Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Are we still in Eden?

For two consecutive mornings Cynthia and I were at the Mountain Trail inside Eden Nature Resort. The sights and sounds in those two mornings were so identical it was as if we were in some sort of twilight zone. What made it even more creepy was that two of the three species we saw during those times were totally unexpected.

Our main purpose for birding the Mountain Trail was of course to see and get more pictures of the skulking Cryptic Flycatchers. We easily saw them on both days. However, on the first day, as we were waiting for the flycatchers to show up, Cynthia saw a small bird with a long tail up in the trees before us. 

"Couldn't be a Cryptic," I told her when she described the bird to me. I tried to look for it through the camera (we only brought the one with the shorter 300mm lens), Finally I was able to get some shots of a female Black-naped Monarch.

After another lull in the Cryptic Flycatcher activity, I saw an orangey bird alit near a bamboo clump beside the waterfalls. Inasmuch as it was partially hidden among the leaves, I thought at first that it was a White-throated Kingfisher. Then a breeze blew some of the leaves exposing the bird a little bit more. I couldn't believe that it was actually a Ruddy Kingfisher!

Black-naped Monarch. Ruddy Kingfisher. Both these species are more commonly encountered in Coron and, as far as I know, have not yet been reported seen in this resort

"Are you sure we are still in Eden?" I jokingly told my wife.

And to think that the same encounters happened again the following morning. This time it was the male Black-naped Monarch that showed up. Closer even. 

And the Ruddy Kingfisher was more out in the open.

It was only when the Cryptics once again appeared that we were brought out of our twilight zone and made us aware that we were back in Eden.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Four in One

Four lifers in one day. Four exciting stories.

The setting: Davao. Cynthia and I went to this enchanting place primarily to attend her niece's wedding.  There had been a spate of sightings of uncommon birds in this city so we made it a point to allot some time to pursue our hobby. 

And so the story begins…

Willing and Eagle

The news spread like wildfire in the birding community - a pair of Philippine Eagles together with their nestling had been discovered in Mt. Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines.  Tour groups  and many of our friends have been there and returned full of awe and excitement. When these friends learned that my wife and I were going to Davao they urged us to go see the eagles. So we made inquiries. We learned that there were related fees to enter the site - the amounts of which we deemed a bit prohibitive. It is definitely worth it, our friends encouraged us when we voiced out our reluctance to go. Still we were hesitant. Two days before our departure we got word that there would be a military operation to seek out rebel hideouts around the eagle site and access would no longer be allowed. That could have been the last straw. We could have given up after hearing that disheartening news. But somehow it became a challenge - a challenge that we resolved to overcome. After praying, we communicated with Pete Simpson who would be taking us to the Philippine Eagle site, and told him we were good to go. He agreed to pick us at up at 5:30 am on Friday, March 14. Not only were we willing to see the eagles, we were quite eager to do so.

As soon as we arrived at the site, we saw the young eagle on the nest. 

The mother was there but she was perched behind some tree branches and afforded only partial views. She flew off (while we were looking at another lifer) and was already out of sight before I was able to turn my camera to it. The locals told us that since the eaglet was now quite big, one or both parents would only come to feed it every other day or so. Such had been the experience of the group who came just a few days before us, not seeing any adult eagle the two times they were there. I was mulling about this when suddenly my wife shouted, "they're flying! they're flying!" I looked and both adults came soaring before us. For about fifteen minutes they glided majestically and not once landing on or near the nest.

Both eagles thermalled higher and higher and were soon out of sight. We were all smiles and let out our breaths which we had been holding in sheer excitement. The members of the local tribe who watched the raptors with us were congratulating us on our luck. This never happened before, they told us, where both adult eagles flew together in full view.

Left and Writhed

We had just seen the baby eagle and were hoping that at least one of the adults would show up when we got our second lifer of the day. Thanks to Brian Powell, a birder friend and Davao resident, who was with us. I was reviewing the photos I just took of the eaglet when our friend said, "look to your left". I squinted my eyes and looked. Pete then offered to point my camera to where Brian was referring. I looked through the lens and almost screamed in delight! A male Writhed Hornbill was feeding it's mate who was confined to the nest hole. Another beautiful and uncommon species to add to our life list!

Happy, thrilled, satisfied, awed, mesmerized and hungry (we had very minimal breakfast) we left the site a little after ten and then had a sumptuous lunch an hour later at Penong's.

Tales from the Cryptic

We were a bit discouraged when we failed to see the Cryptic Flycatcher on our first day. All our friends who had been to the mountain trail at the Eden Nature Resort had seen this bird. I frantically contacted three of them - Rommel, Tonji, and of course, Pete - to give me the precise location where these tiny, plain-colored birds are found.

Having seen the Philippine Eagles early, Cynthia and I decided to try and look for the Cryptics, who were living up to their name, that afternoon. Hoping that our luck that morning would hold up and armed with the directions given by our friends, I even brought along my big lens which was quite a challenge considering the steep and narrow stairs that we would have to traverse to get to the Cryptic site.

As we waited for the birds to appear, it drizzled. Talk about dampening our enthusiasm. Literally. It was right after the precipitation stopped that the flycatchers showed up. A pair of them even! And that was lifer number three.

Is that Really Trogon?

Our fourth lifer was a bonus. It was so totally unexpected that I had my doubts. My wife saw it first.

"Trogon!" she whispered afraid she might spook the bird.

"Yeah, right!" I replied cynically.

I slowly walked over to where Cynthia was. She pointed at a silhouette. I looked. It flew. And then perched out in the open! Definitely a trogon!

It was an amazing day for us - seeing the family of Philippine Eagles despite all the discouraging news that were given us, finally adding the Cryptic Flycatchers to our lifelist on our second attempt and getting surprises such as the Writhed Hornbill and Philippine Trogon. Thanks to Pete Simpson for taking us to the eagle site, to Brian for pointing the hornbill to us, and to Tonji, Rommel, and Pete for giving directions to the cryptic flycatchers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bob's Hope

The encouraging comments to my yesterday's post in Facebook about my lamentations on not seeing the Eyebrowed Thrush after five attempts buoyed my hope. Friends and family urged me to go back to Ecopark and try again. I communicated with our friend, Bert, who saw it last. He gave me very precise directions on where he saw the thrushes (he said there were about four) and even the time that he saw them.

Armed with these information Cynthia and I returned to the La Mesa Ecopark this morning. Full of hope I brought along my big lens which elicited a "you must be very confident" comment from my wife (to which I replied with a wide grin). 

One of my handicaps is that I am not good at finding locations. Despite the directions given by Bert, I still had problems getting there. Through the convenience of SMS with our friend we finally located the exact place that he described. The time was about 11:30.

It was at that time that the prophetic words of my Facebook well wishers came true.

Sometimes sad movies have happy endings.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sad Movies

Cynthia had grandma duties so I went to Ecopark alone.
I saw my first bird which didn’t take too long
An Ashy Thrush flew up to the branch of a tree
Just as I was being joined by Bert and company.

We climbed up the narrow trail hoping to see
The kingfisher that birders nicknamed Spotty
But Spotty strangely was nowhere to be found
So we all decided to explore the other trails around

When we stopped to rest we saw some movement above
Looking up we all saw a lovely White-eared Brown Dove
Farther into the forest we went and then once again paused
Because a Mangrove Blue Flycatcher stopped by and posed

As rising temperatures announced the approaching midday
I said goodbye to my friends and went my own separate way
That night as I was going over my friend’s posts in Facebook
There was something there that made me do a second look

A photo of an Eye-browed Thrush was posted by Bert
Suddenly I felt as if I was cursed by mother earth
Five times I went to Ecopark hoping to see this thrush
Five times I failed, five times my heart was crushed

I was sniffling softly as I watched a dramatic TV show
Then slowly, silently my tears began to flow
Cynthia noticed this and she asked me why
I just told her that sad movies make me cry

Sunday, March 02, 2014

War and Peace Birding

The loud cawing attracted our attention. Following the source of those angry calls my wife and I saw a pair of Large-billed Crows circling a tall tree. Alternately they would dive at something while continuously berating at the object of their wrath. I slowly inched our vehicle closer to the tree of contention. Then I saw it (Cynthia, unfortunately was on the passenger side and therefore could not see what was going on) - the crows were mobbing a Philippine Hawk Eagle! Despite it's bigger size the Hawk-Eagle was unable to ward off its attackers and could only manage some squawks of protest.

We've been to this subdivision in Antipolo City many times to go birding, and this was the first sighting I had of Nisaetus philippensis here. For about fifteen minutes the black marauders harassed the large raptor until finally not being able to stand the hostility and to save face, the Hawk-eagle flew away. Interestingly, the pair of crows did not give chase. Perhaps they have a nest nearby that they were trying to protect from the predator, thus the enmity?

The war between two species now over, the other birds became more active in their foraging for food. A surprise was an Elegant Tit displaying its black and yellow color in the blue morning sky.

Then there was a very active Grey-streaked Flycatcher living up to its name. It would dart after some unfortunate insect and then return to its original perch - just a few meters from us.

After saying thanks to our hosts, the Webbs, we were returning to our vehicle when I saw something big and brown fly across from us. It was my wife's great spotting abilities that eventually located the whereabouts of the mystery bird. I grabbed her camera with the shorter gear so I could be more mobile and chased after it (it kept flying from tree to tree). It was only later that day when I was processing my photos that I was able to determine what the unknown species was - a Philippine Hawk-cuckoo! I thought it was serendipitous to see two uncommon birds whose names start with "Philippine Hawk" in just a few hours birding.

As we were driving out, we encountered a pair of lovey-doveys. Two usually skittish Spotted Doves were side-by-side on a branch cooing to one another, oblivious of their surroundings. 

What started with the ugliness of war, our birding day ended with the beauty of peace…and love!