Sunday, May 27, 2012

Oh nest to goodness

Recent posts by fellow bloggers and birder friends Maia and Trinket about wild bird's nests found in urban areas piqued my interest. But I didn't do anything about it. Constant  prodding by another birder friend, Adri, to see the nests at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) campus - a few minutes drive from home - also failed to lift my butt from being glued to my computer chair. Friday night my wife and I still have not finalized any plans to go birding on Saturday. The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) group were going to Palay-palay but the meet-up time being three in the morning (which means we have to wake up at two) sort of hosed down any enthusiasm we had to go birding with them. Then came a text message from another friend, Bong, who asked if I wanted to see the nests at U.P. I texted back asking him what time he planned to go (not when it is still dark, I prayed). Seven am, he replied. Well, I certainly can live with that! So we arranged to meet along Magsaysay Street on Saturday morning.

My wife and I arrived early - about 6:30 - and started driving along the street where the nests were. Magsaysay St. is not long, probably not more than 10 blocks from end to end. And for the life of me, Cynthia and I could not locate the nests of the White-breasted Woodswallows and Crested Mynas. A frantic text to Maia. We get an immediate reply saying the nests were just across the Alumni Center. We found the building quite easily (it's not like we haven't been here before) and at once we saw the Woodswallows. I parked the car, took out my equipment and as soon as I had it ready, the Woodswallows flew away. My Kainis Poreber character was starting to surface when Cynthia pointed to the wooden electric pole to our right. "Crested Myna!" she exclaimed.

The adult birds were flying back and forth bringing food to what we assumed to be several chicks inside the top of the pole. Cynthia, meantime, joined her friends whom we met earlier at the Chocolate Kiss cafe at the next building for some girl talk. I on the other hand, stood, waited, photographed, then waited again for the Crested Mynas. 

A text message. It was from Adri apologizing for not replying earlier (I asked him for the nest location the night before). He also said that the Woodswallow chicks were now fully fledged and therefore no longer stays at the nest area. But the Mynas are still there he assured me. I thanked him and told him that I saw the Mynas already.

Another text message. It was Bong this time. He wanted to know where the nests are. I gave him the directions. After exchanging several more texts, he asked where I was. Standing at the sidewalk I told him. Apparently he already drove by a couple of times and still did not see me. My camouflage must be very effective. And I'm not even wearing one. Frustrated, he texted Cynthia instead. She promised to meet him in front of the cafe. A minute later both of them were parking next to my car.

Not long after Bong arrived, we were joined by Eve, his better half. For the next couple of hours, Bong and I watched and photographed the diligent parenting duties of the Crested Mynas while our wives engaged in some heavy conversation.

First the entree
then comes the dessert
and clean up afterwards
During one of the lulls, both our wives were alerted by some shrieking overhead. Colasisi! Cynthia yelled. A flock of about 4 or 5 birds landed in the tree across the street. Bong and I grabbed our gears and rushed beneath the said tree. It was a challenge. We only saw one individual and it was perched in the darkest part of the leafy tree. All I got were some "documentary" shots.

By now the weather was getting hotter by the minute. There weren't anything new happening around us bird-wise so we decided to call it day.

Brunch at the Cafe Via Mare was good. Somehow food tastes even better when shared with good friends.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hot and Cold

It was hot. Temperatures were soaring. All the heat adjectives becoming reality - sweltering, blistering, searing, stifling...and more. The moment I stepped out of our air-conditioned room, it was as if a giant python suddenly constricted my body and I felt gasping for air. Sweat poured from my body in torrents. 

There was no other choice but to return to our room, lie still on our bed and remain there until summer's over.

But of course, that was only wishful thinking. There were chores to do, errands to run, a life to live. Which necessitated the passage from blazing sun to cool building interiors for quite a number of times. At the end of the day as Cynthia and I prepared for bed, plans were even made to go birding early the following day - a Saturday.

Except that we did not wake up early. Not only that, to even make it worse, I woke up with a cold. Clogged nasal passage, itchy-throated kind of cold. I thought getting a cold happens only on those icy wintry days or on those getting-soaked-in-endless-rain moments. Yet, I silently asked myself, why did I get this ailment on one of the hottest days of the year?

Several cold tablets later and after confining myself to bed (in our air-conditioned room, of course) plus Cynthia's TLC, I am now feeling much better.

By the way, TLC does not mean Tomatoes, Lettuce and Cheese.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anger Games

The three of us were crouched behind a bush waiting for our prey. We tried to be as still as possible but with the sweltering heat and a cloud of hungry mosquitoes hovering around us, our efforts were all in vain. It had been almost two hours and our clothes were sopping wet. Every so often one of us would wander to look for other game or just to get a much needed relief from our stake out.

Our friend, Bong Tarat-tarat, decided to hunt for the Peeta with a red belly. He would imitate the mournful call of that skulking creature in an effort to lure it out from its hiding place. But the Peeta never appeared.

My life partner, Osintiang Lupa, used her sharp ears to locate the intermittently calling Mang Groblu catcher of flies. She would find it and would motion for me to come but by the time I arrived to take a shot at it, it would be gone.

That made Osintiang angry.

Most of the time, though, I, Kainis Poreber, remained behind the bush, patiently waiting for the Assy Thrash to appear.

After a long, patience-draining watch, I saw something hopping amidst the dark undergrowth. I silently called my partners. Bong and myself aimed our weapons at the moving shadowlike figure. We were about to shoot when a boisterous crowd suddenly appeared at the trailhead sending our quarry back under the cover of darkness. We glared at the group who completely ignored us and went on talking so loud as if they were watching a rock concert.

That made Bong angry.

The fact that this scenario happened so many times made me wonder why these people, who were walking in the middle of a serene forest, had to talk and laugh in such an inconsiderate manner despite seeing us diligently stalking some avian game.

That made me angry.

For the umpteenth time, we were once again at our post, hoping against hope that we would for once, get the Assy Thrash without being disturbed by mindless babblers. Bong and I knew how difficult it would be to capture that bird in that particular environment. We have set our weapons to manual – to depend on automatic could result in heartbreaking failure – for we may never get another chance again.

Then it appeared. Osintiang perked her ears and made sure no noisy interruptors were approaching. We fired away.

Our anger had subsided.

Now we are pleased.

The characters and creatures portrayed in this story are all fictional. Any similarities with an actual person or animal, alive or dead, are purely coincidental.

Or not.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Antipolo Shown

The heat was becoming unbearable. Smog and pollution were pervading the valley. In an attempt to escape these, Cynthia and I went to the hills. Of Antipolo. 

Initially we just saw the usual suspects: a Barred Rail, White-breasted Wood Swallows, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Golden-bellied Flyeaters, and Pied Fantails. Then Cynthia heard a melodious song. A colorful song coming from a black-and-white bird. We've gotten glimpses of the Philippine Magpie Robin here before but this was the first time I was able to take a picture of it.

Things began to look-up (I am tempted to say that you can interpret that word almost literally - the birds were high up in the trees, beginning with that Magpie Robin). Again, it was Cynthia who heard the repeated "twick" "twick" of a Colasisi (Philippine Hanging Parrot). There they were raiding the red flowers of the African Tulip tree. This was a first time sighting for this species here in this village. At a distance a Bright-capped Cisticola was also enjoying the morning. Another first time sighting!

Later on we witnessed an immature Lesser Coucal trying (and, thankfully failing) to locate a Pied Fantail's nest much to the aggravation of the parent birds. That was also the first time we've seen a Lesser Coucal here although we've been hearing their calls quite regularly.

But the highlights of that morning were the conversations we had with two different ladies who witnessed our birding activities. The first came after we saw the Magpie Robin. An elderly couple were hiking when they saw us, cameras and all. The lady approached us and asked if we were residents (which I'm sure she knows that we're not; it's a small subdivision where everybody knows everybody).  We introduced ourselves and told her that we were guests of our friends from church, John & Vivette Webb. She smiled and then asked curiously what we're doing. We gave her a glowing report on the joys of bird watching and bird photography. We even enumerated the various species that we have seen and photographed here in their very own community putting emphasis on the very uncommon Slaty-legged Crake that we saw last year. To our surprise, she asked, "is that bird more expensive?" That had some sort of discombobulating effect on us. Did she mean a photograph of a rare bird would be more expensive that than of a common one? or (hopefully not) if it would be more expensive as a caged bird?

I hastily drew our calling card from my wallet and handed it to her explaining that we do this thing as a hobby, not as a business nor a sport. Cynthia told her to go to our Smugmug website and look for the Birds of Antipolo Gallery. Maybe when she sees those photos, she and her husband might have more appreciation for the birds around them.

Our second encounter was with Mrs. Linda Co. We've met her before. As a matter of fact it was at her yard that the Slaty-legged Crakes decided to build their nest 9 months ago. Since then she had become more aware of the birds in their area. She even related to us that three weeks ago she saw an albino Coucal! She and Cynthia were in the middle of a conversation when suddenly my wife stopped in mid-sentence and started shooting at something from across the street. That something turned out to be a White-eared Brown Dove - another first time sighting in Antipolo!

We resumed our bird talk with Mrs. Co until it was time for us to go. She promised that she would call should the albino Coucal or any other interesting bird should show up in their neighborhood.

Oh, before we got into that conversation with Mrs. Co, I had a serendipitous encounter with a lovely lady - a female Mangrove Blue Flycatcher.

Now back to the valley. And everything that goes with it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The heat is on

When our friend, Prof. Tirso Paris, posted his bird photographs taken in Los Banos in the internet, we drooled. I was reminded of the comment the elderly lady made with regards to Meg Ryan's character at the deli scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally: "I'll have what she's having!"

So when another friend and budding birder, Peter Ting, asked where we plan to go birding on Saturday, I said "Los Banos" unhesitatingly. "I'll pick you up at 5 am", he said. I immediately communicated with Prof. Tirso and asked if he could show us where he got those fabulous photographs. He said yes. And even volunteered to take us inside the hallowed grounds of IRRI (International Rice Research Institute). Inasmuch as that is a research facility where they conduct experiments on the various strains of rice, access is understandably restricted. My wife and I already had quite an embarrassing experience at that place and so we were glad that our professor friend would be able to take us there. (Even then we always had an "escort" all the while we were inside their premises).

At 7:30 am, Tirso was escorting us towards the rice fields, he in his car and the three of us (me, Cynthia, and Peter) in Peter's SUV.  Prof. Tirso drove ahead and scouted the area, then he texted me: pratincoles and skylarks to my left. We followed and sure enough, those birds were there. I have never seen this many Oriental Pratincoles before, flying, simply standing or crouching on the dried rice fields.

That had been our course of action for most of the morning. Prof. Tirso driving ahead then texting me the kinds of birds that he just found. Soon we were also photographing the Oriental Skylarks and the Paddyfield Pipits. A Blue-tailed Bee-eater even perched on a nearby fence post for some good photo-ops.

Oriental Skylark
Paddyfield Pipit
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
This early in the morning, the heat has become almost unbearable. Peter turned on his car airconditioner even with the windows open (we were taking photos from the car) just so we can have some relief from the suffocating heat. 

Not surprisingly, most of the pictures we took of the birds show their beaks wide open in their effort to make the dry, oven-like temperatures more tolerable. 

We heard the low hoots of the Greater Painted Snipes but the blast from the morning sun kept them hidden under the rice stalks. The late-staying waders however seemed to be unmindful of the unusual warmth as they foraged in the ponds. Some were already in breeding plumage. Particularly lovely were the Little Ringed Plovers with their bright yellow eye-rings.

At past ten in the morning we all left IRRI and went to the APEC area but saw nothing! Where there used to be skylarks and pipits, an occasional buttonquail or even a rail crossing now was just an empty, simmering concrete road.

Even a foray into the forest near the TREES Hostel parking lot yielded nothing but a lone Stripe-headed Rhabdornis that perched at the tip of the dead tree. 

It was now nearing noon and we were all drenched in endless sweat. We bid our beloved professor goodbye and thanked him for being our host and guide.

Despite the 36 degree Celsius temperatures we still were able to get some good shots of the local birds of Los Banos. We may not have gotten as many and as good photographs as those that Prof. Tirso posted in the internet, but we were happy.