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Raptor Bonanza in Tanay

Date: April 7-9, 2004
Location: Tanay, Rizal
Trip report and birdlist by James McCarthy

An advance Happy Easter to all. This report is dedicated to those of us who tried in vain to find the migrating raptor site last October.

Regretably after months of frantic work I wasn't too keen on our choice of a Holy Week vacation but it suited the pocket and our children and hence us. A 'farm' in Tanay promised mango trees, and poor secondary scrub at the best I felt but having been warned already that it was a holiday I put my best foot forward. To illustrate how pessimistic I was (versus Mike living it up in Caylabne), I nearly didn't even bring my binoculars, and when I decided too it was just the old pair of 8X30 that I use as my 'car set' - not my 10X50 'serious' ones. Certainly there was no thought of slipping the scope in.

Exactly 50km from Ortigas, we drove through Antipolo, Morong and then turned east at Tanay. 11KM up that road and you join the 'new' Marikina-Infanta road (there is a shell station on the corner) and 5km east (it is gravel road at this point) a concrete road turns off to the left and the place was a km down there. I would estimate we were at 700m and about 8-10km 'Eastish' of Tanay.

Arrival confirmed my thoughts. Immediately on arriving at about 9am all I could hear were Black-Naped Orioles calling from the mangoes. I did bring the binocs out of the car but left them in our room as we settled in the kids. The farm was a very nice simple cottage looking down a long valley 'over' Famy and across the SE corner of Laguna de Baie to Caliraya and Banahaw in the distance. Behind us were a couple of decent looking mountains and a suprising amount of good looking forest (I remembered Arne's comment before that although the Philippines appears denuded, it is suprising what you can find within 100km of the city).

The main reason for coming (us, the owners who are also from Westgrove with 4 girls, and another family from Westgrove with 2 girls) was for the kids to be able to swim in an infinity type pool looking down the valley. I hasten to add here that the owners are into pool construction and by their standards this was a budget job but for the kids it was fantastic. For the parents, they could sit on the balcony and watch the kids - or when they got too noisy (within about 10 minutes of arrival) they could retreat indoors but still enjoy the coolness of the breeze.

So by 10am wednesday the kids were in the pool and with nothing better to do than be a good Dad, so was I.

I got out after about 10 minutes to check out a Serpent Eagle that - I assumed - was a local bird just doing the rounds of its territory. Nice to see always, I spent a while looking at the flight profile, the white bar along the flight feathers etc. and basically making the most of it. 5 minutes later and I decided to leave the binoculars beside up the stairs in the bahay kubo because an Oriental Honey Buzzard had appeared out of the blue (literally) and had cruised right over the house! Again I watched it well for as long as possible & just put it down as sheer luck.

I still hadn't realised what was going on. I didn't scan the horizon, look for other raptors or anything. Once the Buzzard was gone I went back to the pool & still didn't bring the binoculars (though I was already wishing I had my 10X).

Less than 5 minutes later I look up to see a group of 15 Chinese Goshawk doing their rapid wheeling in the sky above me.At that point I start to feel happy thinking I might see a few of this stunning bird over the next couple of days (see Kitty's note from Boracay of a few days ago - seeing a group of this spp. thermalling in the bright April sunshine against a deep blue sky is indeed a wonderful sight).

As I take a look up to see where they are as I climb out of the pool - so as not to lose them as I run up to get the binocs - I look past my small group of 15 and with complete shock (it was complete shock, something that rarely happens to me in birding these days) I see two groups of birds considerably higher totalling about 200 birds!!!! I couldn't believe me eyes....or my luck :-)

And so from here on my 2 days in Tanay were spent with binocs over my shoulder, eyes on the skies and an ear for my toddler. The passage was astrononomical, starting on Thurs & Friday at about 7-7.10 am and lasting until 5.30 on Weds though rain on Thursday at 3.30 cut things short. To look down the valley as the birds just appeared from everywhere was something I have never seen in my life & something everyone should see at least once.

By about 10am the birds were very high indeed - small black crosses in the sky and very hard to see against the blue sky. Hence while the totals are actual counts, the numbers passing over were possibly double what I saw. At times I would scan once, see a handful of birds, then scan a few inches higher in the sky and find a flock of 100 or 200 birds. Frequently also I would find a flock only to lose it again almost instantly - hard to believe but for those of you who know how hard I 'work' when I bird, this might give you an idea of how fast these birds would find a thermal, group, rise and then stream off in a trail northeastwards.

The passage appeared to swing back and forth across the valley - sometimes the birds were concentrated further east and sometimes right above the house. I have a feeling though that this was more a function of my being able to watch them and time available to scan the skies. The peak times were from 7-8 am and then from 10-2 but quite honestly, anytime I raised my binocs an looked across the skies I would find at least 100 birds within a few minutes. Hence my counts are probably just a fraction of what was actually passing by.

I feel the birds were coming off the Kaliraya area and following that ridge up the east side of the valley which runs from where I was down to the lake in a NE-SW direction though I will need Jon's help to pinpoint it. They were not affected by the wind (on Friday it was quite windy and the birds were having to fly strongly into it at a lower altitude).

Anyway the totals for the 3 days were;

Weds April 7 10 am to 6 pm

1. Oriental Honey Buzzard 8
2. Serpent Eagle 1
3. Grey Faced Buzzard 1
4. Chinese Goshawk 3100 counted...but I would revise this to about 4500 seeing how my counting improved - note that I had never counted raptors like this before. I found out on the second day that I was consistently underestimating flocks by as much as 30-40% between initial estimate and 10-by-10 counts. Northern Hobby 2 (3rd & 4th records for the Philippines if accepted)

Thursday April 8 7 am - 3.30 pm

1. Osprey 3
2. Oriental Honey Buzzard 18
3. Serpent Eagle 6
4. Unidentified large raptor 9
5. Brahminy Kite 1
6. Grey Faced Buzzard 12
7. Chinese Goshawk 6400 counted
8. Peregrine Falcon 2

Friday April 9 7 am - 10 am
1. Oriental Honey Buzzard 9
2. Phil Hawk Eagle 1
3. Brahminy Kite 1
4. Grey Faced Buzzard 1
5. Chinese Goshawk 3000 estimated

Some of the highlights:

feeling panicky (on multiple occassions) as hundreds after hundreds of Goshawks stream overhead...I was overwhelmed....almost wanting to give up with bad arm ache from scanning the skies.

A Peregrine plucking a Goshawk right over my head and eating it while it thermalled!!

An Oriental Honey Buzzard about 100 yards over my head carrying a big (maybe apple sized) chunck of honeycomb that I could actually see dripping honey. Outrageous!!!! I had never heard of this before.

Of course the Hobbies....but quite honestly this was a weekend for 'regular' birds.

So were there any other suprises in store - frankly no. I heard the ff endemics of interest (sorry not in order);
1. Scaley Feathered Malkoa
2, Phil Bulbul
3. Elegant Tit
4. Red Keeled Flowerpecker

plus plenty of orioles, YV Bulbul, both Grassbirds and Olive Backed Sunbirds.

And finally, please realise that while all the above was going on I still managed to do all my family duties, cook lunch on Thursday for the whole group, and not be accused a single time of neglecting either my wife or the children.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! Next year!!!! Even tomorrow - I am sure this will go on for a few more days.