Sometime in February, fellow Birdwatch Palawan member, Rommel Cruz, asked me if I can do a 9-day Luzon Bird tour. My initial reaction was "Why me?" but after mulling it over, the question became "Why not?". So after doing a bit of research, I sent him a quote. After about a three week wait, I got word that the tour was a "go". It will start on March 20 and end on March 28. Officially, the tour was booked with My Blue Backpack, a travel and tour company owned my me and Lorna, my wife (but the company is a sole prop registered in her name). Since this will be MBB's first tour outside of Coron, I had to go along.
Day 1 started with picking up the guests, a Spanish couple named Rafael and Marta, from NAIA Terminal 1, reportedly the world's worst airport terminal.
Anybody familiar with the four terminals of NAIA would know that the most difficult terminal to meet guests is Terminal 1. Compounding the situation was the fact that the guest did not give any mobile phone number. So I wrote Marta's name on a bond paper and held it up at the arrival area and just hoped it would work without a hitch (I once spent five hours waiting for a Singaporean priest at NAIA 1, but that is another story). Fortunately, there were not that many arrivals so I was able to pick up the guests without much difficulty. Unfortunately, there is an ongoing construction of a flyover around the airport so it took us one hour just to get out of the airport area and another hour to reach the University Hotel in UP-Diliman. It was already almost four o'clock in the afternoon when we reached La Mesa Ecopark, the first birding site. We were met at the parking lot by fellow WBPP member, Anthony Balbin, LMEP's master birder, and the bird guide for the whole trip.
Since the park closes at five o'clock, Anthony immediately brought us to the mini-forest. Along the way we met another WBPP member, Wins Tornado, who was stalking an Eagle Owl. We were beyond the small hill already when Wins called Anthony to say that they have found the Owl somewhere near the area at the back of Anthony's shop in LMEP. We literally ran back because we did not want to miss the owl.
We found Wins seated in his folding chair, hidden behind a bush, his camera mounted on a tripod and pointed at the Owl, (which was perched on a high branch), happily clicking. Anthony pointed the Owl to Rafael who started shooting also. After a couple of minutes I also started shooting. (As a personal rule, when I am with the guest, I let them shoot first. Even if sometimes it means I don't get the shot).
Philippine Eagle Owl, (Bubo philippensis), considered vulnerable, a lifer for me, and #197 on my lifelist
We saw the other LMEP regulars namely, Zebra Dove, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Brown Shrike and a Black-naped Oriole. On the way to see the Munias, we encountered a Striated Grass Bird. We did not see all three Munias, just the Chestnut-breasted Munia. At the spillway area, we saw a couple of Barred Rails, a White-breasted Waterhen and a Little Egret in flight. Soon it was too dark to bird so we left LMEP and I brought the guests back to their hotel. Not a bad first day, if I may say so...
Day 2, we picked up Rafael and Marta at six o'clock in the morning and proceeded to LMEP. During the first hour, we saw, a White-throated Kingfisher, Yellow-vented Bulbul (again), a Black-naped Oriole (again), White-collared Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird, Common Kingfisher, Lowland White Eye, Pygmy Woodpecker and a White-eared Brown Dove.
Looking at the Lowland White Eye and later the White-eared Brown Dove
We were hoping to see a Coppersmith Barbet in the area but it was a no show.
Kris, our van driver, and I left them for a while to get breakfast and when we got back, Anthony rattled off the birds they saw - Guiabero, Common Emerald Dove, Tailorbird, Colasisi, etc. Rafael proudly showed me his beautiful photo of the Tailorbird (could've been a lifer for me, ugh!)
We sat down on one of the picnic table to eat. While eating I saw a Philippine Magpie Robin perch several meters from us.
Philippine Magpie Robin, (Copsychus mindanensis)
After our meal, we proceeded to the mini forest in search of the main targets of the day, namely, Ashy Ground Thrush, Spotted Wood Kingfisher and Indigo-banded Kingfisher. Secondary targets were the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher and the Brown-headed Thrush that has been seen in recent weeks.
Alas, we dipped on the two kingfishers. But found the Ashy Ground Thrush and the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher.
Observing the Mangrove Blue FC
The park was not so "birdy" that day so while waiting for birds I did what any bored bird photographer does...take pictures!
Any help on the ID of this flower would be highly appreciated
Any help on the ID of this flower would be highly appreciated
After Rafael and Marta saw the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, we proceeded to the IBKf pond area to check (again) if the bird made an appearance and also to stake out the palm tree where the Brown-headed Thrush has been seen. However, instead of the Thrush, what we saw was a more common bird.
Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier)
Another relatively common bird showed up...
Philippie Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopus maculatus)
As it was nearing lunch time, we decided to leave LMEP and proceed to UP Diliman for lunch. Before we left LMEP, I couldn't resist taking a photo of this flowering tree.
According to Anthony, this is a Cupang tree.
We then dropped the guests at the University Hotel and we a quick lunch at Katipunan. We picked up Rafael and Marta at 2:30pm to resume birding. This time at the UP-D campus. The main targets were the Philippine Nightjar and the Philippine Scops Owl. Both endemics. We proceeded to the site of the Nightjar and within minutes, we were rewarded.
Philippine Nightjar (Caprimulgus manillensis)
After getting our fill for the Nightjar, we walked to the area where the Owl is known to roost. Along the way, we saw another common bird but since it was on a nice perch, I snapped a couple of shots anyway.
Brown Shrike, (Lanius cristatus), its scientific name sounds like a name for a Roman Gladiator :-)
After a few minutes of walking and searching, we found the second target bird for UP-D.
Philippine Scops Owl, (Otus megalotis)
As usual, it's location is very poorly lit hence it was very difficult to take a photo. I had previously seen this bird in this same location but I didn't have a good photo due to the poor lighting conditions. For this shot, I borrowed the tripod of Anthony's spotting scope so that I could lean my hands on it while taking a photo.
After seeing the two target birds, we roamed the campus for any other bird.
Long-tailed Shrike, (Lanius scach), another UP regular
We later transferred to the Hardin ng Rosas where we saw a Crested Myna, red Turtle Dove and a couple of waterbirds. At around six o'clock, we called it a day and dropped our guests at their hotel. We agreed to meet at 7am the following morning for our trip to Baguio.
Not a bad first two days. In one and a quarter days of birding, our guests saw more than thirty species, many of them lifers.
Next post, birding in the city of pines.