Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Keeping it U.P.

Our eyes nearly leapt out of their sockets when we saw it: 54 pesos per liter of gasoline! (About $4.71 a gallon). Suddenly visions of future birding trips began bursting like frail soap bubbles on windy day. Mt. Palay-palay *POP!*, Candaba *POOF!*, Subic *PFFT!*.....It felt like our bodies suddenly became flaccid from such discouraging thoughts. I wanted to throw a tantrum like a child who can't get the toy he wanted. I wanted to whine until I can get what I wanted. But being an adult (okay, a senior citizen) somehow tempered such controlling urges. As in countless times in the past, it was my wife, Cynthia, who came up with a solution.

"But wait", she said, sounding like a TV ad, "why not go birding at U.P. instead? After all it's just a few kilometers away. And there's always some interesting birds there."

It was as if windows had been suddenly opened ushering in a glorious light that overcame the pervading gloom as angelic fanfares accompanied such grandiose spectacle.

"By golly, you're right!" I agreed with a smile spreading on my face.

Thus began several trips to the renowned campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. It started on March 1st, as I ventured alone in search of the Barbet's nest and without the aid of my wife, failed miserably to locate it. However I was rewarded with seeing the very uncommon Violet Cuckoo (please see my previous blog, "Roses are red but violets are not blue").

The following Saturday, I was back, this time with Cynthia. Of course, she found the Barbet's nest rather easily. (How did she do that? or rather, how come I couldn't?). Here we met fellow birders Butch San Juan and Adri Constantino. However, because of some ongoing ground cleanup, the Barbets were as skittish as hunted deer. The Pied Trillers were bolder, unmindful of the commotion underneath and the constant harassment from the neighborhood thug aka Brown Shrike and from the always curious Yellow-vented Bulbuls. When the cleanup crew became more animated and noisier we decided to move to somewhere more subdued. At this point, Butch, who had a meeting to attend, bade us farewell. As we were driving by the MSI (Marine Science Institute) building, I told my wife, "It's sad that the Blue Rock Thrush no longer hangs out the.."

"There it is!" she yelled even before I finished what I was saying, and pointed to a silhouette of a bird on the driveway. I abruptly stepped on the brakes, backed-up and drove straight down to the parking lot, to the bewilderment of Adri who was following us in his car. We were taking a few shots of the colorful migrant when it began to drizzle. It looked like the downpour won't be stopping anytime soon so together with Adri, we decided that a late breakfast would be a perfect palliative.

Three days later we were back at the MSI parking lot with hopes of getting better shots at the Blue Rock Thrush. But it wasn't there. Cynthia saw a pair of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers cavorting along the branches of a nearby tree. I scurried over to where she was, got some disgustingly backlit photos and was trying doggedly to get better angles when raindrops began to fall. We both ran to the car and waited for the rain to stop. Thirty minutes later and it was still pouring with no signs of letting up. Reluctantly, disappointingly, we drove home not even thinking of consoling ourselves with a late breakfast as we did three days ago.

Another three days passed and we're back. Once again we checked the area where the Barbets were vainly trying to get settled in their nest making duties. Apparently they have given up because not even a shadow of a Barbet appeared. It was when we were exploring the surrounding area that I saw a small bird displaying a distinct flycatcher habit of perching then flying to catch some insect in the air and then returning to its perch. Thoughts of Ferruginous Flycatchers teasingly formed in my brain. I borrowed the binoculars that Cynthia was holding. I looked, focused, and realized that the tiny bird showing in my lenses was a Fferr.....a Grey-streaked Flycatcher! Maybe not as colorful nor as rare as a Ferruginous but still a good find, especially in a non-montane environment such as a university campus. Having had our fill of this active, brown bird, we returned to the MSI parking lot where the Blue Rock Thrush was waiting for us!

The following day was pretty much a reprise of the day before, with both Grey-streaked Flycatcher and Blue Rock Thrush present and accounted for in their respective milieus. A stake-out at the patch of wilderness known as "frogs" with pal, Ralf Nabong, resulted in zero sightings except for a family of Yellow-vented Bulbuls.

The old cliche about making lemonade when life gives you lemons somehow rang true. The prohibitive gasoline prices may have prevented me and Cynthia from going to the more distant birding places but that didn't prevent us from pursuing our hobby. We had to keep the passion burning even if it comes from such urban places as U.P. Diliman.

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