Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hot 'n' cool

It was 98 degrees in the shade. With a high humidity index to match. In this sauna-like weather, sane, reasonable people stay in air-conditioned rooms and imbibe cool drinks. But not intrepid birders! No, we go out under the blistering sun to look for birds. No, not under the shade of forest trees but out in the open marshlands of Candaba. 

And for what? 

Nothing special, really. We just wanted to go there, is all.

Well, we did see a bunch of Oriental Pratincoles zooming above a pond choked with giant waterlilies. Unfortunately, BIF (birds-in-flight) photography is not my forte, what with my unwieldy zoom lens on a tripod. My wife, on the other hand, was more open to challenges. She persevered, enduring the radiant heat, and kept shooting until she felt that she was finally able to document the aerial aerobics of the fast flying pratincoles.

And then there were those "No! No! Oh no!" moments. A marsh bird would cross the street ahead of us and pause in the middle of the road. We would slowly inch our car closer up to the bird's tolerable distance. We would then turn the car engine off, oh so quietly open the door, bring our cameras to our eyes, focus on the subject and just when we were ready to click on the shutter, a tricycle would come from the opposite direction causing our quarry to dash into the nearest bush. Yes, it happened several times - to aWhite-browed Crake, a couple of White-breasted Waterhens and some Barred Rails. With the amount of shots that we kept losing to the motorized monster, we thought the odds would eventually turn in our favor. Thankfully it did and we finally got a White-breasted Waterhen as it stopped to give us one last look before it disappeared at the other side of the road.

In every outing there usually is a "thriller" moment. This time it seemed a tad more appropriate when I got some nice open shots of a Pied Triller - a bird we didn't expect to see in this kind of environment. 

For Cynthia it was a Yellow Bittern taking one big step over a lotus leaf.

At about 11 am, the heat had become unbearable. Somehow the cold bottle of water didn't have much effect on us. Perhaps it's because it set us back 150 pesos (about $3.50) for a bottle that isn't even half a liter in size. Actually, the 150 pesos was for an "entrance fee" and the bottle of water came "free" with it. This was the first time we've been asked to pay the "entrance fee" (and we've been here many times in the past). But I don't want to dwell on that.

As we prepared to leave for home, we were happy that we still got some cool bird shots to alleviate the effects of the hottest day of the year.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cuckoo Nuts

It's been a week since we returned to the Philippines and we're still fighting, albeit unsuccessfully, a battle against jet lag. As had been the case in the past week, we woke up at around four last Saturday morning. I so wanted to go to Mt. Palay-palay for some serious birding, but a lingering headache just won't go away. A couple of hours later, the headache subsided significantly but it would be too late to go to Palay-palay to see the birds there, what with the sun already blazing fiercely this early in the morning.

So Cynthia and I opted for Plan B - the good ol' reliable campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, a mere 15 minutes away from home. 

Despite being there quite early, we didn't see much. The Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers were quite active though and we spotted several pairs busily searching for food. 

A number of Pied Trillers were also out and would occasionally perch low enough to curiously eye the couple of birders below. 

The Blue Rock Thrush was not at it's usual place near the MSI building and the Coppersmith Barbets were also a no-show. We tried the vicinity of the Main Library but there's wasn't much bird activity there either.

I suggested we try the Beta Way where friend and fellow-birder Maia Tanedo saw an Oriental Cuckoo earlier in the week, hoping we would be just as lucky. Just as we entered the path we were pleasantly surprised to find not just Maia, but also Jops Josef, and brothers Mark Jason and Vj Argallon. And yes, they had the Oriental Cuckoo in their sights. For the next hour or so, we went nuts as we played some sort of a hide-and-seek game with the uncommon bird. It would stay in the dark recesses of an acacia tree and then suddenly would dart off and grab a flying insect in midair, alight on a branch to finish it's meal, wait for another prey and repeat the scenario all over again. Until finally it flew off leaving my wife and I thrilled (did I mention that it was a lifer for us?), energized (despite the stifling summer heat), and happy (for meeting old friends and gaining new ones).

And oh, as a bonus there were at least a couple of Grey-streaked Flycatchers in the area as well that were so oblivious of us as we were (almost) of them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It was like meeting old friends again - the incessant calling of a Northern Mockingbird expressed in a variety of trills and warbles, crows flying overhead and harassing an occasional raptor that happened to pass by, the quick darts of a Black Phoebe as it chased a hapless insect. 

Birds quite common in Southern California. 

Cynthia and I were thrilled and excited to once again encounter many of the American birds that had been part of our lives until about a year ago. We recently "vacationed" to California for a few weeks primarily to visit my children and my grandkids and to take care of some personal stuff. Then, of course, came the birding part. We went to the places we used to frequent covering a wide variety of  habitats so as to maximize the number of species we plan to observe.

First of these was at Legg Lake where the avian population has grown accustomed to the presence of human beings. After all this is a park where joggers jog and families go for a stroll. The variety of birds were so incredible that we saw American Robins and American White Pelicans by just standing on one spot. 

Great Blue Herons and Song Sparrows were almost side by side.

Then there was the Bolsa Chica wetlands which was just across the Huntington Beach area where scantily clad heliophiles were enjoying the onset of spring weather. Unfortunately most of the wintering birds, like the wild ducks, had already flown back to their breeding grounds. On the other hand, the species still lingering behind had started to molt into their more colorful breeding plumage such as this Horned Grebe.

The following day we were at Bonelli Regional Park where the colorful Lesser Goldfinches and Western Bluebirds came to play. 

A couple of days later we were enjoying the cool air of Placerita Canyon and watching the antics of the lovely Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Warblers rule! seemed to be order of the next morning at Peck Road Park as Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned and Nashville Warblers untiringly searched for food among the leaves and branches of the sycamore tree close to where my wife and I were standing. The piece de resistance however came in the form of a very uncommon Cassin's Vireo swallowing a huge caterpillar a mere 3 meters away.

On our last birding day we planned to go to the San Gabriel mountains for some montane birding. However heavy fog forced the closure of the only road going there. We ended up birding two of our favorite places in Pasadena: Hahamongna Watershed Park and Eaton Canyon where we saw a  couple of brown birds, the bold California Thrasher and the very intriguing Wrentit.

Six days of birding gave us a smorgasbord of avian variety - from the tiny, colorful hummingbirds to the huge yet graceful pelicans. Not as many species as we had hoped for but still a joyful experience.