Last Monday's ordeal was still fresh in our minds. Sure we saw the uncommon parrotfinches, but we didn't have any photograph to prove that we did. Yes, we were with friends who saw what we saw, however wouldn't it be nice if we had something to look at many moons from now and say, "Ah yes, the trouble we had to go through to photograph that bird!"
My wife and I were wavering if we still wanted to repeat that not so encouraging experience of traversing a deep ravine not being sure that we would be able to accomplish our ambitious goal. Cynthia even went to the extent of saying that if another trip would be planned then I would have to go alone. To which I heroically (and honestly) replied, "If you won't go then I won't go either."
Yet fate sometimes wants to play with our decisions, teasingly asking, "are you sure about that?" It was most likely fate that prompted our friend, Peter, to offer to drive us to Bataan on Saturday so that "we could take photos of the parrotfinches," he said.
It was a deja vu morning, waking up at 2:30 when everybody in our neighborhood was still snoring, fast asleep after some Friday night carousing or resting from a tiring work week. Followed by a quick breakfast at NLEX, and then driving into the dawn, the three of us exchanging stories to keep awake.
The descent into the ravine was not as intimidating as the first time but still so painfully exhausting. At 7:10 in the morning, Bram (who completed our group, along with Martin, Butch, Chee-ann and her husband, Marco, Irene and Kath) saw the uncommon birds flock to the bamboo grove on our side of the ravine! We got some pictures, albeit dark and still a bit far. A few minutes later and the colorful birds flew to the other side and once again became green dots.
Hours passed and our hopes of seeing them close slowly dwindled. Suggestions on where to go birding next were tossed to the group. Candaba? Subic? nearby Balanga was also considered. Chee-Ann and Marco left at about half-past nine due to prior commitments. By ten o'clock we (Peter, Cynthia and myself) decided to follow suit, giving up any hope of seeing the greenfaced parrotfinches up close again.
As we began our trek back, we saw Chee-ann and Marco taking pictures of some birds high up in a tree. "Parrotfinches!" they exclaimed as they pointed to four silhouettes. Peter and I took some obligatory shots, knowing quite well how they will turn out. Suddenly all four silhouettes flew and landed on a bamboo grove nearby. Stinson, our guide, whose eyes were sharper than any hungry falcon, shouted, "They're here! So close!"
In a flash we were next to him and were soon in a frenzy as we photographed the heaven-sent beauties that were so nonchalantly feeding on the bamboo flowers at such incredible closeness. Cynthia asked Stinson to fetch the others who remained behind and inform them of the good news.
As our friends approached the bamboo grove, the finches decided to take a break and flew off.
"Don't worry!" we assured them, "they'll be back!"
For the three of us it was now time to give others the chance to experience what we had. As we approached our car after an arduous uphill hike, a new group of birder friends arrived. Among them were Jops and Maia, Adri and Trinket, Marts, Gina, and Jun. We were updating them on the parrotfinch status when one of them yelled, "Malkoha!" Cynthia called me in a voice that would have been heard a hundred kilometers away but still fell on my deaf ears as I was busy chatting with Jun. Another shout and I finally noticed her and she was pointing to a tree across the road. There in all its glory was a Scale-feathered Malkoha, a bird that I had been wanting to photograph for the past three years! But both our cameras were already lying snug in their respective bags. Hoping and praying that the malkoha would not fly off, I hastily opened my knapsack, withdrew my camera and fired away. The huge bird flew from tree to tree but still very much visible and even photographable. Eventually it flew away and the adrenaline rush slowly dissipated into some form of normalcy.
We were already zooming towards home on the National Highway and we still could not believe our luck. My frustrations from last Monday were replaced by an unbelievable success that Saturday with even a bonus to boot! It was like "was this just a dream?"
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