Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mood Indigo

Birders and Bird photographers go to Villa Escudero for one reason. It's not because Villa Escudero is of the finest resorts in the Philippines. Or because of the sumptuous buffet that they serve by the waterfalls while the cool waters of the river flow over your feet. It is not because of the ride on a cart pulled by a carabao (water buffalo) while the local folks serenade you with Filipino ditties. Nor watching the show depicting the culture of the Philippines. Not that these are not valid reasons to go there. As a matter of fact many tourists visit Villa Escudero to enjoy all of these. But birders and bird photographers? For them the main attraction of this resort is...

...the Indigo Banded Kingfisher! Villa Escudero is the place where this uncommon endemic can be seen without fail.

Wanting to become members of the Indigo Banded Kingfisher (IBK) club - an unofficial group of bird photographers who have the image of this tiny bird in their files - my wife, myself and fellow Philippine Bird Photographer (PBP) Gabs Buluran travelled the 90 km or so to go to Villa Escudero. We have made prior arrangements with the owner, Mela Balcazar (who is also an avid birder), to let us into the resort if we arrived earlier than their official opening time of 8 am. A little after 7 am and we were already driving inside the resort and already excited as we saw birds along the way. As soon as we parked and assembled our gears, we wasted no time chasing after the various birds by the roadside. Cynthia was going after the Purple-throated Sunbirds, Gabs was shooting at a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker. While I was still fumbling with my gear!

Soon the three of us were taking photographs of a bunch of Striated Grassbirds as they paid tribute to the rising of the sun through their melodious songs. Eventually our excitement subsided a bit and we all went to the place where the Indigo-banded Kingfisher had been seen. Regularly. We asked the staff who were doing their early morning chores where the kingfisher hangs out and they all pointed to the area in front of the rest rooms (which was facing the river - for those of you who are curious). So we waited and waited. For almost an hour we waited and .... nothing! Feeling a little bit (okay, a lot) downhearted, we went back to the roadside where we saw a lot of birds earlier. Only to discover that the avian activity had died down. Considerably. We stood there in silence, our moods shifting from bright to downright gloomy.

Then I heard one of the staff members calling me. He announced that the kingfisher was already there - in front of the rest rooms. As if our feet were on fire we quickly followed our newfound friend - which was not easy as we have to descend a zigzagging path, although concrete, was quite steep and narrow. And I still enduring bravely the pain on my left knee.

And there in all its glory was our reward! Despite the difficult lighting conditions we still tried our best to capture in digital image the uncommon endemic, Alcedo cyanopecta - the Indigo Banded Kingfisher.

For more (less moody?) birding blogs and photographs, please visit:

Monday, June 07, 2010

Tarictic or Treat

What happens when you go birding in a rainforest? You get rained on, that's what.

Last Thursday, on a whim, Cynthia and I decided to go to Subic Bay where patches of rainforest have remained pretty much undisturbed. Birding there, we were told, would be very productive. But then we came at the onset of the rainy season and we were showered at times by torrential downpours. They lasted for only a few minutes, but birds don't show up when the forest was being pelted by huge raindrops.

So we stayed mostly in our car even after the rain has stopped, listening to the forest come alive with birdsong. The trills and whistles were teasingly near and yet even with the aid of binoculars we couldn't locate the source of those melodious sounds.

We did see birds, many usually silhouetted against the gray skies, some as fleeting images among the dark forest undergrowth.

And we got some lifers, too! There was a tall tree where perched in sucession: a pair of Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes, a Balicassiao, a Green Imperial Pigeon (lifer!), a pair of Coletos (lifer!) and some Black-naped Orioles.

It rained less on our second day and this time we got a couple of Blue-naped Parrots (another lifer). Before we saw these parrots, we flushed a male Tarictic Hornbill which rapidly flew off into the distance and we never saw it again. On the way back to the hotel, my wife and I were discussing our frustrations at not being to get a photo of the hornbill. Just as we were passing Cubi point, I saw a huge bird perched on a limb of a tree overlooking the road. "Crow", my wife said. But I had my doubts, so I parked the car, took out my binoculars, and squealed in delight as I announced to Cynthia that this was a female Tarictic Hornbill. For the next hour or so we enjoyed the lovely treat that fate had given us that cloudy morning.

A video of the hornbill:

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