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Report from San Pablo City

Date: May 16 to 17, 2003
Weather: Hazy, overcast skies, afternoon rains both days
by Ned Liuag

The arrival of the monsoon was most apparent in San Pablo. The banaba trees were exploding with purple flowers, the orchids ablaze, the "apple" mango trees heavy with pink fruit, and the rambutan beginning to fruit. The mornings of May 16 and 17 mountains surrounding the city were obscured by thick haze and I was told it had rained on and off in recent days. And it did rain both afternoons that we were in town. In between fatherly duties, I was able to bird for several hours on both days and add species to my San Pablo house list and my year list. On both days PACIFIC SWALLOWS, OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRDS and EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS and LOWLAND WHITE-EYES were the most common garden birds. Olive-backed Sunbirds were most audible. On my last day of the visit, while keeping watch over my sleeping toddler, a male Olive-backed Sunbird spent 10 minutes singing from a television antenna across from our window.

My long hours at the windows did not turn up my favorite Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers. These were replaced by the similarly endemic PYGMY FLOWERPECKER, which were easy to spot as individuals or pairs only when perched on leafless branches of a particular rambutan tree. Like their Red-keeled cousins, the Pygmy Flowerpeckers also like to forage in the chico tree behind the orchidarium but their size and drab color make them harder to locate even when calling. On one occasion, a Pygmy Flowerpecker and Tree Sparrow perched adjacent to each other, allowing a fair comparison of their sizes. Because I would see this species every hour on both days I would classify it as common on my house list. Because I was keen on studying flowerpeckers I missed having a good look on Saturday morning at a flock of 12 Egrets that flew over the house. The egrets were moving in a V-formation towards Sampaloc Lake. I was however still fortunate later that morning to spot a RUFOUS NIGHT HERON as it flapped languidly in the same direction. Returning from the lake, my brother reported seeing three Rufous Night Herons fishing in one of the pens off the spot where they swim their dogs. Scanning the yard just after sunrise on the 16th rewarded me with a sight that brought back memories of many summers past. Seen attempting to perch on a pipe jutting from the façade of the Laguna College Science Building were four immature birds of a species last seen in our yard and only once over 30 years ago: ASIAN GLOSSY STARLINGS!

The young birds seemed only recently out of the nest. Their flight was floppy and their balance uncertain. I watched with eagerness until they flew back into the quadrangle and I lost them from sight behind the chico tree growing on the property line. I would later encounter individuals, perched from a telephone wire or flying in the neighborhood, offering strong proof that this species had been nesting in the area.

Yesterday, May 17, with my wife I saw four - including two adults and at least one juvenile - from our window. Perched for some length of time on a television antenna up the street, the Glossy Starlings caused consternation among the Tree Sparrows that apparently had nests to protect in that section of the neighborhood. Long after the Starlings had left, I watched several Tree Sparrows continuously flying up into the air then dropping down into the trees. I thought this was part of defensive behavior until I realized they were catching insects on the wing! I'd seen one of the two YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS whose territory now covered our yard successfully do this from the Science Building the day before. And at dawn on Saturday I observed three Tree Sparrows feeding on termites at the base of a rambutan tree in the yard. The demand for this protein source must mean the presence of young somewhere. And, to my disappointment, they completely ignored the seed and rice grains spread on a table in the orchidarium. Since the Brown Shrikes have definitely departed north, the Tree Sparrows have the run of the backyard and garden. The trees are filled with their incessant chatter, punctuated only by the liquid song of Olive-backed Sunbirds. Saw several ISLAND SWIFTLETS on Saturday afternoon trawling right over the house for insects and the occasional ASIAN PALM SWIFT straying into town from the plantations around the lake.

After this weekend stakeout, I feel confident to state that the Peregrine Falcon has departed for more productive hunting grounds. Which also explains why four feral ROCK DOVES now roost in the east spire of the INC Chapel and their presence now tolerated by the feisty squadron of Pacific Swallows that first occupied the site.

BIRD LIST:
1. Egret spp. - 12 flying over Ilaya
2. Rufous Night Heron - 1 flying over Ilaya
3. Island Swiftlet - 4
4. Asian Palm Swift - Pairs seen. Occasional garden visitor
5. Pacific Swallow - Common. Up to 5 seen at any one time
6. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - 2
7. Asian Glossy Starling - 6, including 2 adults
8. Pygmy Flowerpecker - Singles or pairs.
9. Lowland White-Eye - Common. Saw 3 at one time.
10. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Common
11. Feral Rock Dove - 7