Saturday, March 30, 2013

Northern Luzon Adventure Birding 2013-03-28 to 2013-03-30

A few weeks ago, Jude together with Jun and Adri did some exploration in the north to try and find out the flight path of the migrating raptors. When news of the arriving raptors came from one of their contacts in Cagayan, they decided to confirm the news. Due to some unforeseen reasons, Jun could not come and asked me to tag along instead.

The team composed on Jude, me and the driver left Metro Manila at 3am. Another vehicle decided to back out of the trip due to the heavy traffic jam near the NLEX toll gate. The first stop was at Vigan, Ilocos Sur where the team had some hearty Ilocano dish for lunch.

The next stop was at Laoag, Ilocos Norte where we picked-up the next team member, Richard Ruiz.

The original plan was to arrive at Claveria, Cagayan before sunset in order to see the raptors roosting on the trees. Unfortunately due to the heavy traffic at NLEX where we were stucked for 2 hours, we reached the place at around 7 in the evening. Our contact told us that it is impossible to see anything if it is already dark, so we decided to just observe early in the morning and rest early.

Burgos lighthouse (midway between Laoag and Claveria)

View from the "White house"

The following day, we set off early to Sanchez-Mira, but not as early as planned the night before. Jerry, our guide brought us to the Namuac bridge where he usually see the raptors heading out to sea. We only saw some Brahminy kites and a couple of Gray face buzzards and not a flock so our leader, Jude Sanchez decided to move to another raptor observing site.

Common Kingfisher

Jerry brought us to a farm where he used to see the "sa-wi", a local term for gray face buzzards. Initially we didn't see any raptor so we waited hoping to see something. While waiting, we saw some red tutledoves, a few Gray wagtails, Striated grassbirds, Brahminy kites, Cattle egrets, Little egrets and a couple of warblers we couldn't identify. After an hour or so of waiting, we spotted some raptors at a distance heading towards the sea. We counted about 60 of them and then hurried to a farmland behind a local school where Jerry said, will allow us to see the raptors clearer. Two more groups of gray face buzzards appeared, increasing our total count to 100+. The raptors thermalled up from, what looks like a forested area behind the farm before flying towards the sea.

After the 2 groups left, we waited but the raptors stop coming. Jerry told us that the sa-wi will perch for some time during midday before continuing their flight. Since it was already past 11am, so we decided to have our lunch at a local carinderia along the road. After lunch, we stayed a bit longer inside the carinderia to avoid the hot midday sun. While still inside, we heard someone calling that the birds are coming. We looked outside and saw dozens of them thermalling. We hurried to the place where Jerry said will allow us to see the perched birds of prey. What Jerry said was true, we saw a few of them perched on different trees. It was not easy to see them, but as an experienced observer, he was able to spot most of them for us.

Lunch at a neighborhood carinderia (food house)


After observing 4 perched GFBs, we went to a small hut in the middle of the farms to start counting the birds. Upon arriving, Jerry immediately asked Jude if he want to see a perched sa-wi and pointed to us the bird's location on the trees from a distance. We were impressed by his spotting skill, as we weren't able to spot it even with our binoculars unless pointed to us while he was spotting birds with his naked eyes. He also spotted a small blue tailed beeeater on a branch which to us looks like a dot. Even with binoculars, we could not identify what kind of bird it is. We were only able to identify the bird when we trained our spotting scopes with magnification of 30x at it.

While beside the hut, we counted a few dozens of GFBs rising up from the trees thermalling and flying towards the west to south-west and not north as we expected. We formulated 2 theories: A. Maybe they're riding the current in an arcing direction going west then north or B. Since the northern most part of mainland Luzon is a little bit to the west, they're heading there first before going up.

When no more raptors appeared after a few hours, we decided to call it a day. Before we left, Jerry lead us to another place in town. There we met an Aeta man and his son with an emerald dove. We left Sanchez-Mira, pick up our stuffs in Claveria and head back to Laoag. On the way, we saw a Peregrine falcon perched on a dead tree beside the road. When we reached Laoag, we had dinner, dropped off Richard and spend the night in the hotel Richard booked for us.

Emerald dove

Peregrine falcon

Group shot at the local's meeting place

The following day, we meet up with Richard before sunrise, had breakfast and went to his usual birding spots in Laoag. We were able to see his treasured Yellow Bunting (a rare bird), some Java sparrow, Brahminy kites, Philippine ducks and other birds. At around half past 10, we left Laoag and head back to Metro Manila.

Yellow bunting
Java sparrow

Scaley breasted munia

Brahminy kite

White bellied munia

Friday, March 22, 2013

Raptor Counting in Tanay 2013-03-17

There will be a group going to Tanay to do some raptor counting. Unwilling to get up at 4 in the morning, I decided to just go there on my own. When I arrived at the Tanay PAGASA tower, not one birder can be seen. I was told by the PAGASA staffs that a few minutes earlier, the birders just left. Since I regularly do birding solo, I decided to just count raptors one my own.

It was a warm sunny day but strong wind was blowing at the mountain side. I stayed at the shaded area to enjoy the fresh mountain air while scanning the sky with my bins. After a few minutes there without a single raptor in sight, I decided to scan the trees beside the tower. The first bird I spotted, aside from the striated swallows flying around the tower, is a Brown shrike followed by a Pied thriller.


About half an hour later, I saw my first raptor for the day, an Oriental honey buzzard.

Then a group of 24 raptors at a distance. A few minutes later, another group of 5 then several individuals.

After my 31st raptor, I didn't see anymore raptors for quite some time, I decided that it's time for me to leave. When I was about to leave, I saw the group of Alex coming back to the tower. They called me to join them back at the tower and so I did. This time with the official raptor counter and more pair of eyes, we managed to count a lot more than my solo count. We ended the counting at around 2 in the afternoon and head back home.

Birding Out of Boredom

Whenever you don't have any plans to go somewhere and you're bored, one of the best thing to do is to take a stroll near your house and do some birding. ;) Of course, when birding you'll probably want to take some pictures as souvenir as well.

Some birds are not too shy when they see someone holding a camera. One particular bird addicted to moving its' glorious butt is the Pied fantail.

Whenever there's a group of birds on a wire, they're either the common ETS or some species of swallow. Dangers exists however, as these birds can poop on you if you're not careful. So a little bit of evasive practice will help if you want to come out clean after getting really close to them.  One example is the specie named barn.

Brown shrike, a seasonal common bird, loves to act tough and pretend you don't exists.

Another bird common in gardens, small but noisy is the Olive backed sunbird. It may be attractive as a female, but the opposite sex looks sexier. ;)

After your walk around the village, you'll probably think that it is fun and would like do it again.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hunt for Comet PanSTARRS

A relatively bright comet usually provides a good opportunity to look at a naked eye object from the Oort cloud. The case with Pan-STARRS is a bit different. Although it is supposed to be a naked eye visible object, its current location prevents any sighting without an optical instrument. Being too near the sun, finding it is difficult due to the sun's glare. However, a small window exists to provide us some recording chance. A day earlier, I did a few blind shots at the intended target, but only 1 frame turned up with the comet's image. It was really bad too.

To find the comet, one must be prepared and ready before the sky turns completely dark. One should start searching as soon as the sky turns dark gray. Instead of spotting the comet with the help of a binocular, I opted instead to just try to image it. I pointed my camera at a probable location and start shooting a 3 seconds exposure. After a frame or 2, I managed to spot the comet. After the comet is captured on a frame and setting the camera angle a bit to center the target, I started shooting many frames.

The composite result turned out pretty okay for me, but I think some improvements can still be done. I have a digiscoped setup for longer shots, but it seems the clear window wasn't enough to do more shots. If given another chance with a clear sky, I will attempt a higher magnification shot.