It all started with an exchange in one of the numerous Facebook threads that accompany a posting of a bird photo. I cannot even recall now whose photo it was and what bird. The topic was a possible Coron trip in one of the weekends of February. When the conversation started to become serious, we created a message thread also in Facebook. After checking everybody's schedule it became apparent that a Coron trip in February was not feasible. So the message thread quieted down for a day. Then somebody suggested going to La Mesa Nature Preserve on February 8 so that prompted another flurry of exchange between Bj Capacite, Alex Ting, Steve Albano, Prof Reuel Aguila and myself. None of us has been there so we all started calling people we knew and asking how to go there. I was able to get details and directions from Jops Josef of WBCP. The general feedback we got was, unless we were going to LMNR for a specific bird, it was not really going to be worth the effort. So LMNR was out.
It was already Thursday, Feb 6 by then. To my recollection, Crisnick Lorenzo and Prof Tirso Paris had already joined the conversation at this time. Several suggestions were given: LMEP (most of us were there a week ago), Makiling Botanical Gardens (only I have not been there), Candaba (everybody was there last December for the Spoonbills and the Ruby Throat), and finally Bangkong Kahoy. Prof Reuel Aguila had an important class so he begged off. We even jokingly told him to give his students the day off and a research project but apparently it was an important class and Prof Reuel, a responsible teacher :-). Crisnick Lorenzo also begged off due to a family obligation.
All the remaining birders were good husbands so nobody wanted to sleep over, hence a day trip to Dolores, Quezon. And of course all sought permission from higher authority. With the necessary permits granted, we four, Bj, Alex, Steve and I, decided to meet at the driving range at Filinvest at 4am. We will meet up with Prof Tirso at San Pablo City since he will be coming from Los Banos. Steve also made the arrangements with BK for the food and with Atty. Ramon Quisumbing for us to use his view deck.
My father had dialysis that ended past 10pm on Friday night. We got home past 11pm. I did some computer work and before I knew it, it was already 3am. I rushed to take a cold shower to wake me up for the drive to Alabang, dressed, grabbed my gear and sent a text to Alex saying I was on the way (I found out later that the text did not send). While I was driving along C5 near Market-market, I got a call from Steve asking where I was because they were all there. Pressure, pressure. I drove as fast as my 15 year old Mitsubishi Adventure could manage. I reached Filinvest in record time (for my car). Now I had to find that driving range. I saw a security guard and asked for directions. Alas, he did not know the place I was talking about. I called Steve who asked me if I was the car with the blinking lights. It turned out that the driving range was just behind us (and the sikyo had no clue, grrrr). I immediately boarded Alex' van and off we went. None of us had slept yet and I guess we were all excited since nobody slept as we kept chatting. We met up with Prof Tirso as planned and reached Bangkong Kahoy at around 6:30am.
As soon as we stepped out of the van, we felt the cold, crisp and fresh mountain air. Bankong Kahoy is a high valley located between mystical Mt. Banahaw and Mt. San Cristobal. Even before I saw a bird, I already fell in love with the place! We parked near the lodging house and Bj led us to the view deck and immediately, he exclaimed Red Crested Malkoha! I got my camera out of the bag but before I could even press the shutter, the bird darted into the thicket. Lifer #1. Then Bj exclaimed again, Philippine Coucal. This time I managed some docu shots. Lifer #2
Philippine Coucal, Lifer # 2
We reluctantly left the view deck to go to the Bangkong Kahoy dining area to have our breakfast. Right after eating, while engaging in some small talk, Dion, the owner exclaimed, Malkoha! pointing to a nearby tree. Then he said "another one!" pointing to another tree a bit farther away. None of my companions, who all had bigger lenses, had set up their gear yet but my small 300mm f4 was already attached to my camera (since I left my house in QC!), so I just fired away.
Scale Feathered Malkoha, Lifer # 3
After several minutes, the two birds flew away and we proceeded to the view deck of Ramon Quisumbing. As we entered the deck, a very handsome gray-white Siberian Husky greeted us. He playfully stood up on his hind legs and put his two forelegs on the bag that I was carrying. We have a lovable Labrador at home but I swear that if I will get a new dog, I will want a grey-white Siberian Husky. They just look so clean, handsome and are so playful.
As soon as we set down our bags, we went to the railing and what followed was about two and a half hours of non-stop shooting where we saw lifer after lifer. The first that I saw on the viewdeck was the Citrine Canary Flycatcher. I was able to get several backlit shots but none that I was really happy with. Later in the morning while we were busy shooting another bird, my SD card filled up. So I ducked out of the way and went to a small table to change cards. While everybody was looking forward, I saw a couple of Citrine Canary Flycatchers on a branch at the back of the lower viewdeck. So I was able to capture this image.
Citrine Canary Flycatcher, Lifer # 4
Lifer after Lifer...
Blue Headed Fantail, Lifer # 5
Bi-Colored Flowerpecker, Lifer # 6
Mountain Verditer, Lifer # 7
Yellowish White Eye, Lifer # 8
Sulphur Billed Nuthatch, Lifer # 9
We also saw a Buzzing Flowerpecker (#10) and an Elegant Tit (#11 and one of my photo targets for BK!), but unfortunately, no photos. I was shooting the Citrine Canary in a bright patch when somebody yelled Elegant Tit and pointed in another direction. I shifted my aim, pressed a burst of three or four shots then the bird flew away. Since my camera's settings were for the bright area, all the shots of the Elegant Tit came out very dark and no amount of Photoshop can bring out the images.
There were two or three other birds that made an appearance that morning that I did not even see. Truly Bangkong Kahoy is paradise to birders.
We broke for lunch a little before twelve. While walking, Prof Tirso and I saw these shrubs with red colored berry like fruits. When we got to the restaurant, Ramon offered us fresh Raspberry Shakes (ice cold of course) and Mushroom Tempura. Both were perfect for 5 hungry and thirsty birders. It turned out that the Red Berry we saw was a local plant that grew in Mt. Banahaw and was now being propagated at Bangkong Kahoy. At the time we were there, Bangkong Kahoy was the only place in the Philippines where one can order fresh raspberry shakes. I later learned that the native name of the plant is Sampinit.
After lunch, most of the group wanted to rest but I set out to look for the White Throated Kingfisher that kept on flying around. Ramon, who was riding his ATV, showed me the tree where the KF normally perched. I waited a few minutes under cover of some trees and true enough the WTKF soon came. I was able to take photos of it in different trees in the vicinity.
White Throated Kingfisher, Lifer # 12
After getting the Kingfisher, I headed back to the restaurant. I met Prof Tirso and Alex along the way and we stopped for a while to take more photos of the WTKF. When we finally reached the restaurant, I ordered another glass of Raspberry shake. Steve joined me and as it turned our we drank two glasses each. Then it was time to go. But not before I bought a bottle of the raspberry jam that Bangkong Kahoy makes.
Bangkong Kahoy, a place that I would definitely love to go back to...
Twelve lifers in about ten hours of birding. Twelve additions to BY2014!
By Sunday, our group had been christened (by Bj?) as the BK Ragtag Team...stay tuned for more of our (mis)adventures...