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Birding Among Heroes: The Libingan Birdwalk

Trip report by Jed Natividad
Birdlist by Jon Villasper
Date: November 16, 2003
Time: 6:00am-9:00am

Pia Belardo, Jon Villasper, Jed Natividad, Mike Lu, Nilo Arribas, Jr., Orly Punzalan, Raymond Lim, Maida Pineda, Fernan Nebres, Albert Ramos, Mr. & Mrs. Allan Roxas, Sean Co, Tito Arbatin

Today, Nov 16, I went to my second birdwalk. The birdwalk is an activity that the Wild Bird Cub of Philippines conducts monthly to introduce birding to the general public. The first birdwalk I attended was conducted in mid-afternoon of Sunday, Oct 19, 2003 at the American Memorial Cemetery (AMC). Today’s birdwalk at the Libingan ng mga Bayani was scheduled for 6 a.m. You can tell that these birders are pretty serious about their hobby: I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. (the sun wasn’t up yet!) to hook up with Pia at 5:30.

Pia and I shared the national cemetery with joggers, a BROWN SHRIKE, and a number of unseen twittering birds till the bulk of the group arrived a little after six.

Mike Lu made sure everyone had a pair of binoculars and advised the group (a mix of first- and second-timers as well as veteran birders) that Libingan, while not as well maintained as AMC, had the advantage of high grass (a favorite habitat for many birds) and no rule against walking on the grass.

While we were getting ready to move out towards the northeastern end of the Libingan, Pia sighted a pair of birds sitting atop a tree that had brown ovoid seed pods (Note to self: Learn a bit more about local flora so you can identify trees properly.) They were PIED FANTAILS. One was a bit of an show-off, pirouetting slowly atop a seed pod to show itself properly to us birders.

In the northeast end of the cemetery, beyond the World War II pylon, we walked into the damp ankle-high grass and squishy mud to spot a variety of birds roosting on naked trees. These included ZEBRA DOVES, BROWN SHRIKES, YELLOW-VENTED BULBULS, CHESTNUT MUNIAS, STRIATED GRASSBIRDS and a lone ZITTING CISTICOLA.

Yellow-vented Bulbul

We lingered in the area some forty-five minutes and some two hundred insect bites long, while Jon taught us neophyte birders how to tell one bird from another. (Note to self: Bring an insect repellant for next walk into the grass.) The shrikes and the y-v bulbuls tend to confuse me. According to Jon, they can be distinguished through three features: the bulbul has a yellow vent (butt to the uninitiated), a black stripe on its crown and a mask that is more brown than black.

We then went west and walked through the graves to the edge of a natural catch basin where the cemetery’s water runoff collects. There we spotted a COMMON KINGFISHER sitting on a bamboo rail. Its name does not do justice to this uncommonly colorful bird. The common kingfisher has a orange breast, indigo wings and a bluish-green back. Its rather large bill is compensated for by a rudimentary tail. (Reminder to self: Find out if all birds can see color. Or are some like dogs that have mainly rods and only a few cones in their retinas and thus see only black and white)

Deeper west, the group spotted a PHILIPPINE COUCAL and a flock of SCALY-BREASTED MUNIAS. Pia and I failed to see this as we had earlier decided to give our hot aching little piggies a spot of rest.

Scaly-breasted Munia

We then retraced our steps east and came upon a pair of PHILIPPINE PYGMY WOODPECKERS hammering away at a rather large tree. Ambitious woodpeckers, those. Unfortunately size of the tree prevented me from finding the pygmy woodpeckers. (Note to self: Invent a way of mapping a tree so there is a common language that birders can use to locate a bird, especially a tiny bird as I assume a pygmy woodpecker must be not having otherwise seen it.)

After posing for group pictures, we walked back to our assembly point and found a WHITE-COLLARED KINGFISHERR sitting calmly on the lowest branch of a tree less than 30 feet from the road, regally indifferent to the gaggle of birders walking by. Another colorful bird ! This handsome bird had blue wings and cap and white breast.

A little farther up the road, Jon heard a bird singing and identified it as an ARCTIC WARBLER. Indeed it was: we saw the migrant bird singing its heart out as it sat high on an acacia tree. Perhaps it was singing to the bayani about the land it had left behind.

As we got ready to depart, an INTERMEDIATE EGRET flew in from the north and gracefully winged its way south, its long legs stretched out behind it like a rudder. It circled a couple to times as if to get its bearings and thus afforded us a longer view. It was an excellent sighting on which to cap the wonderful albeit tiring morning. For me, the kingfishers and the egret were the highlights of the walk.

Birding is growing on me. I shall come to the Dec 7 reclamation area birdwalk with boots, a large bottle of Off! and a large reserve of energy. I notice that the birding activities are getting more physically strenuous. Bring it on!

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BIRD LIST:
1. Intermediate Egret (Egretta intermedia) - 1
2. Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) - 1
3. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)- 1, immature
4. Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) - 20+
5. Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis) - 1
6. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) - 2
7. White-Collared Kingfisher (Hacyon chloris) - 3
8. Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus) - 2
9. Pied Triller (Lalage nigra) - 3
10. Yellow-Vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) - 20+
11. Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis) - 2+
12. Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris) - 5
13. Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) - 1
14. Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) - 10+
15. Long-Tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) - 1
16. Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) - 10+
17. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - 10
18. Scaly-Breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) - 30+
19. Chestnut Munia (Lonchura malacca) - 4