Monday, April 30, 2018

Seen no more

Peter and I were standing near the edge of the valley having our take-out breakfast. Cynthia decided to stay in the car. Then Peter tersely said, "bird!" I looked at where he was pointing at but for the life of me couldn't see anything. Well, there was a slight drizzle and the skies were grey, so all I could see were shadows of what I presumed to be just leaves. My friend borrowed my camera, took a shot and then showed it to me. A plethora of emotions overwhelmed me: surprised that there were indeed birds as Peter said, angry because those birds were in a cage, amazed as to how a cage of that size with two White-eared Brown Doves in it be hung on a branch that could only be accessed by the most agile and daring human being, and finally, curious as to the purpose of such action. Perhaps it was to lure more birds into a trap? I wanted so much to grab that cage and release both hapless birds to their freedom but with my ancient body, such an endeavour would most likely result in my untimely death or severe physical injury. So we left with saddened hearts and I prayed that no other bird would be captured and that both doves would hopefully gain their freedom. 

Prior to these heartbreaking experience, I had missed a couple of opportunities of photographing lifers. As we entered the Infanta area, I saw a Rufous Hornbill soaring over the valley. I asked Peter, who was driving, to stop. He did. However as soon as we parked by the roadside, the said hornbill was seen no more. Further up the road, I saw another soaring bird. I yelled "raptor!" Even before Peter could stop, the Rufous-bellied Eagle was seen no more. Was it a coincidence that both species had the word "rufous" in their names?

At the area by the brook where the Cream-bellied and Yellow-breasted Fruit Doves had been seen recently, we met fellow bird photographers Cesar Espiritu, Mhark Gee, and Mags Ico who were stalking the said birds. We stayed with them for a while but both doves never showed up the whole time we were there. Mhark told us that a Rufous Paradise Flycatcher showed up earlier. Since then it was seen no more. Another, rufous=seen no more incident. Hmm.

So we moved on as we promised to take Peter to the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker site so that he could get his lifer.

Thankfully he did, and I got the constantly moving Sulphur-billed Nuthatch. Again.

Cynthia got a photo of a tailorbird. However it was too far and backlit for me to be able to identify it properly. My best guess would be Mountain (we were, after all, on a mountain).

Having gotten his lifer, we proceed to the area that Mags told us the White-fronted Tit can be found. We lingered there until about noon and were rewarded with three kinds of flowerpeckers: Buzzing, Orange-bellied and Pygmy. No Tits though.

Buzzing Flowerpecker
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Pygmy Flowerpecker
Our lunch at The Gathering was much better than the last time Cynthia and I ate there. That was a consolation from the seen-no-more birds.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's the Thought that Counts

I can't believe that it has been more than a year since we last birded in Antipolo. Especially since that place is one of our favorite birding spots. And now we're finally back.

We began at the area just past the basketball court. That brought back some memories: This place was where seeing a Grey-streaked Flycatcher was a sure thing. Since we haven't seen one for quite some time now, I hoped that we would be lucky today. But migration time is almost over so we probably won't see it, I thought to myself. Then voila! one flew in and landed just above me.

Cynthia, on the other hand, was busy taking shots at the constantly moving Elegant Tit.

We heard a lot of birds around but strangely couldn't locate them. So we moved on and as we turned a corner I pointed to my wife a White-breasted Waterhen preening out in the open. It was on her side so she started firing away.

As we rounded out the village, another thought came to mind: Where were the Scaly-breasted Munias that were so numerous in our previous trips here. Then, "Look!" Cynthia said as she pointed to a small group of munias, most of which were juveniles. Luckily we got good photos of the adults as well.

When we first entered the subdivision one of the first things I observed was that the two common species usually encountered here were conspicuously absent. That seemed a bit strange, I thought. It was only about an hour later that we finally saw the White-breasted Woodswallow and the Long-tailed Shrike.

"We haven't seen the Spotted Doves yet" my wife was thinking aloud. I shared the same thought. As we were driving, she saw a large brown bird. Before we could even pick up our cameras, it flew down and out of sight. We both jumped out of the car and tried to locate what we were sure was a Spotted Dove. Thankfully it was perched in the open and we got full views of it.

Finally as we were about to end our birding trip, Cynthia pointed to a Collared Kingfisher perched not that far from where we were. We were so glad that this species was still thriving here considering that an enormous house had already been built over its usual habitat. That was indeed a comforting thought.

It was a considerably short birding foray - about two hours or so - but at the end of the day it was all those thoughts coming to actualization that really counted.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fire and Flame

We returned to Infanta Saturday morning with the hope of acquiring one, or maybe even two, lifers. At first when we encountered a Coleto in Tanay, not far from where we have our usual breakfast, we thought that it would be a portent of good things to happen. 

Alas, things did not turn out as expected. At our first stop at the "De Castro" area it was a deja vu of the week before. Both the Yellowish White-eyes and Elegant Tits were actively hunting for food.

Yellowish White-eye
Elegant Tit
The almost dried up hagimit tree had its usual customer, the Buzzing Flowerpecker.

A Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker also came by.

A little past km. 103 we saw the now regular feeder at the more fruitful hagimit - the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.

Along with the Elegant Tits were Sulphur-billed Nuthatches.

It was here that we expected to find our hoped-for lifer, the Grand Rhabdornis. So we patiently waited for our quarry. It wasn't long when friends who did a raptor count in Tanay joined us. Several hours passed and still no rhabdornis. Cynthia and I decided to go further up the road. The only bird we saw was an overstaying Blue Rock Thrush.

We rejoined the group who told us that our target bird was still a no-show. Once again, we waited being consoled (or mocked?) by the noisy Coppersmith Barbet and Philippine Bulbul.

Coppersmith Barbet 
Philippine Bulbul
All of us decided to move on since it was nearing noontime. Along the way, the hibiscus were in full bloom and not surprisingly, a pair of Flaming Sunbirds were feasting on the red flowers.

When one member of the group told us that the Rufous Hornbill (another possible lifer) was seen without fail at the Hungry Tummy restaurant at 3 pm, we went there to inquire if that was indeed true. Tommy, the owner, told us that it was actually at around 4:30 pm that the hornbills come to their place. We passed that information to the group. At 3pm, we passed by the Hungry Tummy just to check if the hornbills decided to come early. Tommy greeted us and said it was at 4:30 for sure. Not wanting to be caught in traffic and also since I have difficulties driving at night, with sad hearts my wife and I both agreed to head for home and not wait for the said time of the hornbills' arrival. 

That evening Cynthia texted our friend Ruth, who was with the raptor group if they had seen the Rufous Hornbills at Hungry Tummy at the appointed time. No, she replied. 

Although we did not get any lifers that day, we were still stoked by Fire and Flame, a flowerpecker and a sunbird.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fire Alert

It was another productive trip to Infanta. At first, at the area near the trees with the "De Castro" sign, we encountered an early wave. Though some species were missing (Blue-headed Fantail and Citrine Canary Flycatcher), the others were quite plentiful. Such as the Elegant Tits, Sulphur-billed Nuthatches, and Yellowish White-eyes.

Elegant Tit
Sulphur-billed Nuthatch
Yellowish White-eye
After the flock had moved on, we drove up the road and encountered our fellow birders, Alex, Cel, Bert and Roy. I asked Bert the usual "What have you got?" question. He showed me a photo of a kind of Flowerpecker that I have never seen before. "They (note the plural) were feeding at the Hagimit fruits" he said, pointing at the said tree. I quickly got my tripod and all six of us waited for the return of the uncommon bird. Then after a while, "There they are!" Bert alerted everybody. We all had an exciting time taking photos of the yet unidentified species.

Satisfied at the result of our photographic endeavors, Alex looked at his book, the Kennedy's Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. "Fire-breasted Flowerpecker!" he gleefully told us. It appeared that all of us had been to Baguio in search of and did not find this high elevation dwelling species.

Having earned another lifer, Cynthia and I drove further on hoping to find more birds. Unfortunately, all we saw was a Paddyfield Pipit.

We returned to where the group was and had another photo session with the Flowerpeckers which also included the Bicolored, Buzzing, and the Orange-bellied.

It was nearing noon so my wife and I said goodbye to our friends, thanking them for alerting us on the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.

Our lunch at our usual dining place was a disappointment and we both agreed that the fire seemed to have gone out of the quality of food and service here. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Good News and Bad Noise

It took a while before my wife and I overcame our jet lag. More than a week later after we arrived from the U.S., I kept seeing postings on Facebook from our friends of a beautiful dove taken at close range in Infanta.

"We have to go to Infanta," I told Cynthia in a most persuasive way. It was Holy Thursday and a holiday when we left early in the morning. Assuming that our favorite breakfast place in Tanay would be closed, we had our repast at McDonalds instead.

As we traversed the road going to our destination, we were surprised at the number of vehicles plying the same route. Not just cars but motorcycles. Mostly motorcycles actually.

Arriving at kilometer 93, we texted two of our friends, Chin and Maia, who had seen our target bird and asked for directions. Between kilometer 96 and 97, just before the Hulk Resort, we were told. It was also here that we met fellow birder, Linda Gocon. We told her that we would be looking for the Amethyst Brown Dove and will let her know when we find it. By the way, we had to speak in loud voices because of the constant roar of motorcycles passing by.

We immediately saw the fruiting hagimit tree when we arrived at the location given by our friends. Squinting at the dark areas, I noticed some movement. "It's there!" I told my wife.

After gorging on the red berries, the friendly dove decided to rest for a while. I took that opportunity to drive over to where Linda and her companions were and told her that we found the dove. Then I hurried back to where my wife was standing all by herself. 

Soon Linda and her friends joined us. It was her who saw the Olive-backed Flowerpecker which was feasting from a different tree.

Aside from that species, the only other one we saw was the Bicolored Flowerpecker sharing the same hagimit tree with the dove. Apparently the only kind that had a convivial relationship with the much bigger bird.

We were a bit intrigued by the absence of the birds we usually see in this place. Then it hit us. The non-stop streaming of loud motorcycles and automobiles most likely spooked the avian residents of Infanta. 

On our way home as we passed by the restaurants along the highway, we were shocked to notice that they were all full - way beyond the capacity. We saw hundreds of motorcycles parked along the road as the riders took some food break.

My wife and I swore to ourselves that we would never again go to Infanta on a Holy Thursday. Never. Ever. Again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

It Never Rains in Southern California

After our birding trip to Costa Rica we still had ten days to spare before returning home to the Philippines. There were still places in the greater Los Angeles area that I wanted to visit for some bird photography. However, we kept getting predictions that it will be raining. For almost a week, we did not plan any birding sortie afraid that we would be caught in a downpour. But guess what, it never rained during those days, well, maybe a short shower and it was at night.

Friday, and once again, the weather forecast was for some rainfall to occur. But I was determined. If it rains, then we'll let it, but for today let us go birding, I told my wife with such determination that she had no choice but to say yes.

It was a beautiful sunny day as we entered the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area. We headed to the Nature Center and I got one of my target birds quite easily - the Cactus Wren.

Unfortunately, that was the only bird we saw there. We then proceeded to the lake for some water birds. I was still roaming around looking for some birds other than Coots and Mallards when Cynthia approached me and showed a couple of pictures. I was like: Where did you get these? And she held me by my elbow, turned me around, and pointed to the merganser. "The White-fronted Goose was by the picnic tables," she said.

Greater White-fronted Goose 
Red-breasted Merganser. Very rare to see them on the shore.
From there we went to the levee where the Rock Wrens were usually found. A few hundred meters and still no wren. Cynthia did not want to go any further because 1) it was getting too hot and without any tree cover it will get worse (wasn't rain predicted today?) and 2) the area across the trail had been cordoned off in preparation for the upcoming Renaissance Fair next month thus the possibility of seeing birds had been greatly reduced.

On the way out I saw a Common Starling. I wanted to take photos of this fast spreading introduced species, so I parked and fulfilled my desire.

Although there weren't as many birds as we had experienced here in prior times, I was still glad that we had an opportunity to practice our hobby. That despite the threat of rain.

Didn't these weather forecasters know that it never rains in Southern California? Have they even heard the song?

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 6 - Ending with a Streak

March 10, 2018 - We still had some time to spare at Cerro Lodge before going to the airport for our return trip to Los Angeles. Of course, we spent that time birding La Barca road first then the premises of the lodge. There weren't anything new along La Barca except for a Tropical Gnatcatcher (not a lifer though) which was so high up a tree that we only got  "documentary" shots.

Near the lodge there were the usual visitors to the feeders. The Blue-grey Tanager was one of those regulars, so I took an obligatory shot just to show that they were indeed there.

And as if to day goodbye to us, one of the immature Yellow-headed Caracaras called from a nearby branch.

As a parting gift to us, we got our final lifer, #43, a very unassuming Streak-headed Woodcreeper.

It was adios Costa Rica after that. It had been a wonderful 6-day birding trip for us. We didn't expect to have as many lifers as we actually got. Thanks to the help of the management and staff both at Rancho Naturalista and Cerro Lodge, and to guides Rene and Carlos, we had a wonderful and fruitful birding experience.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Costa Rica - Day 5 - You Got (No) Male!

March 9, 2018 - Before our planned trip to Carara Park, Cynthia and I explored the La Barca road, just outside Cerro Lodge. Diana, the friendly staff at the lodge, told us that there are a lot of birds in that area. 

It was early morning and indeed birds were calling. First let me tell a lesson we have learned: Before when a bird looked familiar, we sort of ignored it. Somehow there was an occasion wherein I got a photo of one such bird that I thought we've seen in our earlier trips, and it turned out to be a different species! So now, although this trogon looked like the Gartered Trogon we've seen in Panama, we still took pictures. Good thing we did, because when I reviewed it later, it turned out to be a Black-headed Trogon. And lifer # 31.

At the appointed time, our guide, Carlos Zuniga, arrived. Soon we were at the Carara Park. One of the very first birds we saw was a female Rose-throated Becard. Unfortunately, we did not see the male which has the rose-colored throat from which the species got its name. Anyway, this was lifer #32 for us.

We were still at the parking area when Carlos pointed to lifer# 33, a tiny bird way up on the tree top. It was a Scrub Euphonia.

We encountered one more species before we entered the park, a female (!?) Steely-vented Hummingbird (lifer #34). Again, the male was nowhere in sight. This, strangely enough, would be the recurring theme of the day. Seeing the females and never the more colourful males.

The birds inside Carara were of the skulking type, most of which preferred staying close to the ground and behind the leaves. Lifer #35 was a Chestnut-backed Antbird.

Next was the female Dusky Antbird. Lifer #36. The dusky coloured male was, of course, absent.

Lifer #37 was a blue-green female Blue-crowned Manakin. And yes, the male with the blue-crown was a no-show.

Another skulker that resulted in a very blurred photo was the Black-faced Antthrush. Still it was counted as lifer #38.

From a distance we saw our 39th lifer - the Pale-billed Woodpecker which I almost ignored thinking it was just a Lineated.

While Carlos was trying to locate the source of some twittering, I saw a dove walking about 15 meters away. It turned out to be lifer #40 which I only found out while doing some research on it almost a month later here in the Philippines. It was a Grey-chested Dove.

Then Carlos said, "Tinamou!" and pointed at a bird walking close to the trail. The Great Tinamou was lifer number 41.

Lunch time and we're back at the Cerro Lodge. After lunch and resting a bit, we, together with some fellow birders, went to the Cabin areas to look for the owl that Diana (and also Carlos) said roosts at the tree nearby. All of us were getting frustrated at not finding the said owl when  one of workers at the lodge passed by. We asked if he knew where our target bird was and he looked up and pointed to a small fluff of feathers perched above. Cameras began clicking as my wife and I enjoyed our 42nd lifer - the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. And the way things had been going, I assumed it to be a female.

It was a fitting end to our final full day at Cerro Lodge.