Sunday, April 14, 2013

Batrachostomus at last!

It's a bird with a mouth like a frog. This has been on my most wanted list of birds to see for quite some time now. It is an uncommon endemic found all over the Philippines but birders usually see it in the forests of Bohol and Mindanao.

There are lots of factors why after 5 years of birding I still haven't seen the Frogmouth. One of it being the distance from where I live. Most of the sightings are in the southern provinces of the country and I do not have the luxury of time and budget to travel to those places. So after seeing posts by birder-friends that they have seen the bird in a nearby place, I immediately asked around for any group that is going to twitch it.

After a few text messages and a meet up, a Saturday trip was organized by birder-couple Bob and Cynthia. Days prior to the trip, I was already so excited knowing that I will possibly see the Frogmouth.

Saturday, D-day. Me, Bob, Cynthia, Peter, Vincent and Jayce met up at the usual meeting place of birders in Katipunan Road. 5:30am and our group was off to La Mesa Nature Reserve in the outskirts of Quezon City. It was a short ride to the area and as soon as we arrived, a smiling bespectacled guy approached us and introduced himself to us. He was Kuya Efren, a bird-guide trained by Jops, Maia, Adri and Trinket.

After a few minutes of prepping, we hit the trail in a single file with Kuya Efren leading the group and me sweeping the tail.  The trail was alive with bird calls and everywhere you look you could see birds flying from tree to tree and from one branch to another. One minute into the trek the group stopped to check out a lone Grey-streaked Flycatcher and a few Black-naped Orioles.  Further ahead were White-breasted Woodswallows, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Guaiaberos. These stops built up the excitement in seeing our target bird. I even wanted to tell group that we go straight to the site and do the birding as we head back. But hey we're birders, we stop on our tracks when we see birds.

Birders spots a Guaiabero.

Kuya Efren signaled that we are near the site and are going to get off the dirt road. He entered a foot path and we followed suit. Just a few steps in and there I saw him smiling, showing the bird to the group. It was difficult to see the bird because it was well-camouflaged but soon enough one by one silently shouted that they have seen the bird.  Good for them! Me? I still can't spot the bird. A few twists and turns of the head......LIFER! I saw the Philippine Frogmouth (Batrachostomus septimus microrhynchus)... at last! Adrenaline overload...woohoo!

The beautiful Philippine Frogmouth on its nest. (photo by Vincent Lao)

It was perched on a small curved trunk of a tree just a few feet above ground. Perfect for viewing with binoculars or shooting with a camera. The other birders took different positions in taking photos of the beautiful bird. Some were on supine and prone positions, some squatting, and at other times just standing. I kept moving around transferring from one location to another and just to see the froggie in different angles.

Jayce on prone position
Bob on supine position and Vincent kneeling

Half an hour later and with everyone happy with their lifer we headed back to the information center. We rested for 5 minutes before hitting the trail again. Kuya Efren showed us a Philippine Nightjar. This is not a lifer for me  but it was different from the other PNJ's I've seen because it was roosting on the ground perfectly hidden by the dried leaves around it.

We went back to the Info center after taking document shots of the bird, paid the park fees and thanked Kuya Efren for showing us the Philippine Frogmouth. As it was still 9am, the group decided to go to the La Mesa Eco Park which is just a few kilometers from the reserve.

A lifer awaits me...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Northern Exposure

Last month, me, Jude Sanchez and Adri Constantino went on a mini-expedition to the northern fringes of Luzon to find a place or choke point for migrant raptors before they depart for Taiwan.  Three towns of the province of Cagayan were the target destinations of this trip: Claveria, Sanchez Mira, and Pamplona. A sidetrip to Laoag, Ilocos Norte was also scheduled to visit WBCP member Richard Ruiz who is based there.

We left Manila at 4:30 in the morning with Jude designated as the first driver of the trip. I took over the driver's seat at SCTEX. We had our breakfast at Carmen, Pangasinan. After a long and tiring 11-hour travel, we arrived in Laoag and went straight to Richard's place. Our final destination is only 2-3 hours away but we decided Laoag will be our first night stop for the trip. At 6:00 am the following day, we ordered our take-out breakfast and proceeded to Cagayan.

The team with our lunch host and the incoming mayor of Candon, Ilocos Sur

First stop was at Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte to check out the Kalbario-Patapat National Park.  The park is composed of a few mountain peaks with very good forest cover. This is a place which deserves another trip just for birdwatching. Adri, who was on a vacation in a nearby resort many years ago said they only penetrated the lower slopes of the mountain.

The northern section of the Kalbario-Patapat National Park

After crossing the Ilocos Norte-Cagayan boundary, we accidentally discovered a site that is a candidate for a good raptor observation point.  I got off  first and checked out the area for possible raptors. Less than a minute after stepping out of the vehicle, raptors were heard and seen thermalling. Serpent-Eagles, Buzzards and Falcons to name a few. I recorded the GPS coordinates and then we moved on to the town of Claveria.

A Serpent-Eagle rides a thermal (photo by Adri Constantino)

We have two target sites in the town of Claveria: A promontory and a resort which sits on top of a hill.  We went to the resort first to check out the rates and possible accommodations for future birding trips in the area. As Jude was talking to the caretaker, Adri and I were scanning the area for birds.  This was the time I saw my first lifer for the trip. Adri showed me the bird and it was an Eyebrowed Thrush. LIFER!  I was so happy, I just wanted to seat on the bench and look at the Thrush. Throughout our stay there,  I saw a Scale-feathered Malkoha, Philippine Bulbuls, a Serpent-Eagle, a male Luzon Hornbill, and three Colasisis.

The caretaker of the house was a former resident of Sanchez Mira so we asked him to ride with us and show us where the raptors can be found. It was my turn to drive so I told them that we are heading first to a promontory and check it out for another possible observation point. I saw this when I was reviewing the satellite photo of the area back in Manila. Upon reaching the area or the Bantay Kalbo trail, we decided that all of us are climbing the hill. On top was a 360 degree view of the place. Babuyan group of islands to the north and the towns of Claveria and Sanchez Mira to the south. Took some customary landscape pictures and then we're off to Sanchez Mira.

On our way to the promontory at Bantay Kalbo trail in Claveria, Cagayan

Arriving at the town of Sanchez Mira we immediately went around the area where the caretaker said they see thousands of raptors during the months of March and April. We went there early in the season so we haven't seen kettles of raptors yet. Another trip is needed to confirm the presence of raptors. We decided not to go to the last town as it was already getting late and we still have to go back to Laoag. We have already accomplished our mission objective.

Our last "tourist" stop on our way back to Laoag.
Bangui Windmills, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

We dropped off the caretaker at the resort and drove back to Laoag where 2 more lifers are waiting for me.