Monday, April 28, 2014

Two Tings We Know

Cynthia and I joined our friends Peter Ting and Alex Ting (who are not related to each other) on a trip to Bangkong Kahoy along the slopes of the majestic Mt. Banahaw.

Things did not augur well - the inefficiency of the staff of Jollibee's at SLEX where we had our breakfast delayed our arrival at our destination. So much so that we missed the mixed flock wave that passes by the balcony of the house of our friend, Ramon Quisumbing. Together with fellow bird photographer Prof. Reuel Aguila, who joined us there, we waited for another hour hoping another wave would come, but that didn't happen. Our guide, Cris, suggested we go to site where the uncommon skulker, the White-browed Shortwing makes it appearance.

After a strenuous (at least to my wife and I) 15-minute hike we arrived at the place. Inasmuch as the area that the shortwing frequents was quite limited in space, Cris suggested that we divide into two groups. While waiting for the first group to return, the other group can wait for the adult Sooty Woodpecker to visit its nest, was the agreed upon plan. Prof. Reuel and Alex went first. Peter, Cynthia and I kept a close watch at the dead tree where the nest was. About ten minutes later, Cris, Alex and Reuel returned with big smiles on their faces.

"We got it as soon as we got settled in" Alex told us.

Excitedly, the three of us, along with Cris, hurried to the place. Our guide instructed us where to place our cameras and pointed at the spot where the furtive bird was likely to appear. We didn't have to wait very long. Soon the dark colored Shortwing showed up. With overcast skies and dim surroundings, the tiny bird blended so well with its environment that we had a hard time adjusting our camera settings. A couple of minutes and the bird went into hiding again.

"Just wait a little bit more because it will return," Cris assured us.

Sure enough, the female Shortwing repeated its earlier routine. We were now ready and got some good shots of our newest lifer.

We returned to where our friends were waiting for the Sooty Woodpecker. We were comparing our shots of the White-browed Shortwing when I saw something black land at the dead tree where the woodpecker nest was. What followed was a shooting frenzy as the adult female slowly crept to the nest and then proceeded to clean the mess of its offsprings - by swallowing the debris!

When the adult flew off we went to our next target - the nesting Besra. The nest was at some distance and partially covered by the forest. Our presence never posed any threat to the female raptor who was standing over her four cute chicks.

After a sumptuous lunch at Dion's restaurant, we returned to Ramon's balcony, once again hoping that a mixed flock would pass by. A Mountain White-eye made a very quick stop over and a more cooperative Yellowish White-eye posed for a few minutes.

Then rain fell. Hard. For more than an hour. We anticipated that the birds would come out after the downpour but only a Philippine Coucal did and it was at such a far distance it might as well have been on the moon.

Cynthia wandered along the driveway. When she rejoined us later she showed me a photo of a bird she couldn't ID. The image was quite small and I had a hard time figuring out what species it was. It was Cris who confirmed my suspicion that it was a Bicolored Flowerpecker - a lifer for us!

Four in the afternoon and the hoped for mixed flock never came. It was time to go. We thanked Cris for his diligence in showing us where our target birds were. We then said goodbye to Prof. Reuel who will remain at Bangkong Kahoy with his Creative Writing seminar group.

It was a fun and exciting day with my wife and I getting two lifers (more for our two friends) and a great time with the two Tings we know.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I want Taiwan

It seemed that we were off to a bad start - we booked a hotel at the Taoyuan District which was near the airport. Everyone we consulted was unanimous in suggesting that we should stay in the city of Taipei -where the birding areas are more accessible via public transportation. But as it turned out, it was a wonderful beginning to our two-day birding in Taiwan.

After a seemingly endless 13-hour flight from Los Angeles, we arrived in Taiwan at 5:30 in the morning. We were picked up at the airport by the hotel shuttle and by 6:30 Cynthia and I were at the lobby of the Taoyuan Hotel, wondering what to do next, inasmuch as the hotel does not allow check-in prior to 3:00 pm. Thankfully, the hotel allows luggage storage. We consulted Phyllis, the concierge (and angel incarnate), if there is any park nearby explaining that we are birdwatchers. She suggested Mt. Hutao and even arranged for a taxi to take us there.

Honestly, our expectations were quite low as far as seeing birds at Mt. Hutao is concerned. Since this will be our first visit to Taiwan, we searched the internet even before we left Manila, on the possible places where we could do some birding. Mt. Hutao was never mentioned. Even the birding brochure that the helpful staff at the Visitor Center at the airport gave us did not include this park.

As we got off the taxi, our hopes were dashed even more by the sight of people - lots of them! As we wandered around, we met young ones jogging, old ones walking, some doing their morning tai-chi, a group doing aerobics and others practicing some ballroom dancing!

But we also saw movement in the trees and heard trills and chirps. At last, birds! First there were scads of Japanese White-eyes flitting among the red flowers. Then came our first lifer - the Black Bulbul!

Three different thrushes came to a fruiting tree right next to the terrace - Eyebrowed, Brown-headed, and another lifer, the Pale Thrush.

Following the source of a very loud bird call, we encountered our third lifer, the endemic Taiwan Barbet!

As we rounded the trail, another noisy bird showed up. It was our fourth lifer, the Grey Treepie.

Time swiftly went by and at around 10:30 we walked towards the main road to take a taxi back to our hotel. It was here we got lifer #5 - the Black Drongo.

Thanks to Jo-ann, the hotel supervisor, we were able to check-in at 1:00 pm. As soon as we had our luggage taken to our room, we returned to the lobby to meet Terrence Huang. Terry was introduced to us by our birder friend from HongKong, Wilson Dring, via Facebook (oh, the wonders of social networking). Terry brought us to a small "secret" park. As soon as we got there, Cynthia and I noticed a throng of bird photographers all lined up facing the middle of the park. They were all waiting for some activity from a group of Taiwan Blue Magpies - another endemic and our 6th lifer.

It was at this park that I was able to get even better shots of the Grey Treepie.

During one of the lulls in the Magpie activity, Cynthia and I explored the surrounding area. My wife was looking up at some of the Magpies when I saw something walking not far from her. I waved at Cynthia to get her attention then pointed at the object behind her. She almost shrieked when she discovered that she was standing next to an insouciant Malayan Night Heron. That was our 7th lifer for the day.

Four o'clock in the afternoon. We had our fill of Blue Magpies, so Terry took us to a rice field. While walking along the irrigation canal, we got good looks at lifer #8, the Light-vented Bulbul. 

Soon we met five bird photographers lined up facing some tall grass apparently waiting for something.

"What's in here?" we asked our host.

"Just wait and see," he replied teasingly.

He had barely finished talking when in flew a small bird and perched on a pole a few meters away from us. The sound of camera shutters clicking filled the air. The Siberian Stonechat was lifer #9 for us.

The sun was slowly sinking in the horizon. It was time to go. 

Early the following day, we were picked up by another friend whom I also met in Facebook, Victor Yu. This time our destination was the Shimen Reservoir also in the Taoyuan District. Waiting for us there were Wild Bird Society of Taoyuan Director Zhang Yongfu and his wife, Lisa Lin. They quickly led us to where the Taiwan Whistling Thrush was nesting. It was lifer #10.

Later on our attention was called by the loud vocalizations of a pair of Taiwan Scimitar Babblers. This unexpected species was our 11th lifer.

Once again, Cynthia and I decided to explore the surrounding area. It was here that I saw our 12th lifer - the Crested Goshawk perched on a tree.

For lunch, our hosts took us to a restaurant near the dam. Along the way we saw a Black Kite (another lifer!) soaring but it was too far for us to get a decent photo. It was while we were enjoying our meal when a Taiwan Whistling Thrush suddenly hopped on the fence next to the dining area, I quickly grabbed the camera and sped out to the garden and finally was able to get a picture of this endemic.

That night as we were packing and preparing for our early morning flight tomorrow, I can't help but feel blessed for the way things turned out on our short trip to Taiwan. A million thanks to Terrence Huang and Victor Yu for taking the time off from their busy schedules to bring us to the birding places in the Taoyuan District. 

Thanks to Phyllis at Taoyuan Hotel for her help and assistance in getting us started on our birding activities.

As both Terry and Victor said to us - two days is not enough to get the most of birding in this country. We promised we will return and stay longer.

Taiwan is a wonderful country with beautiful birds and friendly people. See you again, Taiwan.