Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A weekend of quickies

Peak season, my mother's hospitalization, responsibilities to CATE (our tourism org in Coron), my driver/spotter in Coron getting arrested in a buy-bust operation (na-tokhang), and a few other obligations have prevented me from doing much birding. Last Friday morning, I decided to scratch the birding itch by squeezing in a quickie sortie in between errands.  After dropping my boys to their schools, I headed to La Mesa Ecopark (LMEP). I arrived at 8:15am and gave myself until 10:00am.  My targets for the day were the Pechora Pipit (a would be lifer), Red-bellied Pitta (which I have not seen since 2014), Ashy Ground Thrush (which I also have not seen since 2014) and lastly the Black-hooded Pitta (an all time favorite but only 4th on the list because we have this bird in Coron).

As I walked up the trail near the Orchidarium, I saw one of my targets in the middle of the road. Luckily my camera was already attached to my tripod but the tripod legs were not yet extended.  So I quickly fumbled with the knobs, knelt on the ground and started clicking. 

Ashy Ground Thrush with a deformed leg

A couple of minutes later another Ashy Ground Thrush landed a couple of feet away. And it stayed a few seconds and posed for me in different positions...

Ashy Ground Thrush putting on a show

Then it flew away.  Meanwhile the crippled bird perched on a fallen log as if to say, "ako naman...". So I obliged. Target # 3 check!

Knowing I had limited time, I soon left "Ashy" in search of the Pipit.  I entered the forest and walked slowly while consulting the directions given by birder friends Ed Santos, Dong Gales and Mhark Gee. A few meters after the large acacia, I detected movement on the ground up ahead and froze. It turned out to be the Hooded Pitta but it was too far to get a good shot.  So I walked on, passing the rotunda (which is actually a triangle ;-) ). Not seeing anything, I turned around and again detected some movement on the ground somewhere inside the forest. My heart started beating faster when I saw that it was a small brownish bird with cream streaks but it was constantly moving (!) and it blended well with the dried leaves (!!!).  I waited, tripod and camera poised, shot a couple of bursts and got blurry and partially blocked photos (#@%$&, yawa...).  Slowly and quietly repositioned myself and waited a several seconds until the bird darted on a bit of open space and fired another burst. Got a bit luckier this time... Target # 1, big check!

Pechora Pipit, not the sharpest of shots but it is Lifer # 276

After this short sequence of shots, the bird went behind a bush. While waiting for it to come out in the open, I saw it stretching and doing various movements.  I flicked the switch to video and was able to record a short clip.

The Pechora doing some cardio exercises

It then disappeared inside the bushes.  I walked around a bit and then saw a Hooded Pitta hopping inside the forest.  I stayed in place and soon, it crossed the trail and stopped at the edge of the trail as if to say, "o kunan mo na ako...".  Who am I to refuse? Target # 4 check

Black-hooded Pitta

After the Pitta went inside the forest, I glanced at my watch and saw that it was already 10:05am so I decided to call it a day and started walking back to the parking lot. Getting three out of four targets within the alloted (and limited) time isn't bad :-).  But on my way done, I passed by a couple of Lowland White-eyes so I snapped a few as well.

Lowland White-eye

A satisfactory quickie (birding), if I may say so.

The following morning, Saturday, I hitched with Bob ad Cynthia Kaufman, birder friends and neighbors, for an early morning trip to Camella Homes, Bulakan, Bulacan, one of the "playgrounds" of ace birder Jonet Carpio.  Our main target for the day was the White-winged Tern with the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas a close second. 

We left St. Ignatius at 4:10am and was soon cruising the NLEX.  After a quick stop at McDonalds Bocaue and we were in Camella Homes in no time. And soon we were at the roadside pond and the Jacanas were running and flying (more like hopping about).  There were Terns as well but alas, no White-winged, only Whiskered.  We quickly set up our tripods and cameras and began clicking away. Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Whiskered Terns, White-browed Crake, Common Moorhens, and a Clamorous Reed Warbler were present.  

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Whiskered Tern

A pair of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas

A mommy Common Moorhen and her brood

Mommy Moorhen chasing away a White-browed Crake who came too close to her babies

A Clamorous Reed Warbler uncharacteristically perched in the open

A pair of Chestnut Munias flitted about.  One of them perched close enough for a photo.

After about an hour and a half, we explored the other pond as well as the "back" of the pond we were at.  Bob saw four bitterns on some branches over the side of one pond but it was backlit so he went over to one side to get a better shot.  We also saw a Black-crowned Night Heron in flight, again backlit.  Not finding anything shot worthy in the other areas, we went back to the original pond hoping for the White-winged Tern and better shots of the Jacanas.

Upon our return to our original spot, we saw a Blue-tailed Bee Eater perched on a pole which later because a battleground of sorts (but that will be the subject of another post).  

Blue-tailed Bee Eater

A few minutes later, Bob pointed at something quite close to us. A pair of Painted Snipes!  Unfortunately, the male was partially covered by the tall grass in front of us and I could not get a clear shot.  I moved a bit closer but they both flew away shortly after. Most likely spooked by me :-) 

Female Painted Snipe

The a White-breasted Waterhen made a brief appearance followed by a Black Bittern quick fly-by.

White-breasted Waterhen

All the while the Whiskered Terns and Jacanas kept flying about.

Whiskered Tern

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

By approximately 8:30am, with the White-winged Tern a no show and the heat of the sun becoming unbearable, we decided to call it a day.  We were lucky that there was no Manila bound traffic (except for a short stretch approaching the Bocaue Interchange).  We reached St. Ignatius a little after 9:30am which is early for a Saturday morning birding.  The second quickie of the weekend.

While on the way home from Bocaue, I saw an FB post showing birder friends Gilbert Go and Loel Lamella at LMEP.  I sent them both a message asking if the Red-bellied Pitta was there. Their reply came a little after lunch saying that said bird showed up.  I messaged back asking up to what time they will be there and both said until 5pm.  So I immediately applied for another birding "visa" from higher authority.  Visa immediately granted but I couldn't use the car because said higher authority was going to get a haircut (my own car is temporarily not in use).  So I had to call Grab which took forever.  It was past 3:00pm when I got to LMEP.  Trudged to the mini forest as fast as I could all the while praying that my efforts will be rewarded by a good photo.  

I found Loel and Gilbert staking out the Pechora Pipit. Also at LMEP was Patty Adversario who was also there for the Pipit.  (I met Patty in Coron in 2014).  I was standing with them when I heard a call that I thought was the Red-bellied Pitta.  It was repeated a couple of times and Gilbert who was one of the first to photograph it (this year), confirmed that that was the RBP.  Loel went with me to show me where it perched that morning.  But when the Pitta called again it was on a different location.  We went to where we thought it was and started scanning the trees.  I saw it high up on a tree in front of me.  Told my friends, and positioned my camera and just fired away.  It did not stay very long though.  Showing two of the images I was able to create.

Philippine Pitta or Blue-breasted Pitta (formerly Red-bellied Pitta)

I got these shots within fifteen (15) minutes of my arrival at LMEP. We waited a little longer for it to appear again but it did not do so anymore. Target #2 check! 

I was also hoping that the Pechoa Pipit would appear again. It actually did but didn't present any good photo opportunities. Gilbert decided to go a little before five (5) pm and I hitched with him.  Thus endeth the third quickie of the weekend.

Thank you Lord.  May all birding sorties be this quick. :-) 


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