Monday, May 20, 2013

Puerto Princesa Birding, Part I - Sun and Rain

A quick check-in at our hotel and hurried lunch at the local Chowking and then we were off on a motorized banca (an outrigger boat). Our destination: Pandan Island. We only had a short window of two-and-a-half hours, 2:00 to 4:30 pm to complete our mission of finding three lifers. Lifers that could be easily seen at this exotic island.

photo courtesy of Irene Dy
As we were chugging along the choppy waters of Honda Bay, Irene got a call. It was from our friend, Tonji. He informed us that Pandan Island was now officially off limits to birders and bird photographers. (We learned later on that this decision was made by the owner of the island because of an unethical behavior of a foreign bird tour guide.) To say that we were shocked by this news was an understatement. My wife, Cynthia, Irene and myself agreed that we couldn't turn back now. After all, Rommel, our friend and local guide, advised us to introduce ourselves to Ka Mamay who will help us accomplish our mission.

Which we promptly did as soon as we anchored at the beach. Ka Mamay welcomed us openly and told the local boys to take us to our first target. Frenel, the oldest among them, led the way through a very thick and tangled forest. I soon discovered that my arm was bleeding. Wrestling with those thorny plants along the way was the culprit. Cynthia's legs and mine were peppered with scratches and insect bites (note: never wear shorts when going through a forest). Take note also that there were no trails in this forest so we had to fight our way against those constricting vines and fend off attacks from the thorny bushes. Add to these the extreme humidity. We were so wet as if we were dipped in a pool of sweat (which we, by all practical means, were).

Then came another bad news: the bird we were looking for was not in its usual roost. Thankfully, these kids never gave up. They fanned out and searched the tree tops diligently. Finally one of them shouted that he found it. Another battle with the vines and various entanglements ensued. At last we  saw all four boys pointing up and smiling. Unlike its previous encounters with birders where it was out in the open, this time the Mantanani Scops Owl thought it more prudent to be almost completely hidden from view. We have that unscrupulous bird guide to blame for this situation. Still we were able to take some photographs albeit only of the head (and even partial at that) to be thankful for.

The second target was a lot easier inasmuch as it could be seen from an open area. A bit far but we still had very good looks at the Grey Imperial Pigeon.

We were taking pictures of this uncommon bird when claps of thunder announced the onset of rain. We abandoned all efforts at locating our third target, the Pied Imperial Pigeon, and hurriedly went back to our boat.

The waves were even more turbulent as we headed back to Puerto Princesa. About fifteen minutes before we landed we were hit by a squall. Once again we were all wet but this time from the pouring rain and the splashing waves.

photo courtesy of Irene Dy
Back at the hotel as we assessed our first birding day in Puerto Princesa, we all concluded that this was one of the toughest times we had in getting a couple of lifers. We had the scars, insect bites and smelly clothes to attest to that. But we look forward to the next three days. Our birding appetite had just been whet.

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