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Birding Between the Fairways

by Nilo Arribas, Jr.

Location: Sta. Elena Golf and Country Club
Date: November 26, 2003
Time: 6:30AM to 3:15PM
Weather: Overcast skies early in the morning with hot sunny skies throughout the birding day

Birdwatchers: Michael Lu, Kitty Arce, Andrew Galano, Mads Bajarias, Lu-Ann Fuentes, Nilo Arribas Jr., Mr. Edgardo de Vera (Audubon consultant, Sta Elena Golf and Country Club), Ms. Tinky Cabanatan (host)

The Petron gasoline station at the Manila South Super Highway was chosen as the group's meeting place for this trip. So there I was with Mike at 4:30 in the morning sitting outside the Petron's convenience store waiting for the others. The meeting place was just a 30-minute drive from Manila. It was around 5:30 am when we touched base with the group of Mads, Lu-Ann, Andrew and Kitty. A short meeting, and we were off the road heading towards Cabuyao, Laguna. The first stopover was the Sta Elena main gate where the usual visitor's verification is conducted.

On the way to the Club house, we were astounded by the wide open field of grass and trees. In fact, this open field may offer some birding potentials depending on its accessibility/availability since it's a privately owned real estate. I hardly noticed the 5-7-minute ride to the club house since my eyes were locked on the rows of trees and the neat carpet of grass.


The club house:
The group arrived at the Sta Elena club house at around 6:00am. While looking for a place to park the cars, we were greeted by a lone YELLOW-VENTED BULBUL perched on one of the smaller trees adjacent to the
parking area as if saying "welcome to our place" :). One thing that caught our attention was its relatively large build (a healthier variant of the Manila residents?).

The Sta Elena club house has a large open receiving/resting area overlooking two (2) swimming pools. An open walkway that cuts across one of the Smaller pool serves as the only access to what appears as secluded garden carpeted with bermuda grass surrounded by shrubs, flowers and other plants. This is an interesting spot, but we were still "feeling" our way around and the sight of a separate walkway with a nicely built trellis leading to the second pool to our left was also an attractive place to start birding.

It was Andrew who led us into this four-storey viewing deck which offers a 360-degree vantage point of the whole club house area. It was a good thing that none of us decided to check the first pool through the walkway earlier, otherwise we could have spoiled the sight of two (2) large WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN loitering around the secluded garden. Their size and playful behavior suggests an abundance of food and/or undisturbed habitat. While we are enjoying the sight of these cute pair of water hens, Mads noticed an unusually large brown bird which turned out to be a STRIATED GRASSBIRD in the company of two (2) colorful LONG-TAILED SHRIKES on the same tree just outside the larger pool. Just like the other birds in the area, we had to take a closer look for positive identification since they are relatively bigger in size compared to their city-based (Manila) relatives. Of course, their relatively tamed behavior makes the identification easier for us. Having a bird's eye view from the view deck also has its downside, we found ourselves trailing our binoculars down to a small bird crouching on the pavement near the edge of the parking lot. It took us sometime to positively identify this bird since it was not moving and it blended well in the crevices of the pavement. After consulting the Kennedy bird guidebook and after the bird started to move, we realized that it was a lone YELLOW WAGTAIL.

White-breasted Waterhen

About 20 minutes in the view deck, Andrew, Kitty and Mike decided to go down and check the surrounding areas of the club house. Lu-Ann, Mads and I stayed in the viewing platform and noticed about three (3) ZEBRA DOVES hopping from one tree to another. Due to it's abundance in the area, we never lost sight of these doves up until we left Sta Elena in the afternoon.

Turning our backs from the zebra doves, Mads saw a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER perched on a tree near the larger pool of the club house. We were about to advice Mike and Kitty downstairs about the new find, but it turned out that we were simultaneously looking at the same bird from different vantage points. Not far from the tree where we saw the kingfisher, we noticed two (2) BROWN SHRIKES in a leafless tree, facing the slowly rising sun. A few seconds later, Lu-Ann called our attention to what appears to be a RICHARD'S PIPIT in the roof of the club house. It was a strange sight for us and personally for me since all of my past encounters with this bird is on the ground/grass but the proud posture, the feet and the Kennedy guidebook tells it all. There are lots of birds flying around (maybe some type of swift or swallow) but we can't positively identify them from where we stood. Within thirty minutes on the same location, we managed to log a total of 9 birds. Not bad for a start !

We saw Andrew chasing a crow from a distance while Mike and Kitty were on their way to the same road, so we decided to go down and join the group. Our intention was to get closer to the crow for identification but we were attracted by a call from a kingfisher on the other side of the road. This guy turned out to be a lone WHITE-COLLARED KINGFISHER. Andrew joined us later with a LARGE-BILLED CROW to add to our list. While we re-grouped and exchanged notes on our bird lists, another group of doves caught our attention. After checking, it turned out to be the abundant Zebra Doves. It was at this point where we noticed the car of Ms. Tinky Cabanatan, the project manager of Sta Elena's Fun farm/Kinder Zoo.

Large-billed Crow

Around 7:30am, Tinky got us golf carts which will serve as our only mode of transportation inside the golf course. It was not long before Mike was able figure out the levers and pedals of the our cart and off we went trailing behind Tinky, Kitty and Andrew. Our next stopover was the Veranda of the main Club House to get our provisions (packed meal/breakfast). While waiting for our first packed meal for the day in the lounge, the bulletin board with postings of Audubon activities in Sta Elena caught our attention. Apparently, Sta. Elena is pursuing accreditation/certification from Audubon Society. This was confirmed later that day. After getting our food and drinks, we headed straight to the "bahay kubo" which is a facility being rented out for over-night stay. It was past eight o'clock in the morning and we felt that we can forgo breakfast and go straight birding otherwise, there might not be any bird left. Ms. Tinky gave us final instructions on the areas we were allowed to go to and the
restricted areas. There was an on-going golf tournament at that time so we had to be careful not to cross their path.


The mini forest:

Tinky escorted us in one of the mini-forests (secondary growth) before she left for her office. It was about 8:45am and we decided to leave our golf carts and follow a trail. The LONG-TAILED SHRIKE is a common sight along the trail. The first 100 meters, we were looking high up in the sky distracted by a silhouette of an unidentified object that could have been a kite, raptor or something similar circling above beyond positive identification. Some patches of rain-water along the trail kept my hope of finding rails but the sound of mechanized transport ahead certainly led us to frustration. The group decided to leave the trail and explore the the mini forest. Looking at the relatively clean floor of the mini forest and the lack of fruit-bearing trees in that particular area explains the absence of birds... or maybe we came late... well, whatever ... we decided to go back to the trail/road and move on. While we were looking at the colorful long-tailed shrikes, someone saw a pair of PIED FANTAILS, a new addition to our list after more than an hour with nothing! While I was writing down the pied fantail in my list, Mike pointed to what appears to be a stretched wing of a brown bird about 150 meters away. As we slowly approached the area to investigate, a LESSER COUCAL flew past across our path and disappeared as fast as it came. Going back to Mike's bird, we realized that there were actually two (2) birds stretching and drying their wings in sun on the waist-high grasses. And yup, it was a pair of LESSER COUCALS which disappeared as we moved closer. We reached the Fun Farm area where Lu-Ann saw a small Sunbird high above a tree behind the Amphitheater. We then had to move closer in order to positively identify this small and fast-moving subject. It turned out to be a male OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD which was later joined by a female. Mike and Mads led the way to a parking area for trucks where they saw a brown bird near the parked trucks. Further investigation revealed it to be a female PIED BUSHCHAT. Further away was a male PIED BUSHCHAT. The Radio antenna in one of the buildings served as resting place for eleven (11) Pacific swallows. We also noted a lot of Eurasian Tree Sparrows in this part of the property. It was around 10:10am when Kitty got in touched with Mr. Edgardo de Vera also known as "The Chief" who is the Audubon consultant of Sta Elena Golf and Country Club. He joined our group several minutes later and toured us around the mini-lakes they established as habitats for the different bird species. Our first bird in the mini-lake was a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON partly hidden in the undergrowth of a tree near the waterline. We went back to our golf carts and proceeded to a bigger lake. Mike saw the first Common Moorhen near the edge of the lake. Our excitement was cut short because we had to give way to the golf tournament players so we readily moved back but was instead treated to an awesome view of a PURPLE HERON in flight. Mike moved closer to the common moorhen and we realized that there were two (2) of them about 5 meters from each other. While we enjoyed the sight of the two birds, Mike's attention was caught by a strange small bird about 10 meters from the moorhens which looked like a COMMON SANDPIPER but its characteristics is different. It is only after moving closer to about 35 meters from the bird that Mike was able to established positive ID.

The Chief led us to the other side of the lake and we saw two (2) YELLOW BITTERNS as we walked/drove slowly along the banks of the lake. We had to keep moving in order to avoid the golf tournament players. While in the same side of lake, we noticed a LARGE-BILLED CROW and according to Mr. de Vera, the crow has a nest somewhere in one of the large trees. While resting in the shades of the trees, Ed positively identified the small fast birds as GLOSSY SWIFTLETS.. It was around 11:40am when we decided to return to the< Bahay Kubo (nipa hut) for our breakfast or should i say, Brunch :) It was in the Bahay Kubo where Mr. de Vera shared his experience and thoughts about the efforts of Sta Elena in building a habitat for Birds and other wildlife. We had lunch while the Zebra Doves and Long-tailed Shrikes circled around the bahay kubo. After our brunch, Mr. de Vera left us and the others took a short nap while Mike and Mads were discussing the WBCP plans for the next year. Lunch was delivered at around 12:30pm but everybody was more interested in a pair of Olive-backed sunbird just outside our bahay kubo Around 1:30pm Kitty called our attention to a group of BLACK-NAPED ORIOLES in the large tree in front of the bahay kubo. This signalled the start of our afternoon bird watching activity where we saw two (2) BUZZING FLOWERPECKERS added to our bird list. At about 3:15pm, Mike and I decided to call it a day for bird watching and return to our base (bahay kubo). We left Mads, Kitty and Lu-Ann for the late afternoon session while Andrew drove us (golf cart) to the parking lot.

On our way home, we received messages from the group who stayed behind and added the following to our list:
Red Turtle Dove (2), Pied Triller (1), a Barred Rail and a Plain Bush Hen.

STA. ELENA GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB BIRD LIST
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1. Purple Heron [Ardea Purpurea] - 1
2. Black-Crowned Night Heron [Nycticorax nycticorax] - 2
3. Cinnamon Bittern [Ixobrychus cinnamomeus] - 1
4. Yellow Bittern [Ixobrychus sinensis] - 2
5. Barred Rail [Galliralus torquatus] - 2
6. Plain Bush-hen [Amaurornis Olivaceus] - 1
7. White-breasted Waterhen [Amaurornis phoenicurus] - 2
8. Common Moorhen [Gallinula chloropus] - 3
9. Common Sandpiper [Actitis hypoleucos] - 2
10. Red Turtle-Dove [Streptopelia tranquebarica] - 1
11. Zebra Dove [Geopelia striata] - many
12. Lesser Coucal [Centropus bengalensis] - 3
13.Glossy Swiftlet [Collocalia esculenta] - many
14. Common Kingfisher [Alcedo atthis] - 1
15. White-throated Kingfisher [Halcyon smyrnensis] -2
16. White-collared Kingfisher [Halcyon chloris] -1
17. Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker [Dendrocopus maculatus] - heard only
18. Pacific Swallow [Hirundo tahitica] - 11
19.Pied Triller [Lalage nigra] - 1
20. Yellow-vented Bulbul [Pycnonotus goiavier] - many
21. Black-naped Oriole [Oriolus chinensis] - 4
22.Large-billed Crow [Corvus macrorhynchos] - 2
23. Pied Bushchat [Saxicola caprata] - 3, (2 female & 1 male)
24.Golden-bellied Flyeater [Gerygone sulphurea] - 1
25. Striated Grassbird [Megalurus palustris] - 4
26. Pied Fantail [Rhipidura javanica] -2
27. Yellow Wagtail [Motacilla flava] - 1
28. Richard's Pipit [Anthus novaseelandiae] - 1
29. Long-tailed Shrike [Lanius schach] - many
30. Brown Shrike [Lanius cristatus] - 2
31. Olive-backed Sunbird [Nectarinia jugularis] - 2
32. Buzzing Flowerpecker [Dicaeum hypoleucum] - 2
33. Eurasian Tree Sparrow [Passer montanus] - many