Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Thailand Day 3: Baan Song Nok

Literally meaning "A home to spot birds", Baan Song Nok is the home of an old lady, a retired teacher named Khun Ba Aek.  It is located near Kaeng Krachan National Park; about twenty minutes drive from Samarn Bird Camp.   

When we got to the site, Guide K directed us to the bird hides at the back of the property where we quickly set up our gear and waited for the birds. The hide was basically a tent with chairs and an opening that allows the photographers (and their cameras) to look out to a small clearing where a couple of watering holes have been placed.  Birds and other animals would go to these watering holes, especially in summer.  Beyond the small clearing is a wooded area somewhat similar to the LMEP mini forest.

After we had settled down on the chairs, Noulin said he will roam around the property to look for the Blue-winged Pitta.  Not long after he left, we detected some movement in the forest beyond the clearing.  It was a pair of Red Jungle Fowls.  Unfortunately, the female did a quick pass while the more colorful male stayed in the shadows. Thus I managed only four "docu" shots, all blurred.  Sharing the least blurred of the four. 

Female Red Jungle Fowl, Labuyo in Tagalog, Ilas in Cuyonon

A few minutes later, a small brownish bird showed up and took a dip in one of the pools.  A female Tickell's Blue Flycatcher...a lifer for me (#23 in this trip and #299 overall). Curiously, the female doesn't have any tinge of blue in it, just like the Palawan Blue Flycatcher.

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, female, Lifer #299 (23rd for the trip)

Sitting and waiting is part of a birder's life.  Unfortunately, a horde of mosquitoes decided they like Filipino blood.  There was a "katol" in the hide but it was ineffective. We liberally lathered insect repellents but to no avail.  (I discovered later that mine was expired :-( ).   After sometime with no action, Rey decided to go out of the hide and join Noulin.  And after several more mosquito bites, we all decide to follow and go birding in the garden.  Almost as soon as we left the hide, Conrad's sharp eyes spotted a Common Tailorbird but as is typical of Tailorbirds, it cannot keep still.  Sharing one of the better ones.

Common Tailorbird, Lifer # 280 (seen on Thailand Day 1, #5 for the trip)

Just seconds after we saw the Tailorbird, a Black-headed Oriole appeared high up in one of the trees so we all trained our cameras and tripods on it, all the while silently willing it to come closer.  But, it never did.  

Black-headed Oriole, Lifer # 300, (24th for the trip)

When it became apparent that the Oriole had no plans of leaving its perch, we drifted to different parts of the property.  I found Rey having coffee at the reception area, which is really a sort of a shed with its sides open and there are perches all around.  The owner would place bananas on these perches and different birds would come.  So I set up my gear and waited.  In just a few seconds, a Streak-eared Bulbul arrived.  Having seen it at Samarn Bird Camp on the morning of Day 1, I consider this bird my first lifer in Thailand.  However, I didn't have any good photos until Baan Song Nok.

Streak-eared Bulbul, Lifer #277 (first seen on Day 1, 1st on this trip)

The bananas did not only attract birds but also this cute chipmunk. I believe this is the Indo-Chinese Ground Squirrel.  At one point there were three of four of them fighting for the bananas (in addition to the birds!).

Indo-Chinese Ground Squirrel

The Golden-fronted Leafbird which I saw, but was not able to photograph, on Day 2, also made an appearance.

Golden-fronted Leafbird, Lifer # 297 (first seen on Day 2, 22nd on this trip)

Noulin came running and said that the Pitta has made an appearance and we all ran as fast as our tripods and cameras allowed. Arranged ourselves inside the portable hides that he had set up and waited. And the mosquitoes started feasting on us again...

A few short minutes later, our target bird arrived and we ignored the mosquitoes.

Blue-winged Pitta, Lifer # 301, (24th for the trip)

It suddenly rained and we had to rush back to the reception area and got drenched in the process but by this time we were all sporting ear to ear grins. When the rain eased up a bit, we crossed the street where a Thai version of a carinderia was located and celebrated our morning with a simple, hot, and delicious meal. Thai food of course.

After our sumptuous lunch, we trooped back to the reception area where we had coffee while shooting the various birds that perched and partook of the bananas. Aside from the Streak-eared Bulbul and the Leafbird, several other avian denizens also made an appearance.

First among them was the Stripe-throated Bulbul. A beautiful bulbul, if I may say so. 

Stripe-throated Bulbul, Lifer # 302 (25th for Thailand)

Followed by the Sooty-headed Bulbul.

Sooty-headed Bulbul, Lifer #303 (26th for Thailand)

Conrad's ever sharp eyes spotted a bird on a tree beside the reception area and we all rushed to his side.  It turned out to be a Lineated Barbet but there was no open shot.  After several docu shots, I went back inside the reception area and suddenly the barbet landed near the bananas! Since it was a much larger bird, there was a mad (but quiet), scramble to adjust our distance.  For those with a zoom lens (like me), all we had to do was twist the barrel to get a bigger view but for Ed and Alex who have big telephoto primes, it meant moving back, or in this case, moving out (of the small cottage/reception area).

Lineated Barber, Lifer # 304 (27th for Thailand)

While the barbet was putting on a show, the bulbuls, leafbird, and the chipmunks were also present creating a chaos in the feeding area.  Soon a new bird, a Common Myna, joined the fray and started fighting with the barbet. The Myna is not a lifer for me though as I had already previously seen it in Penang.

Common Myna

When the "commotion" died down, we decided to go back to the permanent hide.  Within a few minutes, the female Tickell's Blue Flycatcher showed up again followed by a Puff-throated Babbler.

Female Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Puff-throated Babbler, Lifer #305 (28th for the trip)

With the mosquitoes continuing to bother us, we went out again and promptly saw a Common Iora, followed by an Indian Roller, Red-wattled Lapwings and a pair of Green-billed Malkohas which were too far for decent photos. 

Common Iora

Docu shot of an Indian Roller, Lifer # 306, (29th for the trip)

A pair of Red-wattled Lapwings

Finally, Noulin called us because it was time to go and we reluctantly left Baan Song Nok. It was indeed a home to spot birds.  I think I already know what to do when I retire :-)

However, our birding for the day was far from over.  On the way back we saw a Pied Hornbill near the gate of Samarn.  We stalked it for a time but unfortunately no decent photos. Not wanting to call it a day, we did a bit of birding at Samarn.  We saw some bulbuls and a tailorbird near our cottage. Then we saw a blackish bird near one of the trees beside our cottage and we tried to get a photo but it kept to the bushes.  We soon discovered that it had a chick on the ground that it was trying to help.  In order to get a better view, I went around another cottage and saw a familiar looking bird on the ground, a Malaysian Pied Fantail.  It looks very similar to our Philippine Pied Fantail.  In fact I believe they were once both called Pied Fantail until the species was split. So this is a lifer for me :-) 

Malaysian Pied Fantail, Lifer # 307, (30th for the trip)

A few minutes later my target bird appeared but its was constantly moving that getting a photo was a challenge. I consider myself lucky that I was able to get one decent shot. Noulin later identified it as a Racket-tailed Treepie   

Racket-tailed Treepie, Lifer # 308, (31st for the trip)

And later while we were waiting for our dinner at the dining area, the Treepie perched in one of the trees across the driveway.  Since I was the only one with a camera and lens, (the others' lenses were in the rooms), I was the only one able to get this shot.  

Racket-tailed Treepie.

And with that, Day 3 ended.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Birthday Birding

One of the new and hottest birding sites near Metro Manila is in Infanta, Quezon.  Raymond Dan, one of the leaders at WBPP "discovered" the site and announced it to the group sometime in late June, if I remember correctly.  Like everybody else, I wanted to visit the new site but work commitments coupled with bad weather prevented my many attempts.  During my last trip to Manila, I promised to myself that I will visit Infanta but again, as (bad) luck would have it, I fell ill on August 11. That meant I missed going to Infanta with my Thailand mates, Alex Ting and Homer Pialda.  There was another scheduled trip on August 17 but again, I was not able to.  Since I was leaving August 20th, I knew that August 19th would be my last chance.  It was also my birthday.  

I was set to meet Conrad Olayres, my Thailand roommate, at 3:30am August 19th then meet up with Ed Santos, Steve Albano and Olanski Balbido. However, we had to attend a gathering on the evening of the 18th and got home at 1am.  I contemplated staying up straight because I feared not being able to wake up.  But tiredness won out so I slept for about an hour, woke up at 2;30am and met Conrad a little after 3:30.  Times like this, I question the sanity of birders...leaving the comforts of one's bed, drive bleary eyed for ninety kilometers over zigzag roads...all the while praying that the target bird will show up and give good photo opportunities.  

Anyway, back to our story.  Conrad and I picked up another WBPP birder, Christopher Ferrer and soon we were off.  Per Ed's instructions, we will just meet at the site, to save time.  At about the 80km point, Ed's group caught up with us and being a newer car, over took us, the nerve! Hehehehe.  We caught up with them a few minutes later and after the high fives and handshakes, we all set up our gear.  The main targets for the day were the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, Philippine Trogon and Philippine Fairy Bluebird.  Personally, my main target was the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove and whatever other lifer that nature will present to me. 

Soon the sharp ears of Christopher and Conrad detected the call of the Fruit Dove and they walked ahead to look for it. A few minutes later, I saw them calling us.  We hurried to their spot and they pointed to the trees where four (4) Philippine Fairy Bluebirds were perched.  Not very ideal shooting conditions though. Still, it's not a common bird, and a lifer for me. 

Philippine Fairy Blue Bird, Lifer # 315

We waited for sometime, alternating between the site of the Blue Birds and our parking area where we were staking out the Trogon, a distance of about 35 to 40 meters.  Soon we saw Christopher and Conrad shooting at something so again we made our way to them. Flame-breasted Fruit Dove! Inside the trees.  We craned our necks, strained our eyes and did our best to locate the bird.  Finally we saw it but it was covered by twigs and leaves! Arrggh!

My first glimpse of the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, Lifer # 316, my birthday wish.  

Well, I got my wish to see the bird, but no nice photos &%$#@.  I kept praying and hoping, calling on my patron saint to present us with at least one good photo opportunity. While waiting, a few other birds flew around.  There were several Philippine Bulbuls, a lone Philippine Serpent Eagle made a brief appearance up high, and we could hear some others chirping.  I was hoping to see the Olive-backed Flowerpecker but unfortunately, it did not show up.  I did see a Yellowish White-eye.

Yellowish White Eye, playing peek-a-boo

We staked out the area where the dove made an appearance.  By now we have had a few looks and we already knew that there were two of them.  We were scanning the trees when I suddenly saw it perched on a branch in front of us.  In my excitement, it took me a split second before I could blurt Fruit Dove.  And soon we were all clicking away (even if the bird was partially covered).

Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, not a wide open shot but I felt that my wish has been granted! 
Thank you Lord!

At the end of this session, we were all sporting silly ear-to-ear grins.  Hindi kami uuwing luhaan!  (We will not go home in tears!).  We stopped for a break and soon a mixed flock came by.  I was laos hoping for a really close-up shot of the Blue-headed Fantail but it never went that close to me so this is the best that I could manage.

Blue-headed Fantail

Another common bird in the area was the Sulphur-billed Nuthatch.

Sulphur-billed Nuthatch

And then it rained...nothing to do except wait.  When it stopped, we saw a couple of Citrine Canary Flycatchers perch on a tree in front of us so we all started shooting.  A few minutes later Olanski, who was about fifteen meters away, called us and said there were some Yellow-bellied Whistlers in the area.  So we waited.  But they were a no show.  Luckily, the Citrine Canary Flycatchers started perching on a branch about six meters away. So what else can we do but oblige...

Citrine Canary Flycatcher

The Citrine kept us entertained for sometime.  We were also hoping that the Fantail would perch in the same branch but it stayed higher.  Then Olanski blurted something (I could not recall what), but the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove was suddenly in front of us, about eighteen meters away.

Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, an open shot, birthday wish REALLY granted! 

Then it went behind some branches and started feeding.  With no clear shot I took a couple of short videos (this is unedited)

After a few minutes of shooting the Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, Chirstopher arrived saying that he saw another bird several meters away. So we all scooted over to the site and found another lifer.

Amethyst Brown Dove, Lifer # 317 for me.

We broke for lunch and feasted on the pork adobo brought by Ed.  Afterwards, I bid the group good bye as I needed to be home for my family birthday dinner.

What a day it has been!  Three lifers in just half a day.  Thank you!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Purple Reign

Sunbirds are always popular among birders because of their colorful plumage.  One of my favorites is the Purple-throated Sunbird.  Unfortunately, I have not seen them in Coron.  I first saw the bird in Bohol in October 2015, however, as (bad) luck would have it, I was not able to get good photos. So when I heard that the Purple-throated Sunbird, (PTSB), had returned to Prof. Tirso Paris' Secret Garden, I wasted no time in asking permission if I could go there.  As it turned out, WBPP co-founder, Rey Sta. Ana, also wanted to go.  So on July 24, Monday, we went to Los Banos.  We arrived that the "secret garden" at around 7:40am.  

The entrance to Prof Tirso's Secret Garden, where the Purple-throated Sunbird Reigns supreme.

We could hear birds chirping.  So we immediately set up our cameras and tripods, checked our settings and settled down to wait.  Prof. Tirso, the ever helpful host, pointed to us the bird's favorite perches. Then he bade us goodbye because he and his wife, Thelma, had an errand to run.

Several minutes after Prof. Tirso left, the female PTSB showed up, followed by the male a few seconds later.  The time on the camera was 8:56am.  

Purple-throated Sunbird, male.

Followed by appearances at 9:40am (a brief one), and at 9:54am, 10:27am, 12:13pm and 1:29pm.  Here are some more images that I was able to create.

The male Purple-throated Sunbird

In between the appearances of the male, the female Purple-throated Sunbird also showed up.  

Purple-throated Sunbird.

Fearing the dreaded Metro Manila rush hour, we reluctantly left Los Banos at around 2:45pm.

Saturday, July 29, was the celebration of Prof. Tirso's 70th birthday.  We were invited to his Birthday Party at lunch at their newly acquired and renovated resort, Likas.  However, because we are bird nuts, we left Manila at 5am so we could have the the opportunity to bird either at Prof irso's Garden, TREES, Makiling Botanical Graden or IRRI,  I wanted to go to either TREES or IRRI.  But, IRRI needed the presence of Prof Tirso, and knowing how busy he will be due to the party, I withdrew my request to bird at IRRI.  As it turned out, some guys did bird at IRRI.  Anyway, Rey and I were the first to arrive at the garden and we set up our tripods.  Soon, we were joined by WBPP President Win Paler, and other WBPP fellows namely, Ed Santos, Capt. Floyd Bermejo, my Thailand roommate, Conrad Olayres, Olanski Balbido, Steve Albano, Keith Sundiang and Djop Tabaranza.  A pleasant and welcome presence was Maia Tanedo who I always credit for getting me into birding. Eleven people came to pay homage to the Purple one. Plus, Edgar, Win's driver and constant birding companion totaled twelve people.  And as with large groups, noise cannot be avoided. But it is always fun to see old and new faces.

The female made its first appearance at 8:54am and just like our previous encounter, the male followed a split second later.  But the birds stayed only briefly, perhaps it was because of our large group, or because the banana blossoms and other plants were uprooted by the recent typhoon and not as fresh or abundant with nectar, or the winds were strong, or a combination of all these.  I was able to take single burst of six shots of the male, and a few more of the female.

Still we waited and waited and waited...but the birds did not re-appear.  Soon it was time to head to the resort for the party where we were joined by Ven Rojas and Karen Acut at lunch. Just before we left for the party, a Colasisi made a brief appearance and several guys tried to take photos of it.

After a sumptuous lunch, we watched Prof. Tirso introduce everybody, then he got roasted by Ma'am Wilma, to the delight of the crowd.  

Prof. Tirso blowing his birthday cake.

With his wife, Thelma,  children and grand child

Soon, the birders became fidgety and we returned to the secret garden hoping for better shots of the birds.  Alas, the birding gods did not smile at us and by 3:30, with rain clouds threatening, we had no choice but to call it a day.  

Still I am thankful for these two shots...

Sana nag side view... :-)

And enjoyed the camaraderie... wisecracks and all... 

Thank you for your kindness and generosity Prof. Tirso!  Again, Happy Birthday!