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From an Out-of-town Birding Trip Newbie: Watching the Waders in Masantol, Pampanga

By: Mary Bernadette de Venecia

The meeting place for those joining the Masantol club trip was at McDonald’s-Centris at 5:30 a.m. It was still dark. Everybody was on time, except for one – me, the out-of-town club trip newbie! “You’re 5 minutes late,” said our team organizer Tinggay Cinco.  Co-team organizer Gwen So, had been trying to reach me by phone as I alighted from the cab.  Hmmm…that’s how serious the club is over set meeting time for trips – lesson no. 1 for the newbie, who was still brimming with excitement.  After the discussion on routes, vehicle assignments, and convoy arrangement – and having had a hearty McDo breakfast for some — we were off to our Pampanga birding destination!

On reaching the site before 8:00 am, lo and behold, others had the same idea birding to the same site! John Mesquida, James Biron, and a friend were already there, having left Makati at 4 am to catch the early flocks of birds.  As our team was setting up the scopes at intervals along the roadside, George Inocencio and company (they were 4) arrived, lugging along viewing and camera gear. There were exchanges of “hello, hellos” all with hopes of a great day ahead of us.  The roadside for birding was long and there were even fishpond dikes for the various sub-groups to choose their spots from. Hmmmm… so this was what roadside birding was all about — a literal description indeed – no sidewalks, just steep drop-offs to fishpond canals just beyond our positions.  Be careful, careful….that was lesson no. 2 for me.

Swollen river along the East Bank of Pampanga River (Photo by Mads Bajarias)

The Pampanga River was swollen to its banks that one couldn’t see the islets within the river.  We just saw the trees sticking out from the water, perhaps due to the strong rains the previous day. It was still overcast, but seemed to bode well for perfect birding weather – no glaring sun, nor intense heat. The birds were resting over the drained fishponds, with a number of them also actively feeding. Before the counts were done, Mads and John of our sub-team, agreed on sweeping the area with the scopes to see what was there and review bird IDs with the rest of us. For the relative newbies, it was a crash course in Field Ornithology 101: Waders.

Upon spotting a particular bird through the scope, and allowing those around to observe it, Mads would point out the distinct features of the species as shown  in the Field Guide to the Waterbirds of ASEAN – a must-have book published through an ASEAN-ROK grant. Published through a grant? Yes, so there are no copies on sale, hohum….but Pinoys have a way of getting around this? A funny smile, mischievous eyes from someone around, seemed to have conveyed, “Just let me know if you want a copy.” Lesson no. 3 – always have good field guides on trips.

So after the bird ID reviews, ensued the counts.  For this phase, there were counters (the bird ID experts), recorders, and for others, more practice in applying the lesson from FO101, using their bins.  There were exchanges and discussions among the waterbird neophytes – some of us parroting what we had heard from the experts and pointing out particular bird features shown in the images in our hand-outs, then taking peeks through the scopes once again, whenever the “counters” would take a rest break for their strained eyes, but continue providing additional tips on the birds in focus.  Yes, a number of us did our homework familiarizing ourselves with the species expected in the area, armed with print-outs of improvised guides previously sent by Tinggay.

Some of us went over to the fishpond dikes to have a closer view of the birds with just our bins.  It was exhilarating to be on solo flight, identifying the birds – the new-found knowledge empowering indeed. More bird ID learning exchanges ensued among those in the dike area. I discovered a major focus of these trips consisted of the exchange of knowledge on birding ID.  This was at a more intense level (yet within a more relaxed atmosphere – CHILL!), compared with that during volunteer work for guided city/coastal birdwalks for the public.  In the case of the latter, the priority is service, ensuring the participants get to see the birds within the limited early morning duration. Lesson no. 4 – it’s more fun sharing and exchanging knowledge: helping one another learn!    

I still have my human devices for remembering some of the waders, aside from a range of comparative tips:  the bird speckled with golden coins – the Pacific Golden Plover; the bird with tattoos all over – head and upper body – the Ruddy Turnstone; the tern with headphones behind its eyes (as Mads would say) – the White-winged Tern.  Some of us found ourselves fortunate to have seen the Purple Heron, to which Dale Pagcalinawan exclaimed in amazement, that it reminded him of some prehistoric creature. What?!? I took a look through the scope again…Hmm…Oh my, indeed, those piercing eyes and regal, long neck reminded me of some characters in Jurassic Park! Why not? After all, birds evolved from the reptiles. Remember our friend the Archeopteryx? But really, if one could have a second spark bird, it was for me the awesome Purple Heron of that day – making me want to bring birding to a new level, that is, from Metro-Manila birding to out-of-town birding!!! Yoohooy!!!! Lesson no. 5 – it’s even more fun joining the club’s out-of-town birding trips: expect more lifers!!!

Our other discoveries for that trip consisted of a decent native restaurant called Lennie’s, along the Malolos Highway, that allowed for combo-meals arrangement – we could eat our baon and order too!  Aside from barbecue,sisig, pancit, and sinigang, we had to order extra rice, so that we could taste Tinggay’s famous adobo. (So the next time Tinggay organizes another trip, don’t forget to sign up for the adobo – Ay! for the event). One can also order fresh buko juice (straight from the coconut, with no sugar added) from the stall across the restaurant, through the waiters with no extra cost (or so we’d like to think because it was just Php20)!  After our hearty lunch, Lu-Ann Bajarias lead the consolidation of bird records from the teams – 41 species plus 4 other taxa for East Riverbank of the Pampanga River in Barangay Balibago, Masantol Pampanga.  Although we saw the Pheasant-tailed Jacana, with a very short tail then (non-breeding), we witnessed it along the road of Calumpit. (Bird photos below by Gwen So)

It was a great day – having seen a number of lifers, mastering bird IDs, and interacting with WBCP members and other birders sharing a common interest. Others who were part of this birding adventure were Lisa Pagcalinawan, Lolet Tan, Patty Adversario, Ravi Iyengar, and Tristan Mirasol. Thank you Tinggay and Gwen for organizing this trip! What a day!


Wandering Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata)  2
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type) (Cairina moschata)  25
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)  2
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia)  2
Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata)  3
Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis)  2
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)  10
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)  2
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)  9
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)  103
Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus)  70
Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)  5
Lesser/Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus/leschenaultii)  10
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)  350
plover sp. (Charadriidae sp.)  20
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)  6
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)  15
Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)  165
Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)  3
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)  2
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)  2
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)  2
White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)  10
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)  1270
Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis)  1
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)  2
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  4
Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia)  20
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)  52
Striated Heron (Butorides striata)  5
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)  2
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)  1
Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)  2
Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus)  2
Philippine Pied Fantail (Rhipidura nigritorquis)  3
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus)  4
Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)  1
Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris)  1
Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica)  10
swallow sp. (Hirundinidae sp.)  10
Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier)  4
Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis)  1     Heard only
Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)  3
Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata)  5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)  4

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