Friday, January 7, 2022

Moved to a new platform

To all our followers in this site, thank you so much!  Please be informed that due to some technical glitches that I cannot figure out, I have decided to move this blog to a new platform.  The new address is  Hope to see you there as well.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Another Unexpected Lifer

After a somewhat hectic and stressful week that included an aborted Tanza sortie, I felt the need to bird.  So I decided to go to Taytay last Sunday afternoon, September 19, (since it was the birding patch nearest to me).  However it was drizzling in San Juan the whole morning.  A message to Cainta residents, Brian Enriquez and Joel Dayao, revealed that it was also raining there.  But Joel kept urging me to go because "mahina lang naman ang ulan".  And by about 1:24pm, he joyously messaged,  "wala nang ulan, dito", followed by, "punta ka ng maaga at baka madilim na by 4pm".  A leisurely late Sunday lunch was hurriedly finished, dishes washed (that's my home chore 😀), dress up, and off I went.  I reached the site at exactly 3:08pm and there was no bird activity for the first half hour except for some Egrets ad Terns on the other side of the field.  But I quietly and patiently sat in my car, waited, and scanned the field as I contemplated the meaning of life, the pandemic, and the uncertain future.  

The first significant capture of the day was a quick fly-by of the Purple Heron.  This occurred about almost an hour after I arrived.  

Purple Heron

This was followed a few minutes later by the appearance of the main target bird.  Still not the shot I am aiming for but still grateful for this shot. 

Black Bittern

Meanwhile, the White-browed Crakes continued to pop out of the vegetation. 

White-browed Crake

Then I saw a bird with a different jizz fly from behind me going towards the field and in a matter of seconds, the same bird was heading back.  It was flying higher than the Herons and Bitterns, and was really just a dark shape.  I aimed as fast as I could and pressed the shutter, getting about five to six backlit and distant shots.  I quickly enlarged the largest of the bunch and immediately I recognized a raptor.  It looked like a Crested Goshawk.  I took a shot of my LCD screen and sent it to a couple of people.  Rob Hutchinson replied that it was a Chinese Sparrowhawk!  Lifer! Another unexpected one!

Chinese Sparrowhawk, Lifer!!!

After the appearance of the Sparrowhawk, the Black-crowned Night Herons came alive.  All of a sudden, several of them were flying about.  Perhaps they sensed the presence of a predator?  One of them even perched on top of one of the concrete posts as if to stand guard.  They were a bit too far for me to get good shots.  In any case I have plenty of good Heron shots.  The crakes were also starting to come out more and nearer to me. A larger bird also popped out of the vegetation.  From the head and the eyes, I knew it was a bittern.  At first, I thought, Yellow Bittern because one just flew by and landed somewhere to my right.  But when its body came out, it was too dark to be the Yellow but too brownish to be the Black Bittern.  That left Cinnamon but it did not seem "reddish" enough. I continued taking shots and had a sudden thought that it might be the rarer Schrenk's Bittern.  I quickly googled images of it and my heart started beating faster again at the possibility of another unexpected lifer.  Took a photo of my LCD and sent it again to Rob.  Who quickly answered back, Cinnamon. Not giving up on a potential lifer and that Rob may be wrong (hey, he is human ✌), I sent it to several others namely Djop Tabaranza, Rommel Cruz, Lisa Paguntalan, Cheta Chua, Anre Kuiz, even Desmond Allen. All of them eventually said Cinnamon. 😟😟😟.  Well Cheta was not sure because he said it was not his expertise.  So Cinnamon it is!

(My almost Schrenk) Cinnamon Bittern

My last shot of my almost lifer 😆

It was getting dark by 5:30pm so I decided to leave, content with the day's catch.  And on a whim, I decided to pass by Megamall to buy cupcakes for Lorna and the kids.  Got home a little after 7pm and had an enjoyable dinner with the family.  Thank you Lord for your blessings!

Friday, September 17, 2021

An Unexpected Lifer

Last Sunday morning, September 11, we went to a birding patch somewhere in Imus, Cavite.  Our target was the Asian Blue Quail (if you go by Desmond's new book) or Blue-breasted Quail (if you follow the older Kennedy guide).  Whatever the name is, birders know what bird I am referring to. Said bird was seen and photographed in this site several months ago.  There were one or two subsequent sightings.  So full of hope, Ed Santos and I met up with Romz Lopez somewhere in Imus.

Upon our arrival, we saw several birds - Cattle Egrets, Brown Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Oriental Skylark, Zebra Dove, and Spotted Dove. One bird sprung out of the grass and flew across and around us.  I was able to let out one burst of maybe five to six shots and got two decent ones.


Looking at the LCD screen of my camera, I knew away that it was a Snipe.  But knowing how difficult it is to correctly identify a Snipe, I mentally filed it as another "Snipe sp" entry.

We continued to wait.  Romz said he could hear our target bird making a call.  And it did make a couple of appearances but true to its nature, it was very difficult to get a decent photo.  Sharing two of my better shots.  These are severely cropped, enlarged, denoised, and sharpened. And still, one can hardly distinguish the bird.  Romz, who was nearer and has sharper eyes, said it was the male.  Birder friend Conrad Olayres is disputing its gender because not much blue is visible.  In any case, I am not yet including this in my Life List, although technically, I already could (some even list with just hearing the call).  So the search for the Blue Quail continues...

Blurry image of what we believe is the Blue-breasted Quail

The unexpected twist to this story happened when I sent my photo of the flying Snipe to Rob Hutchinson for ID.  I was expecting that he would say that it was difficult to ID without having the bird in hand.  I sent it late last night and didn't read his reply until this morning. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when he said that said bird is a Common Snipe.  Lifer 9 for 2021; #321 for the Philippine List and #461 over-all.  Yay!!!


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Bitter(n) no more

There are three somewhat common bitterns found in the Philippines - Yellow, Cinnamon, and Black. There are others, such as the Schrenk's Bittern, but this is more rare. Of the first three, the last is the most elusive.  I have previously seen it in different locations but no decent photos. I even went to the Total Station along NLEX twice just to be able to get a photo of this bird.  But each try always ends in bitterness (pun intended).  So when several birders started posting photos of the Black Bittern taken somewhere in Taytay, Rizal, (which is only 30 minutes from where I live), it was something worth checking.  But our friend delta started running amuck so I postponed it.  Finally got the courage to go this morning.  Fellow WBPP member Eugene Garme (Ugin Bxu in FB), offered to meet me at Tropical Hut at 6:30am.

I left the house before 6am and stopped by a gas station along Ortigas.  After refueling, my car won't start. Fortunately there was a mechanic who was able to help me fix it.  However, it caused about a 10-15 minute delay.  Then waze sent me to another Tropical Hut.  So I had to call Eugene for directions.  Finally found him a little 7am.  We convoyed and arrived at the site a little before 8am.  After the usual greetings punctuated by a fist bump, we went to the road side area and waited for our target bird. We of course observed proper health protocols including social distancing or what Loel Lamela calls "galit-galit" birding.  After about forty minutes, our target bird appeared. 

Here ate three of the images that I was able to create.

Black Bittern

Ever the greedy birder, I am planning to go back to get more and better shots.  Hopefully soon 😄

Other birds seen were: Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Little Egret, White-browed Crake, Brown Shrike, Crested Myna, and the ever present ETS.  

Big thank you to Eugene for taking time to accompany me.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

An Armchair Tick and an HDD Lifer

An armchair tick refers to "an addition without leaving one's home, typically as a result of a taxonomic change." In plain english, it means that a new species was created by splitting it from an existing one (taxonomic change).  Thus a birder is able to add a new species to his list without actually going out to bird.  I have previously experienced this in 2014.  On February 8th of that year, I birded at Bangkong Kahoy and one of my 12 (😲) lifers that day was the White-throated Kingfisher.  Later that year, I saw the same bird at Penang, Malaysia.  I included it among the list of species I saw/photographed that day but I did not count it as a lifer because I had already seen it previously at Bangkong Kahoy.  A few months after this, the White-throated Kingfisher in the Philippines was split and declared a new species by one of the organizations that maintain World Bird Lists (I think it was Clements).  This new endemic species was called the Brown-breasted Kingfisher. Because of this, I gained a new lifer, the Brown-breasted KF (which I saw in BK, DRT, and Baras). However, since I also saw the White-throated Kingfisher in another country, I kept said bird in my list.

About three weeks ago, I learned from fellow Palawan birder, Erickson Tabayag that there were three new recognized Palawan endemics, (this time, I think IOC did the split).  One of these is the Palawan Crow, split from Slender-billed Crown.  This became an armchair tick for me. However, it was not an addition to my overall lifer count because Palawan Crow only replaced Slender-billed Crow in the list unless of course I can find the latter in any of my trip reports outside of Palawan. Yes, I make a list of the birds I saw after every sortie.  It is kept in a small black notebook (now two notebooks), and later copied to an excel file. I wonder which birding mentor I copied this from... hmmm...

Anyway, the prospect of a potential lifer led me to scour my birding notebooks and hard drives all the way back to my pre-birder days (2010), in search of a record, any record, of the Slender-billed Crow seen or photographed outside of Palawan.  But nada, zip, zero.  I sent all the photos I could find to Maia Tanedo, Djop Tabaranza, and Rommel Cruz, but all of them IDéd these as Large-billed Crow. 😡😡😡.  The main problem was, when we bird, we do not usually pay attention to the crows, so no photos, not even listed.  😢😢😢 

Last night's search led me to bird photos from my family's November 2018 Japan trip.  While checking the internet if the Slender-billed Crow occurs in Japan (it doesn't), I learned that there were two species of crow in that country, namely, Large-billed Crow (Ssp japonensis), and Carrion Crow.  This prompted another frantic search in my Japan files if I was able to capture a Carrion Crow.  Towards midnight, I found a photo of a crow that looked different. Not wanting to disturb any Filipino birder (due to the late hour), I decided to message Rob Hutchinson, thinking that he was still in the UK (which is seven hours behind).  He replied a little past 1am saying that he was back in Manila (patay!).  I apologized for waking him up but he said he was experiencing jetlag.  So I asked him to confirm the ID of these four:

Shinjuku Park, Tokyo, Nov 4, 2018

Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo, Nov 5, 2018

Hida Takayama, Nov 2, 2018

Hida Takayama, Nov 3, 2018

As expected the bird in the first three photos were Large-billed Crows on account of their beak and the glossy blue-black shoulder.  I pointed out that the bird in the last photo had a different beak (shorter and smaller) and that the feathers seemed different. (But I also knew that my eyes may be playing tricks on me and I am seeing things that aren't).  Rob's reply came after several agonizing minutes... (probably just seconds but the suspense was killing me....) ....

"I agree on the 4th bird, the bill is smaller and more pointed, it has feathering extending out into the top of the bill and the head is more neatly rounded, I think that is Carrion Crow" 

Yehey!!!   And with that I got to add a tick to my over-all life list.  Meanwhile, the search for the Slender-billed Crow (and other lifers), shall continue in the real world.

Thank you to all who helped me add this lifer -  from Erickson to Maia, Djop, Rommel, and finally, Rob!

Note: in researching for this blogpost, I looked at the different Bird Lists (IOC, Clement, HBW, Birdlife) and true enough these lists do not exactly match.  I realize that for consistency, one should only follow one list.  I also realized that my personal list does not adhere to just one (hahaha).  But that is another issue to tackle in the future.  For now, I will bask in the joy of adding a lifer from my second favorite country while confined to my mancave at home.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Unexpected Lifers: Not one but two

As I have previously written in this space, we went to Infanta last July 10 to shoot the Luzon Scops Owl chick and the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove.  While waiting for the parent owl to show up, a mixed flock arrived and I started shooting these busy little birds.  It was composed of the usual Infanta suspects - Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Blue-headed Fantail, Citrine Canary Flycatcher, and Philippine Bulbul. At least that's what I thought until I started going over the photos one by one last July 17 and came across the photo below, which I thought was a Philippine Bulbul. I was in my mancave in our basement and my guidebooks were in our bedroom two floors up.  Not wanting to run upstairs, I used my phone to take a photo of my computer screen and sent it to Loel Lamela, Cheta Chua, and Djop Tabaranza.  All three replied within a few minutes to say that it was a Black-crowned Babbler with Cheta saying it looked like a juvenile.  

Black-crowned Babbler, Lifer # 7 for 2021; #457 overall

Two days later, July 19, while still basking in my unexpected lifer, I was surprised to see a photo of a Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, posted by Cecil Morella on the Birdwatch Community Facebook page.  Reading through the comments, it seemed that the bird was in LMEP that morning, so I commented "LMEP?" just to make sure. It was Cheta who sent me a PM saying it that said bird was indeed in LMEP that day.  I glanced at my watch thinking if I could still go there.  But it was past 5pm, and raining. 😠😠😠.  This bird belongs to my "Birding Bucket List"  (or Bakit List, as we are fond of saying), and its just here in LMEP!  I couldn't wait!!!!!!

Several minutes later, Ed Santos sent a message about the same bird and we both decided to go the following morning.  After confirming with Ed, I suddenly realized that I had to accompany Lorna, my wife, to the lab for some blood tests the following morning(!).  Needless to say, it was already 10am when I got to LMEP and found Ed Santos, Steve Albano, Loel Lamela, Henrick Tan, and Delio Tolosa waiting for the Rufous Paradise Flycatcher.  They already had photos.  In fact, some other birders had already left.  An Ashy Thrush flew to a nearby tree and they told me there was a Spotted Wood Kingfisher in the area.  Not wanting to be distracted from my potential lifer, I ignored both.  And within a fifteen minutes of my arrival, Ed's new driver, called our attention and we scooted to his location. And just like that, I ticked off another lifer, a big one at that!

Northern Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Lifer # 8 for 2021; 458 overall

This was among my first three shots of the day and I think it is the best of the lot.  I still have to scour the rest of my photos though.  But, I believe another trip to LMEP is necessary.  After all, it is a rare bird... 😀.

Thank you Lord for these two unexpected Lifers.  And thank you for the fun time with my fellow WBPP mates.  


Monday, July 12, 2021

Chasing Lifers: Another Owl...

A couple of weeks ago, Mary, the daughter of Kamote, the Infanta bird guide, messaged me that her father found an owl.  Not knowing what kind of owl and not wanting to waste a trip to Infanta, I replied asking what kind of owl but I never got a reply from her.  Knowing that Loel Lamela, my Team Culion teammate in 2019, frequented Infanta, I messaged him about it.  His reply to me was a shot of his camera LCD screen.  It turned out that he was there at that time shooting said bird.  My heart started beating faster when he said it was a Luzon Scops Owl.  I looked at the Kennedy Guide and Desmond Allen's new book to check if Loel's ID was correct.  To be sure I sent it to Djop Tabaranda and Maia Tanedo.  Djop said it looked like Luzon Scops Owl and not Philippine Scops Owl because of the yellow eyes, but he was not 100% sure.  I sent Loel's photo to Desmond and he said he could not be sure 

It took me another three days (June 29th), before I could find time to go to Infanta. Loel told me to be there by six am or earlier but as (bad) luck would have it, I slept late and woke up almost five am!  As a result I arrived at Kamote's house around 7:30am, was at the site by 7:40, and got my sixth lifer for 2021 before 8am.  Stayed only till 10am and was home before 1pm. If only all sorties could be that easy...

Here are the images I was able to create: 

Luzon Scops Owl, parent. Lifer #6 for 2021; #456 overall

Aside from my lifer, I was also blessed with a photo opportunity for two other birds that I have no decent photos todate - the Tawny Grassbird and the Philippine Fairy Bluebird.

Tawny Grassbird

Philippine Fairy Bluebird

The second sortie

The shot that I was pining for was that of the parent Luzon Scops Owl with its chick.  So being a greedy bird photographer 😁😁😁, I decided to go back eleven days after my first sortie. I had two main targets for this trip, namely, a mother and chick photo of the Luzon Scops Owl (or at least the chick), and the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove.  The latter is not a lifer anymore, having seen it at Infanta in 2018, but I still did not have a good photo of it.  This was actually my main target for the day. 

Our party included Ed Santos, Steve Albano, Win Paler, and Homer Pialda (who was birding for the first time since our Canarem trip on January 29).  We set out early and hoped to be at the site by 6am or earlier but as the saying goes, all the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry... we got to the owl site past 6:30am.  In any case, I left the group at the owl site and went in search of my main target for the day, the Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove.

I found the fruiting tree described by Loel with almost no difficulty.  As I got out of the car, Adri and Trinket Constantino passed by and we waved at each other and they drove on.  Using my bins, I scanned the tree and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw my target bird contentedly perched on top of one of the clumps (of berries).  And my camera was still in the car!!!  I slowly and quietly opened the car door and carefully reached for my camera which was on the passenger seat, didn't close the door for fear that it will spook the bird and using my car's hood as support, fired a few bursts as insurance.  Then I went to the back of the car to get my tripod, walked carefully back to the front, set up camera, and fire away.  

Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove

After a few minutes, the bird went inside the tree canopy.  I decided to go back to the owl site where I found the group waiting for the parent to appear.  They all asked me what I was able to photograph.  After seeing my photo of the Fruit Dove, Steve and Wins decided to go and check it out.  Homer had earlier left for Kamote's house and bird there.  Ed opted to stay since he wanted to photograph the parent bird.  Unlike my previous sortie when I did not see the chick at all, this time it was there on full display. Here is one of my shots.

Luzon Scops Owl chick

After about half an hour, I left Ed at the site and went back to the Fruit Dove area.  The bird had appeared while I was gone but it was not visible when I arrived.  Steve went back to the owl site.  Wins then found the Fruit Dove somewhere inside the tree under some leaves.  And with some maneuvering, (which included shooting in the middle of the road),  we were able to get views of its full body. 

Yellow-breasted Fruit Dove

The rest of the day was spent waiting for the owl and going back to check on the dove but since it was raining intermittently, there were not many photo opportunities.  Although at the owl site, a mixed flock featuring the usual suspects would come every now and then. Not even a sumptuous lunch of Ed's magic adobo could bring out the birds. Maybe I should have brought some Dr Pepper in can...hmmmm

It was while having lunch at Hungry Tummy that we bumped into and had a short and pleasant chat with other birders, namely, Trinity Gatuz, Linda Gocon and Bambi Martinez, whom we met for the first time. 

Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to leave at around 4:10pm.  Homer had left earlier because his son had a meeting while the rest of the group left around 5pm.  I went home happy and contented that I got both my targets for the day despite the rain. However, as with any WBPP sortie, getting the birds is only half the story.  A big part of a successful trip is because of the camaraderie and fellowship that has become a WBPP trademark (including all the jokes and wisecracks 😆😆😆). 

Thank you Lord for another safe and successful birding trip.