Monday, December 17, 2012

The Boat Ride We Would Take

The trail behind the dam yielded nothing but a quick glimpse of a Scale-feathered Malkoha. We were surrounded by a symphony of bird song but the sources of those melodies remained hidden from view. Our host, Karen Ochavo, then suggested we take the banca, a tiny motorized dugout canoe with bamboo outriggers. We would see a lot more birds that way, she assured us. Cynthia and I looked at each other. Being both non-swimmers, we were overcome with extreme hydrophobia - and we were not even bitten by a rabid dog. We hemmed and hawed and made vague promises.

On the way to where the bancas were moored, we noticed our companions, Ruben, Doc Cha, Nina and Irene, all looking up to where Karen was pointing. Okay, there's the sky. Oh, with hundreds of birds zooming about.

"House Swifts!" Karen said.

"I'm not sure" I replied, "maybe sixty miles an hour?"

"No, they are House Swifts, notice they're much bigger than the Glossy Swiftlets?" Karen clarified.

Irene, Cynthia and I (the photographers in the group) tried taking pictures of our lifers but were all unsuccessful. The birds were really swifts.

Then came the moment my wife and I hoped would not happen. We will be doing a boat ride. Just as a precaution all of us were asked to wear life vests. Ruben gave us plastic bags to protect our cameras from getting splashed on or, heaven forbid, dunked. It was established that we will take two bancas; one will have the birders (Karen, Doc Cha, Nina and Ruben) and the other will have the photographers (me, Cynthia and Irene) on board.

photos courtesy of Irene Dy
photos courtesy of Irene Dy
My wife and I uttered a silent prayer as the motor chugged and we headed towards the open waters. The river was calm and even though we were mere inches away from the surface the boat ride was quite smooth. Seeing other bancas loaded with people including small children and not wearing any vests at all somehow gave us confidence on our newfound adventure.

The birds were there alright but as skittish as can be. White-throated Kingfishers (plenty of them), Common Kingfishers and even Indigo-bandeds would fly off before we could get within photographic distance. The same thing happened with several Little Herons we saw along the way. Ditto with a Yellow Bittern.

We also saw several Bulbuls raiding a fruiting tree. They were mostly Philippine Bulbuls but looking at the blurry photographs I took when we got home, I was so thrilled to see a Yellow-wattled Bulbul among them!

The real target of this fluvial expedition was the Grey-headed Fish Eagle. Imagine our excitement when a raptor flew overhead. However our hopes were dashed when we realized it was just a Philippine Serpent Eagle - a species we've seen many times before. 

When we were on our way back, having given up on our quest, our banca started rocking from side to side. The reason for that was because our boatman, throwing caution to the wind (and us almost to the river) suddenly stood up, yelled, "Agila! agila!"and excitedly pointed at something above us. We looked up and there in all its majestic splendor was our second lifer for the day. Not wanting to further rock the boat, despite our eagerness, we slowly lifted our cameras and fired at our backlit subject. Thankfully, the eagle even obligingly perched on a tree top just to assure us that we were not making a mistake in its identity.

Soon we were docking at the shoreline. We rested for a bit and did some leisurely shooting at the Pacific Swallows.

It was a pleasant trip to Ipo Dam. We had the boat ride experience of a lifetime and chalked up two lifers. Our deepest gratitude goes to Karen Ochavo for making all these possible. As Yoda would have expressed it perfectly: Karen, yes, House Swifts they are.

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