Update: What happened? October 2021 to April 2022

October 2021 – We totally missed the month of October because Tonji’s foot was acting up again.

November 2021 – We had one visit that was cut short by Tonji’s foot acting up! This time he figured out that it was GOUT! Apparently even vegans can get gout if they have a predisposition to it and eat or drink something that triggers it. Now we know he has gout and it’s triggered by certain kinds of beer.

December 2021 – We had some very nice days at the sanctuary!

The planets aligned!

I could spend the whole day taking pictures of the dogs doing their own thing and just thoroughly enjoying themselves. There’s a lot of frolicking and rolling around.

Sketching at the farm is one of my favorite things!

One good thing about being away from the sanctuary for so long is that we get to appreciate how much things have grown! The Toog trees we planted in 2019 are thriving. We planted another batch of Toog that we had kept in the nursery until they were big enough to plant outside.

We also had sad news. Our dear sweet boy Takoy passed away on Dec 31. He suddenly collapsed and couldn’t move his back legs or tail. We had to put him down. He was buried in the paddock.

January 2022 – Tonji got COVID! Good thing it was a mild case of the Omicron variant. He was still able to go to the sanctuary once this month.

February 2022 – This is the nicest time of the year to be at the sanctuary. The weather is cool and windy and there are beautiful plants in bloom wherever you look!

The Malabulak trees deserve special mention! They have grown tall, they look like proper trees now, and have a lot more flowers than last year! The Malabulak trees shed their leaves every year, before flowering.

March 2022 – Very busy and exciting month. We got a lot done! It is also very hot. An early summer. Does this mean we will have an early rainy season?

THE BIG POND – Tonji is taking advantage of the dry weather to work on our biggest wildlife pond yet! We are hoping that this pond will hold water all year and that we can put fish and water plants. The fish to eat the mosquito larvae and the water plants to slow down the water evaporation in the pond.

This is Tonji explaining science behind it all. Putting this here so we can watch it again during rainy season and see if all he said came true! (the noisy chicken sounds in the background are from our neighbor’s farm)

We upgraded Tonji’s digging machinery from a vintage digger to a brand new skid steerer. He watched a lot of YouTube videos on digging ponds and Small Water Impounding Projects or SWIPs. SWIPS are made mainly to collect rainwater to use for irrigating crops. The online videos are very encouraging, especially the ones from India and the Philippines. The communities that have them report big changes in their environment. The water tables get restored, dried up wells become usable again, and there are many more birds than before!

TWO PONIES – Boo Boo had been an only horse since Takoy passed away. We attempted to send her to our friend Tito’s farm in Mindoro so she could hang out with his cows and goats but she refused to get into the trailer! We didn’t have much of a choice, we decided to keep her and find companions for her. We briefly thought of getting fancy goats but realized it would be difficult to keep them from getting out of the paddock. We were able to adopt two very cute female ponies. Oatly came from Doc Nielsen and Brownie came from Doc Dan. The three horses got along almost immediately.

Boo Boo became noticeably calmer with her two new companions around. Before, the dogs (usually Ollie and Wolfie) would run into the paddock and rile her up by barking at her. She would run around and sometimes try to kick them. After we got the new ponies, it was like she was a different horse! The dogs would bark at her and she wouldn’t react at all. She would just continue eating grass and not even raise her head to look at them.

Day 1 – Oatly is showing Boo Boo that she’s not a pushover
Oatly is very friendly

We harvested our first Malabulak pod from our trees! This is the first year that they produced pods. The Malabulak seed pods are much smaller than the more common and non-native Kapok.

collecting the first pod!

The first seed pod we collected was still a bit greenish. I kept it indoors at room temperature and after 10 days the pod popped open. I collected more than 100 seeds. The seeds germinate easily, no need to soak or scarify the seeds before planting. They started showing signs of life after 5 days. I plan to make a little pillow with all the cottony fluff or “bulak”. The fluff causes allergies for some people. Good thing I am ok with it.

April 2022 – The weather surprised us with rain showers when we were expecting hot, dry weather. Our attempt to sleep outside in tents was cut short since I didn’t put up the rain covers of the tents.

The campers!

We collected more pods, this time with a long stick and net. We are growing them at home in Alabang.

opening a Malabulak pod

Barkley celebrated his 12th birthday! He ate some of the carrots that were meant for the ponies and went for a swim. He is mostly blind now. I am getting used to carrying him around for our morning walks.

We also bought seedlings from Punlang Katutubo in Batangas City. They had Philippine Teak! We are excited to plant more trees!

We have been observing interesting birds at the sanctuary. We hear a lot of Asian Koels, we saw a Malkoha at the nursery, 2 Philippine Nightjars on the ground, we heard a Hawk Cuckoo and we’ve been seeing Grass Owls in the daytime! We are also looking forward to seeing more birds at the new pond, once it fills up with rain water. I think it will be the new birding hotspot at the farm.

The Island Collared Doves that are usually skittish are easy to see there. We see them together with the less shy Spotted Doves. We are hoping they co-exist and the Spotted Doves don’t push out the Island Collared Doves!

Time to Pause

I was away from the refuge for 5 months. Almost half a year! Stuff got in the way, like moving house and being in lockdown. I felt a little stressed about being away for so long. Once I was back in the refuge though, I realized that being away for a long time was not such a bad thing. It’s good to step back once in a while. It gives you time to pause and re-evaluate your routines and habits and see if they are still serving you well.

In The Natural Way of Farming the famous Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka tells the story of silkworm farmers in Japan. In the beginning, silkworms were collected in the mountainside and released in the woods. Then the farmers bred new varieties of silkworms. These new varieties were raised indoors. They were watched day and night. Early in the morning, mulberry leaves were collected, washed, dried with a cloth, chopped into strips and fed to the silkworms. The room had to be kept at just the right temperature with heaters when it was too cold and ventilation when it was too hot. The had special tools and baskets for taking care of the silkworms. It was difficult work! In modern times, some farmers tried returning to more natural, less labor intensive methods. When synthetic fibers were developed, silk lost its popularity for a while. When it became popular again most silkworm production became industrialized. Now it is done in factories with conveyor belts, automated temperature control, and artificial feeds.

I can relate with the hard working traditional silkworm farmer with his special tools and desire to innovate and improve his craft. I like to identify a problem, think of a solution, and buy the gadget that I need to implement my solution. I like working with my hands. I am so enamored by gadgets and tools that I have one storage room for tools and another one for cleaning supplies!

I now realize that :

  • some of these problems are not really problems and don’t need solutions
  • your first idea is probably not your best idea
  • if you over think something, your ideas can get away from you and lead you down very involved and complicated paths
  • just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it
  • I don’t have to do everything myself even if I can
  • new innovations are not always better
  • maintaining all the gadgets and cleaning tools takes up a lot of time and effort

It was nice to be at the refuge and feel very relaxed. I felt grateful for the people who work for us. They do a great job keeping things tidy, caring for the horses, and watering the plants. I had no compulsion to pull out weeds myself. I just wanted to walk around with the dogs, look at the plants, take pictures of birds, walk, swim, draw, and paint! And that’s what I did!

The Red Keeled Flowerpeckers were very busy in the aratiles trees in front of the cottage

Red Keeled Flowerpecker in the aratiles tree
Red Keeled Flowerpecker

During my morning walk, two Philippine Collared Doves flew in front of me, landed on a nearby tree, and posed for a bit!

Philippine Collared Dove

I was headed back to the cottage with Momo, Lulu, and Ollie when I decided to check out one of the side paths. I was surprised to see something big perched near the ground. I was even more surprised that the 3 dogs listened to me when I told them to just stay beside me while I crouched down to take photos! The dogs were so well behaved! I was able to take many pictures of the Pied Harrier in a variety of poses!

Click on the the photos to see them full screen.

Here are common birds that are just nice to see!

Brown Shrike, a migrant bird
Lowland White Eye
Pied Fantail

March 2021

Missed the entire February and did not visit the refuge at all.

March is hot, as expected. But still windy! We are trying to keep all the young trees going until rainy season. We have more than 150 Toog trees in the nursery ready to be planted during rainy season.

The birds are loud! We could hear Koels calling from different parts of the refuge. How many are there? It sounded like a lot! We also heard a Hawk Cuckoo near the cottage.

The birds also looked bigger somehow! Perhaps I’ve been away too long and have gotten used to small urban garden birds. Or I’m out of practice. On my usual walk around with the dogs, I would see a movement and think –what is that??

This Lesser Coucal that walked across the path made me think — is that a mammal? No, it’s a bird skulking stealthily into the bushes!

These Island Collared Doves looked huge!

Island Collared Dove Streptopelia bitorquata

This Scaly Breasted Munia looked regular sized. It was nice though to have one approach closely.

Chestnut Munia
Scaly Breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata perched on a Malabulak

I was also very relieved to see two Philippine Ducks! We did not see any Philippine Ducks in January and it made us wonder if something bad happened to them. Did they get shot? We saw two of them flying out from the grass. When we see them walking in the grass and flying low over the grass, it makes us think that maybe, hopefully there is a nest in the grass and they are breeding in our refuge!

Philippine Duck Anas luzonica in flight

Tara, one of our horses passed away in February. It was sad to see the mound of stones in the paddock where she was buried.

Visiting Tara’s grave

Right now there is a lockdown and we are stuck in Metro Manila. The time spent days looking at birds and trees and wondering about the next new bird we will spot at the refuge is a wonderful gift. I am grateful!

looking for birds with Momo

Updated pictures of the Toog that we planted.

New Bird for Us!

We had a lifer at the farm! This was our first time to see a bird at the farm that was not yet in our life list. We saw a Slaty-legged Crake Rallina eurizonoides as we were driving home. Good thing we stop for birds! We could see the bird bathing in a puddle in the middle of the road. The light was against us, so we couldn’t see too many details. Tonji saw by the shape of the bill that it looked like something interesting. He told me to grab my camera from the backseat and take pictures! I was able to pop through the sun roof (it’s really a bird photography roof) and take pictures of it. After it finished bathing in the puddle, it ran into area with the mango trees!

Slaty-legged Crake

Slaty-legged Crake bathing in a puddle
Slaty-legged Crake looking wet and bedraggled

The weird thing is that we already saw this bird at the farm a few years ago but for some reason that we can no longer remember we decided not to put it in our list. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a photo of the bird. Now it is officially and truly in our list! This is Bird #529 for our Philippine bird list and Bird #103 for the farm.

I finally got up close to the Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers and was able to take lots of photos!. Tonji set up his tripod and big lens in front of the aratiles trees. There we so many Red-keeled there and they didn’t seem to mind us at all. There were a lot of young Red-Keeled Flowerpeckers.

We had our first Brown Shrike for the season. Brown Shrikes are migratory birds and birders like to keep track of when they first arrive in an area.

Brown Shrike on the paddock fence

We are having cooler weather and rain at the refuge. There are a lot of vines, trees, and weeds fruiting and blooming this month.

Black Naped Oriole perched beside Susong Kalabaw fruit

White Throated Kingfisher on a Banaba tree

Tagpo

Ruellia tuberosa – host plant for the Pansy butterflies according to Trinket

Another fun visit to the refuge!