Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Taste of Things to Come - Birding in the Philippines

This post is a bit anachronistic - narrating events that transpired before my latest blog - but it has to be told, and you'll know why.

It has been almost 25 years since I left the Philippines. I have returned three times since, in 1997, 2004 and 2006. However during those visits, I was not able to do any birding at all. And so when my wife told me that we will be going to the Philippines this November, I made sure that our schedule would include some time for birding.

Two days after our arrival, Cynthia and I decided to go to the University of the Philippines campus in nearby Diliman district. Unfortunately, it rained quite heavily and so we had to pursue other non-birding activities. The following day, Saturday, we returned to the UP campus. By the main library area, we met Gabs Buluran, a fellow member of the Philippine Bird Photography group (PBP). He suggested we go to the Marine Science Institute (MSI) area because a Blue Rock Thrush had been spotted there. There we met Mark and Toto, also members of the PBP. While they were staking out the tall acacia tree, I busied myself taking pictures of the abundant Yellow-vented Bulbul population. It wasn't long when everybody was pointing their cameras at the branch of the acacia tree where sat the lovely Blue Rock Thrush. It then flew away and all of us relaxed a bit. We were soon joined by Ding Carpio, another PBP member, who right away saw a pair of Black-naped Orioles fly in, only to fly off again even before we could raise our cameras. Once again there was a lull which was occasionally interrupted whenever a new bird appeared such as a Philippine Hanging Parakeet, or a Brown Shrike, then a Long-tailed Shrike. A Pied Triller even gave a brief appearance. Soon some in the group dispersed to check out the surrounding areas. I went with Toto who was lucky to spot a Grey Wagtail along a ditch. Eventually things quieted down with only the Bulbuls and the Shrikes continuing their never-ending quest for food. Unanimously we all agreed to go back to the Main Library area where prospects are better at this time of day. There, two more members of the PBP were already waiting for the Coppersmith Barbet to appear. Ralf Nabong and Doc Mando informed us that the Barbet was flying back and forth from the sunken garden to the tree next to the library stairs. We all listened as the Barbet's "pok, pok, pok" sound became louder. I was lucky enough to spot it as it landed on the tree where the ubiquitous Bulbuls were having a feast. I informed the others of my discovery and we all tried to get a shot of the colorful, yet very active, tiny bird. An Artic Warbler flitting among the bamboos temporarily diverted everybody's attention away from the Barbet. Noon and we decided to call it a day.

Blue Rock Thrush

Brown Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike

Philippine Hanging Parrot

Grey Wagtail

Coppersmith Barbet

The following day, Sunday, we had time to kill before attending the services at Victory Christian Fellowship, so Cynthia and I decided to pay UP Diliman another visit. We were trying to find the best way to get to the Main Library area and encountering much difficulty because the streets were closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays to accommodate the hundreds of joggers and bikers. In taking the back streets, we found ourselves at the MSI area and so we thought we should start there. It was here that we witnessed the encounter between the Blue Rock Thrush and the Praying Mantis. When the mantis eventually became breakfast, we finally figured out how to get to the Library area. The same birds that we saw yesterday were what we encountered there. But now we had better looks at the Golden-bellied Flyeater, the Arctic Warbler and the Collared Kingfisher.

Blue Rock Thrush and Praying Mantis

Arctic Warbler

Golden-bellied Flyeater

Pied Triller

Collared Kingfisher

Monday morning, Cynthia and I walked around the vicinity of where we were staying in St Ignatius Village in Quezon City. Down the street, we were surprised to see a tiny yellowish bird that seemed to have drank too much caffeine. At first I thought it was a Golden-bellied Flyeater, but when I saw the curved bill, I realized that we were looking at a female Olive-backed Sunbird! I quickly returned home to grab my camera but the sunbird had gone off perhaps in search of more caffeine. As a consolation I was able to take some photos of a Zebra Dove and a very cooperative Pied Fantail.

Zebra Dove

Pied Fantail

Tuesday, I got a text message from Ely Teehankee, another PBP member, who offered to take me birding at Mt Palay-Palay in Cavite on Wednesday. Cynthia had already made plans on that day, so it was just myself, Ely, and his driver that made the trip. At 4:15 am we were off and around 6:30 we have begun birding along the road to Caylabne resort. One of the very first birds I saw was a White-throated Kingfisher perched on an electrical wire. Then Ely and I were straining our necks in trying to a get a shot of the Brahminy Kites flying above us. We stopped by an area where there are fruiting ficus trees. As soon as we got off the car, I saw a Greater Flameback! But it was quite dark and the bird was some distance away that all I got was some really blurred photos of it. I was still shaking my head in disappointment when Ely yelled, "Tarictic!" and sure enough a pair Tarictic Hornbills came crashing in and fed on the ficus fruits. A couple of monkeys watched us as we scrambled in trying to get a shot at the hornbills. Further down the road we witnessed tons of Philippine Bulbuls mixing it up with Yellow-venteds gorging themselves on the fruit of a tree. On the way back we were treated with good looks at a pair of Philippine Falconets. Thanks to Ely's hospitality, I had a wonderful time birding Mt Palay-Palay.

White-throated Kingfisher

Brahminy Kite

Greater Flameback


Philippine Bulbul

Philippine Falconet

A couple of days later we got another call, this time from Lyds Robledo, another PBP member. She will be taking us to the Subic rainforest Saturday morning. We were on the road at 5:30 am and by 8 we were entering Subic. At the Nabasan trail, we met up with Nestor, another PBP member, and Adri and Trinket and Linda who were Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) members. Through their help I saw a pair of Dollarbirds, a Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Green Racket-tailed Parrots and an oh so brief a glimpse of the Red-crested Malkoha. A Crested Serpent Eagle was soaring above us. Soon we were joined by Tina and Wency who guided us to where the Whiskered Tree Swifts and White-breasted Wood Swallows were. Lunch, courtesy of Tina and Wency was at the Cocolime restaurant where the food was fabulous. It's too bad that we had a dinner commitment that night so we had to leave early. Subic has so much potential birding-wise that I swore I will return in the near future.


Grey-streaked Flycatcher

White-breasted Wood Swallow

Whiskered Tree Swift

I racked up 35 species in those outings that I did. It would probably be more but I wasn't sure of the ID of some of the birds I have seen (those I saw by the roadside as we were travelling). My deepest thanks to Ely T for taking me to Mt. Palay-Palay and Lyds for taking me and Cynthia to Subic. Thanks to Tina and Wency for a sumptuous lunch. Thanks to my new friends whom I met in these sorties: Gabs, Mark, Toto, Bert, Ding, Bong and DocMando at UP; Nestor, Adri, Trinket and Linda at Subic.

I had a taste of what it was like birding in the Philippines. It was so different over 30 years ago when I had to do it all by myself, using public transportation, without binoculars, camera or even a guide book to help me identify the birds that I saw. But now, thanks to a wonderful gift from my step-daughter, Jenn, (Volume 1 and 2 of Birdwatching in the Philippines) and my new friends, I am eager to return home and go birding once again.


Tabib said...

Beautiful pictures!.
Great Oriental birds collection.
Most of it look familiar to me. ;)

NatureFootstep said...

you have so many beautiful birds. I envy you.

Felicia said...

What a wonderful trip that must have been--the chance to visit your homeland AND all those gorgeous birds too!

Johnny Nutcase said...

Hey there, thanks for checking out my blog! There are some awesome photos in this post! I especially love the Blue Rock Thrush and the mantis - fantastic timing! you saw some great birds, what a fun trip!