Thursday, October 30, 2014

Birding at the Maambeng Farm

Maambeng... a deep Cuyonon word that is rarely heard in Coron today, especially in the Poblacion (town proper) where Tagalog (okay, Pilipino...) is becoming more and more the norm. Maambeng is one of those difficult to pronounce Cuyonon words that non-Cuyonon speakers will always mispronounce (like Abeh/Abuh, pagkaen, or maaslem).  It is a bit difficult to transtlate too. It is an adjective that describes a feeling. Perhaps the simplest translation is happy.  For instance, a lot of tarps during late August says: Maambeng nga Kapistahan sa Coron, (Happy Fiesta to Coron), accompanied with a photo of a smiling politico.  But why not use the more popular "sadya" (Joy, Merriment).  We even used that word to name our town fiesta, Kasadyaan Festival.  

To me, maambeng means more than happy. To me, aside from happy, it also means contented, gratified, even fortunate. Which makes me think that it is a fitting name for a vegetable farm. Being a cuyonon, I am happy that a non-Palaweno, has chosen to name her business enterprise using a cuyonon word. Thank you Ms. Ichay Bulaong for doing so. At the moment, I think aside from Darayonan, this is the only other business with a cuyonon name in Coron (which goes to show how little cuyonon is used these days).    

For the past several months, my friend, and fellow birdwatcher, Hilbert Enriquez, has been egging me to bird at Maambeng Farm in Sitio Balisungan, Bgy. Tagumpay. We have scheduled it a couple of times, only to be cancelled due to other obligations. Finally, we were able to go last Septmeber 30 with another Birdwatch Coron member, Michel de Guia.  

The farm is not located beside the road so we were met by Ichay and her staff, Divine, who coincidentally, joined our 2nd Birdwatching Basics Training last August 30, 2013.  We walked single file for about a kilometer over a narrow trail which some minor uphill treks, a walk through a small community and crossing a small stream.  Midway into the trail, after passing the small community, we were joined by, Douglas, an askal (aspin, to the politically correct), belonging to one of the residents but who obviously considers Ichay its supreme master.

The farm is located on 3+ hectares of land nestled on the foothills of Mt. Tundarala (Busuanga's highest mountain). It is surrounded by a river/stream, lots of trees, away from the town, yet near enough (about 30 mins drive over a challenging dirt road). We proceeded to a Ichay's cozy office - a small nipa hut with a bamboo table and benches.  It turned out that our gracious host was already a budding birdwatcher. She promptly showed us her sketches (colored!) of the birds that she has seen in her farm and at other areas in Coron, (I drooled at her neat Bushnell waterproof bins, hahaha). From her drawings, we recognized a male Olive-backed Sunbird, a Yellow-throated Leafbird, a Spot-throated Flameback, among others.  After a few more minutes of chit-chat, we went birding.  Immediately, we saw some Asian Glossy Starlings at a nearby tree.

Asian Glossy Starlings

We walked uphill for a while and I saw a Leafbird flying in the distance.  Then a we spooked small colorful bird from a bush by the trail.  I believe it was a male Lovely Sunbird but I am not sure.  There was not much birds uphill but we could hear lots of chirping below, in the trees near the river. We did notice this on the slope of Mt. Tundarala, much higher up:

This looks like an upland rice plantation/farm, what we locally call an "uma". The white flags are most likely makeshift scarecrows to drive away birds from the rice. In many instances, it is a "kaigin" or slash and burn.  Considering that it is high up on the slopes of Mt. Tundarala, surrounded by forest, it most likely is. 

After a several minutes of not seeing any birds, we decided to descend and go to the river.  Ichay asked one of her farmhands to guide us to the river (there was no visible trail).  It was a short walk and when we got there, it was silent, no more chirping.  It was just one of those not so birdy days.  After sometime, a couple of Ashy Fronted Bulbuls darted about but that was it.  

Ichay had to leave to pick up her family from the airport so we went back up to the "office" where we had breakfast of pan de sal and coffee, served on "Starbucks" mugs! 

While taking our coffee, the Starlings came back.
Asian Glossy Starling, local name Losyang (I think this is the Tagalog name, not sire if there is a Cuyonon name)

Then an Ashy Drongo perched on a nearby tree.

Ashy Drongo, local name Salang-ikog

Then a Brown Shrike perched on a bare tree and stayed several minutes to be photographed.

Brown Shrike, tagalog name Tarat

After photographing the Shrike, a large bird suddenly flew across and perched on a distant tree. I fired several shots but it was so far and backlit. Hilbert, Michel, Rommel (Michel's partner), and Divine went to another part of the farm because Hilbert wanted to buy some veggies for Santino's.  I stayed and took some more shots but with similar results.  I was hoping that the bird would fly (so I could catch it in flight) and perhaps (hopefully!) perch on a nearer tree.  But I had no such luck.  So I reluctantly packed my gear and headed to where they were, all the while keeping an eye on the perched bird. When I got to where they were weighing the vegetables, I saw that the bird was slightly nearer and the light was a bit better.  So I took out the camera, set up the tripod and fired several shots.

Crested Goshawk with prey. This made my day. (I do not know what the prey is. Initially, I thought it's a mouse/rat).

After a few more minutes, we trekked back to the road where Hilbert's pick up was parked.  Not so many birds but nevertheless a satisfying birding experience.  Thank you again to our host, Ichay Bulaong. We will surely be back in the area. 


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