Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We Came, We Saw, We're Happy

We went to the Avilon Zoo for a single purpose: to photograph two endemic kingfishers. (Note: Although this was a zoo, both species seen here were uncaged, free-flying, wild birds.)

While Mhark, the local guide, were looking for the Spotted Wood Kingfisher to show Dev, our guest from Shanghai, Peter and I just decided to stay at the restaurant area by the pond. After a while Peter pointed to the spot at the far end of the pond. "There it is!" he said. He was referring to the Indigo-banded Kingfisher, the other target bird we came here for. It didn't take long before it flew closer to us. 

After we had our fill, Mhark came and told us that they found "Spotty". In return we told him that "Super Boy" was there by the pond. So we went to where the Spotted Wood Kingfisher was and took a lot of shots at it. 

Meanwhile, Mhark took Dev to the pond area so he could get photos of the Indigo-banded Kingfisher. About noon and we all got our target birds and were happy that we did. Next on the agenda was lunch.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Beginning and the End

It was a nice beginning and a beautiful ending. The sad part was what happened in between. Or to put it another way, nothing happened in between.

My wife and I were inside our car which was parked near the stream where the Cream-bellied Fruit dove had been lately. We were also waiting for our friend, Peter, and his guests from Shanghai. By the road we saw our first bird..the Grey Wagtail.

It wasn't long when it was joined, or shall I say, bullied by a Blue Rock Thrush! 

We thought that such unexpected sighting would augur well for the rest of our birding day. It didn't. It wasn't long when our friends arrived. So we staked out the area by the brook and waited for the hoped-for lifer. Nada. Even the Philippine Bulbuls and Philippine Fairy Bluebirds decided to stay at places beyond our photographic distance.

And that continued for the whole morning. We would hear the bird calls. And that was about it. Heard only. The usual mixed flock were surprisingly missing.

After lunch, we all agreed to call it a day. Peter and company said they would go ahead since Cynthia and I would be doing some car washing before heading home. After that we drove slowly still hoping that we would encounter some birds. Then we saw Peter's car parked by the Sidlakan area. We parked behind it and looked for them. We saw Peter shooting at something. "Flaming Sunbirds" he informed us. That was the beautiful ending to an otherwise heart-breaking briding sortie.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Answered Prayer

We always look for birds everytime we do our walk around our condominium grounds. Yesterday afternoon while watching a pair of sunbirds feast on the orange flowers we noticed a bird near the parking lot which looked different from the usual birds we see here. It was even unperturbed as I came a bit closer. "Ferruginous Flycatcher!" I exclaimed. I couldn't believe that this beautiful migrant would choose a parking lot to hunt for food. I grabbed my cellphone and took its photo to document such rarity.

That night before going to bed Cynthia and I prayed that the flycatcher would still be there. The next morning as soon as we woke up we both uttered the same prayer. After breakfast, I brought along my camera and did our regular morning walk. 

The first species that caught our attention was a female Olive-backed Sunbird feeding on the same orange flower but at a different location, albeit much lower and at eye level.

Then a bonus! We heard some Zebra Doves calling. While we were trying to locate the source of that call, I saw a bird which very seldom comes out in the open. A Spotted Dove was walking on top of the wall!

Thrilled at this unexpected sighting, we then proceeded to the place where we saw the flycatcher the day before hoping it would still be there. My hopes were diminished because we saw a driver standing idly just a few feet away from where the bird was yesterday. We walked past him, peered behind the parked cars and voila! our prayers were answered! It was perched on a wire and obliged me with some close shots. After a while it flew to the tree behind as if to say "you want a better background?" It flew off after I got its picture. As we  turned our attention to munias on the tree across. Our friendly flycatcher flew to the group of low trees next to the building. Satisfied that it had given us the answer to our prayers, it flew off once again to parts unknown.

This time the male Olive-backed Sunbird returned to its usual feeding ground so to speak.

The Philippine Pied Fantails were as you would expect them to be.

As we were nearing the retail area, a Eurasian Tree Sparrow flew between us as if saying, "you got photos of all the birds here except us!" and then perched on top of the gate just a few feet away. I, of course, consoled the poor bird and took an obligatory shot.

We made a second trip to the flycatcher site. Along the way, we got photos of the Yellow-vented Bulbul and the Zebra Dove.

Unfortunately our dear Ferruginous Flycatcher was no longer at its hangout.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Trash Birds

In the birding community the term "trash bird" refers to a species that is so common to the point that they are sometimes just tolerated as unavoidable but necessary. Like trash. Oftentimes they are simply ignored by birdwatchers and bird photographers.

Our recent trip to the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) gave that term a new meaning. It became more literal. We were amazed as to how birds could thrive in an environment that is full of garbage.

Here are a couple of examples: Apparently both species were getting food amongst the debris. We saw them foraging and pecking at places where the soil was covered with plastics, shoes, backpacks and other stuff of every imaginable kind. It was such that both brown birds were difficult to see much less photograph. When I saw a bird I would describe its location to our friend, Peter, like, "it's in front of that pink plastic bag" or "it's right beside the red bag of chips".

The resident Common Sandpiper was so "at home" and was obviously unmindful of its messy surroundings.

The cute migrant Pacific Golden Plover, however, looked so out of place here. It was like a lovely girl model posing beside a trash bin.

Thankfully, some species knew how to avoid the trashy areas. Like the Grey-tailed Tattler.

Understandably with the kingfishers because their prey were in the waters anyway and not on the shoreline.

Collared Kingfisher 
Common Kingfisher
Before we encountered the trash birds we were awed at the number of Egrets and Whiskered Terns. These birds provided an opportunity for us to practice our BIF (birds in flight) shots.

Black-crowned Night Heron
Little Egret
Whiskered Tern
Our hoped for encounter with the Whimbrel never materialized so after several hours of patiently waiting for it to appear we decided to call it a day.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Seasons in the Sun

Blame it on climate change or global warming but it seems that the summer season arrived very late this year. October weather normally is already a bit cool with occasional nippy breezes. This time however it was sweat-inducing hot! Even at 6:30 in the morning. Nevertheless we had joy, we had fun birding the premises of our condominium. Maybe not in that order but we still had seasons in the sun.

First off, the Eurasian Tree Sparrows were at their usual spot at the lawn. For the past week or so we found it a bit strange that the usual flock seemed to have deserted their favorite feeding grounds. 

Then there was the migrant bully whom I nicknamed "Brownie". He was surveying his realm while perched on top of a palm tree by the swimming pool.

Downstairs, at the adjacent grove of trees there was a quick flash of brown. The Zebra Dove who also had been off its regular habitats made a quick distant appearance.

The fun we experienced was with the  Scaly-breasted Munias. We observed this individual who would fly into into the bamboo grove, pick up some leaves then take it to the adjacent palm tree and use it to build a nest. This happened like a routine and gave me and my wife the challenge to take a BIF (bird in flight) shot with the leaf in its beak. And a challenge it was. Despite being able to more or less predict when it will take off, we still had a difficult time focusing on our subject. Did I say that there were several people washing their cars between us and the munia? We never got a good BIF shot but at least I had one when the tiny brown bird alit on the palm tree.

Blurred in Flight

Now the joy happened after we gave up on the munias. This time a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds, unlike the munia, were very cooperative. Not only were they out in the open, the male even copied the feeding habits of their western counterparts, the hummingbirds!

Not even 8 am and we were already drenched in sweat. Time to take a much needed shower.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Grovin' on a Sunday Afternoon

We had some pretty good luck birding a week ago at the back side of our condominium complex so we both agreed to give it another try Sunday afternoon.  A few minutes after 4 and the heat was still intense. We looked at the poles beyond the fence and next to the Marikina river hoping to see the Common Kingfisher again. It wasn't there. We soon found out why. The migrant bully perched majestically on the pole as if daring the smaller kingfisher to try and kick him out of his throne.

We moved further into the worker's compound. Of course, it was Cynthia's sharp eyes that caught sight of a tiny bird almost invisible on top of one of the numerous poles in the area. "The Common Kingfisher is still here!" she assured me.

The bank on the other side of the river was peculiarly devoid of the usual Little Egrets. We saw one fly by but were not able to get a good shot. Even the number of Whiskered Terns were sparse. Of the two we saw, none perched on the protruding sticks in the middle of the river. Luckily, my wife got a photo of one as it dove for a fish.

While Cynthia was trying to desperately get better pictures of the couple of terns and one egret, I roamed towards the edge of the compound. The resident Philippine Pied Fantails were at their usual place.

A little before 5 pm, we walked back to our unit. As we passed by a couple of trees, my wife heard the usual twittering of the flock of White-eyes. It was a photographic challenge as the light was fading fast and our subjects, though plentiful, were extremely active and preferred the darker side of the trees. At least we got one good shot.

Although our foray this time was not as productive than the week before, we're just glad that our area of residence aptly named The Grove still offers some good birding opportunities.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Four River

Sunday afternoon at around 5 we went to the worker's compound in our condominium complex. Being a Sunday the usual throng of laborers were not around. This would be an opportunity for us to have a closer look at the Marikina River which is very close to the worker's area. We were so thankful that we added 4 more species to the list of birds seen at The Grove.

We've seen the Little Egret on our usual daily walk but it was quite a distance - they were on the other side. This time we got a bit closer and I was able to get photos of them.

Also lately we've witnessing Whiskered Terns hunting for fish. From the worker's compound we even saw several perched on poles sticking out of the water.

What really surprised us was a Common Kingfisher inhabiting the area on our side of the river.

Another surprise, and the fourth new species we got, was when we were about to leave we saw this bird fly by. At first we thought it was just another tern but it's mode of flight was so different. I was lucky enough to get a shot. Looking at the result I realised that what we saw was a Common Sandpiper!

The Philippine Pied Fantail was also friendlier this time and allowed us to get closer to them.

The sun was about to set so we decided to go back to our building tower. Just as we approached the entrance a flock of Lowland White-eyes having a last minute food hunting before calling it a day.

Cuckoo Not!

For two days birders and bird photographers alike were thrilled at seeing an uncommon migrant. Add to that the fact that this is a big bird with an awesome crest. Our friend, Peter, asked me if we wanted to try our luck. I pondered for a while. We've seen and even got good photos of this species early this year in the town of Rodriguez. However, since it had been months (!) since my wife and I had done some birding outside our condominium grounds, I thought that going to the campus of the University of the Philippine would be a welcome change.

After a hearty breakfast buffet, we all proceeded to the parking lot of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) building where the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo had been hanging around. Following the directions given by our friend, Melanie Tan, we went to the area across said parking lot. Later on we were joined by more friends and bird enthusiasts. Three hours of waiting and our target bird never showed up. We were told later by those who remained and by those who came in the afternoon that our Cuckoo must have left the premises.

When waiting for the hoped-for bird, we, of course, spent most of the time photographing other species that we have encountered in the area. It was Cynthia who got a Collared Kingfisher, surprisingly away from a body of water.

I, on the other hand, got some awful shots of the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker.

Good shots of a Pied Triller.

and better shots of the Philippine Pied Fantail.

The best was that of an Olive-backed Sunbird that entertained us from a tree right next to the MSI building.

On our way home, we all agreed that it wasn't really that disappointing in missing the bird that seemingly everybody and his/her uncle had seen the past couple of days. Just the fact we've finally been out birding was good enough for us.