Thursday, July 16, 2015

Crown Jewels

Because of their colorful plumage, Pittas are often called "Jewels of the Forest". And if they are to be considered as such, then the Whiskered Pitta, (Erythropitta kochi), should be the Crown Jewel.

But wait, what are Pittas? Just to be clear, the Pittas that I am talking about are birds, not the bread that comes with Shawarma.

According to wikipedia, "Pittas are a family, Pittidae, of passerine birds mainly found in tropical Asia and Australasia, although a couple of species live in Africa.... The name is derived from the word pitta in the Telugu language of Andhra Pradesh in India and is a generic local name used for all small birds. Pittas are medium-sized by passerine standards, at 15 to 25 cm (5.9–9.8 in) in length, and stocky, with strong, longish legs and long feet. They have very short tails and stout, slightly decurved bills. Many, but not all, have brightly coloured plumage." (source: wikipedia).

In the Philippines, according to the Kennedy Guide (the reference that we birders use), there are five (5) species of Pittas, namely, Hooded Pitta, Red-bellied Pitta, Blue-winged Pitta, Steere's Pitta and the aforementioned Whiskered Pitta.

The Whiskered Pitta, is the largest Pitta in the Philippines. It is endemic to Luzon and classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Its recorded habitat are mountainous areas such as the Cordilleras, the Sierra Madre and certain parts of the Bicol region. Bangkong Kahoy in Mt. Banahaw, is one of the few places where this bird has been seen in previous years. But because the trail to the site is difficult, not many birders have seen this bird. Until February this year (2015), when, through the efforts of bird photographer Ramon Quisumbing and his bird guide, Cris Ceriban, a new site was found. Still it was not a walk in the park because it involved climbing on the slopes of Mt. Banahaw.

Access to the site was controlled to three to four birders at a time in order not to spook the bird. Hence there is a queue. I finally got my chance last Tuesday, July 14. Luis, my seventeen-year-old son was also going with me. We met up with Capt. Floyd Bermejo, a fellow bird photographer at a gas station along slex. We arrived at BK a little after six (6)AM and started our trek/climb before seven (7) AM.

When one is almost fifty, overweight and unfit, one has no choice but take it easy and go slow with lots of rest stops. Before long all others in the party left me and my porter behind. Somewhere along the trail, while I was gasping for breath, I was mentally asking myself why do I do this - leave my warm bed at 2:30AM, drive 75 kms and climb double (triple?) the distance of Mt. Tapyas (in Coron). Was it really worth it?

It took me over an hour before I reached the Pitta site. All others were already positioned in their hides and shooting when I got there. I went to my designated spot, sat down(thigh and leg muscles shaking), fumbled with my gear and started pressing the shutter. What followed was a photo session with the Crown Jewel.

Sharing some of the images that I was able to create.

After about two hours, we stared our descent. Going down a mountain, I always have this irrational fear that I would slip and injure myself so even going I pick my way slowly.  My back was sore, I was drenched in sweat and my tired legs were shaky but I was glad that I left my comfy bed at 2:30am, drove 75 kms in the dark, and trekked up the slopes of Mt. Banahaw. Seeing this beautiful bird was definitely worth it!


  1. Such awesome photos!!! =) Worth the hike po? =)

  2. Amazing photos! I would have done the same if given the chance.