Sunday, April 1, 2018

Birdsong in the Morning, Birds in the Air and Treetops, Heeding the Call of the Birds in Maligcong

Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo Daurica)
One of the great pleasures of waking up in Maligcong apart from the view of the foggy terraces and the feel of the crisp, nippy air, is being greeted by birdsong.  So many times I chose not to hike up the mountain early in the morning (and there were many) would find my insomniac self waiting for the birds to arrive at first light.  There'd be lots of birds freewheeling across the sloping valley to the side of the entry to the terraces, more in the trees fronting Suzette's Homestay, and still more rousing from their roosting places on the trees along the old and new roads.
Mountain Verditer Flycatcher

During my past two visits spaced around two to three months apart, the canopy of trees fronting the homestay gave way to a small trail, resulting in the relative decrease of birds in the area, most notably the Mountain Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias panayennsis) (many thanks to Wild Bird Club of the Philippines founder, Ma'am Alice Villa-Real for identifying this particular bird for us) which used to frequent the place, flitting from the tree canopy to the valley below, moving from the nearby banana plants to the huge bamboo grass on the compound.  Jerome, Suzette's hubby, noted that they're seasonal, which may explain their absence.  Reread the entry on The Guide Book to the Birds of the Philippines and true enough, they're seasonal.

As a frequent visitor here considering this my second home in the Mountain Province, I thought it would be a wonderful advocacy to help document the birds and plants here as part of a larger conservation effort.  It's easy to overlook and take these natural treasures for granted if we do not know what's out there; conversely, it's difficult to note the disappearance or migration of species if these weren't taken into account in the first place.  It would also be a nice waker-upper for some people who would want to destroy the birds' habitats for the sake of "development."  I guess it's not as easy to do that when you know which creatures consider these places as home.

Crested Mynah (Achridotheres cristatellus)
Transitioning from landscape photography to birding is not easy.  It takes more a lot more patience (and stiffed necks) admittedly.  There's this somewhat disorienting disconnect between sighting the birds with my own eyes and looking for them through the electronic viewfinder.  But it's fun to learn about new things and contributing even just a bit to a cause.  As I haven't been able to travel frequently in the past years and I've changed my traveling philosophy at the same time, I want to make my travels more meaningful, more helpful to a cause.  At a time when mass tourism largely spurred by social media is causing environmental and other problems (mainly trash, as well as the importation of lowland attitudes/behavior to these erstwhile quiet, peaceful places), I simply do not want to just travel anymore.  I want to travel and make a difference in the places I go to.

Back to birding, we took turns on my Nikon B700 as our friend, Oman, was simmering the broth for our shabu-shabu Sunday lunch and spotted a coterie of birds.  I thought the noisy flock of forked-tailed birds sweeping the valley and frequenting the roof of the homestay extension looked related to the swallows in Palawan.  We would later find out that these were indeed Red-rumped Swallows (Hirundo daurica) making a show even though it's high noon.  It seems they were espying places on the concrete eaves to build their mud nests, something they do in place of rocky cliffs or limestone karsts found in places like Palawan.
Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier)
The giant bamboo on the property is turning out to be a favorite haunt not just for the seasonal fireflies but also the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) and Chestnut-faced Babbler (Zosterornis whiteheadi) as well as the Mountain White-eye (Zosterops mountanus) which would skip and hop among the swaying branches and leaves like seasoned circus acrobats.  Of course, there are the very familiar Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) joining the merry melee, reminding me of my window garden back in Makati.

Farther afield on the terraces, I spotted a Crested Mynah (Acridotheres cristatellus) on a wire high up, while taking my exercise walking on the terraces trail to the elementary school and roundabout the new road going back to the homestay.  It's still very early in the season to pick up grains from the fields as it was time to plant rice.  Could be looking for insects like worms and insects.

Also saw mynahs while the bus headed for Baguio passed through the vegetable fields of Buguias, easily recognizable for the white spot on the wings. I also spotted what I think is a Colasisi (Loriculus philippensis) and some sunbirds (the birds we suspect were eating the peppers in the garden) but failed to shoot pictures -- I was caught up between shooting and reading a book along the road one afternoon before sunset.  Maybe next time we'll get lucky.  But I did get a shot of the Philippine Bulbul (Hypsipetes philippinus) near the junction where the road forks in two, obviously favoring some of the trees there.  Maku, who came with me while wandering the road, must be wondering why I'm all of a sudden fussing over the twittering creatures up the trees live I've gone cuckoo.  He's cooperative though, never flushing the birds from their places up on the tree branches.
Philippine Bulbul (Hypsipetes phillipinsus)
Considering that I originally didn't want to shoot and just rest my weary mind and soul during this break, having spotted some of these birds wasn't a shabby result.  I, along with my buddy, Ferdz, hope to add more to this photo documentation in future trips.  We still have to spot the hanging parrots and woodpeckers that Ma'am Alice spotted last year.   Oh, and maybe the eagles we keep seeing riding the thermals high above the terraces in search of chicks.  One more thing is capturing shots of the wild hens the locals call safag which I suspect is the red jungle fowl, easily mistaken for domestic hens but for the much longer tail feathers.  Saw one before foraging in the tall grasses but didn't have my camera with me then.   Surely, these are great incentives to keep coming back.

More facts on the birds featured with images in this post:

Crested Mynah
Crested Mynah (Acridotheres cristatellus) - called martines in Filipino, introduced to the Philippines around 1850; found in agricultural lands and open country; all black with yellowish bill, white patch at base of flight feathers, white tip to tail; call is varied, can imitate other species and sounds*

Philippine Bulbul (Hypsipetes philippinus) - common, noisy and conspicuous in forest edge, advanced second growth, lowlands to over 2000 m, singly or in groups/mixed flocks; body features: streaked rufous throat, olive brown plumage; call differs by race, musical with version of deut do-lee-eut.*

Mountain Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias panayensis) - medium-sized; feathers bordering black face, body in verditer blue, wing and tail feathers dark grey edged in brighter verditer blue, breast and flanks light verditer blue, belly and undertail coverts white, bill black, eye dark brown, legs blackish horn; forages singly, in pairs, or mixed species near ground to canopy; found above 800 m in mid-mountain and mossy forest and forest edge.  Spotted young known from May and June.   Call is distinctive soft, wheezy whistle swuu swee zee swuu swee zeee.  Range: 3 races in the Philippines: nigimentalis (endemic) Luzon and Mindoro, nigriloris (endemic) Mindanao; panayensis (endemic) Negros and Panay. *

Striated Swallow
• Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica) - largest swallow in the Philippines, common in gorges and canyons, also in open country.  Features: deeply-forked tail, rufous rump.  Builds bottle-shaped nest out of mud under cliffs, building eaves and bridges, also caves.  Metallic tjuw-tjuw call.  Related to the Striated Swallow (Cecropis striolata).*

Yellow-breasted Warbler
 • Yellow-breasted Warbler (Seicercus montis) - uncommon at all forest leves usually above 1000 meters foraging singly or in mixed flocks; features: yellow underparts, rump, wing bars; blackish median and greater coverts with olive green, tipped with yellow, yellowish legs, brown eyes.  Song high-frequency, slurred series of zizizizizi-azuuuu, chit chit.  Range: 1 race in Philippines (endemic)+

 • Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) - common in gardens, early secondary  growth (not in mature forest) singly or in small groups; features:  broad white eyebrow, yellow undertail coverts; nests in gardens; noisy but pleasant bubbling calls (cho, chop, cho-cho, pi-ro, pi-rop)*

Image information:

All images are taken with a Nikon B700 except for the Mountain Verditer Image; taken with a Nikon D7100 and Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens • All images are © 2015 and 2018 Oggie Ramos

• Many thanks to Ma'am Alice Villa-Real, founder of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and Ma'am Ruth Francisco for helping identify the bird species we shot during our recent Maligcong trip

• Information culled from the A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines; Robert S. Kennedy, Pedro C. Gonzales, Edward C. Dickinson, Hector C. Miranda, Jr., & Timothy H. Fisher; 2000 Oxford University Press as indicated by an *

• Info on some birds culled from Wikipedia as indicated by a +


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