Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Visit Monterey Bay to go birdwatching? Why not! Avoid the tourist packed Fisherman's Wharf and go to the neighboring pier instead. Yes, there were still some people and yes, lots of boats and yachts moored close by but birds there were! We got a lifer even!

Half asleep on the calm waters of the bay was a bird we had not seen before.

Cynthia: What bird is that?
Me: Scuzza me, but in old Monterey that's a Murre.

Common Murre
Then there were the usual gulls mostly Ring-billed and Western. But also an uncommon Heerman's.

Pelagic Cormorants were busy diving for fish.

No trip to Monterey would be complete without seeing those utterly adorable Sea Otters!

A surprise was when we saw a Pigeon Guillemot! We saw one several years ago on a distant cliff near Santa Cruz. But this one was so charmingly close!

Finally as we were about to leave...

Cynthia: What bird is that?
Me: Like the sea and sand, in a very public wonderland, a Loon at last!

Pacific Loon

Monday, March 28, 2016

Dearly Bonelli

Another birding hotspot in southern California that had become dear to our hearts is the Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas. The place is huge with a diversity of environments. A lake separates the north and the south sides of the park. More often than not we bird the south side simply because it is bigger.

For our second sortie, we of course chose Bonelli Park. First bird we saw was the American Robin, a can't-miss species here.

Another common bird is the Black Phoebe - not just here but in almost every city park in California.

Woodpeckers are usually not easy to find but somehow this Downy was too busy hunting for insects to be aware of two gawking birders.

Another common park resident is the Western Bluebird.

As we approached the lake, we encountered some shorebirds. The Greylag Goose is so common that birders no longer pay attention to them.

Then there are the Egrets - both Great and Snowy.

Great Egret
Snowy Egret
On the lake itself were several kinds of Grebes including two species that almost look alike it's hard to tell one from the other. The Western and Clark's Grebes - can you tell the difference?

Clark's Grebe
Western Grebe
At the western side of the park, we were lucky enough to see the very uncommon Lawrence Goldfinch albeit from a distance.

There were also blackbirds galore. Both the Great-tailed Grackle and the Red-winged Blackbird reside among the reeds.

Great-tailed Grackle
Red-winged Blackbird
Another beautiful birding day ended before noon. We were all smiles as we said goodbye to our dearly beloved Bonelli Park.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Eaton

Think of it as going back to a restaurant where you've dined before and where you enjoyed the good food and the ambience each time you've been there. That was the same feeling we had as we visited Eaton Canyon Nature Park in Pasadena. Just like good eating at a favorite restaurant, it is always good birding at Eaton.

And so the very next day after we arrived, jet lag notwithstanding, we started our birding USA at good ol' Eaton Canyon. As we got off our vehicle, we met another bird photographer who told us he was looking for the quails. We wished him luck and we proceeded to the area next to the nature center. Guess what was the first bird we saw. California Quails! A pair of them! Here is the more colorful male.

Aside from the quails, we encountered the usual species that call this park their home. The migrant Audubon's Warblers were still here albeit already in their breeding plumages.

House finches were into nesting mode and this brightly colored male was keeping a wary eye on a lizard with a blue throat. Or vice versa.

House Wrens were even more audacious as they sang just a few feet away from us.

A surprise was a Band-tailed Pigeon. This was the first time we've seen this species here. We suspected that they were also building a nest nearby.

Quite common here in Eaton Canyon is the mysterious Wrentit. It is a species that is only found in western North America - from Oregon to the northern Baja Peninsula. It belongs to its own taxonomical family and despite looking like a Wren and a Tit (hence it's name) it is not scientifically related to either one. Although a skulker, it is also a curious bird and would often pop-up close by to look at human passersby.

Another surprise was when we saw a pair of coyotes walking near the edge of the park boundary. Although Eaton Canyon is quite huge, it also abuts several subdivisions. To see coyotes so close to civilization is intriguing.

Walking back to the parking lot, we were rewarded with good looks at a pair of Red-crowned Parrots checking out a possible nesting site on top of an electrical pole. Natives of northeastern Mexico, there are now several feral populations here in southern California, very likely descendants of escaped caged birds.

It was a relatively short sortie at Eaton Canyon but we were happy that our first birding day was good. Very good.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Two for the Road

We had to do it again. We hoped it would be better the second time around.

When Cynthia and I birded the long Marikina to Infanta road last September we were a bit disappointed with the scarcity of birds. We thought that it was because we started out a bit late and therefore missed the early morning activities of the birds in the area. This time we left the house at 5 am and were at the birding site an hour-and-a-half later. The sun was already shining brightly then and the birds were surprisingly few. A couple of Balicassiaos flew across the road, stopped for a very short while and then flew off.

My wife's sharp ears told her that there were some birds nearby. The problem was they were nowhere to be seen. Philippine Bulbuls, even a Tailorbird, Black-naped Orioles, White-eared Brown Doves, Coucals were all vocalizing but preferred to be hidden from view. "Flowerpeckers!" Cynthia excitedly peered through the dense leaves. A speck flew overhead and landed on top of the tree across from where we were. "Red-keeled!" I called out as we took several shots.

We resumed our driving after that. However after about 30 minutes we still have not seen anything exciting so we both agreed to turn back and try again the place where we saw the Red-keeled Flowerpecker. Indeed birds were still twittering when we got there. This time another flowerpecker copied the action of its cousin which we saw earlier. The Pygmy Flowerpecker perched almost at the same spot where the Red-keeled did an hour ago.

Cynthia then noticed a raptor flying overhead. It was a Philippine Serpent Eagle soaring despite some feathers missing in one of its wings. 

We were still looking up when a flock of about 20+ Grey-faced Buzzards glided beneath a clear blue sky.

With the raptors gone, I noticed some movement near a barren hillside. Getting closer I was amazed to see quite a number of Blue-throated Bee-eaters either digging a hole for a nest or checking possible sites to begin one. 

On several occasions, they would fly around and that was when we tried getting some BIF (bird in flight) shots.

It being the onset of summer here in the Philippines, the heat was already getting unbearable. It was not even ten in the morning yet. We agreed to call it a day. A kilometer down the road, however, I spotted a male Pied Bush Chat perched on a bamboo fence. As we got off our car we also noticed that there was also a female. Two of them actually.

Having had our fill of bush chats, we packed up and headed home. Although we didn't see a lot of birds (again!), we were glad that now we got some good shots of two kinds of flowerpeckers, two kinds of raptors and a pair of Pied Bush Chats. Not to mention scads of bee-eaters. Take two on this road wasn't really bad this time.

Summer Break

Because it's summer here in the Philippines and I need a break. No stories, just a photo of a Chestnut Munia with a caption. Enjoy the pun!

Chestnut roosting on an open wire

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Much Bee-eater There

What started off as a lemon ended up as lemon pie a la mode. 

It was one of those bumpy beginnings of an early morning birding. As we entered the Nabasan trail in Subic we saw our friend and topnotch bird guide Nicky Icarangal. He was showing several foreign birders the local avifauna. After the greetings, Nicky told us that they had just seen some Rufous Coucals and they were now going after a Rough-crested Malkoha. While I and birding companions Peter and Wenxing were still setting up our gears, my wife got a glimpse of the Rufous Coucal. A glimpse and some really bad photos.

Other than an attention-starved Black-naped Oriole who kept calling overhead and a flitty Balicassiao, no other members of the avian species were seen. Nicky then called us saying that they have the Malkoha on sight. By the time we got to where they were, only a few strands of the red-crest were visible.

With Nabasan disappointing us, we all agreed to try the Botanical Garden area and maybe see the elusive White-fronted Tit. 

The tall, leafless tree that hosted about a dozen species last month now only showed a pair of Whiskered Treeswifts. There we met our friend Bim (who was with us that lucky February day) along with his wife, Gina and birding pal, Cris. After a while Bim and company decided to take a steeper trail. Since Peter and I were carrying heavy gears, we thought it would be prudent to forego the hike and just continue birding in the area around the Botanical Garden.

Here we saw a nesting Coleto. Then we began seeing green. I got the endemic Philippine Green Pigeon as it dove (no pun intended) from a high branch.

The Green Imperial Pigeon (which actually is more greyish than green, but then there is also a bird named Grey Imperial Pigeon) however remained high in the towering tree.

Of course, the White-fronted Tit was again a no-show.

Back in Nabasan, our misfortunes began to turn around as we saw a male Luzon Hornbill enjoying some fruits.

Near the exit, a Blue-naped Parrot popped into view.

We saved the best for last. We knew that this is the nesting season of the Blue-throated Bee-eaters. Off to Cubi Point we went because the bee-eaters were there. By the roadside were dozens of this colorful insectivores. 

We did one more stop at the area near the Jest Camp. We were rewarded by more views of another male Luzon Hornbill. Some sort of icing on the cake.

Although at the start our birding day was not as successful as we had hoped, the ending was definitely satisfactory. Especially at Cubi where the bee-eaters were nesting. It was much better there.

Oh, I almost forgot. I got a lifer too! It was at the Botanic Garden area. While I was staring at the blue skies I noticed some swifts that were bigger than the others flying above. The wings seemed a bit different too. I took a "documentary" shot. At home I looked at the picture and was ecstatic to discover that my hunch was right. Got myself a Purple Needletail!