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BIRD OF THE MONTH: WHITE-BROWED SHAMA

In this new feature, three WBCP members were asked to share either their first or their most memorable encounter with the Bird of the Month.

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It’s always nice to hear birders tell bird stories. This month, we get to hear from three different WBCP members. They were asked to write about either their first or their most memorable sighting of the Bird of the Month.

This month’s featured bird is the White-Browed Shama Copsychus luzoniensis, a forest-dwelling bird with a beautiful song. It is one of those birds that is more frequently heard than seen. It is a Philippine endemic and is described in the Kennedy guide as, “Common near ground in lowland forest below 1000m alone or in pairs. Conspicuous by its beautiful song, but shy and difficult to see.”

The three WBCP members who are shared their stories and photographs are:

  • Tina S. Mallari – wizard at bird photography
  • Drew Galano – WBCP Founding member and go-to guy for information on snakes and other herps
  • Tan Ju Lin – world-class birder and frequent visitor to the Philippines from Singapore

We also have a photo from:

  • Jimmy Chew – lifelong world traveler and bird photographer

The following are links to recordings of the song of the White-browed Shama:

White-browed Shama song # 1
Please click on this link to play the song.
Frank Lambert, XC30765. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/30765

White-browed Shama song # 2
Please click on this link to play the song.
David Edwards, XC35281. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/35281

TINA S. MALLARI

White-Browed Shama by Tina S. Mallari

It was our second trip to the Sierra Madre Mountains.  After that trip, it cannot be denied that I am most DEFINITELY addicted to that place.  I think we went there at the right time because there were a lot of  flowering trees and shrubs along the road and the forest looked so lush.

Almost all the roads there are dirt roads.  The dust…. MANNNNNN was it DUSTY !!!  When the vehicles pass by … You are in for a treat – FREE foundation (thick foundation) for your face and everything else that was exposed to it PLUS your car turns into a different color from all the dust in the area.

Wency and I didn’t see some of the birds that Sylvia and Tonji saw because most of the time, we were in another area concentrating on some other bird and trying to get good captures of it.  We saw a lot of nesting birds. Three of them to be more exact. Blue-naped Monarchs, White-eared dove and Mangrove blue flycatchers. Seeing quite a few birds is a treat already but to see three nesting birds sitting on their nests was a truly wonderful surprise, especially for a person who enjoys dude birding more than hiking inside the forest (now where’s that smiley emoticon.  It would have been perfect after that sentence).

I was able to take a lot of pictures of birds during that trip, but the most memorable one for me was the White-browed Shama.  I had heard the call of this bird before but I had never ever seen it.  I even made the call of this bird the ringtone on my phone because I found it so beautiful.

Whenever we go roadside birding, we always make it a point to open all the windows so we can hear and see everything around us.  Wency was driving when I heard the call of the White-browed Shama. I asked him to please stop right away.  When he did, I went down from the car with my camera, but without a tripod.

It was very, very hot in that area because it was under the full sun at around 2:30 pm!! It was an inclined road with rocks and boulders to tackle before you see the side of the forested/shrubby area where the Shama’s call was coming from. That area had all the signs of a “way too hard to take photos area” which I will normally pass off since I am not fit enough to go through something like that. BUT something told me that I should not let this opportunity pass. That’s why I decided to look for the bird that was making that call.

I had to almost crawl on the ground, go through bushes, lean on rocks, put up with all the insects and thorny twigs under the heat of the sweltering sun.  For this bird, I surprised myself by doing all that while carrying my heavy self and heavy gear.  You mustn’t forget that I had no tripod. The bird was skulking in the bushes and so I had to shoot with a slow shutter speed while perspiring and trying hard not to breathe so that my photo will not turn out blurred. This may not be an acceptable photo but I am extremely happy with this picture because, to those of you who have tried taking a picture of this bird, I’m sure you know how hard it is to get even a decent photo of it.

DREW GALANO

“Is this the bird that you are looking for?” chuckled Nicky as he showed us a video of a bird that calls like an Idol but which, for the past 30 minutes, had been very elusive to us.

I do not consider myself a hardcore birder, merely a dude birder as they say, but having heard the calls from the White-browed Shama (Copsychus luzoniensis), I don’t mind crossing rivers and climbing mountains for the sight of this true songster.

More often heard but very seldom seen, the White-browed Shama scuttles the low foliage, staying mostly hidden among the low branches and the thick vines in the forest. Considering its size, its voice reverberates across the forest foliage like a champ. The “thick” white brow is unmistakably its name’s progeny.  This outstanding feature, further enhanced by a white bar on its wing and the rufuous coloration on its rump – simply beautiful!

After a few trips, I was back in Mt. Makiling for the usual birding and beerding one early Saturday morning.  This time, Nicky cautioned, “Don’t move, wait for the bird there” using his green laser pointer to show me a specific spot.  A little under ten minutes later, heralded by its sweet call, there it was – in its full glory just about five meters from where I was.  I was dumbfounded – excited and ecstatic to the say the least!  It was welcoming the new day, catching the morning light and doing its solfeggio once again.  For a few magic moments, the bird was truly a sight to behold in the open before it disappeared once more in the thick forest foliage.

The White-browed Shama is a “hardcore” bird, an appropriate monicker for a
melodious but very simply dressed little creature.  I don’t mind having to “level up” once more for another look-see.  The effort is nothing much compared to the reward of the sight of this splendid Shama.

TAN JU LIN

Black and white may be monotone colours and if one describes a bird as black and white it seldom evokes gasps of admiration. But for those who have the opportunity to set eyes on the skulking White-browed Shama, black and white brings whole new meaning to pure, blinding white and rich, velvety black. My first encounter with a White-browed Shama was indeed a fortuitous one, no half glimpses in between the tangles and undergrowth, but long and full views, good enough for one our our travel companions to take amazing shots of this often shy bird.  Thanks to the efforts of Nicky Icarangal, we saw a single male bird  of the sub-species luzoniensis, perched  low and singing melodiously along the lower slopes of at Mount Makiling in April of 2011.

White-Browed Shama from Makiling in April 2011 by Jimmy Chew

Whilst on that same birding tour in April 2011 that we saw the White-browed Shama again, this time in Mount Kanlaon, Negros. This sighting was a good chance to compare the regional differences in the same species. On Mount Kanlaon, we observed a male superciliaris which lacks the white wing patch on its wing coverts and the rufous on its rump. Again, it was an individual bird perched about a metre from the ground. Though it is a fairly common bird, the White-browed Shama is typical of the Shama family, more often heard than seen.

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