Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lots of BS

The grounds of the University of the Philippines were not that birdy Saturday morning. Except for Brown Shrikes. It seemed like each time we turned a corner there would be a BS.

Our birding trip to U.P. was a last minute decision. The night before we were warned by our friend, Bong, that there would be an ACET (Ateneo College Entrance Test) on Saturday morning. That would trigger a humongous traffic jam along Katipunan Avenue, he said. Now using Katipunan would be the shortest route from our home to U.P. Not wanting to go through the misery of being part of an impromptu parking lot, I gave up on the idea of going birding on Saturday. 

As fate would have it, my wife and I both woke up at 5 am Saturday morning.

"If we leave before six we could probably beat the onslaught of cars taking test-takers to the Ateneo campus" Cynthia said in a most encouraging way. 

That definitely sounded like a good idea to me. We quickly did our morning ablutions and were out of the house at 5:45 am. As we neared Ateneo University we could see the rows of vehicles filling up all but one lane of the north-bound Katipunan Avenue. To the credit of the traffic controllers, those of us non-Ateneo goers were able to squeeze through the single lane without much high-blood-pressure-inducing delay.

Then came the encounters with the multitude of Brown Shrikes - most of whom were basking in the early morning sun.

Our meanderings brought some nice surprises though. A pair of Large-billed Crows passed by and one of them perched on a not too high branch in front of us.

The biggest surprise was an adult and immature Barred Rail searching for food just behind the Vargas Museum. This was the first time we saw this species in the university's premises. Both were a bit skittish though. Luckily, Cynthia was able to get a photo of the adult.

Nine in the morning and we were feeling the pangs of hunger. We debated on where to have our breakfast, taking into consideration the possibility that the traffic jam along Katipunan Avenue still have not subsided at this hour. All the restaurants that we have considered, unfortunately, would require us to pass through that dreaded route. After praying about it we left U.P. 

There was absolutely no problem negotiating Katipunan! Not only that, there was even an available parking space in front of Banapple - one of the restaurants we have considered - which in itself was another miracle!

Our breakfast was sumptuous and my cafe mocha was heavenly! And that is no BS. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Owl Boobook

It was a little after six pm. Darkness had already fallen. With sighs of disappointment we all agreed to terminate our vigil. I lifted my tripod and with a smidgen of hope looked up to the trees. An object suddenly landed on a branch. What object that size would land on a branch at this time of night - was the thought that filled my mind. 

"I think that's the owl" I cautiously informed our group.

 Jops' sharp eyes focused on the object.

"Boobook! Boobook!" he yelled excitedly.

What happened next was a frenzy. All I remembered was that someone shone a torch at the bird and I just kept firing away.

Our friend, Peter, discovered the presence of a Chocolate Boobook, interestingly enough, in an urban environment. Of course, Cynthia and I wanted to see this Philippine endemic, not only because it would be a lifer for us, but also because it is quite uncommon. As a matter of fact the status of this species was declared "near-threatened" by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) due to "fragmentation of lowland forest habitat".

Together with friends Jops and Maia, we staked out the area where the small owl was seen (and photographed) just the day before. Crepuscule turned into evening and still we have not seen even a glimpse of the object of our hopes. It was when we decided to terminate our vigil that we were finally rewarded with views of the elusive night predator.

When I reviewed my photos the following morning, I was heart broken. All of my shots were blurred!

Just like the Terminator all I can say is….

"Owl Boobook!"

….or words to that effect.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Grey Expectations

Typhoon Luis was expected to make landfall that night. Not surprisingly, the early morning skies were as grey as the American Civil War rebel's uniforms. With that kind of somber atmosphere Cynthia and I held our bird photography expectations to low. As in abysmal low.

There were quite a number of birds that morning in Antipolo. As predicted the great majority of our shots were either painfully underexposed or heartbreakingly backlit (or backlighted to you, grammar nazis). Even our FOS (First of Season) photo of the migrant Brown Shrike was a trash-worthy conglomeration of wasted pixels.

To be fair - and I am definitely NOT referring to the weather - we had some good shots. Like the exceptionally hyperactive (and newly split, now an endemic) Philippine Pied Fantail.

Another endemic, the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker, also gave us some good photo ops.

What got our adrenalines rushing were a couple of Pygmy Flowerpeckers enjoying the fruits of the aratiles tree. This was the first time we've seen this species here. Since they preferred the gloomy understory and given our sunless, dreary, cloudy skies, we hoped, no, prayed that we could get some decent shots of this tiny speck of a bird. Thankfully, our prayers were answered (please note that we asked for a "decent" shot and not for a getting-published-in-a-magazine quality photo).

The dark clouds were now getting pregnant with precipitation telling us to enjoy the blessings that we got and to return to the comforts of our new home. As we prepared to leave, a forlorn Collared Kingfisher sat still and enabled us to take its picture.

But wait, there's more! I told my wife that we should try for one last time to pass by the the haunts of my personal target species - the Tawny Grassbird. We tried twice earlier but were not fortunate enough to see my quarry. As I slowly inched our car by the grassy knoll I caught a glimpse of it! I stopped and saw it land on a stump. I fired away. The result was drab and grey. But it was just as I expected it to be.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Link and a Smile

Please pardon a little shameless plug. My article on the Philippine Eagle had been published in the  September issue of Smile Magazine - the in-flight publication of the Cebu Pacific Airlines. In case you will not be on board this airline during this month, here's a link to the said article:

Note: the photos not taken by me or our guide, Pete Simpson, were added at the editor's discretion.

Enjoy! …..and Smile!

photo courtesy of Eire Daproza-Rivera

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Half a Split?

I am usually a critic of those scientists responsible for giving English names to birds. I mean how in the world could they name Chroicocephalus ridibundus as Black-headed Gull wherein the Latin word ridibundus means Laughing while naming Leucophaeus atricilla as Laughing Gull when the Latin word atricilla means Black-browed (or Black-headed)? Hello! Is there dyslexia among you guys?

However, when it comes to splitting species, I am very much in favor of that. Why? you ask. Because my lifelist gets a boost even while I'm sitting in front of my computer! No need to trek through dense jungle or travel thousands of miles. I look at the latest publication from the renowned ornithologists of the world and find that a new species had been recognized which was split from the previously known one. A perfect example of this was the Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus. Those birds found in Europe, Africa and Asia are still called Common Moorhens but those in North and South America are now called Common Gallinules! Since I have seen and even photographed both, I can now add the newly split, brand new species Gallinula galeata to my life list! Woohoo!

Common Moorhen - in Candaba
Common Gallinule - in California