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Our birding buddy, Peter (aka Ting Wai), wanted to get a photo of the Indigo-banded Kingfisher in Villa Escudero. He had photographed it before but he wasn't happy with the results. Now that he is better "equipped" with the 600mm lens that Canon Philippines loaned him, he wanted to give it another try.
The key to photographing the resident kingfisher was waiting. We set up our gears in the middle of the shallow river and waited. Every now and then the tiny blue-colored bird would zoom past us teasingly. Still we waited. There were times when it would perch but it would do so on a branch too distant even for our long lenses. So we waited some more.
Almost three hours later and bingo! It came at just the right distance at just about the right ambient light. We fired away. The waiting was finally over.
After a sumptuous lunch - how can you not enjoy such delicious Filipino cuisine while the cool river waters flow over your feet? - we headed towards the tree popularly known as the Red-keeled Flowerpecker's home. As soon as we got there we were already rewarded by the presence of the immature flowerpecker yelling for food.
One of the parents was busy feeding on the red fruits which it eventually shared with its offspring.
Soon raindrops started falling on our heads. We boarded Peter's car and drove to nearby Hacienda Escudero where we discovered to our delight that it was a place where munias weren't hard to come by. As a matter of fact, three kinds were busily enjoying the bountiful fruits of the grass: Chestnut (aka Black-headed) Munias, Scaly-breasted Munias and surprise! White-bellied Munias.
Rain began to fall in earnest. The effects of rising early in the morning were beginning to creep on us. As we drove along the superhighway with raindrops pelting the windshield, pictures of warm cozy beds waiting for us in our respective homes danced in our heads.
Dark ominous clouds covered the skies. Peter inched his car up the mountain road. The three of us were silent, our moods reflecting the gloomy morning. A few kilometers later, the lazy Phoebus finally awoke and peeped through the gray blanket and filled the heavens with a bright promising light.
For Peter, Jelaine and myself, this was our return to birding after a long hiatus. For Peter it was work that kept him from enjoying the hobby we all share a passion for. For Jelaine it was school. For me it was shameful lethargy brought about by the fickle weather where rainfall was as unpredictable as the flight of a swift.
But now we're back.
Throughout the day the sun played hide-and-seek among the empyrean cotton balls. In spite of the golden orbs playfulness we managed to see most of the birds we hoped to see. And then some.
It was during one of those moments when the sun was behind a cloud that Jelaine saw it. Peter stopped the car and took pot shots at it, while the non-photographer young lady with us described the bird while peering through her binoculars. I jumped out of the car, camera in hand, and looked at where they were pointing at. And saw movement. Two objects moving in the darkest part of the understory. For the life of me, I just couldn't even tell what I'm looking at. They were birds alright judging from their movements but that's just about all I could distinguish. For me they were just two pale patches dancing in the dark.
After the birds were gone, Peter showed me the pictures he got and once again I couldn't figure out anything. Now I will have to admit the fact that my almost 67 year old pair of eyes aren't what they used to be. I am most certain this condition was aggravated recently by my constant staring at my computer for most of my waking hours. I blame Facebook for that.
Back at the mystery birds, from the description given by my birding mates and based on the habitat we saw them, my guess was that these were a pair of Spotted Wood Kingfishers. Peter confirmed it later that night after he had processed his photos.
We didn't know it at that time but it wasn't long after this encounter that we would be getting a lifer. All three of us were standing at the side of the road hoping to see a bird. Any bird. It was then that a low flying raptor appeared above us. Slowly like a windblown kite it thermalled higher and higher until it became a mere dot in the now blue sky. That evening when I showed the picture to expert birder, Desmond Allen, he confirmed what I had hoped it was - a Philippine Hawk Eagle.
Seeing a Whiskered Treeswift at Mt. Palay-palay is almost guaranteed. Sure enough, there was a lone male performing its insect-hunting routine.
Another surprise came further up the road. What we thought were not so uncommon Barn Swallows turned out to be a mother Striated Swallow feeding its fledgling. A few Pacific Swallows watched the whole procedure with seemingly genuine interest not that far alongside.
When the big bullying White-breasted Wood Swallows came each and every swallow got off and hurriedly left the electric wire they were perched on.
Continuing on our journey, we all saw a dead bird on the road. As we got near I identified the poor thing as a Plain Bush-hen. It would have been a lifer for both Peter and Jelaine, but since it was dead, they will just count it as a "deather".
Another sure-to-be-seen bird in this neck of the woods is the Philippine Falconet. At first we were worried because we did not see this tiny raptor at the place where they are usually seen.
"Don't worry" I assured my friends, "we'll see it on our way back." "Remember the last time?" I reminded Peter of our previous trip here.
As we were going back down the winding road, I pointed a small bird to my friends. We finally saw the falconet at a time when dark clouds again turned the skies to a somber gray.
As the morning wore on and the weather turned less favorable we all agreed it was time to leave. But first, lunch beckons.