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

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