It seemed like every other bird photographer in MetroManila had taken photos of quite a number of bird species at the TREES Hostel parking lot in Mt. Makiling the past couple of weeks. Sunbirds and Hornbills, particularly.
Early last week the few of us who still had not been to Makiling yet made inquiries from several friends who had been there as to whether the plants frequented by these birds were still in bloom and/or fruiting. The unanimous advice to us was: Be there not later than Saturday..or be ready to be disappointed.
So plans were made. Early Saturday, my wife, Cynthia, along with friends Peter and Bong decided to try our luck. At the hostel's parking lot there were photographers with their equipments all lined up facing the banana-like plant that the sunbirds patronize. Familiar faces like Alex and Cel greeted us and so did old friend, the Undersecretary of Agriculture Fred Serrano (henceforth referred to as USec). Among them were new birders (and new friends) Becky Santos and her son, Kiko. We were later joined by Irene who had been roaming the botanical garden earlier.
Because I had to answer the call of nature and still had to set-up my gear, I almost missed the Grey-throated Sunbird. Thankfully it stayed long enough for me to be able to fire off a few shots. This particular species never returned after that early morning encounter. Cynthia, of course, was there at the onset and had some good photos of this endemic.
During a lull after the Grey-throated had left, my wife, as is her habit, wandered around the premises. She saw a bird, took a picture and showed it to me, albeit a bit reluctantly, thinking it was just a Rhabdornis or even a Grey-streaked Flycatcher. I looked and congratulated her for getting the rather uncommon Striped Flowerpecker!
Suddenly, a bit of a commotion when someone shouted "hornbills!" Indeed, a female perched on a branched and…posed! It was still a bit far though for some in our group who didn't have long lenses.
"Don't worry," USec Fred assured us, "they will be coming soon to a branch near you." He had been watching these big birds for quite some time and since the balete tree in front of us was still fruiting, he was confident that the hornbills (there's a whole group of them, he said) would return to feed.
While we were building up our hopes from that assurance, the Flaming Sunbird decided to make an appearance. The sounds of camera shutters clicking filled the humid air as we all took advantage of the sunbird's insouciance.
There was another lull after the male Flaming Sunbird had its fill. Only to be broken once again by Usec's announcement of the arrival of the hornbill clan. Our friend was right, these birds fed on the berries from branches that were closer than those they were earlier on in our first encounter this morning.
Then it was over. That was one of the most exhilarating hour-and-a-half birding that we had in quite a while. Becky and family bade their goodbyes and those of us left behind were invited by USec Fred to visit the agricultural upland. We followed him as we convoyed over grassy paths. Perhaps it was because of the suffocating heat that there weren't that many birds seen. We thanked our friend and agreed to call it a day.
Bong, Peter, Cynthia and myself talked about where we are going to have lunch. KFC was the restaurant of choice. Come to the branch nearest you was the thought I had but as fate would have it, we ended up at the Caltex rest stop along SLEX. Just like this morning's hornbills having a feast on the tree branch near us we also had a feast at the KFC branch near where we parked our cars.