Tuesday, December 27, 2011

IRRI and environs - Christmas week 2011

A quiet week birding-wise. The farms are pretty wet, with all the rice harvested so lots of open, flooded paddies being prepared for the new rice crop. Not much on them bar the usual Wood Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers. The Peregrine is still on station, and Yellow and Grey Wagtails are scattered throughout. There are plenty of Intermediate and Cattle Egrets and Whiskered Terns hanging around the crews preparing the fields.

Juvenile Grey Wagtail
Long-tailed Shrike. One bird on the lowland farms on Tuesday, an unusual occurrence.
 Whiskered Tern

An extremely muddy Carabao

Up at IRRI staff housing on Tuesday a quick walkabout produced a good crop, with Red-keeled and Striped Flowerpeckers, Olive-backed and Plain-throated Sunbirds, Philippine Woodpecker, White-throated Kingfisher, Grey-streaked Flycatcher and Philippine Honey Buzzard high overhead.

Red-keeled Flowerpecker 
 Philippine Honey-Buzzard
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon gularis, Another recent split from White-breasted Kingfisher, Halcyon smyrnensis.
Golden Birdwing

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Negros, Dumaguete - 21st December

My last day birding on Negros so I went back to the mountain for the Babbler I'd missed on day 1. Birding started slow, with one flock low down. We followed it down to the riverbed, but lost it there. The riverbed was a scene of devastation. The entire bed had been scoured out, resulting in a lowering of the river by up to a couple of metres in places.

Clearly a huge quantity of mud and rocks have been scoured out of this riverbed, pity the folks living downstream...

After casting around for a bit we started back up the trail. Immediately a small group of Sunbirds showed themselves on the coconut flowers, Purple-throated Sunbird, and finally Crimson Sunbird. A truly stunning looking bird.

Further up the trail towards the start we settled down to wait. It took a while (at least an hour) but eventually another flock came through. At first there were Blue-headed Fantail (of the white-bellied local race albiventris) and an Elegant Tit (ssp. albescens), then a Philippine Tailorbird (ssp. rabori), Balicassiao (ssp. mirabilis), Visayan Bulbul and White-vented Whistler. Finally a Flame-templed Babbler! It only showed a couple of times, but what a fantastic bird!

Balicassiao, ssp. mirabilis 
Male Crimson Sunbird, a stunner!
Visayan Bulbul. I think this must be a young bird as most of those I saw were indistinguishable from the Philippine Bulbul with plenty of red on the head. The call of these is quite different though, much more musical.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Siquijor - 20th December

A day on a lovely island just to the east of Negros. It has a little forest left, surrounding a mountain in the middle, and I headed here. One of the first birds was a Streak-breasted Bulbul (ssp. siquijorensis), my main target species. With the Cebu race now almost extinct, and the Tablas race split, this may be the only place in the world to find this not-as-boring-as-I-expected Bulbul. I continued onwards, and was rewarded with loads of Yellow-bellied Whistlers (ssp. siquijorensis) and two Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers (ssp. besti). Siquijor has a total of 5 endemic taxa, the three mentioned already, plus the probably extinct siquijorensis race of Colasisi, and the siquijorensis race of Everett's White-eye. Seeing 3 out of a possible maximum of 4 isn't bad for two hours birding! Other birds included Emerald Dove, Glossy Swiftlet and Pygmy Swiftlet.

I had lunch at a beach resort, and had lots of Asian Glossy Starlings and a female Philippine Magpie-Robin.

Yellow-bellied Whistler. ssp. siquijorensis 
Female Philippine Magpie-Robin 
Green Lizard on a coconut palm at Coco Grove.

Negros, Canaway - 19th December

Another early start as we headed south and west of Dumaguete city towards Canaway Forest. Two bumpy hours on the back of a motorbike later, we stopped and Rene once again produced some magic, whistling up a fantastic Visayan Shama. The calls of the Shamas are so varied that I hesitate to suggest the call is different from the White-browed from which it has been split. The plumage differences are clear though, with no white wing-bar, and no rufous rump.

From there we continued on the bikes, finally reaching the end of the road, and the start of the hike. Deforestation here has been severe, and we had to climb for a couple of hours in the sun before we reached the edge of the forest, at about 1300m. Birding here was thin. The sun was high, and the wind was strong on the ridges, so the birds were relatively inactive. Rene raised himself still further in my estimation when, out of this unpromising situation, he whistled up a small flock. Initially it had only Elegant Tit and Montane White-eye, but eventually the two Negros Striped Babblers with them showed themselves. Fantastically tough birds to get, this is one of the few spots left for them, and the prognosis for the future doesn't look good.

On the way down Glossy Swiftlet, Philippine Swiftlet, Pygmy Swiftlet, Striated Swallow, Barred Buttonquail.

 Visayan Shama
Montane White-eye, ssp. pectoralis. The yellow stripe down the belly distinguishes this race. Interestingly there seems to be an error in Kennedy et al, Birds of the Philippines, where this subspecies is called pectoralis in the species description, but nigrorum in the short blurb on the page adjacent to the illustration. The latter name I believe refers to the Yellowish White-eye, Zosterops nigrorum.

The Montane White-eye is separated from the Lowland White-eye by the greyer underparts (particularly the flanks), and the dark spot under the eye.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Negros, Dumaguete - 18th December

A quick trip to Negros, almost scuppered by a typhoon which swirled in late in the week, dumping huge amounts of water, with the heaviest fall being early Saturday morning. All appeared to be clear by the time Sunday dawned and Rene picked me up with a motorbike for a trip to Twin Lakes, the premier spot in this area. The road goes throught the mountains, and what with deforestation and all, the road was blocked by landslides.

The first two we could walk over...

 ... but the third...

This meant a rethink of the whole trip. Rene suggested going for the Flame-templed Babbler at a site closer to Dumaguete city, so that's what we did. The only bird of note by the landslides was a Visayan Bulbul, a recent split from the Philippine Bulbul complex.

The site is near an undistinguished coconut grove. A short scramble down the nearby gully, and we were in a little patch of very nice forest. As with all the remaining forest in this country it was on a steep slope, but the birds were calling. On the way down we had a gorgeous male Spotted Wood Kingfisher, of the Visayan race moseleyi. In the forest itself Rene expertly whistled up the Babbler, which responded, but refused to show itself. While waiting we had views of White-vented Whistler and the local white-bellied race of Balicassiao, mirabilis.

Male Spotted Wood Kingfisher, A. l. moseleyi. Differs from the Luzon race (A. l. lindsayi) in black (not green) fringes to back and wing feathers, sadly not visible in this picture.
The Visayan endemic race of Balicassiao, D. b. mirabilis. The white belly clearly visible here...

Aside from Blue-headed Fantail and Black-naped Monarch nothing else was moving, so we headed to Rene's house. He has started a kind of Visayan endemic arboretum, and this attracts lots of birds, specifically the Visayan Flowerpecker which showed well after some searching. Other birds there included Arctic Warbler, Purple-throated Sunbird and Olive-backed Sunbird. After leaving Rene's I wandered about on the coast. A squeaking bush turned out to be full of Java Sparrows, and three Javan Pond Herons were on a small patch of swamp.

Visayan Flowerpecker (aka Black-belted Flowerpecker). A little stunner!
Male Olive-backed Sunbird
Not a bird, but it does fly! A Common Flying Lizard, showing its neck-flap
No sign of any yellow on the underparts of what I presume to be an Arctic Warbler.

Javan Pond Heron moulting out of breeding plumage?

Friday, December 9, 2011

San Juan - 10th December

Saturday saw a break in the monotonous daily rain this week, so I headed to the coast to try and find some migrants, specifically waders and ducks. The fish ponds at San Juan had no ducks, but a fair collection of common waders. Hundreds of Marsh Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts, fewer Pacific Golden Plovers and Greenshanks, and a handful of Common Sandpipers. On the beach only Kentish Plovers. Near the ponds a flock of Pink-necked Green Pigeons were much less bothered by me than previously, and sat out in the open.

Heron species included both Rufous Night-Heron and Black-crowned Night-heron, Green-backed Heron, Purple Heron and Great Egret.

Down on the beach I once again searched for Savannah Nightjar, and had basically given up and was heading back to the car when one flew out from practically under my feet. It landed close, and in the open, treating me to the best views I've ever had of this cracking species. Not only did it sit still long enough to be photographed, it also flushed a couple of times giving great flight views, and even called once when flushed.

 Pink-necked Green Pigeon, 2 males...
... one female...
... and more joining the party
 Rufous Night-Heron
 Black-crowned Night Heron
Savannah Nightjar of the endemic subspecies griseatus
Note the very short tail and the small white patch below the base of the bill. Huge white wing-spots and lots of white in the tail too, some of which is visible here. This bird actually called briefly when I flushed it the third time, first time I've heard it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Makiling - 3rd December

My third trip up the mountain in as many weeks, and this time I did it properly, starting from the bottom! A decent dawn chorus, with all the usual suspects, but the first birds to show themselves were a Purple-throated Sunbird and two Pechora Pipits, continuing the run of interesting migrants over the last few weeks. Higher up the birds were more confiding. Buzzing and Red-keeled Flowerpeckers were evident as were Colasisi and Guiabero, Red-crested and Scale-Feathered Malkohas. A massive bird party at about 9:00am included plenty of the more usual species, such as Elegant Tit, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Blue-headed Fantail, Philippine Woodpecker, Plain-backed Sunbird, Flaming Sunbird and Philippine Bulbul, along with slightly less common Yellow-bellied Whistler. Three separate Grey-backed Tailorbirds showed themselves today, a bird which I hear on a daily basis but rarely get to see. Several birds of the Arctic Warbler complex were also in the flock.

Back down at UPLB lots of Striated Swallows were flying low over the fields, in company with at least 3 House Swifts.

Earlier in the week (Friday) my early morning run had been enlivened by calling Philippine Nightjar, Philippine Scops Owl, and Philippine Hawk-Owl, a nice nocturnal triumvirate of endemics!

 Scale-feathered Malkoha
Fruit-Bat spp. I've never seen these here before. They form huge colonies in Subic and elsewhere, so this is either a different species which is more solitary, or an individual striking out for new territory.
Sulphur-billed Nuthatch

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Makiling - 26th Novermber

Another early start for a trip up Makiling, this time with visiting birder Eric Barnes. It was quite overcast, with rain at first, but that stopped before we got to the top. Pre-dawn several birds calling, including Philippine Hawk-Owl, White-browed Shama, and Spotted Wood-Kingfisher. The first birds to be visible were a pair of Luzon Flamebacks at Agila Camp, which disappeared quickly. Further up the trail the juvenile Red-bellied Pitta from last week was in the same spot.

Several small bird parties, particularly in the fruiting parasitic plants that are so abundant here. Sulphur-billed Nuthatch, Elegant Tit, Buzzing Flowerpecker, White-eared Brown Dove, Philippine Bulbul, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, Colasisi, Guiabero, Scale-feathered Malkoha and Red-crested Malkoha were all vocal and visible on the way up. A Philippine Serpent-Eagle showed briefly. A Luzon Hornbill was calling very excitedly, but failed to show itself, but a pair of nearby Philippine Trogons did show well. The light was too poor for clear photography sadly! Close to the main clearing another party of flowerpeckers, but this time including an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, my first in Luzon. The same subspecies as Mindoro, xanthopygium.

Not much at the clearing, barring more Buzzing Flowerpeckers, and a Red-keeled Flowerpecker so we headed down. On the way down another juvenile male Blue-and-White Flycatcher. A different bird from last weeks, much more blue this time.

Back at TREES lodge 9 Philippine Falconets on the dead tree, a personal record!

 Female Philippine Trogon
Juvenile male Blue-and-White Flycatcher. Supposedly a rare migrant, this is the third consecutive year the bird has turned up on Makiling, and the second in a week (last weeks had less blue). Almost certainly under-recorded.

A Terrapin spp. in the stream flowing through UPLB.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Philippine Flamebacks

N. J. Collar has published a paper in the most recent Forktail detailing a proposed split in the Greater Flameback complex, which is highly variable in the Philippines. I've only seen three, looks like a trip to Negros is warranted...

Luzon FlamebackChrysocolaptes haematribon. Luzon, Polillo, Marinduque, Catanduanes

Buff-spotted Flameback. Chrysocolaptes lucidus.
       C. l. rufopunctatus. Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Calicoan, Bohol, Panoan
       C. l. lucidus. Basilan, W. Mindanao
       C. l. montanus. C & E Mindanao, Samal

Yellow-faced FlamebackChrysocolaptes xanthocephalus. Ticao, Masbate, Guimares, Negros, Panay

Red-headed FlamebackChrysocolaptes erythrocephalus. Palawan, Balabac and Calamian group

In addition to these four the Palawan race of Common Flameback has also been split, creating yet another Philippine endemic woodpecker.

Spot-throated Flameback. Dinopium everetti. Balabac, Busuanga, Culion, Palawan

Red-headed Flameback. St. Paul's, Palawan, Jan 2011

An amazing looking bird, this is a female, the male has no yellow speckling on the crown.
Buff-spotted Flameback. C. l. montanus Kitanglad, Mindanao, Jan 2011

The most boring of the four! This is probably a juvenile male. The adult male has a striking red crest, and the female has no red on the crest, this has some red, but not as much as I'd expect from an adult.

Luzon Flameback. Makiling, Luzon, Nov 2011

Another splendid bird, the red back is quite striking. This is a female, the male has a red crest.

Makiling - 19th November

An excellent morning spent high up on Makiling. Few birds visible at first as usual, but plenty calling. Most raucous were the Luzon Hornbills, of which I saw a few. The first bird of note was a pair of Luzon Flamebacks on a dead tree, along with Coppersmiths. Nearby were a few Buzzing Flowerpeckers on the mistletoe they love so much. Also feeding on that were White-eared Brown Doves, very confiding today.

The weather was good, so up at station 14, where there is a campsite in a clearing I spent a good hour just waiting to see what would happen. A family of Philippine Falconets were perched out in the open, hunting grasshoppers. There were more Luzon Hornbills here, as well as several calling Philippine Coucals. Overhead were both Glossy Swiftlet and Pygmy Swiftlet. Several flocks of Philippine Bulbuls here, and a small bird party consisting of Yellowish White-eyes and several warblers of the Arctic Warbler complex. Typically, after last week finally ridding myself of a bogey bird in the shape of Green-backed Whistler (and confidently saying they didn't occur on Makiling) I had a party of 3 of them! A juvenile male Blue-and-white Flycatcher also showed briefly in this party, as well as Elegant Tit, Blue-headed Fantail and a female Narcissus Flycatcher. This last was very cryptic. Clearly not the Asian Brown Flycatcher I took it to be initially, I couldn't place it at all when I put the pictures on the computer. Thanks to Des Allen for help with the ID.

Heading back down I flushed a bird off the track which turned out to be a juvenile Red-bellied Pitta. It wasn't photographable (much too dark), but it hung around giving good views until I left it alone.

In the car on the way out of the reserve a male Spotted Wood Kingfisher flashed across the road, and perched on a branch, allowing me to get fantastic views. The light was less than brilliant, so the photos could have been better, but this is one of my favourite Philippine birds, and it really showed off!

Luzon Flameback, Chrysocolaptes haematribon. This is one of 4 'new' species of Flameback in The Philippines resulting from the long overdue splitting of Greater Flameback. This one is restricted to Luzon, Polillo, Marinduque and Catanduanes
 White-eared Brown Dove, ssp. leucotis.
 Philippine Falconets
 Philippine Bulbul
 Yellowish White-eye
Buzzing Flowerpecker of the greenish olive race obscurum
Grey Wagtail. In The Philippines closely associated with forests, particularly roads in forests

Spotted Wood-Kingfisher. This gorgeous male flew across the road in front of me and perched on a branch. paying me very little attention. A quite magnificent bird!

Female Narcissus Flycatcher. My first in The Philippines