Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ireland 2013 - Dublin

Our annual holiday this year is back to Ireland. The first week we spent in Dublin, the weather was quite variable, and I only really got out to Howth once, on . Very nice to see the seabird colonies again though, with nesting Kittiwake, Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot. A Peregrine briefly caused a flutter, and Grey Seal and Harbour Porpoise put in a show for the mammals.

Male Eurasian Bullfinch.
This Peregrine caused quite a bit of mayhem as it shot past the breeding birds at Howth Head.

Lots of Razorbill at Howth.
Dunnock. I've missed these!
An adult Harbour Porpoise with a youngster at Howth head
Grey Seal

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

IRRI - 19 June

Lots of birds with youngsters in tow in the fields now, including Barred Buttonquail and Oriental Pratincole.

Juvenile Barred Buttonquail
Juvenile Oriental Pratincole.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kitanglad, 7 - 10 June

When researching this leg of my birding trip I could find few references to trips up Kitanglad in June. People I spoke to warned me about heavy rain, possible flooding, even typhoons, but few people talked about the birds. In many ways the warnings were correct. The weather was on occasion extremely wet, if not actually raining then threatening to do so, with bright sunny skies very much the exception. The birds however were great! Many species were feeding offspring, and were highly active and visible. Raptors seemed to pop out every time the weather cleared up enough for them to fly, possibly driven out of cover by hunger, and species that I had found hard to see in January 2011 seemed to be making an effort to catch my eye. An exception were the owls, only one species of which (Giant Scops) was calling at all, and that was not responding to playback.

We arrived in the mid-afternoon of 7th June, after a journey involving planes, cars, motorbikes, horses and shanks' pony. The first Kitanglad birds were several Bukidnon Woodcock that gave prolonged displays around the lodge, they were to do so at about 6:00pm every night, with a shorter visit at about 4:50am every morning. Both Philippine Nightjar and Great-eared Nightjar also showed at sunset, and at every subsequent sunset as well.

Day 1: The first day's birding started brightly, but as soon as we got to the eagle viewing point the clouds dropped, and we spent a frustrating 6 hours waiting for the eagle to show. It was not a total washout of course, the dry spells produced a range of birds including Mindanao Hornbill (1), Montane Racquet-tail (12), Black-masked White-eye (5), Red-headed Tailorbird (2), Cinnamon Ibon (2), Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis (2), Short-tailed Glossy Starling, White-browed Shortwing (calling everywhere, and 1 tempted into the open), Peregrine (1 ssp. ernesti), White-cheeked Bullfinch (4) and Apo Myna (1).

We descended the mountain at about 2:00pm in pouring rain, and gave up for the day.

Day 2: The next morning was duller than the first, and we our expectations were low when we approached the eagle view point. We set up the scope as before, and started scanning. A mere 30 minutes into the day we had it, a Philippine Eagle perched on the mountain, about halfway up, fantastic. It soon disappeared and we spent a frantic 10 minutes trying to relocate it when Danny picked it up, much closer. It soon moved again, flying directly towards us, landing about 150m away. We watched for over an hour, getting fantastic scope views as it searched through the canopy for prey. Eventually it dropped below our sightline, and we moved up towards the higher elevations, absoultely delighted with our views. The rest of the day was excellent, with plenty more Montane Racquet-tails (20+), Cinnamon Ibon (50+), White-cheeked Bullfinch (5), Black-masked White-eye (4), Apo Myna (8), White-browed Shortwing (1) and Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis (8). We also found several species new for the trip, including Oriental Honey Buzzard (1), Besra (1), Buff-spotted Flameback (1), MacGregor's Cusckooshrike (10+), Apo Sunbird (1) and Red-eared Parrtofinch (1).

On the way down we found two raptors near the camp. The first was a Pinsker's Hawk-Eagle, the second a Black-shouldered Kite, my first for The Philippines, and a totally unexpected bird.

Day 3: Our third and last day was spent on an easy wander to areas near the lodge, looking for whatever we might find. The slower pace was rewarding, and we found and photographed Red-headed Tailorbird and Snowy-browed Flycatcher. While looking at this last Carlito jumped up and called out 'Eagle'. The Philippine Eagle was perched on a branch about 100m away! While we watched it took off and flew directly towards us, landing on a tree about 40m away. We wrestled briefly with the vegetation, but soon got fantastic views. I don't really have words for how we felt, any birder reading this will know....

In summary, birding Kitanglad in June is a real test of any birder's waterproofing arrangements. Our waterproof jackets weren't, and our feet and clothes were permanently sodden. In addition the leeches were rapacious (I won the leech count with 45). On the other hand, the birds were great. All the endemics are there, and most are breeding. Many species seem to be easier to see than at other times of year, though definitely not all, missing the owls was a big disappointment. If you're well prepared, can protect your camera, and have stocked up on leech socks (and I really mean that!) then you've got a great chance to see some great birds.

Philippine Eagle. Awesome is a much overused word that has lost most of its currency, a pity as awe is what I felt when I saw this bird...

Red-headed Tailorbird.
Stripe-breasted Rhabdornis.
Apo Myna.
White-cheeked Bullfinch, ssp steerei. Seen daily, mostly at about the same altitude as the eagle viewpoint..
MacGregor's Cuckooshrike. Quite numerous in the mixed flocks above the eagle view point.
Juvenile Little Pied Flycatcher
Juvenile White-browed Shortwing, ssp. mindanensis.Calling everywhere, this was the second bird we saw in 2 days.

Grey-hooded Sunbird, feeding on a banana flower
Male Snowy-browed Flycatcher, ssp. montigena. Note the dark reddish brown tail, the identifying feature of this race.
Black-shouldered Kite. A surprisingly thinly distributed bird in The Philippines. I was expecting this in rice fields, not up a mountain...
Mock Viper, Psammodynastes pulverulentus. On the trail high up on Kitanglad.

Carlito (2nd from right), Danny (3rd from left and Amelia (1st on the right) with the rest of their family. Great birders, great people...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pelagic out of Siargao, 3-4 June

My interest in a pelagic trip to this region was sparked by an article in Birding Asia 16 (December 2011). The proximity of such deep waters as the Philippine Trench to the coast of The Philippines was news to me, and I was immediately intrigued. I contacted a fishing operator on Siargao, and advertised for anyone fool enough to want to come with me. I soon filled the available spots, and having settled on a date of 3rd June we all met up at the appointed time.

We had had many discussions about the correct method of making and using chum, and we had little information about where to go looking for the birds. Our captain, Steve Brown, was very knowledgeable about fishing, but while he had a keen interest in the birds, he didn't have much specific knowledge. Nevertheless we set off to sea, with a heady mix of anticipation and trepidation. The birds themselves took a while to appear, but once we had reached a decent distance offshore they started to show themselves. The first bird we saw was a Brown Booby, powering past us, but soon after that we started to see what we were really looking for, tubenoses. The majority at first were dark phase Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, with a few Streaked Shearwaters added in. Eventually Rob shouted out that he had something more interesting, Bulwer's Petrel. There are few accepted records of this species in The Philippines, we were to record 5 over the 2 days.

(The chum we had made (Vegetable oil, chopped up fresh fish, bait additive) seemed partially effective, with at least some of each of the three species of tubenose appearing to come closer to our boat, though none alighted on the slick. An excellent resource for this was the Scillypelagics website.)

After waiting for quite a while, and adding Lesser Frigatebird to our list, we headed inshore to an island that Steve knew where he thought there were breeding terns. As we approached the island (Rock Island, opposite the viewing tower at cloud 9 beach) we started to see quite a number of terns, while most were the common Black-naped Tern, there were at least 5 Bridled Terns amongst them, as well as several birds with bright red feet and bills, Roseate Terns! We eventually recorded 14 of these beautiful birds, and it seems entirely possible that they are using this tiny islet to breed, potentially the first breeding record of this species in The Philippines.

We eventually saw 8 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, 9 Streaked Shearwaters, 3 Bulwer's Petrels, 3 Brown Boobys, 1 Lesser Frigatebird, 76 Black-naped Tern, 14 Roseate Tern and 5 Bridled Tern.

Bulwer's Petrel, showing the characteristic flight profile...
...and upperwing pattern.
Dark phase Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Streaked Shearwater
Brown Booby
Roseate Terns
Bridled Tern

One of a pod of about 15 or so Common Bottle-nosed Dolphins we found as we came back towards land.

After such a good day 5 of the 7 of us tried again on the 4th June. We had slightly different conditions (lots of rain showers to dodge), and fewer birds. The only things we saw that were different were 2 Little Terns and about 15 Common Terns on the way out, and a single pale phase Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Aside from that the same set of birds were seen, several dark phase Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, some Streaked Sherwater, 2 Bulwer's Petrel. On the way back we stopped in at some mangroves close to General Luna which were beautiful, though relatively birdless. On the way out we found a small flock of Pied Imperial Pigeons on one of the tiny offshore islands covered in forest.

Pied Imperial Pigeon, quite a few on the small islands offshore from Gen. Luna.

Mahayahay, Siargao - 2nd June

My first visit to Siargao, a small island off the northeastern tip of Mindanao. It's renowned as having the best surfing conditions in The Philippines, and is the closest point to the Philippine Trench. This is a deep channel stretching up the south-east Asian archipelago from New Guinea up the eastern side of Indonesia to The Philippines. It is one of the deepest submarine trenches in the world, reaching a maximum recorded depth of 10,540m (The Marianas Trench is a mere 323m deeper). With such deep water lying not far offshore the potential for interesting pelagic birds (and mammals) is high, so I and a small group of intrepid birding friends decided to go and have a look.

Few birders have visited the island, and fewer still have published trip reports, so we spent the first afternoon exploring a small patch of forest close to a village called Mahayahay. We parked in the village, engaged a guide after first contacting the Barangay captain, and set off on foot to the forest. The habitat was generally very degraded, but there seemed to be plenty of birdlife. The route we took led us in a circle through degraded forest, secondary growth, coconut plantations and a small patch of grassland. We encountered a couple of streams, one of which flowed out of a cave which our guide said contained bats. Among the more interesting birds seen were Oriental Honey Buzzard, Barred Honey Buzzard, Philippine Serpent Eagle, Philippine Green Pigeon,  Black-headed Tailorbird, Rufous-fronted Tailorbird and Handsome Sunbird. Heard only birds (by me) included Ruddy Kingfisher, Philippine Oriole, Hooded Pitta, Koel, Black-faced Coucal and Black-chinned Fruit Dove. though some of these were seen by other members of the group.

That evening we tried looking for owls at a likely spot along the road, near Napa. We had no luck at all with any owls, but did find an interesting Fruit Bat.

Black-naped Oriole, common in this very degraded habitat.
One of three Black-headed Tailorbirds that kept us entertained for a long while. They were typically very flighty, but responded very well to playback, and stayed around us for at least half an hour.

Barred Honey Buzzard flying low overhead on the way out of the forest.

Flying Lizard spp.
Variable (Island) Flying Fox, Pteropus hypomelanus. Quite different to the one I saw on Pandan last Christmas, (link here).