Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barb Wars

The juvie was up to no good. He had been keeping his prospect's abode under surveillance, trying to determine if the occupant was still there. Slowly, he circled the place, checking every nook and cranny in the vicinity. Gaining courage, he peeped into the opening. Not getting any response, he tucked his head in.


Only to meet the raging charge of the resident.

Alarmed, the juvie quickly took flight, the irate adult nipping at his tail.

Satisfied that the intruder had gone for good, the father, proud at having protected his brood, stood majestically at the top of his home and proclaimed his victory by a loud "pok" "pok" "pok".
The Coppersmith Barbet then quietly entered his hole in the branch to resume his nesting activities.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Valley Cashew

Armed with excellent directions provided by fellow PBPer (Philippine Bird Photography group)Mark Itol, Cynthia and I woke up at 4;30 am and drove south to the campus of the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB). The campus is located at Mt. Makiling so we expected to see some mountain forest birds.

We were at the vicinity of the TREES Hostel a little after six. As I was unpacking our gear, we saw a birder about 50 meters up the dirt road. Hoping he would be another member of the PBP or of the Wildbird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), we were somewhat surprised to see a Caucasian birding by himself. We introduced ourselves and discovered that he is Gerry Brice (not sure if this is how it is spelled because he pronounced it in his thick Scottish accent). He said he just arrived at Makiling direct from his flight from London and hasn't even slept yet. As we were talking we heard the call of a bird and looking up, we were thrilled to see a Balicassiao (Dicrurus balicassius) a member of the Drongo family and a Philippine endemic. Gerry was so happy and thankful that he got his first endemic even as he struggled to pronounce the name(It sounded like Valley Cashew). What made the sighting even more exciting was that our Balicassiao flew across the road and settled in its nest!

We three then strolled back to the hostel compound where a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds cavorted before our eyes. 

Gerry then begged off as he can no longer control his sleepiness (he stays at the hostel) and wanted to go to bed. We bade him goodbye and as we turned around we saw a Besra (Accipiter virgatus) fly over.

Bird activity died down at the hostel compound so we decided to check out the grove of tall trees between the Museum and the Botanic Garden (which was closed to the public because they were doing some construction there). Bird song was everywhere but they were coming from the canopies some 50 feet up. Occasionally we would see movement but frustratingly difficult to determine what kind of birds they were. Cynthia wandered off trying to pinpoint the source of a whistling sound that is coming from low (!) bushes near the entrance of the Botanic Garden. I remained in the middle of the grove still determined to find out what birds are hiding up there. When I glanced at Cynthia I noticed that she stalking something aided by an enthusiastic group of construction workers. I quickly hauled by gear and ran to the clump of low trees where the workers were almost jumping up and down as they pointed to a grayish-brown thing in the trees. It didn't take long for me to spot a hawk-sized bird with bright yellow eye-rings. I fired away as the bird flew from branch to branch. My wife, on the other hand, was still trying to locate the same bird. It was when it flew towards her that she realized we got a Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo, a bird that eluded us at both U.P. Diliman and Loyola Grand Villas (and today's lifer number 3).

The hawk-cuckoo eventually flew off and out of sight and we returned to the grove of tall trees. This time I saw a tiny flash of red that zoomed from vine to vine. I knew it was some sort of a sunbird but just couldn't tell which species it was. At home and after looking at the fuzzy pictures that I managed to get, I was finally able to identify it as Purple-throated Sunbird (Leptocoma sperata) - our 4th, and final, lifer for the day.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

White-eyed in Wonder

The campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman had become our favorite birding area. Despite the presence of a lot of people, the place is quite birdy. And easily accessible.

Friday morning, Cynthia and I were already staking out the fruiting "bignay" tree by the Vargas Museum grounds. Our target species was the Lowland White-eye (Zosterops meyeni). We are always fascinated by these small olive-green birds with white bellies and a prominent white eye-ring (from which they got their name). They are always a challenge to photograph because not only are they small (about the size of a Yelow-rumped Warbler), they are also very active. Since these tiny dynamos love the fruit of the "bignay" we hoped that we would be given some opportunity to take their pictures.

Two hours of patience and shutter bursts ("spray and pray" as professional bird photographer Bob Steele told me once) we were able to get some pretty good shots of the Lowland White-eye:

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Life's Bean Goose To Me

Cynthia and I were so excited because our friend, Ralf Nabong, invited us to join him in looking for a Bean Goose at the Candaba marshes. First of all, the Bean Goose is an extreme rarity. As a matter of fact, this was the first recorded sighting of this species in the country. Secondly, the Candaba marsh is one of the prime birding areas in the Philippines.

Because of such a promising day, we didn't mind waking up at half past three in the morning to meet up with Ralf at his place and be able to leave at 5 am so we can be at the marsh by daybreak.

Call it luck. Call it whatever. But as soon as we entered the marsh, we immediately saw the Bean Goose! At first it was dozing peacefully among the water lilies. However, as soon as we have set-up our cameras, the goose awoke from its slumber and eyed us, not warily, but rather more curiously.

After getting over our initial thrill at photographing this rare bird, we now became aware of the bird activity around us. Striated Grassbirds and Clamorous Reed Warblers were constantly singing paeans to the early morn.

An Arctic Warbler was hunting for food.

A White-browed Crake was gingerly walking on the giant lily pads.

Philippine Ducks did a fly-over.

Later we concentrated on the waders. Purple Herons were flying over their nesting areas constantly while Grey Heron stood motionlessly waiting for some unwary fish to swim by.

Barred Rails were unusually out in the open.

At around 11 am we decided to call it a day. It was one of the most productive half-day's birding we have ever done. Many, many thanks to Ralf for taking us to Candaba.

Now to grab some much needed sleep.

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U.P. Swing

Our birding activities went into a slight upswing as we met up with fellow birder photographer, Ely Teehankee, at the campus grounds of the University of the Philippines. It was about 6 am and as dawn brightened up the skies, a flock of birds congregated on a fruiting "bignay" tree. They were mostly comprised of the ubiquitous Eurasian Tree Sparrows and Yellow-vented Bulbuls.

"Lowland White-eyes!" Ely whispered as he pointed to the constantly moving tiny green and white birds. I just chalked up my first lifer for the day.

After a while, avian activity died down. Ely, Cynthia and I explored the other birding areas in the campus without much success, except for a forlorn-looking Brown Shrike.

When we returned to our original meeting place, Ralf Nabong was already there. He hasn't seen much either although birdsongs filled the morning air. It was when another member of the PBP (Philippine Bird Photographers) group, Doc Mando, showed up that things started to get interesting. Pretty soon he was directing our attention at about four Ashy Minivets (our target bird..and another lifer!) flitting high up in the tree tops.

Soon a pair of Black-naped Orioles began calling loudly to one another.

My wife and I wanted to stay longer but family commitments necessitated that we cut our birding foray short. We were happy, though, that we have added a couple of species to our lifelist.