Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tibsoc, Negros Occidental - 30 Dec

A flying visit to this excellent coastal site after a family holiday in Sipalay provided some fantastic birding. Star bird was definitely Nordmann's Greenshank. I found what I believe to be two separate birds. Combined with the sightings last winter (up to 3 seen during February 2013 by Rob Hutchinson et al) it looks like Tibsoc may be a regular wintering ground for this endangered wader.

The bulk of the waders comprised large flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Great Knots, with smaller numbers of many other species with them. Of particular interest were Asian Dowitcher, Chinese Egret, Red Knot and Caspian Tern. A full list of waterbirds were:

Chinese Egret (4)
Great Egret
Little Egret
Javan Pond Heron
Grey Plover
Pacific Golden Plover
Kentish Plover
Lesser Sand-Plover
Greater Sand-Plover
Far Eastern Curlew
Bar-tailed Godwit (20)
Black-tailed Godwit (1000+)
Common Redshank
Common Greenshank
Nordmann's Greenshank (2)
Marsh Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper (1)
Ruddy turnstone (3)
Asian Dowitcher (30)
Red Knot (3)
Great Knot (1000+)
Rufous-necked Stint
Curlew Sandpiper (50)
Black-headed Gull (3)
Caspian Tern (3)
Black-naped Tern
Great Crested Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern

In addition a trip to the fish-ponds on the opposite side of the national highway produced Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper and Long-toed Stints.

An excellent resource for planning a trip to this site is Christian Perez's report in the March 2013 issue of ebon. Faith Paas, mentioned in the ebon post was a fantastic guide and companion, going far out of her way to make me feel welcome, and showing me the various sites.

Nordmann's Greenshank. First spotted feeding actively beyond the mudflats at the sea shore, it moved a couple of times then disappeared.

A nearby Common Greenshank neatly illustrates the principal differences between the two similar species. Nordmann's has noticeably shorter, sturdier, yellower legs, a deeper based two-toned bill and an overall stockier appearance.
At the end of the morning as I was leaving the mudflats I found what looks to be a second Nordmann's Greenshank.
Great Knot were particularly numerous, with groups scattered throughout the mudflats.
A small number of Curlew Sandpipers were spread thinly amongst the flocks.
Small numbers of Red Knot can usually be found with the Great Knot in The Philippines.

The most numerous waders were Black-tailed Godwits.
Mixed in with the Black-tailed Godwits and Great Knot were a smaller number of Asian Dowitchers
Only a small number of Bar-tailed Godwits.
Far Eastern Curlew
3 Caspian Terns were in with the main tern flock on the sand-bar...
... along with a small number of Swift Terns
Presumed winter plumaged Javan Pond Heron. The status of the two species of Pond Heron (Javan & Chinese) in The Philippines is unclear to me. There has clearly been substantial range expansions of both species since the publication of Birds of The Philippines. Comments as the the identity of this bird would be welcome.
Chinese Egret

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bittern week at IRRI - week ending 21st Dec

A good week for bitterns. An interesting Yellow Bittern with very pale wing coverts got me excited for a while. Cinnamon Bitterns are easily seen in the ricefields, while a visit to the lakes on the upland farms produced a couple of more normally plumaged Yellow Bitterns.

Male Yellow Bittern with very pale wing coverts. After initially identifying this as Schrenk's I was gently corrected!
Adult Yellow Bittern with a more conventional wing pattern.

Female Cinnamon Bittern

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pectoral Sandpiper at IRRI - A first record for The Philippines

On 10th October 2013 while birding in the ricefields at IRRI I came across an interesting sandpiper. Medium sized, it at first glance appeared to be a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. I took a number of record shots for my blog, then continued on my birding day (see here). On 12th December I received a comment on my blog from a visitor (Tom Sacher of the German Rarities Committee (DAK)) that the bird may not be a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, but in fact looked like it was a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, previously unrecorded in The Philippines. I think he was right. With hindsight I wonder at my initial misidentification. A clear example of Inattentional Blindness.

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. 10th Oct 2013.

Pectoral Sandpiper (PSP) have an unmarked belly which is sharply demarcated from a streaked breast. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (STSP) have some dark markings along the flanks. The 10/10/13 bird shows clean flanks, and a sharply demarcated division between a white belly and streaked breast. It is impossible in this picture to see the full extent of the breast however.
This STSP from 29/08/11 shows the dark feathers on the flanks (in this case chevrons, indicating an adult coming out of breeding plumage), as well as the less distinct division between streaked breast and cleaner belly.

Without a clear view of the demarcation between breast and belly other features must be relied upon. A close examination of the head I think provides enough evidence for a confident identification.

PSP show a less distinct eye ring than STSP. They also have no rufous in the crown, which STSP usually does. STSP also have a darker and better defined band on the ear coverts. The base of the bill of PSP is yellowish brown or greenish brown, while STSP has a pinkish base to the bill. STSP has a whiter and more distinct supercilium. STSP also averages shorter bill and shorter neck than PSP, and with a slightly flatter crown.

The bird seen on 10/10/13 shows most of the features that correlate with PSP. The base of the bill is brownish, not pink. It does not have a prominent eye-ring or any rufous in the crown. There is no dark band on the ear coverts, and the supercilium, while fairly distinct, is not whitish. It also has a noticeably long-necked appearance

The STSP from 2011 showing a pale eye-ring, darker ear coverts, rufous crown, distinct whitish supercilium and paler (pinkish?) base to the bill.

It has a clearly split supercilium, a feature of PSP but not of STSP.

The clear ‘braces’ formed by the whitish fringes to the  edge of the mantle and upper scapulars are typical of juvenile PSP, though I have seen photographs of STSP with similar, though less distinct patterning.

One further feature separating PSP and STSP is primary projection. PSP has a long primary projection, on STSP it is usually shorter. The top picture here is the PSP from 10 Oct, and the lower picture is the STSP from 2011. Clearly the top bird has a noticeably longer primary projection.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Candaba - 7th Dec

After reports of several scarce migrants at Candaba over the last few weeks I met up with Mark B and Kitty to try our luck. Our first target was Siberian Rubythroat, several of which responded well to playback in the area around the Mayor's House. We soon enticed one into the open and it gave prolonged excellent views. Buoyed by this we then tried Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler in the same area which responded even faster! Our initial views of this fantastic bird were brief, but we were to do much better later on. Next up was a small flock of half a dozen or so White-shouldered Starlings, scarce migrants but regular at Candaba.

After this amazing start the birding tailed off somewhat. The flock of migrant ducks produced several hundred Tufted Duck, a scattering of Pintail, plus lots of Garganey, Shoveller and Philippine Duck. Wandering Whistling Duck were in the flooded grassy areas. Four Eurasian Coot were a nice addition to my Philippine list.

Waders were a little more distant, but still plentiful. The bulk were Black-winged Stilts of which there were thousands, but there were also plenty of Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper.

Fantastic views of this very obliging Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler. While they were all very responsive to playback, most birds stayed stuck deep in their cover, giving only brief views. This, the third bird we tried calling, was in reeds, and seemed a little more confident, showing well for a few seconds.

A more normal view of this classic skulker!
First up at dawn was this magnificent Siberian Rubythroat

Rare migrants, these Eurasian Coots were two of four birds present on the lake, my first in The Philippines.
Three of at least 6 White-shouldered Starlings which were near the Mayor's House.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Makiling Botanical Gardens - 6th Dec

 It's been a very quiet week on the farms, with almost no waders anywhere. A Friday afternoon walk at the Botanical Gardens produced this marvelous male Black-chinned Fruit-Dove.

I haven't seen these for at least a year or so on Makiling, and have never see any quite as confiding as this one.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday 24th Nov - IRRI

The fields at IRRI are being prepared for the next crop, and are at the ploughed and recently flooded stage. What it means is that the area of suitable habitat for migrant waders has changed from a handful of acres to several hundred in the space of a week. Birds are harder to find! The Green Sandpiper from Saturday never reappeared, and may have only stayed on the farm for a matter of minutes. While searching for it on Sunday morning I found more Temminck's Stints, in exactly the same fields as they've been appearing for the last few weeks. It's starting to look like a few birds have settled down in a spot they like. I think they move temporarily when disturbed by farming activities, but return when things get quiet.

There are also lots of Little Ringed Plovers everywhere at the moment. They seem to be associating in groups sorted by age, I'm not sure if they migrate like that, but they certainly seem to behave like that in the fields.

Apart from that the Peregrine has been showing itself regularly, and a Pacific Golden Plover was hiding in the long grass next to a ricefield on Sunday.

Up at IRRI staff housing a search for the Violet Cuckoo of Friday morning produced a Grey-faced Buzzard on Sunday, but no cuckoos sadly.

Adult Little Ringed Plover
Juvenile Little Ringed Plover. There are lots around at the moment, all apparently in flocks of similar aged birds. This group of a dozen or so were all first year birds, two fields down were 5 adults together.
Temminck's Stint (left) feeding with a Long-toed Stint.
Two fields over from the previous bird was this Temminck's Stint with a couple of Wood Sandpipers.
This may be a third, or the first bird after moving a few dozen metres.

Adult Cinnamon Bittern.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

19th - 22nd Nov - IRRI

On Tuesday flocks of several hundred wagtails were present on the upland farms. It seemed that over 90% of the flock were Grey Wagtails, with the rest being juvenile Yellow Wagtails.

Thursday saw a Grey Heron actually land in the fields, though it took off as soon as it saw me!

On Friday morning, while waiting for the bus to school at IRRI staff housing a gorgeous male Violet Cuckoo appeared in a nearby tree, giving stonking views for about 10 minutes, until it was chased off by a Colasisi. My first in the Philippines!

On Saturday afternoon I flushed a Green Sandpiper from a field on the upland farms. It went high and flew off towards the south-east, we'll see if I can find it again tomorrow...

One of hundreds of Grey Wagtails that arrived this week. They were mainly on the freshly ploughed fields that are being prepared for maize.
The Grey Heron that has been seen several times flying past has finally landed!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Week ending 17th Nov - IRRI

The weather brightened considerably this week, becoming very clear and sunny (and hot) by the end of the week. Thursday saw the arrival of a few migrants, including a Greenshank among the Wood Sandpipers etc. Richard and I decided to try and revisit the night-ringing plan from a couple of weeks ago, but this time during full moon. We were very confident that this time we'd strike gold, so our disappointment was even worse when we actually caught even fewer birds! The only bird trapped was a juvenile Painted Snipe, though we did get another bat. This one was one of the smaller insectiverous species, however we didn't get a photo sadly.

During the night we had a couple of flybys from a Grass Owl, as well as hearing at least 2 Philippine Scops Owls calling from nearby wooded areas.

In the morning the Peregrine was hunting at dawn, and a solitary Purple Heron flew in from the adjacent farm.

Juvenile male Painted Snipe


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sunday 10th Nov - IRRI

Not much about this morning. The weather was glorious, but most of the birds were either hiding or gone. An exception was a moulty Osprey flying low over one of the ponds. I'd be surprised if fish large enough to Interest him are in there, but you never know.

Osprey. Quite an unusual visitor to IRRI, though there is plenty of suitable habitat nearby. Human pressure must keep their numbers down I suppose.
Peregrine back on post.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Aftermath of Yolanda - 9th Nov 2013

Typhoon Yolanda passed us by to the south, and caused us almost no damage at all amazingly. The Visayas weren't so lucky I believe, haven't seen the pictures yet but 200mph winds are going to cause some damage...

On the farms the Temminck's Stints seem to have disappeared, along with the other waders from yesterday. While looking for them I was stunned to see a Black Drongo flush out of a bush in front of me, however it flew over the fields without stopping, and left the farm heading south. When I found two of these here on 15th Nov 2009 Tim Fisher told me that a few had been seen in recent years, though I haven't heard of any since that date. Those particular birds stayed on the farm all winter, finally leaving in March 2010, sadly this one doesn't seem likely to follow that pattern.

While searching for the Drongo a Grey Heron flew low overhead, but also continues south out of the farm.

Grey Heron. After not seeing any here for 5 years, I now have two sightings in little over a week!
Crested Myna. Less red and more orangey legs and eyes on this individual.