Monday, May 21, 2018

When Dove has Gone

We were met at the gate by the husband-and-wife caretakers of the property. "The Cream-bellied Fruit Dove is gone" the husband informed us, "because the young ones have fledged." That was sort of expected. Before I could even ask about the other dove, he said, in an apologetic manner, "the Yellow-bellied is no longer there. There was heavy rain with thunder and lightning the other night and when we looked the following morning, the nesting dove had already left." "It never came back," he added.

As they say, when it comes to dove, there is no forever. So we did what anyone who lost their dove had done - we moved on. 

Was it by chance that we found redemption at a place not that far from a chapel? We were waiting for the hoped for Grand Rhabdornis - which was once again a no-show - when Cynthia saw a small bird perch on a tree at some distance from where we were. "What is it?" I asked my wife. "I don't know," she answered, "but it looked like a munia."

"A munia??" I exclaimed doubtfully. "In this kind of environment?"

So I looked though my long lens and my face reddened from extreme embarrassment. It was indeed a munia. A White-bellied one even. I mean who would expect a bird that prefers lowland forests and ricefields to be this high up on a mountain. This was the first time that this species had been seen here, as far as I know.

After almost an hour of waiting and no other birds showing up, we both agreed to return to our car. As we approached the chapel, there were some bird calls emanating from a fruiting tree. It didn't take long for one of those sources to come into view. A black bird. Philippine Fairy Bluebird was my guess. But wait, the eyes are not red. I hoped that it would be the uncommon Blackish Cuckooshrike. But...I was right the first time! The reason for the eyes not being red was because it was a juvenile! (Thanks to Rob and Mhark for the confirmation).

As if that wasn't enough, the mood changed from blue to green as a pair of Guaiaberos posed for a few minutes for us. Again, this was another first time sighting of this species for us in Infanta.

Then, a Coppersmith Barbet came in full view, at eye level, offering us our best shot of the day.

Back at the roadside, we chanced upon a fruiting hagimit tree. And where there are fruits, there will be birds. Although not as many this time. Two kinds of Flowerpeckers were feeding on it - the Orange-bellied and the Bicolored.

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Bicolored Flowerpecker - male
Bicolored Flowerpecker - female
A family of Philippine Bulbuls also came, the parents feeding their young ones.

At around 11 am we decided to call it a day. As we delighted in our sumptuous lunch, we both agreed that even in the absence of dove, there can still be happiness.

Monday, May 14, 2018

No Cream

I always add cream to my coffee. As a matter of fact, the creamier the better for me. Will I ever drink java sans that dairy product? Most likely not. Then how far will I go just to complete my morning joe? Good question. Especially when applied to birding. I may be stretching the analogy a bit, but let me explain: How much risk am I willing to take just to add a species to my life list?

That situation actually happened last Saturday. The three of us (me, my wife, and our friend, Peter) went to Infanta to look for a particular lifer - the Cream-breasted Fruit Dove. We already knew that there would be some difficulty accessing the site where the said dove was nesting. 

When we arrived at the Sierra Farm Cabin, the resident guide showed us the "trail" we had to traverse to get good views of our target bird. It was challenging to put it simply. While we were mulling over our situation, another friend, Chin, who was there before us, decided to give it a go. As we watched them negotiate the dangerous path, Cynthia and I offered a silent prayer to protect both Chin and Hanny, the guide. We gasped as our friend slipped a bit. It was then that all three of us agreed not to risk our life or limb just so we can have cream on our proverbial coffee. Later that day when we returned to Sierra Farm we once again met Chin who had just ended his vigil for the Fruit Dove. "Three hours of waiting, and I got nothing!" he said frustratingly. We were thankful that we made the right decision.

We also asked Hanny about the chances of seeing the Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher. He said the trail going down towards the creek was even worse. There will be times that we would have to negotiate a 90 degree slope. 90 degrees! That's completely vertical!

Our Infanta sortie was not a complete disaster though. Not that far from the Cream-breasted Fruit Dove's nest was another similar species which was also nesting. Thankfully, that place was more accessible. Unfortunately, the nest was only partially visible and we only got documentary photos of the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove. 

The usual places along the road were surprisingly devoid of birds. Luckily for us the area near the veranda of Sierra Farm Cabin was productive, birdwise. It was there that an Elegant Tit was so bold that it came to about a meter away from us.

While taking a break, I spotted a raptor flying overhead. A Crested Honey Buzzard obliged us for a few minutes before disappearing from view.

After the break, we returned to the veranda. While Peter was taking photos of his lifer, the Olive-backed Flowerpecker, a Philippine Fairy Bluebird posed for me.

Yellowish White-eyes cavorted in the branches of a pine tree.

We had lunch at "The Hulk" lodge and restaurant hoping to see and maybe get closer looks at the Rufous Hornbills we saw last week. Sadly not a single one showed up.

As we travelled back home we were obstructed by a kilometer long convoy of some politicians' supporters. While waiting for an opportunity to overtake them, my mind was filled with thoughts of "maybe I should try having coffee with no cream".

Monday, May 07, 2018

Foggy, Fairy, Far Away

Thick, soupy fog blanketed the road as we approached our destination in Infanta. Droplets of rain pelted our windshield. Our moods were as gloomy as the weather we were experiencing. Would we even see any bird? was the question all three of us were brooding on.

A little farther up the road, the mist slowly lifted revealing the lush forest. 

The rain also gradually abated offering hope to this three determined birders. Then we saw a bird running by the roadside. "Quail!" I shouted excitedly. Peter grabbed my camera, which was sitting on my lap, and took some shots of the brownish creature streaking at his side of the road. The bird then scurried inside a thick clump of vegetation and completely disappeared. Peter then showed me the photos he took which unfortunately were mostly blurred. Not his fault, though, the lighting was bad, his car's engine was running, and the subject was constantly moving. At least the pictures were good enough for me to be able to properly identify that bird - a Spotted Buttonquail, and a lifer!

Elated, we proceeded to the area by the brook. As we approached the stake out place we heard the murmuring of a dove. It went on and off for about an hour but the source of that low humming never showed up. In its place came a pair of Philippine Fairy Bluebirds. A lifer for Peter. Somehow these fairies took away the gloom from the precipitation that once again dampened our morning sortie.

Several forays along the rain-drenched road yielded zero sightings. As it was nearing noon and the drizzle was continuously pouring down, we all decided to settle in at "The Hulk" - a lodge with a dining area near Km 97. We met birder friend, Sean, who will be staying overnight there. After lunch the skies stopped shedding tears and slowly inhaled the haze that covered the valley across from us. It was then that Sean came rushing towards us with glowing exuberance and said "hornbill!" We knew what he meant and we eagerly followed him to the edge of the property overlooking the valley. There a teenaged boy named Jay, described (in fluent English) the exact location where the Rufous Hornbill was supposedly perched. Squinting our eyes and looking through our camera lenses we eventually located our hoped-for bird. Yes, it was about a kilometre away and was just a reddish dot in the green forest below where we were standing. 

It was a total surprise when  three more individuals joined the one we were photographing initially. 

This species had been one of our targets in our repeated trips to this place and at last we found them. A whole family even!

It was a joyous trip back home having garnered several lifers (three for Peter and two for me and Cynthia). What started as a foggy, gloomy morning had a fairy tale ending.