Monday, February 13, 2012

Friends in a Frenzy

They came in waves and so did our frenzied photography.

Cynthia, myself and friends Ralf Nabong and Peter Ting were at Bangkong Kahoy at the foothills of Mt. Banahaw. We three guys stationed ourselves at the deck of Ramon Quisumbing's house waiting for the Plain Bush-hens to appear. Resort owner, Dion Pullan, placed some bananas at the walkway hoping to lure the elusive birds into the open. As we waited, Cynthia ventured into the nearby lawn following the bird sounds that she kept hearing.

Minutes passed. Ralf looked at the bananas through his binoculars and was surprised to see a huge rat feasting on it! No wonder the bush-hens chose not to show up. While we were shaking our heads at missing a possible lifer, Cynthia came and showed us a photo of a bird she had just photographed. It was in the trees near the lawn, she said, along with other birds. It was a Citrine Canary-Flycatcher.

We all darted to the lawn and sure enough, birds were all over! The wave had began. Aside from the Citrine Canary-Flycatchers were Blue-headed Fantails, Mountain and Yellowish White-eyes and Elegant Tits. Although I have seen and photographed these birds before, I was so glad that both Ralf and Peter were having a blast at taking the pictures of their lifers.

The wave came at least three times in a span of about three hours. During one of the lulls, I was wondering aloud why the Sulphur-billed Nuthatches seem to be absent from the flock. While I was about to descend to the lawn (coming from the main deck) I noticed something moving along the mossy trunk of a tall tree. At first I thought it was just another Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker which were surprisingly quite plentiful that morning. Looking through my lens, my heart skipped a beat as I realized that it was a Nuthatch! Two of them even. I yelled at my friends who flew from the deck to my side in an instant. And the photographic frenzy once again ensued.

Ten o'clock and lull time. We evaluated our situation. Having already turned down Ramon's invitation to explore the higher elevations due to time constraints, we all agreed to pack-up and head for Villa Escudero where Ralf's family is waiting for him.

We entered Villa Escudero via the Hacienda route which passes through some lush grassland and coconut groves. A preening Paddyfield Pipit greeted us at the rotonda. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and White-breasted Woodswallows were perched on the electric wires offering good photo ops.

As we proceeded to the lunch area, we met our gracious host Mela Balcazar, who regaled us with tales of awesome birding in Zamboanga City.

The lunch area which was next to a cascading wall of water was packed! Weekend vacationers were enjoying the sumptuous lunch while having their feet immersed in cool, running river water. We of course joined in and gorged ourselves with the delicious native fare.

After lunch, Ralf, Peter and myself staked out the Indigo-banded Kingfisher. The presence of tons of people prevented it from returning to its usual haunt. An insouciant Grey Wagtail however stayed close by and itself feasted on its own buffet of insects.

Even when the dining area eventually emptied out, the resident kingfisher remained distant. One glimpse of its silhouette was all that we got in almost three hours of waiting. As a consolation, two Philippine Coucals chased each other among the trees by the river.

At three in the afternoon we decided to call it a day. It was a good birding day for us, especially Peter who is quite new into bird photography. Practically every species that we saw were lifers for him. In my case, although I missed two out of three of my target lifers at Bangkong Kahoy (Plain Bush-hen and Island Flycatcher) I managed to get the third one (Green-backed Whistler). That made me whistle in delight.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Here's Looking at You, Kid!

I've been photographing birds for about seven years now and the results of my endeavors had been pretty much random in terms of poses made by my subjects. Until last Saturday, February 12th. My wife and I, along with fellow bird photographers Ralf Nabong and Peter Ting, went to Bangkong Kahoy first then had lunch and more birding at Villa Escudero. Looking at my photographs when I got home I noticed a curious pattern. Many of the birds that I got pictures of were looking directly at me. Birds from both places, I should add, a bit emphatically.

Here they are:

Blue-headed Fantail
Citrine Canary-Flycatcher
Grey Wagtail 
White-breasted Woodswallow
Eerie, isn't it?

Sunday, February 05, 2012


It was a couple of hours past our lunch. The group was getting even more boisterous. Cynthia and I wanted some peace and quiet even for a short time. 

It had been a hectic couple of days with two more days to go in my high school's 50th year class reunion. My wife and I were really enjoying the company of my classmates some of whom I met for the first time in half a century. However, Cynthia and I were both a bit under the weather lately and keeping up with the hyper activities of my batchmates were draining us of what little strength we have.

So it was on that balmy afternoon that my wife and I sort of sneaked out of the resort grounds, now filled with shrieks of delight and peals of laughter as my co-graduates played some games. We wandered around the area enjoying the relative peace and quiet when as we turned a corner, I saw a flock of small brownish birds settle on the stalks of some tall grass on an empty lot. Initially I thought it was just those uber common Eurasian Tree Sparrows. I moved closer. My eyes nearly jumped out of their sockets when I realized I was looking at Scaly-breasted Munias AND White-bellied Munias. White-bellied Munias! I thought this species preferred higher elevations since the two times I saw them were in the mountains of Davao and Antipolo. Even more surprising was that they were not skittish at all. And I did not have my birding camera with me!

Make the most of the circumstances, somebody said, so I used my cellphone camera. Then I remembered I had my point-and-shoot with me. The resulting images were not even of "documentary" quality. 

Trust me there are birds in them thar grasses
A closer look. Scaly-breasted on top, White-bellied on the left.
The important thing, I guess, was that my wife and I saw them and padded our year list from 74 to 76. More than that we were able to get a welcome respite from the rambunctious celebration of my friends. It was like entering a monastery to experience some calming of our souls even for a few minutes.

Strengthened by this experience we returned to the resort. Party on!