Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Java Java Doo

My year list of birds seen had been quite stagnant for some time now - not seeing any new (for the year) species lately.

The other day, our friend Jops posted his blog wherein he mentioned that they saw a pair of Java Sparrows at the Main Library of the University of the Philippines (U.P.)!

Cynthia and I had the chance to pay a quick visit to U.P. this morning. Unsure if the uncommon sparrows would still be there, I only brought my 300mm lens. Big mistake! We easily found the Javas but they were way up high at the roof of the library. As Jops observed, they were indeed building a nest because my wife and I saw one with some agoho leaves in its beak.

Aside from the Java Sparrows there were the usual avian denizens of the university campus such as a very noisy Black-naped Oriole.

Of course I had to have a gratuitous shot of the migrant bully - the Brown Shrike.

I wasn't feeling that well so we cut short our birding for the day. At least one more species was added to my year list. I'm happy with that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


We waited for almost three hours. It never showed up. 

The slightly drizzly morning was brightened by the cooperative pair of Indigo-banded Kingfishers. For my wife, Cynthia, and myself, together with our friend, Bong, this was a repeat of our experience from last week. This time we were joined by new friend, Crisnick. For Crisnick, this was the first time that he saw (and photographed) the new stars of La Mesa Ecopark.

The other star, of course, was another kingfisher. The Spotted Wood. Elated by our early morning success, we all went to the trail where we hoped for another easy encounter with the Indigo's bigger cousin. Three hours and nada. Were it not for the thrill of getting a picture of the constantly moving juvenile Red-bellied Pitta, it would have been a bitter disappointment for us.

As noon approached and the steady shower not showing any sign of abating, Bong, my wife, and I accepted our being Spot less and agreed to call it a day. Crisnick, on the other hand, since he had not yet seen the Spotted Wood Kingfisher, resolved to stay and wait.

That night I received the good news from our new friend that at 12 o'clock, the bird with a long bill finally showed up. And even hanged around for 30 minutes! Perhaps it favored the patient ones or those who have not yet been given the quaint privilege of beholding his beauty. All I can say is that we were sincerely happy for our friend.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It Was a Ruff Day

Even before we reached the Candaba Wetlands, we already saw the Ruffs. Three individuals, at least. Relatively close too! 

Seeing an uncommon migrant right off the bat, so to speak, seemed to augur well for the rest of our birding day. However, things turned out differently. The road to the sanctuary was still muddy and not passable, and some parts of the fields were still flooded from the recent rains. There were redeeming moments, of course, like when a pair of Pied Bush Chats landed just a few feet from our vehicle.

But for Peter, my wife and myself, our hopes of seeing a lot of winter visitors and perhaps even a lifer somehow got dashed. Our friends, Irene, Rob, Kitty and Mark, who arrived earlier told us that there were Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers at the fallow fields. We hurriedly went to the place they referred to, traipsing through some mucky trails and found plenty of birds. Except that they were so far that we were not able to distinguish one bird from another. That their colors perfectly blended with the freshly tilled soil made it even worse. The only exceptions were an unusually curious Marsh Sandpiper...

...and an equally bold Long-tailed Shrike.

Aside from these, the birds that we saw at the Wetlands were mostly Egrets - lots of Little, a few Intermediate, and even fewer Great. Wood Sandpipers were everywhere.

Black-winged Stilts were quite plentiful too.

By eleven, the weather was already hot and humid with the sun mercilessly beating on the poor birders below.

On our way out, we once again saw the triumvirate of Ruffs at the same place they were earlier. 

I'd say it was Ruff from beginning to end.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Four Kings - A Winning Combination

The sun shone brilliantly after the storm. It was a holiday. A perfect combination for a birding spree. Even if the destination was just at the La Mesa Ecopark not that far from home. Lately, however, that place had been abuzz with sightings (not to mention posting of photos in Facebook) of two, count 'em, two uncommon kingfishers - the Spotted Wood and the Indigo-banded. Not only were both simply photographable, they were uncharacteristically insouciant to people.

Thanks to the directions provided by Anthony Balbin and Prof. Reuel Aguila, we (me, my wife and buddy Bong Nabong) easily found the place where the pair of Indigo-Banded Kingfishers hang around. During a lull - while the lovely pair was away - Anthony, called us and told us he found the other "star" of Ecopark. We quickly followed him and voila! - the friendliest Spotted Wood Kingfisher ever! 

Our friends, Maia, Jops, and Doc Cha who came after we left gushingly told us that the kingfisher was so indifferent to human presence that Doc Cha was even able to photograph the bird using her iphone!

On our way back to the Indigo-banded Kingfisher pond we met another friend, Jo Solis, who told us that she just saw the Oriental Honey Buzzard. We followed her and caught a glimpse of the raptor before it flew away.

At the pond, there were now more photographers awaiting the famed pair's return. The three of us joined Steve Albano,  Prof. Reuel, Alex Ting, and Leomar Doctolero in the stake-out. Soon Maia, Jops, Doc Cha, Bram, Kath and Sean Melendres arrived. Perhaps knowing that they now have a big audience, the male (who was nicknamed "superman" because his plumage resembles the superhero's costume) made a grand entrance and perched on a small piece of protruding wood and stayed there until we all had our fill.

As we prepared to leave, Sean informed us that he saw White Wagtails at the spillway. "There was also a Grey Heron" he calmly said as if that was as common an occurrence as rainfall in October.

Cynthia, Bong and myself, of course, went to the spillway. Steve followed not long after. Yes, there was the Grey Heron which, if I am not mistaken, was the first time this species was seen here. 

And yes, there were White Wagtails - we saw at least two of them - but they were quite at a distance.

It was while waiting for the migrant wagtails that a Common Kingfisher popped into view. 

It was also while searching for the wagtails that we saw a Collared Kingfisher way out on the concrete spillway.

When Maia, Jops and company joined us, we were rewarded with views, albeit a bit distant, of a Philippine Serpent Eagle!

Beautiful weather, great company, four kinds of kingfishers in half a day's birding - definitely a winning combination!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Santi Pause

Typhoon Santi slammed into Central Luzon very early Saturday morning. "There goes our birding plans," I told my wife. Earlier in the week we planned to visit the Candaba Wetlands with the hope of seeing some migrants. Now as heavy rain came down from the dark skies that idea was unceremoniously shelved.

At around three in the afternoon, the downpour surprisingly came to a halt and the firmament lightened up somewhat. Immediately I got a text from our birding buddy, Peter Ting (who was supposed to go with us to Candaba) asking if it would be OK to go birding in UP (University of the Philippines). I replied "sure, why not?" and informed him that we may not be able to join him (because I wasn't sure if the current pause in the stormy weather would last long enough). He wanted to know where to find the nightjar and the  blue rock thrush so I gave him the directions.

Somehow I felt a little guilty on not giving a precise description of the whereabouts of these two birds that he wanted to see. I discussed the situation with Cynthia and she suggested we go meet up with Peter. I texted him right away and told him we were on our way there.

We met up across Miranda Hall where I last saw the Blue Rock Thrush. Unfortunately, the janitor was cleaning the roof at the very spot where the migrant likes to stay. "Scratch the thrush, " I told our friend, "and let's go see the Nightjar instead." That endeavor was more successful. The nocturnal bird was exactly at the same spot where my wife and I saw it one week ago.

We returned to Miranda Hall. Peter saw a very cooperative female Olive-backed Sunbird perched unperturbed at eye level.

We did a quick foray at the MSI (Marine Science Institute) grounds where the only photographable birds were the Shrikes - the bully Brown and the lovely Long-tailed.

Ominous dark clouds covered the skies and it wasn't long before we felt the cold, tiny drops. Peter wanted to stay a bit longer so we bade our goodbyes.

It was during Santi's pause that we were able to accomplish our good deed. It felt good.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

To Health and Back

"For breakfast, instead of cereal with milk, why don't you try coconut milk and pinipig (pounded and toasted glutinous rice flakes). It is healthier and more beneficial to your digestive system."

That was the advice my wife and I got from a respected albulario (folk medicine man). I had been feeling physically down in the dumps lately and my enthusiasm for birding was at a dismal low. The meeting with the albulario lifted up my spirits and I felt a little better after undergoing a hilot (massage) treatment.

That evening as Cynthia and I mulled on the suggested breakfast for the following morning. We looked at each other in an intense mental communication trying to merge our brain waves into one.

"Guinumis!" we both shouted simultaneously.

"Cafe Via Mare!" we chorused.

The plan was set: Go birding at U.P. (University of the Philippines) in the morning then head to our favorite breakfast place in that area afterwards.

Early Saturday morning we were there. We were greeted by fellow bird photographer Steve Albano who had been hoping for the migrant Blue Rock Thrush to show up. Soon we were joined by "local" (he teaches at the University) birder, Bert Madrigal. So far nothing but Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Brown Shrikes were present. After a while, we were joined by another fellow bird photographer, Crisnick Lorenzo who imformed us that the Philippine Nightjar was at its usual roost. Inasmuch as this would be a lifer for Steve, we hurried over. It didn't take long for Bert to locate the nocturnal bird peacefully sleeping on a branch.

"We last saw the Blue Rock Thrush near the Miranda Hall not too far from here," Bert informed us. "But it hadn't been seen lately, though."

Nevertheless we wanted to try our luck. The tree where the thrush was last seen was indeed teeming with birds - the usual Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Brown Shrikes. Then I saw something whitish.

"Pied Triller!" I told my companions.

While we were taking pictures of the Triller, a noisy Coppersmith Barbet called attention to itself. 

Then a chunky reddish bird flew from that tree and landed on the roof of the Miranda Hall.

"Blue Rock Thrush!" I yelled.

Bert couldn't believe our luck in so easily finding this uncommon migrant as Steve and I kept on clicking our shutters excitedly. The Thrush eventually flew off. My wife and I bade goodbye to our friends.

Time to have that coconut milk with pinipig breakfast to nourish me back to health.