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We are currently staying in my son's apartment in Glendale, California. Wednesday afternoon, we decided to bird around the neighborhood. Expecting to see the usual suspects, we were quite surprised to encounter some species we never expected to be in this sort of urban environment.
But first allow me to show the "regulars". A Black Phoebe has made this place its home. We've seen this bird for the past several years here.
It seemed that the Mourning Doves had multiplied a lot. They're practically everywhere - lots of them!
Another common species here were the House Finches, although this time they stayed at the higher places.
As expected, California Towhees were foraging on the ground, unmindful of the people passing by.
The Northern Mockingbirds were, as always, displaying their audacious attitudes.
A pair of Acorn Woodpeckers were up a palm tree looking for food. I got a photo of one.
Then there were the unexpected. After taking some shots at the mockingbird, I noticed something strange. Softly, I told my wife, "Turn around slowly, there's a Junco behind you". We've seen Dark-eyed Juncos the day before in Bonelli Park. Lots of them. And that's where they can be easily found, not on a sidewalk, along an apartment complex.
Perched alongside a Mourning Dove, was a Band-tailed Pigeon! Again, this species prefer the trees in parks, not electric wires.
While trying to aim at another Mockingbird singing from a tree top, Cynthia saw something green. I looked at where she was pointing and surprise of all surprises - a Yellow-chevroned Parakeet! It didn't stay long though and I was lucky enough to get a couple of shots. We've seen this tropical species before (a feral population thrives in the greater Los Angeles area) in Arcadia and El Monte. Never in Glendale. Until now.
A big bird on a tree top, about a block away, was another unexpected encounter. A Red-tailed Hawk was surveying its surroundings, perhaps looking for an unwary prey. Sometime later it even flew and landed on the top of a pine tree right next to us. Unfortunately, it was so high up that pine needles prevented us from getting a full view.
What was also strange, sort of in a negative way, was the scarcity of House Sparrows. This species was the "trash bird" of urban areas. However, we only saw two, both immature.
It was a productive birding experience for us, considering the type of environment we're in. Thanks to the "strange" appearance of some uncommon birds.
Sometimes fate has a strange way in dealing with bird photographers. Like when the results of our photographic endeavours were much better at the places along the way to and from our planned destination.
Inasmuch as we will be busy with some personal errands on Saturday, we decided, sort of in a spur of the moment, to go birding in Infanta on Friday. In our previous trips to that place, we had seen, on several occasions, some Rails foraging by the roadside. Since we did not have our gear out when that happened (we were still more than an hour away from our destination) we hadn't been able to take pictures of the Rails. This time we were prepared. Good thing we were, for there nonchalantly walking on the grass was a Barred Rail.
Then there was a pair of Striated Grassbirds that appeared to be drying their feathers on top of a stone wall. Here is one of them.
I thought those encounters were a good omen for our birding day. Unfortunately, they were not. Our experience in Infanta was close to frustrating. We would see birds but either we would not be able to take their photos or if we did, the results were not up to par. Take for example this Philippine Fairy Bluebird. Cynthia got a picture but it was too dark and covered with twigs.
Or this Rusty-breasted Cuckoo that was backlighted.
Another backlighted shot was that of the very common Philippine Bulbul.
One of the better shots we got was that of a Paddyfield Pipit. This was the first time we saw this species here so that somehow boosted our rapidly waning enthusiasm.
Then came another heartache. Our friend, Anthony, who was guiding an Englishman, saw a Philippine Trogon (another first sighting for us here in Infanta). However, before I could take a shot at it, it flew off and landed on a branch that was partially covered by leaves. Of course, that resulted in another bad photo.
Closer to noontime, it was Anthony again who pointed to a wave of a mixed flock of birds. First was a Yellow-bellied Whistler. (As I mentioned earlier, this was not the best bird photography experience we had.)
Then followed a Sulphur-billed Nuthatch.
The Elegant Tits, though plentiful, were very active, never stopping even for a single moment.
Finally, the Yellowish White-eyes came. These group preferred the upper level of the trees.
After the wave had passed, my wife and I agreed to call it day. Close to our favourite restaurant which was about an hour away, Cynthia pointed to a black bird perched on a fence. "Pied Bush Chat!" she exclaimed. What followed was a photo session with a very willing and cooperative model.
Reviewing our photos, it was apparent that the best shots were taken before and after our birding sortie in Infanta.
The Avilon Zoo in Rodriguez, Rizal had been hosting some uncommon migrants lately. Last October a pair of Chestnut-cheeked Starlings stayed there for some time. Late January of this year, local guide Mhark Gee posted a photo of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, taken at the zoo premises. That of course triggered an onrush of bird photographers to Avilon. My wife and I, along with our friend, Peter, were part of a group that went on Saturday, Feb. 3rd.
Majority of us arrived a little before 8 am. After more than an hour of waiting, the hoped for cuckoo was still a no-show. Then the local Besra came flying in and teasingly flew from tree to tree. Cynthia was quicker with her camera and got a shot of the raptor.
Time slowly passed and still our target bird was nowhere in sight. As if to relieve the building tension among us, a Common Kingfisher visited the nearby pond and hunted for food, giving us photographers some FIM (food in mouth) shots.
Not long afterwards, its endemic cousin - the Indigo-banded Kingfisher - obligingly posed for us as well.
Then Mhark told us that another cuckoo, the Rusty-breasted one, was at the trees near the parking area. Now this was one very cooperative (and I'd say somewhat narcissistic) bird, as it gave us different poses like a model.
At noon we decided to join our fellow birders who were already having lunch at the restaurant area. That was when Mhark shouted, "It's here!" What followed was a frenzied shooting by 16 excited bird photographers of the awesome looking cuckoo. For about an hour, this beautiful migrant made all of us go cuckoo. It was the three of us (me, my wife and our friend, Peter) who gave up as we were already feeling the pangs of hunger. We were all happy that we got our first lifer of the year.
Because of the two chestnut migrants (the cheeked starlings last year and the winged cuckoo this year) the Avilon Zoo had become one of the interesting local birding destinations. Hopefully more will come even those without "chestnut" in their name.