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Nayong Pilipino Trip

Recon Trip to Nayong Pilipino
by Ned Liuag

Location: Nayong Pilipino, Pasay City
Date: December 21, 2003
Time: 6:00 am to 10:00 am
Weather: about 60 percent cloud cover with lots of sun later in the morning

Birders: Orly Punzalan, Drs. Albert and Armi Ramos, Mark Villa, Jed Natividad, Pia Belardo, Jon Villasper, Michael Lu, Ned Liuag

I didn't think was going to make it out of bed this morning when the alarm clock started chiming into my ear, soon followed by Mike's wake up phone call. The thermometer read 24 degrees Celsius indoors and to think Marilyn had kept the light outside the room on all night for added warmth. So it must have been a couple of degrees colder out when I had a look at our sleeping toddler before closing the door behind me.

There were no jeepneys plying Bangkal this early but I managed to hail a passing cab. The driver was complaining about the cold as we drove to Petron Station at the corner of Macapagal Boulevard and EDSA (C-4) Extension. I didn't think I'd get there early and I didn't relish the idea of being alone on the sidewalk outside the dark restaurants. It seemed like I was standing there with a big sign screaming MUG ME ANYTIME BEFORE SUNRISE!

To my relief, Mike left a short message by cell phone that Marc and Orly were with driving around looking for owls. Since parties of joggers had started to arrive, I walked up to the end of the PEA Road Lots behind the rising restaurant row hoping that the grass owl we found here months ago would show up. No such luck.

It didn't take long for the rest of the party to arrive. And Jon emerged from the shadows, having been forced to hike all the way from Roxas Boulevard because the buses didn't run this far so early.

Initially, Mike Lu's plan was to arrange for a survey of the future Nayong Pilipino site in the South Reclamation Area, a fenced off grassy section of the South Reclamation Area sandwiched between the Aseana Business Park and the SM Bay City property. We found out that the area was still under the supervision of the Public Estates Authority and the Nayong Pilipino administration could only allow access to the old site that was shut down to make way for airport expansion.

With Mike driving point, we arrived in Nayong Pilipino a few minutes before 6:00. Having been notified days in advance, the shift at the gate had a vehicle ready to escort us inside.

Small bats were still flying back to their daytime roosts when we piled out of the vehicles. The YELLOW VENTED BULBULS were out in force for the dawn chorus soon after. This bird proved to be the most common and visible species throughout the park. Somewhere, a BROWN SHRIKE chattered a response and we set off eastwards up the road, past the abandoned Museum of Philippine Ethnography in the direction of the new runway.

Our escort mentioned that we were allowed access to the entire park but cautioned against crossing the fence and straying into the field beside the new runway.

We had a look over the sawali fence towards the new runway with the guard's words in mind but didn't see anything, except for a pair of STRIATED GRASSBIRDS chasing each other among some ipil-ipil saplings.

Orly Punzalan who had spent many hours perfecting his photography here led us in the direction of the lagoon. He wanted to set up near the bahay na bato located across a foot bridge, but it turned out to be in the restricted zone. We had to beat a hasty retreat - no sense getting shot at by trigger-happy commandos - but not before I snagged my entire arm and a leg in a spiny wait-a-minute vine.

The sign at the entrance to the Maranao theme view deck standing over the water warned that the structure was condemned so we were treading at risk. Jon Villasper set up the spotting scope and started to scan the western section of the shallow lagoon.

The lagoon was fringed with hyacinths and pink flowering water lily thrived in the deeper areas. Pia Belardo and Jon said there was movement in the floating vegetation but the light was not good enough for a clear view.

The familiar call of a WHITE-COLLARED KINGFISHER rang from the grove near the Museum of Ethnography. Orly, who wanted to capture this species on film, and I headed off in the direction of its call.

By this time, everyone else decided to go return to the cars and try a different section of the park. One of the guards who kept us company while it was still dark pointed us to an gated area and said there were water birds there. The place turned out to be a rundown garden with a brook running through it. We were exploring the space
when Mike called out to everyone to point to a WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN that had found itself cornered in one of the greenhouses. The others would again come across individuals of this species later in the morning. Orly, who was bringing up the rear, missed the excitement when the rail found an opening in the greenhouse and
disappeared in the undergrowth. We located no other birds there and so decided it was off to the Cordillera section.

We had better luck here. Scores of ISLAND SWIFTLETS had taken to wing and were seeking breakfast above the overgrown representations of the Banaue rice terraces. Jon's lugging the scope and tripod across paid off early. Everyone had fine views of a PIED TRILLER and a PHILIPPINE PYGMY WOODPECKER perched on opposite branches of an agoho (casuarina) tree.

Albert and Ami Ramos had noticed the triller first and wanted to find out what it was. Mike pointed out the woodpecker. At first glance it appeared to be a bump on branch until you focused at it and discovered a bird drilling away for grubs. Throughout the area we could hear ZEBRA DOVES calling in the underbrush, occasionally followed by the hooting of another unidentified dove species.

Pia spotted one, two then three "little brown jobs" in the agoho tree opposite the one with the woodpecker in it. No one could seem to make out what they were until the light improved and Jon, Mike, Pia and I were of the opinion that these were immature SCALY-BREASTED MUNIAS. Orly would later tell me that he decided to stick around the Cordillera section because each time he attempted to leave a new bunch of birds would show up.

Orly had managed to make it back to the road by climbing one section of the terraces. With my arm still smarting from the spines of the "wait-a-minute" vine, I decided to follow Mike through the fallow field in the opposite direction. As Mike and I prepared our ascent on one side of the terraces, a RED TURTLE DOVE flew from behind the rise, settled in the agoho tree next to the road then returned from where it came.

Our attempt to cross the Cordillera broke us up into small groups. We found Pia waiting for us on the other side of the "rice terraces." She's already gone off to the Vigan House and reported seeing what she thinks might be rails on the edge of a marshy area near the building.

We found Jed Natividad wandering down a nearby lane and we spent some time watching a PIED FANTAIL in a tree. I'd expected to see more of them but this happened to be the only other time I'd seen the species during the entire trip. We found no other birds here except a few Yellow-Vented Bulbuls and a handful of EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS.

We found Marc Villa and the rest of the group gathered at the Vigan House from where Pia had seen the rails. After waiting for some time, Orly and I thought we might as well skirt the marshy area to return to the lagoon and maybe get lucky. In the process I was hoping too that our hike through the grove would flush out something for the others to see. Orly and I did - a YELLOW BITTERN - but no one but myself notices its low flight to the opposite bank.

I went off exploring on my own but was driven back to the shore of the lagoon by squadrons of mosquitoes. I spotted Mike exploring the Bohol section of the park and decided to follow him amidst the replicas of the Chocolate Hills. As I walked past, I could hear birds croaking amidst the floating vegetation but none of the rails
or bitterns wanted to put on a show. From the other side of the mounds supposed to represent the Chocolate Hills, I also heard some waders calling.

Mike bumped into me and said he'd seen COMMON SANDPIPER in the marshy area behind the sawali fence that was too high and unstable for me to climb. But from here, Mike showed me the large flock of CHESTNUT MUNIAS in the grassy section of the restricted zone. We counted two dozen at least, mostly immature ones and at least, according to Mike a 'Baclaran sparrow' - the Birdwatch Philippines ID for any sparrow-sized bird that's been spray-painted in neon colors and managed to escape the pet trade. Mike also mentioned seeing a COMMON KINGFISHER in the vicinity of the lagoon.

Jon, the Ramoses and Marc had decided to set up the scope in the picnic area and taken the wait-and-see approach. Besides, it was starting to get hot and the insects were out in force.

I wanted to locate the ARCTIC WARBLERS that kept calling from high up in the trees, but never managed to locate them. Jed, who was resting under some trees, asked me about one species he spotted that had a think bill and yellow under parts. I thought it might be a sunbird if it wasn't a GOLDEN-BELLIED GERYGONE that everyone heard singing occasionally in the groves. So off I went in search of Jed's mystery bird.

I found Pia taking a break by the roadside. She reported spotting the White-Collared Kingfisher perched on a pipe nearby. She also asked if I'd seen the large dark bird that flew over the trees in the direction of the lagoon. Orly was a few meters down the road and still waiting for elusive subjects to pose for his camera. He mentioned glimpses of the Gerygones but they'd been too quick and too far to photograph. I strode down in the direction of the Cordillera section to see what might turn up, when finally the White-Collared Kingfisher flew across the road to perch in an agoho tree on the western end of the rice terraces. I pointed it out to Orly, who immediately set off for yet another attempt to photograph it for our collection.

Apart from the numerous Island Swiftlets, Yellow-Vented Bulbuls and a single Brown Shrike, I found nothing else on my return to the Cordillera section, the ruined greenhouses and the area near the Museum. It was already half past 8:00 and the birds would be seeking shelter soon.

I meandered through the groves, past the Vigan House and towards the tree that Orly earlier described as the oldest and most photographed in the park. I was hoping to find Magpie Robins or the more likely Grey-Streaked Flycatchers in the area but surprisingly saw none.

I was still trying to locate a noisy Arctic Warbler somewhere above my head when a loud call attracted attention. The bird was uttering a loud, singular 'chee-weet' every few seconds from one of the trees down the road. I managed to zero in on a small bird but wasn't certain if this was the same bird that was singing. Because its head was partly obscured by a branch, I initially thought it was a Gerygone until I got a better view of the thin bill and familiar purplish blue throat of a male OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD. The sunbird obliged by settling in the bush with red flowers growing nearby. A minute or so later, the sunbird flew back among the trees before a White-Collared Kingfisher showed up down the road.

I found Orly at his previous post overlooking the Cordillera section. He'd managed to photograph some bulbuls and seen lots of munias in the grass and gerygones in the nearby trees. He wanted to have a look at the sunbird because he thought he'd come across one when the park was still open.

But the stretch of road proved bird-less when we returned so we opted to explore the western shore of the lagoon. Dozens of swiftlets were still on the wing when we approached the water. We could hear bitterns croaking across the water but saw nothing.

Opposite us, we saw Albert and Ami, Mike and Marc following Jon through the Bohol section to survey the marshy stretch on the opposite side of the sawali fence. Orly and I took shelter in a stand of pandanus trees that formed a natural hide. While scanning the hyacinths that fringed the northern shoreline, I spotted a brown rail-like bird flying low over the water before disappearing into the vegetation. At the same time, Orly was describing what I thought was the same bird to me. For a brief moment, we interrupted our observation to catch a glimpse of the white egret flying north across the lagoon. Mike later told me it was an INTERMEDIATE EGRET.

I still could not locate the rail he was describing to me. Turned out Orly was talking about a different individual and this one was pecking at the purple hyacinth flowers a few meters east of the spot where the first rail disappeared. Our subject was in bright sunlight, across water, and it was light brown with plain buffy to whitish-grey under parts, a light eyebrow and throat and pale bill. Orly had earlier described its long legs. I had a brief look at the legs and they did not appear yellow or red but dark. Back home I had a look at my Kennedy guide and thought the bird looked closest like an immature WHITE-BROWED CRAKE. While we were viewing this bird, Mike popped out from among the mounds and was intently watching something along the shoreline. He would later tell me that they spotted three COMMON MOORHEN, of which two were immature, and a couple more White-Breasted Waterhen. Jon reported a CINNAMON BITTERN in the same area. And Marc said their group also added SPOTTED DOVE to their list.

Common Moorhen

Orly and I whiled the rest of the morning in the vicinity of the playground trying to photograph Gerygones that were foraging in the branches of the huge acacia trees. I counted at least five in the branches above us before Mike and the Ramoses drove up, Jed and Pia having left earlier.

I still didn't get to catch a glimpse of any Arctic Warblers, but it was worth the trip to be out in the sun and wind again.

Nayong Pilipino BIRD LIST:
1. Intermediate Egret - 1 flying across lagoon
2. Cinnamon Bittern - 1 (Jon)
3. Yellow Bittern - 1 in marshy area near Vigan House
4. Common Moorhen - 3 (Mike et al), including 2 immatures in fringes
of lagoon
5. White-Browed Crake - 1 immature
6. Rail species - 2 (Ned, Pia et al)
7. White Breasted Waterhen - 3
8. Common Sandpiper - 2 (Mike et al)
9. Red Turtle Dove - 1
10. Spotted Dove - 1 (Jon et al)
11. Zebra Dove - singles seen in flight, mostly heard
12. Island Swiftlet - 50+. Everywhere.
13. Common Kingfisher - 1 (Mike et al)
14. White-Collared Kingfisher - Singles seen in various wooded sections
15. Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker - 1 feeding in agoho tree in Cordillera section
16. Pied Triller - 2
17. Yellow-Vented Bulbul - Several dozen. Everywhere.
18. Golden-Bellied Gerygone - Up to 8 seen. Singing and foraging in acacias.
19. Arctic Warbler - Individuals heard in groves near lagoon and entrance.
20. Striated Grassbird - 2 in restricted area
21. Pied Fantail - 2
22. Brown Shrike - Several individuals. At least one observed chasing gerygones.
23. Olive-Backed Sunbird - 1 male
24. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - 6+
25. Scaly-Breasted Munia - 3 + 21+ (Mike et al)
26. Chestnut Munia - 24+ in restricted area