Wednesday, August 31

The tide pool menagerie

It wasn't all large marine creatures while we were at Dahican in Mati, Davao Oriental.  We got a chance to get up close and intimate with the many tiny beach critters as well!

While the center of Dahican beach is fine white sand, many parts of it are composed of coralline sand and pavement that hid little creatures in nooks and crannies.  When the tide went out in the afternoon, we were happy to explore the tide pools, inspecting all sorts of sea dwellers trapped by in the shallow pools.  

Out beach combing!

During the time we were there, low tide was late in the afternoon. I've always loved beach combing, and the marine intertidal zone is full of stuff to see!

Algae and seagrass grew all over the hard substrate: mostly brown, fan-shaped Padina.

There was also a bit of green sea grass which is probably dugong food in deeper water.

Of course there were several tiny fish to see - many of them familiar reef fish in miniature form.

A tiny, tiny triggerfish:

Cute little boxfish

Small damselfish and a mini-butterflyfish as big as my thumbnail

Camouflaged gobies and other bottom dwellers

It was pretty difficult to take photos of all the fish as they swam around quite quickly!

There were a also a few sea anemones waving their stinging "arms" and looking like fat flowers of the sea.

And hidden sea urchins (short spines, not so scary!)

Small stubby  sea cucumbers.

There was also bits of colorful live coral

Different kinds of polychaete worms: Feather duster tube worms, which would suddenly retract into their tubes at the slightest disturbance...

... and several pink bristle worms which crawled out of their holes to hunt in the open as it got darker.

It seemed that every crevice hid brittle stars, their spiky arms moving lazily across the surface.

There were all sorts of different crabs:

"Hairy" ones like this black one and this pink one (which tried to hide from me)

This one had strange markings which allowed it to disappear into the algae it scuttled into to hide in.

Tiny ones which were perfectly camouflaged and difficult to spot when they froze motionless (can you spot them?)

On the beach, "ghost" crabs played stop and go as they peeked in and out of their holes.

We also saw the source of the many small sea shells which littered the beach: several snails were crawling on the rocks.

We even spotted a tiny venomous cone snail with its bright proboscis out "sniffing" for prey.

I was delighted to see one of my favorite shells from childhood: the ringed cowrie!  There were several of them crawling on the substrate, their beautifully mottled mantles almost entirely covering  the shiny shell I liked collecting when I was very young.

As the sun set, even more creatures were coming out... these two small shrimp were battling it out with their over sized pincers

And hermit crabs became more active

So much to see!  It was only the fading light which finally defeated our beach combing.

Adri: the last to give up because he had a flashlight.

Too often, the beaches of my childhood have suffered from the over zealous collection and development which have all but driven away crawly critters. It was so nice to find a beach which still had so many little treasures of the sea to watch and observe.  

Hopefully future beach goers and beach combers learn to appreciate these spots for the seaside menageries they are, and remember to take nothing but photos, kill nothing but time and leave nothing but footprints (but be careful not to step on any wildife!)

Saturday, August 27

Dolphins (but no Dugongs) at Dahican

Dahican beach! 

It had been over two years since Mel, Adri and I had first visited this bit of paradise in Mati, Davao Oriental. And we were back this time with Alex, Tere and Mark with the same mission: to try and see dugongs in the wild.  We hadn't had the luck to see them the last time, and so we were hoping for better luck this time around.

The beautiful 7 km Dahican Beach, known for skimboarding and surfing.
Ok, you might have guessed from the title of this post: we still didn't have that luck! Still, it was quite a memorable trip. And, this time I was actually able to see dugong feeding trails! (check out this google image search to see what I mean)

This time around, Mark had contacted the Amihan boys (and girls!) of the popular Amihan sa Dahican. These young men and women of Dahican are passionate about surfing, skimboarding and protecting the natural treasures of Mayo Bay which includes not only dugongs, but dolphins, sea turtles and the occasional whale shark!

Starting them young at Amihan sa Dahican (photo c/o Adri!)

Our base was Botona Beach Resort, a couple of hundred meters from Amihan sa Dahican. We started out early (not as early as birding though!) and were greeted by a gorgeous morning. 

While waiting for our boat, we took a look at a small, fenced off area on the beach which acted as a marine turtle hatchery.  We could see bits of egg shells scattered on the sand and were told that some of the eggs had hatched just a few days earlier.

The Turtle Hatchery at Amihan sa Dahican

It's too bad there weren't any hatchlings while we were there. It's estimated that only one in 1,000 - 10,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood. As soon as they emerge, they already face the danger of falling prey to predators, just as this little one we saw washed up on the beach :-(

Not the lucky 1 in 1,000 - 10,000 to make it to adulthood :-(
We did see several adult turtles in the water!  We saw Olive Ridley and Green sea turtles while we were there, both swimming under water and taking a breath at the surface. Great encounters.

As we took off on the boat, our guide Peter and spotter Iyay suggested looking for dolphins first. And who can say no to dolphins?

Our boat stayed close to the shore, and a few kilometers from our base, we spotted our first pod!  It was a very small group of Spinner Dolphins, just across from Tropical Kanakbai where we had stayed in 2014.  We didn't stay with the pod though, as Peter said these were breeding animals which we shouldn't be disturbing.

Do not disturb these individuals: in the process of making more dolphins!

On we went towards the mouth of the bay. The calm, deep blue sea reflected the blue skies.

Iyay, in a suit which reflected the skies, stood at the bow, perfectly balanced and looking out for our target. She looked extremely cool, daughter of the sea and skies!

We have birding attire, is this dolphin-ing attire?

Suddenly, in the distance, there was a leap in the air!  Our guides had located the larger pod!  Soon we were surrounded by Spinners!


Cameras all came out and we all enjoyed the show!

Out come the cameras!

Many of the dolphins were riding the bow of the boat and the clear water and the bright sunlight allowed wonderful views of the dolphins even under water!

Super clear waters!
There must have been over 200 individuals in the pod, and Peter was even able to take an underwater photo with Mel's tiny underwater action camera!  

Underwater views!

On my very first wild dolphin encounter in Bohol, our guide told us that to count dolphins, you must multiply by 5 every dolphin you see on the surface - it's the first time I've had an actual view of the dolphins beneath the surface! My first thought was "Times 5 lang ba talaga?!?"

Seeing dolphins in the wild brings out such joy for life. It must be their coordinated acrobatic leaps and graceful movement in the water.

By the time our dolphin encounter was over, it was apparently too late to look for dugongs! Dugongs are not gregarious animals like the dolphins, and late in the morning, they would have already moved away from their feeding grounds near the shore.

Sensing our disappointment at missing a dugong sighting, Peter very generously offered to take us out again the next morning.

Sunrise at Amihan sa Dahican
So, the next morning, Mark, Mel, Adri and myself were back at Amihan, even earlier!  Peter was there too. He lent us some fins as we were going to spend the next two hours (it could've been more!) swimming around the bay.  While the four of us snorkeled our way to deeper water, Peter took a paddle board that we could rest on if we got tired.

It was exciting to be constantly on the lookout at the sea grass beds as the water got deeper, and deeper, and deeper.  Peter pointed out the cris-crossing dugong feeding trails which gleamed white underwater with the bare sand showing through the sea grass.

As I said in the beginning, we were not fortunate enough to had seen a dugong that morning. There was the faintest view of one surfacing to breathe several meters away, and that was it. We swam all around the bay searching. Otherwise it was fish, starfish and several sea turtles! Our feet blistered from swimming with fins and the sun high, we swam back to shore defeated.

Dolphins and sea turtles, but no dugongs this time around. But as they say, there's always next time! 

Sunday, August 21

Looking for Lina's

We were off to Compostela Valley!  Mark V. arranged a trip for all 7 of us (him plus Alex, Tere, Mel, Felix, Adri and myself) to be guided by Davao-go-to-guide Pete. The goal was to get the Lina's Sunbird on our life lists - yes, a new bird for ALL seven of us!

Recently, Pete had identified an accessible site and had already brought several birders the joy of a lifer in this high elevation Mindanao endemic. It was a quick trip... fly in to Davao, drive to Com Val and spend the night, bird the next morning and be on our way (hopefully having bagged the bird).

A quick reconnaissance in the afternoon revealed that the bridge we needed to cross was closed and under construction. Uh oh.

Roadworks ahead: no crossing!

The only option was to drive across the rocky river bed.  The rainy season was just on its way, so the water wasn't deep yet, but it was quite fast flowing enough to be of concern!

The very rocky river bed

Birding the next morning started very early, and we reached the site with a bright full moon rounded by a halo in the sky. A Mindanao Scops Owl called out by the side of the road, and as it got lighter, a Bukidnon Woodcock flew around us in a typical roding display.  

A halo around a full moon

Slowly, our surroundings came alive, with several Island Thrushes,  Olive-capped Flowerpeckers and Turquoise Flycatchers coming out to feed. All around us were heavy equipment of the roadworks and signs of the new road encroaching on the surrounding montane forest.

Did the roadside vegetation really have to go?!?

As we moved up the road, several Philippine Cuckoo Doves were out, crossing our path and calling from the trees. 

A Philippine Cuckoo Dove in the distance

The road opened up to a view of the valley below, shrouded in thick, low-lying clouds. 

Clouded valley and floating mountains

In our view was a flowering and fruiting tree busy with birds.  Sure enough, one of them was our target: the Lina's Sunbird! A pair flew around the whole morning, and we were all able to appreciate it well, commenting on it's similarities and differences from another high-elevation Mindanao sunbird: the Apo Sunbird which is frequently spotted on Mt. Kitanglad.

Lina's Sunbird! (Thanks to Adri for his photo!)

It was a pleasant morning birding by the road, though many locals stopped their motorbikes to regard us curiously (this was definitely a new birding site and birders unusual, maybe even suspicious looking!).

A view of the forest around us.

Turquoise Flycatchers were perched on lookouts, while Black and Cinnamon Fantails wove in and out of the canopy.

A Turquoise Flycatcher on patrol

Black-masked White-eyes were frustratingly difficult to catch on camera.

Can you spot the Black Masked White-eye?

A flock of Short-tailed Glossy Starlings flew in.

One of a flock of Short-tailed Glossy Starling

And Olive-capped Flowerpeckers buzzed all around us together with the Sunbirds.

An Olive-capped Flowerpecker on the same branch.

Mountain White-eyes were no less active.

A cuddly pair of Mountain White-eyes

At our feet a Long-tailed Ground Babbler called loudly and scuttled through the ferns. Noisy pairs of  Mindanao Racket-tails kept flying over the valley.  And above us a Metallic Pigeon flew across.

A Metallic Pigeon in flight

The vegetation was just interesting as the large trees were draped in moss and lichen and covered in epiphytes like orchids and ant plants.

An ant plant

And  dainty white orchid blooms

We all admired this tree, only for me to find out later that it was an invasive species!

Spiked Pepper (Piper aduncum)  tree: an alien invasive species

This blue-eyed lizard also gave us a good stare-down.

Mr. Blue eyes

A Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, was so engrossed in feeding that it completely ignored us as we watched and took photos of it.

A very busy Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker

Just as we were about to call it a morning, the Lina's gave us a great last look. It perched on a nearby tree, singing loudly and cheerfully.

The Lina's Sunbird bidding us goodbye: Thanks for the great views!

We all had that great feeling of having accomplished our mission.

Happy birders!

As we drove down, we got a good look of the surrounding hillsides and the road construction

A clearer view on the way back

A clearer view of the road construction as well
We had to get down and cross the bridge on foot, while Pete and Adri crossed the rocky riverbed and a raging stream.

We had to cross the bridge on foot...
... while Pete and Adri drove across the river

Can you spot the car?

We left ComVal happy to have bagged a lifer for all of us. Thanks to Pete who is always on the lookout for new birds and exploring birding sites on Mindanao.  Since I first met Pete in 2014, he has given me 5 other lifers! 

Lifer's c/o Pete S:  
Top: Whiskered Flowerpecker (Adri's photo), Scarlet Minivet and Cryptic Flycatcher - all in June 2014
Bottom: Little Bronze Cuckoo (Adri's photo, August 2014), White-headed Stilt (September 2015), Lina's Sunbird (June 2016)

I'm looking forward to more of his discoveries in the coming years!