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.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Mist Opportunities

Five in the morning. We were traversing the zigzag road in Tanay. Dense fog covered the area in such a way that I couldn't see beyond a meter in front of us. An hour later as we approached our destination in Infanta, the mist continued to blanket the hillside. Fellow birders were already lined up, waiting, hoping for the sun to break through. The birds were already actively foraging among the trees, but because of the haze, we all missed the opportunity to take some good photos.

Occasionally, and briefly at that, sunlight would pierce through the clouds and that was when we took advantage and tried to shoot at anything that moved. Cynthia was able to get a very active Sulphur-billed Nuthatch.

Eventually, the lighting conditions became more favorable for photography. Once again, my wife and I waited for our target bird, the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove to appear. Our friend, Ronet, also had the same purpose. Hearing the definitive "humm" of the dove, Ronet called us and pointed at something up in a tall tree. "There it is!" he said. For the life of me, I could not find the "red spot" that he was pointing at. Cynthia peeped through her long lens and clicked. Then she showed me the result of her endeavor. A Flame-breasted Fruit Dove. Terribly blurred but showing the reason for its name.

I, on the other hand, just contented myself at taking photos of the Buzzing Flowerpecker.

Our friend, Mon, told us to go to kilometer 103. "Behind the chapel there is a fruiting hagimit tree and the Olive-backed Flowerpecker is there," he said. So we went only to find out that we had to go down a steep, slippery trail to get to the aforementioned place. We decided not to endanger our physical and photographic properties and just took photos of the Pacific Swallow and Grey Wagtail on the hillside across the road.

Grey Wagtail
Pacific Swallow
At kilometer 100, we saw a group of fellow bird photographers camped down in front of another hagimit tree. After about 30 minutes of waiting for the flowerpecker that never showed up, we returned to Km. 95.

Noontime, and only friends Raymond and Carlo remained. This time the sun was already shining brightly. Suddenly a huge wave of mixed flocks came! Finally we added a couple of lifers to our list - the Philippine Fairy Bluebird and the Lemon-throated Leaf Warbler.

Cynthia even got a great shot of the Yellow-bellied Whistler.

At 1 pm, the flock was gone. Cynthia and I agreed to call it day. As we headed to one of our favorite restaurants, I was glad that good things still came out despite a foggy and seemingly ominous start. We finally got to meet in person birders who, until today, were just Facebook friends. We also met those we haven't seen in a long while.

We were thankful for the opportunities to bond with fellow bird enthusiasts and for getting lifers as well. Mist notwithstanding.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Meeting an Old Flame

We wanted something new. Something we have not experienced before. Something that would make our collective hearts beat faster. Something that would burn the flame of our desires. 

Alas, it was an old flame that showed up.

A group of birders had been very fortunate to see the rare Flame-breasted Fruit Dove just a week ago. That species would be a lifer for all four of us - me, my wife, and friends, Peter and Wenxing. So we planned to go to Infanta on Saturday morning.

Friday evening typhoon Jolina battered the east coast of Luzon. At 4 am Saturday, rain was still pouring hard. Peter asked if we are still good to go. Having researched the internet and learning that the typhoon was supposed to exit Luzon at around 2 am, I told him that Cynthia and I are willing to take the chance. Wenxing agreed with us.

Six in the morning as we were passing through Boso-boso in Antipolo, the heavy downpour still hasn't abated at all. We were all silent - our minds battling whether we should keep going or just give up and turn back. As we approached Baras, rain finally stopped but dark clouds still covered the skies. At Sampaloc, we looked at the horizon and our hopes were buoyed. When we reached our destination the sun was shining gloriously. 

However despite the seemingly promising morning, our desired encounter with a new Flame never happened. Yes, we heard it, cooing within the dark recesses of the tall trees in front of us. That taunting, haunting, deep "hummm" echoed intermittently the whole time we were there.

But as I mentioned earlier, all was not for naught. A gorgeous Flame that we have had the pleasure of meeting before in Los Banos not only just showed up, it stayed long enough giving us the much needed satisfaction we had yearned so much.

Flaming Sunbird
Another totally unexpected grace was when the normally skulker of a bird paraded before us, flaunting its glamor like a beauty queen contestant.

Scale-feathered Malkoha
At around 10:30 we gave up on the uncooperative Fruit Dove and had lunch at nearby Jeriel's Peak. It was there that our closing photographic endeavors was provided by a Citrine Canary Flycatcher.

As we drove home, we wondered if we would be given another chance to be enamored by that elusive Flame.

Sunday morning, I got a text message from Wenxing saying he got the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove. 


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Purple Train

A vast majority of our bird photography friends had already seen and posted pictures of the Purple-throated Sunbird in Facebook. This species had been a sure sighting in the garden of another birding friend, Prof. Tirso Paris in Los Banos. So the remaining few of us who still have not yet availed of this opportunity decided to ride the Purple-throated Sunbird train this Saturday. When I contacted our dear Prof. Tirso to request permission to access his sunbird haven, he said he may not be able to guarantee any sightings since the banana flowers that this species feed on had been reduced to only three stalks. The day before, it took almost two hours of waiting before they appeared, our friend told me. Nevertheless I told him that we would still try our luck.

Early Saturday morning, while we were driving to his place, Prof. Tirso messaged me advising us to take our time since it was raining in Los Banos. Indeed it was as we exited the freeway and was on the road along Calamba. After a leisurely breakfast at Jollibees, I got another message from Prof. telling me that we can now go to his garden as the sun was already shining. 

(For Cynthia and myself, it had been like this for several occasions. There was a time when we were going to Kinabalu Park in Sabah. Our driver was telling us that we were so lucky because it had been raining non-stop the past few days there but now the skies were clear.)

As we were unloading our gear, another car also parked behind us. We were pleasantly surprised to see friends Maia and Djop. They were also going after the sunbirds. We settled in Prof. Tirso's garden and traded some stories. After two hours (just as our host predicted) the sunbirds came. First it was an immature. Then there was the female. Finally the colorful male completed our set of photos. This happened again twice within 30-minute intervals. At past 11, the four us - me, my wife, Peter and Wenxing - agreed to call it a day since our collective stomachs were now groaning for some lunch. Maia and Djop decided to stay and look for other species in the area. We thanked Prof. Tirso profusely for his kindness and hospitality.

A short drive to the APEC area yielded only Wood Sandpipers and scads of Munias (both Chestnut and Scaly-breasted) which were either too far or partially hidden among the tall grass for a good shot.

And guess what...after lunch it started to rain again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Side Views

Last Saturday we went back to Infanta to do some roadside birding. With us was our birding buddy, Peter. When we got to the place, we were surprised that we were the only birders there. Unlike last week. Perhaps it was because the fruits of the Hagimit tree that the birds feed on were now all gone.

Nevertheless, birds were still plentiful. This time though, some of the species we saw were different from those we observed the previous week. With the exception of the very common Yellowish White-eyes.

The Elegant Tits appeared later in the morning.

Whereas last week, the Blue-headed Fantails were plentiful, this time the Citrine Canary Flycatchers took their place.

Also the Philippine Bulbuls were much more active than before.

An exciting discovery was when we saw a Sulphur-billed Nuthatch looking non-stop for food.

During a lull between the "waves" I noticed a raptor soaring overhead. It was a Crested Honey Buzzard.

We only saw one Buzzing Flowerpecker unlike last week when a number of them fed on the remaining ficus berries.

Another kind of Flowerpecker somehow took its place. The Bicoloreds were more into insect-hunting.

Finally, there was a couple of Flaming Sunbirds but we only got a good photo of the female.

As before the road side of Infanta did not disappoint. We will certainly come back when the Haigimit starts fruiting again.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unexpected Thriller

My wife and I walk around our subdivision almost ("almost" being the operative word) on a daily basis. Not an easy task considering that half of the streets are about 40 degrees steep. Of course we always do some birding along the way - a good enough reason for us to catch our breath. Eurasian Tree Sparrows (ETS) and Yellow-vented Bulbuls (YVB) are the most common birds here - as in anywhere else in urban MetroManila. There are times when we get surprises - like Philippine Hanging Parrots or Asian Glossy Starlings. 

On rare occasions, I bring along my camera. Such as last Friday. Good thing I did. One of the very first species we saw (aside from the ETS and the YVB) were some immature Black-naped Orioles noisily calling from a tall mango tree.

Then came the usual suspects in our neighborhood. The Philippine Pied Fantail and the Zebra Dove.

Another surprise was a Crested Myna. It was perched on a rooftop and then slowly walked towards the edge - away from us - thus the really bad photo.

Lately we had been noticing the proliferation of the Golden-bellied Flyeater (aka Gerygone) in our neighborhood. These tiny birds were so hyperactive that getting a shot was an outright challenge.

Nearing the end of our walk, about two houses away from our home, I wanted so much to get a photo of a YVB (yup, you read that right - despite its being widespread, I still wasn't able to get at least one image). So when I spotted a movement in the tree next to us, I assumed it was my target bird. Aiming my camera at it, my jaws almost dropped when the bird came out in the open. It was a Pied Triller! Quite uncommon in our area and totally unexpected.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Infanta Side

It had been a long birding hiatus for me and my wife. We blamed it on the fickle weather of course. June and the early part of July were exceedingly hot. So hot that we dared not leave the paradise of our airconditioned room. After that came the rains. The thought of getting drenched or even sloshing through mud dampened whatever birding spirit we had.

Then came the news that spread all over the birding community - an uncommon flowerpecker had been sighted. Quite easily at that. So I communicated with a couple of birders who had been so lucky to get close up shots of this flowerpecker. Thanks to Loel and Virgilio, I was able to get specific details on the exact spot where I would be able to see and photograph my newest lifer. It can be seen from the side of the road, they both affirmed.

Saturday morning we were at the road going to Infanta. At first we were concerned about the weather as dense fog greeted us when we came into the Infanta side. 

However as we neared our destination the sun broke through and brightened up the morning. It was at this roadside near the Kilometer 95 marker that our target feeds on the red fruits of the Hagimit tree. There were already some fellow birders when we got there but no one had seen the Olive-backed Flowerpecker yet. Try the area near Kilometer 98 we were told. We did. Again more fellow birders were already gathered there. However they were after a different species - the Philippine Fairy Bluebird. That would have been a lifer for us too but it was a no show, the fruits of the tree that it frequented were now gone.

We went back to specific spot near Kilometer 95. This time I found the Hagimit tree. Sadly, the fruits were almost gone as well. I patiently staked out the spot while Cynthia surveyed the roadside looking for any bird to photograph. After sitting inside our car - which was parked in front the Hagimit tree -for about half an hour, a tiny, nondescript bird appeared. It started feeding on the red berries. I thought I got my hoped for lifer but looking at the bird, it was duller in color and had a longer, down curved bill. Buzzing Flowerpecker, I sighed, inasmuch as this was not a lifer. Nevertheless, I still took some photos. 

It was actually a part of a "wave" of several species of birds that came to the area. After the "wave" had passed I joined my wife in looking at the trees by the roadside. We got some shots of a Yellowish White-eye.  

After about an hour, another "wave" came. Once again it was just the Buzzing Flowerpecker that came to feed on the fruits. Our birder friends decided to go to the trail to search for the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove. Since it was a narrow, slippery, downward trail, we opted not to risk our tender and aging bodies.

Our birding buddy, Bong, also decided to stay. We all went to the Kilometer 98 area. Another flock came passing by. This time we got some shots of the Blue-headed Fantail and the Elegant Tit.

By ten o'clock bird activity had died down considerably. Accepting the fact that there won't be a new addition to our life list, Cynthia and I agreed to call it a day. A few minutes later as we were driving home, heavy rain started to fall.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Camella's Back

We were invited by our neighbor and fellow birder, Chin, to go with him to Camella Homes in Bulacan. We've been to that place before and we had a great time with the Jacanas. Inasmuch as one of our target birds, the White-winged Tern, had been seen there lately, going back would be a good opportunity.

For almost three hours we stayed by the pond looking at a number of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and Whiskered Terns cavorting all over the place. However, the hoped for flight of the Jacanas did not happen as we expected - only some short hops from one end of the pond to the other.

While waiting for our target bird to appear I observed an uncommon behavior from what I believe is a Clamorous Reed Warbler. Normally this species is a skulker -darting in and out of tall reeds while looking for insects. This one, however, was acting more Pipit-like, standing on top of waterlilies and grabbing an unfortunate bug. It looked like a Pipit, behaved like a Pipit, but Pipits are migrants and were supposed to be back up northern Asia by now. Our friend, Adri, later confirmed that this was indeed a Clamorous Reed Warbler.

Anyway, another interesting avian activity I observed was playing "king-of-the-hill" (or should I say a "king-of-the-pole") between two species. The Blue-tailed Bee-eater would perch on said pole then fly off to chase of an insect. A Whiskered Tern would then perch on the said pole before the Bee-eater could return. The smaller bird would then harass the tern albeit to no avail. Eventually the tern would also fly off to join its comrades in swooping for tiny fish. That would be now an opportunity for the Bee-eater to reclaim its throne, so to speak, and fend off the returning tern. But then the Bee-eater would of course had to eat so off it would fly again. That would be the go signal for the tern to return (pun intended). That scenario was repeated several times.

As in most of our birding trips there would be a bonus bird. This time it was a pair of Greater Painted Snipes! For a short while both male and female got out of hiding from the reeds and enjoyed a few moments in the sun.

A little after 8 am, with the White-winged Terns not showing up and the heat and humidity becoming unbearable, we all agreed to call it a day. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Lay Over Birding

Our return flight from Ecuador to Los Angeles has a lay over in Panama. When we booked our flight using COPA Airlines, we asked the travel agent to give us an extra day in Panama before we continue to LAX.  This was to avoid spending the whole night at the airport. The flight from Ecuador arrives Panama at 5 pm but the connecting flight to Los Angeles leaves at 7 am the following day! So why not extend the lay over for one more day and use that time to go birding.

And birding we did. Thankfully, the Parque Metropolitano was not that far from the hotel where we stayed. We visited this place last year and were amazed at the number of birds here - at a forest smack in the middle of the city.

The relatively short time that we spent here was still fruitful. Although we did not see as many birds as we had seen last year, we still added two lifers to our list. The first was a bit of a sad story: It rained hard the day before and most likely because of the heavy downpour an owl fledgling was dislodged from its nest. We found it perched on a branch about two feet from the ground looking so haggard. We notified that park's staff and they took the owlet assuring us that they will take care of it and release it once it has recovered from whatever ails it. That was a Striped Owl.

The other lifer was a bit of a surprise. I only realized it when I was processing our photos back home in the Philippines. I knew it was an Oropendola but was it the Crested one which we saw last year? Further research showed that what we got this time was the Chestnut-headed kind.

As I mentioned before, although we did not see as many birds as last year, this time I was able to get some closer shots of a few species. (Notice that it was only me who was taking pictures. It was due to an unfortunate incident - the autofocus mechanism of Cynthia's 300mm lens died here in Panama.)

The Keel-billed Toucans were friendlier this time.

The same can also be said about the Crimson-crowned Woodpecker

And the Cocoa Woodcreeper

Even the usually shy Green Honeycreepers were out in the open.

At about 3 pm we were sweating from the high humidity and our stomachs were grumbling, having had only cup noodles for lunch. We returned to our hotel and prepared for the long trip back to the U.S.