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A Quick Trip to San Pablo

Date: March 22
Weather: dry conditions, scattered clouds with winds from northeast
Ned Liuag with Hannah

Spent the day casually birding from the second story window of our house here. Since we arrived late this morning, the birds were generally silent and dispersed. I've gotten used to birding by ear so I needed a bit more patience before locating my favorite residents in surrounding trees.


With luck I found three beautiful LOWLAND WHITE-EYE gleaning insects in the branches five to seven meters away. I suspect that there might be more but these birds were keeping quiet this time. I still think that the best place to find these birds in the neighborhood is the Laurel compound near the IFI church around the corner. The compound used to have these old mango and duhat trees in their yard, which had to be chopped down for safety reasons. The white-eyes continue to flock at this site for reasons known only to these birds. When I cannot locate them in our yard, a walk down and past the Laurels place will usually reveal a small flock twittering in the topmost branches of the two or three remaining trees in that compound.

I spent a lengthy time admiring these active little birds from my hide when the vocal but hard to see RED-KEELED FLOWERPECKER flew from its favorite chico tree behind the orchidariums before perching in one of the rambutans. Known to wander into open country from forest and edge, this endemic is a common visitor to our lot and surrounding gardens here. As in previous occasions, this species was observed with a bit of plant material in its bill. I presume this is a berry from a mistletoe-like plant growing in the crown of the chico. It was an added bonus that the flowerpecker perched closer to my position where it was joined by one of the white-eyes, allowing a relative comparison oftheirsize and shape.

Some birders might find the ubiquitous EURASIAN TREE SPARROW a nuisanceto look at but here they are healthy, clean and scarce in numbers. Iknow they've been referred to as mice with wings. (The feral rock dovebeing the New Yorker's winged version of the rat.) Yet for a bird seenpicking through the garbage floating on the Tripa de Galina creek inMakati, I find that it isn't hard for me to like Tree Sparrows. Here isa species known to colonize islands by hitching rides on ferries andfishing boats and to be tolerant of urban conditions. So when they getkind of scarce around my office in Makati, I start to get real worriedabout the air quality in there.

Perhaps because we now have three cats prowling the property, and alitter to come, the Tree Sparrows are loath to take dust baths in thegarden or the yard like they used to. Even if you don't see themengaged in this activity in your gardens, the telltale signs aredepressions in the dry ground where the birds rub about to get rid ofparasites.

It was particularly interesting that a flock of nine tree sparrowsshared the treetop where a single YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL was sounding itsbubbly call. From my vantage, I could easily identify its raised crestand the conspicuously colored vent. Owing its omnivorous habits, theYellow-Vented Bulbul is one of the successful birds in Metro Manila.I've seen them feeding on flowers and shoots, chasing insects like aflycatcher around Greenbelt Park in Makati or picking insects fromtwigs. The only thing they don't seem to do is snatch food scraps offthe ground. In some places here it is called the kulkul, which soundslike its call. When referring to the bird in non-birding company I callit the malipago because theFarsi(?)-derived English common name has a rather offish meaning inTagalog.

From nearby, I could hear the sweet-sweet call of an OLIVE-BACKEDSUNBIRD but failed to locate it. A pair of PACIFIC SWALLOWS were on thewing above the Laguna College campus next door and I spotted a singleASIAN PALM SWIFT on its way back to the coconut plantations surroundingSampaloc Lake, which I'll be discussing later.

The BROWN SHRIKES were still around. The plump female is stillquartering in the orchidarium and I spotted it in the early afternoon.I know it is interested in the flowerpecker and switches to hunting modewhen the latter arecalling. This particular shrike has a favorite perch. I inadvertentlydisturbed it one evening when I was out for a breath of fresh air. Thisshrikeseems to like that tree and its droppings are smack in the same spotevery time I visit.

I spotted a male in the open lot across the street today and admired theway its belly seemed to ripple gold to buff then gold again in thesunlight. Taking a leaf from another birder's advice - to observe notjust watch - provides a different kind of experience. It has for me aZen-like quality to it.

I am sure there are three shrikes in this section of the neighborhood.One keeps hidden in the trees at the far end of the yard, but I hear itcalling. The rambutan and mangoes are in bloom, so it will not be longbefore the Brown Shrikes depart for their breeding grounds on themainland. It will be sometime till I visit San Pablo again so I mightnot hear them again till late August or early September when theirreturn signals the ripening of the lanzones.

PUBLIC MARKETA visit to San Pablo is never complete without a trip to the market,where you might encounter one or two bird sellers peddling forestspecies. This afternoon, I was offered a pair of RED TURTLE-DOVES forP90! In the cages, I counted four WHITE-EARED BROWN DOVES, a pair of SPOTTED DOVES, two COMMON EMERALD DOVES and two medium-sized white doveswhich I didn't investigate closer and could have been immature PIEDIMPERIALS. Must mention a few SCALY-BREASTED MUNIAS transformed intoBaclaran Sparrows i.e. spray-painted and adult CHESTNUT MUNIAS. I wastempted to purchase some of the birds and liberate them in the yard.

SAMPALOC LAKETook wife and daughter to the lake with my nephew and niece. From theviewing point on the southern rim of the crater, I spotted a flight of14 egrets. I presume these to be LITTLE EGRETS, which have been the mostcommon winter visitor during my bird count here in November. Alsospotted a dark winged heron that I believe to be a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHTHERON. I have not spotted this species here before but this migrant isknown to be present in the Seven Lakes area from the five captives keptin the lakeshore community.

The wind was strong enough for us to decide against going down the 100or so step American period stairway leading to the lake and detourthrough the nearby park. All around Pacific and BARN SWALLOWS rode thewind, zipping around the mango trees. Flying among the swallows was anISLAND SWIFTLET whose distinct scimitar shaped wings and uniformly darkunder parts I described to my eight-year old niece Hannah.

Hannah eagerly joined me on a hike around Sampaloc Lake. We took off ona clockwise direction at 4:30 this afternoon after promising wife andbaby to be back at the lakeshore promenade in an hour's time. It canget quite nippy on the shore and as we walked towards the outlet a briskwind raised waves on the surface of the lake.

In the site past the small hotel, I noticed a dark bird-like shapemoving along the edge of an abandoned floating fish pen. Training mybinoculars on it, I realized this was my first sighting of a LITTLEHERON on the lake. I pointed the heron out for Hannah who then saidthat there were two, the second revealing itself by flying to adifferent section of the pen.

Along the way, we stopped to admire a huge sturdy tree in the abandonedlakeside subdivision, covered with pinkish white flowers that were froma distance reminiscent of cherry blossoms. I forget what the tree iscalled but it's in the Periplus guide to Philippine flowers. This treecan be seen white against dark green from any point along the lakeshoreroad.

Past this point, we could hear the Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers callingcontinuously from trees by the road but remaining invisible. But thebest birding can be had in the north and the east shores of the lake,where coconut plantations and stands of bamboo remain.

Dozens of Asian Palm Swifts were on the wing among the coconut palms inthe northern section and we would have stayed to observe if not for thelimited time.

Hannah and I found a nice spot in the fishing area from where we trainedthe binoculars on the floating fish pens and came up with two moreLittle Herons. While watching the herons searching for prey, I saw somemovement far across the water attracted my attention. It turned out tobe a COMMON KINGFISHER, perched on the bamboo float and intent oncapturing its next meal. Hannah said she'd seen the egrets flying againbut when I peered across the lake they'd taken cover again and could notbe located.

I was looking into the bamboo stands on the crater rim when Hannah gavea shriek as a dark shape flapped from below the bank to finally perchon the bamboo stakes of the fish pen upshore. This proved to be animmature Black-Crowned Night Heron, identified by more brown and withlesscontrasting streaks in breast and upper parts than the immature ofRufous Night-Herons which are quite common in the Seven Lakes area.

We found another kingfisher perched on a bamboo pole in a fish pen, managed to get within five meters of it and determine that it was also a Common Kingfisher. I did not want to discount the possibility that one of the Indigo-Banded species might have strayed from remaining forest patches nearby.

While my wife took the kids downtown for burgers, I carried baby who had fallen asleep home and staked out in the eastern room for the highlight of every visit. The PEREGRINE FALCON showed up at 6:20 approaching the INC Chapel from the direction of Sampaloc Lake. This one was definitely of the resident race ernesti, whose finely barred belly I could distinguish. It rocketed past the house on powerful wings and disappeared to the south. A few moments later, it showed up in the vicinity of the INC Chapel allowing superb views as it soared around the spires for the next five minutes. The Peregrine flew toward the lake, reappearing briefly before finally disappearing behind the INC spires.

The last bird of the day was the female Brown Shrike wintering in our orchidarium. In the evening gloom, I spotted it perched at its usual treetop larder before disappearing among the foliage, a house gecko firmly in its notched bill. (Sorry folks, no vivid description of bludgeoning and impalement this time.)


Little Egret - 14
2. Little Heron - 4
3. Black-Crowned Night Heron - 2 including an immature heron
4. Peregrine Falcon - 1
5. Rock Dove - 7
6. Common Kingfisher - 2
7. Island Swiftlet - 1
8. Asian Palm Swift - common in coconut groves around lake
9. Barn Swallow - several
10. Pacific Swallow - several
11. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - 1
12. Brown Shrike - 3 encountered, 1 heard in yard
13. Lowland White-eye - 3 seen from house, heard elsewhere
14. Olive-Backed Sunbird - heard only
15. Red-keeled Flowerpecker - 1, commonly heard around Sampaloc Lake
16. Eurasian Tree Sparrows - flock of 9 seen from the house, but usually singles observed