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Saturday Afternoon at the American War Cemetery

Ned Liuag--

Date: 01 March 2003
Time: 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Weather: Dry conditions, sun, brisk southeast wind

I took off for the American War Cemetery this afternoon, March 1, to check on conditions and bird prospects at this time of year. My 16-kilometer endurance hike in Makiling the previous weekend turned up no bird sightings, though the team was able to follow a new trail and explore a little visited section of the forest.

It was my luck that a Fort Bus was about to pull away from the McKinley stop, just off the MRT stairs. A P9.00 ticket saved me the waiting time at jeepney terminal. The regular Fort Bus offers a cool, relaxing ride through plush Forbes Park but you must be prepared to walk the last quarter of a kilometer to the War Cemetery gate from the bus stop on 5th Avenue a distance from the Regent Parkway condominium (ref CitiAtlas Map 87).

It was oven-hot as I walked towards the entrance on Old Lawton Drive, My approach sending the basking sun skinks skittering off the pavement.

Just outside the gate, I spotted my first bird of the day - a GREY-STREAKED FLYCATCHER sitting motionless on the branch of a leafless tree. The EURASIAN TREE SPARROW perched in the same tree provided a point of comparison to this winter visitor. Straightaway, I could pick up the familiar wheezy song of the GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE from the trees near the Superintendent’s residence.

Midway up the avenue that leads to the War Memorial, I paused to take a look at a close flock of LOWLAND WHITE-EYES foraging in the branches high above. From this point, I also caught sight of the first of several ZEBRA DOVES and BROWN SHRIKES of the day.

This afternoon, I decided to switch from a mobile to a positional strategy. I selected a shady spot on the south slope below the parking lot. With its near 180-degree view of the site, this position allowed me to cover More ground with the least energy. This also meant being able to spend more time counting the birds and observing their activity.

I discovered two old nests high in the narra trees located behind the washrooms. The nests consist of a platform of sticks and dried grass positioned in a fork. These appear large enough to support night-herons. Idid not observe any activity there, but the nests appear to be recent.

Below me, I counted three PIED BUSHCHATS, including one female, watching over their territories from the headstones. From time to time, these birds would fly to the ground to capture prey. Sharing that section of the Cemetery with them was a trio of Brown Shrikes, which were content to remain motionless on their perches.

One of the resident WHITE-COLLARED KINGFISHERS staked out its patch of ground near the tree where we spotted the gray squirrel on November 24.This section proved quite productive for the Kingfisher, which dropped on the grass several times within a minute I spent observing it.

An hour into my bird walk, I aimed for the tree line on the western perimeter of the Cemetery. I found more Brown Shrikes hunting here. These ones were not shy, allowing me to approach them as near as six meters from their perches. I did notice at least one undersized Brown Shrike, about two-thirds the size of the others. I have observed similar sized Brown Shrikes in the Tripa de Galina area and wonder how these managed to make the trip from mainland Asia or whether they will survive the return which begins any day now.

I was hoping to find flowerpeckers or sunbirds in the dap-dap tree here and came up with an active flock of at least 10 YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS. These birds will eat almost anything and everything, owing their success in Metro Manila. While some would reach deep into the throats of these flowers, I observed others nibbling on tender shoots of the neighboring acacia.

As moved in for a closer view of the Yellow-Vented Bulbuls a startled rail scurried deeper into the bamboo hedge and a PIED FANTAIL flew off calling sharply to protest my intrusion.

My search for the rail turned up a single SPOTTED DOVE, which I saw through a hole in the hedge before it flew off into the restricted area.

I must note that the zeal of the new administrator for landscaping has severely reduced the thickets and hedgerow habitat favored by the Pied Fantail. I only managed a handful of this species, usually the most conspicuous bird in this site. My visit also turned up no sign of grassbirds, owing further reduction of the grassland in the restricted zone and outside the perimeter fence. The area surrounding the American Cemetery is tinder dry and a recent grassfire consumed the habitat beyond the northeastern wall, just up Old Lawton Drive.

I followed the outer ring road and keeping a sharp eye for starlings. Surprisingly, I saw a male BLUE ROCK THRUSH in the same spot where we had seen it during our December 22 bird trip here. As noted in previous reports, this one does not appear as plump as the individual showing up in the Tripa de Galina area.

Further down the outer ring road a bird that I tracked in flight to a tree behind some hedges on the eastern section turned out to be a male PIED TRILLER. Later in the day, I came across the bird again northeast of the War Memorial. I now realize it was a Pied Triller that Kitty Arce had pointed to as it flew over us during our birdwalk with Mrs. Neese in November.

As it neared closing time and the day got cooler, I noticed that the numbers of Zebra Doves started to increase. I spooked a flock of five into hedges, and was coming across more individuals and started hearing their calls on the hike back to the War Memorial.

As I took up my position on the western side of the War Memorial, a dark shape flew in the direction of the gate, its white wing patches diagnostic of a CRESTED MYNAH. I had only 10 minutes left and I was about to call it a day when finally a BARRED RAIL emerged from the bushes and slowly picked its way across the lawn before it ducked for cover again. The rail emerged a second time as I packed up to leave. I got very good looks at it and felt relieved that this species was still present in the area.

The Zebra Doves became more vocal as the sun went down and started showing up on the lawns at this time. They were no longer shy these doves and I enjoyed the peaceful sound of their cooing as I made my way to the open gate and reentered a world teetering on the brink of war.


Additional Note

I’d like to add for the record that five HOUSE SWIFTS were spotted high above the Tripa de Galina creek from our third story flat on 27 February.

And, just to inform that the next day, I saw clutches of COMMON MOORHEN being sold by the road to Sta. Maria in Bulacan.

Species List:

1. Barred Rail - 1
2. Spotted Dove - 1
3. Zebra Doves - Common towards evening; flocks up to 5 seen at one time
4. White-Collared Kingfisher - 1 seen and heard, very conspicuous
5. Pied Triller - 1 male
6. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - Common, concentrations up to 10 birds
7. Pied Bushchat - 3, including one female
8. Blue Rock Thrush - 1 male
9. Golden-Bellied Gerygone - Easily heard but not seen
10. Grey-Streaked Flycatcher - 1
11. Pied Fantail - Few
12. Brown Shrike - Common, seen up to 3 individuals at any one time
13. Crested Mynah - 1 in flight
14. Lowland White-Eye - Flock of 8
15. Eurasian Tree Sparrow- Common but few