I already had misgivings about our upcoming birding trip to Candaba. Although Cynthia and I had a blast last month in photographing those oh so friendly rails, this time around I was having this strange feeling that things would be quite different. And I mean the bad side of different. Nevertheless I acceded to the request of bird photographer friend Gabs Buluran that we go visit Candaba the first Saturday of 2012. Joining us in this sortie was another friend, Edu Lorenzo Jr.
Our primary target was the rail population that were, to put it in a single word, abundant, not more than two weeks ago. As we approached that haven of the Rallidae family we were surprised at the conspicuous absence of birds! Only the Eurasian Tree Sparrows (yeah, who cares about those) were there. Deep inside me I was squirming at the thought that my fears were becoming a reality. Little did I know that even worse was yet to come.
We entered the "backdoor" towards the Sanctuary. Just a few meters in and we three were all excited to see some Wood Sandpipers basking in the early morning sun.
I thought our luck had drastically changed. Gabs, who was driving, stopped at the first bend. We all got out and looked at the hundreds of dots - I mean ducks - out there snoozing on the huge pond. While Edu was busying himself in chasing after the Chestnut Munias, Gabs and I waited patiently for the White-browed Crake to fully expose itself onto the ricefield. It never did.
We drove on. Munias were plentiful. And skittish. The Pied Bush Chats even more so, if that is even possible. We stopped where farmers were plowing the field thereby attracting hundreds of egrets (both Intermediate and Little) and Whiskered Terns. My desire to take a photograph of an individual Intermediate Egret became a challenge since there were just too many of them feeding close together.
Moving on. Gabs suddenly stopped when he saw a small flock of Black-winged Stilts starting to stir from their slumber. Thankfully these long-legged birds were still groggy from their sleep that we were able to get some good shots without them flying off.
Even the usually nonchalant doves that barely avoided my car's tires the last time I was here were nowhere to be seen. Except for a Red Turtle Dove that flew to a nearby tree when we approached and afforded us a quick shot.
As we approached the Sanctuary we noticed people. Lots of them. This was no surprise though for I knew all along that birders and bird photographers would be here today. And the reason for my trepidation earlier. Not that having all these bird enthusiasts here was bad. It's just that it is possible that our photographic chances might be a little hampered. That would be because of the presence of many vehicles going hither and thither on a very narrow road.
So we made lemonade from lemons and simply enjoyed a convivial conversation with our kindred spirits. Maia, Jops and Clemence, members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), even allowed us to look through their spotting scopes at the raft of ducks floating lazily in the distance. In the course of our bird talks we learned that they have seen some species that we haven't. Perhaps it was just bad luck on our part. Which, unfortunately, continued even on our way home. Upon my suggestion, we decided to once again look for the Rails by the roadside. A few did show up but as soon as we get the bird in our sights, a motor vehicle would zoom by driving our subject into hiding.
At the end of the day and looking back at what we experienced that morning, I felt a pang knowing that my apprehensions did actually come to fruition. When I told Gabs about it the day before, he said he is determined to get those Buff-banded Rail photos regardless if we encounter a throng of people. To which I jokingly replied, "The more the many-er".