Thursday, May 31, 2018

Chasing Lifers: The Trip to the White Mountain

Finding a "Lifer" is one of the most exciting moments for a birder.  A "lifer" is the moment a particular bird is first seen by a birder. For many bird photographers, a lifer experience is not complete until he/she is able to get a good photograph.  When one starts birding, all birds are lifers but as the years go by, seeing lifers become less frequent and not in big numbers (unless one goes to another part of the archipelago or to another country).  So when there is news of a sighting of a rare bird, within driving distance from the city, Metro Manila birders tend to flock to that place.  Late January, Mhark Gee (short for Gatella), reported the presence of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo in the Avilon Zoo grounds in Montalban.  So as expected birders converged at the Avilon Zoo grounds in late January to early February. I was only able to find time to go to Montalban on February 3rd. But since the bird was seen the day before, I was very hopeful. 

Incidentally, Montalban, is a town in the province of Rizal, located northeast of Metro Manila. Based on its natural scenic appeal, Montalban was named referring to its mountainous topography.  Its name was derived from two Spanish words, "Monte" meaning mountain and "Alban" from the word Alba, meaning white. However, in November 12, 1982, BP 275  renamed Montalban to Rodriguez in honor of Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez, the town's first Chief Executive and a former Senate President of the Philippines.  

I arrived at the Avilon Zoo gate at around 7:30am and as expected there was a large group of birders, including some foreigners. The problem was the target bird was a nowhere to be found. However, resident guide Mhark Gee kept assuring us that the bird usually arrives mid-morning.  While waiting, we took photos of some of the birds in the area.  First to catch our attention was the Indigo-banded Kingfisher.

Indigo-banded Kingfisher
Then a Rusty-breasted Cuckoo made an appearance and kept us occupied for some time.  

Rusty-breasted Cuckoo
When the Cuckoo left, somebody said that the Besra is in one of the zoo buildings.  However, all I managed was a couple of docu shots.  

Docu shot of a Besra
By this time, it was already almost 12:00nn and our target bird has not shown up.  The foreigners had already left. I cannot be sure anymore who ordered one big bilao of Pancit Canton.  But as soon as we settled down to eat, the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo arrived and as expected there was a mad scramble for cameras and tripods and the best position to shoot the bird.  For the first half hour of its appearance, it stayed high up, teasing us with a glimpse through twigs and leaves, and all we got were mostly backlit, neck-breaking shots.  The kind that you probably will not even process.  But after about forty-five minutes, it started coming out in the open and perching much lower.  Needless to say, we soon had a field day shooting our target bird.  

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, a rare migrant
A side story to this was, in my haste and excitement when the bird showed up, I left my half eaten pancit, and my cellphone on one of the tables in the Avilon restaurant.  It was only when I needed to change my camera battery that I found out that my phone was not in my pocket (I usually keep a spare battery and memory card in my pocket).  Fortunately, I found my phone where I left it - beside my half-eaten pancit and camera backpack. 

After about an hour and hundreds of shots, we all had our fill.  The bird stayed in one of the trees but everybody was contented as evidenced by the smiles in this group photo:

The happy birders... (photo courtesy of Win Paler)

We left Montalban a little after one in the afternoon.  Happy with our morning "harvest".


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