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First Time Makiling Birder

MT. MAKILING (from the Gate up to Station 14)
Date: 15 January 2004
Time: 0730H to 1510H
Weather: Sunny with occasional cloud cover
Birders: Mads Balarias Jr., Nilo Arribas Jr.

“First time Makiling birder” by Nilo Arribas, Jr.

When Mads invited me for a birding trip to Mt. Maikiling in Laguna several days earlier, I can’t remember considering no for an answer. My interest was further reinforced after having read and heard stories from previous birders about the many “heard but not seen” birds in the area. This shall also be my first time visit to the University of the Philippines in Los Baños.

We agreed to meet at around 5:30am and take a bus from Cubao, Quezon City. Mads told me that travel time would be about two hours. However, it turned out that it was our lucky day since we arrived at the road junction (near Jolibee fastfood restaurant) in less than two hours!

I had coffee and sandwich earlier in Manila and I was not really hungry after only over an hour’s bus ride but since Mads is taking a heavy breakfast, I decided to join him. Later it turned out that it was a wise decision after all considering that the excitement and thrill of bird sightings along the trails has taken our time for lunch or even the thought of it.

Looking at a tree just before the T.R.E.E. building we can hear a lot of bird calls and saw some bird silhouettes but nothing for positive ID. It was on the right side of the TREE building that we saw our first birds for the day. Perched on a tree canopy almost eye-level from our position was a pair of TARICTIC HORNBILL. I first saw this bird in Pico de Loro but that was only after almost breaking our necks looking up from under the tree near the DENR station, which exposed only much of its belly.
At our position near the TREE building, the tarictic is seen with much of its side and back. The early morning sun has also created an ideal lighting for the scene (if only I had a longer 500mm lens!! for my camera). While observing this pair of hornbills, Mads called my attention to an adjacent tree where a SCALE-FEATHERED MALKOHA is perched, exposed, with all of its splendor. Our attention is now divided between the malkoha and the tarictics. The brightness offered by the rising sun gave me so much detail than my first encounter with this bird (Tarictic). So I’m raising the bar on my lifebirds now.. henceforth, I should have the same level of details before I’ll list them as Lifers ;) We returned to the main road as Mads told me that the gate is the starting point of the Mt. Makiling trek.

0815H (Makiling Entrance Gate)
While looking for the noisy Balicassiao along the trail, we spotted four (4) fat COLETOs perched high in a huge tree. One of them was hopping from branch to branch while the rest stayed perched on leafless branches for us to observe longer. We heard Philippine Bulbuls calling but we didn’t see them. It took us sometime before the first sighting of the PHILIPPINE BULBULs and the BALICASSIAO. These birds literally stayed with us the whole day along the road.

Moving up the trail, one particular tree caught our attention because of high bird activity (many calls) but no sighting. It took us sometime before we finally saw a RUFOUS PARADISE-FLY CATCHER. The tail is short (female) and the orange color just pop out in the dim forest undergrowth. I was about to update my lifebird list when I realized that we have not seen the male!! Mads and I tried to climb the 70 degree-slope because the RPFC is just about 35 meters above us. Unfortunately, there was no available trail and making a new one is just not practical considering the soft/wet soil at that time with no solid rocks to step on or vines to hold on to.

Mads went ahead after being frustrated of not seeing more of the RPFC :) I decided to stay and take some photos of the site for reference purposes. It was quite a relief walking through a clearing along the trail that allowed us to have a glimpse of the peak of Mt. Makiling, actually, only part of it. Its was at this clearing that Mads again (a very good spotter) saw two (2) PHILIPPINE FALCONET perched high in a leafless tree. One of the Falconets was facing the other side of the hill while the other is facing directly in our direction. We waited for at least one of them to show its flight characteristics. I just can’t wait and proceeded further towards the trail. It was Mads who saw the semi-dive take-off of the bird. We were expecting something more “raptor-like” take-off, but maybe we have to observe/study this bird more or longer next time.

1040H (Boy Scout Jamboree Area)

We arrived at a place where some sari-sari (makeshift) stores were selling softdrinks, so we decided to take some rest and snacks. According to Mads, this place is a busy route for people going up the peak of Makiling but at that time we were the only patrons among the rows of stores. Maybe this is the reason why we have a relatively good start with our birdlist.

At about 100 meters from the stores, we saw a sign pointing to the Mud Spring, I thought Mud Spring is an interesting place to visit.

The Mud Spring
The sign says about 600meters to Mud spring and I initially I thought it’s like a minor detour from the main trail (road). I realized later that we’ve been walking for a long time and still no mud spring in sight. Knowing that we have to walk the same path going back made me worry that I might be wasting energy. Somewhere on the forest floor, we noticed two (2) female RED JUNGLEFOWL. It was in the same spot where we later saw another female Red junglefowl which was flushed out, ran and flew a few meters as we navigated the trail back to the main road.

Red-bellied Pitta
I was still down the mud springs (yellow mud) taking pictures of the place when I heard Mads (about 30 meters away) shouting Nilo, Pitta!!! I didn’t know how to react, at first I told myself, yeah right… thanks for driving it away… but the thought of the colorful bird in the Kennedy’s bird guide and the prospect of another lifebird to add to my list sent me running towards Mads. He pointed towards where he saw the bird, it crossed the trail along a steep slope of about 50 degrees upwards. A small stream kept that particular part of the trail moist/wet.

My instincts told me that maybe the Pitta might cross the trail again and that it’s better to wait rather than miss that rare opportunity. When in this situation, several minutes of waiting seems eternity for us… we were ready to give-up, it was then that we decided to stand and move on when I noticed an eye-catching blue colored thing partly hidden in the vegetation along the trail. I realized then that the RED-BELLIED PITTA is playing the waiting game with us!!! Without wasting time I decided to approach the Pitta with my camera on my right hand, binoculars on the left… I couldn’t decide which equipment to use ;) At about 10 feet, I felt that the binocular should give way to the camera. I expected the bird to fly so I prepared my camera (lens wide-open, internal flash up) for
an “ambush shot”. What I did not expect was for the bird to just ran a few feet from us and stop as if trying to see if someone is following.

It was a steep uphill slope but the thought of having a wild bird, RED-BELLIED PITTA, at that, in the frame of my camera’s 105mm lens is just too much to resist. I decided to drop all my bags and equipment for a possible chase. I missed a lot of good opportunities while following this shy creature because I was using my camera’s auto-focus feature, the lens was hunting between the background and the twigs in the foreground and in effect rendered the subject (Pitta) out of focus!!! Got some shots though and hope they turn out good.

After some more shots, I decided that maybe I’m encroaching too much on the normal daily life of this fellow and joined Mads down the trail back to the main road.

1300H (Station #10)

On our way to Station 10, Mads saw GREY-STREAKED FLYCATCHERs perched on leafless branches of a huge tree however, the call of a PHILIPPINE PYGMY WOODPECKER caught our attention. This small endemic was observed actively moving/flying from one branch to another.

We continued the trek and a LOWLAND WHITE-EYE was spotted by Mads while I was looking at this interesting ground (mystery) bird… Mads initial words were… an ashy ground-thrush?

+--------ashy ground-thrush?--------+

The mystery of the Ashy Ground-Thrush:
It was about 30 meters from us but the trail at this point is under the shades of large trees. What is interesting about this bird is that instead of flying away from the trail, it stayed in a nearby shrub as if trying to look back and survey the area for the intruders… soon after it is back on the ground hopping in the direction of Station #12 after passing station #11. When Mads mentioned about Ashy Ground-Thrush, I said that maybe we have to take individual notes and compare it later since this is a lifer for me. I also remember Arne’s instruction to take as many field notes as possible and don’t rely solely on the pictures in the bird guide.

My observation:
1. A grayish/brown bird with 3 white wing bars that extends near the tails.
2. hops on the ground and fly short distances to shrubs and elevated rocks when approach closer than 25-30 meters. It maintains the approximate distance from us while moving towards Station #12.
3. White or light underparts with streaks or spots
4. It was about 2:20PM with heavy cloud covers.

Mads’ observation:
1. A grayish bird with reddish or orange legs.
2. It has 2 white wing bars.
3. Upright stance while hopping in the ground.
4. Size is about 5 inches

The discussion/notes comparison between Mads and Me followed by the verdict:

About that ground bird between stations 10 and 11. I was going through my after-birding notes and remembered 3 distinct things.

1. About the wingbars- you saw 3 and i saw 2.
2. I am certain that the legs were orangey or reddish.
3. The upright stance of the bird as it hopped its way along the path.
4. The small size.

“That bird really bothered me while we were on the bus to Manila. Parang di ashy thrush na parang ashy thrush, kumbaga” When I got home, I searched my files and found a photo of an ashy ground thrush taken by Guy Dutson and lent to Haribon for a book on threatened endemic bird species. The ashy thrush is definitely not the one we saw!

I pored over the drawings in Kennedy and looked at the pipits esp. the Pechora and the Olive-tree because of their stance and their habitats.

About the wingbars: The Pechora pipit has 2 distinct wingbars plus 1 bar which extends across its back forming a V when seen from behind. I think this is the 3rd wingbar you saw! Mystery solved on the wingbar number.

About the leg color: Ashy thrush has a greyish leg color. Pechora pipit is reddish.

About the stance: The ashy thrush has a more "horizontal" profile. Pipits are more upright.

About the size: The bird we saw was about 5 inches tall in my estimate. This size corresponds to the size in Kennedy; the ashy thrush is bigger and a tad plump.

The behavior of Pechora pipit as stated in Kennedy is also a match: When flushed the bird perched on a low branch but immediately returned to the ground.

Finally, I went through the Makiling birdlist by ornithologist and Makiling expert JC Gonzalez. Pechora pipit is included there. Anyhow, those are my arguments for the PECHORA PIPIT, as against Ashy Ground-thrush.

+--------<end>ashy ground-thrush?--------+

Station #11
While thinking about that mystery bird, our attention was distracted by the beautiful bird
identified by Mads as the PHILIPPINE TROGON. However, the presence of a BLUE-HEADED FANTAIL has divided our attention as we tried to get as much viewing time of these interesting birds. A group of other birds was also noted and added to our list; the YELLOW-BELLIED WHISTLERs, ELEGANT TITs and ARCTIC WARBLERs.

Station #11
Station #11

Station #12
Upon reaching station 12, Mads just noted the names of the birds as we described them to ensure that the description is similar as these birds are lifers for me. Seen were EYEBROWED THRUSH, BICOLORED FLOWERPECKER and a BLUE-HEADED FANTAIL. I described the Blue-headed Fantail at first as having purely gray head, which is a difficult description to work on. This is the problem with working on the undergrowth. The sun definitely is a lot of help for easier identification.

Station #13
In the last stages of our trek, we got a glimpse of a bird, which later we identified as BRUSH CUCKOO. It has orange or rusty underbelly with long tail.

1515H (Station #14)
After reaching this far, with no signs of birds, we decided to call it a day. On our way down we managed to add the following birds from our notes for the complete birdlist:

1. Philippine Falconet [ Microhierax erythrogenys ] - 2 perched.
2. Red Junglefowl [ Gallus gallus ] – 1. female running, 2 smaller imm.
3. Brush Cuckoo [ Cacomantis variolosus ] - 1 perched, calling.
4. Scale-feathered Malkoha [ Phaenicophaeus cumingi ] - 3 (but not at the same time), perched
5. Red-crested Malkoha [Phaenicophaeus superciliosus ] - 5-10. perched and in flight.
6. Philippine Trogon [ Harpactes ardens ] - 1. male. perched and in flight. brilliant!
7. Tarictic Hornbill [ Penelopides panini ] - 2. pair. perched in "canopy" below TREES
8. Coppersmith Barbet [ Megalaima haemacephala ] - heard only.
9. Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker [ Dendrocopos maculatus ] - 1 seen. more heard.
10. Red-bellied Pitta [ Pitta erythrogaster ] - 1 seen. hopping along the path to Mudflats.
11. Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike [ Coracina striata ]- 2. perched and in flight.
12. Philippine Bulbul [ Hypsipetes philippinus ] - 10+
13. Balicassiao [ Dicrunus balicassius ] - 10+
14. Elegant Tit [ Parus elegans ] - 5-10. the most number seen at 1 time is 4.
15. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch [ Sitta frontalis ] - 1
16. Pechora Pipit [ Anthus gustavi ] - 1. on ground. hopping along trail.
17. Eyebrowed Thrush [ Turdus obscurus ] - 1. perched.
18. Arctic Warbler [ Phylloscopus borealis ] - 5-10.
19. Grey-streaked Flycatcher [ Muscicapa griseisticta ] - 5-10
20. Blue-headed Fantail [ Rhipidura superciliaris ] - 4 seen. more heard
21. Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher [ Terpsiphone cinnamomea ] - 2 seen. could have been more.
22. Black-naped Monarch [ Hypothymis azurea ] - 3 (1 pair + 1 male)
23. Yellow-bellied Whistler [ Pachycephala philippinensis ] - 5-10
24. Brown Shrike [ Lanius cristatus ] - 1
25. Coleto [ Sarcops calvus ] - 6. the most number seen at one time is 4. perched and in flight.
26. Copper-throated Sunbird [Nectarinia calcostetha ] - 2. Female, feeding at flower
27. Olive-backed Sunbird [ Nectarinia jugularis ] - 1 male
28. Flaming Sunbird [ Aethopyga flagrans ] - 1 male.
29. Buzzing Flowerpecker [ Dicaeum hypoleucum ] - 2-5.
30. Red-keeled Flowerpecker [ Dicaeum australe ] - 2 seen.
31. Pygmy Flowerpecker [ Dicaeum pygmaeum ] - 2 seen.
32. Lowland White-eye [ Zosterops meyeni ] - 2

Olive Backed Sunbird
Olive Backed Sunbird