Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Who New

One of the nicer things in going birding is meeting new friends who are also into the same passion.

The mini forest at La Mesa Ecopark was strangely quiet. Cynthia and I were wondering where the birds were when we saw a couple with cameras looking up at the treetops. "Birders" we both agreed. We introduced ourselves and we instantly became friends with Jo Lapuz and her husband, Bernard. They were new into the hobby and my wife and I happily volunteered to show them around.

As I said earlier, birds were few that morning. Since Jo and Bernard have just started into bird photography, both were happy taking pictures of even the common Zebra Doves. I tried to scout the area and luckily chanced upon an Ashy Thrush.

Unfortunately it was gone by the time our new friends arrived at the place where I saw it. Two hours slowly passed and still no birds showed up. We told Jo and Bernard that we're going to the Paintball area to try and look for the Violet Cuckoos and they're welcome to come along. Since the cuckoos would be a lifer for them, they enthusiastically agreed.

At first we thought that it was too late in the day because only the Golden-bellied Gerygones and the Yellow-vented Bulbuls were in the tree that Violet Cuckoos go to. Again it was Cynthia's sharp eyes that saw the male cuckoo foraging for insects at the back side of the tree. To our delight it eventually came out in the open and gave us photographic opportunities.

That's when the camera set that I brought with me tried my patience. Inasmuch as birding at Ecopark involves a lot of walking I decided to bring the lighter Tamron lens. Then as a second thought, instead of my usual 5D III camera body, I used the 7D instead. Big mistake! The camera body and the lens apparently were not communicating with each other. Auto-focusing was an exercise in futility. Even in the best lighting conditions! Who knew it would turn out this way? It was sheer luck that I was able to get a few acceptable images.

The good news was that our new confreres were able to get photos of their latest lifer. And that, for me, more than made up for my disappointment with the photographic gear that I brought with me.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Twas the day after Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas. Despite not getting enough sleep, we agreed to go birding with our friend Peter. It was a beautiful morning as we began the trip to Mt. Palay-palay in Cavite. Things seemed to augur well because right off the bat we saw a pair of very cooperative Blue-tailed Bee-eaters.

That was the start of what I would call a B day of photography. The good shots we had were of birds whose names start with the letter B.  Note the term "good shots". We did see other birds that did not have a "B" in the beginning of their names but the photos we got of these were not that great. Consider this extremely backlit shot of a Coleto.

Or a not so sharp image of a Philippine Bulbul behind the foliage.

On the other hand, the ubiquitous Brahminy Kites gave us a show. We even got one perched on a tree.

But the species of the day was the Blue Rock Thrush. It treated us so nonchalantly that we practically have a photo of every possible angle of this colorful migrant.

To cap off our day, a White-throated Kingfisher also posed for us as we were already on our way down from Caylabne Resort. The official name of course starts with a "W" but there are plans to have this species found in the Philippines to be split from its cousins in Southeast Asia. As a matter of fact the proposed name for this bird is Brown-breasted Kingfisher! (Some scientific lists have already confirmed this). So there you are, the final "B" bird in our list.

On our way home, as we passed by the town of Carmona, we noticed this restaurant with an unintentional pun for its name.

Based on our birding experience this morning, even if we did not see the hoped for Philippine Falconet, Luzon Hornbill and Whiskered Treeswift, I would say that it was not Abad day at all.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Car Few

In my previous blog I lamented the fact that the current traffic situation in MetroManila had negatively impacted our birding activities. Thankfully there are still some places we can bird that are not affected much by such inconveniences. One of them is Antipolo. Our friends John and Vivette Webb gave us a season pass - as it were - to access their subdivision which has more trees than houses and therefore has a lot of birds. We've had great experiences here encountering uncommon species such as the Slaty-legged Crake, Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo and the Philippine Cuckoo Dove.

Last Saturday was a bit of a different story though. There seemed to be a dearth of birds. Could it be the unseasonably warm weather that we are having that caused such scarcity? I mean here we are almost mid-December and the temperatures are still in the mid 30s!

On the positive side, the Collared Kingfishers were the birds of the day.

global warming? how about earth worming.

We also tried our skills at BIF (birds-in-flight) photography using the White-breasted Woodswallows as our subject.

And finally just as we were about to leave, a male Pied Bush Chat posed for us obligingly.

It was not really a bad birding day, short as it was. Only a few birds turned up but then so were the cars along the road.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Driving me Mad

My wife and I are quite passive when encountering life's inconveniences. At our age we've gone through so much vicissitudes that we normally would not allow such things to bother us. But, and this is a big BUT, there are those occasions that get us fuming mad. So please allow me to vent out some of the frustrations we experienced in our latest birding trip.

The Candaba Wetlands is one of the prime birding areas in the Philippines. Or I should now say, "used to be".  Whereas before hundreds, if not thousands, of migrant waders and ducks can easily be seen here, now there was an obvious disparity since the birds we saw yesterday were much lower in number. Sure, there were hundreds of Black-winged Stilts but that's just about it. A few Wood Sandpipers here and there, fewer Long-toed Stints and a couple of Grey and Purple Herons. We did not even see a single Common Kingfisher! There were ducks, mostly the endemic Philippine, but they were too far off for a decent photograph. Good thing some Wandering Whistling Ducks found a place to settle that was within photographic range.

The primary reason for this, I believe, was because the watery area where these migrants settle are now rice fields, newly planted even. The local Black-crowned Night Heron colony population seemed to have dwindled as well.

Thankfully, the local avifauna was thriving well. The most ubiquitous among these were the Pied Bush Chat, Striated Grassbird, Chestnut Munia and Long-tailed Shrike.

Pied Bush Chat
Chestnut Munia
Long-tailed Shrike 
Striated Grassbird
The Rallidae family was well represented with the Barred Rail, Buff-baded Rail, Philippine Swamphen, White-breasted Waterhen and White-browed Crake.

Barred Rail
Buff-banded Rail
Philippine Swamphen
White-browed Crake
White-breasted Waterhen
Now let me tell you about the Bitterns. It was as if they were in connivance with each other because all three species - Yellow, Cinnamon, and Black - teased us in exactly the same way. While we are focusing on some other species, one of these sly birds would suddenly leap from where were looking, fly a short distance then dive into a clump of vegetation and completely vanish. That this happened about 10 times left us bitter. It was only when we were already on the way out and while enjoying the cooperativeness of some Blue-tailed Bee-eaters that one Yellow Bittern finally obliged to be photographed. It was a Bittern end to our birding in Candaba.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Yellow Bittern
What made Cynthia and I upset was the traffic we encountered on our trip home. We've birded Candaba many times for the past five years but this was the first time that we got stuck in such a horrendous jam. Candaba is some 60 kilometers from our home in Quezon City. It took us only one-and-a-half hours that morning to get to the wetlands whereas it was a maddening three-and-a-half hours on the return trip! I mean where did all these trucks come from? They were everywhere! - from the narrow two-lane roads in Bulacan to the streets from Mindanao Avenue to Katipunan Avenue. Trucks! 

When we finally arrived home my wife was so exasperated. She told me that this could be our last birding trip because we don't want to go through this nightmare again. "It's for your own sake," she said, "because you're the one driving." I'm afraid I had to agree with her. At my age - a year less than 70 - my physical endurance is no longer what it used to be. Considering that we had to wake up early, go birding (which involves standing for long periods, walking while carrying my heavy camera equipment, and sometimes even trudging over uneven trails) then having to sit for seemingly countless hours inside our vehicle waiting for the traffic to move inch-by-inch towards home, I don't think I can handle that on a regular basis. And that drives me mad.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Violet Shown

It seemed like everybody and his uncle had seen - and photographed - the male and female Violet Cuckoos at the La Mesa Ecopark. We tried a couple of weeks ago and totally bombed. Since the recent sightings had been more frequent, I asked our friend, Mike Anton, when and where would be the best time and place to go. "Near the paintball area", he replied, "around 7:30 to 8:00 in the morning."

Six-thirty the following day, my wife and I were already at the Paintball area. It didn't take long when Cynthia started pointing to some movement on the tree in front us. My heart was jumping for joy because it was the male - my target bird! (I've seen and photographed the female several years ago in U.P.). For the next couple of hours the pair of cuckoos gave us lots of opportunities to take their pictures.

We were thankful that we got what we had hoped for, quite easily at that, and also because of bonus shots of two raptors: the Philippine Serpent Eagle and three Ospreys hovering over the spillway.

Philippine Serpent Eagle
During one of those pauses when the cuckoos were inactive and hidden from view, we were joined by a group of foreign birders guided by members of the Haribon Foundation. They were so excited to see the Violet Cuckoos, the Serpent Eagle and the Ospreys and later on by a small flock of Lowland White-eyes.

Around 9:30 two newbie bird photographers came. Tim Calumpong and Fidel Sy also enjoyed the Cuckoos showing up just as they arrived. A little after ten and we all (including the foreigners) called it a day.

For Cynthia and myself this was one those hallelujah birding moments when everything just fell into place.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Stalking the Flames

Our friend, Anthony Balbin, gave us precise directions: As you enter the road to Nabasan, on the right side there is a dead tree about twelve feet high near the fence. The birds will come almost at eye level.

Armed with and encouraged by this information, we travelled to Subic early Tuesday morning. We proceeded directly to the place that Anthony described. Just as we made the right turn, we saw it! The male Luzon Flameback was digging a hole in the dead tree trunk! Cynthia and I both fired away. 

My wife got some some good shots while I had a few……oh wait! are those Sooty Woodpeckers?

Luzon Flameback
Sooty Woodpecker
Actually there was a mixed flock frolicking on the trees on both sides of the road. Black-naped Orioles were calling incessantly while the Rufous Coucals were doing their own vocalizations. 

The Balicassiaos were darting back and forth and then a solitary White-throated Kingfisher dropped by to say hello.

White-throated Kingfisher
Since I was um, er… "distracted" by the Sooty Woodpeckers earlier, we decided to stay across the dead tree trunk and stalk the Flamebacks. This time I got my share of Luzon Flameback photographs.

By 9 am, everything quieted down. We made another trip around the Nabasan trail loop and didn't see any birds. Birders, yes. We noticed a couple carrying cameras and looking up at the trees.  Birds photographers, Cynthia and I agreed. George and Manette Inocencio are still new into this hobby and are both very enthusiastic! It is interesting to note that every year since 2013 we've met birders (who became our friends) here at Nabasan. Last year it was Rannie Aguilar and his family. The year before that was Jens Hansen a Dane who had been travelling all over the world to watch birds. After some shop talk with the Inocencios we bade them goodbye because we will be checking in at Mango Valley, our hotel of choice for this trip. We later had lunch at our favorite restaurant, Cocolime. 

A few kilometers after we left our house that morning I already heard a noise coming from our left front tire. Cynthia thought it was just because of the road we were travelling on. However after lunch, the noise seemed louder. I told my wife that I'm getting worried about it and I will feel a lot better if we have it checked. We drove to  Yokohama Tire where they also had a repair shop. My worst fears had been confirmed - the wheel bearing of the left tire was damaged. The manager sort of hemmed and hawed with regards to getting the replacement part. We were adamant that we need to have it fixed asap because we will be returning to Manila the following day. After about 4 hours, the manager told us that the bearing had been replaced and that it was now ok. We left hurriedly so that we can still do some birding before it got dark.

A little before 5 pm, we were at Cubi Point. There it was mob rule by  a huge flock of Black-naped Orioles harassing the smaller Pied Trillers and the bigger Large-billed Crows. At the safer part of the community a lone Philippine Hanging Parrot tried to catch the last rays of the setting sun.

The times when we were here at this time of day, groups of Blue-naped Parrots would usually come and roost among the pine branches. However, this day we only saw one, peeping out of its home one last time before calling it a day.

Then came the Black-throated Bee-eaters, hundreds of them, flying from all directions and all settling down on the pine trees. It was a sight to behold but sadly the crepuscular light was not good enough for photography.

Early the following day we were at the area near the Jest Camp. A horde of Coletos were basking in the dawn. When the sun shone brightly a little later, that sort of signaled them to start their breakfast. The Coletos flew to a tree to gorge on the fruits. 

It was then that we noticed that one bird didn't seem to belong to the group. It was definitely bigger and was all black without the Coleto's distinctive fleshy part on the head. When I finally realized what it was, I was thrilled! Not only will this be the first time I will see this species in the Philippines, it is also the first time I am looking at (and photographing) the male Asian Koel!

From there we proceeded to the Nabasan Trail. Once again, the Sooty Woodpeckers were there. An angry looking male Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike made a brief appearance.

Here the Psittidae family was represented by the Blue-naped Parrot and the Green Racquet-tail.

Blue-naped Parrot
Green Racquet-tail
Of course, because this was really our main target in coming here, we started stalking the Flamebacks again. Like clockwork, the male came and began working on the hole while the female patiently waited nearby.

We made one more trip around the loop and this time we got the Blue-throated Bee-eater and the Whiskered Treeswift.

Blue-throated Bee-eater
Whiskered Treeswift
Then it drizzled. A White-throated Kingfisher was so indifferent to the raindrops as we got our last bird photo of the day. 

It was time to check out of our hotel and start the long trip home. After parking at the hotel grounds I noticed that our left rear tire has gone flat! As in totally flat! Thankfully the hotel driver was around to help replace it with our spare tire.

It was such a sad closing to our wonderful two-day birding in Subic. So affected were we that we both decided to bypass lunch and head straight home.