Sunday, April 16

Kites and other fishers

Operation Sagip Sawi (Save the Grey-faced Buzzards) was in full swing in Northern Luzon, and I was off for the weekend with Jelaine and Lala to support Alex, Tere and the ARRCN (Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network) Japanese contingent on their visit to Ilocos Norte and Cagayan Valley.

But... we had a few hours free in the morning to bird with Laoag-based Richard R.  He had once again spotted a rare migrant visiting his birding spot and was keen to show it to birders who traveled the long road north to see it. For our trio, the opportunity was perfect for a twitch.

And so, fresh off the bus from Cubao, at 500am, a smiling Richard picked us up at the terminal, and we were on our way (with a breakfast stop at Jollibee, of course!).

Walking along the banks of the Laoag river, many fishers were already out and about.  In the far beach where the river mouth opened to the ocean, we could see through our binoculars that they were already unloading their catch, large jacks (talakitok), catching light in the morning sun as they were transfered to baskets.

Along the river, men and children were alredy preparing a new set of nets, baiting them with small fish, mostly halfbeaks (looking weird with their "beaks" snapped off).

We parked ourselves at the last of a series of public terraces, excellent (i.e. roofed) vantage points to watch out for our target.

People were not the only the early fishers out.  Dozens (literally: I counted 28 perched on one tree across the river) of Brahminy Kites were already busy catching their breakfast.

Several egrets, mostly Great Egrets, were also perched on the fish pens, un-moving sentinels shining white in the golden light.

While waiting, we scanned the trees around us.  And sure enough, in less than 5 minutes from our arrival, we spotted it!

Do you see it? Not the white headed raptor in the foreground
but the dark one in the background, silhouetted against the sky.

Quite a distance away, in the direction of the fishponds (we had previously visited) perched on the very top of a tree, was a kite much larger than the many Brahminys flying around us: a Black Kite!

It was busy preening, despite the distance, we could clearly see the forked tail and the dark plumage.

 This one!

We kept Richard's scope trained on it, and it stayed put for so long, even the locals had a peek through it to see.  

It didn't seem like it had any intentions of moving, so while waiting for it to take flight, we entertained ourselves with the Brahminy Kites flying and fishing close by.

On a small house on top of the riverside, a man was busy cleaning and drying out his fish. He cleanly sliced each fish open, gutted and salted it.  After he had finished with all the fish, he strung them up to dry.

They joined several other fish drying in the sun - soon to be someone's breakfast: daing (dried and salted fish) with fried garlic rice and a sliced tomato. Yum.

Back to the birds...

The Black Kite was still immovable, now joined by a Brahminy Kite on a neighboring branch - just to clearly show the size and plumage difference.

Another fisher was perched nearby: a White-throated Kingfisher. It didn't seem to favor that spot though as it only stayed for a bit before flying off to find some other fishing ground.

When next we looked over the Black Kite, he was gone!  

With his disappearance was a flurry of duck activity with hundreds of Philippine Ducks taking to the air.

We were hoping for it to do a close flyby like the Brahminy Kites, but luck was no longer on our side.  We waited for as long as we could, but no sign of it along the river.

We took a quick trip to the fishponds to see if it was hanging out in that area, but no luck there either.

Still, it was a successful early morning twitch.  Thanks again to Richard who is always alert and on the lookout at his birding patch, and always generous with sharing information. Laoag is such a rare migrant magnet!

Our weekend adventure had just started and we were off to join up with the Sagip Sawi group!

To be continued...

Sunday, April 2

The nesting neighbors, Part 1

Nesting season seems to have come early this year in the garden!

Adri and I were thrilled that the neighborhood Coppersmith Barbets decided to nest on a dead branch of a Flamboyant Tree (aka Fire Tree) right above our garage! Last year, the nest was in the corner across from us.

We had already noticed a pair inspecting a nest hole from its perfectly circular entrance as early as January, and we could here them calling:  pok-pok-pok-ing loudly even before the sun as up. Although the nesting hole was just outside our bedroom window, a dry anahaw leaf conveniently hid the entrance from our view.  From the garden at ground level though, the nest hole was in full view.

Through February and March, I would see them coming in and out of the nest hole quite regularly.  I would make it a habit to glance at it right before I entered my car to leave for work in the morning (at least in March there was already enough light for me to see).

Most times one of the barbets would have its head out of the hole, looking around (and sometimes looking down at me - one inquisitive gaze at another!)

Mid-March, the pair would take turns at the nest, one calling out loudly upon arrival while the other would unobtrusively fly out as the newcomer flew in.

I lost track of them for a few weeks though, as I was busy at work and was out of town for a weekend.

This week, I was happy to see the nestling, in almost full adult plumage!  It was still hanging out at the nest (literally!), and would fly to a nearby branch on the arrival of one of its parents.

The parents would come in with mouthfuls of fruit (looked like ficus fruit or lemoncito fruit) and call out (yes, with its mouth full!) to the young one.

The parent then would fly to where the young one was and the young one would quite violently grab all the food from mom/dad!

This weekend, the young one seems to have gotten the courage to fly further and further form the nest as it followed when one of the parents took off in search for more food.

So happy to see that the nesting looks like a success!

I'll probably get to see less and less of this family. It's still early in the season though, and I'm hoping there will be a second nesting soon.

How great is it to have nesting neighbors?  I love sharing our yard with them!

IMPORTANT NOTE:   NEVER harass nesting birds, expose the nest or stay within the nest area for extended periods of time. It may seem like common sense to keep away from nests, but sometimes curiosity can get the better of us.