Friday, March 23, 2012

Ok, Frank, what have you got?

And as it turned out....a lot!!

Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas has been (and continues to be) one of my favorite birding spots in Southern California. So on our second day here I managed to cajole my son, Kurt, to drive me here where we can both enjoy our respective hobbies: birding for me, of course, and mountain biking for him. Cynthia, once again, decided to go shopping and do some personal errands.

As it was in several spring mornings in the past, the very first bird to greet me at Bonelli Park was an American Robin. There it was it's bright orange breast gleaming in the morning sun chasing some tiny insects from the dewy grass. 

As expected, as if I am watching a replay of my past birding adventures here,  after the Robin comes the Western Bluebirds showing up with the males in their sparkling bright blue plumage.

Another thing I love about Bonelli Regional Park is the wide diversity of species found here. Aside from the usual park birds like the Robins and the Bluebirds, there are also some shorebirds like the Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and Snowy Egret. Waterbirds like the Canada Goose, Lesser Scaups and Northern Shovelers are also present.

Northern Shoveler pair
Spotted Sandpiper
I was even rewarded by a fly-by of an immature Bald Eagle!

Spring wouldn't be spring without the loud and incessant love songs of the Great-tailed Grackle and Red-winged Blackbirds.

Great-tailed Grackle
Red-winged Blackbird
I wasn't even aware that several hours had already slipped by until Kurt came gliding in in his bike. As we were packing our gears, I was smiling because I was happy I visited Frank again. And boy, he did not disappoint!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Quick Peck

Our first full day in California is a day of errands. Or should I say, of shopping. My wife, Cynthia, wanted  to get that over and done with as soon as possible so that we can enjoy the rest of our stay here relatively free of obligations.

First, we visited my daughter's home in Arcadia to get some documents we needed to determine if we needed to pay taxes. Inasmuch as her place was very near one of my favorite birding haunts, I insisted that we make a quick birding foray there.

Peck Road Water Conservation Area (aka Peck Pit to local birders) still harbored some nice birds that lovely spring morning. There weren't that many in terms of species but those that were there were surprisingly friendly. The very first bird we saw was a totally unexpected Mountain Chickadee. As its name implies these are birds found in higher elevations. Peck's Pit by any stretch of the imagination can never be considered a mountain or even a hill for that matter.

The chickadees turned out to be only the first among other surprises that morning. A Great Egret seemed out of place hunting among the tall grass hundreds of feet away from the nearest body of water.

Another oddity was a pair of Killdeers, which is a type of plover, doing their quaint stop-and-go antics on a grassy patch.

Cassin's Kingbirds, although a regular winter visitor were so unmindful of human beings that one of them flew from a nearby perch to the ground just a few feet in front of me!

Even the usually skittish Mourning Doves were quite accommodating too.

Despite just having a quick peek at Peck's Pit, I was happy to once again see my favorite birds here in Southern California.

Monday, March 05, 2012

This was Owl I got!

Arguably the most visited and photographed species nowadays is the Philippine Eagle Owl family in the town of Angono. These birds are so cooperative that their pictures had been taken from almost every conceivable angle.  However when I, together with friends Jun Osano and Mark Jason Argallon, arrived early Saturday morning, not a single one of the three owls were present!

Eventually Jun was able to spot the adult female. Later on we also had glimpses of the juvenile. It was quite unfortunate that these owls never gave us a clean, clear look. Unlike what they did to those who had been here before us. (And may I add also to those who came later). Nonetheless I was quite happy with the photos I got after about three hours of enduring the heat and the pesky mosquitoes. Focusing on the antics of the female, I captured the various facial expressions of this huge bird.

omg! Bob, is that you?
trying to impersonate Mr. Magoo
the owl version of O_o
Popeye the sailor owl
ok, enough already, i'm going to sleep

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Two Birders to go - Olango Trip

Here I will talk about our adventures and the logistics involved in our trip to the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary. Since this was our first time to go to that place, we had some hits and misses in terms of transportation and dining experiences.


We booked at the Island Stay Inn in Mactan Island. It is a modestly-sized hotel not that far from the airport. The room we got had two full-sized beds, an airconditioner, hot and cold shower and a TV with cable channels. It didn't have a clock, a microwave oven or a refrigerator though. For the room, I'd give it 3 stars. However, I would gladly give 5 stars to the hotel staff, especially to the doorman and the front desk personnel. They were all very helpful and quick in responding to our requests. We would definitely stay here again in the future.


Mactan Island offers a great variety of transportation options: Taxis are practically everywhere. Then there's the usual jeepneys and multi-cabs. For shorter trips, tricycles are also plentiful. From the airport we took a taxi to the hotel. We took taxis to the places we visited for the first time (Mactan Shrine, Angasil Pier) then jeepneys/multicabs on the return trips. Not familiar with the city, we got lost a couple of times on our return from the Mactan Shrine. Thankfully, the locals were very kind in directing us to the places where we can get the jeepney to take us to our hotel.

From Mactan we took a pumpboat going to and from Olango Island. At Olango we rode a very tightly spaced tricycle to and from the Sanctuary.
boarding and disembarking a pumpboat


Our very first dining experience in Mactan was sadly quite disappointing. We've been hearing from our friends who had been here before to try a "sutukil" restaurant. "Sutukil" stands for "sugbo" (grilled), "tuhog" (barbecued) and "kilaw" (raw seafood fermented in vinegar). One of the more famous ones was the "Salo-salo sutukil". Little did we know when we got there that this area behind the Mactan Shrine was a tourist trap. Rows of "sutukil" restaurants and souvenir shops lined a narrow unpaved street. At Salo-salo, we ordered a "tangigue" (mackerel) filet for me and small "lapu-lapu" (sea bass) for Cynthia. We had them grilled. Then we also ordered "adobong kangkong" (river spinach cooked in vinegar and soy sauce) to go with Garlic fried rice. When we got the bill, we were shocked to find out that it totalled 980 pesos! Examining the details we discovered that we were charged 240 pesos for the "adobong kangkong" almost the same price for each of the fish dishes. Which of course is completely ridiculous, considering the market price of raw "kangkong" is only about 9 pesos a bundle. But they charged us 120 pesos for the bundle, then an additional 80 pesos for cooking it and another 40 pesos for the other ingredients that went with it (tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, etc). My wife just couldn't take such deviousness quietly. She stormed to the cashier, demanded an explanation and finally got a 100 peso discount resulting in a final bill of 880 pesos. Which is still outrageously high. We left the place in a huff and hurried back to our hotel. When we related the story to the hotel clerks, they surmised that the reason the restaurant personnel did that was because I "looked" like a foreigner and ergo has a lot of money. So whenever you are in Mactan DON'T EVER GO TO THE SUTUKIL RESTAURANTS BEHIND THE MACTAN SHRINE. Even if you are not "foreign-looking" if they sense that you are not a local, they will, I'm quite sure, overcharge you.

adobong kangkong and garlic rice
grilled seabass
grilled mackerel
That evening we ate at the Harbor City restaurant which is at the Marina Mall - a short walking distance from the hotel. It is a dimsum place and food was good but not that great.

Breakfast and lunch on the following day was the Zubu Chon restaurant which is located at the lobby of our hotel. Food here is excellent, reasonably priced and service is absolutely great! Their specialty, the Cebu Lechon (roast pig) is a must try and I highly recommend it.

dried fish breakfast
lechon flakes breakfast
monggo soup for lunch
crispy lechon for lunch
Dinner that night was at Chowking and like any fast food restaurant, the fare was so-so. What was even more pathetic was that half the items in their menu were not available which unfortunately included what we wanted to eat.

On our last day, breakfast was at MacDonald's which can be reached via multicab. Breakfast was the same as in any MacDonalds in the Philippines so nothing new there. Lunch was once again at Zubu Chon. At least our last meal in Mactan left a good impression on us.


Hotel stay: Island Stay Inn @ 1,650 pesos a night. We stayed for 2 nights. Total = 3,300

Day 1 Airport to Hotel via taxi - 60 pesos
           Taxi to Mactan Shrine - 120 pesos
           Lunch at Salo-salo Sutokil - 880 pesos
           Jeepney to Island Stay Inn - 9 pesos per person (actually costed three times more because we got lost twice)
          Dinner at Harbor City - 274 pesos for both of us (senior discounted)
          Total Day 1  = 1,352

Day 2 Breakfast at Zubu Chon - 234 for both of us (senior discounted)
           Taxi to Angasil Pier - 140 pesos
           Pumpboat to Sta. Rosa Pier (Olango) - 10 pesos per person 
          Tricycle from Sta. Rosa to and from Olango Sanctuary - 240 pesos
          Entrance Fee at Sanctuary - 20 pesos per person
          Photography fee - 500 pesos per camera
          Guide fee - 500 pesos
          Use of bathroom -  5 pesos (as a donation)
          Pumpboat from Sta. Rosa to Angasil - 10 pesos plus 1 peso terminal fee (per person)
          Tricycle from Angasil Pier to Main road - 8 pesos per person
          Jeepney from Angasil to Hotel - 9 pesos per person
          Lunch at Zubu Chon - 455 pesos (senior discounted)
          Dinner at Chowking -  120 pesos (senior discounted)
          Total Day 2 - 1,810

Day 3 Multicab fare from Hotel to MacDonalds - 7 pesos per person
          Breakfast MacDonalds - 150 pesos (senior discounted)
          Multicab from MacDonalds to Hotel - 7 pesos per          person
          Lunch at Zubu Chon - 445 pesos (senior discounted)
          Taxi from Hotel to Airport - 65 pesos
          Total Day 3 = 688

          3-day Total = 7,150 pesos 

Terminal fees - 200 per person. Total round trip = 800 pesos

Grand Total = 7,950 pesos (tips and gratuities not included)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Slosh and Burn

The thought of going to Olango horrified me. I tried not to show it and I hope my wife did not notice it. Perhaps it was the fear of traveling in a pumpboat while carrying my camera and long lens. Although they were stowed in a backpack for easier transportation, images of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment plunging into Davy Jones Locker while crossing the narrow plank to board the boat sort of worried me. Then there was the vision of being caught in the onrushing waters of a coming high tide. Being someone who can drown in a bathtub, that notion scared the bejeebies out of me.

And as it turned out, all that anxiety for nothing.

The planks used for boarding and disembarking from the motorized boats were steady enough for me and my heavy load. Besides there were even improvised handrails and helpful crewmen. What about the high tide? The deepest I got submerged in was up to my ankles only. 

We arrived at the Olango Island Bird Sanctuary around 7:30 am. While registering, we asked the person in charge if Boy the local guide (who was heavily recommended by friends who had been here before) will be coming. To our disappointment we learned that he won't be able to make it since he had to take his child to the hospital. Thankfully, Jun, another employee of the DENR (Department of Energy and Natural Resources), was available and willing to show us where the birds are.  Since it will only be me who will do the bird photography, we agreed that Cynthia will just stay at the observation deck to relax and enjoy the scenery. 

The tide was still very low at that time of day and the birds were only specks in the horizon. I was initially wearing a long-sleeved shirt (to protect my arms from sunburn) but by simply walking from the Nature Center to the observation deck my shirt was sopping wet from my perspiration. I had no choice but to take the darn thing off. Half-naked I followed Jun to the haunt of the waders. For more than three hours, we sloshed through the shallow sea waters stopping every so often when a bird appears within photographic distance, roughly about 20 meters or so. The sun was shining fiercely and since the expanse  offered no cover at all,  I got burned badly. Apparently the sunblock my wife smeared all over my torso and arms didn't do much of a job.

At around 11 in the morning, the tide came rushing in. So did the migrant birds. I only had a short window of time before the swift flowing waters drove the waders farther away. Frantic shooting became the norm. Then all of a sudden the birds were gone.

Once again I waded through ankle deep waters and my skin tanned to a degree of redness that was not unlike that of an American Indian. Red Seawalker should have been my name then. Nonetheless, I was all smiles knowing that through my sloshing and burning I have harvested five lifers that morning.

Lifer # 1
Greater Sand Plover
Lifer # 2
Great Knot
Lifer # 3
Eurasian Curlew
Lifer # 4
Terek Sandpiper
Lifer # 5
Little Tern