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American War Cemetery, Makati

By Ned Liuag
30 August 2003
2:30 pm to 5:00 pm
Sunny, with few clouds

Participants: Mads Bajarias, Gen Broad (World Wildlife Fund volunteer), Sean Co Descanzo Family (Tatin, Joven and the two boys), Carmela Española, visiting from UP Los Baños, Mr. and Mrs. Hezelot, Ivor Lee, visiting from Singapore, Ned Liuag, Mike Lu, Jason Villa

I checked in at the War Cemetery gate with wife Marilyn and daughter Sasha at half past 2:00 this afternoon. It seemed pretty quiet with only a single GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE singing from the trees growing within the cemetery grounds along Lawton Drive. There didn't appear to be much traffic into the Cemetery so we let Sasha toddle along the main avenue up to the War Memorial looking for Haring Ibon editor Mads Bajarias. The only birds so far were a couple of YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS and a PIED FANTAIL raising up a ruckus in one of the trees west of the main avenue. The first vehicles bearing other members of our birding party arrived almost 20 minutes later and passed us halfway up the Avenue. Among the first to arrive were the Hezelots, who we later glimpsed setting up their camera in the vicinity of the Memorial. From the road, we could see that park maintenance had cut down the hedges from which the rails would usually emerge. This was done probably to encourage new growth but it could also mean the rails would have fled elsewhere.

As we approached the steps leading to the Memorial, I spotted my first BARRED RAIL of the day and pointed it out to Marilyn and Sasha. The rail moved slowly from the hedge growing at the northern foot of the Memorial before it disappeared among some bushes nearby. A few moments later as we prepared to mount the steps, a RING-NECKED PARAKEET flew from the direction of the gate squawking as it headed into the narra trees around the Memorial parking lot. I spent some time scanning the headstones for any sign of birds while visiting Singaporean birder Ivor Lee was setting up his equipment in the parking lot. Mads Bajarias, who had been to Manila Zoo earlier in the day to photograph the resident flock of Rufous Night-Herons, walked up to say hello. He arrived in the Cemetery ahead of everyone by a full hour to take photographs and had spotted at least three Ring-Necked Parakeets flying between the trees.

From the parking lot, we were rewarded with very nice views of a Barred Rail as it foraged near the headstones less than 10 meters away. Mads commented that this was a most unusual rail because it did not shy from our presence, though it had at least 10 pairs of binoculars aimed at it. Shortly after, we were delighted by the presence of at least two RICHARD'S PIPITS as they pursued insect prey in the lawn. By this time, we decided to split into two groups, hoping to spot the first Brown Shrikes of the season. James McCarthy had already spotted them today in Westgrove Heights in Silang, Cavite, more than 25 kilometers southeast of the American War Cemetery. Mads, the Descanso family and I decided a counterclockwise route from the Memorial would be best, since the sun would be behind out backs and it would take us closest to the overgrown gully. Along the way, we saw the usual EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS, a few more Yellow-Vented Bulbuls and Pied Fantails in the hedges. While Mads and the Descansos were trying to pick out a couple of PIED TRILLERS in the trees surrounding the gully, I pointed out for the kids a single male PIED BUSHCHAT sitting atop one of the headstones and another pair of Richard's Pipits. We also watched a Pied Fantail fly about and alight on the grass where it would stay for some length of time. Earlier in the day, I'd nearly mistaken a Pied Fantail engaging in this unusual ritual for a migrant wagtail.

We found nothing bird-wise in the southern section of the cemetery, though I'd expected at least a grassbird and with some luck the White-Breasted Woodswallow that Mike Lu recorded in the area earlier in the month. We could see Mike's group huddled west of our position while we tried to get better views of a mixed flock consisting of two ZEBRA and two SPOTTED DOVES beyond them. Throughout our walk, these doves stayed out of sight, though we would hear their calls few and far between in the overgrown parts of the restricted area. Mads and I also listened to the thin voices of nestlings somewhere in the surrounding trees. We were walking along the outer ring road still in the southern section, noticing that the trees were thickly foliaged this time of year. Suddenly the stillness of the late afternoon was broken by shrills cries coming from the direction of the Memorial. All eyes turned skywards in that direction and were witness to the awesome sight of a flock of six Ring-Necked Parakeets! On a trip here earlier this year, the guard at the gate said I could expect more parakeets if I visited during the rainy season. For some reason, he said, they tended to congregate (or breed) in the park with the arrival of the rains. The parakeets have been reported in the American War Cemetery since the early 1990s and are probably a pair set free by their expat owners. Interestingly, individual parakeets have been sighted by observers from Birdwatch Philippines in both Westgrove Heights, Silang and a few kilometers west of here in the South Reclamation Area of Manila Bay.

Mike Lu's group, which included Ivor Lee, Lala Española and others had missed the occasion because their attention was riveted to a flock of more than 30 LOWLAND WHITE-EYE gleaning insects in crown of two flowering banaba trees. We joined them there a short time later to enjoy close-ups of these Philippine endemics. Somewhere behind us one of the resident WHITE-COLLARED KINGFISHERS started calling again from an unseen perch. Mads and I walked a bit further towards the western section, peering into the border hedge to see if there were quail or rails. We only saw the silhouettes of a few noisy Pied Fantails moving in the undergrowth. Scouring the trees growing along the road that bisect A and B lots for grey squirrels, Mads and I spotted a platform nest of sticks that could only be a night-heron nest. An old nest above the washrooms appears to have been blown down by recent typhoons. Returning to the parking lot, Tattin pointed out a juvenile Barred Rail as it followed the gutter than ran along the protective hedge around the washrooms. This got me wondering whether it would be necessary to introduce a few healthy barred rails captured outside Metro Manila in the cemetery to improve the gene pool. With the loss of the green corridors and nesting sites as a result of real estate development, the rail populations in this part of the city is bound to degenerate and finally disappear as a result of inbreeding.

One pair of Pied Trillers called to each other across the Memorial parking lot. Mr. Hezelot and I approached the narra tree east of the parking lot to locate the triller but had no luck. I collected Marilyn and Sasha from the Memorial where they'd been playing in between views of the Rose-Ringed Parakeets and other birds all afternoon. The convoy of birdwatchers passed us on their way to the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig, where Mike and Lala spotted the first official BROWN SHRIKE in Metro Manila for the season.

BIRD LIST (All American War Cemetery unless specified):
1. Barred Rail - 3 including a juvenile
2. Spotted Dove - 2
3. Zebra Dove - 2
4. White-Collared Kingfisher - 1 heard but remained hidden throughout the trip
5. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - common
6. Pied Triller - at least 2 seen by Mads and the Descansos, 2 others heard calling near the War Memorial
7. Golden-Bellied Gerygone (Flyeater) - Heard singing only
8. Pied Bushchat - 1 male
9. Pied Fantail - Common
10. Richard's Pipit - at least 4
11. Brown Shrike - 1 first of the season in Libingan ng mga Bayani, Taguig
12. Lowland White-Eye - 30+
13. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Common. One flock of 20+ in grassy area of restricted section

14. Ring-Necked Parakeet - flock of 6
15. Feral Rock Dove - 2