Sunday, October 23, 2016

Close Encounters with Woody

A wild bird photographer's dream setting is probably:  a wild and colorful bird, (preferably endemic, and hopefully a lifer), perched in the open, (in a natural perch), with great bokeh (green being the preferred color), a distance of ten meters or less, in the soft and gentle light of the early morning hours, and the bird unmindful of the photographer. The problem is, more often than not, such shooting conditions remain in our dreams.  However, last September 28 and and again on October 1st, I was blessed with these conditions.

On the afternoon of September 27, I decided to go birding the following morning. But our Front Desk informed me that the van had to pick up guests arriving on a 7:30am flight.  It meant I can only bird for about an hour to an hour and a half.  Deep breath...and make do with the situation.  

So we, (our driver and I) were in the airport area before 7am but I had low expectations given the short time.  However the birding gods smiled at me that morning and gifted me with the endemic Spot-throated Flameback in ideal shooting conditions.  

Mr. & Mrs. Flameback

Spot-throated Flameback Woodpecker, male.

I was very very happy with these shots. I would have been perfectly contented with them. But on the morning of October 1st was again blessed with the same scenario.  Although this time, the female was a no show.

Spot-throated Flameback, male.

I was even able to shoot a video of it.

Needless to say, I was (still am), in seventh heaven after these two encounters. If only all birds behaved like this :-).  But that is probably asking too much :-)

Thank you Lord for the beauty of your creation!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bangkong Kahoy Sortie (with a gang!)

I haven't had much time to really go birding especially in Metro Manila or the nearby sites. My last Luzon sortie was in February when I went to DRT in Bulacan to go and look for the White-browed Shama.  Sometime in early September, several Metro Manila based birders started posting photos taken at Bangkong Kahoy Valley in Dolores, Quezon.  Foremost among these were the Luzon Sunbird (previously called the Metallic-winged Sunbird), the Bundok Flycatcher (previously called the Snowy-browed Flycatcher) and the Mountain Tailorbird.  All of these would be lifers for me. Also included in the photos were BK regulars like the Citrine Canary Flycatcher, Elegant Tit, and Turquoise Flycatcher, among others.

With September 12 being declared a holiday, it meant that the weekend of Sept 10-12 was a long one.  A big group of WBPP birders was planning to go on the 10th (which was a Saturday), but I couldn't go with them due to a previous commitment. So I started asking around if there were people I could hitch with on Sunday, Sept 11th or Monday Sept 12th.  There were none.  So I started organizing a trip.  One good thing with WBPP is that it is never difficult to organize a sortie.  Soon there were plenty of birders who wanted to go.  In the end we were fourteen (!!!) in all - Anthony Balbin, Jonathan Tabisaura, Maia Tanedo, Arnel Macariola, Caloy Pangilinan, Lhem Dacuycoy, Gilbert & Wilma Go, Conrad Olayres, Pastor Dave (sorry don't recall your last name sir),  Nes Santiago, Ed and Bong (sorry guys, cannot remember your last names also) and myself.  We were joined in BK by Deo Hermosa so we were fifteen bird photographers in all.  Needless to say it was a large (and rather noisy) group.  Ten members of the party belonged to the group Tropang Birders and many of them are relatively new to birding and some would be making their first trip to BK Valley.  It was also my first time to bird with many of them.

We all met up in the Shell station near Tiendesitas and soon we were off.  We stopped for a short breakfast at a McDo along Slex. We were at BK around 6:30am.   And after a quick trip to the restroom, we all took out our bags and began assembling our gear.  Before long, Maia had her bins out and was scanning the trees.  Just goes to show who was the most veteran among all of us. :-)

Maia scanning the nearby trees

Soon we were off.  Photo courtesy of Caloy Pangilinan.

Ang mahiwagang cooler ni Jonathan :-)

Upon reaching the birding area, Cris, BK's resident bird whisperer, divided us into groups.  One group of five went to wait for the Luzon Sunbird, another group of four went looking for the White-browed Shortwing, and the rest went to the fruiting Lipa tree.  Since the Sunbird was my main target, I went with this group.

We set up our tripods and waited...and waited...and waited...

Photo courtesy of Caloy Pangilinan

Soon the Shortwing group, which included Caloy and Lhem, joined us (that's why we have these photos of us waiting).  Others in our group went to take their place in the Shortwing area.  But since I already had shots of it, I decided to stay and wait for the Sunbird. 

A photo of me and Caloy.  We share a common friend, a certain Mr. Sonny Torre :-)

A stolen shot by Mr. Caloy P., Maraming Salamat partner. 

We moved to another location on the other side of this hut. To prepare for the coming of the sunbird, I began taking photos of the likely perches. Soon I had plenty of shots of the flowers. Here's two of them.

And one with a butterfly...

While waiting, some Elegant Tits, a Turquoise Flycatcher and a Pygmy Flowerpecker showed up.  Unfortunately, I was not really able to get good shots.  Maybe it was "birding rust" from too little biridng, if there is such a phenomena.

The Tailor Bird and the Bundok Flycatcher both made brief appearances, if you can call hiding behind leaves and branches, an appearance. 

During our long periods of waiting, we were entertained by a horse tethered nearby and by the very jolly Lhem. We also enjoyed the yummy peanut butter cookies brought by Maia.

Here is the jolly Lhem Dakuykoy with his controversial lime green scarf.  Photo courtesy of Caloy P. 

The Sunbird finally came out at almost 11am.  And soon almost all had good shots except me and Maia. The one time that it perched on top of a flower in front of me, my camera didn't focus. Haaay! I was beginning to think that I will go home empty handed. So we waited again.  By this time almost all the fifteen birders plus four or five guides, have congregated at the Sunbird site.  So despite efforts to keep everybody quiet, it was an impossible task.  It was probably the noisiest (and jolliest), birding sortie I have been a part of (hahaha). In previous trips, we joke a lot while shooting (quietly, if I may add), but the Sept 12 trip was another level of noise altogether.  Hahaha.

When the Sunbird appeared again, I was at the front of the group and made made sure I got shots. At one point I even removed the camera from the tripod and risked shooting handheld because the bird was in constant motion.  Here are some of he images I was able to create. 

The Luzon Sunbird, Lifer #253.

The group photo after everyone had taken a photo of the Luzon Sunbird.

Band of Brothers (and sisters)... photo courtesy of Lhem D.

After this, Maia and I left the group and went to the fruiting, Lipa tree.  But since it was already almost noon and the fruits were almost gone, we did not see any birds.  A few minutes later, one of the guides called us to head back for lunch.  So we trekked for about fifteen minutes to Dion's Restaurant.  Soon after we sat down, it rained for about an hour and a half.  

We headed out again at around 2pm.  I was able to photograph a Pygmy Flowerpecker near Ramon Quisumbing's driveway.

Pygmy Flowerpecker

By 3pm, it started to rain again and when it stopped one hour later, we decided to pack up and call it a day.

Not many birds by BK standards but I went home very happy because I got my target bird.  And of course it was fun to bird with old friends (Maia, Anthony, Conrad, Nes, and Deo), and new ones (Jonathan, Caloy, Arnel, Lhem, Pastor Dave, Ed, Bong, and Gilbert and Wilma).

Looking forward to the next sortie with the Tropang Birders...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A weekend of lifers

I have not made a blog post for sometime now.  I have not really done that much birding lately due to a heavy work load.  Last week was particularly busy as we had a big group come in on Tuesday.  But the big group all checked out on Friday morning. That same afternoon a birder friend was arriving from Manila for a weekend birding trip.  I decided to go with the van that will pick him up from the airport.  We arrived a bit early and of course his flight was late so it meant birding time for me in the area.

We stopped on the road beside a grassy area near the airport because we saw several Lesser Coucals flying about.  I saw something dark skulking in a small mound covered with tall grass.  At first I thought it was a Common Moorhen.  But the following day after looking at the Kennedy Guide I realized that its a male Watercock.  The ID has since been confirmed by experts Desmond Allen and Lisa Paguntalan.

Watercock, male. Most likely the first photographic record in Busuanga Island

The following day was spent at Capayas.  The main targets were the rare Red-legged Crake and a Spotted Wood Owl which were photographed by Atty. Ramon Quisumbing a week earlier. Fellow WBPP birders JJ Quisumbing and Raymond Dan were also able to photograph the owl but not the crake. 

We were at the tree house by 6:15am.  A male Olive-backed Sunbird and a male Blue Paradise Flycatcher entertained us for a while.  And Hooded Pittas were calling all around us and doing fly-bys.  At around 8am, something dark darted about upstream.  The Red-legged Crake!  Alas, it was so quick, only my friend Lorenzo and bird guide Erwin saw it. 

After a breakfast of Tapa and Danggit, we headed to a nearby spot (also in Capayas) to photograph the Spotted Wood Owl. True enough we saw the owl who willingly posed for us.  We lost no time in setting up our tripods and happily clicked away.  I had the misfortune of standing on a spot with plenty of ants and I suffered several nasty bites but it was worth it.

Spotted Wood Owl, a juvenile.

In the Philippines, the Spotted Wood Owl is found only in Palawan, locally called Gokgok. When I was growing up in Dipulao in the 70's, we would hear this often.  The male had a singular loud call GOK! while the female had a series of weaker gokgokgokgok.  Local folk were scared of it thinking it was a "Mangalok" or monster that preyed upon people.

After what must have been hundreds of shots of shots, we went back to the tree house to wait for the Crake.  But it was a no show.  However Capayas regulars such as the Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Hooded Pitta, etc. kept us entertained.  

The following day, we were back at the Tree house at 6:00am.  The Rufous-backed Kingfisher was present early and kept is occupied for a while.  Then at around 8am, the Crake made another brief appearance and fortunately Lorenzo was able to get a decent shot.

We went back to town at noon because Lorenzo had a flight that afternoon. When we got to the airport, I advised him to check-in then come out so we can do dude birding in the area.  The main target was the Watercock.  But as fate would have it, he did not see said bird but got five (5) lifers in the process - Crested Serpent Eagle, Paddyfield Pipit, Barred Button Quail, Spot-throated Flameback and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.  So he boarded his delayed flight with a big smile on his face. And he was shooting all of these with his 600mm prime handheld! 

The next three mornings, I went to Capayas Creek Bird Preserve to take my shot at the Red-legged Crake.  The first day, the bird appeared at around 8am and bathed in the creek for some time but it always stayed in a dark spot so my shots, while okay, were not really something to crow about.  The next morning I was back and like clockwork the bird appeared again, this time a few minutes before 8am.  7:53 to be exact.  But again it skulked in the shadows.  Then it went upstream and stayed a long time bathing.   But it was quite far and I had no clear shot.  I was about to give up.  Meanwhile the Rufous-backed Kingfisher and Ruddy Kingfisher were flitting about in the same spot.  I stood up from where I was sitting to get a better view of the kingfisher when I saw through a gap in the leaves that the Crake was back and it was in the middle of the stream in a spot where the sun was shining through.  I scrambled back to my seat fumbled with my camera and fired away. I managed a few captures before the bird moved again. Presenting the best of my shots. It is not as tack sharp as I would want but I am still very happy to get it, considering that this is the only Red-legged Crake visible in the Philippines right now, and todate I am only the third photographer to photograph it. Incidentally, the last recorded sighting of this bird was in 1995 in Tubbataha NationalPark.

Red-legged Crake

The weekend produced many other beautiful shots of Coron's avian treasures but I will reserve them for another post.

Glad to be back birding...

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mas masaya pag shama shama...

In the first one and a half months of 2016, the star birds at WBPP (Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines), were arguably the UP Diliman avian residents/migrants namely the Philippine Scops Owl family, the Blue Rock Thrush, the male Spotted Wood Kingfisher, and lately the Cuckoos (Brush and Philippine Hawk) and the Philippine Nightjar couple. However, in the past three weeks or so, the friendly White-browed Shama of Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan has captured everybody's attention.

Doña Remedios Trinidad is a first class rural municipality in the province of Bulacan, Philippines. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 19,878 people.[3] It is also known as the "Bulacan's Last Frontier" because of its untouched hidden beauty of nature and most less travelled town in the province.On September 13, 1977, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1196 creating the municipality of Doña Remedios Trinidad.[4] The municipality of Doña Remedios Trinidad was named in honor of the late mother (Remedios T. Romualdez) of then First Lady, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, who was a Bulakeña from Baliuag.

The municipality covers seven barangays, originally part of Angat, Norzagaray, and San Miguel. These are Pulong Sampaloc and Camachile of Angat; Bayabas and Kabayunan of Norzagaray; Talbac, Camachin and Kalawakan of San Miguel.

Doña Remedios Trinidad is the largest municipality in Bulacan, occupying almost 1/3 of the total land area of the province. It lies on the southern edge of the Sierra Madre mountain range, and partially embracing two major portions of the Angat Watershed reservation: the Bulacan forest reserve and the Biak-na-Bato National Park, comprising 327.3 km² of alienable and disposable public land. (Wikipedia). - copied with permission from the FB post of Mr. Rocky Sison.

The White-browed Shama, (Copsychus luzoniensis) is a species of bird in the family Muscicapidae. It is endemic to the Philippines. (source: wikipedia). It is hard to photograph because it is very skittish however the one at DRT seems very friendly to humans allowing for very close captures. Hence the excitement of the bird nuts. After coming back from Coron last February 23rd, I asked who was planning a trip to DRT over the weekend of February 27-28. My friend Lorenzo Barreli messaged me that he was going to DRT with another friend Paolo Dolina on the 27th and that I was welcome to tag along. After securing permission from higher authority, I confirmed with Lorenzo. The day before, my son Luis, asked if he could go along and with Lorenzo's permission, (we used his car), Luis went with me.

We met up at a gasoline station along Edsa a little before 4am and was soon at NLEX. But we missed the Balagtas exit and took the Tabang/Malolos exit by mistake. But with Lorenzo's driving skills and Paolo's navigating (aided by waze), we were soon at the winding road to DRT. We arrived at the parking area, got our local guides, arranged for our food and we were off. After a short walk, we saw a Brown-breasted Kingfisher, then a pair of Red-crested Malkohas, a Scaly-feathered Malkoha, and a flock of Ashy Minivets. Another group of bird nuts arrived - Conrad Olayres, Ben Go and James Uy, all WBPP fellows.

Ben Go and I tried to get a photo of the Red-crested Malkoha (one of my targets for the day), but the birds were perpetually moving and always under the leaves. A real skulker.

Our host, Jonet Carpio, soon arrived and off we went to the site of the Shama. Along the way, we passed the area where the Indigo-banded Kingfisher frequents but it wasn't there so we moved on. This was Lorenzo's target for the day.

We crossed a river and trekked for about 15-20 minutes and soon we reached the area and set up our gear. The bird appeared shortly after and what followed was a photo shoot comparable to the Whiskered Pitta of Bangkong Kahoy (minus the long uphill trek). However what's amazing to me was this bird did not require use of photography hides or any feeding of earthworms or whatever food. It perched, posed, foraged for food in the ground, and perched and posed again. Sharing some of the many photos I took of this bird.

The friendly White-browed Shama of DRT

After getting my fill of photos, the bird stayed on and allowed me to do a short video.

In the end, we were the ones who gave up.

I was able to get photos of other birds in the area but will not post them here as I would like to dedicate this post to the White-browed Shama. 

Posing for a "group hug" after we had re-crossed the river. (From left; Lorenzo, a companion of James whose name I couldn't recall, one of our guides whose name I also could not recall, myself, Ben, Paolo, James, and Conrad).

I would like to thank our hosts Jonet Carpio and Claris Catahan for welcoming us to their town and their home.  This trip would not have been possible without their generosity and hospitality. 

A blessing in disguise

The Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary in Busuanga has always been one of my favorite places in the Calamianes. Whenever I am in Coron and we have a tour group going to Calauit, I always make it a point to go with the group.  So when I learned we had a group going last February 21st, I decided to go (even if I had a wedding to attend at 3:30pm that same day). I wanted to see and photograph the Green Imperial Pigeon which is abundant in Calauit.  Perhaps I could also get a couple of other species not easily found in mainland Busuanga.

However, we were so busy on February 19 and 20 - Darayonan, CATE, and Palanca family meetings, food tasting of new dishes, photo shoot of these new dishes, a wedding function at Darayonan, more meetings - I actually ended my day past 12:00mn of Feb 20.  I needed to be up at 3:30am for the Calauit trip.  Woke up at 2:30am and decided it was too early so I dozed off.  When I woke up again, it was already 5:00am. The tour had already left.  Stayed in bed for a while but at 6am I decided to bird at Yulo King Ranch, (YKR).

When I arrived at the ranch, there was still fog in the "kereb" or meadows, what we now call the Calamian Savanah.
Morning mist at the Calamian Savanah

I espied some Egrets on top of a tall tree so I paused to snap a few shots.

Cattle Egrets, (Agrok)

I was driving slowly with both van windows open and scanning the trees.  I saw a bird on top of a bare tree which at that time I assumed to be a Crested Goshawk because I had previously seen one in the same tree. I stopped the van, stopped two shots while still seated at the driver's seat. 

Said bird has been identified as a Kestrel by famous British Ornithologist, Desmond Allen.

Kestrel, lifer #2 for 2016; #238 overall.

I then went down and circled the van to get my tripod. But as I rounded the van, I saw a bigger bird perched on a bare tree nearer to me! I just pointed my camera and clicked away. After several insurance shots, I got my tripod and took more photos.  At that time, I felt it was a Changeable Hawk-Eagle.  The ID has since been confirmed by Mr. Allen. he further said that it is a pale morph or light phase.

Changeable Hawk Eagle, pale morph.

Preparing to take off

Lift off!

I watched it fly away and perch on the tree where the Kestrel was. I took photos from the road side but it was so far (maybe 40-50 meters), so I decided to go nearer.  I walked through the meadow, stopping to shoot every few meters. I think the closest I got was about 20 meters.

Changeable Hawk Eagle

Changeable Hawk Eagle, majestically perched and surveying the surroundings.

After it flew away, I drove on and stooped at a tree that I knew was being frequented by Blue Headed Racquet Tailed Parrots.  True enough a flock was there but the position of the tree vis-a-vis the sun is always bad in the morning. And the Racquet Tails are experts in blending in the foliage. I was able to manage one passable shot.

Blue-headed Racquet Tailed Parrots - (Kilit) - female (left, hidden) and male (right)

Driving past the airport, I stopped by a clump of trees that are usually frequented by different birds.  A Pied Triller and an Ashy Drongo made an appearance.

Pied Triller

Ashy Drongo, (Salang Ikog)

After a while I decided to try the new road being built which will connect YKR to Busuanga without passing Sitio Carmelita (said road will link up with the National Highway near Kiwit.

The new road being constructed

Upon entering the road, a couple of Racquet Tails flew across but unfortunately didn't perch in the open.  I drove through but I reached the end of the paved portion near the trail to Guchie Falls without seeing much birds. Driving back, I saw a Brown Shrike perched on top of a bare tree.

Brown Shrike

Driving slowly, I could not help but stop and appreciate the scenery before me.

Morning scene at the Calamian Savanah.  Praying that this area stays this way.

The road back to town.

At approximately 9:30am, I happily ended my birding and headed back to town in high spirits knowing that I had good shots of the Changeable Hawk Eagle.

Thank you Lord for the beauty of your creation!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spotting Spotty (part 2)

Because I was not that happy with my Spotty photos and because I wanted to be able to photograph the Cuckoos (Brush and Philippine Hawk), I was back at UP-D on February 11 where I again bumped into Jonas Liwag.  Spotty and the Cuckoos were a no show but the ever reliable Blue Rock Thrush entertained us. This time on the big tree in the parking lot.

Blue Rock Thrush (juvenile male)

On February 12, I posted on Facebook that I predict a lot of people in UPD the next day.  True enough, when I got there at 7am the following day, I saw fellow bird photographers Atty. Ramon Quisumbing, Wins Tornado, Prof. Bert Madrigal, Roy de Guzman Daantos, and Rocky Sison. Collectively, I call them the big guns on account of their big prime lenses (600, 800, 500, 600 and 800 respectively).  Miss Becky Chung Santos was also there and of course Jonas Liwag, who is in UP almost daily. 

The big guns were looking shooting the Blue Rock Thrush.  Bert and I went to the biology forest in search of Spotty and the Cuckoos. We saw some Barred Rails and White-breasted Water Hens in a creek.  Then a Cinnamon Bittern emerged from the bushes and flew across us and settled in some of tall grass.  Bert and I parted ways after that.  I went behind the Biology building to check if the Spotty was there but no such luck.

I was walking back to the Scops Owl area when I met a young bird photographer named Jon Villanueva.  I pointed the Barred Rails to him and while he was shooting it, the Cinnamon Bittern did another appearance. I then met a group of bird watchers led by Jops Josef who told me that the Spotty and the Cuckoo appeared near the Sops Owl area.  I hurriedly went there and found Jonas who showed me a photo in his LCD Screen - that of the Spotty with a grasshopper in its beak!!! 

Somebody called us to go to the other side because the Cuckoo was there so off we went but it had already left.  Then the big guns arrived but before they could even set up, we were called again by somebody (can't recall if it was Wins' or Ramon's driver) to go to the other side (near the Scops area).  When we got there, both Jonas and Jon were clicking away at Spotty who was kind enough to perch on an open branch about 5 meters away from the concrete pathway.  The big guns had to move back because it was not within their minimum focusing distance.  And for the next thirty minutes, we happily pressed our shutters as Spotty obliged. I even had to change memory cards at one point.  In the end, it was us who gave up. 

Presenting, UP-D's Spotted Wood Kingfisher, in various poses:

Spotted Wood Kingfisher (male)

Thank you Lord for Spotty!!!

Postscript: The Brush Cuckoo appeared but true to its name, it kept under the brush so we didn't get many shots.  Ramon and I both left at a little past 10am only to find out that the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo also made an appearance that enabled those still there full frame captures! 

Ahhh... the joys of birding...but still thank you Spotty.