Saturday, January 28, 2017

Highland Lows

This was a bit disappointing birding trip to the highlands of Benguet. 

Cynthia and I planned to go to Baguio after seeing those lovely bird photos that our friends posted in Facebook. However, when my wife was trying to arrange for our lodging, all the hotels that she contacted were fully booked. Thinking it was fate, we scrapped our plans. Then, a birder friend in Facebook whom we haven't even met personally, offered to sponsor us at the exclusive Baguio Country Club. How can we say no to such kindness.

Our primary purpose in birding in Baguio was to garner more lifers of course. Foremost among our target birds were the Bundok Flycatcher, followed by the Luzon Sunbird and maybe the Luzon Water Redstart and the Mountain Shrike.

Upon arrival in Baguio we went directly to Sto. Tomas where we saw the Island Thrush and Red Crossbills three years ago. Unfortunately a pass was now required to be able to get to that place which we didn't have. 

We then proceeded to the Camp John Hay Ecotrail. It was eerily quiet. We met another friend, Bim Quemado, who was waiting for the White's Thrush that was seen a couple of days ago. We, on the other hand, waited patiently for the Bundok Flycatcher at the area where our friends (including Bim) said these birds frequent. Three hours passed and our target lifer never showed up. On the way out we encountered a flock of Sulphur-billed Nuthatches. That was some sort of a consolation.

After checking in at the Baguio Country Club we returned to the Ecotrail. Again, the birds were few and were always at the upper parts of the tall trees. Still the Bundok was a no-show. Another consolation was a Green-backed Whistler that my wife was able to photograph.

We agreed to meet Dr. Ron Paraan, our sponsor, at the Club's restaurant at 4 pm. When we told him our target birds he told us in great detail the areas where such birds can be found. Learning that, we decided to scrap our plans for the Mountain Shrike (long arduous trek) and the Water Redstart (climbing down steep and slippery boulders). With our aging bodies we don't think we would be able to handle such strenuous activities.

The following morning we met up with Ron at the Ecotrail. Once again the local avifauna had been less cooperative. And still no Bundok Flycatcher. Our friend left at around 9 am to go to work and agreed to meet up again after lunch. Noon time Cynthia and I left the Ecotrail feeling low after failing to photograph the local birds. We did see them but take photographs? Nope.

After lunch, as we waited for Ron we saw a Blue Rock Thrush at the terrace of the Country Club! 

I texted Ron about it and he was excited because that would be a lifer for him. Unfortunately, it had flown to the top of the building and was no longer visible by the time our friend arrived. 

As we have agreed earlier, Ron took us to Avong Nen Romy where the Luzon Sunbird was reputedly a sure sighting. For about two hours we waited but the sunbird did not show up. Then it drizzled so we all agreed to call it quits. Rain poured as we drove back to the hotel. Our hearts as gloomy as the weather. Ron, hoping to appease our sorrows stopped by the campus of the Benguet State University. Standing at the bridge, he showed us the Siberian Rubythroat and the White Wagtail. There was even a Barred Rail by the creek. He asked if we wanted to go down to take photos of these birds. We thanked him for the offer but politely declined. They were not lifers anyway, it was still drizzling, and our hearts were already heavy. 

Friday was our last day. The sun was shining gloriously so Cynthia and I agreed to give Avong one more try. One hour passed and no sunbird appeared. We were already thinking of giving up as we still have to check out from the Country Club. I wanted to do that early enough to avoid the Friday traffic of MetroManila. It was then the owner of the resort signaled to us and pointed at a sunbird feeding on the blossom just in front of her house. In the shade. I told my wife to go to where the owner was to get a better angle. I tried taking photos from the outside and almost cried when I discovered that all my shots were terribly bad. Luckily there was one salvageable photo taken by Cynthia. In our excitement and haste we forgot to make the proper adjustments to our cameras to conform with the lighting conditions.

Finally, we felt some sort of comfort that we got at least one of target species. Nevermind the bad image - a lifer is still a lifer.

To end an already disappointing trip I was cited for going through a stop light at EDSA (although I didn't think I did). Anyway, that situation ended up fine.

Despite a not very productive birding trip, we were still deeply grateful to Dr. Ron for arranging for our lodging and accompanying us to the local birding sites. 

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