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.


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