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Report from Kapatalan in Siniloan, Laguna

Date: May 15, 2003
Sunny skies with scattered clouds, high humidity
by Ned Liuag

I managed to squeeze a few hours birdwatching in my brother-in-law's backyard in the farming village of Kapatalan in Siniloan, Laguna. We missed the 6:45 am bus for Infanta, Quezon by minutes and had to wait another hour at the station on Legarda Street in downtown Manila. With a half-hour lunch break at the Famy junction - only 15 kilometers from our destination! The 95-kilometer trip via the Manila East Road took two and a half-hours. Between Antipolo and the town of Pillila, Rizal there was nothing of note bird-wise, except 10 feral ROCK DOVES near the Cathedral in Antipolo and the countless EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS. The countryside along the Rizal stretch of the Manila East Road was tinder dry and consumed in parts by recent grassfires. It wasn't till the bus reached Amoyong in Sta. Maria, Laguna that the countryside changed from brown to green and we started to hear the first OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRDS singing in the trees. When the bus hit the lowlands before following the highway up the Sierra Madre Mountain Range to Kapatalan, I spotted the only egrets of the trip in the irrigated rice fields, a pair but too far to identify. We arrived at the house where my wife spent her early childhood around 11:00 am. Soon as we stowed our gear away, we took the toddler for a quick walk around the property. Behind the house are a few coffee trees, coconut palms, some fruit trees and a fallow field. The soil is of the poor, red quality that is only good for planting cassava. Now a pasture, the old rice paddy is overgrown with a plant bearing yellow flowers, the kind used for ornamental flowerbeds.

The property on the northern boundary is an overgrown thicket, where later in the day I got snagged my leg on a particularly nasty version of the wait-a-minute vine. It was from this part of the yard that I spent a long time trying to find a bird that made a loud, incessant "chek-trrrrrr" for minutes on end. My wife's cousin said the bird I was after is very small and quite noisy in the morning. I managed to see a small, brown bird in a coconut palm but I doubt that was the species I was looking for. In this same lot I briefly caught sight of two large birds, one could have been a Black-Naped Oriole but I never heard its call. In the same place I heard the call of the WHITE-EARED BROWN DOVE. A marshy area at the far end of the pasture forms the boundary with the extensive property that used to be a gamecock farm. The marshy section feeds into a creek further on. Beyond the neighbor's spread lay the high ground. The western portion of the rise was now cogon grassland. From the yard, you could see thick growth on the northern section of the high ground beyond the main village.

In the yard I encountered a few LOWLAND WHITE-EYES and OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRDS in the morning until early afternoon. Following its far-carrying song, I found the first of several STRIATED GRASSBIRDS perched on a post in the middle of the pasture. Sharing the field with the grassbirds were a number of reed warblers which I could see flying back and forth above the grass all afternoon. I managed to identify these as CLAMOROUS REED WARBLERS when a couple landed in the grass nearby and started calling from cover.

After lunch, I took my binoculars, found a nice shady spot in the yard and spent the next four hours staking out the pasture. Striated Grassbirds were the most conspicuous and common species. I spent hours studying them during this trip and determined there must have been at least four in the territory, including juveniles. I was fortunate to see up close a juvenile grassbird while it negotiated a strand of barbed wire across the marshy section of the pasture.

Once in a while a couple of PACIFIC SWALLOWS would fly up to my wooded section of the yard before disappearing behind some trees. At other times, an ISLAND SWIFTLET or an ASIAN PALM SWIFT would flutter just above my head. Several times in the afternoon, a WHITE-BREASTED WOODSWALLOW would perch on the wire strung from the post favored by the Striated Grassbirds. It would fly beyond the stand of coconut palms and join two Woodswallows hawking for insects there. This bird was particularly enjoyable to watch as it coursed above the pasture on delta shaped wings. There were three species of Bulbuls in the surrounding trees. I easily heard but failed to spot the YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS in the neighbor's overgrown coconut grove as well as the endemic YELLOW-WATTLED species. One of my wife's cousins also pointed out a PHILIPPINE BULBUL perched in the santol tree but it was already on the wing when I saw it. I'd managed to locate a pair of these bulbuls but did not get very good views through the screen of leaves and palm fronds.

Later in the day, three LARGE-BILLED CROWS flapped lazily past my observation post. An angry Pacific Swallow apparently took offense at their intrusion and promptly buzzed the third in the group. I followed a pair of WHITE-COLLARED KINGFISHERS as they flew across the field and disappeared into the nearby thicket. In the mid-afternoon light, the kingfishers looked like the Black-capped species only recorded in Palawan, but it was the dark bills that provided the telltale field marks. A single CRESTED MYNAH, white wing patches visible in flight, also made a flyby. Best bird of the trip was a male ORIENTAL MAGPIE-ROBIN that perched on a branch close to my position, offering a long, good look. It only sang two-notes from its melodious repertoire throughout the appearance before I finally lost sight of it deep into the thicket. I found it curious that no Long-tailed Shrikes or Pied Bushchats were found during my four-hour survey though this was the right environment for both species. I was lucky that during the hours spent birdwatching, I had not been pestered by a single mosquito or by the land leeches that I later learned (and saw) infested my favored spot of ground!

Conversations with a Bird Trapper My in-laws keep a White-Eared Brown Dove tied to a bamboo perch by the door. I was told that the endemic dove served as a live alarm clock, uttering its call between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning. I learned that the dove was purchased from the neighbor who lived across the pasture. Later in the afternoon, I visited and found at least 11 of these doves in cages, which explained the hooting calls I heard when I was exploring the carabao wallow nearby. The woman of the house said her husband used to hunt Red Jungle Fowl before switching to forest doves. He would leave home before dawn and return at the end of the day with seven doves in his traps. To trap doves, he would lure them in using a captive dove in a cage. The doors would snap shut once the doves perch on either side of the wire cages. The neighbor also told me that some of the doves were captured in their yard when they were lured by the calling cage-birds. I asked her if they ever managed to capture Luzon Bleeding-Hearts and that if I wanted that species I had to go to the Quezon side. The trapper's price for the doves was P50 each, of which four were taken home by my wife's nephew.

BIRD LIST: (other locations in parenthesis)
1. Unidentified Egrets - 2 in rice field, probably Little Egrets (Sta Maria, Laguna)
2. White-Eared Brown Dove - 1 heard in thicket
3. White-Collared Kingfisher -2
4. Island Swiftlet - 1
5. Asian Palm Swift - 1
6. Pacific Swallow - 2
7. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - Heard only
8. Yellow-Wattled Bulbul - 1 heard
9. Philippine Bulbul - 2
10. Large-Billed Crow - 3
11. Oriental Magpie-Robin - 1 male
12. Clamorous Reed Warbler - Common
13. Striated Grassbird - Common, 4+ in vicinity of pasture
14. White-Breasted Woodswallow - 3
15. Crested Mynah - 1
16. Olive-Backed Sunbird - Common
17. Lowland White-Eye - Common
18. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Common everywhere
19. Feral Rock Dove - 10 (Antipolo), 3 (Morong), 1 (Famy)