Saturday, June 29, 2013

Beta than Nothing

Two straight weeks without going birding weighed heavily on my shoulders. It had been raining almost daily since the beginning of the month and that dampened any desire to leave the house. Not wanting to risk exposing our camera gears - not to mention our elderly bodies - to the prospect of a wet outing, my wife and I confined ourselves to the comforts of home.

However the birding itch continued to pester me. A forecast of an oncoming typhoon narrowed our choices to nearby places where we can avoid the "gates of hell" traffic that will be a certainty as soon as a heavy downpour happens. To our surprise Saturday morning was quite sunny (PAGASA the Philippine Weather Bureau had been known to flub their forecasts every so often).

"So where do we go?" Cynthia asked at 5 in the morning.

"U.P." was my unhesitating answer.

Deep within I knew that we always have a fallback option in case birding at the university campus would turn out to be unsatisfactory.

Unsatisfactory it was. A teaser of a Long-tailed Shrike which kept calling for attention and yet hiding under the leafy shadows. 

Not seeing much at the usual places, I contented myself at photographing the white pigeons perched at the library building. (Aren't they supposed to symbolize peace? Then how come my grumbling inner being doesn't feel that peace?)

As we turned into the Beta Way, a Pied Triller flew into view! Since I was using the smaller 300mm lens, the bird was just a white spot in my viewfinder. It was not my best shot. Not even a mediocre shot. It was a borderline "documentary" shot. But at least it was better than nothing.

"It's time to make lemonade out of lemons" I told my wife. To which she heartily agreed because she already knew what it will be.

A sumptuous breakfast at Cafe Via Mare was, as always, the best "lemonade" we could make out of a disappointing birding day.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dreaming Hawaii

The lazy, hazy days of summer segued into the rainy, hazy days of the monsoon season. Because of these weather conditions our birding activities had been shoved aside and was replaced by uncontrolled languid moments. Not foreseeing any change in the near future our thoughts wandered into the sweet moments of the past.

"I miss Hawaii" I heard my wife speak from her semi-supine position as she played with the Word Drop game in her laptop. 

Indeed we had some great birding times in those beautiful tropical isles - Oahu in 2011 and the Big Island in 2012. Memories flooded my mind. Memories that prompted me to look at the old files of the bird photographs we took then. To my delight there were some images that I had not processed yet. 

In between the crunching of salted peanuts, I worked on those images as my soul drifted into the sandy beaches lined with palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze or in a sultry forest at the edge of a volcanic crater spewing sulphuric smoke intermittently. 

Red-vented Bulbul
White-rumped Shama
Pacific Golden Plover
Japanese White-eye
Hawaiian Elepaio
Kalij Pheasant
As I looked at the birds that now seem to come to life before my eyes, I smiled at the memories of dreams that came true.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wild Bird Photography Ethics

Just a reminder to those who read my blogs and are into bird photography - please observe the proper ethics in taking pictures of wild birds. Our friend and fellow bird photographer, Sylvia Ramos, created this wonderful illustration of how we should behave in relation to our avian subjects.

please click to see a bigger image

Thanks and enjoy this challenging hobby!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nest Quick

It was a quickie birding trip at La Mesa Ecopark.  My neighbor and fellow birder, Chin Fernandez, wanted to go to this place. It will be his first time. Our friends, Jops and Maia, joined us to help introduce Chin to this birding refuge so close to the city.

Surprisingly, it wasn't a very productive outing that morning. We did catch a glimpse of the Red-bellied Pitta but the supposedly more common Hoodeds were nowhere to be seen.

To expand our coverage of the place we decided to go separate ways. It was when I was all by myself that a female Mangrove Blue Flycatcher darted across the trail and hid in the underbrush. 

A little while later a Common Emerald Dove nonchalantly fed by the edge of the trail just a few feet away from me.

The highlight of the day was when Chin and I staked out the Ashy Thrush's nest. It was fellow bird photographer Reuel Aguila who showed it to us. We were enduring the high humidity and the mosquito attacks waiting for some action when we were joined by another bird photographer, Steve Albano.

Suddenly there were some movement. The female thrush landed on the nest and the heads of a pair of nestlings popped into view!

The mommy bird then sat down and began brooding on its offsprings. That was the sign for Chin and myself to call it a day.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Great Unexpectations

It was a trip like most of our other trips. No high expectations. As a matter of fact there were really no expectations at all. 

We were in an exclusive subdivision in Antipolo City, where thankfully, much of the area is still covered with trees. We've birded this place quite a number of times before and we were certain that we would no longer encounter any surprises.

Which actually rang true at first as morning broke and the usual species greeted the rising sun. Families (!) of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers, Black-naped Orioles, White-breasted Wood-swallows and Olive-backed Sunbirds made their appearance. 

I was tracking a flock of Spotted Doves leisurely walking on the cemented road when I saw something quaint. At first I thought this was an overstaying Brown Shrike but when I looked through the binoculars I couldn't believe that I'm looking at a Pied Triller on the ground! Truly unexpected behavior indeed!

a triller of the ground
The second encounter was not really "unexpected" in the fullest sense of the word. We've been hearing this bird everytime we come here but it never showed up despite our patient waiting. Today, however was different. Thanks to my wife's keen eyes we got a….glimpse! Well, actually, a partial view of the teasing Philippine Coucal.

hide and "eek!"
The Scaly-breasted Munias were quite numerous that morning. While my wife and I were photographing some of them, I noticed something out of norm. A rosy red bird among the flock! At first I thought it was a Chestnut Munia glistening in the bright sun. When I looked closer I realized it was actually another Scaly-breasted but dyed red. To which I jokingly told Cynthia, "dyed and now alive". Seriously, this individual was very likely an escapee from a bird vendor. These uncaring people would catch these drab brown birds and dip them in dyes of various colors, mostly red, to make them more "appealing" to buyers. I wonder how many birds survived such inhuman acts. I'm glad this one did.

dyed and rose again
Finally, when we were driving home, we both saw a greenish bird fly across the road and alit on an electric wire. Now there are only a few green birds that can be seen in the city and very rarely even. This could't be a Philippine Hanging Parrot because it was much lighter in hue. Defintely not a White-eye since this was bigger than that. I screeched to a halt and parked by the roadside almost beneath the bird. Good thing we haven't packed Cynthia's gear yet. So I grabbed it a took some quick shots through the windshield (the only way to view the bird) thus resulting in a very fuzzy image. A few seconds later and it flew away. I looked at the photo and was surprised to discover that it was a Budgerigar! Definitely an escaped cage bird. And completely unexpected.

hey, bud, watcha doin up there?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Brown-bagging it

I just got my Canon 5D Mark III. I had been waiting to give it a field test asap but my wife and I needed some R & R after our trip to Puerto Princesa. For us R & R means Rest and Rest, basically staying at home, enjoying the airconditioning in our room, and napping most of the time.

Finally opportunity came when friends Charlie and Paula Fernandez needed some advice on birding in Los Banos. We told them that we would just join them there (perfect excuse, wasn't it?). I contacted another friend, Prof. Tirso Paris, and asked him if he would be available and if so if he could take us inside the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) compound. Thankfully, he was.

Bright and early Saturday morning we were happily birding the now dry ricefields. That was the beginning of my getting-to-know my new camera experience. Interestingly, most of the birds we saw were plain brown jobs that blended so well in their surroundings. The challenge they presented got me excited and also a bit frustrated at times. I never realized how complicated the settings were of this equipment until I tried using them in the field. Whew!

Here are some of the brown birds I bagged with the 5DIII

Zitting Cisticola
Oriental Pratincole
Oriental Skylark
Later that morning we went to the Makiling Botanical Garden. There we met fellow bird photographer, Ramon Quisumbing. He was joined later by his brother JJ, Steve Albano and Paolo Dolina. The entirely different habitat presented even more challenge to my gear. Sunbirds that were always moving and most of the time staying in the dark resulted in images that I would be ashamed to post publicly.

I have to read the manual all over again.