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La Mesa ReconTrip

Date: 7 December 2003
Location: La Mesa Watershed
Time: 5:45 AM to 12:45 PM
Weather: Cloudy Skies In The Early Morning, Sunny By Midday
Trip report by Albert Ramos

by Arne Jensen with additions by Mads Bajarias & Jon Villasper
Birders: Mike Lu, Arne Jensen, Kitty Arce, Mads Bajarias, Lu-Ann, Sean Co, Nilo Arribas, Dindo Llana, Mark Villa, Pia Belardo, Jed Natividad, Albert Ramos, Forester Glen and 3 other Foresters

The group had scheduled a trip to the La Mesa Watershed to make an ocular inspection of the area’s avifauna in anticipation of the reopening of the former forest resort. The vision: to propose a birding site as part of the reopened resort. The plan: a long drive inside the watershed followed by a short hike to the lake and dam. The driving force: Mike’s lethal desire to see wild ducks. It was at the last minute when I decided to join and at around 4:30 AM, I sent a message to Mike that I would be coming so I met up with Jon, Pia and Jed at the Shell Select Shop in Regalado Avenue. A quick breakfast of an Asado Siopao and half a bottle of mineral water and then we were off, together with Mads, Lu-Ann, Kitty and Sean toward Quirino Avenue. Mike had already indicated that he will be late so it was up to us to look for the gate of the La Mesa Watershed and as expected, the diminutive portal escaped our eyes at first pass. We had to stop along the roadside and after some consultations by phone, we turned back and finally saw the entrance.

It was already 5:45 AM when we got off our vehicles and about a minute later, Mike arrived with Arne, Nilo and Marc. Forester Glen met us and there was a huddle followed by a short orientation. The hike would start a few kilometers further down the road and it was decided that my car and that of Sean may not be able to withstand the rough roads. They will have to be left behind so we both took a ride in Jed’s FX together with Pia and Jon in a convoy of four vehicles in the undulating dirt track.

At about 6:15 AM, we stepped off the vehicles and started to hike. Five minutes into the trek, Arne signaled us to stop and be quiet. There were bird calls being heard from the trees but no sight of the critter still. It was not decided what it was and Arne gave a short lecture on how Brown Shrikes could imitate other calls and that what we heard could be them with one of their exotic calls. On the same note, he also mentioned how he was able to previously document an Island Thrush make fifteen different calls!

La Mesa

We continued walking and then Jon saw a large, dark gliding bird which all too suddenly disappeared into the trees at the north. We were not able to identify it although I heard from the guys at the back of the pack that it may be a Brahminy Kite. We then saw a bird fly overhead and Jon said it was a Black-Naped Oriole but since it was gone in an instant, we just concentrated on the two Flyeaters at the top of an Ipil-ipil tree in front of us.

We continued on our trek and along the path, Forester Glen pointed to a tree which he identified as a Malabulak and explained to us that it was frequented by orioles. There were none, however, at that time. It was already 6:30 in the morning and it was starting to become frustrating. A lot of bird sounds to be heard but no wings or beaks to be seen. Nevertheless, the peace and calm that this forest in the city could provide truly are remarkable, considering that only a concrete fence separates it from a busy avenue.

Five minutes later, our attention was caught by a solitary bird perched at the very top of an Agojo tree at our back. The people at the rear saw it and we noted its brown color and streaks in the chest. It demonstrated the characteristic flying pattern of a Flycatcher several times with short dives and kept returning to its perch. After a long deliberation, Arne and Jon agreed that it was a GREY-STREAKED FLYCATCHER. As we went on, Jon noted the call of a Flowerpecker while Pia and the others were looking at LOWLAND WHITE-EYES. I couldn’t see them, however, and turned my eyes instead on a Black-Naped Oriole which flew overhead. I would have wanted to look at it longer but it had already disappeared into the trees at the other side of the road. What was left to see was a pair of dragonflies busy buzzing at each other.

As we walked onward, the next bird we saw was another Gray-Streaked Flycatcher hopping from one leafless tree to another. It was just above us and it provided us with a good view so no deliberations were needed this time. The people in front announced the sight of another Lowland White-Eye but I was too late and the creature has again eluded me. It was 6:50 AM and the sun was already rising, its rays directly pointing at our eyes making it very difficult to see in front of us. The ground, however, is now better illuminated and a Japanese snail was seen crawling in the ground, much unlike the others of its kind I saw earlier which were just empty shells.

We halted our walk upon sight of a bird in a nearby tree which Arne promptly identified as an ARCTIC WARBLER. I was amazed at how quickly Arne and Forester Glen could spot the birds immediately upon hearing their calls. Even more amazing was how Forester Glen could easily identify them when he wasn’t even holding a pair of binoculars. I started wondering how long it would take me to develop these skills when these guys have practically devoted a lifetime to this endeavor. I was beginning to worry that a group as large as ours would be very noisy and scare away the birds so I decided to stay in front of the pack near Arne so I could benefit with his prowess.

We again stopped in an area which we noticed to be devoid of grass and shrubs. Forester Glen explained to us that it was deliberately cleared to act as a firewall. As we started to walk again, we saw a BROWN SHRIKE sitting quietly in a branch of a tree. A short distance later, we reached a stream with a wooden bridge. At the right side was a piece of wood poking up from the water where a COMMON KINGFISHER was perched. Far from the other side of the bridge was a PIED FANTAIL and in the opposite side of the stream was a GREY WAGTAIL walking along the bank. It flew across the water and landed near a spot where another Common Kingfisher was resting in a piece of dried wood.

We explored the area east of the bridge and saw a PHILIPPINE PYGMY WOODPECKER climbing up a tree trunk. Far into the distance, Mike and Marc said they saw what they think was a LITTLE HERON but I was not able to see it. We trekked by the side of the stream past a broken down concrete bridge and had to stop to wait for the others. The foresters warned that we would have to step on ankle-deep mud if we want to continue on. We decided to go for it in our desire to see the wild ducks.

It was already 7:45 AM. A lot of quick steps to avoid sinking in the mud and we were soon in the banks of the lake. One of the foresters chopped a number of dead wooden poles to act as stepping stones but these cracked when stepped upon and we all had shoes enveloped by moist earth. The lake had grass growing in its banks and we lined up in this stretch of turf in order not to sink deeper. Mike spotted a second Little Heron which flew low above the water before finally disappearing behind the shrubs. Another Common Kingfisher was spotted sitting still in one of a number of poles sticking out of the water. Two more came out from nowhere and chased each other across the stream. Another one followed them later and all three soon darted back into the shrubs in the opposite bank. In a leafless tree to our right was an OLIVE-BACKED SUNBIRD face-to-face with a dragonfly perched in a nearby branch. The sunbird stayed for a few minutes and even turned around to afford us different views of its body while the dragonfly made several short flights but kept returning to the same branch, seemingly oblivious to the presence of the much larger bird right in front of it. A number of small birds, probably five or six, circled overhead. They were too far to be properly identified but Arne said they were PHILIPPINE SWIFTLETS. He also pointed to the east where he could hear the sweet songs of Minivets but they were nowhere to be seen.

By 8:00 AM, we were still in a halt at the banks of the lake when a PIED TRILLER flew overhead and landed in a tree. Mads reported a COMMON MOORHEN in the opposite bank but try as we could, Mike and I could not train our binoculars on them. Instead, our sights were attracted by a Little Heron that flew across the water and back. We stayed a little more in the hope of spotting the ducks. What Mads saw, however, was a fish carcass teeming with flies presumably left over by a raptor in a tree in the opposite side of the lake. This unusual sight had everybody amazed. What was even more amazing for me was that everybody saw the flies while I could not even see the fish!

We gave up waiting for the ducks in this part of the watershed so we started walking back. Upon passing by the concrete bridge, we saw another Gray Wagtail investigating the area. We continued hiking until we got back to the area of the firewall to assemble ourselves again. We turned to take another trail where the foresters would lead us to a larger part of the lake. In the background, we heard the sound of a Gecko. At about the same time, I spotted a raptor hovering in the distance. I called the attention of Mike and Arne and they said it was a kind of Sparrowhawk. Arne enumerated the four types of Sparrowhawks that could be found here but the bird was too far to be specifically identified.

As we continued walking, we noted that whereas the first path we took was a dirt road, this one was more of a trail with lots of bushes. We stopped when a large brown bird flew slowly around us low above the ground and disappeared into the thicket. I thought I saw a Coucal but almost everyone of the more experienced birders agreed that it was a Nightjar. What was not immediately agreed upon, however, was whether it was a Great Eared Nightjar or Grey Nightjar. A deliberation was again in order and after a few minutes of going over and over the Kennedy, it was declared that what we saw was a GREAT-EARED NIGHTJAR. During this time, the calls of a lot of Flyeaters covered the background.

We continued on the trail and saw two Olive-Backed Sunbirds flying from one tree to another which the foresters identified as Akleng Parang. While looking at another tree which they said was a Niyog-Niyogan, another Black-Naped Oriole flew by. Arne and Mike saw the bird but it remained elusive to me. I have long wanted to see one as its picture in the Fisher guidebook has long caught my fancy.

It was almost 9:00 AM and the trail we were taking has now been reduced to a mere footpath with knee-high grass. There was a large patch of weeds resembling the Baby’s Breath used in flower arrangements. Mike pointed out how they formed a sea of clouds in the ground. Jon and I, however, were more engrossed with the memory of corndogs popular in our high school and college years. How these popped into the conversation we do not know, but it was probably brought about by the hunger pangs which we were beginning to feel by now. The path was also strewn with thorny plants and one by one the members of the group starting with Marc and Sean were struck with splinters either in the legs or in the arms. I, however, managed to keep away from them.

We had covered quite a distance from the body of water we left about an hour and a half ago and as we walked, I overheard one of the foresters mention that the ducks there usually appeared at 10:00 AM. Good grief! Had we waited, we would be seeing them any moment now!

We walked single-file into the path whose weeds and grass were now chest-high. Arne reported the calls of Arctic Warblers and PHILIPPINE BULBULS. I long for the day when I myself could identify these critters simply by listening to them. Instead, I heard a strange noise close to my right and deep in the grass similar to a bark from a frightened puppy. The others heard no such sound but I swear there was something in there and I never cared to find out what it was. We noticed the rest of the gang at the back of the file looking up at the sky so we stopped. Arne said they could only see about six BARN SWALLOWS but Mike said there was a raptor that dived down and disappeared. We continued but had to stop again after we heard a “tsuk” from not very far away. Arne said it was the call of a RED-CRESTED MALKOHA but we could not find it. A large bird appeared and flew swiftly into the woods away from us. Jon said what he saw was a raptor and a conversation developed when everybody started describing how it looked like. A forester said it had wings similar to a bat, Jon described it as “masama ang dating” while Mads saw it as “parang kontra-bida.”

We finally spotted water at 9:30 AM and the foresters instructed us to walk slowly so as not to scare off any ducks that might be there. As we approached, we spotted the slow flight of one... two... three... seven large birds! Mike identified them as BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS crossing over to the other side of this large body of water. Another one appeared and followed the others, making a total of eight. As I exulted in glory on my first sight of large birds this close, the foresters warned me of the presence of a trap for Monitor Lizards just beside my feet. They checked the contraption and found out that it was non-functional and has probably been long-abandoned. Good!

As the excitement waned, another Nightjar flew three or four meters away from us in a wavy pattern and then disappeared in the bushes. It had white spots near the tip of its wings and as we scrambled for our guidebooks, two Pied Fantails flew in front of us. After a short discussion, Arne and Mike agreed that that was a PHILIPPINE NIGHTJAR.

As we proceeded near the water, Arne identified the call of a YELLOW-BELLIED WHISTLER and announced the sight of an ORIENTAL MAGPIE-ROBIN landing in a branch in the other side of the lake. I was not able to see it but a second one followed across the water and this time it didn’t escape my eyes. There was a swooshing sound from the middle of the lake and Jon and Nilo said they saw a bird dive and fly away but they were not able to identify it. One of the Black-Crowned Night-Herons returned and gave us a good view of itself when it landed in a tree not very far from us.

We finally reached the shores of the lake and found a nice place for a little rest. Some of the foresters who arrived ahead of us were already doing just that. And oh, they mentioned that when they arrived there were two ducks which had already taken off by the time we got there! Great! Arne announced that it was a good time to bring out our lunch boxes. None of us had one! Thirst and hunger was beginning to get the best of me and I knew that this was going to be my lesson for the day.

As we rested, another Pied Fantail flew by and made calls similar to a Brown Shrike’s. Again, Arne lectured on bird calls. My attention, however, were on four more returning Night-Herons flying slowly in front of us. Two of them went away again, but three others returned. I already lost count so I just listened to the rest of Arne’s lecture.

We then walked by the side of the water and I noticed the presence of pink snail eggs at the lower portions of some of the tree trunks in the soil bordering the lake. These were the eggs of kuhol and no longer could I see the Japanese Snails which were present in the forested areas. At the top of these trees were what looked like the remnants of nests of the Night-Herons. As we were looking at them, four more of the Night-Herons flew by and once again caught my attention.

By 10:15 AM, we decided to start walking back. Our departure, however, was set aside by a few minutes to give way to Arne’s short but emotional talk on the state of nature conservation in the Philippines. In the background, we could hear the calls of PHILIPPINE COUCALS. In the foreground, Sean lay flat in the grass trying to catch his second wind. We finally started marching and again I overheard one of the foresters mention that the ducks in this body of water usually appeared at around 5:00 AM. Hehehe... and they brought us to the other one first and to this one last? My luck also ran out with the thorns. My left hand was struck by one of the prickly shrubs and planted a number of splinters in my left index finger. Ouch!

On and on we marched under the noontime sun high up in the sky. There were fewer and fewer bird calls heard along the way and my throat was getting drier and drier. I wallowed in the occasional breeze that appeared each time we came across the clearings. One of these particularly strong gusts of wind brought a birding emergency. A nest was blown from the trees and landed right in front of us! Lu-Ann and a few other members of the pack even saw a small bird going after its home but flew away upon seeing us. We investigated the nest and saw three small white eggs inside. We didn’t know what to do with it and after a short exchange of ideas, everyone decided to just leave the nest with the eggs inside and placed it in a branch of a small tree.

At 11:45 AM, we finally reached the point where we stepped down from the vehicles and everybody went for their drinks. The other half of my mineral water that I haven’t consumed, however, was in my car which we left behind by the gates so there was no relief in site for my thirst. As we boarded the vehicles, it was announced that we were going to drive toward another site with a tower overlooking the entire watershed. A few kilometers of bumpy roads and we had to stop when Jon and Pia saw a raptor outside the window. We stepped down and noticed that the people in the other vehicles ahead of us had also done the same. We were too late, however, and the raptor was no longer in view.

A few hundred meters more and we were at the foot of the steel tower. We negotiated the three flights of stairs that were getting steeper as we went up. The wind was strong at the top and there was a commanding view of the Sierra Madre mountains, Antipolo and the Ortigas area, among others. There were a lot of swifts and swallows flying in the area and another sound similar to the “tsuk” we heard earlier was appreciated from below. A WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-SWALLOW was seen fighting the strong wind. We exchanged some stories while Sean dozed off in the tower. I had a short conversation with Forester Glen and he said that we actually walked seven or eight kilometers! A few more minutes and we all decided to leave.

By 12:40 PM, we were at the parking lot. Famined and dehydrated, I reached for the bottle of mineral water I had in my car. It was burning hot from the heat of the sun but still I gulped with reckless abandon. There were discussions going on about heading to a nearby subdivision for more birding after a short lunch but I promised to bring Armi to the Cacti and Succulent Society of the Philippines Annual Show so I had to go home. Besides, I was dead tired and my feet were burning. It was, however, a very wonderful trip, far different from the two others that I had joined. I had a lot of exercise, shed a bucketful of sweat, met some new friends, heard a number of lectures, spotted so many birds, and SAW NO DUCKS! :-)


Magpie Robin
Magpie Robin (male)

Lamesa Recon Trip - Birlist Report

Date : Sunday, December7, 2003
Time : 05.30 – 13.30
Weather : NE, 0-6 m/sec, 1-3/8 cloud cover, clear visibility, + 28-30 C.
Participants : WBCP members – 13
Foresters & guides- 4

Observed species and numbers :
1. Little Heron 3
2. Black-crowned Night-heron 8
3. Anas sp Several footprints observed in mud along lakeshore
4. Osprey 1
5. Japanese Sparrowhawk Female immature 1
6. Plain Bush-hen (1)
7. Common Moorhen 1
8. Eurasian Coot 1
9. Rail/Crake sp (1)
10. Dove sp Probably White-eared Brown-Dove (1)
11. Scale-feathered Malkoha 1
12. Red-crested Malkoha 2
13. Philippine Coucal (3)
14. Philippine Nightjar 1
15. Great-eared Nightjar 1
16. Island Swiftlet 7
17. Common Kingfisher 4
18. White-collared Kingfisher 2
19. Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker 5
20. Barn Swallow 4
21. Pied Triller 1
22. Ashy Minivet 1
23. Minivet sp (1)
24. Philippine Bulbul 10
25. Black-naped Oriole 6
26. Oriental Magpie Robin 2
27. Golden-bellied Flyeater 14
28. Artic Warbler 9
29. Grey-streaked Flycatcher 2
30. Pied Fantail 4
31. Yellow-Bellied Whistler (1)
32. Grey Wagtail 2
33. White-breasted Wood-swallow 16
34. Brown shrike 7
35. Olive-backed Sunbird 3
36. Sunbird sp. (3)
37. Flowerpecker sp (2)
38. Lowland White-eye 80


The 2,700 hectares of La Meza Dam includes several habitats. It is largely reforested
since the 1970’s and again in the late 1990’s. Approximately 1,800 hectares are under forest cover and 300 hectares are open areas, pastures and areas under cultivation. The dam is about 600 hectares and several portions are shallow with exposed mudflats, swampforest, reed and other swamp vegetation.

Due to the combination of habitats and being largely undisturbed by humans (hunting appears to be very limited), the reservation functions as an important breeding and roosting area for a variety of wildlife species including birds.

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines reconnaissance trip observed 38 species. However, the number of species is much higher. A UNDP-GEF sponsored ornithological inventory in portions of the reservations revealed 25 species. Of these, this WBCP-trip observed 11. Together with the UNDP- inventory the combined list is around 52 species. However, the field staff of the reservation is very familiar with other species including three species of owls. Potentially, the reservation may host around 100 bird species

This could be revealed if other habitats are being visited and access are being granted. Particularly the oldest forest portions and the dam with its different types of wetlands are important areas. Among the potential species to be observed are migratory birds such as raptors and ducks given the nearby location of the Sierra Madres and Angat Dam. Particularly the eastern watchtower will serve as a perfect study site in the month of April and September-October. Access to better view areas of the water bodies is also very needed.

Arne Jensen December 13, 2003