Monday, December 31, 2018

Seeing Green

It was one of those weird experiences where we saw green birds - two species from the Dove family - but were unable to photograph them. And that happened at the start and at the end of our three-day birding at Subic. Wednesday afternoon as we entered the Nabasan Trail, we saw a pair of Common Emerald Doves feeding on the ground. As I lowered our car window to take their photo, both flew away. We made a quick round trip, hoping they will be back at their feeding spot. We saw one but again it flew away even before we could lift our cameras. And then on our last day, as we were about to exit the Nabasan Trail, a flock of 5 Philippine Green Pigeons were perched on a tree by the road. But before I could even stop the car, all five flew into the forest, not to be seen again.

Other than that frustrating encounters, we had a very good birding time at Subic. It didn't start well though. For one thing the weather was gloomy that Wednesday afternoon. Most of the photos we got were disappointingly backlit. The first bird we photographed was a Common Sandpiper, taken at the seashore not that far from our hotel.

At the Nabasan Trail, we got some shots at the Luzon Hornbill, Blue-throated Bee-eater and Green Imperial Pigeon.

And that, sadly was how our first day ended. Thursday, surprisingly, was sunny which boosted our hopes of seeing more birds. One of the surprises was a Grey-faced Buzzard.

I thought that would be a good portent.  However, things went downhill after that. All we saw were the "trash" birds - species that we always see at our condominium grounds. So I took some obligatory shots.

Zebra Dove
Brown Shrike
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Even more annoying was the White-throated Kingfisher. They were quite common but so skittish. Each time we would approach one (in our car, by the way) they would fly off, and land a few meters away. We would follow, and it would repeat that routine several times. And that was not just one individual! We encountered a few more and they did they same mocking attitude. Then I remembered a place we visited last year where that kind of kingfisher was more cooperative. So we went to the Ilanan Road and we were not disappointed.

That somehow changed our luck. Soon we were seeing species after species. Foremost was a Philippine Serpent Eagle that stayed put for a long time. And there were two endemics: the Coleto and the Guiabero.

Another species of the parrot family was even friendlier - the Green Racket-tail.

Before heading back to our hotel, we passed by the Volunteer Park hoping to get photos of the Brahminy Kite. And we did! 

With a bonus of a Grey Heron and a Great Egret.

The following morning and our last day of birding was once again a bit gloomy. Despite that we had good shots of a Balicassiao which landed on the electric wire just above us.

A Blue-naped Parrot also posed for us from a nearby tree.

The highlight of the day was getting good looks and getting photos of the three kinds of woodpeckers: The Northern Sooty Woodpecker, the White-bellied Woodpecker and the Luzon Flameback.

Northern Sooty Woodpecker
White-bellied Woodpecker
Luzon Flameback
The last bird we photographed was the skulking Philippine Coucal.

It was one of the most productive sorties we had in this place - considering that it didn't start well - so much so that I was turning into a grumpy old man. Thanks to my ever encouraging, always positive wife, everything eventually went well. Things may look grey, but there is always green at the end.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Better U.P.

We went birding at the campus of the University of the Philippines (U.P.) in Diliman last Saturday. It was way better than our last trip there. Our first stop was at the pond and right off the bat a very cooperative White-breasted Waterhen gave our birding day a good start.

Having done its job the waterbird then moved farther away from us. That was when we heard the non-stop hammering call of a Coppersmith Barbet. However, both me and Cynthia failed to locate the source of that sound despite our many attempts and experiencing a literal pain in the neck. Soon a mixed flock came into the fruiting tree. Unfortunately they were all at the uppermost area. My wife was on one side looking up and I was at the other side straining my neck trying to locate and identify the movements way up there. Eventually Cynthia got some photos of a Red-keeled Flowerpecker which I didn't see, while I got a shot at a Philippine Hanging Parrot, which she did not see.

Finally, after the mixed flock had left, the Coppersmith Barbet maybe realized that we have waited long enough and decided to show up, even obliging for some photo ops.

Then, the Black-naped Oriole which was part of the earlier group made a come back and posed long enough for me to get a picture.

As we were leaving the pond, I noticed a white thing on the bare branches across. Upon closer look, I was surprised to see a Little Egret perched there.

We then made a trip around the campus and stopped where the Long-tailed Shrike was always a sure sighting.

We even got a couple of bonuses in the form of a Zebra Dove and a Brown Shrike.

To cap it off, a pair of Philippine Pied Fantails were busy hunting for insects and didn't mind a couple of seniors taking their pictures.

8:30 in the morning and we heard some rumbling. It was our stomachs. They were accustomed to be filled at 6 am and it had been over 2 hours and they were already having that empty feeling. So off to Cafe Sweet Inspirations we went where a buffet breakfast would definitely put an end to that persistent noise within.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dearth Birder

Two things: We haven't birded as often as we used to. The weather had not been cooperative this year - either too much rain or too hot to get out of the house. And then old age seems to have finally crept on me. I no longer have the energy to go on long drives (almost a necessity when birding in the Philippines). The other thing was that somehow there was a dearth of birds at the places we've been to lately.

Yesterday was a good example of that. The Palos Verdes subdivision in Antipolo is one of our favorite birding places. We've seen some interesting birds during the many times we've been there, such as the uncommon Slaty-legged Crake. We've seen two kinds of cuckoos here, Mangrove Blue Flycatchers, Pygmy Flowerpecker, Philippine Cuckoo Dove, Golden-headed Cisticola, Barred Rail, etc. 

We arrived a little before 7 am and were surprised that the usual Long-tailed Shrikes and White-breasted Woodswallows were not at their usual spots on the electric wires. I eventually found the Shrike - a very skittish one at that. 

On the other hand, Cynthia was trying to get a clear shot of a Pied Triller who was having its breakfast.

Another obvious dearth was that of the Scaly-breasted Munias. Whereas before we've seen flocks of more than 20 individuals feeding on the grass just a few feet away from us, now we only saw about five flying over and only two came down near to us.

Another round and this time we saw some avian activity high in the tree tops. Golden-bellied Gerygones were in their usual hyperactive mode. My wife had the better shots as I was having a hard time focusing on the tiny bouncing objects.

One other species that weren't as plentiful as before was the Spotted Dove. We saw one perched on a branch. I just got a documentary shot.

Next was the challenge of taking pictures of the Grey Wagtail. It just kept moving and most of the time was in the shade.

Then there was this Zebra Dove that was more obliging as it walked nonchalantly not that far from us.

And what would birding be at this time of year without taking photos of the common migrant, the Brown Shrike. We saw one feeding on an unknown kind of insect. We were both in the car and this bird was on Cynthia's side, so she had an awesome opportunity to record the feeding habit of this bully bird.

By 9:30 and not seeing any more new species, we went to the Holy Garden Memorial Park hoping to get both the Paddyfield Pipit and the Pied Bush Chat. We got the the first and not the latter.

But we got a bonus in the form of a Collared Kingfisher.

As the year is coming to an end, we hope that we could get more opportunities to go birding and to see more species. We don't want to be a dearth birder. May the force be with us.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Drongo Ashy

News about an Ashy Drongo seen at the La Mesa Ecopark spread throughout the birding community. This was the migrant subspecies salangensis which differs from the one seen in Palawan by its white face and grayer plumage. Although not a lifer for us - we've seen one in February 2015 near the main library building at U.P. Diliman (see my blog on that) - we still wanted to go find this one, hopefully to get better photos.

So I asked friends, Mon and Ferdie who had already taken pictures of that bird, for directions. They replied with text messages and gave the precise location of the drongo. Armed with this information, we went to the site at 6:30 in the morning. The climb up to the zip line station was exhausting for these two senior citizens. We staked out the acacia trees. Half an hour and the bird was still a no show. We called both our friends to confirm if we were indeed at the right place. Thankfully, Ferdie told us that a friend of us his, Mark, had just seen our target bird. He told us to come down and go to our friend Anthony's shop and Mark would meet us there. As soon as we reached the street we met two friends, Ben and Conrad, who obviously had the same purpose for coming to Ecopark. We proceeded to the Bungee jumping area and there we met Mark. He showed us a photo of the drongo which he took not more than 15 minutes ago. He then took us to where he got that shot and it wasn't long when the uncommon migrant showed up. Although a bit far, it was definitely a drongo I see. Finally our patience paid off when our beloved Ashy Drongo perched on a branch, out in the open, and close enough for us to get some good shots.

A happy group having just photographed the Drongo.

Satisfied that our mission had been accomplished, we bade goodbye to our friends. A short trip to the mini forest yielded absolutely zero birds! With the humidity becoming more and more unbearable and our stomachs grumbling (we haven't had breakfast yet) we indulged in a buffet brunch at Cafe Sweet Inspirations.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Humid My Day

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, summer arrived late in the Philippines. It brought not only extreme heat but also excessive humidity. It was only 7:30 in the morning and my wife and I were already drenched in sweat as we birded the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

Our first stop at the pond near Beta Way was somewhat disappointing. Perhaps due to the high temperatures that the pond was almost dried up. The remaining body of water was covered by plants, mostly water lilies. In such a situation, no self-respecting kingfisher would bother to stay. The only birds we saw was the uber common migrant, the Brown Shrike.

the beautiful Pied Triller.

We also had some good views of a Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker.

From there we moved to the area in front of the MSI (Marine Science Institute) building. Cynthia's sharp eyes got her a female Olive-backed Sunbird.

We heard the hammering sound of a Coppersmith Barbet. Again, it was my wife's patience and diligence that enabled her to see the said species.

I was not able to see the barbet because as Cynthia was photographing it, I was focusing my attention on a Black-naped Oriole picking some red berries..

Not seeing any other birds, we  drove around, first along Magsaysay Avenue. We saw the expected White-breasted Woodswallows and got photos of them. 

Then we went to the place where Long-tailed Shrikes were supposed to be sure sightings. Our first endeavour failed so my wife suggested we make one more round to the area. Of course, she was right. This time we got the shrike.

At the Biology building where we hoped to see the Philippine Nightjar yielded nothing but a Philippine Pied Fantail.

Near the faculty building which now had been razed to the ground was another place for a possible nightjar sighting. As we walked towards the place a pair of Zebra Doves flew down right in front of us. 

That turned out to be our last bird for the day. With the heat and humidity becoming more and more unbearable, we agreed to call it quits and head back to the comfort of our air-conditioned condo unit.