Thursday, September 29

Off to see the Bundoks

In Filipino "Bundok" literally means "mountain", and definitely one of the most popular mountain getaways for Metro Manila folks is Baguio, in Benguet province.

Last July, towards the end of my long intersession holiday, Adri and I were able to fit in a quick trip to Baguio.  The goal? To see the recently promoted Bundok Flycatcher.  Previously considered as a set of endemic subspecies of the resident Snowy-browed Flycatcher, it has been recently upgraded to full species status.

The now endemic Bundok Flycatcher, split from the Snowy-browed Flycatcher

And so, hoping for good weather in rainy July, we were off to see the Bundok (the bird, not the mountain though).

At the bus terminal in Dau, Pampanga

We boarded our bus early in the morning, planning to arrive in Baguio by noon.  The recent upgrading and construction of expressways leading north of Manila had made the trip very convenient, even by public transport.  We planned to stay the entire of our three days at Camp John Hay, away from the city traffic and congestion.

The cool Baguio weather to me is sleep-in-all-day weather, and it was still the case as the mid afternoons to early evenings were marked by heavy downpour and dropping of temperatures several degrees below the usual Manila heat.  We were lucky though to have wonderfully sunny mornings which allowed us to bird without worrying about rain. 

Sunny mornings on the Camp John Hay Eco Trail

The Camp John Hay Eco Trail was just a 15 minute walk from the Igorot Lodge where we were staying. Breakfast was not a problem since the lodge was also right beside a Starbucks and so we stocked up on sandwiches for our short birding hike.

The familiar birds of the Cordillera highlands greeted us as we walked.  Cheerful mixed flocks of  Mountain White-eyes, Elegant Tits, and Sulphur-billed Nuthatches wove in and out of the canopy.

Cheerful Mountain White-eyes

Even more cheerful Elegant Tits

Always busy Sulphur-billed Nuthatches

It is always a challenge photographing these tiny, active birds.  But with patience and luck, coupled with the sheer number of them encountered, success is almost assured.

Midway into the Eco Trail, from its start behind a paintball arena across the Le Monet Hotel, we crossed a picturesque bridge over a small stream.  

A bridge across a stream

Butterflies flitted around us in the morning sunlight.

A graceful Count (Tanaecia calliphorus) fluttering around.
Dark-colored Bushbrowns on the path.

A smaller bushbrown showing its upper side as it suns.

A graceful sailor soaking up some sun.

Nearby, an Elegant Tit was making a meal out of a not-yet-a-butterfly caterpillar.

Breakfast hiding under a leaf.

Citrine Canary Flycatchers were busy flying from perch to perch and back, hawking for little insects.  A Scale-feathered Malkoha gracefully flew above us, gliding from pine tree to pine tree.

A quiet Scale-feathered Malkoha

Ahead, a very noisy Tawny Grassbird was carefully inspecting the path and the foliage, moving in and out of our view.

A Tawny Grassbird in an acrobatic pose, now you see me...

...Now you don't!

A little Draco lizard caught our attention, crawling up the trunk of a nearby pine tree.

Little Lizzie up a tree

A praying mantis stood still as a statue, its front legs folded together in the usual worshiping pose.

Praying mantis in the morning sunshine

It was a beautiful morning, the sky above us blue and the faint scent of pine in the air. 

Pine trees and blue skies

Looking closer around me, I saw several daddy long legs on the tree trunks, their bodies shiny emerald green orbs.

Shiny Daddy Long Legs

A lovely moss carpeted the ground and most of the tree trunks too, a fairy land in miniature.  I've learned recently that "Baguio" was actually derived from "bigyiw" which is Ibaloi for moss

A mossy carpet

The flocks of Elegant Tits were mostly made of young birds, the distinctive black markings still greyish.  They moved energetically around the trees, playfully swinging upside down from pine needles and leaves as they searched for food.

Young Elegant Tits

In mid-flight catching a... feather?

Sulfur billed Nuthatches crept up and down and around the trunks and branches, moving forwards and backwards in a never ending inspection of the bark.

Nuthatches always on the move

As I was admiring all these creatures around me, I heard a familiar call of an arch nemesis bird and noticed Adri standing very still in some tall grass, camera in hand.

I joined him and kept my eye on the little brown birds giving off loud explosive and melodious calls. It was the first time I had seen many of them together, 4 of them moved deftly and quickly through the grass.  As usual, these Philippine Bush Warblers teased me with short glimpses, moving out of the cameras view just as the focus kicked in. Definitely still no improvement to the arch nemesis status after this trip.

Still in the most-hated bird list: Philippine (formerly Luzon) Bush Warbler
This is Adri's photo.
Obviously the bird loves Adri who harbors none of my ill feelings towards it at all.

Finally at mid-morning, we stopped by a small watering hole by the side of the trail.  A small movement behind us caught our attention, and there was our target.

A beautiful male Bundok Flycatcher, snowy brow and all, sitting quietly in the shadows (and look a small orchid in bloom right beside it)!

Bundok Flycatcher in the shadows (look, an orchid too!)

It stayed in that general area for the rest of the time we were there, sometimes perching quite near, other times farther away.  Sometimes in the light, and sometimes in the shade. 

We also caught a glimpse of its partner, a much drabber-colored female.  The female was more skittish than the male, moving around much more quickly.

The female Bundok Fly refusing to pose well for a photo.

It was great to watch them behaving as flycatchers do, flying to and from the perch as they caught insects on the wing. Standing very still on the perch and sometimes singing very softly. They were really neat and handsome birds. (I like flycatchers.) 

Light on the handsome Bundok Flycatcher.

So it was mission accomplished for us,  getting the Bundok flycatcher on my life list, In Baguio City, up in the bundoks of the Cordilleras.


Saturday, September 24

Saturday morning at the LPPCHEA

I was happy to be back at the LPPCHEA (Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area) for a bit of Saturday morning birding with some members of the WBCP. 

The beach at LPPCHEA on a Saturday morning.

I had not been back for a few years and I was curious to see the beach we once dubbed as "rubber slipper beach" when I was just starting out birding.  All sorts of trash littered the beach, from your usual plastic packaging to styrofoam boxes, discarded nets and rope, furniture, handbags, clothes, toys... ANYTHING you can think up, including A LOT of rubber slippers. Well, there was still a LOT of the city's trash washed up on the beach, but it was not as thick as previous times I was there (and no, I don't think we could play the finding a matching-pair-of-rubber-slippers thrown away game anymore).

I had hitched a ride from fellow QC-ers Art and Riza and we were joined by Cathy and Rage.  When we arrived, the group was just about ready to enter the inner trail of Long Island towards the ponds and DENR station.

I was impressed by how big the trees which had planted a few years ago have grown, especially the Agoho trees.  The ends of the Agoho leaf "needles" held drops of the previous nights' precipitation which twinkled in the morning light.

Agoho-lined trails at Long Island

I could not miss the harsh calls of the Brown Shrikes, I counted no less than 10 individuals perched on top of the different levels of vegetation.  The song of Philippine Pied Fantails, Pied Trillers, Zebra Doves and Golden-bellied Gerygones could be heard from the mangroves.  High above, egrets, Whiskered Terns and Rock Doves flew against the lightening skies.  Every so often, a Black-crowned Night Heron would call as it flew over.

I was happily surprised to see several pairs of Grey-backed Tailorbirds in the mangroves.  They were calling loudly as they chased each other in the dark undergrowth.

When we arrived at the ponds, I was disappointed not to find any of the Common Moorhens or Philippine Ducks that were usually there.

But I could see that some of the group had moved to the beach so I made my way through the mangroves. The tide was just beginning to go out, but a small strip of sand was barely visible under all the flotsam washed up, mostly trash and piles of the invasive water hyacinth.

Every time I get a glimpse of the sand at the LPPCHEA beach, I try to imagine what it would look like if there wasn't any garbage on the beach, fine grey sand full of white bleached shells.

Grey sand littered with broken shells.

Out over the water were several Whiskered Terns.  Towards the shallows of the river were Little Egrets. A few Black-crowned Night Heron were perched on sticks. A particularly tall stick seemed prime property as herons, egrets, terns and even a Common Sandpiper would take turns perching on it. A Collared Kingfisher was patrolling by one of the prickly amor plants.

A Black-crowned Night Heron and a Little Egret

On the beach,  we observed a Little Egret which was very successful in catching breakfast.  In the midst of all the pollution, the shallows still provided what seemed like an abundance of small fish. We would constantly see schools jumping at the surface of the water.

Fresh catch of the day by a Little Egret still sporting its plumes.

And it was not just the birds who were taking advantage of this bounty. One of the beach dogs had caught a large tilapia and was carrying it back to its home!

One of the LPPCHEA beach dogs not to be outdone by the fishing birds.

The rest of the dogs didn't even mind the arrival of the furry fisherman, and they continued to nap in the shade as beach dogs all over the world do.

While the other dogs are just living the life.

A little further on, we began spotting a some more migrants.  A trio of Pacific Golden Plovers were foraging in the sand near a lone Common Greenshank.

A pair of Pacific Golden Plovers

A lone Common Greenshank got me thinking about the next AWC.

Later, we were happy to see a pair of Whimbrels with their long curved bills.  As the pair were alternately foraging and engaging in a little cockfight, a third Whimbrel was bathing in the water at the shore.


We also saw the unmistakable pink legs of a Black-winged Stilt as a single individual flew past us.

We were all delighted by the sudden appearance of a Common Kingfisher which darted out of the mangroves and hovered for quite some time over the water before diving in for a catch.  It would do this several times, gaining appreciative "ooooohs" as it fluttered in place, suspended over the surf.

Suddenly, another bird landed on the beach: a Rufous Night Heron!  It stood quite still for several minutes, its neck and body all stretched out.  

A Rufous Night Heron looking all forlorn.

Eventually it was disturbed by some of the fishermen and it flew over the sea right in front of us.  It's slow flight gave me a perfect opportunity to catch it in mid flight.

Rufous Night Heron in flight!

Toward the end of our stay, several other groups of visitors began to arrive at the park.  One of the groups was a a busload of University students doing a coastal clean-up as part of their NSTP CWTS (National Service Training Program - Civic Welfare Training Service). They were at the start of the beach, and were performing the insurmountable task of hauling trash from the beach.

I was happy to run into Sir Rey Aguinaldo of the DENR who managed the LPPCHEA.  He said that they thankfully did have a lot of volunteers who participated in beach clean-ups. But still of course, the trash kept coming in, from that undending source which is all the human settlements around Manila Bay.

As I watched the kids cleaning up the beach, a Little Egret hunting in the foreground came into focus.  What a juxtaposition of images.

A Little Egret forages for food amid the trash as students clean-up the beach further down the shore.

I can only dream of the time when our trash does not end up in the ocean, and when the white shell beach of the LPPCHEA will sparkle under the tropical sun.  When a nature walk here will not only show trees and plants and birds and insects, but actual marine organisms of the intertidal zone! 

Do I dare hope it be in my lifetime?

Sunday, September 18

While waiting for BBS*

*BBS = Backyard Brown Shrike

The garden has been high in bird activity the past few weeks. This is mostly because the rambutan is fruiting, but it's also because the migrant brown shrikes are slowly trickling in. The ripening of the rambutan coincides with the return of these feisty birds leading to the jostling for position and re-drawing of territories for the season.

Probably least concerned with the return of the migrants are the Large-billed Crows. A pair of them always lands on the tree outside our bedroom window in the morning, their loud cawing in dissonance with the pleasant dawn chorus.

At center stage are the lovable green Colasisi, twittering the day away in the rambutan trees.  I have seen as many as 6 individuals on a single tree, slowly picking away at the thick red rind to get to the juicy white flesh of the fruit.

Small quarrels would erupt as they fought for the ripest fruit, or stood guard over their carefully opened treat.  

Joining in the feast are a few shrewd Yellow-vented Bulbuls, on the look out for already opened fruit.  They fly in to enjoy their own feast.

The Colasisi feed most actively during the morning and late afternoon.  At midday, we would hear their soft chirping as they rested. It was almost comical to watch them dropping their heads while falling asleep after their meal, their bellies probably full of the sweet fruit.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Philippine Pied Fantail still rules, its melodious call resonating from every corner. It flies back and forth around the yard, turning with a sharp snap of its wings and graceful fanning of its tail.

The pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds, which occupy the shared corner with the next door yard, are already being bullied by the neighbor's BBS. What can they do but sing loudly from their clothesline perch in protest.

I am certain that the large flocks of Eurasian Tree Sparrows will disperse as soon as BBS arrives, the young ones had better learn quickly to avoid the king when he returns.

True to their less popular name, the Peaceful Doves (Zebra Doves), continue to be placid amidst the haste of the changing season.  They quietly forage in the grass, or preen while perched on branch or electric wire.  Their quiet cooing is only interrupted when they take off, surprised by the slightest of movements.

And the wait for the arrival of BBS continues.