Rain-swept Sunday with Herons
Reclamation Area, Asia World City and Coastal Road
Date: June 1, 2003
Time: 5:30 am to 9:00 am
Weather: Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain
Mike Lu, Jon Villasper and Ned Liuag
is one way to look at our bird trip. But that was a small
price to pay in exchange for a productive morning in the reclamation
areas of Manila Bay with 20 species on record. This trip we
added three new species to our Metro Manila bird list while
confirming the presence of two species recorded on our trip
was still dark and cold when Mike Lu, Jon Villasper and I
drove up to the field where we spotted the owl last Sunday.
Indoors, the mercury measured around 26 degrees Celsius. As
we turned on PEA Road One off the EDSA (C-4 Extension)Rotunda,
we could already hear the dawn chorus of grassbirds just above
the hum of the car engine.
eased the car in the small street that runs between SM Buildings
B and C, which seemed like a good place to park. We do not
however recommend that you park here longer than a few minutes.
You run the risk of being questioned by security personnel.
The parking lot is further up at the Promenade Plaza beside
the equipment yard on Seaside Boulevard.
reach the site by public transport, take the Airport or Baclaran
bus from the MRT or LRT stations on the corner of Taft and
EDSA and ask to get off at the SM office bus stop on the rotunda.
The owl site is along the road that runs behind the blue SM
Spotting Along PEA Road
The field where we spotted the owl last week covers about
a hectare of undeveloped land. A barbed wire fence on the
eastern boundary of the site separates it from the tall grass
and scattered scrub thickets of ipil-ipil and thorn bushes.
The grass cover in the Bay City section of the field was probably
cleared to minimize the threat of dry season grass fires.
The grassland is starting to renew itself as a result of recent
sand and gravel track runs through the center of the field
north-south axis and is probably used by heavy equipment to
lessen the wear and tear on the Bay City roads. This section
is a sharp contrast to the brown and deep green hues of the
field and proved to be the most productive.
started to drizzle when we strung out to wait for the owl.
It didn't take very long. We were still adjusting our eyes
to the pre-dawn gloom, trying to figure out the dark shapes
moving on the sandy area when Mike noticed the owl as it came
up from the south. The owl had light brown upperparts, pale
streaked breast, buff colored (not white) belly, and rather
dark feathers around the face and white-feathered legs. Our
position did not allow us to get a good view of its under-wings.
Its flight pattern consisted of flaps followed by short glides
about three meters above the ground.
bird circled back and I saw the black tips of the wings quite
clearly but missed out the detail of the tail because it was
moving quite fast. The owl pounced on something on the ground
once, apparently missing its prey, flew into the air then
dropped a second time a short distance from the first spot.
By this time, it was starting to rain, and we lost sight of
the owl in the vicinity of the C-4 Extension Rotunda. We still
don't have a definite ID on this owl species, but it's still
a toss between an immature Grass Owl or the rare migrant Short-Eared
the rain drove us back to the car we added seven feral ROCK
DOVES from the Tramo-based flock; a night-heron likely to
be a Black-Crowned Night Heron high above flying south and
several CHESTNUT MUNIAS foraging in a clump of grass a few
meters from our position.
to catch the owl on a return flight, we drove up PEA Road
One and turned right on Seaside Boulevard, putting us square
on the northern edge of the field. This put the GSIS -Senate
complex, across the Libertad Channel to our left. It wasn't
even 6:00 am, and there was the distinct possibility that
we could be mistaken for "terrorists". The downpour
was enough to keep us from rolling down the windows for a
look. So we missed some birds that Mike spotted as they flew
into the ipil-ipil thickets in the GSIS grounds. When it did
slacken a bit and we whipped out our binoculars, we got some
curious looks from passing cyclists and very determined joggers.
moment the rain slowed to drizzles everyone popped out of
the car and had a long look across the field. Jon said there
were some Plover-like birds scurrying in the open area. We
could see them but they were well camouflaged against the
dull ground and the light we had poor light to work with.
Then, in the scrub on the eastern section of the field we
saw a pair of YELLOW BITTERNS fly from cover, their light-colored
bodies and dark-edged wings distinguishing them from the first
CINAMMON BITTERN of the trip, a real stand out! As we were
getting ready to get into the car to return to our earlier
position on PEA Road One, a SPOTTED DOVE shot across the field
towards the GSIS complex.
When it Rains, it Pours
started to rain again when we drove back to the section across
from the SM offices so we had to break our the raingear again.
There was a bit more concern among us about getting our binoculars
soaked than for us to be drenched in the rain. Scanning the
eastern horizon, we saw more Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns
flying in the scrub beyond the barbed wire fence. Two of the
Cinnamon Bitterns flew across Macapagal Boulevard and around
the buildings of the Sumitomo construction project, which
is east and a little over a kilometer from my flat straight
as the bittern flies. We had very good views of both species
and counted up to four of each at any one time.
found the ORIENTAL PRATINCOLES in the sandy, open area in
the middle of the field. We counted as many as eight, but
there could be more. At half-past 6:00, individuals or pairs
started wheeling about on tern-like wings, their white rumps
visible. According to Kennedy et al, this species, whose resident
numbers are boosted by migrants, is rare from June toSeptember.
Among the Pratincoles, we could see two or three plovers hunting
for invertebrates in the gravel. The piping pee-yoo, pee-yoo
calls clued us to identifying these as resident LITTLE RINGED
PLOVERS. We soon added an air of BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS
to our count, a CRESTED MYNAH and a LITTLE HERON, which we
located walking near the rain-filled depression in the open
we were observing the Oriental Pratincoles, Mike directed
attention to a dark rail-like bird walking across the track.
We would have thought it to be a White-Breasted Waterhen.
This species was recorded in the overgrown lot behind the
Manila Film Palace last year, but the one we were watching
turned out to be almost all-black. Jon mentioned the white
edged tail and white on either the wings or flanks. I also
saw both marks and like him thought we might be looking at
a COMMON MOORHEN, though we were unable to distinguish a frontal
shield before it retreated into the undergrowth beyond the
to contain our curiosity, we started to walk across the field.
To my relief we did not sink in mud. The wind was in our faces
and being the one clad in a raincoat had a hard time keeping
my binoculars dry. Mike and Jon, who had umbrellas, fared
better. To give an idea how intense the downpour was at times,
you could hardly distinguish the Makati Central Business District
skyline from this site.
Pratincoles started to disperse at our approach, some flew
before landing in the northern edge of the field. While angling
for a better view, we discovered a group of grey and white
shorebirds standing on the edge of the rain pool.
appeared to have wings and backs mottled grey. The grey tended
to get lighter at the shoulder. The under parts were all white.
One of them was preening its back feathers so the breast was
clearly white. Legs and bill appeared dark, but the colors
were likely obscured by rain and because the birds were standing
against a background of pale sand strewn with shells and black
stones. Jon, who was using a 10 x 40 with coated lenses, described
the bill on one as slightly upturned.
long as we stayed on the grassy side of the field, the flock
ignored us. The Oriental Pratincoles, realizing that our presence
posed no threat, started returning. A single ZITTING CISTICOLA
even perched on a leafless bush nearby, watching us intently
for a minute or so before leaving the scene. But the moment
we advanced a couple of meters on the sandy track, the flock
shot into the air, revealing their white rumps, before turning
south toward the less disturbed ASEANA Business Park property.
am confident this flock belonged to the Tringa species of
sandpipers. They look similar to the Marsh Sandpipers that
Haring Ibon editor Mads Bajarias attempted to photograph during
a visit with Mike to the Ital-Thai site on the Coastal Road.
Studying the photos in the MacKinnon and Hicks Birds of China
guide, the Thailand bird guide by Webster and Chew, and the
Morten Strange's volume for the Philippines, I thought the
shorebirds closely resembled the COMMON GREENSHANK.
rain lightened up again. We wanted to find the Coucal and
with luck, last Sunday's mystery nightjar too. We heard a
couple of grassbirds in the Mall of Asia site but these were
hiding because of the rain. Unmindful of the poor weather,
a few joggers and cyclists were still in the area.
Coucal was a no show but the SAVANNAH NIGHTJAR flushed thrice
as we walked around the clumps of grass. Under heavy skies,
the bird was the grey-brown color as illustrated in the Kennedy
Guide. The wing patches on this individual were distinctly
broader than on the Philippine Nightjar allowing us to identify
the species. It did not have white markings on the under tail
so it must be the female of this species.
were no other birds seen on the hike back to the car other
than a single TAWNY GRASSBIRD, a few Chestnut Munias, a solitary
Spotted Dove and another Zitting Cisticola. Same thing from
the balcony of the Church at the southern end of Bay Boulevard,
where the driving rain had forced a dozen EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS
to shelter under the eaves of playground equipment.
The Asia World City Heron Colony
Despite the rains the Tambo grassland did not seem to be recovering
fast enough. There were hardly any green shoots amidst the
black ash and brown stubble.
learned of a visit to the Asia World City heron colony by
ornithologist Arne Jensen, Mike took a chance and drove towards
the entrance. We saw no signs requiring visitors to register
and the guards completely ignored us on the way in.
we approached the condominium towers overlooking Manila Bay,
we saw the first of several dozen members of the Black-Crowned
Night Heron colony roosting in the scrub near the road. It
was truly a sight to behold. The herons were flying only meters
from the car and others arriving from the north.
this year, Mike, Mads and I watched hundreds of these birds
flying in from the observation mound at the edge of the Tambo
mudflats. In his note to Mike dated 23 May and posted 25 May,
ornithologist Arne Jensen mentioned two colonies of about
200 Black-Crowned breeding pairs. Including some 150 to 200
pairs of Rufous Night Herons, this is in his opinion the largest
colony in this part of the country. Arne Jensen could not
locate the herons last week, but returning to the site Friday,
May 30 he discovered a secondary colony, members of which
were probably the ones we saw this morning.
for time, we could not stay long to count the herons. Instead
we drove around to explore the property. A large section of
the scrub at the far end of the Asia World City property had
been cleared, probably as a preventive measure against wildfires
or were consumed by fires set off by burning garbage. The
road terminates in a field that leads to the water's edge
where a number of concrete watchtowers stand. We thought that
by year's end, when the winter migrants start coming down
the East Asian Flyway, the Asia World City site would be a
terrific place to bird in. On the drive back to the gate,
Mike and Jon pointed out a ZEBRA DOVE that landed in the grass
beside the car.
Luck Holds Up at the Ital-Thai Site
We reached the Ital-Thai site near the Coastal Road toll plaza
a little after 8:00 this morning. It was high tide and the
clouds continued to pelt us with big fat raindrops.
did not look hopeful birdwise and we were just about to leave
when Mike spotted one of the resident Little Herons flying
low over the water. This was enough to motivate us to check
out the shallows for more birds.
to the wheezy song of a GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE somewhere
in the mangrove nearly, two Yellow Bitterns flushed from hiding
down the road. A Cinnamon Bittern followed shortly after and
we watched it flying to the island across the shallows. We
heard a single CLAMOROUS REED WARBLER in the thicket from
where the bitterns emerged but did not find this skulking
bird. This species is best observed in the mangrove and aroma
thorn thickets in Tambo north of this site. We also spotted
four Chestnut Munias flying beside the road on our way out.
the road our total heron count for the Ital-Thai site included
three Black-Crowned Night Herons, four Little Herons, five
Yellow Bitterns - including one clambering in the reeds near
the car, and two Cinnamon Bitterns.
1. Little Heron (6) - 1 in South Reclamation Area; 5 in wetlands
outside Ital-Thai site
2. Black Crowned Night Heron (Dozens) - 3 in Bay City PEA
Road site,several dozen in Asia World City scrub, 3 flying
in wetlands outside Ital-Thai site
3. Cinnamon Bittern (6) - First record this year for the area.
Saw 4 in Bay City PEA Road site; 2 in wetlands outside Ital-Thai
4. Yellow Bittern (9) - 4 in Bay City PEA Road site; 5 in
wetlands outside Ital-Thai site
5. Common Moorhen (1) - A new species for us. Seen near rain
pool in sandy track in Bay City PEA Road site
6. Little Ringed Plover (3+) - foraging around sandy track
in Bay City PEA Road site
7. Common Greenshank (6) - flock beside rain pool in sandy
track of Bay City PEA Road site. New species.
8. Oriental Pratincole (8+) - on ground or flying around sandy
track in Bay City PEA Road site. Another new species for our
Metro Manila list.
9. Spotted Dove (2) - seen in flight around Bay City PEA Road
10. Zebra Dove (1) - seen in Asia World Cit
11. Owl (1) - either immature Grass Owl or a Short-Eared Owl.
Hunting in field in Bay City PEA Road site just beforeSunrise.
12. Savannah Nightjar (1) - A female flushed from tall grass
near Bay City Mall of Asia site
13. Golden-Bellied Gerygone - One heard in mangrove outside
14. Clamorous Reed Warbler - One heard in mangrove outside
15. Tawny Grassbird - One seen, but several heard in all sites
16. Zitting Cisticola (2) - Seen in Bay City PEA Road site
where this species is common
17. Crested Mynah - One seen foraging in field in Bay City
PEA Road site
18. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Common near human habitation
19. Chestnut Munia (12+) - Common in small flocks in grassland
20. Feral Rock Dove (7) - Flying around Bay City PEA Road