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Fort Bonifacio

Not Another Wait-A-Minute Vine!
by Ned Liuag National Heroes Cemetery & Heritage Park, Fort Bonifacio -
Date: January 5, 2003

Ned Liuag & Mike Lu

In haribonmembers@yahoogroups.com, Ned wrote: Went out this morning January 5 with Mike Lu for birding recon at the National Heroes Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio. Mike said that on his way to pick me up in Makati, he drove across Nagtahan Bridge and spotted a large flock of unidentified Terns on the Pasig. While I was waiting for him I already added one male Blue Rock Thrush in the Tripa de Galina area and several Barn Swallows flying around the Skyway pylons.

It was overcast and drizzling when we reached the National Heroes Cemetery at 8:30. Unlike at the well-tended American War Cemetery, the soldier at the gate ignored us. There weren't that many people in the Cemetery, just a couple of late joggers and some family members paying respects to their military dead. A sign in the newly reforested field just past the entrance announced that the area was a wildlife sanctuary.

We drove around to get a good idea of the layout of the place. The Cemetery looked really rundown. The grass on many graves was untended and some stretches of the asphalt road starting to break up in places. Mike parked the car just past the circular Heroes Hall and we hiked westwards in the drizzle towards the Bataan Defenders monument.

The first thing we noticed was the continuous calling of ZEBRA DOVES, which were the most visible species in the park. In the next two hours, we would not go a few meters without flushing or sighting one or several of this species. At one point we counted at least seven visible in the heath.

PIED FANTAILS and YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS were also common sights in the surrounding trees. Here, the pied fantails were not shy, prominently displaying themselves in the trees unlike in the American War Cemetery where they tended to keep cover. Occasionally, we would spot very plump BROWN SHRIKES, including the ones belonging to the race with the rufous plumage. From the surrounding trees would float the wheezy song of GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE. This last species was more apparent in this area than anywhere else in the park. As we approached the Bataan Defenders monument, a flock numbering at least a dozen LOWLAND WHITE-EYES burst into the air and headed into the crown of a nearby tree. We hadn't even gone a hundred paces and we were seeing this many birds already.

Somewhere in the scrub thickets behind and right of the Bataan Defenders monument, a grassbird called ceaselessly. We got off the road and proceeded along the edge of the thicket that ran along a gully that turned out to be a dried creek bed. Right away, a large dark bird with a long tail flew out of the nearby saplings and disappeared in the thicket. We thought it might be a coucal, but were not able to get a good look since it only showed itself for a few seconds. Unperturbed, we continued our hunt for the elusive grassbird and were rewarded by our first PIED TRILLER of the day in the scrub across the creek. The first one we saw appeared to be a female of the species because of its grayish appearance. In this same area, Mike called my attention to a pair of SPOTTED DOVES resting in the limbs of a dead tree. We finally located the STRIATED GRASSBIRD when it decided to perch prominently atop an ipil-ipil tree on the far side of the dried creek bed. By now, the sun had come out from behind the clouds and the birds started calling in earnest throughout the park.

As we slowly moved across the field, Mike froze in his tracks and asked if I heard the sound in the grass other than the call of the zebra dove. It sounded like a nasal, hissing krrr-krrr-krrr. I looked at Mike and said it's either some species of quail the female of the BARRED BUTTONQUAIL, which starts breeding in February, gives a similar courting call or we just missed being attacked by a three-meter long Philippine cobra! There were lots of creatures moving in the undergrowth, and they could've been birds, rats, Mabuya skink aka bangkalangs, or snakes.

We took a path into the thicket and emerged on the bank of the creek. Opposite us were vegetable plots planted with leeks and cabbages. In this part of the creek, the water had already receded, but further down past a rickety footbridge it appeared quite deep. Along one of the footpaths into that led to the creek, one of the many-barbed wait-a-minute vines decided to get friendly and shake my hand. After my short, sharp shock, we decided to head back and follow the outer ring road. From one spot along the road, I could see some men casting fishing lines into the creek and the vegetable growers had turned up to water their plots. Along the way, we encountered large numbers of EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS, most flew up into the trees but quite a few stayed put atop some crosses, visibly annoyed. Mike and I had only gone a few paces when he pointed to a flash of turquoise blue landing in a tree branch several meters behind us. In the tree we identified not one but a pair of COLLARED KINGFISHERS. After having a good look at them, we went off the road in the direction of the South Expressway with our sights set on climbing the grassy knoll. In this area, we saw a single male PIED BUSHCHAT, another Striated Grassbird, some Zebra Doves and about two dozen immature SCALY-BREASTED MUNIAS. One flock included another pet trade escapee that had been dyed green. We noticed that this species tended to ignore us until we were within five meters of their perches even less.

We got back on the road and continued south and back to the car. Along the way we encountered more Zebra Doves, Yellow-Vented Bulbuls, Pied Fantails and Lowland White-Eyes and heard another Striated Grassbird make its presence known. I was still hoping for Long- Tailed Shrike, which I expected to be common in the area, but without success.

We were trying to decide whether to wind up the bird recon when we heard a bird call "tzick, tzick" in the sparsely leafed branches above our heads. Mike and I could see it hopping among the branches presumably in search of grubs and insects to devour. I got superb views of the dirty white under parts, the whitish eyebrow and drab upperparts that identified this species as a migrant ARCTIC WARBLER. Our curiosity whetted by our new find, we opted for a second go at the scrub thicket on the western side of the park. We stopped midway to take a look at the squadron of six medium-sized SWIFTS patrolling the air for insects high above Heroes Hall. I didn't think they were Purple Needletail because they lacked the horseshoe pattern formed by white flanks and under tail. Neither Mike nor I saw deeply forked tails each pass, but since they were about the size of Barn Swallows, these could have easily been FORK-TAILED SWIFTS.

It was almost 10:00 but the sky had become overcast again. We found the Striated Grassbird still at its usual post, but the Pied Trillers had already quit the area. We also noticed that the bird chorus had also dwindled to a few Zebra Doves calling in the distance. We were about to leave when I made out a new birdcall coming from the thicket. Mike and I decided to check out the creek and flushed out a male YELLOW BITTERN in the process. The bird flew low across the water and took cover in the grass opposite our position. Hoping to get a better view of the bittern, we took our chances on the flimsy footbridge and made it across. In the tall grass near where the Bittern landed, we saw a flock of more than a dozen CHESTNUT MUNIAS perched on grass stems sunning themselves but nothing else. Since, I didn't want to risk falling into the creek; I managed to sink my shoes in the mud before making it to the opposite bank. Mike got across too and miraculously he didn't have a speck of mud on his shoes!

Satisfied, we ended our visit to the National Heroes Cemetery with another sighting of Collared Kingfisher and quite pleased after our brief but rewarding encounter with a Yellow Bittern. On the way home, we dropped by Heritage Memorial Park to see what birding opportunities were available there. You need permission from the guard to enter the park, which is located east of the National Heroes Cemetery. On our drive around this huge and almost treeless park, we saw the usual Zebra Doves, Tree Sparrows, BARN SWALLOWS and one Collared Kingfisher on a lamppost. We also drove past the lagoon that is still half-filled. Someone was fishing there. I can't imagine anyone wanting to consume fish caught in a lagoon that receives run-off from leached human remains. This doesn't appear to be a good site to be covered for the Bird Book project, though the park might harbor pipits and wagtails.

BIRD LIST for NHC and Heritage
Date: 3 January 2003
Time: 0830-1030 Hours
Weather:
Generally overcast drizzle alternating with sun
Ned Liuag and Mike Lu using 8x40s and 7x35s

1. Yellow Bittern - 1 male
2. Zebra Doves - Everywhere
3. Spotted Doves - 2
4. Collared Kingfisher - 2 (NHC), 1 (Heritage)
5. Fork-tailed Swifts - 6
6. Barn Swallows - Common
7. Yellow-Vented Bulbuls - Common
8. Pied Triller - 2 (a male and female)
9. Striated Grassbird - 2
10. Golden-Bellied Gerygone - Commonly heard but not seen
11. Arctic Warbler - 1 but also heard in other parts of NHC Pied Bushchat - 1 male
12. Pied Fantails - Common
13. Brown Shrike - Common
14. Lowland White-eyes - 20+
15. Eurasian Tree Sparrows - Common
16. Scaly-Breasted Munias - Flock of 20+ (adults and juveniles)
17. Chestnut Munias - 12+ (adults and juveniles) near creek

Problematic: Call approximating Barred Buttonquail heard in thicket