Saturday, November 18, 2017

One Fine Day

Ever since we moved to our new place we have not been able to visit our favorite breakfast buffet place as often as we would have wanted. Cafe Sweet Inspirations now being twice as far as when we were at former abode was the main reason for that.

Friday night I was mulling on where to go birding on Saturday. Shall we go back to Infanta and hope that our recent luck would continue? I checked the weather forecast and it said that there would be rain on that part of the country. 

Then there were the recent postings of photos of the pair of Narcissus Flycatchers taken in U.P. Diliman. A male of this species was also seen there way back in 2011. Not seeing it after several attempts moved me into creating a sarcastic video.

October 31 of 2016 we saw the female at Bangkong Kahoy. The day after that, a male Narcissus Flycatcher was reported seen at a tiny patch of woods near the Redemptorist church in Baclaran. That was one successful twitch we had. The curse had finally been broken.

So as I pondered that Friday night, since our beloved restaurant was not that far from U.P., then the conclusion was quite obvious. I turned to my wife and with all seriousness I could muster, I told her: Let's have breakfast at Cafe Sweet Inspirations tomorrow, then go look for the Narcissus afterwards. She smiled and hugged me in response.

Needless to say it was a most satisfying breakfast we had that Saturday morning. With stomachs full, we then proceeded to "Frogs" area in U.P. The first bird we saw was a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.

After that we met University professor, and fellow birder, Carmela Espanola, who was so kind to show us where our target birds had been observed.

While Cynthia was stalking some birds down the trail, I stayed where the bamboo grove was. Somehow I felt as if someone was whispering to me, telling me to turn around. So I did. At a distance I saw a bird with an orange breast. Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, I thought to myself. I raised my camera to my eyes and as soon as I focused on the bird, I realized it was what we were looking for. "Narcissus!" I yelled to my wife. The moment she came next to me, the colorful flycatcher moved a bit closer to us.

Soon it flew away. My wife continued looking for other birds and I still remained hoping the male Narcissus would return. It didn't. But then the female showed up.

After that, we both agreed to now look for other birds in the campus. Not that far from the flycatcher area, we encountered a Red-keeled Flowerpecker picking on the fruits of the aratiles tree.

Driving around the Rotunda, I noticed a patch of grass and told Cynthia, "How come there are no Pipits here." I have barely finished the sentence when I saw two, yes two! Paddyfield Pipits. 

Then, of course, there was the obligatory shot of the friendly Long-tailed Shrike. This was taken from our car window and was almost full frame from my wife's comparatively shorter lens.

We then drove to where a Ferruginous Flycatcher was seen around this time of the year back in 2010. Seeing it again was a shot in the moon, a hope against hope kind of thing. Of course it wasn't there. On the way out Cynthia suggested, "Why don't you take a photo of the Woodswallow? You know, just to complete our day." So I did.

Starting the day with a sumptuous breakfast, getting our target birds, and then going home with the sun shining brightly and without the dreaded traffic. It was indeed one fine day.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Getting Caught in the Rain

Drizzle. Rain. Fog. Sunshine. Repeat.

That was the fickle kind of weather that welcomed us at Infanta last Saturday morning. Birding in that situation was challenging to put it mildly. It was during those gaps between showers that some feathered creatures showed up. Occasionally we would be rewarded by the passing of mixed flocks. These were usually led by Yellowish White-eyes which preferred the tree tops.

A bit lower where tiny berry-like fruits were plentiful frolicked the Flowerpeckers - both Bicolored and Buzzing.

As the sun peeped from the clouds, a Scale-feathered Malkoha peeped from the undergrowth. 

After another sequence of precipitation, mist, and clearing of the skies, we encountered another wave. While I was frantically trying to photograph the hyperactive Elegant Tit, my wife yelled "Olive-backed!" I quickly rushed to where she was because I knew she meant the Flowerpecker and not the Sunbird. This Flowerpecker had masterfully eluded us the seven times we've been to Infanta. So frustrated were we about this species (and knowing that its favorite berry was not yet fruiting at this time) we sort of put the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove and Whiskered Pitta ahead of it as our target birds for the day. So it was a God-given surprise that the one we were not expecting was the one we finally got to add to our life list!

Noontime and we called it a day. But first, we had to do the obligatory shot of the Grey Wagtail which was practically begging to be photographed.

It was one of those unforgettable experiences where getting caught in the rain was actually enjoyable. 

Like enjoying a Pina Colada? 

Actually just like enjoying Calamares and Sinigang na Baboy at the Gathering Restaurant for our celebratory lunch.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Getting Mud

The last time we went to Candaba was in January of 2016. I can't believe it had been that long! For one thing, that place was no longer as promising as it used to be. Most of the marshland where migrants spend the winter had been replaced by ricefields.

A little more than a week ago a couple of friends posted some birds photos taken from Candaba in Facebook. Photos of migrant waders and Philippine Ducks! So we went Saturday morning. But as luck (or the lack of it) would have it, it was gloomy on that particular day. Not only that because it had been raining the past few days, access to the marshy area became impossible. So we just birded along the asphalted road towards the town of Candaba itself.

Unfortunately, because of the recent rain, the water in the area near the road had become too deep for the migrant waders. Thus the Sandpipers, Stints, Plovers, and Snipes were gone. Only a couple of Grey Herons flew by, not even landing anywhere close. 

The Black-winged Stilts were plentiful but they were at quite a distance where presumably the waters were shallower. A few Intermediate Egrets strayed a bit closer.

What was interesting was a territorial dispute between a Whiskered Tern and a Little Egret. Sort of "King of the Pole" game.

Whiskered Tern: Hey, I got here first!

Little Egret: Yeah, right.

Little Egret: Nana, nana, nana!

Also interesting was the lack of Rails. No Barred nor Buff-banded ever showed up. The White-browed Crake and White-breasted Waterhen were present but both were extremely skittish.

Oh, and no Kingfishers as well. Other than that, the Passerines were at their usual haunts.

Chestnut Munia
Paddyfield Pipit

Pied Bush Chat - male

Pied Bush Chat - female

Striated Grassbird
At about 9:30 we decided to call it a day. As we were boarding our car, we noticed mud! On our shoes and stuck on the tires and the underparts of our vehicle. Surprising because, as I mentioned earlier, we were mostly at the asphalted road. Only in some occasions that I had to park on a grassy roadside. It was so bad that we had to stop by a Shell station in Baliuag to have our car washed. And it took about two hours to bring back the spick and span to our car, thanks to the perseverance and diligence of the person who did the washing.

As we were driving along EDSA, guess what happened? It rained.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Sweet Inspirations

It's been a while since we visited this place. 

Since I've been feeling somewhat lethargic lately plus the thought of going through horrendous traffic induced me to go someplace nearer than our usual forays. So off to U.P. Diliman we went. 

This was perhaps one of the least productive birding we had. We only managed to photograph five species, two of which were not even worth posting. So here are the results of 2 hours roaming around the campus:

Brown Shrike
Philippine Pied Fantail

White-breasted Waterhen
But allow me to let you in some secret. The trip to U.P. was basically just an excuse. Our real purpose was to indulge in a breakfast buffet at one of our favorite restaurants located not that far from U.P. Cafe Sweet Inspirations offered more choices for us than the Diliman campus did birdwise.


It's been a while since we visited this place.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Yes, No, and Not Yet

The dark gloomy skies of my recent heartbreaking experiences (see my previous blogs) continued to darken whatever enthusiasm I have for bird photography. The most recent one was our failure to see the migrant Chestnut-cheeked Starlings at the premises of the Avilon Zoo. Those birds were seen and photographed the before we came. The day after our visit, friends were once again able to capture the images of those starlings. I was in that kind of funk when I got a PM Thursday night from Mhark Gee, the guide at Avilon. He said that the starlings were now in a different area, are more plentiful, and can easily be seen as they feed on the fruits of the ficus tree. I took a deep breath, murmured a silent prayer and then consulted my wife. Cynthia agreed to go the next day. I quickly replied to Mhark telling him that we will try our luck again.

Friday morning we were at Avilon even before they opened. A little before 8 am, Mhark came and took us to the "site". He pointed at the ficus tree and assured me that our target birds will soon be there. After a few minutes, a female appeared, at some distance, and behind some leaves. Again, Mhark gave us the assurance that they will come closer and more in the open. After about an hour that seemed like an eternity, the female once again appeared, and as our friend said, was out in the open.

Then came a few boisterous Crested Mynas that caused the shy starlings to lie low for a while.

After the Mynas left, the emboldened Chestnut-cheeked birds continued their feeding on the red fruits. This time we were able to capture the image of the more colorful male.

Elated that we had finally overcame the pall of gloom over my bird photography, we consented to Mhark's suggestion that we look for the other "stars" of this place: the Spotted Wood Kingfisher and the Indigo Banded Kingfisher. We did see "Spotty" but it was partly covered and in a dark area and Indigo was a no-show. Although we missed both, it was not a disappointment for us since we already had good photos of the two species of kingfishers.

Around 11 am, we said goodbye to our friend and thanked him profusely for helping us - me, more so - to get over my miseries.

Spurred by the apparent turn of events, Cynthia and I agreed to re-visit the Infanta road the next day. It was drizzling when we left the house early Saturday morning. It even poured hard as we were having breakfast at Pico de Pino in Tanay. Eventually, the skies cleared up a bit when we reached our destination. There were moments when mist covered the hillside where the birds usually frolic. However, despite the help of friends Tonji and Sylvia, our target species - the Olive-backed Flowerpecker once again failed to appear. It was deja vu as none of our hoped for lifer still remained unticked in our list. It wasn't a complete disaster because thanks to another friend, Anthony, we saw a Changeable Hawk-Eagle high up on the hillside. This was the first sighting of this species in this area, as far as we know. 

As we endured the horrendous traffic going home, I remembered one of the preachings I heard at Victory Ortigas. The Pastor said that God answers our prayers in three different ways: Yes, No, and Not Yet. To me that explained the experiences I had the past couple of months. My heart is now at peace.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


It happened again. An impromptu twitch that resulted in another heartache. We saw our target bird alright, I even got a photo, albeit not even close to a "documentary" shot. Still the seemingly unending frustrating experiences lately had me reflecting deeply.

Our trip to the Avilon Zoo premises actually wasn't bad. Thanks to fellow birder and guide, Mhark Gee, we got a good harvest of bird photographs. The highlight of which was some close shots of an immature Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.

There were the usual birds that fed on the fruiting ficus tree.

Crested Myna
Immature Black-naped Oriole
Lowland White-eye
Red-keeled Flowerpecker
And of course, the "trash bird"..

Yellow-vented Bulbul
However, those uncommon migrants - the Chestnut-cheeked Starlings preferred the fruits behind the leaves and at a farther distance. Even Mhark was baffled by such behavior since they were out in the open just the day before.

Trust me that is a Chestnut-cheeked Starling.
And that was the reason for my self-reflection. This morning while I was doing my daily devotional, one Bible verse stood out prominently. It was God's answer to my introspections.

"give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." - 1st Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Acquiring Migrants

It was another disappointing trip to Infanta. The reason I could think of was that the fruits and the flowers were now gone. And the surprisingly late rainy season.

Our very first bird though was seen and photographed while we were still halfway to our destination. Rather the usual Barred Rails, it was the comparatively more shy Plain Bush Hen that posed at the roadside.

Although the usual wave of mixed flocks did appear around 10 am, they were now farther than where they used to gather and therefore much more difficult to photograph.

Thankfully, the migrants were more cooperative. Of course, one can never miss the Brown Shrike.

This Grey Wagtail kept flying over the road ahead if us then suddenly stopped and perched on a boulder. We wondered why it had one foot raised up all the while it was resting on the said boulder.

And finally, we were rewarded with some good views of a colorful male Blue Rock Thrush. We saw a female earlier, but it was on a tall tree branch and was terribly backlit.

Again, just like last week, our birding trip was cut short by a downpour.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Nothing New

Honestly, I had my expectations at zero level even before we arrived at Infanta. The past 5 visits to this place had been sadly disappointing. To dip so badly while others enjoyed good views, some even quite close, of uncommon birds, of species that would have been lifers for me and my wife was heartbreaking. And now the promise of another potential addition to our list brought us back here.

As if our previous torturous experiences were not enough, not seeing our target bird for today added to our misfortunes. Perhaps it was due to the inclement weather that only a few birds showed up. The sunbirds were nowhere to be found and the usual wave of mixed flocks never happened.

There were birds alright, but nothing new - two species of flowerpeckers, the Buzzing and the Pygmy and a couple of endemic raptors, both of which were either backlit or simply too far for good photos. Remember, the weather was gloomy and even had drizzles, so photography was really a challenge.

Buzzing Flowerpecker
Pygmy Flowerpecker
Philippine Serpent Eagle
Philippine Falconet
At around 11 the drizzle turned into rain. As we drove through the downpour, I pondered on what just happened again. My inner self whispered: It's nothing new.

Monday, September 18, 2017

That Haunting Sound

For almost four hours that deep "hmmm" kept haunting us. We could tell that the source of that taunting call was not that far from us. And yet, even with the help of five other birder friends all with binoculars, the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, despite its repeated cooing, was never located. Considering that this was our (my wife and I) fourth attempt at trying to get a photo (or at least a good look) of this mysterious bird and failing on all those occasions was a heart-breaking experience. The fact that a whole bunch of photographers got close up shots of this species just the day before added to our pain.

Ah, but such is a birder's life.

Eventually we gave up and decided to join another group of birder friends to look for the sunbirds frequenting the hibiscus flowers at the km. 96 area. Thankfully, the Luzon Sunbird cooperated several times. For this Cynthia and I were very grateful inasmuch as we still didn't have good photos of this species. 

the reason why it used to be called Metallic-winged Sunbird
At least our day was not a complete disappointment.