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Mozzarella and Monarchs, Chocolate Cake and Coucals
(A Treasure Trove at the Westgrove)

Location: Ayala Westgrove Heights Santa Rosa, Laguna
Date: 09 May 2004
Time: 4:20 PM to 5:40 PM

Weather: Complete cloud cover with mild drizzles throughout the session
Equipment: Bushnell 10 x 50 Binoculars

Group # 1:James McCarthy, Nilo Arribas, Jr., Mark Villa, Gil Dy-Liaco, Albert & Armi Ramos
Group # 2: Arne Jensen, Aldrin Mallari, Ricky de Castro, Joseph Bieksza, Ipat Luna & Tracey Nieto
Group # 3 : Mike Lu, Peter & Leni Sutcliffe, Debbie Landey & Ruth Pearce
Group # 4: Kitty Arce, Andrew Galano, LuAnn Fuentes & Mads Bajarias

Trip Report by Albert Ramos
Birdlist by Albert Ramos, Arne Jensen and Mike Lu

It has been four and a half months since I last went out with the club and all of my previous birdwalks with the group were in Metro Manila. An invitation to an out-of-town yet easily accessible location proved to be what was needed to get me off my work and, for Armi, birdwatching without having to get up very early was too much to pass up on.

Since the place was within reach of Tagaytay, Armi & I decided to go there first and take the opportunity to acquire a few hanging plants for our new trellis at home. Along the highway, we already started seeing birds, albeit these were the caged ones being peddled on the roadside. Among the ones we saw were a Philippine Cockatoo, a Crested Mynah, some Spotted Doves and Red-Turtle Doves, several cockatiels and a lot of budgerigars and finches. A family riding in two vehicles stopped by and a fat lady who apparently just arrived from abroad, and who presumably found the prices to be very affordable for her, bought many of the smaller birds along with a pair of young rabbits and handed these to her small nephews. The boys eagerly grabbed the tiny critters from the small bamboo cages provided with them. I'm not sure which of the animals I would consider luckier - the ones bought by the balikbayan or the ones left to await some other fortune.

After getting the plants we set out for (and for a huge bargain at that!), Armi and I stopped by the Mushroom Burger restaurant. We were not really hungry at that moment but it has been quite a while since we last tasted their mushroom sandwich. More birds at the parking lot, we noticed that their resident flock of Guinea Fowls have grown in number and the group even has a new companion inside their cage in the form of a fighting cock.

After getting word from Mike that the rest of the club is ready to leave the Petron Gas Station at the SLEX, we also decided to set out for Westgrove. We passed along the front of Gourmet Cafe but failing to see Kitty's van in front, we sped towards the designated meeting place which was at the Paseo de Santa Rosa.

At about 4:00 PM, we arrived at the clubhouse of Ayala Westgrove Heights. The place was such a huge expanse of open space with many, many mature mango trees and a few, but very beautiful, houses. A few minutes of introductions passed and then we were grouped into two. New birders were sent to Arne Jensen and Mike Lu s group while regulars were sent to James McCarthy's. Oh wow! Birding in such a beautiful setting was already too much, let alone being led by James McCarthy (yes, THE James McCarthy!). Well, so much for being overwhelmed and on to birding now.

James crammed our group which consisted of Nilo, Mark, Gil, Armi and I into his Space Wagon for a two-minute drive into a dead-end fronting a gully. Upon alighting the car, we immediately noted a cacophony of bird calls in the background and plenty of activity overhead. James started pointing north, south, east and west to the birds flying around us and he dazzled us with his prowess in identifying birds upon hearing their faintest of sounds. Armi & I took a few seconds to shake off our confusion with the sudden onslaught of information before we finally settled where to start.

Among the first birds whose calls were made clear to us by James were those of a kingfisher, a white-eye and even a chicken. They saw a Pied Triller fly towards our left but I missed it. Following its flight, however, I saw a large number of Glossy Swiftlets overhead, more than twenty of them. Another bird flew across their path and James pointed to us that it was a White-Breasted Wood-Swallow. I really envy the guy for his talent in identifying these creatures while in flight, backlit and all.

Training back our binoculars to the view in front of us, we saw a Striated Grassbird perched on top of a Mango tree in the far distance, and then a Yellow-Vented Bulbul landed in a bamboo tree at the bottom of the gully. James mentioned that there are lots of bulbuls, both the Yellow-Vented and the Philippine varieties, in this particular patch of land.

Another minute passed and James made us take note of a tsuk-tsuk-tsuk sound which he said was made by a Tawny Grassbird. Overhead, two Island Swiftlets passed and pecked each other in mid-air. Flying into the distance was a Common Emerald Dove which James said was very unusual for this area. Meanwhile, another Striated Grassbird was in a slow flight above us.

While we were listening to more calls from the gully below us, a Pacific Swallow came and displayed what James described as its elegant flight overhead. He taught us how to make the colors of the horizon come out by turning our hands into visors above our eyes and while we were doing this, he also noted the sound of a Mangrove Blue Flycatcher in the background. Another bird flew swiftly past us and joined two others of its kind in diving behind the trees. They were Sunbirds, according to James, although he was not certain which kind because of their speed.

A few minutes later, it was the sound of a Bush-Hen that James was pointing out to us. While I really could not appreciate the call, it was enough to excite Nilo of the prospect of finally seeing one of these. As luck would have it, however, today was not the day he was destined to meet them.

More lectures came from James on bird calls we kept hearing all over, such as those of tailor birds and Emerald Doves, but it was another Striated Grassbird that we saw up close to our right. A lot more of the bird sounds were coming out, among which were those made by Philippine Bulbuls and Coppersmith Barbets. James truly had a heyday teaching us to appreciate these calls and he amazed us with calls he himself made to entice the birds to come out. The man truly can talk to these winged wonders! Another Tawny Grassbird called from behind us but what we saw instead were two Yellow-Vented Bulbuls in an Ipil tree and a Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the gutter of a house. James imitated the call of the grassbird but it wouldn t come out and he was sure that the critter was just staring at us somewhere.

We turned around once more to look at the view of the gully and a Golden-Headed Cisticola was seen resting in another Ipil tree. James initially called it a Golden-Headed Fantail as they do in his own country before Nilo made known his own prowess by calling it by the name it s called here. It took me about a minute to finally find the exact place where it was so James took this opportunity to show us how to best point to others the location of a particular bird that one sees. He also emphasized that one should not panic and that binoculars are best brought up to the eyes in a relaxed manner rather than in a jerky motion that are apt to scare the birds away. The lecture, however, was abruptly disrupted by lots of ants climbing up our legs from the sidewalk we were stepping on.

A White-Throated Kingfisher flew slowly above us, affording us a long prolonged view of its beautiful profile. Mark then saw two more of the birds sitting in a leafless tree not too far from us. A minute later, another bird passed in front of us. It was a White-Collared Kingfisher this time and truly this place was proving to be a paradise for relatively new birders like me. Another kingfisher flew from behind towards the front but we were not able to identify which kind it was.

Meanwhile, it was the call of a coucal that James was concentrating on, followed by the sound of a tailorbird. My eyes were attracted by some movement in a nearby banana tree until two birds flew off and they turned out to be Yellow-Vented Bulbuls. The Tawny Grassbird resumed its calls from behind us but still we were luckless up to this time in having it come out of the shadows.

Gil pointed to another White-Throated Kingfisher which dived into the trees in the distance, in the process showing off the beautiful colors at the back of its wings. At the same time, James showed us a very, very magnificent blue bird in a tree just a short distance from us and Nilo promptly identified it as a Black-Naped Monarch. Indeed, it would prove to be the highlight of the birdwalk for Armi and me. Our attention, however, was grabbed by another White-Throated Kingfisher diving very near to us whose beautiful colors challenged that of the monarch s.

Nilo saw three Lowland White-Eyes but he had difficulty pointing out to us where they stood. James assisted with the directions but the birds were no longer there by the time we found the tree. Nevertheless, James again took the opportunity to provide us with some exercise in pointing towards the right direction.

Our attention was again caught by another bird call which James said was that of another Mangrove Blue Flycatcher's. He explained to us that these were curious birds that were sure to come out shortly to investigate our presence. It was not to be, however, up to the time we had to leave.

Two Pied Trillers flew in the distance and James pointed out their open and close flight patterns. This occurred while Nilo was pointing out the presence of a Barred Rail in the foreground underneath some trees. Again, I was too late in looking and the bird was gone too soon.

It was already 5:00 PM and yet we haven t noticed the passage of time. At this point, another White-Throated Kingfisher appeared and James told us about the extremely large numbers of these birds here. He took a few seconds to guide our sight to a few coconut trees in front of us, in the foreground of which was an Elegant Tit. The bird immediately caught our fancy and it was at this moment when we missed the services of the spotting scope which Nilo left in James' car. A few more moments later and another bird was seen facing it in the left, a Red-Keeled Flowerpecker. Everyone was delighted by the sight of this one but try as I may, I couldn t see the bird because of some small branches blocking my view.

We started walking back towards the car when suddenly a Philippine Coucal popped out, glided for a moment, and almost immediately disappeared into the bushes. It was nice to see a bird larger than the ones we ve seen here so far. While James was describing the musical call of another Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, a Philippine Bulbul landed in a tree nearby but once more, it flew away by the time I pointed my binoculars to its landing site. Meanwhile, more Glossy Swiftlets and Pacific Swallows flew in circles above us. James taught us the distinctive characteristics of the birds and how to tell them apart from each other. For me, of course, it was easier said than done.

Nilo and I were looking at two Striated Grassbirds in a tree at the other side of the road when another of those tsuk-tsuk-tsuk sounds were heard. James immediately instructed us to keep silent and as we were looking at the ridge in an attempt to find where the sound was coming from, his cellphone began to ring loudly. It was Kitty and her companions asking for directions and I began to realize how lucky I was not to find her van in front of Gourmet Cafe, otherwise we would have missed everything we've seen so far. Going back to the tsuk-tsuk-tsuk, we spent another two minutes looking for the bird in vain. James said it was a Tawny Grassbird but it was not its typical call. Suddenly, another Yellow-Vented Bulbul appeared in front of us but nobody cared to raise his binoculars for it.

We continued walking back to the car which we were going to ride to Leni Sutcliffe s place where James said we can find Bee-Eaters and Cinnamon Bitterns. While we were walking, the tailorbird again called from behind us as if bidding us goodbye from the shadows, victorious in keeping itself invisible to our eyes all throughout the afternoon.

It was starting to drizzle so Armi and I were quick to enter the car. Just as we got in, a White Coucal appeared to everybody outside (Whoa! Don t ask me about this one, I wasn t the one who saw it!). This made us rush out of the car but as expected, we were too late. All of them were delighted at the sight of this infrequently seen creature while Armi and I were left to wonder how it looked like, especially when James and Nilo emphasized that it is not in any of our books here. We just satisfied ourselves with the sighting of a flock of about thirty munias flying far into the distance. We could not identify exactly what kind of munias these were but James said they have all three kinds in the place.

We drove towards Camachile Road and along the way James kept pointing to several trees and told us what birds lived where. James truly knows these creatures as well as he knows his neighbors and at Westgrove, there were more birds and trees than there were neighbors! We finally arrived at Camachile Road and parked just outside Leni s house. While parking, a Spotted Dove stood at the roadside and flew off only when we were about a meter away from it. At our right was a gully which James named as "Bee-Eater Gully" and which presumably was where we could find these birds. There were none, however, at that time and all we could see were two cows in the opposite ridge.

By now it was apparent that this would be a very wet session. I dared not hope that the rains would stop, afraid that I might run out of wishes and thus not be able to ask my gods for FPJ's defeat the following day. Kitty, Lu-Anne, Mads and Andrew were finally able to join us after several calls to ask for directions. They did not entirely miss out on the unusual sightings, however, as they immediately found a lizard with a freshly cut-off tail, with bleeding in the rump and all.

James went down the gully looking for Button Quails which he did not see, while the rest of us were trapped under the umbrellas by the drizzle which was now threatening to turn into a heavy downpour. While standing in the sidewalk, we still managed to look for birds and saw a male Pied Bushchat bathing in the rain on top of a fence below the road. While I ran to get another umbrella, James managed to point at a Richard s Pipit standing still in a patch of concrete beside the street.

At 5:40 PM, we had the last of our visual delights when we invited ourselves to the Sutcliffe residence. Dripping from the shower outside, the birders from both groups arrived one by one and wow became the word of the day. Because not everybody arrived at the clubhouse at the same time earlier in the afternoon, this was where most of the participants of the walk met for the first time today. Truly a very varied mix of personalities, the rest of the day was spent telling stories about a lot of different interests, the least of which, as Armi and I expected, was the result of the Pacquiao-Marquez fistfight that morning.

Leni herself arrived a few minutes later and we were treated to even more awesome delights with the food and drinks that she served. Among the epicurean selection was what I first thought were slices of kesong puti but which turned out to be Mozzarella cheese. I never thought in my life that I could ever remember, much less experience, what I learned from Mario Batali (of "Molto Mario" and "Mario Eats Italy" fame) about the different types of Mozzarella Mozzarella di Buffala (which are made from buffalo milk) and the supposedly slightly more inferior Fior di Latte (which are made from cow's milk). What proved to be the clincher was when Leni herself confirmed that it was, yes, the more superior Mozzarella di Buffala that she served.

Armi and I had to cut short our feast (without getting to taste that chocolate cake which I only heard of thru Mike's email the following day!) to make a mad dash to Makati to answer a call from her clinic. After that, it was an even madder sprint to our house in order to catch the last few laps of the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Over-all, it was a very grand day for both of us. The hanging plants stashed away in the trunk of the car, a renewed taste for mushroom sandwiches in the cold Tagaytay breeze, a marvelous visit to an even more marvelous community, birding with no less than James McCarthy as guide, fine Mozzarella as the Napolitana would only have them... you think this is what you call a perfect day? Well, almost. We expected to arrive home and join the tifosi in seeing the rest of the Formula One wannabes eat the dust of Michael Schumacher s Ferrari. Too bad, our luck ran out at the end of the day - the cable TV service was offline!

The Consolidated Birdlist:
1. Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) - 1
2. Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) - 1
3. Buttonquail sp - 1 calling
4. Barred Rail (Gallirallus torquatus) – 1
5. Plain Bush-Hen (Amaurornis olivaceus) - heard only
6. White-Breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) - 1
7. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) – 1
8. Common Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica) – 1
9. Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis) – 3, including one white form
10. Island Swiftlet (Collocalia vanikorensis) – 2
11. Glossy Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta) – 30+
12. White-Throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) – 8
13. White-Collared Kingfisher (Halcyon chloris) – 1
14. Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) - heard only
15. Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica) – 10+
16. Pied Triller (Lalage nigra) – 8
17. Yellow-Vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) – 8
18. Philippine Bulbul (Hypsipetes philippinus) – 1
19. Elegant Tit (Parus elegans) – 1
20. Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata) – 5, (3 male & 2 female)
21. Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis) - heard only
22. Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris) – 6
23. Tailorbird sp. - heard only
24. Golden-Headed Cisticola / Bright-Capped Cisticola (Cisticola exilis) – 1
25. Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis rufigastra) - heard only
26. Black-Naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea) – 1
27. Richard’s Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) – 1
28. White-Breasted Wood-Swallow (Artamus leucorynchus) – 6
29. Olive-backed Sunbird - 1, female
Sunbird sp - 3
30. Red-Keeled Flowerpecker (Dicaeum australe) – 1
31. Lowland White-Eye (Zosterops meyeni) – 3
32. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) – 1
33. Munia sp. – 30+