The text message from USec Fred Serrano was very encouraging: We're having clear skies now. My wife and I looked at each other then at the clock. It was not yet ten in the morning. Just like the characters in a fast forward video, we showered, dressed up, packed our gears and jumped into our car.
There was quite a downpour that morning when we texted our dear friend who resides in Los Banos asking him of the weather situation in his neck of the woods. We had been constantly monitoring the weather reports in the internet the whole day Friday. When all the websites we consulted were unanimous in saying that it would definitely rain in Los Banos on Saturday we scrapped our plans of visiting the Makiling Botanical Garden.
The sun was shining brightly while we were having lunch at Burger King in Calamba. Another text from USec Fred: Sun shining here. We informed him that we were already nearby and will be there soon.
When we entered the campus of the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) where the Botanic Garden was located, it began to rain. Not a mere drizzle but hard, pouring rain.
"Let's go to APEC first," I told Cynthia, "at least we can do some 'dude' birding there."
(Dude birding = birding while inside a car).
The rice had been recently harvested and the fields were fallow. A bunch of Wood Sandpipers and a solitary Little Ringed Plover, later joined by a Yellow Wagtail, were forlornly enduring the raindrops mercilessly beating on their bodies. The rain eventually eased into a slight drizzle. The Buff-banded Rails popped out from the grasslands while the Pied Bush Chats suddenly burst into insect-hunting activity.
When the first streaks of emerging sunlight appeared, my wife suggested we go to the Botanical Garden. Asap.
The mischievous weather thought it would be fun to drop some more rain at us as I eased our car into the Garden's parking lot. Undaunted and armed with an umbrella and a raincoat we proceeded to the fruiting "lipote" tree. Not an easy task because the road going there was uphill and quite slippery. Add to this the fact that I was lugging my 500mm lens mounted on a tripod. After several stops to catch our breath we saw the fabled tree. I was still setting up my equipment and wiping the endless sweat off my brow, when my wife approached and showed me a picture she had just taken.
"What bird is this?"
The image was a bit blurred perhaps due to Cynthia's excitement at seeing something she hadn't seen before.
"Handsome Sunbird," was my reply in a most insouciant manner as if this bird was just one of those you see at every tree in your urban neighborhood.
We were actually overjoyed at having seen a lifer and the very reason we came to this place. The skies celebrated with us by clearing up once again. Sunlight brightened the trees around us. And cranked up the humidity a thousandfold it seemed. Bathed in fresh sweat we took up different positions beneath the "lipote" tree. While my wife was trying to figure out what those tiny feathered creatures lurking in the shadows were, I saw a big bird alit on a relatively open branch. As I peered through my lens, the first thought that came to my mind was: What was an American Robin doing here?
A flurry of shots and it finally dawned on me: Of course it has to be a Brown-headed Thrush! I couldn't believe we got lifer number two in a span of about an hour!
This time Cynthia focused her attention to the bunch of Torch Ginger plants across the road. Soon she was signaling to me and pointing to a particular bloom. On top was a Sunbird. As I took several photos I dismissed the bird as one of those ho-hum Olive-backed Sunbirds. But then why is there orange on its breast? It couldn't be the aurorae subspecies which is only found in Palawan, could it? That night as I reviewed the results of our photographic endeavors I learned that that bird on the flower was a Flaming Sunbird! Not really a lifer but this was the first time we saw it in Luzon.
Back at the "lipote" tree, the activity somehow dwindled. Mostly the small but bullying Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers remained, chasing away any unwary newcomer. Except for one species. A kind of Sunbird which I initially thought as an immature Handsome. Again, after reviewing the pictures that night, this unfazed-by-flowerpeckers bird was a Grey-throated Sunbird - a recent split from the Brown/Plain-throated of Palawan and the Visayas-Mindanao areas. A third lifer for us.
Around three in the afternoon the onset of dehydration resulting from an ocean of perspiration was felt. We packed our gears and plodded back to our car.
There was another pluvial outpouring as we entered the Expressway. Despite that, Cynthia and I were happy and thankful at the outpouring of blessings in getting three lifers in a relatively short span of time. This was a redemption from the disappointments at not seeing the Scaly Thrush in spite of several attempts last year. Was it a coincidence that we just finished our prayer and fasting regimen last week?