Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Forest Birding Around Subic Bay

Coleto, a starling relative, is a common forest edge bird. Its head is covered in bare pink flesh.

On the afternoon of March 3 and the morning of March 4 our group looked for birds in the forested hills around Subic Bay. The birding was somewhat difficult for a few reasons: the birds were not present in large numbers or variety (though a different group visiting later in the week had great birding there), the forest was thick and dark, and the light, after sunrise, made any bird in the canopy appear in silhouette. It may have been a timing thing, or perhaps these trails had been recently hunted (subsistence hunting has a major impact on wildlife in the Philippines). But we saw just a few birds well, but many more birds fleetingly. And we heard far more than we saw.

Most of our group in the forest near Subic Bay, scanning the canopy for small birds.

The main trail we walked along on the morning of March 4 was perfect for group birding—safe footing, and wide enough for all to find a good vantage point. There would be times on this trip when we'd all miss birds along a narrow forest trail. There is a Zen to forest birding. Quiet bird watchers moving slowly always see the most birds.

The Subic forest trail.


A canopy of bamboo.

With few forest birds coming close enough to photograph, I decided to photograph the forest itself.

Some bamboo species are native to the Philippines, others are imported for cultivation.

Lest I give the impression that we saw nothing, let me say that nearly every single bird we encountered was a lifer for me. Not all of them gave me the kind of "bee-eater" looks I'd gotten earlier on March 3: great views, lots of photos taken. But, as is the habit of an addicted bird photographer, I did not let the improbability of capturing a decent image stop me from taking dozens of frames.

A soaring brahminy kite.


Silhouetted against the light: a female tarictic hornbill: the smallest hornbill in the Philippines.

Yellow-vented bulbuls were everywhere.


Slender-billed crow.

White-throated kingfisher.

Soon it was mid-day and we were on the move again to another island: Cebu, via the Manila airport. As we loaded into the mini-bus for the ride back to our hotel to pack up, the cool, air-conditioned comfort laid many of us low. We nodded off with dreams of the Cebu flowerpecker dancing in our heads.

Sleepy birders on the bus.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bee-eaters of Subic Bay


On the afternoon of March 3rd we spent a few hours bird watching around Hill 394 in the Subic Bay Freeport area. Subic Bay served as the location of a U.S. Naval base from the early 1900s until 1992, at which point the land was turned back over to Filipino control. Because of its years as a military base, there are large areas of undeveloped habitat at Subic Bay, and it's become a well-known destination for local and visiting bird watchers.

In the warm, late-afternoon sun, we enjoyed a nice list of birds, but the highlight for me were the encountered with blur-throated bee-eaters. Bee-eaters are specialists in catching flying insects, as their name suggests. In taxonomic terms, bee-eaters fall between the kingfishers and the hornbills and hoopoes. They are colorful birds with long central tail streamers and finely pointed, decurved bills. And they are often seen perched in the open on a wire or fence, waiting for a hapless insect to pass by.


On our final birding stop at Subic we found a nesting colony of blue-throated bee-eaters along the roadway in a residential neighborhood. They excavate their nests in earthen banks and other locations with dry, sandy soil. There were at least 25 bee-eaters buzzing around. I could have stayed there all afternoon taking pictures. Sadly, our schedule would not permit it, so we all snapped a few images (and I took a short video) and we were off to the hotel and dinner.

Such cool birds! Wish we had them in North America!

video

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