Thursday, July 28, 2016

A weekend of lifers

I have not made a blog post for sometime now.  I have not really done that much birding lately due to a heavy work load.  Last week was particularly busy as we had a big group come in on Tuesday.  But the big group all checked out on Friday morning. That same afternoon a birder friend was arriving from Manila for a weekend birding trip.  I decided to go with the van that will pick him up from the airport.  We arrived a bit early and of course his flight was late so it meant birding time for me in the area.

We stopped on the road beside a grassy area near the airport because we saw several Lesser Coucals flying about.  I saw something dark skulking in a small mound covered with tall grass.  At first I thought it was a Common Moorhen.  But the following day after looking at the Kennedy Guide I realized that its a male Watercock.  The ID has since been confirmed by experts Desmond Allen and Lisa Paguntalan.

Watercock, male. Most likely the first photographic record in Busuanga Island

The following day was spent at Capayas.  The main targets were the rare Red-legged Crake and a Spotted Wood Owl which were photographed by Atty. Ramon Quisumbing a week earlier. Fellow WBPP birders JJ Quisumbing and Raymond Dan were also able to photograph the owl but not the crake. 

We were at the tree house by 6:15am.  A male Olive-backed Sunbird and a male Blue Paradise Flycatcher entertained us for a while.  And Hooded Pittas were calling all around us and doing fly-bys.  At around 8am, something dark darted about upstream.  The Red-legged Crake!  Alas, it was so quick, only my friend Lorenzo and bird guide Erwin saw it. 

After a breakfast of Tapa and Danggit, we headed to a nearby spot (also in Capayas) to photograph the Spotted Wood Owl. True enough we saw the owl who willingly posed for us.  We lost no time in setting up our tripods and happily clicked away.  I had the misfortune of standing on a spot with plenty of ants and I suffered several nasty bites but it was worth it.

Spotted Wood Owl, a juvenile.

In the Philippines, the Spotted Wood Owl is found only in Palawan, locally called Gokgok. When I was growing up in Dipulao in the 70's, we would hear this often.  The male had a singular loud call GOK! while the female had a series of weaker gokgokgokgok.  Local folk were scared of it thinking it was a "Mangalok" or monster that preyed upon people.

After what must have been hundreds of shots of shots, we went back to the tree house to wait for the Crake.  But it was a no show.  However Capayas regulars such as the Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Blue Paradise Flycatcher, Hooded Pitta, etc. kept us entertained.  

The following day, we were back at the Tree house at 6:00am.  The Rufous-backed Kingfisher was present early and kept is occupied for a while.  Then at around 8am, the Crake made another brief appearance and fortunately Lorenzo was able to get a decent shot.

We went back to town at noon because Lorenzo had a flight that afternoon. When we got to the airport, I advised him to check-in then come out so we can do dude birding in the area.  The main target was the Watercock.  But as fate would have it, he did not see said bird but got five (5) lifers in the process - Crested Serpent Eagle, Paddyfield Pipit, Barred Button Quail, Spot-throated Flameback and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.  So he boarded his delayed flight with a big smile on his face. And he was shooting all of these with his 600mm prime handheld! 

The next three mornings, I went to Capayas Creek Bird Preserve to take my shot at the Red-legged Crake.  The first day, the bird appeared at around 8am and bathed in the creek for some time but it always stayed in a dark spot so my shots, while okay, were not really something to crow about.  The next morning I was back and like clockwork the bird appeared again, this time a few minutes before 8am.  7:53 to be exact.  But again it skulked in the shadows.  Then it went upstream and stayed a long time bathing.   But it was quite far and I had no clear shot.  I was about to give up.  Meanwhile the Rufous-backed Kingfisher and Ruddy Kingfisher were flitting about in the same spot.  I stood up from where I was sitting to get a better view of the kingfisher when I saw through a gap in the leaves that the Crake was back and it was in the middle of the stream in a spot where the sun was shining through.  I scrambled back to my seat fumbled with my camera and fired away. I managed a few captures before the bird moved again. Presenting the best of my shots. It is not as tack sharp as I would want but I am still very happy to get it, considering that this is the only Red-legged Crake visible in the Philippines right now, and todate I am only the third photographer to photograph it. Incidentally, the last recorded sighting of this bird was in 1995 in Tubbataha NationalPark.

Red-legged Crake

The weekend produced many other beautiful shots of Coron's avian treasures but I will reserve them for another post.

Glad to be back birding...

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