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This was a bit disappointing birding trip to the highlands of Benguet.
Cynthia and I planned to go to Baguio after seeing those lovely bird photos that our friends posted in Facebook. However, when my wife was trying to arrange for our lodging, all the hotels that she contacted were fully booked. Thinking it was fate, we scrapped our plans. Then, a birder friend in Facebook whom we haven't even met personally, offered to sponsor us at the exclusive Baguio Country Club. How can we say no to such kindness.
Our primary purpose in birding in Baguio was to garner more lifers of course. Foremost among our target birds were the Bundok Flycatcher, followed by the Luzon Sunbird and maybe the Luzon Water Redstart and the Mountain Shrike.
Upon arrival in Baguio we went directly to Sto. Tomas where we saw the Island Thrush and Red Crossbills three years ago. Unfortunately a pass was now required to be able to get to that place which we didn't have.
We then proceeded to the Camp John Hay Ecotrail. It was eerily quiet. We met another friend, Bim Quemado, who was waiting for the White's Thrush that was seen a couple of days ago. We, on the other hand, waited patiently for the Bundok Flycatcher at the area where our friends (including Bim) said these birds frequent. Three hours passed and our target lifer never showed up. On the way out we encountered a flock of Sulphur-billed Nuthatches. That was some sort of a consolation.
After checking in at the Baguio Country Club we returned to the Ecotrail. Again, the birds were few and were always at the upper parts of the tall trees. Still the Bundok was a no-show. Another consolation was a Green-backed Whistler that my wife was able to photograph.
We agreed to meet Dr. Ron Paraan, our sponsor, at the Club's restaurant at 4 pm. When we told him our target birds he told us in great detail the areas where such birds can be found. Learning that, we decided to scrap our plans for the Mountain Shrike (long arduous trek) and the Water Redstart (climbing down steep and slippery boulders). With our aging bodies we don't think we would be able to handle such strenuous activities.
The following morning we met up with Ron at the Ecotrail. Once again the local avifauna had been less cooperative. And still no Bundok Flycatcher. Our friend left at around 9 am to go to work and agreed to meet up again after lunch. Noon time Cynthia and I left the Ecotrail feeling low after failing to photograph the local birds. We did see them but take photographs? Nope.
After lunch, as we waited for Ron we saw a Blue Rock Thrush at the terrace of the Country Club!
I texted Ron about it and he was excited because that would be a lifer for him. Unfortunately, it had flown to the top of the building and was no longer visible by the time our friend arrived.
As we have agreed earlier, Ron took us to Avong Nen Romy where the Luzon Sunbird was reputedly a sure sighting. For about two hours we waited but the sunbird did not show up. Then it drizzled so we all agreed to call it quits. Rain poured as we drove back to the hotel. Our hearts as gloomy as the weather. Ron, hoping to appease our sorrows stopped by the campus of the Benguet State University. Standing at the bridge, he showed us the Siberian Rubythroat and the White Wagtail. There was even a Barred Rail by the creek. He asked if we wanted to go down to take photos of these birds. We thanked him for the offer but politely declined. They were not lifers anyway, it was still drizzling, and our hearts were already heavy.
Friday was our last day. The sun was shining gloriously so Cynthia and I agreed to give Avong one more try. One hour passed and no sunbird appeared. We were already thinking of giving up as we still have to check out from the Country Club. I wanted to do that early enough to avoid the Friday traffic of MetroManila. It was then the owner of the resort signaled to us and pointed at a sunbird feeding on the blossom just in front of her house. In the shade. I told my wife to go to where the owner was to get a better angle. I tried taking photos from the outside and almost cried when I discovered that all my shots were terribly bad. Luckily there was one salvageable photo taken by Cynthia. In our excitement and haste we forgot to make the proper adjustments to our cameras to conform with the lighting conditions.
Finally, we felt some sort of comfort that we got at least one of target species. Nevermind the bad image - a lifer is still a lifer.
To end an already disappointing trip I was cited for going through a stop light at EDSA (although I didn't think I did). Anyway, that situation ended up fine.
Despite a not very productive birding trip, we were still deeply grateful to Dr. Ron for arranging for our lodging and accompanying us to the local birding sites.
Two times I went to La Mesa Ecopark to look for the Luzon Hawk-Owl. Both times I failed. That was on a Tuesday and a Saturday. Then on Sunday afternoon fellow bird photographer Jonn Salvador posted a shot of the said species in Facebook. I immediately texted local bird expert, Anthony Balbin, asking him if the owl was still there. Yes, he texted back. It was 4 in the afternoon. I quickly consulted the Waze app to see how long it will take to get to the Ecopark. About 50 minutes it said. Without even bothering to put on our birding shoes, Cynthia and I jumped to our car and rushed to the park. An hour later we were at the mini-forest. Soon Anthony came and showed us where our target bird was perched. It was farther up now than where it had been previously sighted. The skies were gloomy, dusk was fast approaching, and the Hawk-Owl was beneath a huge palm leaf. Not the best circumstances for good photography. Nevertheless, we tried. Then the owl turned its face away from us. Prof. Reuel Aguila, who also joined us, and I, tried to negotiate the incline so we could get better views. Finally a tiny opening in the foliage allowed us to photograph our lifer at an angle we had hoped for. I quickly reviewed the results of my endeavor and was glad that at least a couple of shots were acceptable.
Satisfied that we had accomplished our mission we joined our birder friends who were hanging out at Mang Jose's restaurant. We heartily thanked Jonn and Anthony without whom we would not have been successful in getting our first lifer of the year. I told our friends Wins Tornado, Ed Santos, Gilbert and Wilma Go, Albert Tamayo, and Jonn, Prof. Reuel and Anthony of my two earlier unsuccessful efforts at finding the owl. But the third time's always a charm, I said smilingly.
Lately we've been hearing about this new birding place about an hour away from where we live. When our friend Maia posted her blog about their recent birding experience there, that was sort of the trigger that made us decide to try our luck in that place.
The Palo Alto Leisure and Residential Estates located in Baras, Rizal Province was huge! By the entrance gate as we were getting ready to get in, we encountered our first bird of the day - the Balicassiao!
We proceeded to the lodge to meet with the manager to ask for his permission to allow us to bird throughout the subdivision. Dax was very congenial and gave us his blessing, so to speak.
The roads were very well paved and in some places were next to a heavily forested hill with tall trees. There was even a creek that runs through the place. Grey Wagtails were all over the place oftentimes roaming on the streets.
Sounds of "tuk-krrrr" resonated in the cool morning air announcing the presence of Spotted Doves.
As we entered the road going to the falls, we saw five, yes, five Stripe-headed Rhabdornises perched either on the electric post or on the wires next to it.
Striated Grassbirds were already singing their hearts out, well, except for this one who was still trying to shake off its sleepiness.
As we rounded a turn, we were greeted by some Blue-throated Bee-eaters going about their business and not minding the bullying tactics of the Yellow-vented Bulbuls.
It was at the tall trees area that a huge flock of Lowland White-eyes frolicked noisily among the leaves.
At around 10:30 am having gone around the subdivision for about 3 times, we agreed to call it a day. The weather had been indecisive whether to rain or to let the sun shine fully. The whole morning it would occasionally drizzle then suddenly become sunny.
As we were about to exit we got a surprise. A Red Turtledove showed up and like the drowsy grassbird still tried to get some 40 winks. Or was it just being flirty with us?
Although we did not see a lot of species, we were glad that there was this lovely place not that far from our home. We probably would go back and maybe we would get even luckier.
2016 - It was quite a good year birding wise - we got 6 lifers here in the Philippines (3 of which made it to the top 10) and got even more as we visited two new countries: Panama and Australia. Our top ten this year included not only some of the lifers we got but also some species that had a story to go with them.
10. Pigeon Guillemot. We saw one several years ago perched on a distant cliff near Santa Cruz, California. Last March we made a trip to Monterey. I was surprised to find this species swimming by the pier. Quite close even.
9. Spotted Wood Kingfisher. Not really a rare bird but what made this one special was when it stayed near the "Frogs" area in the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It lingered there for quite some time that our birding friends flew in from HongKong just to get photos of this kingfisher. And they were not disappointed!
8. Red Junglefowl. Our last lifer for the year. I had always been hesitant to claim it a lifer whenever we see this bird. It looks so much alike the domesticated chicken that it is difficult to confirm whether it is indeed a wild junglefowl or not. When we encountered this one, however, we were in a forest in Subic, kilometers away from the nearest human habitation. Not only that, this rooster had that telltale white spot on its cheek.
7. White-browed Shama. When news spread that this usually shy bird had been seen in the open prompted us to visit the town of Dona Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan Province. Thanks to our host, Jonet Carpio, we got great photos of a lifer.
6. Changeable Hawk-Eagle. This was another serendipitous encounter. We were in a van that picked us up from the Busuanga Airport in Coron. Suddenly, Rodel, our driver, stopped the vehicle and pointed at a raptor perched on a tree. We quickly unpacked our gear and slowly approached the magnificent bird. Another lifer for us.
5. Rainbow Lorikeet. This is one of the most common birds in the Sydney area. These birds usually come in flocks and stay in the trees. There was a time though when a few of them came down and fed on the red bottlebrush flowers right next to the cabin we were staying in Lane Cove.
4. Powerful Owl. Thanks to our guide, Andrew, we were able to see and photograph this gigantic bird. Lucky for us, the time we saw it, it had its prey still in its talons - an Australian Possum.
3. Southern Lapwing. On the walls of the Radisson Hotel in Panama where we stayed was a picture of this species. All the photos of the birds on that wall had English names except for this one which they labeled as "Tero". I was skeptic that such a bird can be found in the premises of this hotel. I thought that Lapwings which are related to plovers inhabit places where there is a good amount of water. On our second day, as we walked towards golf practice area, I saw it! It had grown accustomed to this environment that it wasn't even bothered by golf carts passing by.
2. Bat Falcon. Another bird shown on the wall of the hotel. Once again I was skeptic thinking that falcons would prefer the forested areas. On our last day at Radisson as the sun was starting to set and we were getting ready to return back to the hotel after birding near the golf practice area that I saw a raptor fly overhead. I only managed to squeeze in four shots and thankfully one of them turned out to be good enough.
1. Narcissus Flycatcher. This species had been my nemesis bird for quite some time now. Five years ago one had been seen and photographed near the main library of the University of the Philippines. Several attempts at finding that colorful flycatcher all failed. Then in November this year news spread in the birding community that another male had been seen in a small garden near the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran. We went, we saw, we photographed. Nemesis bird no more.
I was telling my wife that this time seemed different from our previous trips to Subic. Without fail, for the past 3 years, we have encountered birders here. However in the past two days that we were here it was just the two of us.
January 1, our final day, we decided to try the road along the Botanic Garden hoping to see the White-fronted Tit. Once again, we failed miserably on that. And once again, as what happened before, we met a birding couple. They were stalking a Red-crested Malkoha. We introduced ourselves and discovered that Art and Riza Melicor didn't know where the Nabasan Trail was. They have heard that it was a good birding area but apparently nobody had given them directions to that place. So we happily offered to show them the way. After the negotiating the loop, and them having photographed the Whiskered Treeswifts, we bade our goodbyes.
My cold was not improving at all so Cynthia and I agreed to return back to our home so I can rest. That meant cutting short our birding sortie. Which meant no bird photos for the beginning of the year. Except for a backlit shot of a Spotted Dove.