New birds and plants in August

One of the great things about moving back and forth between Batangas and Alabang is that whenever you visit, everything looks strikingly fresh and new again. Each time we go to the refuge, it feels like there’s something new to see, discover, observe, and document.

EDIT: We thought we had a new bird for the farm bird list. Tonji thought it was a Black-chinned Fruit Dove but now he is not so sure. We will not count it as Bird #103 because the ID seems questionable. I think it is most likely a Pink-necked Green pigeon.

We had a new bird for the farm bird list. This is a Black-chinned Fruit Dove Ptilinopus leclancheri. It’s a fairly big dove. I saw it while walking with the dogs and wasn’t able to get better photos. I thought it looked familiar, but couldn’t really place what it was. I showed the photo to Tonji about a week later when we were already back in Alabang. He said, “That’s a Black-chinned Fruit Dove, what else could it be?” Yey, bird #103 for the refuge!

a dove, backlit and with a weird pose!

Bats are a very common and plentiful in Alabang, but there were only a few of them in the refuge. We thought that we had very few bats because we didn’t have enough big trees that the bats could use as roosts. This year all of a sudden, this year we have a lot of bats! It seems that the new swimming pool brought in the bats! We see them flying over the pool and dipping into the water. Good thing we are using a copper-based, non-chlorine pool system.

We saw a Lesser Short Nosed Fruit Bat Cynopterus brachyotis roosting in a tree with an aratiles in its mouth. Tonji was cutting the grass when he spotted the bat and told he to look at it. When I saw it, I thought the fruit was a giant tooth! I was wondering if I should stop Momo from foraging for fallen aratiles fruits near the bat.

Lesser Short Nosed Fruit Bat

Our Ipil tree has flowers! This is one of the birthday trees that our daughter Monica gave us for our 49th birthdays in 2014. This was our first time to see this tree flowering. It is so cool when a tree you planted flowers and you get to collect the seeds and plant more trees! Ipil trees have big seeds that germinate well. I hope this tree produces lots of seeds!

Ipil

Tonji found a new flowering plant while cutting the grass in the paddock.

Tonji: What is this plant?
Me: Looks like talong (eggplant).
Tonji: How can it be talong, it looks like a tree!
Calls for Ambet.
Tonji: Ambet, please look at the plant. What is it?
Ambet: Tawag namin diyan talong-talongan.
Tonji: Ano??
Me (under my breath): TALONG!!

Talong-talongan

Sometimes you see birds that look “new” and you get all excited. But on closer inspection, turn out to be young birds.

Bright-capped Cisticola, immature

Or faraway young birds.

Asian Glossy Starling

Some things remain the same. Like the amount of time I spend trying taking pictures of Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers. You know when they are around because they have a distinctive call like pebbles being tapped together. When we were starting out with bird photography, a friend brought us to his mechanic’s house so we could take pictures of Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers up close and at eye level. The birds were feasting on aratiles fruit and didn’t mind us being around and taking their pictures.

Now we have our own aratiles trees and we have Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers visiting the trees. But the birds in our place do not behave like the ones in that mechanic’s house. Ours don’t stay put and are often even hard to spot. They are my bird photography nemesis. One of them, because there are others! So far this is one of my best attempts.

Red-keeled Flowerpecker

When I’m walking on our trails I tell myself “I am open to the possibility of seeing something awesome”. And I really believe it!

Two New Bird Photos for the Farm Bird List!

This week I got photos of two birds that we’ve seen at the refuge but never photographed at the refuge before! It makes me so happy to add to our list of birds photographed at the refuge.

The first one is the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo Cuculus pectoralis that I thought I photographed during our previous visit to the refuge. This time I searched for it in the trees so I could take a picture. This bird was doing its best to stay hidden inside the tree, behind a branch. I have a lot of pictures of the branch! This still counts as a bird photo since the bird is recognizable!

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Philippine Hawk Cuckoo .. can you see the yellow ring around the eye, gray head, and white throat? That’s the bird!
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Philippine Hawk Cuckoo flying away from me

The second one is a Ruddy-breasted Crake Porzana fusca that silently showed up in the former round pen at around 6:15 in the morning. It stayed long enough for me to run into the cottage, grab my camera, and take photos from the veranda! It was walking back and forth, foraging in the grass like a chicken. I thought it was a wild chicken. It did not immediately register that this was a Ruddy-breasted Crake, a bird that is considered difficult to see. Aside from our refuge, the only other places we have seen this bird are in Tarlac and Tadao, Ilocos Norte.

Tonji first saw this bird in our refuge in August 2018. He saw two adults and one black chick in the mango area. Now, less than two years later, we have a photo!

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All that time spent trying to get better photos of the Philippine Hawk Cuckoo was not wasted. I got better photos of other birds!

I had very close views of some Coppersmith Barbets.

And I got to watch the birds hanging out, eating fruits, and catching insects!

New bird photo records and nice trees too!

UPDATE: The bird in the photo that I identified as immature Philippine Hawk Cuckoo is a Rusty Breasted Cuckoo! That’s a new bird for our farm!

It’s time to go birding again! We used to have so much fun traveling all over the Philippines looking for birds. Our favorite birding site is of course, this place of ours! After being away for three months because of the lockdown, it was reassuring to see that the old regular birds are still there. It seems like there are even more birds now.

We used to hear Philippine Hawk Cuckoos calling in the distance. It was on our list as “h.o.” or “heard only”. This time we saw two of them in the cluster of trees right in front of the cottage and I was able to photograph a juvenile perched on a tree. It’s still h.o. for us.

It has a really distinctive and loud call that can be heard in this video.

Philippine Hawk Cuckoo calling from the trees in front of the cottage.

We had a new bird for the farm! This is an immature Rusty Breasted Cuckoo. It was perched quietly on a tree. Bird #102 for the farm list!

Philippine Hawk Cuckoo immature
I thought this was a juvenile Philippine Hawk Cuckoo, it’s a Rusty Breasted Cuckoo

There was also a Stripe Headed Rhabdornis checking out the nesting box in that same cluster of trees. It was my first time to photograph this bird at our refuge.

Stripe Headed Rhabdornis checking out the nesting box

Another view of the Rhabdornis.

Stripe Headed Rhabdornis and Yellow Vented Bulbuls in a tree
Rhabdornis with Yellow Vented Bulbuls

I had a great encounter with a Philippine Collared Dove in our mango area. It was perched on a low branch and didn’t fly away even if I was standing near it with the three dogs! It either didn’t notice us or didn’t mind that we were there!

Philippine Collared Dove

This Black Naped Monarch is on a fruiting Bangkal Nauclea orientalis that we planted some years ago.

Black Naped Monarch in a fruiting Bangkal tree

This Pied Bushchat was giving me the evil eye!

Pied Bushchat male
Pied Bushchat male and female
Mr and Mrs Pied Bushchat

And then we had plant surprises! This Mangkono Xanthostemon vedugonianus is flowering! We planted it in 2019 and it is still tiny, but flowering!

Mangkono tree flowering
selfie time!
Mangkono tree with red flowers

Another plant surprise was this row of Binayuyu Antidesma ghaesembilla that was planted by the birds! The BIRDS! We planted a lot of Talisay along this strip. This was also where Tonji made a swale to slow down the flow of water so it would have time to be absorbed by the soil. I also cleared a lot of hagonoy from this area that were choking the trees we planted. Somehow, I failed to notice that there was a row of Binayuyu that we did not plant growing in between the Talisay!

Talisay and Binayuyu trees

The young trees are in flower. They are very noticeable now! I was told that Binayuyu has male and female flowers. These might be male flowers. We noticed young trees like this all over the refuge. The Binayuyu fruits are a favorite of the birds. Birds, thanks for planting more trees!

Binayuyu, male flowers
Binayuyu inflorescence

3 Months Later…

We are back at the farm! The Covid-19 quarantine kept us away for more than three months. It felt so good to be back! The farm never fails to surprise us with new things.

Tonji was walking around when he smelt a beautiful fragrance. It was coming from this tree! This is Flueggea virosa. It is a shrub or small tree that will eventually have white waxy fruits! It is known in other countries as a medicinal plant. According to this website , extracts from the bark are lethal to mice. Our caretakers call this small tree Suliak Daga. Not sure if that means lethal to mice.

What is that wonderful scent?

It’s hard to imagine that back in September 2019 this shrub looked very pitiful and was full of hard brown galls. What a pleasant surprise to see it bounce back from its previous gall-ridden state!

This is what it looked like in September 2019. Galls are caused by insects or a virus.

One of the first things I did when I got to the farm was check the seedlings in the nursery. I was very pleasantly surprised to see so many of them were ready to be planted outside.

In June 2019 I planted 18 Taluto seeds that I got from Cel Tungol. I even sketched them. The Taluto seeds were tiny.

It was just a seed in June 2019

One year later in June 2020 we planted 16 Taluto that were almost as tall as me!

June 2020

This is a low weedy plant growing by the path to the cottage. Even this little plant has a surprise! From the top it is all stiff angles and thorns.

But when you lift it up it has dainty white flowers growing on the underside! This plant is called Canthium pedunculare.

Our trip to the farm coincided with Momo’s birthday. Momo turned 11! Happy birthday Momo!

It was so good to be back, walk around, and discover the surprises that await us.

We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.

Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind, 17.8