Would you commit a sin just for the sake of getting a lifer? We did, albeit unknowingly. Here's how it happened:
We were twitching for the Greater Painted Snipes which had been seen recently at the Agricultural Park in Los Banos. Despite the diligent efforts of our birding friend, Prof. Tirso Paris, in helping us locate them, we got nada. Because of the sweltering heat, Prof. Tirso bade us goodbye after an hour of fruitless searching.
Inasmuch as it was still early for our lunch date with my high school classmates, we decided to visit the "open university" a site located inside the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) grounds. We know that entry to this place is restricted, but since we were able to get in before by merely leaving my ID with the gate guards we thought that it will be okay to go there again. So we followed the same routine: left my ID with the gate guards and proceeded to the area where we saw a Buff-banded Rail last month.
I was driving slowly scanning the newly plowed rice fields to my left, when I saw something that looked like a marsh bird. I stopped, grabbed my binoculars, and whispered to my wife "male greater painted snipe". I don't know why I whispered since the bird was at some distance away and we were the only people around. Anyway, I wielded my huge 500mm lens and started shooting from my car window. I was deeply immersed in my photographic endeavors that I almost fainted when a guard astride a motorcycle suddenly stopped right next to me. He then proceeded to ask for my "curriculum vitae", as it were. He then told me that I can go ahead with whatever I was doing and politely left.
Back to the male painted snipe - I was so glad that it was not disturbed by this small commotion. However, when I resumed taking its photograph, it slowly ambled over behind some tall grass making it virtually invisible.
We moved on. At the very next rice paddy, surprise of all surprises, was a female (and more colorful) greater painted snipe! At first it was partly hidden among the weeds, so I brought out my tripod, put on it my camera and big lens and plunked it at the edge of the rice paddy. Finally, thinking that I was merely a part of the landscape, the femme fatale of the avian world slowly emerged from her hiding place, followed by one her beaus. What makes the greater painted snipe different from the vast majority of birds is the polyandrous habit of the female. That is why she is more colorful than the male.
When she moved further away from me and went closer to the main road, I told my wife that we would pursue our quarry. As I parked on the other side of the paddy and was getting ready to set up my gear, we were once again hailed by our dear guard on the motorcycle. "Let me know when you are leaving", he said, "the head of security wants to talk to you".
That sort of dampened whatever enthusiasm we had for the painted snipes. Anyway, we got the pictures we wanted, so I motioned the guard to take us to his leader.
We had to take the stairs to get to the third floor which added to my gloom inasmuch as I was carrying a heavy load (both my guilt and my camera). Mr. Espinosa, the Chief Security Officer, reprimanded us for not giving them advance notice that we would taking photographs inside the IRRI grounds. "These are sensitive areas because experiments in the development of rice varieties are done here", he explained, "that's why we don't allow video or picture-taking." We apologized profusely explaining that we intended no harm and it was just the birds that we were after. We even dropped the names of Prof. Tirso Paris and the Undersecretary of Agriculture, Fred Serrano. Obtaining our promise that it would never happen again, the magnanimous officer let us go.
Looking at the painted snipe photographs when we got home that evening, I decided that these were the most precious of all of our bird shots, costing us an utter amount of humiliation. Lessons learned. *Sigh*
A Restful Song
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