation, roles of raptors in nature, the natural heritage of northern Luzon and threats to that biodiversity.

With the local community folk.
 (Thanks to Maia from whom I stole this photo, read her version at :-) )

In the afternoon, the highlight of the program was a conservation forum that allowed the members of the community to talk about their strengths and weaknesses in conservation and to come up with action plans where they could address their needs.

The forum ended late in the afternoon, and when all the participants had left, we all took a breather down by the beach.

Relaxing by the sea in the afternoon.

The next day, we held the same program at the Cagayan State University, this time with the townspeople of Sanchez Mira, a known roosting site for the sawi.  Our audience was composed of college students, local government officials and employees, farmers and even hunters!  

The campus was a great site for talking about the conservation of the sawi.  During breaks, we could watch the raptors thermaling over the campus, even from the University CEO's office windows!

Only in Sanchez Mira: Raptorwatching from an office window!

A pair of sawi above the CSU campus.

Early the next day we were headed back towards Sanchez Mira, this time to check out the community raptorwatch site set-up by Alex and Tere. Once again, our drive was interrupted several times by raptor sightings on the way. Rufous-bellied Eagles, Philippine Serpent Eagles and kettles of migrating Grey-faced Buzzards urged us to stop by the roadside to observe these regal birds of prey.

An immature Rufous-bellied Eagle

A Philippine Serpent Eagle flying by.

One of hundreds (was it thousands?) of migrating sawi that weekend.

We finally reached the raptorwatch site, set-up in the middle of a rice field, facing a small coconut grove where the Sawi would roost. Volunteer students and faculty from the CSU took shifts counting and observing the migrants. 

The community raptorwatch site at Sanchez Mira

Record-keeping by the locals!

We would observe kettles of Sawi flying in over us and perching on the trees in the distance.

Sawi flying over and...

... landing on the nearby trees!

It was great to see community involvement in the raptorwatch.  To have gotten in touch with the locals and to have started conversations with them is a wonderful first step to what will hopefully be the long-term conservation of the migrant raptors in northern Luzon.

During the conservation forum, Toru Yamazaki, the president of the ARRCN, asked the audience:  "Where do you think is the Grey-faced Buzzards' home?  In Japan where they summer and breed? Or in the Philippines where they winter?"  The audience answered "Japan!" loudly and with such conviction.

"No," said Yamazaki-san, "their home is BOTH Japan and the Philippines! Both the Philippines and Japan are important to the Grey-faced Buzzard, without the other, the Grey-faced Buzzard will not survive!"

Filipino and Japanese raptorwatchers - partners and brothers of the migratory Sawi.

What a wonderful perspective! I have always looked at migrants as guests we should welcome,  perhaps it is time to see them as brothers coming home.

Wednesday, May 11

Wings of the fallen

Summer time on campus usual means less schoolwork and more time for guided bird walks.  This year, summer falls at the tail end of the new school year, but we still got to fit in 3 bird walks at the and of March until mid-April!

At this time of the year,a  bird walk yields a very active resident bird population: long-tailed shrikes, collared kingfishers, black-naped orioles, barred rails, Philippine magpie-robins, Philippine pied fantails, pied trillers, coppersmith barbets, lowland white-eyes, golden-bellied gerygones, white-breasted woodswallows, yellow-vented bulbuls and zebra doves are part of the typical bird list. An overstaying brown shrike or two give a great example of a common migrant.

Strangely though, the highlight of the recent bird walks is not the flash of blue as a kingfisher flies by, or a pair of bright yellow orioles calling loudly from an acacia tree.  It isn't even a pair of hard-working shrikes feeding their young on a nest in the parking lot.

The highlight comes towards the end of the walk. And it isn't exactly a pretty sight. Or even a live bird. 

(Pretty gruesome sight is more like it!) On our first walk we discovered that the back of the observatory was littered with rock (racing) pigeon wings!

The students ran around counting more than 15 pairs of wings on the ground!  Some with the tail still attached, or part of the breastbone.

We knew at once of course what these were: the remains of the prey of our annual visitor: Peregrine falcon food!

It was amazing to see how much he had caught. He must be a pretty efficient hunter! I had actually spotted him in the middle of March hovering over the parking lot with a pigeon (almost as big as him!) gripped in his talons.

One of the students even found a one and only pigeon head:

When we looked up at the tower, we saw more carcasses on the platform.  This was one big time hunter!

Unfortunately, it was only the first group of the three who had the privilege of actually seeing the falcon.  He was up on the tower, being mobbed by the woodswallows. 

Still, even in his absence, the last two groups were able to appreciate the presence of a raptor on campus.  

The prey he left behind spoke on his behalf.

Monday, May 9

Another dirty finger

This must be one of the most intense campaigns for the national elections post-EDSA. (Yun pa lang naman ang mga election experience ko.)

It took me an hour to vote,  I thought that was pretty long, but then I saw that in 2010, I actually lined up for 3 and a half hours! How could I have forgotten that? (And what's funny is, when I checked the comments, it seems that 3 hours was the standard wait time!)

This time, the PCOS machine worked and I got to check my vote through the official receipt.

Whatever happens, life goes on for all of us. I hope we leave all the hate and divisiveness of the campaign behind, look forward with hope and keep vigilant.

Let us all work harder for a better Philippines for all Filipinos.

Sunday, May 8

Untiring devotion

I wonder where mom is?  Hmmm... Should stretch a bit while waiting.   Is that her? Is it? Is it? IS THAT HER?!?

Mooooother!!!!  Where've you beeeeeen? I'm soooo hungryyyyyy! Feed meeeeeeeh!

Food! Food! Food! Glorious food!

To all hard-working, devoted mothers out there... a salute to you!  Thank you for your ceaseless caring and inexhaustible passion!