Tuesday, August 22

Subic in the A's: August

Rainy day birding in August...

It is always a good idea to start a long weekend with a quick birding day trip and Subic was calling again.  The last time we had been was in hot, hot April and it was now humid, humid August!

The morning was overcast with the cloudy white skies giving off quite a glare.  Large-billed Crows cawed at almost every corner, echoing the somber weather.  It was the woodpeckers which were again among the first to greet us, a White-bellied Woodpecker calling and drumming up a huge tree several meters from the road.

Sooty Woodpeckers were also very active, allowing good views but not good photos.

In truth, any bird perched against the white sky was no good for photography even as they tolerated our presence.  This included this Green Racket-tail, who took his time calling loudly to his mates, preening every feather in his body and even just staring off into the forest. (The photo was digiscoped with my ipad as i gave up trying to take a good photo with my camera)

After just a few minutes of walking, our shirts already clung to our backs and I could feel sweat dripping down my nape, my chest, my forehead... even if the rain only threatened to fall, we were soaked in our own juices.

We did run into several pairs of Luzon Hornbills as we drove or walked.  

They were all paired up, male and female together.

Insect-wise - there were quite a few young grasshoppers hopping about.

This shield bug was protecting its eggs, which it laid in a pretty conspicuous leaf.

There were a few butterflies around, mostly skippers.

Most other butterflies had their wings quite tattered and worn.

Although a few, like this tiger, looked quite fresh.

While it was much birdier that it was in April, the birds still only allowed us brief views. Groups of Luzon Flamebacks, Bar-bellied Cuckoo Shrikes, Guaiaberos, Coletos and Philippine Bulbuls were very active. Figs and other fruiting trees seemed to have a lot to offer in terms of food (including insects attracted to the fruit also).

We passed by the now abandoned Bee-eater nests, the holes barely visible through the overgrown grass.

White-browed Shamas sang melodiously and Trilling Tailorbirds called loudly from the dark vegetation. Green Imperial Pigeons growled softly from the canopy above and a lone Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove hooted from somewhere behind the thick greenery of the trees.

After a quick lunch, we did another drive through, stopping briefly at a clump of eucalyptus trees where the bulbuls and the Coletos seemed to be having feeding frenzy.

Coleto song tinkled musically around us, such a dainty sound for a strange looking bird (I still think of it as "spam"-bird!).

Skulking in the leaves was a handsome Red-crested Malkoha. Its dark body and red features made it easy to pinpoint in the silver green of the eucalyptus leaves. Even its green beak seemed to stand out.

A dark shadow turned out to be a White-eared Brown Dove.  It turned out that there were at least four of them with the Coletos and Bulbuls.

The honking of Luzon Hornbills gave them away.  A male perched in full view, scratching and calling a bit before it joined the others behind the trees.

Just as it turned to fly away, rain drops began to fall.  As with our last visit, we decided to call it a day.  The overcast skies and the thick humid air were whispering to us: it was time to go home.  We'd save afternoon birding and owling for another day in Subic.

Subic in the A's: April

Subic has always been one of our favorite places for birding. A couple of hours drive from our home (and not having to travel all the way across Metro Manila since we already live in the northern end: no getting caught in EDSA traffic!), it's always a good place for the night-before decision to go birding the next day.

We haven't been going as often though, and the past two visits were way back in April, and this last weekend, in August.  Both were very short half day visits, just to get the birding itch scratched.

Summer heat in April...

We were greeted by a pair of Whiskered Tree Swifts perched on branches just above where we parked our car. It was cool to watch them fly off from their perches and do their little calisthenic stretch of wings when they landed back on the same branch.

Bar-bellied and Blackish Cuckoo-Shrikes chased each other around us, calling noisily to each other.   In the distance, some Philippine Green Pigeons were resting up in the trees.

Luzon Flamebacks circled around us,  and left as quickly as they came.  But a pair of Sooty Woodpeckers arrived and drummed loudly on a tree trunk.  They kept out of sight though, ducking on the hidden side of the trunk when they saw us, peeking around the girth of the tree to check if we were still there.

It was a HOT summer morning, with the sky a blinding blue and hardly a cloud in the sky. We drove around, glimpsing the usual suspects as we did: green parrots calling loudly as the flew over head (Blue-naped, Green Racket-tails, Guiaberos and Colasisis); pigeons flushed from their perches (Green Imperial Pigeons, White-eared Brown Doves, Philippine Cuckoo Doves and Common Emerald Doves); coucals, cuckoos and malkohas moving quietly (well, except for a riotous troupe of Rufous Coucals) in the tangles. Many of our views were brief, but the heat of the morning had made us impatient as well.

We were happily surprised to come across a Spotted Wood Kingfisher as we rounded a corner.  It had given off its distinctive barking call and we (Adri, of course) finally spotted it (a female) sitting still deep in the undergrowth.

It was strangely silent, even the soaring Brahminy Kites and Philippine Serpent Eagles hardly making a sound.  The stillness was broken by the loud, ever-cheerful singing of an Elegant Tit.

When it finally flew off, only the loud, monotonous sound of cicadas surrounded us and birding became a sluggish affair.

And to confirm the lack of birds, the butterflies began to catch my attention.
Mycalesis (bush browns) flashed their owl eyes at me as the fluttered at my feet.

I couldn't resist eye contact with a friendly Hypolimnas (eggfly).

The Leeas were starting to bloom, attracting insects to their ruby red inflorescence. Yellow pierids were drinking greedily.

And of course there was no shortage of my favorites: the gossamer winged Lycaenids.

The other lycaenid regular, Cheritra (hairstreak) was also about, but as usual, perched on some leaves (I've never seen it feeding at the leea blooms).

I spotted something new too, one I've never photographed, and this was later identified at the Philippine Lepidoptera facebook page as Hypolycaena thecloides philippina Staudinger 1889.  Happy to have had my photo included in the PhiLep website galleries.

Noon was approaching and we had a quick lunch near the Blue-throated Bee-eater nesting colony. After lunch we parked under the shade of the rain tree across the bee-eaters and enjoyed watching them as they caught insects on the fly.

The nests could not be located at a more picturesque site dressed in the colors of summer to match the bee-eater plumage.  The bougainvilleas exploded in bright magenta in front of the nests and above them a banaba tree was heavy with purple bloom

Most of the catch went to the hungry nestlings in their burrows.  Neighboring birds guarded their nest holes fiercely, and while the holes look all the same to me, I guess the birds knew which was theirs as easily as I knew my own house from my neighbor's.

I got obsessed with trying to get a shot of the parents leaving and entering the nests but these mid-air flight photos are all I got:

After hanging our for an hour, we decided to head back home.  The heat was making us sleepy and lazy - just as summer's day should.

Up next... Subic in August

Saturday, August 5

Birding by the road: Buenavista-Tagabinet-Cabayugan

Spectacular scenery and great birds: it's easy birding by the highway in Puerto Princesa, so we stuck to our tried-and-tested, except this time we did a reversal of the usual routine.  

As I had mentioned previously, instead of being based on scenic Sabang beach, we tried out a resort on Ulugan Bay. Starting out birding in Buenavista and driving towards Sabang, we passed through the barangays of Tagabinet and Cabayugan.

Early in the morning we stopped at the view point for the majestic karst limestone cliffs of Elephant Cave. The newly harvested rice fields were dotted with Cattle Egrets checking in between the freshly reaped stalks of  palay.

Against the blue skies, a flock of Hill Mynas flew, with one landing on a bare branch singing loudly to greet the morning.

We scoped the cliffs in the distance and found a pair of Palawan Hornbills inspecting a small cavity.  We wondered if they would use the cliff as an option for nest holes rather than trees.

A huge Greater Coucal caught our attention, skulking quietly in the vines and vegetation.  Every now and then it would come out into the open, wings open and stretched out in a sun salutation.  (It was my first time to see a Greater Coucal in the Philippines so sort of a lifer!)

As the sun climbed the skies, raptors began soaring above.  I got a lifer in dark-phase Changeable Hawk Eagle crossing overhead.

A Crested Honey Buzzard also gave a good showing in flight.

Crested Serpent Eagles called out to each other as they circled and rose higher and higher until they were dots in the distance. (I wonder if I can actually differentiate them from the endemic Philippine Serpent Eagle found everywhere else in the Philippines?)

One of the best finds along the highway was a fruiting macaranga tree.  Bulbuls and flycatchers were busy all day at the tree, either gorging on the fruit or attracted to the insects buzzing around.

The tree was not wanting for Palawan Bulbuls and blue-eyed Black-headed Bulbuls.

Nearby, a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird sang loudly as it crept about the tangles.   A pair of Palawan Blue Flycatchers kept crossing the road to the tree and back, probably busy feeding some young on a nest.

Every now and then a wave of smaller birds would pass through. Violet Cuckoos are always a welcome sight.

Fiery Minivets would accompany them.

We had second thoughts in the identification of a small brown flycatcher we initially dismissed as a Grey-streaked Flycatcher. On afterthought, was it an Asian Brown Flycatcher?  And what did it turn out to be?  A female Blue and White Flycatcher!

(On a side note, we spotted the two other species of flycatcher as well!)

We were distracted by family groups of noisy Blue-naped Parrots or elegant Palawan Hornbills passing through.

A family of Lovely Sunbirds brought our attention back nearer to the ground. 

A Green-lizard with its extra long tail briefly distracted us from bird activity.

Several other birds came by the fruiting macaranga, including a cheerful White-vented Shama and several Hair-crested Drongos.  A very quiet Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo also showed up.

And a small flock of Yellow-throated Leafbirds also came in, blending in excellently with the vibrant green foliage.

My favorite birds at that site was a parent-and-young endemic Sulphur-bellied Bulbul.  The parent kept returning to where the young bird was perched to feed it. The young bird bravely explored the canopy but also settled down to preen and rest for several minutes at a time.

It's always great to watch this behaviour in birds.

Having rented a car, it was easy for us to move onward or back to other sites along the highway.  It's the second time we have tried this, and it seems to be a very efficient way to get around to bird, especially with the much improved roads.

We had better views of the Palawan Blue Flycatcher.

I caught glimpse of a small shrew/mouse crossing the highway, and a good view of a Palawan Stink Badger on a dark trail.  But as usual, the easiest mammal to glimpse were the Tree Squirrels running up and down tree trunks and branches, jumping from tree to tree.

Several Barringtonia trees were also in bloom, their dripping inflorescence with smooth and shiny red buds.  They only seem to open their blooms in the evening though, and by morning their flowers had fallen to the ground.

There were some birds we never got good enough views for good photos, even if we saw them several times.

Ashy-headed Babblers were very babbler-y... sticking to the dark bushes and long grass. Can you spot the babbler in the photo? It was taken from across the highway!

We also came across several pairs of Spot-throated Flamebacks, who were also nicely silhouetted against the tree trunks against the light.

 At sunset, we drove up to moonlight hill.  It looked like we had just missed the Philippine Cockatoos (again!), because though we heard them as we were climbing the steps, they were nowhere to be seen when we got to the viewpoint!

The sunset view over Ulugan Bay was beautiful. It is one of my favorite sunsets ever.

In the dwindling light, we could hear the loud calls of Great Slaty Woodpeckers echoing across the valley.  Imagine our surprise when they came up right above us!

I always think these huge woodpeckers seem almost dinosaur-like in their awkward appearance.

In the evening, we tried a random spot and were rewarded with the soft growls and hoots of several Palawan Frogmouths.

And then it was back to Jenny's Kahamut-an for a delicious dinner and a welcome rest in the silence we don't have back at home in the city.

Once again, it was a great trip! I wonder if I should ever tire of birding in Palawan.  It is a place I always look forward to going back to.