Monday, November 16, 2015

Shoes to Blame

With the recent spate of birding bad luck still haunting me, I was a little worried about our upcoming trip to Mt. Palay-palay in Cavite. More so because we will have our new friend from the U.S., Zach DuFran, joining us. Since this will be Zach's first time to bird in the Philippines, I was afraid that my misfortunes would continue to plague us and thus deprive our American friend of seeing a lot of local birds.

As we drove towards our destination, Peter (who was driving), my wife, Cynthia, and I were amused because Zach was so excited at seeing even the most common birds such as Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Striated Grassbirds and Cattle Egrets. And yes, he wanted to take photos of those.

Near the gate of Puerto Azul, Peter parked his vehicle and we locals unloaded our cameras while Zach was in high heavens photographing the cooperative Brown Shrike. Now armed and ready, we got back into the car and began the ascent. It wasn't long after that we saw a male Luzon Hornbill! Unfortunately, it flew off before we could take photos. We parked once again and waited, hoping it would reappear - but it didn't. It's still probably my bad luck I thought to myself woefully. 

Then there was some commotion in the nearby trees. "Yellow-vented Bulbuls," I half murmured. But somehow I had an urge to look at them through my camera. "Stripe-headed Rhabdornises!" I exclaimed. (Note the plural). 

Next came our first encounter of another endemic, the Philippine Falconet, perched on a wire.

As expected a Brahminy Kite soon came soaring overhead. Then the kite started harassing another raptor. An Oriental Honey Buzzard flew by totally ignoring the bullying of the smaller Brahminy. We were so surprised by the appearance of the Honey Buzzard that I only got a silhouette.

Eventually we saw the Luzon Hornbill again, this time the female, but it was too far off for a satisfactory shot. A small flock of Pygmy Flowerpeckers foraged on a tree not too far away but they were so active and preferred the inside of the foliage that once again we failed to obtain any respectable picture. While my companions were still looking at the distant hornbill, I noticed another raptor flying overhead. It was smaller and had a different color from the usual Brahminy Kites. I blame my excitement for the blurred photos but at least they were good enough for me to identify it as a Grey-faced Buzzard.

It was also while we were waiting for better views of the Hornbill that Cynthia and I noticed a bird behind the electrical post. 

"It's a woodpecker!" my wife said. I slowly crossed the road so I could get a better view but, as my luck (the bad one) would have it, all I saw was a flash of bright red that zipped from the pole to a tall tree where it instantly became invisible. There were a couple more red flashes after that but that's all there was to it.

Frustrated by the uncooperative Hornbill (not to mention the Luzon Flameback), we continued on our way. I saw something and asked Peter to stop and do a reverse. There, perched on a bare branch was another Philippine Falconet. We all got out of the car, took pictures to our heart's content, and was even given a bonus when another Falconet, presumably its mate, joined the other one.

Next sightings along the way were a White-breasted Wood Swallow and more than thirty Striated Swallows all perched on the electric wire.

White-breasted Woodswallow
Striated Swallow - one of about 30 on the wire
We parked by the gate of the Caylabne Resort. Perhaps half an hour passed and not even the resident Brahminy Kites showed up. With nothing much to photograph, we decided to take a group picture. Luckily, an ice cream vendor was around so we politely asked him the favor of taking the group shot. 

To show our gratitude we bought some chocolate crunch popsicle from him. We were finishing the refreshing ice cream when I saw a bird flying swiftly and then landed on the tall communication tower behind the Resort's gate. 

"I'm pretty convinced that is a Peregrine Falcon," I told my skeptical friends. It was Cynthia's sharp eyes that confirmed that I was not just imagining things. Unfortunately, the raptor stayed at the back side of the tower not allowing for any good photographic shots. Until it decided to fly off. Again, it was my wife that provided photographic confirmation of my identifying skills.

Inasmuch as all of us got good looks and photos of the Peregrine and an apparent turn-around from our heretofore not too good luck in getting images of the birds we saw, we all agreed that it's time to continue with our journey. I was already seated in the car when I saw a bird alight on a branch of the tree across from me. "Philippine Bulbul!" I announced to my companions. "No, wait! Blue Rock Thrush! Blue Rock Thrush!" I couldn't control my excitement. I really did not expect to see this species in this kind of environment since it usually prefers the concrete ledges of buildings.

After the Thrush left, we were all smiling at the bonus that we were just given. That is until I saw another raptor thermalling above us. It was huge, bigger than the Brahminy. It soared slowly, sometimes even stopping in mid-air, allowing us such unusual photographic opportunities. It was only during our lunch at Puerto Azul that we were able to confirm its identity: a juvenile White-bellied Sea Eagle. A lifer for all us.

Everything was anti-climactic after that. It was almost noon, the weather had become unbearably hot, so it was time for lunch. The only species added to our list were the Pacific Swallow and Asian Glossy Starling.

As we endured the terrible traffic on the way back to Zach's hotel, many things came to my mind. First, we were so glad that Zach was not disappointed even for just half-a-day's birding. My initial fears, thankfully, never materialized. Then, of course, was the obvious change in my birding luck. Cynthia said it's because we bought popsicles from the ice-cream vendor. Maybe that's true, since kindness and generosity has its rewards. Personally I think it's my shoes. Allow me to explain: I had been using my Columbia hiking shoes whenever we go birding until a few months ago. That was when the upper right section of the sole of the right shoe became loose. So I retired the Columbias and in its place I used a new pair that we bought in the U.S. (Realtree brand). Call it coincidence but since I started using that new pair of shoes I did not do well in my birding trips (please read my previous blogs). Last week, using an epoxy, I fixed my old Columbia shoe and that was what I wore when we went to Palay-palay. Let the bird sightings we had there provide the proof to my claim. Need I say more?

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