The setting: Davao. Cynthia and I went to this enchanting place primarily to attend her niece's wedding. There had been a spate of sightings of uncommon birds in this city so we made it a point to allot some time to pursue our hobby.
And so the story begins…
Willing and Eagle
The news spread like wildfire in the birding community - a pair of Philippine Eagles together with their nestling had been discovered in Mt. Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines. Tour groups and many of our friends have been there and returned full of awe and excitement. When these friends learned that my wife and I were going to Davao they urged us to go see the eagles. So we made inquiries. We learned that there were related fees to enter the site - the amounts of which we deemed a bit prohibitive. It is definitely worth it, our friends encouraged us when we voiced out our reluctance to go. Still we were hesitant. Two days before our departure we got word that there would be a military operation to seek out rebel hideouts around the eagle site and access would no longer be allowed. That could have been the last straw. We could have given up after hearing that disheartening news. But somehow it became a challenge - a challenge that we resolved to overcome. After praying, we communicated with Pete Simpson who would be taking us to the Philippine Eagle site, and told him we were good to go. He agreed to pick us at up at 5:30 am on Friday, March 14. Not only were we willing to see the eagles, we were quite eager to do so.
As soon as we arrived at the site, we saw the young eagle on the nest.
The mother was there but she was perched behind some tree branches and afforded only partial views. She flew off (while we were looking at another lifer) and was already out of sight before I was able to turn my camera to it. The locals told us that since the eaglet was now quite big, one or both parents would only come to feed it every other day or so. Such had been the experience of the group who came just a few days before us, not seeing any adult eagle the two times they were there. I was mulling about this when suddenly my wife shouted, "they're flying! they're flying!" I looked and both adults came soaring before us. For about fifteen minutes they glided majestically and not once landing on or near the nest.
Both eagles thermalled higher and higher and were soon out of sight. We were all smiles and let out our breaths which we had been holding in sheer excitement. The members of the local tribe who watched the raptors with us were congratulating us on our luck. This never happened before, they told us, where both adult eagles flew together in full view.
Left and Writhed
We had just seen the baby eagle and were hoping that at least one of the adults would show up when we got our second lifer of the day. Thanks to Brian Powell, a birder friend and Davao resident, who was with us. I was reviewing the photos I just took of the eaglet when our friend said, "look to your left". I squinted my eyes and looked. Pete then offered to point my camera to where Brian was referring. I looked through the lens and almost screamed in delight! A male Writhed Hornbill was feeding it's mate who was confined to the nest hole. Another beautiful and uncommon species to add to our life list!
Happy, thrilled, satisfied, awed, mesmerized and hungry (we had very minimal breakfast) we left the site a little after ten and then had a sumptuous lunch an hour later at Penong's.
Tales from the Cryptic
We were a bit discouraged when we failed to see the Cryptic Flycatcher on our first day. All our friends who had been to the mountain trail at the Eden Nature Resort had seen this bird. I frantically contacted three of them - Rommel, Tonji, and of course, Pete - to give me the precise location where these tiny, plain-colored birds are found.
Having seen the Philippine Eagles early, Cynthia and I decided to try and look for the Cryptics, who were living up to their name, that afternoon. Hoping that our luck that morning would hold up and armed with the directions given by our friends, I even brought along my big lens which was quite a challenge considering the steep and narrow stairs that we would have to traverse to get to the Cryptic site.
As we waited for the birds to appear, it drizzled. Talk about dampening our enthusiasm. Literally. It was right after the precipitation stopped that the flycatchers showed up. A pair of them even! And that was lifer number three.
Is that Really Trogon?
Our fourth lifer was a bonus. It was so totally unexpected that I had my doubts. My wife saw it first.
"Trogon!" she whispered afraid she might spook the bird.
"Yeah, right!" I replied cynically.
I slowly walked over to where Cynthia was. She pointed at a silhouette. I looked. It flew. And then perched out in the open! Definitely a trogon!
It was an amazing day for us - seeing the family of Philippine Eagles despite all the discouraging news that were given us, finally adding the Cryptic Flycatchers to our lifelist on our second attempt and getting surprises such as the Writhed Hornbill and Philippine Trogon. Thanks to Pete Simpson for taking us to the eagle site, to Brian for pointing the hornbill to us, and to Tonji, Rommel, and Pete for giving directions to the cryptic flycatchers.