Saturday, January 26, 2013

Green-faced Parrotfinch at Samal - 27th January

An early start for a long twitch to Bataan province for Green-faced Parrotfinch. They were spotted on a farm near the town of Samal, and reported by a member of WBCP early last week. I was unable to try last week, so have endured the sensation known to all birders of hoping that the bloody things won't fly away! I eventually got to the site at about 8:00am, scrambled down the path to the area with the flowering bamboo, and the first birds I saw were the Green-faced Parrotfinch. Excellent!. There were about 20 birds in total, and they were totally unconcerned by the presence of myself and three other birders.

Like other Parrotfinches they are irruptive, with populations expanding rapidly when the bamboo flowers. At other times they are extremely elusive, and are restricted to forest above 1000m. When there is a flowering event however they'll come down to the lowlands like these ones. Most birders I've met in The Philippines had never seen them until this week, and it wouldn't surprise me if these were the only birds of this species I ever see.

The bamboo was in a valley which was very birdy in its own right. There were several large flowering trees, and other birds present included Coleto, Rufous-crowned Bee-eater, Philippine Bulbul, Philippine Coucal, Stripe-headed Rhabdornis, White-bellied Munia, Philippine Woodpecker, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, and far overhead a juvenile Rufous-bellied Eagle.

The bright green tones of the male, with a very bright red tail, with elongated central tail feathers.
This has a much duller red tail, and has a fairly pale fawn coloured undertail. Possibly a juvenile male?
Paler green underparts and a shorter tail on this female.
Another juvenile bird with a very tawny breast. Still with a green face though, and a pointed tail.
White-bellied Munia were also attracted to the bamboo seeds.
Juvenile Rufous-bellied Eagle

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Quarry Road, Bislig - 11th January

Our last day at Bislig started damply, but turned out to be the driest of all the days. It was still very overcast, with very poor light for most of the day, but some excellent birds were found.

It started with both Mindanao Hawk-Owl and Everett's Scops Owl calling from the steep sides of the quarry. We had tried to find owls at the usual stake-out without success. The quarry was more lively, but we had to settle for heard-only records. Other calling birds in the area included Great-eared Nightjar, Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon and Black-headed Tailorbird. The first bird definitively seen was a Hooded Pitta flushed off the trail close to our parking spot. We heard many of these, with up to 3 calling at once, but only got a glimpse of one. A little further on a Rufous-fronted Tailorbird was more obliging, responding well to playback. A portion of the track was flooded here, and we had to make a long and strenuous detour. As we were doing this we started to hear calling Rufous Hornbill, and when we broke into a clearing we had fantastic views as a pair of these incredible birds flew slightly to one side of us, perched, then flew almost directly overhead before returning to their original spot. The trees around this clearing also held a Barred Honey Buzzard, an Oriental Honey Buzzard and Scarlet Minivet (ssp. gonzalesi).

Soon after this we relocated the original trail, and headed towards the better forest. On the way we first heard and then saw a Yellowish Bulbul, which had been surprisingly elusive up until this point.

As we entered the better section of forest our first stop was for a Rufous-lored Kingfisher. The forest was really nice after this, quite dense. Several Yellow-breasted Fruit Doves were calling near here and we were very optimistic. By chance one of the photographers spotted a Steere's Pitta when we stopped for a breather, and when Zardo played the call it and 2 others nearby started to call quite insistently. In the end Richard and I saw a bird each very well, watching them for at least 10 minutes, a real corker!

By this time I was thinking it was time for a decent bird party, and almost by magic one turned up. The first inkling we had was the strident call of a Short-crested Monarch, an absolutely fantastic little bird. The flock contained both a male and a female, as well as Blue Fantail, male and female Rufous Paradise Flycatchers, Mindanao Pygmy Babbler, Yellowish Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Whistler, Orange-tufted Spiderhunter and a very elusive, apparently solitary Mindanao Wattled Broadbill.

After this triumph we headed back to the vehicle for lunch. While eating this we had 5 raptors soaring overhead, at least 3 of which were Oriental Honey Buzzards, and the others were probably Barred Honey Buzzards. We then dropped the photographers off to try and take pictures of the Southern Silvery Kingfisher. We found the bird easily enough for them, then headed off to a nearby area looking for fruiting trees. On the way we found a Pinsker's Hawk Eagle which was an unexpected bonus. At the next site we searched for doves and pigeons, hoping to catch up with Amethyst Brown Dove. No luck there, though we did add Emerald Dove and Philippine Green Pigeon to our trip list.

By this time it was getting dark, and we had reached the end of our adventure. Considering the dodgy weather and the limited time we left with only a few birds still to get, principal among these are Blue-capped Wood Kingfisher, Little Slaty Flycatcher and Mindanao Bleeding Heart, as well as all the Owls. Most of those missed can be found at least as easily elsewhere. My next chance for some of these will probably be in June when I plan to get to Siargao.

Rufous Hornbill (ssp. mindanensis). Amazing views of an incredible bird.

Barred Honey-Buzzard. The incredibly long crest is the only really decent identification feature in this picture.
Oriental Honey-Buzzard. This is a bit better with its strange neck.
Rufous-lored Kingfisher. Very noisy, and rather high, a classic view of a difficult bird.
Yellowish Bulbul. This was fast becoming a bogey bird until we caught a glimpse of this one. Naturally we had several in a mixed flock a bit later.
Steere's (Azure-breasted) Pitta. Not a good picture of a fantastic bird.
Mindanao Wattled Broadbill. Just visible in the top of a tree...
Southern Silvery Kingfisher.
Juvenile Rufous-fronted Tailorbird.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Road 42, Bislig - 10th January

Day 2 at Bisling. We were joined by a group of three photographers from Singapore, loaded down with enough equipment to stock a small shop! We kicked off with another attempt at the owls, but with even less success. The rain was already coming down when we left the hotel at 3:30am, and there was no chance the owls were going to show in the downpour. At about 8:30 the rain slowed enough for us to at least start on the trail. The first bird, right by the jeepney, was an extremely bedraggled Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon. It stayed put for us all to get good views, mainly because it was too water-logged to fly away.

We started along the trail, Zardo quickly flushing a Philippine Nightjar which immediately perched on a low branch. It stayed very still allowing some nice photos to be taken. The rain started again soon after and we retreated to the shelter of an empty hut along the trail. After a while I joined Richard back on the trail (he seemed to be unaffected by rain, must be his essential English nature!). I had been paranoid that he'd find a good bird without me, and almost immediately after I joined him first one, then a second Steere's Pitta hopped out onto the trail in front of us! This news got the whole party moving again, and we carried on.

A second Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon was found but not much else, and we decided to call it a day, setting off for home at about 12:00. Almost immediately the rain started to slow, and it stopped completely by 12:30. Feeling a bit more optimistic we returned to a large fruiting tree we had noted earlier, in an exposed area overlooking a large wooded valley. On the way we found a Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher, an excellent bird, but very flighty and hard to photograph. At the fruiting tree our prospects improved considerably, and over the next hour or so we had Naked-Faced Spiderhunter, Southern Sooty Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Philippine Falconets and Black-faced Coucal. Throughout this bonanza we had been hearing the raucous calls of a group of Rufous Hornbills, but it wasn't until we were getting ready to leave did we see one bird, a juvenile perched on a tree a very long way away.

We set off back towards the town, stopping on the way to photograph a Philippine Serpent Eagle.

Philippine Nightjar. The first of this species I've seen perched, though they call near my house on a nightly basis.
Pink-bellied Imperial Pigeon. At last! This very sorry-looking individual had clearly been caught out by the rain as badly as we had.
Southern Sooty Woodpecker. This is definitely a paler shade of grey than the Northern Sooty Woodpeckers I've seen in Subic (post here). It would have been nice to see the male, with the different face pattern, but no luck there.
 Philippine Falconet.
Black-faced Coucal. Absolutely smashing bird this!
Juvenile Rufous Hornbill, (ssp. mindanensis). At a great distance!
 Naked-Faced Spiderhunter.
Philippine Serpent Eagle.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quarry road, Bislig - 9th January

This is my first visit to this important birding area. I've planned visits several times before, but there has always been a snag, this time everything came together. I booked the incomparable Zardo Goring as our guide, and, after a 6 hour drive from Davao we were there! We stayed at the Paper Country Inn in Bislig, as every other birder does. 

Day 1 of our trip to Bislig started with a 3:30am start to look for owls. We heard a Giant Scops Owl calling near the vehicle, and played hide-and-seek with it for a while, but unfortunately never got a glimpse. With no other nightbirds around we headed to the quarry area for sunrise. The rain started as we arrived, a pattern that was to be repeated throughout our stay. We spent the morning alternately birding and sheltering from the rain, but still managed some excellent birds.

A pair of Philippine Needletails overhead at the quarry was an excellent start. Both Writhed Hornbill and Mindanao Hornbill showed well in the early morning, and mixed flocks contained a good selection of Mindanao specials including Rufous Paradise Flycatcher, Philippine Oriole, Spangled Drongo, Philippine Leafbird, Black-and-white Triller, Black-bibbed Cuckoo-Shrike (ssp. mindanensis), Naked-faced Spiderhunter, Metallic-winged Sunbird, Scarlet Minivet (ssp. gonzalesi), Stripe-headed Rhabdornis (ssp. minor) and Philippine Drongo-Cuckoo. An Olive-backed Flowerpecker (ssp. olivaceus) was a great surprise, a bird I have until now failed to catch up with, and I have no idea why.

Small numbers of Blue-crowned Racquet-tail (ssp. whiteheadi) moved among the fruiting trees, as did Philippine Fairy Bluebird, and a Black-faced Coucal showed well early on. Brown Tit-Babblers were ever-present. In the afternoon a female Black-headed Tailorbird responded to playback and showed well, but briefly.

A small hole in a dead tree provided shelter to at least 8 Philippine Falconets caught in a rain shower.

One the way back to town we stopped a stake-out Zardo knew of for the Southern Silvery Kingfisher. We found it almost immediately, and just as quickly it disappeared.

We ended the day with a brisk walk along the runway at Bislig airport where we caught up with Blue-breasted Quail.

Black-hooded Coucal. A spectacular bird, and surely the best looking Coucal in the world!
Writhed Hornbill. Not many seen, but this distant pair were the first birds of the morning.
Philippine Needletail. Not the greatest photograph of a really great Swift.
Black-bibbed Cuckoo-Shrike, ssp. mindanensis. Quite a tough bird to find, this was hanging around with a Black-and-white Triller.
Philippine Oriole.The only one we saw, but it posed wonderfully.
Philippine Leafbird. I like Leafbirds!
Blue-crowned Racquet-tail ssp. whiteheadi. Another long awaited bird, narrowly missed only a couple of weeks ago in Mindoro.
Philippine Drongo Cuckoo
Female Mindanao Hornbill. The commonest Hornbill, seen daily in almost all habitats.
Male Mindanao Hornbill.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Eden Nature Park, Davao - 7th January

On the way to Bislig we stopped at Eden Nature Park in Davao to investigate a site I had heard about through Mark Wallbank, and an excellent article by Pete Simpson on the ebon blog. The resort is very well wooded, and a brief wander produced Everett's White-eyes as well as other common species. We set off up the mountain to the army camp at about 1pm, hiring a couple of motorbikes at the gate to get us there. The camp sits astride the path to the birding site, and negotiations with the soldiers is necessary. Our motorbike rider did this for us.

Once through the camp the birding started immediately. The first 50m or so are fairly open on both sides, and almost the first tree we met on the right held a pair of Whiskered Flowerpeckers, the key bird at the site. They were very confiding, staying stationary for at least 15 minutes while we watched. Our attention was drawn by a bird party containing several other species of Flowerpecker, including Orange-bellied (ssp. cinereigularis), Olive-capped, Pygmy, Buzzing (ssp. pontifex), Fire-breasted (ssp. apo) and Red-keeled. Mountain White-eyes were also in the party, and were entirely unconcerned by our presence.

Further up the trail a bird party on the left contained the bright yellow nigroluteus race of Scarlet Minivet, Philippine Fairy Bluebird, Sulphur-billed Nuthatch (ssp. apo), Spangled Drongo, Metallic-winged Sunbird and a solitary Grey-Hooded Sunbird. A pair of dead trees at the top of the short trail held half a dozen Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis, and a Stripe-headed Rhabdornis (ssp. minor) was seen on the way down. At about 4pm the heavens opened and we squelched our way back to the resort. The only other bird of note was a calling Everett's Scops Owl heard while I was showering, in the trees outside the room, but no luck finding it after its first brief squawk.

All I will add to Pete Simpson's excellent site directions is that there are motorbikes (with riders) waiting at the gate of Eden Nature Park who are willing to take birders up to the army camp. They charged us 100 pesos each, and I estimate they saved us at least a 2 hour slog! Well worth the small investment.

Whiskered Flowerpecker.The key bird at the site, one of the very few places where it can be seen regularly. These birds were extremely confiding, though the conditions for photography were poor.
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, ssp. apo. Nice to see this spectacular flowerpecker here. Differs from the luzionense race on Banahaw by glossy-green sides of head, darker olive-green flanks and brighter yellow undertail-coverts.
 Everett's White-eye, ssp. basilanicus.
 Mountain White-eye, ssp. vulcani.
Scarlet Minivet, ssp. nigroluteus. This bright yellow race is endemic to Mindanao, and is a candidate for a future split

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tabunan Forest, Cebu - 6th January

This morning was dedicated to a trip to Tabunan. We started at 2:45am in order to get to the forest early enough to do some owling. We arrived bang on 4am, met up with Oking, our guide, and along with two other birders headed into the forest. It had rained overnight and the going was extremely slippery. I landed on my backside at least 3 times, though none of us fared particularly well, apart from Oking of course who seemed to have feet like a gecko.

We reached a clearing in the forest before first light and played our calls in order to tempt out an owl. We were rewarded remarkably quickly with a call in response, and then a close but quick fly-by, a newly described endemic, Cebu Hawk-Owl, Ninox rumseyi. We were treated to two or three further flight views over the course of the next half hour or so, and several bouts of calling, but never got a perched view, let alone a photo opportunity. The birds seemed quite common however, and a sustained visit, possibly involving camping in the clearing would surely result in much better views.

As the light grew Philippine Giant Fruit Bats, Pteropus vampyrus, emerged, but no further owls were seen or heard. We continued on, with raised spirits. On the way to the platform that Oking has built to view the canopy of the forest we paused to call up Black Shama. It was extremely obliging, and gave good, but brief views, however its preference for the gloomiest parts of the forest meant the photography was extremely difficult.

After a steep and awkward scramble we reached the platform and settled down to wait for the legendary Cebu Flowerpecker. Despite rumours of its extinction Oking maintains it was seen in November, so we waited in varying states of expectation. There were other birds to see of course. Amongst the most obvious were the Coppermiths, the endemic cebuensis race of which has an all red head. We heard many, before one perched on a nearby tree and gave excellent views. A pair of white bellied Balicassiao also performed well. Their behaviour seems somewhat different to those of Luzon, being more ready to use exposed perches, and occasionally venturing to the outer part of the canopy. This may be a reaction to local conditions, but it is something I have noticed with this mirabilis race in both Negros and Cebu.

A Crimson Sunbird and a Streak-breasted Bulbul (ssp. monticola) also made an appearance, as did several Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (ssp. philippinensis).

Coppersmith Barbet, of the red-headed race cebuensis, endemic to Cebu.
Balicassiao, ssp. mirabilis. Different in both plumage and behaviour from the all-black birds we have in Luzon, this race is endemic to Cebu, Negros (see my post from 18/12/11) and other islands in the western Visayas.
One of the key birds at Tabunan is the Black Shama, which, like other Shamas is quite flighty. This was the best I could do in very poor light. At least you can see it isn't White-vented Shama!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Olango - 5th & 6th January

The start of a week long trip encompassing Cebu and eastern Mindanao in the company of Richard. We kicked off with a visit to Olango, arriving there at 10:00 on 5th January. We returned in the afternoon of the 6th after a successful visit to Tabunan forest.

There were plenty of waders in evidence. Of the larger species the most obvious were the large number of Whimbrel, with fewer Far Eastern Curlew. A total of 9 Eurasian Curlew were also present, and were strikingly different, particularly in flight. The white back was obvious, but more interesting was the overall plumage tones which had a more silvery sheen. This was especially clear when in flight in company with other Numenius spp. Bar-tailed Godwits were also quite numerous.

Further down the size scale Calidris sandpipers were represented by Great Knot, several Red Knot, a solitary Curlew Sandpiper and small flocks of Red-necked Stints. Other waders included many Grey-tailed Tattler and Common Redshank, a few Common Greenshank, some Terek Sandpiper and one Common Sandpiper. On the drier areas above the tideline Kentish Plover, Greater Sandplover and a small number of Lesser Sandplover were present.

Terns were represented by 100+ Gull-billed Tern, about 20 Little Tern and a couple of Whiskered Tern. 20+ Black-headed Gull accumulated during the day.

The most numerous heron was Little Egret, with 3+ Chinese Egrets, a few Little Heron and Rufous Night Heron and a single Yellow Bittern.

Other birds included quite a few White-collared Kingfishers, a Common Kingfisher, lots of Yellow-bellied Gerygone calling and a Pink-necked Green Pigeon on the way out.

Far Eastern Curlew, outnumbering its Eurasian cousin by quite a margin, though Whimbrel was by far the commonest Numenius.
A pair of Terek Sandpipers. Quite a few scattered along the tideline

Grey-tailed Tattler. Numerous, one of the commoner waders
Great Knot. Many birds on this visit.
Red Knot. Quite scarce in The Philippines, these were hidden amongst the other waders and it was quite a while before I spotted them.
Great Knot (left) and Red Knot (right) together, illustrating the slight differences, with a Ruddy Turnstone in the background.

Curlew Sandpiper. Also fairly scarce, this was the only one we found.

Greater Sandplover, in small numbers along with many Kentish Plovers and a few Lesser Sandplovers on the sand above the tideline.
Common Redshank. Numerous.
Gull-billed Tern . Over 100 birds counted.
Little Tern. Only really visible when the tide came in, there were a dozen or so in flight at any one time.

Rufous Night-Heron. Several birds flew in during the course of the afternoon, this one roosts just behind the visitor centre and is fairly approachable.
Little Heron.
Chinese Egret. At least three birds in amongst the Little Egrets
What looks very similar to a Decorator Crab, but in extremely shallow water