Monday, May 21, 2018

When Dove has Gone

We were met at the gate by the husband-and-wife caretakers of the property. "The Cream-bellied Fruit Dove is gone" the husband informed us, "because the young ones have fledged." That was sort of expected. Before I could even ask about the other dove, he said, in an apologetic manner, "the Yellow-bellied is no longer there. There was heavy rain with thunder and lightning the other night and when we looked the following morning, the nesting dove had already left." "It never came back," he added.

As they say, when it comes to dove, there is no forever. So we did what anyone who lost their dove had done - we moved on. 

Was it by chance that we found redemption at a place not that far from a chapel? We were waiting for the hoped for Grand Rhabdornis - which was once again a no-show - when Cynthia saw a small bird perch on a tree at some distance from where we were. "What is it?" I asked my wife. "I don't know," she answered, "but it looked like a munia."

"A munia??" I exclaimed doubtfully. "In this kind of environment?"

So I looked though my long lens and my face reddened from extreme embarrassment. It was indeed a munia. A White-bellied one even. I mean who would expect a bird that prefers lowland forests and ricefields to be this high up on a mountain. This was the first time that this species had been seen here, as far as I know.

After almost an hour of waiting and no other birds showing up, we both agreed to return to our car. As we approached the chapel, there were some bird calls emanating from a fruiting tree. It didn't take long for one of those sources to come into view. A black bird. Philippine Fairy Bluebird was my guess. But wait, the eyes are not red. I hoped that it would be the uncommon Blackish Cuckooshrike. But...I was right the first time! The reason for the eyes not being red was because it was a juvenile! (Thanks to Rob and Mhark for the confirmation).

As if that wasn't enough, the mood changed from blue to green as a pair of Guaiaberos posed for a few minutes for us. Again, this was another first time sighting of this species for us in Infanta.

Then, a Coppersmith Barbet came in full view, at eye level, offering us our best shot of the day.

Back at the roadside, we chanced upon a fruiting hagimit tree. And where there are fruits, there will be birds. Although not as many this time. Two kinds of Flowerpeckers were feeding on it - the Orange-bellied and the Bicolored.

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Bicolored Flowerpecker - male
Bicolored Flowerpecker - female
A family of Philippine Bulbuls also came, the parents feeding their young ones.

At around 11 am we decided to call it a day. As we delighted in our sumptuous lunch, we both agreed that even in the absence of dove, there can still be happiness.

Monday, May 14, 2018

No Cream

I always add cream to my coffee. As a matter of fact, the creamier the better for me. Will I ever drink java sans that dairy product? Most likely not. Then how far will I go just to complete my morning joe? Good question. Especially when applied to birding. I may be stretching the analogy a bit, but let me explain: How much risk am I willing to take just to add a species to my life list?

That situation actually happened last Saturday. The three of us (me, my wife, and our friend, Peter) went to Infanta to look for a particular lifer - the Cream-breasted Fruit Dove. We already knew that there would be some difficulty accessing the site where the said dove was nesting. 

When we arrived at the Sierra Farm Cabin, the resident guide showed us the "trail" we had to traverse to get good views of our target bird. It was challenging to put it simply. While we were mulling over our situation, another friend, Chin, who was there before us, decided to give it a go. As we watched them negotiate the dangerous path, Cynthia and I offered a silent prayer to protect both Chin and Hanny, the guide. We gasped as our friend slipped a bit. It was then that all three of us agreed not to risk our life or limb just so we can have cream on our proverbial coffee. Later that day when we returned to Sierra Farm we once again met Chin who had just ended his vigil for the Fruit Dove. "Three hours of waiting, and I got nothing!" he said frustratingly. We were thankful that we made the right decision.

We also asked Hanny about the chances of seeing the Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher. He said the trail going down towards the creek was even worse. There will be times that we would have to negotiate a 90 degree slope. 90 degrees! That's completely vertical!

Our Infanta sortie was not a complete disaster though. Not that far from the Cream-breasted Fruit Dove's nest was another similar species which was also nesting. Thankfully, that place was more accessible. Unfortunately, the nest was only partially visible and we only got documentary photos of the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove. 

The usual places along the road were surprisingly devoid of birds. Luckily for us the area near the veranda of Sierra Farm Cabin was productive, birdwise. It was there that an Elegant Tit was so bold that it came to about a meter away from us.

While taking a break, I spotted a raptor flying overhead. A Crested Honey Buzzard obliged us for a few minutes before disappearing from view.

After the break, we returned to the veranda. While Peter was taking photos of his lifer, the Olive-backed Flowerpecker, a Philippine Fairy Bluebird posed for me.

Yellowish White-eyes cavorted in the branches of a pine tree.

We had lunch at "The Hulk" lodge and restaurant hoping to see and maybe get closer looks at the Rufous Hornbills we saw last week. Sadly not a single one showed up.

As we travelled back home we were obstructed by a kilometer long convoy of some politicians' supporters. While waiting for an opportunity to overtake them, my mind was filled with thoughts of "maybe I should try having coffee with no cream".

Monday, May 07, 2018

Foggy, Fairy, Far Away

Thick, soupy fog blanketed the road as we approached our destination in Infanta. Droplets of rain pelted our windshield. Our moods were as gloomy as the weather we were experiencing. Would we even see any bird? was the question all three of us were brooding on.

A little farther up the road, the mist slowly lifted revealing the lush forest. 

The rain also gradually abated offering hope to this three determined birders. Then we saw a bird running by the roadside. "Quail!" I shouted excitedly. Peter grabbed my camera, which was sitting on my lap, and took some shots of the brownish creature streaking at his side of the road. The bird then scurried inside a thick clump of vegetation and completely disappeared. Peter then showed me the photos he took which unfortunately were mostly blurred. Not his fault, though, the lighting was bad, his car's engine was running, and the subject was constantly moving. At least the pictures were good enough for me to be able to properly identify that bird - a Spotted Buttonquail, and a lifer!

Elated, we proceeded to the area by the brook. As we approached the stake out place we heard the murmuring of a dove. It went on and off for about an hour but the source of that low humming never showed up. In its place came a pair of Philippine Fairy Bluebirds. A lifer for Peter. Somehow these fairies took away the gloom from the precipitation that once again dampened our morning sortie.

Several forays along the rain-drenched road yielded zero sightings. As it was nearing noon and the drizzle was continuously pouring down, we all decided to settle in at "The Hulk" - a lodge with a dining area near Km 97. We met birder friend, Sean, who will be staying overnight there. After lunch the skies stopped shedding tears and slowly inhaled the haze that covered the valley across from us. It was then that Sean came rushing towards us with glowing exuberance and said "hornbill!" We knew what he meant and we eagerly followed him to the edge of the property overlooking the valley. There a teenaged boy named Jay, described (in fluent English) the exact location where the Rufous Hornbill was supposedly perched. Squinting our eyes and looking through our camera lenses we eventually located our hoped-for bird. Yes, it was about a kilometre away and was just a reddish dot in the green forest below where we were standing. 

It was a total surprise when  three more individuals joined the one we were photographing initially. 

This species had been one of our targets in our repeated trips to this place and at last we found them. A whole family even!

It was a joyous trip back home having garnered several lifers (three for Peter and two for me and Cynthia). What started as a foggy, gloomy morning had a fairy tale ending.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Seen no more

Peter and I were standing near the edge of the valley having our take-out breakfast. Cynthia decided to stay in the car. Then Peter tersely said, "bird!" I looked at where he was pointing at but for the life of me couldn't see anything. Well, there was a slight drizzle and the skies were grey, so all I could see were shadows of what I presumed to be just leaves. My friend borrowed my camera, took a shot and then showed it to me. A plethora of emotions overwhelmed me: surprised that there were indeed birds as Peter said, angry because those birds were in a cage, amazed as to how a cage of that size with two White-eared Brown Doves in it be hung on a branch that could only be accessed by the most agile and daring human being, and finally, curious as to the purpose of such action. Perhaps it was to lure more birds into a trap? I wanted so much to grab that cage and release both hapless birds to their freedom but with my ancient body, such an endeavour would most likely result in my untimely death or severe physical injury. So we left with saddened hearts and I prayed that no other bird would be captured and that both doves would hopefully gain their freedom. 

Prior to these heartbreaking experience, I had missed a couple of opportunities of photographing lifers. As we entered the Infanta area, I saw a Rufous Hornbill soaring over the valley. I asked Peter, who was driving, to stop. He did. However as soon as we parked by the roadside, the said hornbill was seen no more. Further up the road, I saw another soaring bird. I yelled "raptor!" Even before Peter could stop, the Rufous-bellied Eagle was seen no more. Was it a coincidence that both species had the word "rufous" in their names?

At the area by the brook where the Cream-bellied and Yellow-breasted Fruit Doves had been seen recently, we met fellow bird photographers Cesar Espiritu, Mhark Gee, and Mags Ico who were stalking the said birds. We stayed with them for a while but both doves never showed up the whole time we were there. Mhark told us that a Rufous Paradise Flycatcher showed up earlier. Since then it was seen no more. Another, rufous=seen no more incident. Hmm.

So we moved on as we promised to take Peter to the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker site so that he could get his lifer.

Thankfully he did, and I got the constantly moving Sulphur-billed Nuthatch. Again.

Cynthia got a photo of a tailorbird. However it was too far and backlit for me to be able to identify it properly. My best guess would be Mountain (we were, after all, on a mountain).

Having gotten his lifer, we proceed to the area that Mags told us the White-fronted Tit can be found. We lingered there until about noon and were rewarded with three kinds of flowerpeckers: Buzzing, Orange-bellied and Pygmy. No Tits though.

Buzzing Flowerpecker
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Pygmy Flowerpecker
Our lunch at The Gathering was much better than the last time Cynthia and I ate there. That was a consolation from the seen-no-more birds.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's the Thought that Counts

I can't believe that it has been more than a year since we last birded in Antipolo. Especially since that place is one of our favorite birding spots. And now we're finally back.

We began at the area just past the basketball court. That brought back some memories: This place was where seeing a Grey-streaked Flycatcher was a sure thing. Since we haven't seen one for quite some time now, I hoped that we would be lucky today. But migration time is almost over so we probably won't see it, I thought to myself. Then voila! one flew in and landed just above me.

Cynthia, on the other hand, was busy taking shots at the constantly moving Elegant Tit.

We heard a lot of birds around but strangely couldn't locate them. So we moved on and as we turned a corner I pointed to my wife a White-breasted Waterhen preening out in the open. It was on her side so she started firing away.

As we rounded out the village, another thought came to mind: Where were the Scaly-breasted Munias that were so numerous in our previous trips here. Then, "Look!" Cynthia said as she pointed to a small group of munias, most of which were juveniles. Luckily we got good photos of the adults as well.

When we first entered the subdivision one of the first things I observed was that the two common species usually encountered here were conspicuously absent. That seemed a bit strange, I thought. It was only about an hour later that we finally saw the White-breasted Woodswallow and the Long-tailed Shrike.

"We haven't seen the Spotted Doves yet" my wife was thinking aloud. I shared the same thought. As we were driving, she saw a large brown bird. Before we could even pick up our cameras, it flew down and out of sight. We both jumped out of the car and tried to locate what we were sure was a Spotted Dove. Thankfully it was perched in the open and we got full views of it.

Finally as we were about to end our birding trip, Cynthia pointed to a Collared Kingfisher perched not that far from where we were. We were so glad that this species was still thriving here considering that an enormous house had already been built over its usual habitat. That was indeed a comforting thought.

It was a considerably short birding foray - about two hours or so - but at the end of the day it was all those thoughts coming to actualization that really counted.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fire and Flame

We returned to Infanta Saturday morning with the hope of acquiring one, or maybe even two, lifers. At first when we encountered a Coleto in Tanay, not far from where we have our usual breakfast, we thought that it would be a portent of good things to happen. 

Alas, things did not turn out as expected. At our first stop at the "De Castro" area it was a deja vu of the week before. Both the Yellowish White-eyes and Elegant Tits were actively hunting for food.

Yellowish White-eye
Elegant Tit
The almost dried up hagimit tree had its usual customer, the Buzzing Flowerpecker.

A Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker also came by.

A little past km. 103 we saw the now regular feeder at the more fruitful hagimit - the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.

Along with the Elegant Tits were Sulphur-billed Nuthatches.

It was here that we expected to find our hoped-for lifer, the Grand Rhabdornis. So we patiently waited for our quarry. It wasn't long when friends who did a raptor count in Tanay joined us. Several hours passed and still no rhabdornis. Cynthia and I decided to go further up the road. The only bird we saw was an overstaying Blue Rock Thrush.

We rejoined the group who told us that our target bird was still a no-show. Once again, we waited being consoled (or mocked?) by the noisy Coppersmith Barbet and Philippine Bulbul.

Coppersmith Barbet 
Philippine Bulbul
All of us decided to move on since it was nearing noontime. Along the way, the hibiscus were in full bloom and not surprisingly, a pair of Flaming Sunbirds were feasting on the red flowers.

When one member of the group told us that the Rufous Hornbill (another possible lifer) was seen without fail at the Hungry Tummy restaurant at 3 pm, we went there to inquire if that was indeed true. Tommy, the owner, told us that it was actually at around 4:30 pm that the hornbills come to their place. We passed that information to the group. At 3pm, we passed by the Hungry Tummy just to check if the hornbills decided to come early. Tommy greeted us and said it was at 4:30 for sure. Not wanting to be caught in traffic and also since I have difficulties driving at night, with sad hearts my wife and I both agreed to head for home and not wait for the said time of the hornbills' arrival. 

That evening Cynthia texted our friend Ruth, who was with the raptor group if they had seen the Rufous Hornbills at Hungry Tummy at the appointed time. No, she replied. 

Although we did not get any lifers that day, we were still stoked by Fire and Flame, a flowerpecker and a sunbird.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fire Alert

It was another productive trip to Infanta. At first, at the area near the trees with the "De Castro" sign, we encountered an early wave. Though some species were missing (Blue-headed Fantail and Citrine Canary Flycatcher), the others were quite plentiful. Such as the Elegant Tits, Sulphur-billed Nuthatches, and Yellowish White-eyes.

Elegant Tit
Sulphur-billed Nuthatch
Yellowish White-eye
After the flock had moved on, we drove up the road and encountered our fellow birders, Alex, Cel, Bert and Roy. I asked Bert the usual "What have you got?" question. He showed me a photo of a kind of Flowerpecker that I have never seen before. "They (note the plural) were feeding at the Hagimit fruits" he said, pointing at the said tree. I quickly got my tripod and all six of us waited for the return of the uncommon bird. Then after a while, "There they are!" Bert alerted everybody. We all had an exciting time taking photos of the yet unidentified species.

Satisfied at the result of our photographic endeavors, Alex looked at his book, the Kennedy's Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. "Fire-breasted Flowerpecker!" he gleefully told us. It appeared that all of us had been to Baguio in search of and did not find this high elevation dwelling species.

Having earned another lifer, Cynthia and I drove further on hoping to find more birds. Unfortunately, all we saw was a Paddyfield Pipit.

We returned to where the group was and had another photo session with the Flowerpeckers which also included the Bicolored, Buzzing, and the Orange-bellied.

It was nearing noon so my wife and I said goodbye to our friends, thanking them for alerting us on the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.

Our lunch at our usual dining place was a disappointment and we both agreed that the fire seemed to have gone out of the quality of food and service here.