Monday, October 20, 2014

If it should rain, we'll let it

"It's raining, are we still good to go?" I texted our friend, Bong.

"We're already on our way!" he texted back.

(Actually, even the night before we had already set our minds on going through our plan, weather conditions notwithstanding. If it should rain, we'll let it, because we were in the mood for birding.) 

My wife and I quickly loaded our gear in the car and drove off. Our destination: Candaba. Yes, Candaba, despite the pouring rain. For sure we will just use the concrete road that runs alongside the wetlands. To try the trails towards the interior would be short of suicidal and a guarantee that our vehicles would be stuck in the mucky ground.

Of course, we didn't expect to see a lot of birds. Not in this kind of rainy weather. We found a makeshift shed beside the road so Bong brought his gear there and was able to get a shot of a Common Kingfisher. When we joined him the kingfisher had gone and what was left was a forlorn and very wet Brown Shrike. Out of respect to its situation we did not bother taking its picture. 

Cynthia and I decided to drive ahead with the hope that we might see some rails - Barred and Buff-banded - along the way. Well, not a single rail showed up. In their place were White-breasted Waterhens, plenty of them, and each one as skittish as a mouse in a house full of cats. It's the rain, we rationalized.

However, for some birds, rain wasn't a deterrent and I was able to get a photo of an Intermediate Egret in flight while Cynthia was lucky enough to capture a female Pied Bush Chat.

Intermediate Egret
female Pied Bush Chat
As we continued on, my wife spotted some activity below us. True enough there were a bunch of waders! Black-winged Stilts, Wood Sandpipers, Long-toed Stints, Marsh Sandpipers and even a Common Greenshank were unmindful of the downpour and were busy foraging in the shallow waters.

Black-winged Stilt
Wood Sandpipers
Long-toed Stint

Marsh Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
On the road, among the scads of Eurasian Tree Sparrows, were a pair of Red Turtledoves also oblivious to the falling rain.

A little after nine in the morning, the rain abated and eventually ceased. That was when the Purple Herons became more active.

I was once again taking shots at the Stilts when Bong called my attention and pointed at something between us. "Long-tailed Shrike!" he informed me. I walked to where he was standing and saw the shrike - which suddenly took off and perched on stick closer to us!

My wife, on the other hand, was photographing something - a dark spot amid the raindrop-covered grass. "Snipe," she said, showing me a sleeping bird. I took a few token shots not really wanting an image of a bird whose long bill was tucked in its wing. But Cynthia was the more persistent type. A few minutes later she showed me a wide awake snipe, its bill very prominently displayed. As had been my lot, it was gone when I returned to where it was last seen by my wife.

At ten, Bong begged off because he had some family matters to attend to. Cynthia and I lingered for a short while, patiently going after those jumpy waterhens that would scamper into the bush as soon as we got to about a kilometer from them. Patience paid off and we finally got a more cooperative one.

That was the signal that we can now go home triumphantly. But first a celebratory lunch at the land of the golden arches awaits us.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Aw, Common!

Our early morning birding at the campus of the University of the Philippines at the onset was a disappointment. Brown Shrikes and Yellow-vented Bulbuls were the only species that were active. Oh, and a pair of Black-naped Orioles that looked like they were checking out if the new building being constructed was according to their specifications.

Of course, we got a de rigueur shot of the resident sleeper, the Philippine Nightjar.

"Let's try the lagoon and see if we can find the Common Kingfisher there," I suggested to Cynthia. It was a good suggestion because I got a tip from fellow birder, Mads Bajarias about the kingfisher inhabiting the lagoon, but I honestly didn't know exactly where the lagoon was. So my diligent wife started asking around and as serendipity would have it, the very first person (persons, actually - there were two of them) were off-duty security guards who gave her precise directions to the lagoon.

A short walk and there it was! It wasn't long before we got a glimpse of our quarry. However, it was too far even for my long lens and I just got a "documentary" shot. 

For close to two hours we waited for this "common" kingfisher to reappear and hoped it would be on a much nearer spot. Meanwhile our long wait had been alleviated by seeing two migrants: the Grey Wagtail and the Arctic Warbler (no good shots on both, unfortunately) - our FOS (first of season) sightings of both species.

Almost two hours had passed and our kingfisher was still teasingly refusing to show itself. I was getting antsy - yes, impatient, and also literally being crawled over by ants.

"Let's go!" I told my wife.

"Aw, c'mon, let's give it a few more minutes." she pleaded.

But I was adamant. She bargained by sweetly suggesting we go further down the trail "and maybe see some other birds?" I gave in. How can I not with that sugary smile and star-filled eyes. 

Even before we started to take the trail I saw it! I saw our Common Kingfisher with a fish in its beak! What followed was about half-an-hour's stalking and trying to get close enough so I can get the sought after FIM (food-in-mouth) shot. Which was a trying experience in itself because I would only take a few steps closer and it would fly off and alit on a branch farther away. Shouts of "Aw, c'mon, stay still, will ya?" punctuated those chases. Eventually, the tiny bird flew to where it was impossible for me to follow it.

"Did you get a good shot?" Cynthia asked eagerly.

I reviewed my photographic efforts and smiled at her.

We were already in the parking lot and packing our gear when Cynthia shouted, "Kingfisher!" I hastily pulled my camera out of the bag and hied to where she was standing and pointing at something. 

It was another FIM shot, this time with a Collared Kingfisher. 

Aw, c'mon, don't you think that that's a nice bonus?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Coming Soon to a Branch Near You

It seemed like every other bird photographer in MetroManila had taken photos of quite a number of bird species at the TREES Hostel parking lot in Mt. Makiling the past couple of weeks. Sunbirds and Hornbills, particularly.

Early last week the few of us who still had not been to Makiling yet made inquiries from several friends who had been there as to whether the plants frequented by these birds were still in bloom and/or fruiting. The unanimous advice to us was: Be there not later than Saturday..or be ready to be disappointed.

So plans were made. Early Saturday, my wife, Cynthia, along with friends Peter and Bong decided to try our luck. At the hostel's parking lot there were photographers with their equipments all lined up facing the banana-like plant that the sunbirds patronize. Familiar faces like Alex and Cel greeted us and so did old friend, the Undersecretary of Agriculture Fred Serrano (henceforth referred to as USec). Among them were new birders (and new friends) Becky Santos and her son, Kiko. We were later joined by Irene who had been roaming the botanical garden earlier.

Because I had to answer the call of nature and still had to set-up my gear, I almost missed the Grey-throated Sunbird. Thankfully it stayed long enough for me to be able to fire off a few shots. This particular species never returned after that early morning encounter. Cynthia, of course, was there at the onset and had some good photos of this endemic.

During a lull after the Grey-throated had left, my wife, as is her habit, wandered around the premises. She saw a bird, took a picture and showed it to me, albeit a bit reluctantly, thinking it was just a Rhabdornis or even a Grey-streaked Flycatcher. I looked and congratulated her for getting the rather uncommon Striped Flowerpecker!

Suddenly, a bit of a commotion when someone shouted "hornbills!" Indeed, a female perched on a branched and…posed! It was still a bit far though for some in our group who didn't have long lenses.

"Don't worry," USec Fred assured us, "they will be coming soon to a branch near you." He had been watching these big birds for quite some time and since the balete tree in front of us was still fruiting, he was confident that the hornbills (there's a whole group of them, he said) would return to feed.

While we were building up our hopes from that assurance, the Flaming Sunbird decided to make an appearance. The sounds of camera shutters clicking filled the humid air as we all took advantage of the sunbird's insouciance.

There was another lull after the male Flaming Sunbird had its fill. Only to be broken once again by Usec's announcement of the arrival of the hornbill clan. Our friend was right, these birds fed on the berries from branches that were closer than those they were earlier on in our first encounter this morning.

Then it was over. That was one of the most exhilarating hour-and-a-half birding that we had in quite a while. Becky and family bade their goodbyes and those of us left behind were invited by USec Fred to visit the agricultural upland. We followed him as we convoyed over grassy paths. Perhaps it was because of the suffocating heat that there weren't that many birds seen. We thanked our friend and agreed to call it a day.

Bong, Peter, Cynthia and myself talked about where we are going to have lunch. KFC was the restaurant of choice. Come to the branch nearest you was the thought I had but as fate would have it, we ended up at the Caltex rest stop along SLEX. Just like this morning's hornbills having a feast on the tree branch near us we also had a feast at the KFC branch near where we parked our cars.