Monday, May 24, 2010

Knees and No Few

The pain on my knees, particularly the left one, was excruciating. We were trudging along the trail in a small village in the town of Coron in Palawan province. Our very eager guide, Erwin, had been pointing out birds left and right, oftentimes disregarding my complaints that I can't walk fast enough to be where he wanted me to be. Since he was the one carrying my gear (my camera and 500mm lens mounted on a tripod), he usually would point the camera towards the bird he saw and sometimes even sneak in a couple of shots of his own while waiting for me to arrive at the scene. Which I didn't really mind at all because Cynthia who was more agile and carried a lighter set of camera equipment, was always next to him and was also shooting at the same subject herself.

We spent about a day and a half birding with Erwin at the same village where he lives. From that brief foray, Cynthia and I racked up not so few lifers. Twenty-five in all, as a matter of fact. It was definitely worth enduring the seemingly endless ache on my knee. Not to mention the hot and humid weather that prevailed on both days.

Here are a few of what we photographed:

Ruddy Kingfisher

Blue-eared Kingfisher

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

Common Flameback

Palawan Blue Flycatcher

Hooded Pitta

Black-naped Monarch

There were places in Coron that we still haven't explored of which Erwin assured us that there were even more birds. We promised we will come back.

But first I have to wait for my torn knee ligament to heal. *Sigh*

For other (less painful?) birding blogs and photographs, please visit:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Brada Pitta

Nothing creates a sense of brotherhood among bird photographers than taking pictures of a local avian celebrity. I have been through this experience a couple of times before in California. When news of an Arctic Warbler inhabiting the trees in Galileo Hills became known to one and sundry, all self-respecting bird photographers in Southern California came to take a shot at this rarity. In between appearances of the sought after warbler, we bird photographers shared a kindred spirit while bonding and even foregoing lunch. That was repeated when a young Roseate Spoonbill stayed in Irvine for some R & R.

Although I am a bona fide member of the Philippine Bird Photographers group, I am still a "newcomer" having just recently moved back here. As such I have not yet fully bonded with the locals even when I have been with some of them during various sorties. But when news came about that a Red-bellied Pitta was seen in nearby University of the Philippines' Diliman campus, I met fellow bird photographers Bong, Rey and DocChito. It was here in a small spot behind the Biology building that I became a part of the brotherhood that shared whispered stories all the while sweating profusely as we patiently waited for our shy quarry to appear. And when the Pitta slowly emerged from the shadows, only the sound of the clicking camera shutters shattered the silence.

I wanted to stay longer with my friends but my wife and I had to attend a lunch party hosted by a high school classmate and also I wanted to add a second lifer of the day by photographing the Philippine Nightjar snoozing peacefully just a block away from the Pitta place.

As I reminisced the events of that sultry Saturday morning, I smiled. Not only because I got my two lifers but more importantly, I now have a feeling of belonging. I would like to believe that I am now one of the certified local "birdnuts".

P.S. I have been "absent" for a couple of weeks because we visited Singapore. For our stories on birding that City-Nation please visit my earlier blogs: See Mynas and Feeling Buloh. Thanks!

For other birding blogs and photographs please visit:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Feeling Buloh

Our flight out of Singapore doesn't leave until 5:20 in the afternoon, so we decided to go to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Using public transportation. A little after 8 am, we paid the entrance fee of S$.0.50 each (we're both senior citizens, so we were able to avoid the exorbitant S$1.00 per fee).

As we entered the trails, I was immediately reminded of the Smith Oaks area in High Island, Texas. The layout was almost the same, minus the hordes of Roseate Spoonbills and Egrets. Migration being almost over, all we saw on the mudflats was a single CommonRedshank.

We then focused our attention on the forest birds whose trillings and twitterings filled the humid air. This turned out to be quite a frustrating affair. How do you get good photographs of tiny objects that are constantly moving within the dark confines of leafy trees? Each time Cynthia and I would check the results of our photographic endeavors, a loud "aaargh!" would emanate from our lips. We would find another bird and the same thing would happen. This hurts even more so because the blurry shots we got were lifers and some of which are quite colorful - like the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker or Ashy Tailorbird. One consolation though was that Cynthia who's got a steadier hand and quicker reflexes nailed a Crimson Sunbird!

Sungei Buloh is a great place to go birding. Photography-wise, it left me feeling blue. My dear wife always has a consoling statement on occasions like this: "We have a reason to come back."

Wise words, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

See Mynas

Singapore. Just the mere mention of that name conjures up visions of the exotic orient. Shopping center of Southeast Asia. Playground of the deep-pocketed Oriental aristocrats (and wannabes).

And so Cynthia and I paid this island nation a visit to...bird, of course! The very first place we went to was the Singapore Botanic Garden. While waiting for our fellow Philippine Bird Photograher(PBP), JP Carino, our attention shifted to a tall tree near the entrance where some birds were calling. The bright yellow of a Black-naped Oriole gleamed in the morning sun.

Adding to the cacophony were the various whistles and tweets that came from some Hill Mynas.

Down below Javan Mynas walked pompously on the garden grounds.

Both Myna species were lifers for us and as we savored the thrill, a female Asian Koel displayed from the branch of the same tall tree where the Orioles and Hill Mynas were singing their choruses.

A Blue-throated Bee-eater alighted on a tree next to the visitor centre. I ran towards the tree to try and get closer to it, while Cynthia stayed behind and photographed some Olive-backed Sunbirds.

JP, who works in Singapore, volunteered to be our "guide". Soon he came sauntering in huffing from the already humid weather. Unable to hail a cab being the morning rush hour, he had to walk from the train station to the botanic gardens. We told him to rest first before we begin our "tour". Just then a Dollarbird flew into the same tall tree where we got our lifers earlier.

JP having now regained his breath suggested we visit the heliconia trail. A few steps later, we were rewarded with a White-breasted Waterhen crossing our paths.

JP then pointed to a medium-sized black bird flying from tree to tree. "Racquet-tailed Drongo", JP told us to our delight.

Soon we were joined by Con Foley, the local bird expert and himself an outstanding photographer. We dipped on the Crimson sunbirds that were supposed to frequent this area. However, Con showed us both the Lesser and the Wandering Whistling Ducks huddled together by the pond. Behind us a pair of Pink-necked Pigeons were gathering material for their nest.

At this point the humidity had become almost unbearable and the birds were getting scarcer. As we all walked back towards the visitor center, a family of Oriental Magpie-robins foraged by the side of the road.

After lunch, our two friends bade goodbye as we wanted to stay at the gardens a bit longer. As we rested in the shade a Common Iora came hunting for insects among the leaves above us.

An hide-and-seek game with a Collared and a White-throated Kingfisher left us completely exhausted. That's when we decided to go back to the hotel and enjoy the air-conditioning system. And gloat over all the lifers we chalked that day.