Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pandan Island, Mindoro - 23rd to 30th December

We stayed at Pandan Island for a week over Christmas as a family holiday. The island has been run as a resort for 20 odd years, and there is no hunting so many of the birds are completely habituated to man. Tabon Scrubfowl and Emerald Dove in particular wander around like chickens, getting under your feet almost, unlike their behaviour everywhere else. Several Pied Fantail also haunt the bar and chalets, even coming into the bathroom when I was on the loo! Birdlife is prolific (certainly in comparison with the rest of The Philippines), and some of it is very interesting. The Mindoro Bulbul (recently split from Philippine Bulbul) is common, as are Great-eared Nightjars which hawk insects every night over the trees. Other common birds included Philippine Cuckoo Dove, Koel, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, Pied Triller, Black-naped Oriole. Birds seen less frequently were Barred Rail, Plain Bush-hen, Brown-headed Thrush, Tawny Grassbird (ssp. mindorensis), Peregrine, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Olive-backed Sunbird.

The highlight however was the Hooded Pitta (ssp. sordida) that showed amazingly well behind the Divemaster's house. He'd spoken to me a day or so previously about a "green bird with a black head" that he'd seen. I got very interested at this, though tempered my enthusiasm with the knowledge that non-birders are crap at describing birds. I let myself into his hut at 6:30 one morning, settled into the rocking chair and played the call of Hooded Pitta I had on my ipod. The response was immediate, a gorgeous Hooded Pitta flew straight at me, then veered off into a bush. I played cat-and-mouse with it for a while, getting brief but excellent views. The next day (27 Dec) I set myself up again, but this time the bird sat in the open for at least a minute, allowing me to take some decent photographs.

On the 28th we went on a diving trip to Apo Reef. It was absolutely fantastic from a diving perspective, but the birding was a little slower. The island itself is supposed to contain Nicobar Pigeon, but as I had half an hour to find them, starting at 1:45pm I was out of luck. I did find lots of Barred Rails (wandering around like the Tabon Scrubfowl on Pandan) and the aurora race of Olive-backed Sunbird, which was a surprise as it is supposed to be limited to Palawan.

Seabirds were conspicuous by their absence in general, with some notable exceptions. A raft of Streaked Shearwaters on the way out was nice, as was my first Black-headed Gull in The Philippines, which followed us for a mile or so. On the way back several birds flew past at distance, including Swift Tern, Brown Booby and Pomarine Skua.

Tabon Scrubfowl in action. Common and confiding on Pandan, they are very elusive elsewhere.

Pied Fantail monitoring action in the bar

Mindoro Bulbul. Similar size and structure to the Philippine Bulbul, it lacks a lot of the reddish pigment in the head and throat, appearing almost salt-and-pepper on the head. It also has a very different call, and seems more tolerant of degraded habitat

Juvenile Koel

Emerald Dove. Amazing birds, and really easy to get close to here.

Hooded Pitta (ssp. sordida). Fabulous!

Juvenile Plain Bush-hen. Seen once outside the divemaster's house, this is an odd sighting.

Black-naped Oriole. Known to the locals as the Papaya-eater

Pied Triller. Very common here

Philippine Cuckoo-Dove. Several sightings on most mornings

A small lizard on Apo Reef. There can't be many herps on this island!

Barred Rail, also very confiding on Apo Reef

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas week at IRRI

I've never been on the farms for this, the last ADUC period of the year, so was keen to get a really good day list on Tuesday. The weather co-operated with the first sunny day in weeks, and the birds were great. An early highlight was a pair of Tawny Grassbirds sunning themselves in an obscure corner of the main experimental farm. I've never seen them on IRRI land before, the normal site is at the start of the DTRI track, so this was an auspicious start. As I was watching them a Yellow Bittern popped out of the reeds behind, my first in a couple of weeks. The Peregrine was in its usual spot high on a pylon in the main fields (it, or a second bird zoomed past me late in the morning as well). Another unusual sight was the Slaty-breasted Rail which showed itself again in almost the same spot as last week.

Wednesday was similarly bright, but with few extra birds. A pair of Grey-faced Buzzards were high over the upland farm, and a Common Kingfisher was also new.

I'll be away on Pandan Island from tomorrow for a week, so the next bulletin will be on 30th or 31st. Hopefully I'll get some interesting birds over Christmas! Merry Christmas to whoever's reading this...

Peregrine, still present at the farms and using the pylons on a regular basis.

A pair of Grey-faced Buzzard high over the upland farm on Wednesday morning. The higher of the two shows a strong white supercilium, a feature of juveniles of this species.

The juvenile again from a different angle

A big surprise on Tuesday morning was the sight of a pair of Tawny Grassbirds in the open on the main farm. I've only ever seen them at the DTRI farm before (where the Buttonquail track is). This bird posed nicely, and even did a bit of sun bathing, getting the rays to those hard to reach spots (below)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Week ending 19th December - IRRI, Makiling

A squally week in Los Banos, with rain and drizzle most days. On Tuesday I got down to the fields, and had both Common Kestrel and Peregrine on the upland farms, which was a nice surprise. I went looking for Clamorous Reed warbler for the ADUC, and on my way there two birds on the track gave me pause, The first was Buff-banded Rail, so I almost didn't look at the second, assuming it was part of a pair, good thing I did as it was my first Slaty-breasted Rail in over a month. The long grass has been cut so Clamorous Corner was dead, but a nearby patch of reeds looked promising. I pished once and a large acro popped up straight away. Not the Clamorous though, Oriental Reed warbler, quite a rarity here.

Wednesday I repeated the plan and this time the Clamorous Reed Warbler appeared on cue. Not much else though.

The Christmas holidays started on Friday, but I was laid up all day with a cricked neck. Got out early on Saturday though, and drove as far up Makiling as I could go, intending to walk to Peak 2. I rarely get so high, particularly early morning, so was hopeful of something new. Sadly the day was dominated by drizzle, mist, mud and leeches. Best birds were probably Yellow-bellied Whistlers.

Long-tailed Shrike. Still one of my favourites.

Cattle Egret, following the farm machinery around. Should really be called a Plough Egret.

I still haven't identified this properly, but if it isn't called a Green-headed Skink then it ought to be

A lovely engorged Leech on my big toe after my yomp up Makiling. I'd found and dislodged the three on my face and neck, but the one that crawled into my shoes and attached itself to my big toe escaped me until I got home

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week ending 12th December - IRRI

Monday I tried for the nightjars again. This time there was no sight or sound of the Philippine Nightjar, but a single Great-eared Nightjar appeared. I haven't heard this bird call anywhere here yet, but this is the third time I've seen it. Another bash on Thursday produced the same result. Maybe I was lucky last week?

Several Intermediate Egrets about, as well as Cattle and Little. No Great Egrets at all at the moment. Sunday produced another Common Kestrel, this time on the main farm, and a pair of Kentish Plovers there too, an earlier record than in previous years.

ADUC records this week. Great-eared Nightjar, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Kentish Plover

Buff-banded Rail on the upland farm

A pair of Barred Buttonquail dust-bathing on the upland farm

A Tree Frog chilled-out in the plant outside my front door

Barn Swallow most likely to be ssp. gutturalis (buff to white belly, as against cinnamon for saturata, the two recorded races in The Philippines. Other races are likely to occur however)

Kentish Plover ssp dealbatus. The first record this winter at IRRI, and the first winter record I've had before January

Intermediate Egret, ssp. intermedia. The tiny black tip to the bill is distinctive in this Asian race

Little Egret 

Paddyfield Pipit

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Week ending 5th December - IRRI, Makiling

Not an easy week to get into the fields, as exams are approaching and work-time is starting to encroach on birding time. Nevertheless a couple of nice afternoons with an hour or two to spare. Not much new, bar a single Common Kestrel on the 1st, but the Clamorous Reed Warbler corner on the upland farm is humming! Also nearby the rank growth is attracting Lesser Coucal and Bright-capped Cisticola (both pictured below), the latter in breeding dress and looking very smart. Lots of Whiskered Terns about, and the enormous flock of Grey Wagtails is still present, again on the upland farms.

Sunday I awoke having dreamed of seeing a juvenile Cream-bellied Fruit-Dove. I took this as an omen and did the lower part of the Makiling trail. Amazingly my dream proved to be somewhat propitious as I did find a new dove for the site, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove! I'd read reports of these being seen here, but as they are pretty large, have a very distinctive call, and are not particularly shy I'd assumed that my not having seen or heard them was a sign that everyone else was stringing White-eared Brown Doves. Not so! The bird flew across the path behind me, sat in the open(ish) for several minutes looking at me, then moved to another branch a little further away, before finally disappearing after a good 4 or 5 minutes. An extraordinary record, and one that just goes to show... something or other. The rest of the trail was fairly quiet. A Philippine Serpent Eagle was perched over the trail, a flowering vine had attracted Lovely, Flaming and Plain-throated Sunbirds as well as Philippine Bulbul, Philippine Hanging Parrot (Colasisi) and Black-naped Monarch, and two Bar-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes were at TREES lodge, along with a small flock of Ashy Minivets.

ADUC records so far for early December: Common Kestrel, Lesser Coucal, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Bright-capped Cisticola, White-bellied Munia

Bright-capped Cisticola in breeding plumage. Small numbers on the upland farms, mainly in rank grass. Possibly only one or two pairs.

Juvenile Lesser Coucal

Philippine Cuckoo-Dove. ssp tenuirostris. This appears to be a male (no fine barring on collar). The second photograph shows (faintly due to poor light) the metallic gloss on the collar, which is indicative of males.

Scale-feathered Malkoha. A distant view in not-very-good light, but still a magnificent bird

Male Philippine Hanging Parrot (Colasisi). spp philippensis. The only race on Luzon, philippensis have a red forehead and forecrown, and the males have a red patch on the throat to the upper breast

Grey-streaked Flycatcher. A common winter visitor, this one was outside my house at ISH.