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San Pablo City

Date: April 17 to 18, 2003
Dry conditions, with few clouds and brisk east and southeast wind
by Ned Liuag

Spent a productive three days casually birding from the house while visiting with my parents in San Pablo. It was hot throughout the birding period, except before an hour before sunrise when the mercury dropped to 20 degrees Celsius.

Recorded a total of 16 species, including a couple of new ones for the house list. Winter visitors were still abundant in the area, especially in the early morning.

Planted between 40 to 30 years ago, the crowns of the trees in the back yard form a thick canopy with the trees in the neighbor's property. This summer, the jackfruit, chico and mango trees were heavy with fruit and alongside the flowering rambutan trees guaranteed a rich variety of food choices for the birds to choose from. Except for the eagerly awaited rambutan harvest, most of the fruit produced in the yard ends up food for bats and birds.

On April 17, the day we arrived from Manila, I happened to look out from the windows of the eastern room and caught sight of a LARGE-BILLED CROW flapping its way in the direction of Sampaloc Lake, which is two blocks north of the house.

To my surprise, a pair of BROWN SHRIKES was still in residence. A female shrike was still wintering in the mango tree growing beside the wall separating the yard from the Laguna College campus. The plump female in the orchidarium had already departed for its Asian breeding grounds and had been replaced by a sleek young grey-brown male that sported the distinct golden-buff belly. Occasionally, the male shrike would have a spat with the pair of YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS whose territory included the rambutan and lanzones trees in the center of the backyard. There would be a flurry of wings followed by a mad dash for cover by the shrike.

A Brown Shrike hunting in the open spaces of the American War Cemetery does not compare to display of stealthy grace by another in pursuit of prey in the tree canopy. In the War Cemetery, the action is brief and unremarkable. In my mother's orchidarium, it is a ballet. Here the Brown Shrike noiselessly swoops from among tangled branches and leaves, snatches its target then disappears into cover. The entire action takes only seconds.

My sightings of endemic LOWLAND WHITE-EYE were few and far between. I counted no more than three birds in one place at any one time though I am sure that there were more in the orchard. On two occasions this visit, the flock of white-eyes roosting in the rambutan trees roused me in the pre-dawn chill with their distinct 15-minute chorus.

I only recorded a single RED-KEELED FLOWERPECKER every few hours on all days of my visit. It would either be zipping past the window, perched and calling from the neighbor's television aerial, or flitting in and out of the chico tree behind the orchidarium.

To my delight, the yards and neighboring gardens were alive with OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRDS this time, especially in the early morning hours. Some were quite tame, even flying around just above people's heads.

In our front garden, I watched one male sunbird pestering a pair of EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS from a rose bush that it favored. The male of this species is distinguished from its cousins by the bluish-purple throat. The female has olive-brownish upper parts, yellow or pale yellow below with a pale yellow eye-stripe.

All three days, I would hear the familiar singular call che-weet or the continuous sweet sweet. This last vocalization sounds like the electronic bird chimes that were popular a couple years ago. But Olive-backed Sunbirds also utter a short cherk when it takes off or is agitated.

Jotting down some notes on the sunbirds on April 18, I spotted a tight flock of 14 LITTLE EGRETS moving in the direction of Laguna de Bay. I also put on the record a few BARN SWALLOWS also moving north plus several swifts - ASIAN PALM SWIFTS and HOUSE SWIFTS - trawling the air for insects. Later in the day I'd watched PACIFIC SWALLOWS buzzing one of the ROCK DOVES now sheltering in the INC chapel spires. The resident swallows are a feisty bunch. I have seen them mobbing the peregrine falcon, which has been regularly observed here between November and March. The presence of the Rock Doves in the chapel spires must indicate that this raptor has moved on for the season, apparently following the migrant tern population that visit the lakes during the northern winter.

At sunrise the following day, April 19, I added a pair of WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS to the house list. I'd been watching intent on the sunbirds again and had been ignoring the large shapes moving in the vicinity of the lake. I trained my binocs on a pair of white rock doves once the sunbirds quit the area and chanced upon the terns. After consulting the Kennedy Guide I determined that the dark lining of the under wing on these birds indicated Chlidonias leucopterus.

Also added a male BLUE ROCK THRUSH to the San Pablo house record for this year. This one I spotted first on the TV antenna of the IFI church and last just before it disappeared on the roof of the belfry.

I missed out on raptors on these three days but managed a few night-herons flying in the vicinity of the City Hospital that overlooks the lake. One of the night-herons seen was a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, which shares the lake with Little Herons and Rufous Night-Herons.

Additional Notes

1. Birding periods were noon to sunset on April 17 and 5:30 to 7:00 am and 3:00 to 6:00 pm on the succeeding days from the second story windows of the house.

2. I am including in the bird list the most number of birds per species seen during the three-day birdwatch. I am listing lowland white-eyes, olive-backed sunbirds and red-keeled flowerpeckers as common for our garden in San Pablo based on my two-year record and visual and aural record of individuals or of pairs throughout the weekend observation periods.

3. Bush fires evident on the lower western and northern slopes of Mount San Cristobal. At least a hectare of grassland and scrub burned down on the western side through the afternoon and night of April 17 stopping short of a thickly wooded section of the mountain. The April 19 fires were on the other side of the ridge but thick smoke was observed until a rainstorm smothered the fires by mid-afternoon.

1. Little Egret - 14
2. Unidentified Night Herons - 3
3. Black-Crowned Night-Heron - 1
4. Rock Doves - 6
5. White-Winged Tern - 2
6. Asian Palm Swift - singles seen House Swifts - 5+
7. Pacific Swallow - common c. 3
8. Barn Swallow - 3
9. Blue Rock-Thrush - 1
10. Large-Billed Crow - 1
11. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - common c.3
12. Brown Shrike - 2
13. male and female Olive-backed Sunbird - common c. 4+
14. males and females Red-keeled Flowerpecker - common, singles only
15. Lowland White-eye - common, c.3 Eurasian Tree Sparrow - common