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

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!

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!