Friday, March 16, 2018

Chilly Bonelli

The Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas is one of our favourite birding spots in Southern California. For the past several years we came to the U.S. around mid-March and stayed for about a month. This year, my wife and I decided to come a month earlier. Being winter, the weather was naturally chilly.

The air was nippy the day we visited Bonelli Park. Although most of the birds we encountered were those familiar ones we've seen the prior years, this time there were some surprises. One of those was the Least Sandpiper. Somehow they were more in number than the more common Spotted Sandpiper.

Another unexpected sighting was that of the Buff-bellied Pipit. There were about a dozen of them flocked together foraging the rocks by the lakeside. Even though we've this species here before, this was the first time we saw so many individuals hunting for food together.

The California Scrub Jay seem to be growing in population and expanding their territories. We've never seen them in Bonelli before. And now they're here.

Finally as we were about to leave, a huge flock (!) of Band-tailed Pigeons flew in and fed on the ground. Again, this species wasn't as plentiful before when we only saw a few at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena. 

We're glad that many of the local birds are proliferating.

The highlight of the day was when we saw some Turkey Vultures feeding on a carcass of what I believe to be a Raccoon. It was an unexpected, even shall I say, chilly, experience. It was as if we were in an African savanna watching nature in action in a most gory way.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Something's Strange in the Neighborhood

We are currently staying in my son's apartment in Glendale, California. Wednesday afternoon, we decided to bird around the neighborhood. Expecting to see the usual suspects, we were quite surprised to encounter some species we never expected to be in this sort of urban environment.

But first allow me to show the "regulars". A Black Phoebe has made this place its home. We've seen this bird for the past several years here.

It seemed that the Mourning Doves had multiplied a lot. They're practically everywhere - lots of them!

Another common species here were the House Finches, although this time they stayed at the higher places.

As expected, California Towhees were foraging on the ground, unmindful of the people passing by.

The Northern Mockingbirds were, as always, displaying their audacious attitudes.

A pair of Acorn Woodpeckers were up a palm tree looking for food. I got a photo of one.

Then there were the unexpected. After taking some shots at the mockingbird, I noticed something strange. Softly, I told my wife, "Turn around slowly, there's a Junco behind you". We've seen Dark-eyed Juncos the day before in Bonelli Park. Lots of them. And that's where they can be easily found, not on a sidewalk, along an apartment complex.

Perched alongside a Mourning Dove, was a Band-tailed Pigeon! Again, this species prefer the trees in parks, not electric wires.

While trying to aim at another Mockingbird singing from a tree top, Cynthia saw something green. I looked at where she was pointing and surprise of all surprises - a Yellow-chevroned Parakeet! It didn't stay long though and I was lucky enough to get a couple of shots. We've seen this tropical species before (a feral population thrives in the greater Los Angeles area) in Arcadia and El Monte. Never in Glendale. Until now.

A big bird on a tree top, about a block away, was another unexpected encounter. A Red-tailed Hawk was surveying its surroundings, perhaps looking for an unwary prey. Sometime later it even flew and landed on the top of a pine tree right next to us. Unfortunately, it was so high up that pine needles prevented us from getting a full view.

What was also strange, sort of in a negative way, was the scarcity of House Sparrows. This species was the "trash bird" of urban areas. However, we only saw two, both immature.

It was a productive birding experience for us, considering the type of environment we're in. Thanks to the "strange" appearance of some uncommon birds.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Before and After

Sometimes fate has a strange way in dealing with bird photographers. Like when the results of our photographic endeavours were much better at the places along the way to and from our planned destination.

Inasmuch as we will be busy with some personal errands on Saturday, we decided, sort of in a spur of the moment, to go birding in Infanta on Friday. In our previous trips to that place, we had seen, on several occasions, some Rails foraging by the roadside. Since we did not have our gear out when that happened (we were still more than an hour away from our destination) we hadn't been able to take pictures of the Rails. This time we were prepared. Good thing we were, for there nonchalantly walking on the grass was a Barred Rail.

Then there was a pair of Striated Grassbirds that appeared to be drying their feathers on top of a stone wall. Here is one of them.

I thought those encounters were a good omen for our birding day. Unfortunately, they were not. Our experience in Infanta was close to frustrating. We would see birds but either we would not be able to take their photos or if we did, the results were not up to par. Take for example this Philippine Fairy Bluebird. Cynthia got a picture but it was too dark and covered with twigs.

Or this Rusty-breasted Cuckoo that was backlighted.

Another backlighted shot was that of the very common Philippine Bulbul.

One of the better shots we got was that of a Paddyfield Pipit. This was the first time we saw this species here so that somehow boosted our rapidly waning enthusiasm.

Then came another heartache. Our friend, Anthony, who was guiding an Englishman, saw a Philippine Trogon (another first sighting for us here in Infanta). However, before I could take a shot at it, it flew off and landed on a branch that was partially covered by leaves. Of course, that resulted in another bad photo.

Closer to noontime, it was Anthony again who pointed to a wave of a mixed flock of birds. First was a Yellow-bellied Whistler. (As I mentioned earlier, this was not the best bird photography experience we had.)

Then followed a Sulphur-billed Nuthatch.

The Elegant Tits, though plentiful, were very active, never stopping even for a single moment.

Finally, the Yellowish White-eyes came. These group preferred the upper level of the trees.

After the wave had passed, my wife and I agreed to call it day. Close to our favourite restaurant which was about an hour away, Cynthia pointed to a black bird perched on a fence. "Pied Bush Chat!" she exclaimed. What followed was a photo session with a very willing and cooperative model.

Reviewing our photos, it was apparent that the best shots were taken before and after our birding sortie in Infanta.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

It's Where Avilon

The Avilon Zoo in Rodriguez, Rizal had been hosting some uncommon migrants lately. Last October a pair of Chestnut-cheeked Starlings stayed there for some time. Late January of this year, local guide Mhark Gee posted a photo of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, taken at the zoo premises. That of course triggered an onrush of bird photographers to Avilon. My wife and I, along with our friend, Peter, were part of a group that went on Saturday, Feb. 3rd.

Majority of us arrived a little before 8 am. After more than an hour of waiting, the hoped for cuckoo was still a no-show. Then the local Besra came flying in and teasingly flew from tree to tree. Cynthia was quicker with her camera and got a shot of the raptor.

Time slowly passed and still our target bird was nowhere in sight. As if to relieve the building tension among us, a Common Kingfisher visited the nearby pond and hunted for food, giving us photographers some FIM (food in mouth) shots.

Not long afterwards, its endemic cousin - the Indigo-banded Kingfisher - obligingly posed for us as well.

Then Mhark told us that another cuckoo, the Rusty-breasted one, was at the trees near the parking area. Now this was one very cooperative (and I'd say somewhat narcissistic) bird, as it gave us different poses like a model.

At noon we decided to join our fellow birders who were already having lunch at the restaurant area. That was when Mhark shouted, "It's here!" What followed was a frenzied shooting by 16 excited bird photographers of the awesome looking cuckoo. For about an hour, this beautiful migrant made all of us go cuckoo. It was the three of us (me, my wife and our friend, Peter) who gave up as we were already feeling the pangs of hunger. We were all happy that we got our first lifer of the year.

Because of the two chestnut migrants (the cheeked starlings last year and the winged cuckoo this year) the Avilon Zoo had become one of the interesting local birding destinations. Hopefully more will come even those without "chestnut" in their name.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Can't daba

It had to happen. The day we were going to Candaba it rained heavily the night before. Which meant muddy roads to the mayor's house. So goodbye to the White-shouldered Starlings, Purple Herons and Marsh Harrier. We can't go there anymore for fear of being stuck in the mud.

We had to content ourselves with birding by the concrete road. Which wasn't bad actually. We still had some pretty good shots of the birds we encountered. 

Of course the very first bird we saw (not including the hundreds of Eurasian Tree Sparrows foraging the left over palay on the road) was the Brown Shrike, drying off its feathers.

As we were slowly driving near the road's edge, I shouted "kingfisher!" and pointed to the migrant Common Kingfisher perched on a pole. It had been ages since we last saw this species and it was a delight to have taken a picture of it again. This, without a doubt, would be the star bird of the day.

Not far from it was a bunch of water lilies. A White-browed Crake suddenly flew in and posed for us.

The Chestnut Munias were plentiful. However it took me several attempts (at different places) before I was able to get some good shots.

There was a place where terns were diving for food. We wanted to take some BIF (birds in flight) which was really a challenge considering these birds were constantly flying. Since we only brought one camera (we will be attending a clan reunion in San Fernando later) we took turns shooting at terns. Without question, my wife had the better shots.

It was Cynthia again, who was more patient than I was, who was able to get pictures of the skulking White-breasted Waterhen.

Sadly, we didn't see any wild ducks. When I saw a pair flying at a distance, I took some "documentary" shots. It turned out to be a pair of Wandering Whistling Ducks.

Another "documentary' shot was made when I spotted three young Little Grebes swimming.

The only wader we were able to photograph was the Eastern Cattle Egret (which was quite plentiful). We did see a Little Egret but it flew away even before I could raise my camera to my eye.

Of course, we had to take the obligatory shots of two common (and more cooperative) birds here - the Long-tailed Shrike and the Striated Grassbird.

Long-tailed Shrike
Striated Grassbird
After about two hours, we ended our birding sortie in Candaba, because as I mentioned earlier, we had a reunion to attend.

Although we still had good encounters with the avifauna of Candaba, it still saddens me that there are fewer areas with water now. Most had been converted to ricefields. Many of the few remaining watery areas are now used as duck farms.

Monday, January 15, 2018

There Fewer

The last time we went to Mt. Palay-palay was in September of 2016. Back then I already bemoaned the fact that we saw only a few birds. (My blog about that).

Last Saturday, my wife and I, together with our friend, Peter, returned to this place. We hadn't gone far up the road when I spotted a female Luzon Hornbill perched nonchalantly on a tree. It was a bit surprising considering that several guys were beneath the tree getting ready to mow down the grass on the side of the road. 

I thought that it would be good indicator that we would be seeing more species as we continued our journey. Unfortunately, we didn't. For one thing, it had been cloudy the whole morning, with only a few quick bursts of sunlight. Which resulted in mostly backlit photos, particularly those of the Brahminy Kites flying above us.

The next bird we encountered were the Whiskered Treeswifts. Three of them.

At the gate of the (now closed) Caylabne Resort, the hoped for raptors were a no-show. We just contented ourselves with taking BIF (bird in flight) and FIM (food in mouth) photos of the White-breasted Woodswallows.

On the way back we were lamenting the fact that we hadn't seen any Philippine Falconets - a regular in this area. Just then Peter saw a tiny bird perched on the electric wire. "Falconet!" he shouted excitedly. So we spent more than hour photographing these tiny raptors. Three of them.

At the end of our birding morning, we were saddened to realize that we only saw a total of six species (including a flock of Coletos that flew by). We couldn't figure out why birds are getting fewer there at Palay-palay.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Sick and Fine

The beginning of the year and I was sick with the flu. Friday, I was feeling a little better so I confirmed with our friend, Peter, that my wife and I will be at U.P. Diliman on Saturday morning. To do some birding, of course. 

Lately, the uncommon Naked-faced Spiderhunter had been seen at the area near the Marine Science Institute (MSI) building. That, of course, was our target bird. Another friend, Christopher, was already there when we arrived. There were actually 4 individual spiderhunters he informed us. Apparently these four had the habit of chasing each other all around the tree with few leaves. We just have to be patient and wait, Christopher told us. Soon we were joined by more friends, Gilbert and Wilma, Nes and Jops.

Fortunately, other species frolicked in that area. Black-naped Orioles were calling incessantly.

Another uncommon bird, the tiny Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, were flitting among the branches.

Then came our target birds. It was indeed a challenge taking their photos as they preferred the higher branches and don't stay put for long as they kept going after each other.

On the other hand, the Philippine Hanging Parrot, was most cooperative - posing for us for a while.

A couple of hours later, avian activity died down a bit with only the Lowland White-eyes staying around.

Cynthia and I decided to try our luck at the young Philippine Scops Owls at the nearby "frogs" area. It was my wife's sharp eyes that found the bird we were looking for.

After that, the three of us, me, my wife and Peter, decided to call it day. After all we already got our "quotas". Besides I wasn't feeling 100% well yet.

Hopefully, the rest of our birding year would be as fine as today.