It was a spur of the moment decision.
We had our car serviced (oil change, tune up and replaced all four brake pads) so my wife asked, "Shall we go to Candaba tomorrow?"
"I thought you said you wanted to go to Laoag" I replied half-jokingly.
"Then Laoag, it is." she said - to my surprise.
Preparations were made: hotel room booked, and contacted Richard Ruiz, the local birder of Laoag.
Early morning of December 30, we were off. Eleven hours later we checked in at the Java Hotel. Exhausted from the long, stressful drive - the last six hours even more so because of all those tricycles and motorcyclists hogging the main road - we promptly fell asleep as soon as we checked in. We woke up a couple of hours later just in time for our date with fellow birders Irene, Kitty, Mel and Rob at the La Preciosa restaurant. Dinner was superb (the funny sounding "poqui-poqui" is a must-try) and even made better by great company.
Bright and early on New Year's eve we met up with Richard at McDonalds. Soon we were on our way to Gabu Sur a district of the city of Laoag.
"What are your target birds?" Richard wanted to know.
"Yellow Bunting and Spot-billed Duck," was my reply.
Perhaps Richard was surprised at our short list, after all there were other unusual birds that had been seen here recently, but he kept that to himself.
The very first of these unusual birds that we saw was the Black-necked Grebe (perhaps only the second sighting record in the Philippines). It was all by its lonesome self in one of the ponds.
A quick look at the flock of ducks only showed a single Northern Pintail and a lone female Eurasian Teal among the Philippine Ducks. The super uncommon Mandarin Duck was nowhere to be found. No Spot-billeds either.
Then Richard took us to where the Yellow Bunting had been seen almost regularly. Of course it was there! However it stayed for only a few minutes and flew off afterwards. We were about to leave when Richard shouted, "They're back!" I thought "they"? True enough there were two, then three. Our final tally was nine Yellow Buntings all in all!
"Let's go see the gulls" Richard suggested. As we were getting back to the car we saw a pair of Brahminy Kites basking in the morning sun.
At the grassy area going to the beach several Paddyfield Pipits and Yellow Wagtails were hunting for insects. Alas, no Red-throated Pipit joined them. The beach itself was quiet and devoid of birdlife, except for a small group of Kentish Plovers on a distant sandbar. Thirty minutes later, Richard proposed that we come back in the afternoon - that was the time Rob and company saw them yesterday, he said. I was about to pick up my gear when I saw a bird flying towards us.
"Gull!" I yelled. Then another very likely of a different species (lighter in color and smaller in size) flew alongside the first one.
The first one eventually landed and Richard told us that it was the Black-tailed Gull. The other one could be the Slaty-backed we surmised.
On our way out there were several Little-ringed Plovers still in breeding plumage scurrying about the grassy area.
A short trip to Paoay Lake was unfruitful only because the birds were about 2 kilometers away. The only consolation was when Cynthia was able to photograph a male Olive-backed Sunbird.
Lunch at Saramsam was splendid. After that we bade goodbye to our friend Richard who had been a great help in finding the birds for us. Three lifers to add to our list before the year ended was all because of his knowledge of the local avifauna.
Cynthia and I returned to the beach that afternoon. Unfortunately it was very windy and no gulls were in sight.
We returned to our hotel, had a light snack and crashed for the night. Tomorrow will be another long, exhausting drive.
Strangers and Pilgrims
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