Thursday, February 25, 2016

It's Back

The news is that the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo is back at the "Frogs" area in the University of the Philippines' campus in Diliman. There were even postings of its photograph in Facebook. However, during our visits to the place the past couple of months, Cynthia and I never had the luck to see this bird. We did try to look for it but dipped each and every time.

Thursday, February 25 was a holiday (which means there will be relatively less traffic - a good enough incentive to go birding). My wife and I made a quick decision after breakfast to make another attempt at finding the cuckoo - you know, the feathered kind. We invited new friend and new birder, Jo Lapuz to meet up with us at the MSI parking lot. There we also met old buddy, Bong and his wife, Eve. 

As we staked out the place where our target bird supposedly frequently visits, we were joined by Nes Santiago. Later on Sean Melendres, Ben Go, and Jonas Liwag also dropped by.

A little before 9 am, my wife's sharp eyes saw the cuckoo. Unfortunately, it did not stay long enough for us to get good photos. After about an hour I saw the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo alight on the very same tree where we spotted it earlier. This time it was more cooperative. Let me qualify that: yes, it stayed for quite a while for us to get good shots, however, all that time it only showed us its back.

Monday, February 22, 2016

DRTy Looks

Dona Remedios Trinidad is a first class municipality in the province of Bulacan. It was created in September 13, 1977 by a decree issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in honor of his wife's mother. It is the largest town in Bulacan. It lies on the southern edge of the Sierra Madre mountain range. (source: Because Filipinos love abbreviations, this place had been commonly referred to as "DRT".

It was in the forests in DRT that our birder friend, Jonet T. Carpio, encountered the uncommon White-browed Shama. Although usually a skulker and is more often heard than seen, this particular individual in DRT was not as shy as the others of its ilk. Inasmuch as this species would be a lifer for me and my wife, we made arrangements to visit its home on the range.

Early Saturday morning, the four of us; me, my wife, friends Peter and Wenxing, met up with Jonet near the Balagtas exit of the NLEX. About an hour later we arrived at Jonet's place. "It will be another 15 minute hike from here," he informed us, "and we will be fording a couple of streams." It was a bit of a trek, but with the help of the local porters, we got to the site in good time. 

part of the trail
With us were Benjamin Go and Conrad Olayres. A few minutes after we got settled in, our lifer popped into view. It was so accustomed to the presence of humans (photographers even) that there were times we had to move back just to have the bird in focus. 

a close-up view of the White-browed Shama
Wenxing, me and Peter taking pictures of the shama
Soon we were joined by Paolo Dolina and Steve Albano. Another session with the White-browed Shama ensued for almost two hours. There was even a time when it hopped right in front of Cynthia!

We were relaxing while the shama pursued some prey outside of our photographic range when two more bird photographers came. Mark Chang and Christopher Ferrer who had just some good shots of the Scale-feathered and Red-crested Malkoha were now looking forward for a friendly encounter with the star bird of DRT.

DRTy bird photographers
Having had our fill of the Shama, we all agreed to go for the Indigo-banded Kingfisher which Jonet said can be found by the first stream we crossed earlier. It being a Saturday, there were quite a number of picnickers in the place. "Not likely to show up," Jonet said a bit pessimistically, "because there are a lot of people here."

waiting for the Indigo-banded Kingfisher to show up
But luck was still with us because it was Steve who first saw the kingfisher. It was right in front of us across the gurgling stream. Another photo session took place until the increasing volume of music from a nearby radio drove the tiny bird away.

It had been a beautiful day. Not only did we get close looks at our target birds, but we also had a delicious lunch offered by our awesome host which was even enhanced by good company.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fordham Moment

Cynthia and I did our morning walk around our subdivision a little bit earlier than usual. Hoping to see some birds, I brought along my pair of binoculars. When we reached the corner of Fourth and Fordham we stopped for a while to catch our breaths (Fourth Street is a bit steep). That was when I saw an unfamiliar silhouette of a bird perched on a rooftop. It was bigger than the common Eurasian Tree Sparrows and stouter than the slim Yellow-vented Bulbuls. Looking through the bins I could tell it was some kind of a thrush. All I could see was its back so identifying it was a bit of a problem. I gave the binoculars to my wife and told her to keep an eye on the bird because I need to go home to get the camera. Then I ran. For three blocks. (It was downhill so it was relatively easy.) I rushed to our room, picked up the 5D3 with the Tamron lens, loaded the CF card and hurried out of the house. This time it was uphill going back to Fourth and Fordham. My tongue was hanging and I was practically crawling when I handed the camera to Cynthia. Thankfully, the thrush was still there. She took several shots but they were all backlit. Having regained a little bit of strength, I took over the photographic duties. I was trying to open up the aperture a couple of f-stops but the camera wasn't cooperating! Anyway, the thrush was now facing us and looking at the dark photos I was able to get, I was able to confirm that it was an immature Blue Rock Thrush! After a while, the thrush flew off. 

Then a pair of black birds of about the same size flew across the street and landed on top of a water tank. "Crested Mynas!" I yelled as took several shots at the one perched in plain view.

Both birds took off soon after. We returned our attention back to the rooftop hoping that the thrush would return. That was when my wife saw a pair of Chestnut Munias gathering some nesting material from a clump of bamboos in front of us.

We saw the Blue Rock Thrush again when we tried to look for it at the next street. However, it was on a rooftop that was even higher and farther from where we were. Did I say even more backlit than before? We gave up on the migrant bird and walked back to Fordham. Cynthia heard a twittering noise. "There's a bird up there," she said, pointing to the leafy tree at the side of the road. I looked and was thrilled to see a Pied Triller! That was the first time we've seen this species in our neighborhood. 

Then two Black-naped Orioles made a pass over. One of them stopped by to take a look at us before joining its companion.

As we neared the corner of Fourth and Fordham, my wife pointed to a palm tree two blocks away. "There's a colasisi there," she assured me. I looked through my long lens and sure enough, there was indeed a Philippine Hanging Parrot living up to its name and screaming at the Yellow-vented Bulbul perched on the palm stalk across from it. We tried getting closer but somehow the said palm tree was not visible because it was behind a tall house. The colasisi could only be seen from Fordham because this street was on a higher level than the one two blocks from here.

It was almost 8 am and we both were sweating from all that bird chasing. As we slowly walked towards our home, we were so glad that we had that exciting Fordham moment when some not so common birds showed up for us.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Our birder friends from Hong Kong: Wilson Dring and his wife, Peggy; Allwatin Choi and his wife, Grace, flew in to the Philippines for specific reason: to photograph the endemic Spotted Wood Kingfisher. They failed in this endeavor two years ago and now because of the presence of this species in nearby University of the Philippines' campus in Diliman, they are hoping to be successful this time around. Since our friend, Peter Ting, was not feeling well that Saturday, we readily guided our guests to the "frogs" area where the kingfisher had been seen recently.

After a hearty lunch at Cafe Via Mare, we proceeded to the area where our target bird hangs out. As soon as we arrived at the place, I saw the kingfisher fly towards the wooded part. As our friends were putting their photography gears in place, Wilson yelled, "kingfisher!" Not even five minutes have passed since we got there and the Spotted Wood Kingfisher had already been spotted by our friends. For about two hours the friendliest Actenoides lindsayi posed for us.

While our friends from Hong Kong were having a field day photographing their target bird, Cynthia and I scouted the area hoping to see the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo. We dipped on that but got two new friends in return. Brothers Leo and Dennis were looking for the Philippine Scops Owls and we gladly showed them where the nocturnal birds were snoozing. Unfortunately, the owls were so well hidden behind the bamboo clump that it was impossible to get pictures of them. 

At around 4 pm, we had to call it day. Our visitors still had to check in to their hotel and take a much needed rest inasmuch as they've been awake since the early morning hours. It was a happy day for all of us. Wilson, Peggy, Allwatin and Grace all got what they came here for and we were glad that they did.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Dark Side

No, this has nothing to do with Star Wars. Or that I am considering switching to Nikon (heaven forbid!). Allow me to begin the story in a more dramatic way:

It was a dark and gloomy morning. The gray clouds that covered the skies were a portent of something dreary. 

Suddenly a bird perched on a wire right next to us! A dark colored bird silhouetted against a dark background. A photographer's worst nightmare! The male Pied Bush Chat was the first of our dark-sided shots.

A few meters from the Bush Chat was a Spotted Dove desperately hoping for the sun to dry up its feathers.

Further down the road a Striated Grassbird did a ballet split as it turned to look at us as if saying "tough luck, guys!"

Perhaps it was the gloom of the day that doomed our photographic endeavors. Our favorite subjects in this place, the Scaly-breasted Munias, were here alright.  Lots of them, as usual. And yes, we only saw the dark sides of these tiny, active birds.

An hour and a half later, tiny raindrops appeared on our windshield. Our birding day was over.