Sunday, January 31, 2016

Owl of the Above

Even before Cynthia and I went to the University of the Philippines' campus in Diliman, we already inquired from friends Bim and Jonas the exact spot where the Philippine Scops Owl family could be found. At 6:30 am on Saturday, the 30th of January, we met up with our birding buddy Peter and new friend Wenxing at the parking lot of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) Building. From there we immediately proceeded to the "frogs" area where we were told the owls were.

Look for the white droppings, we were told, but as we searched the place there were droppings everywhere! Then from Jonas' advice all four of us looked up at the group of bamboos beside the blue water tank until we got cricks on our necks and still unable to find even a single owl. That these nocturnal birds were a pain in the neck became literal. Although we were all looking up, ironically things were not really looking up. My wife and I took a break and said some quick prayers. It was then when we met fellow birder Allan Fernando who also said that the owls were supposed to be on that bamboo clump. He also said that there was also a Spotted Wood Kingfisher in the area. Not to mention a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo by the opposite end of the paved trail. Encouraged by this report we once again began to search above the tangle of bamboo stalks. 

"There it is!" yelled my better half with eagle-sharp eyes. "But there's only one and it's the baby!"

There high above the bamboo on a branch and practically covered by twig and leaves was our quarry fast asleep. Nevertheless we all took turns at (it can only be seen from a very limited vantage point) at photographing the slumbering bundle of cuteness.

While Peter and Wenxing were taking turns, Cynthia as was her wont went exploring the surrounding areas. Soon she was motioning to us and silently pointed at something in front of her.  We all hurried to where she was and were totally flabbergasted at the sight of the friendliest and most cooperative Spotted Wood Kingfisher ever born on this earth!

Having fulfilled its mission of appeasing the owl frustration of four bird photographers, the kingfisher flew off. We all returned to the bamboo area. This time the baby owl was a bit more in the open but was still off in dreamland. 

Our next mission was to look for the  Blue Rock Thrush at Miranda Hall and the Philippine Nightjar at the Faculty Building. Scratch the Blue Rock Thrush because there were some guys working on the roof of the Miranda know, where the thrush usually hangs out. The nightjar was as its usual roost in front of the Landbank ATM.

A quick trip to the Main Library for the Java Sparrows but they were at their usual habitat which was on the topmost ledge of the building. Way too far even for our friends' long lenses.

Once again we were back at the "frogs" area. After all, (or shall I say, after owl?) the owls were our main purpose for coming to U.P. that morning. We looked up and lo and behold the baby's eyes were now wide open as it stared down at the three people staring back at it (Wenxing left earlier for some personal matters).

"There's the other owl!" it was my wife, as expected, who first saw it and pointed at the adult sleeping way above the bamboo grove. "There's the other baby next to it!" she exclaimed a few minutes later.  Again, taking turns at photographing both, we finally achieved our goal. We got owl of the above.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Short, Sweet, Sour Subic

It was a short three-hour birding sortie in Subic. Our birding friend, Bim Quemado, graciously invited us to join him in searching for an uncommon bird. This bird had been seen recently here and since it would be a lifer, we thought a visit to this place would be a good idea. We even asked our friends, Rob Hutchinson and Melanie Tan, who spotted this bird just a week ago, for directions.

Those three hours were spent along the road from the Botanic Garden to the gates of the Orica Factory. Just as we were getting in, we already saw an Oriental Dollarbird basking in the early morning sun. Then it took off in the wild blue yonder presumably to search for breakfast.

Showing why it was called Dollarbird...because of the "dollar-shaped" spot on its wings.
There was one tree almost devoid of leaves that seemed to be a stopping point for quite a number of avian species. The sweetest, most cooperative of these, was the Green Racquet-tail.

Then a female Luzon Flameback flew in and began hammering the trunk for some goodies.

While Bim was enjoying himself taking photos of the Flameback (the male even joined in, he told me later) I wandered around and encountered a Blue-naped Parrot also enjoying an early morning meal.

Returning to the bare tree, we were surprised when twelve Ashy Minivets flew in. Twelve! This was the first time I have witnessed this many Ashy Minivets in one tree. Although in the Kennedy Guide it says that they do travel in flocks, I have always assumed that this migrant was a loner of some sort because every time I encounter this bird, there is just only one.

The other birds that came to the tree were Coletos, a single Grey-streaked Flycatcher and some Blue-throated Bee-eaters.

I was taking a short break when I noticed a female Luzon Hornbill on a branch with a strange pose. I called Bim and we shortened the distance between us and the hornbill. Soon the female flew and was replaced on the same spot by the male!

the male is lurking behind

By 10:30 we decided to call it a day but not without taking a gratuitous shot of a White-throated Kingfisher at the Nabasan Trail.

As I said earlier, our main purpose of going to Subic was to look for a particular bird. We were not so lucky to find the White-fronted Tit which was the sour part of an otherwise sweet birding morning. So to compensate for not showing of the White-fronted Tit we will just show our White-front Teeth.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Just the Ducks, Ma'am

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum, Dummmm.

My name is Kaufman. I carry a camera. It was January 16. It was a hot morning in Candaba. I am with my wife, Cynthia, and birding friends, Peter and Wenxing. We came here to look for ducks. Rare ones. Possible lifers. Baikal Teal and Falcated Duck. Never before seen in the Philippines.

There were already several photographers there when we arrived. Mark B let us look through his spotting scope. Baikal Teal swimming. We quickly set up our gears and took pictures. Lifer #1 checked. Just barely 15 minutes after our arrival. 

Then the long wait for the Falcated. A really long wait. Even the census takers from DENR and WBCP have not seen it. Yet.

There were ducks alright. Plenty of them. Different kinds even. The endemic Philippine Ducks, of course.

Wandering Whistling Ducks.

Some of the migrants were:
Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Teal

Northern Pintail

Northern Shoveler


A puzzler: Greater Scaup or Tufted Duck?

More than an hour passed. Still no Falcated. Then Rocky S. showed us a photo. "Is this a Spot-billed Duck?" He wanted to know. I said yes. He pointed where it was. Lifer #2 checked. A complete surprise for us.

Another half hour went by. I looked through my camera lens. A bunch of ducks swimming. Wait. One of them has a big dark head. With a small white area on the throat. I took a bunch of shots. 

Spent another two hours hoping for the Falcated. Even mistook a snoozing Shoveler for it. My buddies were disappointed. My bad. At 11:30 the sun was beating down on us. Real hard. My wife asked Wenxing if we will be looking for other birds. "Just the ducks, ma'am," he replied. Decided to go home after that.

At home. I was reviewing my photos. Duck with big, dark head was Falcated, indeed. Lifer#3 checked. 

Three lifers. All in one morning. Just ducks.

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum. Dummmm.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Blue Rock Year Continues…..

Cynthia and I went birding at the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It was sort of a last minute decision. I did not want to go to Candaba because our vehicle still has this strange noise emanating from the front left wheel whenever I step on the brakes. It breaking down in a middle-of-nowhere place like the Candaba Wetlands would be a nightmare.

So to U.P. we went with not much expectations. Things did not augur well because as we were skirting the sides of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) building, I saw a big (a relative term, considering it was bigger than the usual birds in the area) bird fly by and stop for a short while on a branch across from us. Since it was still dark at a little after six am, I couldn't make a definite ID of this species. I knew it was a cuckoo of some sort, but that was as much as I could tell.

With nothing much to see at the MSI area, we decided to go to the vicinity of the Vargas Museum. 

"Let's go to Miranda Hall first," my wife suggested, "and maybe see a Blue Rock Thrush?"

I, of course, agreed. As we were about to park, Cynthia saw it right away! She took some quick shots. I parked the car and as we got off, some delivery guy came and parked his bike right beneath where the thrush was perched. That naturally spooked our favorite bird. 

With the colorful migrant gone, we proceeded to the Vargas Museum. It was unusually quiet. We asked the security guard if the Philippine Nightjar was still in the area. He replied in the negative. From there we went to Beta Way which was also devoid of any birdlife. We walked towards the pond at the sunken garden. It is now safe to say it was "once a pond a time". The place was just a muddy area filled with grass and lotus plants. Needless to say the hoped for kingfishers were no longer there.  

It was the Main Library next. Not much there either, except for a pair of Java Sparrows perched high up on the ledge. Luckily, one of the two flew to a nearby pine tree to gather what I believe to be nesting materials. 

Also nearby were a cooperative pair of Pied Trillers.

male. the female was foraging nearby
Lowland White-eyes were plentiful. However they were so hyperactive, so tiny, and preferred the upper portion of the trees that despite a barrage of shots from me and my wife, none came out acceptable. Not even what we would consider as a "documentary" photo.

Our return to Miranda Hall was luckier this time around. The young male Blue Rock Thrush stayed long enough for us to be able to get good pictures.

A foray at the parking lot of the Chemistry building yielded the resident Long-tailed Shrike.

Back at MSI, we met fellow birders Doc Mando and Jonas Liwag. We told them about the Blue Rock Thrush at Miranda Hall and in return Doc Mando showed me an excellent photo of the Rusty-breasted Cuckoo he got a little earlier. We scouted the area where he said he saw it but found nothing. Our friends also said that they saw the Philippine Nightjar sleeping on a mango tree branch right across the Landbank ATM. We checked out the place and couldn't find the nocturnal bird. Thankfully, Doc Mando came and noticed the frustration in our faces. He showed us the exact location of the nightjar and indeed there it was peacefully snoozing the day away. 

After we got some shots of the endemic bird, we thanked our friend profusely and bade our farewell.

We had been fasting for the past five days so now as we headed home, we were looking forward to having a sumptuous lunch and also to celebrate our second sighting of a Blue Rock Thrush in such a short span of time.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Blue Rock Year

My wife and I walk around our subdivision as our (almost) regular exercise routine usually around 7 am. Birders that we are, we oftentimes stop whenever we hear or see some of the neighborhood birds. Throughout the time that we've doing this (about a year or so) we have seen quite a number of birds. But the one species that we kept wishing to encounter was the Blue Rock Thrush. The last time we've seen one here was in November of 2010.

And so every time we do our walk, we identify the birds we see this way: Blue Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Bulbul, Blue Rock Fantail, Blue Rock Dove, Blue Rock Woodpecker….well, you get the idea. 

Then one cloudy morning one week into 2016, we saw it! We were not sure at first because it was perched on a rooftop and heavily backlit. But the GISS definitely says it is the bird we were hoping to see. Of course, I did not have my camera with me at the time. Trusting in luck (and after a quick prayer) Cynthia and I rushed home - about 3 blocks away - to get my camera. This time we brought the car along to quicken our return at the scene. Thank heavens our beloved Blue Rock Thrush was still there and was more out in the open even!

Now when we do our morning exercise routine we can properly name the birds that we would be encountering: Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Yellow-vented Bulbul,  Philippine Pied Fantail, Zebra Dove, Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker and so on and so forth.

Looks like it will be a good birding year for us.