Sunday, February 04, 2018

It's Where Avilon

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.

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