Sunday, July 15, 2018

Delubyo (Armchair) Birding

To say that ''it has been raining cats and dogs'' the past few days is probably an understatement. The word ''delubyo'' is probably a more apt description of the weather. In fact several flights were cancelled and this morning there was a landslide on the road going to the airport. A landslide is something that is uncommon in Coron. Any plans of birding was quickly shelved.

I was having a rather late lunch at our bar when I saw both the male and female sunbirds dart to some plants. Decided to get my camera and tripod. While setting up, the male bird perched in one of the ornamental banana blossoms but as I was still fumbling with the tripod, I wasn't able to get good shots. So I went back to my adobong pusit all the while keeping my ears open. And as if the rains weren't enough, a really strong downpour occurred for several minutes. But when the rain abated a bit, my friend was back and we had a photo shoot. Presenting...our resident male Olive-backed Sunbird. Local name Chiwit or Siwit. The bird that this blog is named after...

Olive-backed Sunbird, locally called Chiwit

After almost an hour of alternating rain and photo shoot, we bade each other goodbye and resumed our daily tasks - me to my office to work, and him to the ornamental banana blossoms to feed. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Chasing Lifers: The Trip to the White Mountain

Finding a "Lifer" is one of the most exciting moments for a birder.  A "lifer" is the moment a particular bird is first seen by a birder. For many bird photographers, a lifer experience is not complete until he/she is able to get a good photograph.  When one starts birding, all birds are lifers but as the years go by, seeing lifers become less frequent and not in big numbers (unless one goes to another part of the archipelago or to another country).  So when there is news of a sighting of a rare bird, within driving distance from the city, Metro Manila birders tend to flock to that place.  Late January, Mhark Gee (short for Gatella), reported the presence of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo in the Avilon Zoo grounds in Montalban.  So as expected birders converged at the Avilon Zoo grounds in late January to early February. I was only able to find time to go to Montalban on February 3rd. But since the bird was seen the day before, I was very hopeful. 

Incidentally, Montalban, is a town in the province of Rizal, located northeast of Metro Manila. Based on its natural scenic appeal, Montalban was named referring to its mountainous topography.  Its name was derived from two Spanish words, "Monte" meaning mountain and "Alban" from the word Alba, meaning white. However, in November 12, 1982, BP 275  renamed Montalban to Rodriguez in honor of Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez, the town's first Chief Executive and a former Senate President of the Philippines.  

I arrived at the Avilon Zoo gate at around 7:30am and as expected there was a large group of birders, including some foreigners. The problem was the target bird was a nowhere to be found. However, resident guide Mhark Gee kept assuring us that the bird usually arrives mid-morning.  While waiting, we took photos of some of the birds in the area.  First to catch our attention was the Indigo-banded Kingfisher.

Indigo-banded Kingfisher
Then a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo made an appearance and kept us occupied for some time.  

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo
When the Cuckoo left, somebody said that the Besra is in one of the zoo buildings.  However, all I managed was a couple of docu shots.  

Docu shot of a Besra
By this time, it was already almost 12:00nn and our target bird has not shown up.  The foreigners had already left. I cannot be sure anymore who ordered one big bilao of Pancit Canton.  But as soon as we settled down to eat, the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo arrived and as expected there was a mad scramble for cameras and tripods and the best position to shoot the bird.  For the first half hour of its appearance, it stayed high up, teasing us with a glimpse through twigs and leaves, and all we got were mostly backlit, neck-breaking shots.  The kind that you probably will not even process.  But after about forty-five minutes, it started coming out in the open and perching much lower.  Needless to say, we soon had a field day shooting our target bird.  

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, a rare migrant
A side story to this was, in my haste and excitement when the bird showed up, I left my half eaten pancit, and my cellphone on one of the tables in the Avilon restaurant.  It was only when I needed to change my camera battery that I found out that my phone was not in my pocket (I usually keep a spare battery and memory card in my pocket).  Fortunately, I found my phone where I left it - beside my half-eaten pancit and camera backpack. 

After about an hour and hundreds of shots, we all had our fill.  The bird stayed in one of the trees but everybody was contented as evidenced by the smiles in this group photo:

The happy birders... (photo courtesy of Win Paler)

We left Montalban a little after one in the afternoon.  Happy with our morning "harvest".


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Magic Adobo

I do not know when it started, for me the first time it happened was during my birthday last year.  I am referring to one of our "beliefs" in birding. We, (WBPP) birders, have noticed that when we bring adobo for lunch we get to see our target birds. More importantly, we get to photograph them! August 19 last year was my first time to visit the Infanta birding sites which was already becoming famous after WBPP fellows Raymond Dan and Anthony Balbin brought it to the consciousness of the Philippine birding world.  It was a bit rainy and I only had half-day for birding.  But I did get three lifers that day - Flame-breasted Fruit Dove, Philippine Fairy Bluebird and the Amethyst Brown Dove.  I experienced the same "adobo magic" on two other occasions since then - on September 15 last year and March 28 this year.  Both sorties netted good results.  By comparison, I was in Infanta on February 19 with guests (but no adobo), and results were so-so.  And again last May 12,  (also without adobo), with even poorer results.  So while my Lola taught me not to be superstitious, it seems there is a connection between having adobo for lunch and the appearance of target birds, at least for the Infanta sites (or should I say Marilaque Highway). Whatever the name is, I had high hopes for our birding sortie along the Marilaque Highway last Saturday, May 26 because we will be having adobo for lunch.

My primary targets for the day were: Cream-bellied Fruit Dove (would be lifer), Rufous Hornbill (lifer), a decent photo of a perched Oriental Honey Buzzard. Plus good photos of other species.  And any other lifer of course...

We met up in Burger King along Marcos Highway and was soon off. Our party was composed of Ed Santos (the the adobo king), Conrad Olayres, Mhark Gee, Mags Ico, Jonn Salvador (the other adobo disciple), Aimee Valencia, (a birder from Mindanao), Christopher Ferrer, and myself. 

We had several pre-arranged stops along the way and was soon at the first stop.  There were lots of chirping but we did not see anything significant so we moved to the next one.   Soon after parking we saw some Bee Eaters flying about. And then Mhark's sharp eyes spotted a couple of Scale-feathered Malkohas on a small pine tree up the slope. But they were too high up for any decent photo.

Scale-feathered Malkoha, docu shot

Then two Philippine Cuckoo Doves did a very distant fly by.

Philippine Cuckoo Doves

While waiting for the Malkohas to (hopefully) come nearer, two Yellow-vented Bulbuls perched on top of a small Pine Tree, so I snapped a couple of shots due to another birding superstition, this one from Capayas Bird Guide Erwin Edonga, to wit: take photos of all birds, including those we consider trash birds because the birding gods may get mad and not show the target birds. 

A pair of Yellow-vented Bulbuls

Still thinking of Erwin's sage advice, I also took a few shots of the Bee Eaters.  

Silhouette of a Rufous-crowned Bee Eater with prey

Rufous-crowned Bee Eaters

Rufous-crowned Bee Eater

Soon, Aimee joined me in shooting the Bee Eaters. A few minutes later, I saw something dark and long-tailed fly and perch on a low tree just below the wire where the Bee Eaters were perched.  I excitedly gave a loud whisper to Aimee and pointed the tree.  Christopher quickly identified it as a Rough-crested Malkoha. We patiently waited as the bird skulked around the tree, all the while I was praying it would come out in the open.  It briefly did and then flew deeper into the bush. We waited for a several more minutes but it never came out again. But it was a lifer for our guest birder so that was a happy occurrence. 

Docu shot of a Rough-crested Malkoha

It was while we were stopped at this spot when another birder, Elmer Budomo, joined us. But he soon left us because he wanted to meet up with another birder, Fidel Sy, who was already somewhere ahead of us.  Half an hour later, we all met up along the road, and took the obligatory group photo.  Then a White-eared Brown Dove sent us fumbling for our cameras and tripods but unfortunately it did not stay long enough for photos. 

Obligatory "group hug" minus Mhark who was exploring somewhere. Photo courtesy of Fidel.

Then Mhark sent us all scrambling down the slope when he told us that he saw a Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher.  Unfortunately (again), it did not reappear so we had no choice but to trudge back up the slope.  After catching our breath we proceeded to another spot where we drew another blank.  Soon it became a pattern (no birds).  And as usually the case when there are no birds, my itchy trigger finger and eyes for other targets... Sharing some of the non-bird photos I took... 

The perfect perch

And of course, some of my birding companions...

After several disappointing stops, we decided to have an early lunch. As soon as we started unpacking our food and drinks, Mhark called out that there was a Philippine Fairy Blue Bird nearby so most of us rushed to where he was.  We did not get the Bluebird but the Flaming Sunbird suddenly made an entrance and perched about a meter from the head of Elmer!  However, the bird was gone after a couple of seconds.  So we went back to our sumptuous lunch of Chicken Adobo, Laing, Chicharon, Itlog na Maalat with Tomatoes and Mango. Washed down with ice cold softdrinks and water...

Not long after, the magic adobo took effect and the male Flaming Sunbird appeared several times giving us ample chances to get good photos. 

Flaming Sunbird, male

Jonn was ecstatic with these close captures because this bird has eluded him for so long that he punched the air after the first round of photos. His other target bird, the Philippine Fairy Bluebird, did several fly-by's but never gave us any good photo opportunities. 

The group was still going to check another birding spot further on so at  around 2:30pm, I bade the group good bye as I wanted to be home by 5:30ish and also do a bit of birding along the way.  The first bird I encountered is something that I see a lot in Coron, but still thinking of Erwin's belief, I took a couple of shots.

Paddyfield Pipit

I was driving slowly along a certain portion of the Marilaque Highway when I saw something large and brown glide among the trees to my left.  Heart beating fast, I braked, and backed up slowly and after a few meters, through a gap in the leaves, I saw a large brown bird perched. Oriental Honey Buzzard, not a lifer but one of my targets for the day.  A parting gift from the magic adobo. 

Oriental Honey Buzzard

The Buzzard didn't stay very long but I was so happy that I was able to get a few decent shots.  A few kilometers down the road, I saw another raptor circling high above.  It was severely backlit but I took a few shots anyway.  Sharing a heavily processed photo of a Brahminy Kite in flight.

Docu shot of a Brahminy Kite

As it turned out that was my last bird for the day.  Thankful for the birds, the food, the breathtaking scenery, and of course the camaraderie. Till the next adobo gang sortie my friends...

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.