Sunday, November 02, 2014

Undas my Story (and I'm sticking to it)

It was undas - the time when the Philippines observe All Saints Day. The time when a great majority of Filipinos troop to the cemeteries and memorial parks to honor their departed relatives. It was on undas that I went to the La Mesa Ecopark for a completely different purpose: to try my luck at locating an uncommon migrant to this country.

So many mystical and quaint stories had been associated with this day. Tales of ghosts and spirits and strange occurrences. Speaking of which, something eerie did happen on undas - not eerie in the macabre sense but more in the line of fortuitousness. Here's the story:

I was at Ecopark at 6:30 am. The place was as quiet as a graveyard on a non-undas day. The flycatcher I was hoping to see was not at the place where it was seen by my photographer friends the day before. Shortly after 7, my buddy, Bong, arrived. I appraised him of the situation. An hour passed and still nada. Another bird photographer pal, Prof. Reuel, joined us and seeing the disconsolate look on our faces decided to explore the mini forest. He saw a White-eared Brown Dove perched unmovingly behind a clump of red berries. We all took pictures "just so we wouldn't have a zero" today.

We then went back to the "pond" area, aka the flycatcher's milieu, only to find a pair of Philippine Magpie Robins frolicking. And still no flycatcher. 

Just then I got a text message from our friend Bert who informed me that the Boobook Owl in Hardin ng Rosas was back. That was good news! Two times the past week my wife and I went there to look for this nocturnal raptor and two times it wasn't there. I told my confreres about this. Prof. Reuel and Anthony, another friend and resident birder (and who discovered the flycatcher), decided to stick around and search for other birds. Bong and I agreed to go to Hardin for the owl. While walking towards the parking lot we were distracted by an insouciant Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker who was more concerned in getting its food than being bothered by the noise and the people around it. 

It was when we were already driving out that I got a call from Anthony. 

"Where are you?" he asked.

"We're already on our way out," I replied.

"Come back," he said, "there is a Boobook right here at Ecopark!" 

I quickly thanked him and started honking my horn and flashing my headlights to get the attention of Bong who was driving ahead of me. He stopped when the narrow road widened a bit and I relayed to him the good news. We hurriedly made a U-turn, returned to Ecopark, parked, and slung our gear on our shoulders and sped to the mini-forest. I alerted Anthony as soon as we got to the "pond". He came running to meet us and then led us to the area behind the jogging trail.

"There it is!" he said as he pointed to the top of a tall tree. While we were having a grand time photographing the Boobook who was clearly visible despite the height of its perch, Anthony regaled us with the stroke of luck he and Prof. Reuel had in discovering the presence of this owl.

Eventually, the nocturnal bird fell asleep. Reuel and Anthony said they would look for the flycatcher again. While Bong and I continued to take pictures of the slumbering owl, I saw a small rust colored bird fly into the trunk of a tree next to us. Apparently Bong also saw it because we both yelled "Ferruginous!" simultaneously. Photography-wise the situation was far less than ideal - it was dark, it was a bit high up the tree, the bird was quite small and moved a lot. But opportunities like this might not happen again so we both started taking photos of the flycatcher. I also texted Anthony telling him that we found our quarry. As the two of them were walking towards us, the Ferruginous Flycatcher flew away - towards them! We waved at Anthony and Reuel to get their attention.

"It's probably going to the 'pond'!" I shouted.

Anthony sprinted to the place and confirmed my hunch.

What happened next was a photographic session with a very cooperative subject. Reuel was so confident that the flycatcher would stay where it was that he called another friend, Wins, who lives in Las Pinas some 40 kms away, and told him to come to Ecopark. Just a little more than thirty minutes and Wins was already with us.

At 11:30 Bong and I decided to call it a day. We bade goodbye to our friends and thanked Anthony profusely for turning our day around. As I was driving home I couldn't help but think of the circumstances that happened earlier. How our early disappointment was changed to incredible serendipity. Imagine how perfect the timing was when we were heading for a semi-hidden boobook at Hardin and then being redirected to a perfectly open one at Ecopark! How the Ferruginous Flycatcher, a bird Bong and I last saw in 2010, suddenly appeared in front of us and seemingly invited us to follow it to its regular hang-out. Strange? Mysterious? Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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