Ever since fellow bird photographer, neighbor, and friend, Bob Kaufman (and his party of 5), photographed the Changeable Hawk Eagle up close, I have been "obsessed" with getting similar photos. Especially since it looked like they got an adult bird in its "light" phase (I already have photos of the dark and intermediate phases). So when I came back to Coron eleven days ago, I would go birding in the mornings in search of the Changeable Hawk Eagle. Out of five sorties, I saw it only once (Sunday, December 11), and got close captures of what appears to be a juvenile. Rodel, our driver, says that the bird that Bob's party got was bigger. But this close encounter with the CHE will be the subject of another post.
What I am writing about today is my short birding sortie yesterday morning, December 16. I had to take a 7:50am flight to Manila so that meant I should be at the airport at 5:50am. So after Simbang Gabi (Dawn Novena Masses), our van brought me to the airport. I was the first to check in, and was told that boarding time will be at 7:20am. As per my practice in Coron, I go out of the terminal after checking in, so I can bird in the area. We immediately went back to the CHE area. On the way, we saw a bare tree laden with birds which I first dismissed as Starlings. Rodel commented that they looked to big to be Starlings. But since it was against the sun, all we could see were silhouettes. When the van drew abreast, Rodel blurted, "Kilit sir! Lahat sila!". (Blue Headed Racquet Tails sir, all of them). So we stopped, parked and I took several shots. I had to zoom out my lens to 150mm to fit the entire scene in one frame.
A flock of about 23 Kilits or Blue-headed Racquet Tails
Soon the Kilits flew to anther tree except for two pairs that stayed behind. We left them to search for the CHE. On the way, we saw a Crested Goshawk perched on a bare branch but it was too far away. After a few minutes, we reached the CHE area but as (bad) luck would have it, it was nowhere to found. I told Rodel to drive to a tree where I saw some Red-headed Flameback Woodpeckers a couple of days earlier.
Though not a lifer, I still don't have a decent photo of the Red-headed Flameback. It is a lot harder to find than its "cousin" the Spot-throated Flameback. Two days earlier, while waiting for the CHE, I parked on the roadside and saw on a nearby tree what I assumed were two Spot-throated Flamebacks. It was only when they flew away that I noticed they were Red-headed Flameback. And they were four (!) not two. I managed a "docu" shot of one of them. Anyway, it was this tree that I wanted to check out. True enough, as we approached the tree, we saw a woodpecker silhouette up high. I went down the van to go to a better vantage point. Perhaps sensing our presence, the bird flew to the tree where I saw them two days prior. I didn't have my tripod so I had to lean on the barbed wire fence post for support. At one point there were two of them. Here is one of the images I managed to create.
Red-headed Flameback Woodpecker
After the Flamebacks flew away, I glanced at my watch and saw that it was already 7:05am. So we went back to the airport. As soon as I alighted from the van, I hear the PA announcement that my flight is delayed and that the new boarding time is 7:45am. So I went back to the van and we sped off to another area to check out the Stork-billed Kingfisher. Again it was a now show. But Rodel's sharp eyes saw a bird that he thought was a dove. It was cleaning itself so the head was not visible. It was perched on a leafy part of a tree that it took me awhile before I could see it. I snapped a blurry photo and saw that the breast had horizontal barring! I immediately knew it was not a dove. My first guess was a Crested Goshawk. Got out of the van and using the cover of trees and bushes, tried to get nearer. I was stopping to take a few insurance shots every few meters. At one point, I was standing in the open. As soon as I got a close enough look, my heart started beating fast because I knew it was not a Crested Goshawk. I thought it may be a Peregrine Falcon (but the barring seemed different), or maybe a Chinese Goshawk. Anyway, I took as much shots as I could knowing that since I was shooting handheld, many will be blurred. After a while, the bird flew to another tree. At the same time, we heard the plane approaching. So I rushed to the van, snapped a photo from my camera LCD and sent it to Desmond Allen, Bob Kaufman and Rommel Cruz for ID. Rommel immediately replied that it looked like a Japanese Sparrow Hawk. Desmond replied in the afternoon and asked for better shots which I was able to send last night. He confirmed that it was indeed a Japanese Sparrow Hawk (female). Lifer #263 for me.
Japanese Sparrow Hawk, female, #263
Sometimes, getting delayed can be a blessing....this is actually the second time I got a lifer in YKR due to a flight delay.