We know that summer comes early in the Philippines, usually around mid-March. However, we are only in the third week of February and the doldrums of the hot weather are already being felt. And negatively affecting our birding plans, like waking up late on a Saturday morning. Saturday morning! - the time when we were usually already on the road by 5 am!
"Where do you want to go birding today?" my wife half-mumbled as she cuddled her pillow and with her eyes still closed.
I glanced at the clock. Almost seven. Getting up, doing the necessary ablutions, having breakfast….I did a quick calculation in my head.
"Let's just go the U.P." I told her. "We have at least one target bird to look for."
"Oh yeah? What bird?"
"There's an Ashy Drongo there!" I replied.
"But we've already taken photos of that in Coron, Palawan, even in Sabah!"
"Ah, but this one is of a different subspecies! It's a migrant!" was my convincing explanation.
Off to U.P. we went. Despite the incentive of seeing a new subspecies, our mood had been uncharacteristically lackadaisical. So much so that I only brought one camera set-up - the one with the shorter lens!
Our first half-hearted attempt was to look for the Scops Owls at the "frogs" area. It was while I was enduring a literal pain in the neck looking up a tall tree that I saw something that piqued my curiosity. It was small - about the size of a Brown Shrike - but the color was deep purple and with faint stripes on its belly. Cynthia and I tried vainly to relocate it after it flew behind some leaves but failed to see it again. Two guys who wer hiking in the trail apparently also saw the bird. One of them, very likely a professor in the university who knows birds, confirmed my suspicion that it was a cuckoo - a Violet Cuckoo! We wanted to stay and wait for the uncommon bird to reappear but the battalion that the local mosquito community ordered to attack us had already started their mission.
We proceeded to the main library. The constant "pok! pok! pok!" of the invisible Coppersmith Barbet filled the air. My wife texted our friend, Maia, who saw the Ashy Drongo last week, to ask her where the fabled bird hangs around. "The tall tree right in front of the building," was her reply, "from 8:30 to 9". I looked at the time. It was 8:30. I looked up at the tall tree. As if on cue, our target bird flew in. Now came the hard part - taking its picture. Somehow it preferred the other side of the tree, where a branch or a leaf would partially cover its head or its body. Once in a while it would perch on the limb of the dead tree, next to the tall one, where it then becomes a silhouette. There were times when I would get so frustrated that Cynthia would grab the camera and took the shots herself. When at last we got a passable photo, we agreed to go look for the Crested Mynahs along Magsaysay Avenue.
A half-hearted drive around and all we got was glimpse of a pair. "Let's go home," I told my wife. Not surprisingly, she concurred. Thoughts of spending the weekend in Subic were quickly dismissed due to lack of enthusiasm.
Summer - air conditioned room, nice comfortable bed, wi-fi. What could be better than that?