Thursday, February 6, 2020

Banaue Birding: Seeing A Philippine Hawk Eagle and Another Lifer in the Boondocks

Aethopyga pulcherrima / Metallic Winged Sunbird
Philippine Coucal
A recent invite for a short trip to Banaue to preview a renovated inn-turned-hotel became a welcome respite from the city, escape the traffic, and go nature-tripping.  We were looking forward to perhaps catching the tail-end of the migration season, when the birds from northern climes are still here for the warmer weather.  

If we were lucky, we may get to see the Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis), locally called Sabukot, that we first spotted and photographed two years back in the hillside garden of the DDD Habitat / Banaue Heritage Hotel in Bissang, Tam-an.  Or if we get really, really lucky, maybe we can spot a lifer or two.  The first one was not meant to be.  But the second prospect is what happened in our short trip to the boondocks.
Elegant Tit/Periparus elegans

Owing to some rather radical trimming of the hedges and shrubbery at the front of the inn/hotel, we had to look for birds high up on the treetops, a tricky proposition for the small sunbirds.  But luck was on our side, I guess, as we spotted a first lifer on this trip -- a Metallic Winged Sunbird (Aethopyga pulcherrima), the coloration a bit different from the Olive Backed Sunbirds we keep seeing here and in Maligcong.  They trade places often on the hillside trees with Elegant Tits (Periparus elegans) and Mountain White-Eyes (Zosterops montanus).   Oh, the bossy Mountain Shrike (Lanius validirostris) was on its usual place, high on the right hillside overlooking the native Ifugao houses being reconstructed onsite, right where we photographed him nearly two years ago.
Mountain White-eye/Zosterops montanus
The big surprise (though I wasn't able to photograph it but my friend, Ferdz, did with his Olympus mirrorless cam) was spotting a Philippine Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus philippensis) overhead, cawing and flying in circles 3-4 times before disappearing in the haze.  It's an awe-inspiring sight, never-mind that my Nikon B700 wasn't able to focus properly (oh, I did get some shots but they were blurry).   Nothing quite describes the moment one sees such a majestic bird and endangered predator out hunting in the wild.   Considering that we were able to go birding for very short spans of time during our 3-day stay owing to work, moving from Banaue Hotel and back to the inn twice as well as the inclement weather, seeing two lifers is something I already consider a miracle.  The fact that one of the two is an endangered specie is simply remarkable.  I mean I've seen my share of eagles and kites but nothing as close as we've spotted this one.
Mountain Shrike/Lanius validirostris
I appreciate seeing the birds, even if I have spotted them before as their presence lends a lively ambience to the setting.   I'm not to take any bird for granted as I've noticed quite a lot of people do, ignoring them for being "common" and "common-place".   The presence of the birds also tells me that despite the constant encroachment of humans in their habitats as well as the wildlife corridors, they are surviving, heck even thriving (gives one hope that maybe, the term biodiversity still survives beyond the confines of scientific studies and books).   We were also delighted to note that the birds we spotted are usually well-filled out, perhaps a testament to the abundance of food in the area.


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