Monday, September 28, 2015

The Road to Dissatisfaction

How would you feel if after a birding trip you discovered that none of the pictures you've taken made the grade. Such a heartache happened last Saturday. One groan after another came from from my mouth as I viewed the results of my photographic endeavors one by one. Times like this that I go into deep introspection. Where have I gone wrong? The only acceptable excuse I could come up with was that my heart was not really in it when my wife and I made this trip.

A couple of birding buddies told me sometime in July while we were at the La Mesa Ecopark that there was a place along the Marikina-Infanta road that teems with birds. Last Saturday, Cynthia and I thought it was time to "case the joint".  From what we learned, traffic - a daily abomination in MetroManila - was quite light in this area. That, of course, is a huge incentive. We've never driven here before so I intentionally lowered my expectations despite our friends' stories. Forty kilometers later and all we've seen were Shrikes - both the local Long-tailed and the migrant Brown. Despicable photos anyone?

Brown Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Then there was the White-throated Kingfisher that sat passively on a branch. Yet despite such photographic opportunity, the results were still way below par.

Oh, there were Barred Rails on the roadside but they would scamper off even before I could park our car on the grassy shoulder. I even spotted a surprisingly cooperative Plain Bush Hen and resulted in yet another blurred image.

After a hearty breakfast at Cafe Katerina, our luck turned a tad for the better - if you could call it that - when we saw a Pygmy Flowerpecker foraging on the berries across the road from where we were parked. Tiny, active, distant - factors that contributed to another groan inducing photo.

Near the 94 km post, instead of the mixed flock of mountain birds that were supposed to be gorging at the purple berries here, what we witnessed was a gathering of mountain bikers congregating on the feeding station known as Jariel's Peak.

The return trip home was even worse because we did not see any birds at all except a crowd of swallows perched on an electric wire.

Now comes the rationalization: I believe we came in too late. It was already past seven when we got to the mountainous (and supposedly birdy) part of the road. The purple berry tree was no longer fruiting. I did not bring my tripod - essential if using the Tamron lens, which I was.

We will for sure try this road again. Maybe not soon, but we will. When we do, we will consider all the rationalizations I mentioned above. Hopefully the results will not be unsatisfactory.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Enjoying the Few

Surprisingly it wasn't that birdy Saturday morning at Mt. Palay-palay. Our friend Peter's target birds were unbelievably nowhere to be found. In our previous trips to this place, those species were almost always guaranteed to be seen. Where were the Whiskered Treeswifts? the Luzon Hornbills? the Philippine Green Pigeons? or the Philippine Coucals?

Thankfully, those few that showed up were a bit more cooperative and gave us good photo opportunities. Foremost among these were the Philippine Falconets. They seem to be almost everywhere!

Another bird known for its skittishness - the White-throated Kingfisher - was more friendly this time, posing for us until we've had our fill.

As we were driving up, both Peter and my wife heard a cacophony of bird calls. Peter stopped the car and as we got out, a mixed flock of Grey-streaked Flycatchers, Philippine Bulbuls and Stripe-headed Rhabdornises were congregating on a tree.

Grey-streaked Flycatcher
Philippine Bulbul
Stripe-headed Rhabdornis

Eventually they moved on. Except for the ubiquitous Falconets, we didn't see any more birds as we continued on towards the gate of the Caylabne Resort. A little after 10 am we all agreed to turn around and head home. Halfway down the road, the Brahminy Kites - another regular here - came flying much closer. We were all trying to get that perfect BIF (bird in flight) shot when Peter noticed another raptor soaring with the Brahminys. 

"Serpent Eagle!" he shouted. We all turned our attention at this magnificent bird.

Having done their part, both raptors flew off to the blue yonder. It was an awesome sight. 

As we drove home, we were happy. Despite the scarcity of species, we still enjoyed the few that we have seen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Shrike's Back

The migrants have arrived! In urban settings, the most commonly encountered winter visitor from the north is the Brown Shrike. Local birders make it a point to record - and of course, post in Facebook - their FOS (First of Season) sighting of this species. We are a part of that group.

The past week or so, during our more or less regular walk around our subdivision (read: physical exercise), my wife and I were always on the lookout for this migrant bully. We saw one a couple of times then but I was too lazy to bring my camera with me. Yesterday, Cynthia reminded me to bring my photographic gear so that we can "officially" prove the presence of Lanius cristatus in our neighborhood.

We were nearing the end of our walk and still had not seen our target bird. My wife suggested, as a consolation, that we just focus our attention on the Olive-backed Sunbird family that is a sure find as they frolic among the yellow bell-shaped flowers along Astoria Street. As soon as we got to that place, the very first bird we saw was....a Brown Shrike! It was so cooperative that it was I who gave up taking its picture.

As expected the Olive-backed Sunbirds were there, too. It was mostly the immature ones that posed for me.

Not too far from there, a pair of Zebra Doves were busy feeding on the street.

There were the usual Eurasian Tree Sparrows and Yellow-vented Bulbuls nearby as well but these were the "trash birds" of our subdivision that I no longer felt obliged to capture their images.

Anyway, being successful in recording our FOS Brown Shrike, with a couple of bonuses all in one spot, my enthusiasm for birding seem to be migrating back to my soul again. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Hummingbirds of Southern California

Although not really a hummingbird haven like southeast Arizona, southern California still hosts six species of the Trochilidae family. 

The most common is the Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna), which can be seen even in urban gardens. As in all of the these species, the male is the one that has the more colorful gorget, especially given the proper light and angle. Male Anna's have an iridescent magenta or reddish pink crown and gorget. By the way, it's name was derived from Anna Massena, duchess of Rivoli, by Rene Lesson, an 18th century French Ornithologist and Herpetologist.

Arguably just as common as the Anna's is the Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) which can also be easily seen in parks. It is generally rufous in color, the male having an orange-red gorget. It's forehead and back has a green color. The name commemorates Charles Andrew Allen, a collector and taxidermist of the early 19th century. 

Similar looking and often confused with the Allen's is the Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). The male Rufous can be best distinguished from the Allens, by having a lesser amount of green on the crown and back. Rufous Hummingbirds are also migratory and can be more commonly seen in Southern California in spring.

Another migrant, seen only during the summer months is the less colorful Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri). It's dark chin becomes iridescent deep purple at the right amount and angle of light.

The following two species are less common than the previous four. It was just sheer luck that I was able to photograph both at the Eaton Canyon Park in Pasadena not far from where I used to live. 

The Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) is a resident of arid and semi-arid regions of California and Arizona. However, in summer, it seeks shelter from the heat and inhabits chaparral and woodlands. It is similar to Anna's in terms of the color of the male's throat. However, the Costa's gorget extends out to the sides.

The smallest bird in North America is the Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope). It is also a migrant and can be seen in southern California during its spring and autumn passage.The male has wine-red streaks on its throat instead of the usual gorget.

Information derived from wikipedia and