Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Three Kings of Capayas Creek

Capayas, a word that means Papaya in the Cuyonon dialect. In the birding world, however, Capayas, or more accurately, Capayas Creek Bird Preserve, (CCBP), has become synonymous to Coron birding. CCBP, is a piece of private property owned by well known bird photographer, Atty. Ramon Quisumbing.  Located beside a small creek in a forested area at the foothills of Mt. Tundarala, in Sitio Capayas, Bgy. Poblacion 6, CCBP, has become Coron's premier birding destination.

Capayas is a place that is familiar to me because I grew up in neighboring Sitio Dipulao (also of Bgy. Poblacion 6).  I had several classmates in grade school who hailed from this place.  Many of the farm hands who worked in my father's rice field were from neighboring sitios, including, Capayas. Later, when my parents put up a handicraft manufacturing and export business, many of the employees also came from Capayas.  But when we focused our energies on the tourism industry, Capayas, not being a tourist destination, faded from my usual routine. Little did I know that decades later, I will be visiting this place a lot and spending countless hours, looking for birds, sometimes with friends, sometimes with strangers, sometimes alone... but always on the look out for our avian treasures.

Capayas has many birds, including several endemics, but the most famous are the so-called Capayas Three Kings. These are the Ruddy Kingfisher, the Rufous-backed Kingfisher and the Blue-eared Kingfisher.  While none of these are endemic, it is believed that it is in Capayas where these three can be seen and photographed with the least difficulty. Incidentally, legend has it that, it was renowned bird photographer, Ely Teehankee, who gave this collective label to these three birds.  Personally, I first saw these birds at different times in 2013 and was able to photograph them in several birding sorties in early 2014.

The first quarter of this year has brought in a larger number of birders to Coron and it was my pleasure to guide them during their birding sorties.  These trips also allowed me to once again to enjoy the sight of these birds in the company of old and new friends.  Sharing some of my latest photos of the "Capayas Three Kings" taken in the last five weeks.

Of all the Kingfishers of the Calamianes, the Blue-eared Kingfisher was the last one I saw and also the last one with a decent photo. It took me a year after I started birding before I even saw this bird. This year, it was the first kingfisher that I was able to get decent photographs of.  

Photo taken February 7, 2015

Photo taken February 7, 2015

On more than one occasion, I was even able to photograph it while feeding.
Photo taken February 7, 2015

Of all the three, the first one I had good shot of was the Rufous-backed Kingfisher.  But it is also the one that always gave me the most difficulty in getting a really good photo. One afternoon, I went to Capayas on my own and patiently waited at the tree house hide of Atty. Quisumbing. After about twenty five minutes, bird guide Erwin's son, Dondon, approached cautiously and whispered that the kingfisher was there. I got excited when I saw that the Rufous-backed Kingfisher perched near the creek. I immediately shot several bursts. The bird transferred perches a couple of times but always at some distance.  It flew into the bushes and I took the opportunity to review my shots.  There were some good ones but not really a detailed capture.  Dondon left to do an errand so I was left alone in the tree house. I was already past five o'clock in the afternoon and the light was starting to fade. I was starting to lose hope and was about to pack my gear when the bird reappeared.  It again perched in the same branch but after a couple of minutes it flew to a branch almost directly below the window where I was.  It stayed long enough for me to get several close captures. 

Photo taken February 13, 2015

In my succeeding trips to Capayas in the next couple of weeks (after Feb 13), I had hoped to get a photo of it eating.  It was quite a challenge because the Blue-eared, which is a smaller bird, would often chase it away.  But just like in life, persistence often pays off in birding.  
Notice that unlike in the BEKF photo with the fish, the lower beak of this RBKF does not show at the bottom part of the fish.  That is because the fish is impaled or pierced by the beak. 
Photo taken March 6, 2015

In my experience, the easiest to photograph has been the Ruddy Kingfisher, maybe because it is the largest of the three, or maybe because after it has perched, it remains unmoving longer than the other two.  Sharing my latest photos of this bird. 
Photo taken February 7, 2015

The following day, February 8, Atty. Quisumbing and I waited for five hours before the Ruddy Kingfisher made an appearance.  

Photo taken February 8, 2015

One of my favorite shots of this series.  It is now the screen saver of my laptop. Soon, it will be in a frame hanging somewhere in Darayonan (hahaha).
Photo taken February 8, 2015

Kingfishers, would sometimes bash their catch on a hard surface, to kill it or break it, before swallowing. In Coron, their diet usually consists of "pait" a fish found in most streams and "kagang" a small fresh water crab.  Sometime after eating, they would regurgitate the "hard" parts such as the bones of the fish or the shell of a small crab.  In closing this blogpost, here are the three kings in the act of regurgitating...

Truly an amazing experience. 



  1. Wonderful shots, Chin! All three species are difficult to shoot under normal circumstances here in Malaysia.

  2. Thank you Mun! You are welcome to Coron, anytime.