Friday, January 13, 2017

A Lifer on the Fly

I was scheduled to take the M/V St. Augustine of Hippo (2Go Ferry), yesterday afternoon.  The normal boarding time is a little after lunch.  So I was frantically giving instructions, writing memos, answering some inquiries, checking Expedia and Agoda and sneaking a peak in my FB page.  I called my friend Noy Pinoon, Coron 2Go agent, to check if there was any change in the boat's schedule.  Mercifully, Noy said, the boat is delayed a bit and will arrive 3:30pm and I should be at the pier 2:45-3:00pm to be safe. A couple of minutes after talking to Noy, Alan Coucher, another friend, sent a photo of a bird in his resort, that has not left the area for the past three days.  Here is the photo:

Photo taken by a phone camera (I assume)

I couldn't see it very clearly, even if I enlarge it.  So I asked Alan for a description - does it look like a raptor - hawk or eagle (but why would a raptor be in the ground), a water bird (I thought it looked like some sort of heron).  Alan messaged back, it looks like a Grouse.  (Me, in my mind: how the heck does a grouse look like?). Clicked google and check Grouse images, also opened my iPad (where I have a soft copy of the Kennedy Guide), to look at waterbirds. But I told him, I was booked on the Ferry and won't have time to scoot over to his island. 

But I decided to forward the image to three experts to ask for initial ID. I sent the photo to: Lisa Paguntalan, Executive Director of Philippine Biodivesity Conseravation Foundation, Inc., Rommel Cruz, professional Birdguide, and Desmond Allen, British Ornithologist. 

Rommel and Lisa answered that it could be a Japanese Night Heron which is rare and endangered or it could be a Malayan Night Heron, which is also rare in Palawan (though not endangered).  Either bird will be a lifer for me.  I sent a message to Alan asking if his small boat can come into town by 1:30pm and bring me back by 2pm or thereabouts. He said yes. So I continued plowing through the papers in my desk. Then my phone rings and Alan said, can you meet my boat in 10 mins because it it just left to pick up guests in town. The time was 12:55. I looked at the papers on my desk, scooped them up, brought them to my room, dumped them in my suitcase, put on my shoes, birding cap, got my camera backpack and tripod, went out and asked one of the FO staff to flag me a trike to Sirenetta (the waterfront restaurant where Alan's boats dock).  You can imagine the look of surprise on the faces of Iza, Ai and Von (FO staff on duty) upon seeing my get up and hearing my request for a trike.

Fifteen or Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the Discovery Island Resort (owned by Alan and Merly Coucher).  And within three minutes, the bird was in front of me but covered by grass and bushes! As soon as I had my camera pointed at it, my phone vibrated and rang!  I fumbled with my left hand and put it to silent.  I fired a few shots, all the while the phone was vibrating. After going around looking at different vantage points, I was able to take several shots both handheld and using a tripod.  Here are some of the images I was able to create.

Malayan Night Heron, # 264 in my lifelist, 1st for 2017. 

All images were captured within four to five meters (4m to 5m).  After several minutes, I decided to shoot a short video.

After about fifteen (15) minutes, I decided to quit because it was time to go.  Using my cellphone, I hurriedly took a photo of one of the images in my camera LCD, and sent it to Lisa, Rommel and Desmond asking for confirmation of ID.  The first response was Japanese which in my excitement, I immediately posted when I got back to Darayonan. 

After a quick shower, I was off to the pier. I was in a tricycle enroute to the pier when Desmond Allen answered to say that it is a Malayan Night Heron and not a Japanese NH.  So when I got to the boat, I corrected my initial post.

It is not often that one is presented with a lifer, rare migrant at that, in a resort setting, in good lighting, 4-5 meters away, in the middle of the day, and not even a scheduled birding trip!  I am eternally grateful to Riza Almeres, staff of Discovery Island Resort, who informed Alan about the bird, to Alan for informing me and allowing me to go to his place, free of charge (!!!), and to Lisa, Rommel and Desmond, for the identification.  And most of all to the Almighty for creating such wonderful creatures and directing one of them to land at Discovery Island Resort in January 2017, while I was still in Coron.  


  1. Congratulations! =) Good birding start to 2017!!! =)

    1. Thank you!!! Ito talaga yung hulog ng langit - wala sa plano, tapos lifer, rare migrant, relaxed birding, nice shooting conditions, didn't spend anything except P30 trike fee, didn't have to wake up at dawn, travel three hours and trek 1.5 hours up a mountain. Truly a gift from above!