Bird Stories

Story #1

I was taking pictures of the Pied Harrier when I saw a smaller bird zip by. I snapped a few shots of the smaller bird. When I looked at the photos, I couldn’t tell what it was. I sent the pics to top birder Rob Hutchinson for ID. He said it was definitely a falcon but not a Peregrine or Kestrel. He said it was possibly an Amur Falcon or Northern Hobby, except that my photos were too far and blurry to confirm an ID!

I almost, maybe had a lifer at the refuge!

Story #2

The next week while we were scanning the skies hoping to see the possible Amur Falcon or Northern Hobby, we saw a Brahminy Kite. Being the trigger-happy photographers we are, we snapped away at the Brahminy Kite.

At first it looked like it was flying with its legs dangling.

my, what long legs you have

Then we saw that it was carrying something. Hard to tell what it was carrying, maybe it was a chicken.

The following week, Tonji saw one of our neighbors. One of his chickens was missing! Our neighbor thought someone either stole it or set a trap for it. Tonji said that sure, maybe one of those trappers got it. That’s all he said.

Story #3

Tonji was walking back to the cottage when he saw a mouse impaled on a tree branch. When he reached the cottage he told me about it and we went back out so he could show it to me. When we got to the tree it was gone. He said that it was probably a Long Tailed Shrike that impaled the mouse. It was watching him when he went to inspect it and maybe it moved it or ate it after he left.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the mouse, impaled through the eye and all. I didn’t think a Long Tailed Shrike could catch a mouse! Lizards and frogs, yes. But I was surprised that it could get a mammal! Our bird reference book the Kennedy guide says that Long Tailed Shrikes eat insects and small vertebrates. We also have Brown Shrikes and the book says that they eat large insects, small birds, and possibly mammals.

The following day I was clearing overhanging dead branches near the horse poop compost area and saw a mouse impaled on a tree branch! This one was long dead and eaten.

I believe that this is graphic confirmation that Shrikes can catch mice!

Story #4

This week Tonji found half a crow in the grass. He was on the Day 2 of building Pond #7 when when he found a dead crow that looked like it was cut in half. He showed it to me, but I didn’t take pictures. The strange image stuck in our minds though. What could have done that to a crow. A crow! They are big, tough, and travel in groups called a murder of crows!

A few mornings later while Tonji was preparing our morning coffee, a Grass Owl flew in front the cottage. What a treat for us to see an owl in the morning.

Then a Pied Harrier flew into view. They were both probably hunting for mice!

Then Crows flew in and started chasing the Pied Harrier. They were very insistent.

Pied Harrier being mobbed by a Crow

They were doing the same thing the previous week, mobbing the Grass Owl and Pied Harrier. The crows were so aggressive towards the Pied Harrier I thought they might have permanently driven the Pied Harrier away.

Pied Harrier and Grass Owl flying together. This was from the previous week.

Sudden realization! The Pied Harrier probably ate the half Crow! That’s why the Crows are attacking the Pied Harrier. If a Brahminy Kite can catch a chicken and a Shrike can catch a mouse, surely a Pied Harrier can catch a Crow!

And that’s the story of how Half Crow Pond got its name.

Worm Composting Update. Now Even Easier.

If you have horse poop, then you have a great opportunity to make a LOT of worm compost or vermicast. Vermicast is the poop of worms, usually a particular type of worm that lends itself well to composting. With worms, the end material is greater than the sum of the parts that were put into it! Through their digestion, the worms convert the horse poop into an excellent, all natural, complete fertilizer that improves the structure of the soil and makes it hold more water.

I wrote about worm composting in this earlier post https://sylviatramos.blog/2018/01/23/easy-vermicomposting-with-african-night-crawlers/

I was sort of forced to simplify my technique when the wood barrels I was using failed. During the summer, I did not realize that the gaps in the barrels had sealed up and my worms got overheated. It got steamy inside the barrels. Sad to say, some of the worms melted! I moved the worms to a raised bed for vegetables that wasn’t being used. They’ve stayed there since summer because they’re doing better than ever on the ground! All the things I thought I knew about worm care previously has been turned on its head!

the worm bed under shade netting



What I learned from the worms

I didn’t think they would do well on the ground, but it now makes sense! I think their current environment is more natural. I kept them in containers before because I was worried about them either crawling away or being eaten by ants. I think some of the birds are able to get into the worm bin, but on the whole the worms seem to be doing much better than in the barrels. I don’t think any of them have run away!

My current on the ground set up has better drainage and ventilation than the old set up. Before when I would harvest the vermicast, I would classify it as Grade A, B, or C. Now all of my harvest is Grade A!

vermicast
when the worms are done, it all looks like this!


I also found just the right gadget for sifting the vermicast. It’s a big and flexible Tubtrug colander. I carefully sift the compost to make sure the worms don’t get mixed into the harvest and also to remove all the uncomposted bits. When I’m sifting, it feels like I’m returning a lot of it back into the worm bed. But when I’m done, my yield is much more than before! I’m now getting a lot more vermicast for the same amount of horse poop compost. I am able to harvest so much vermicast that I was able to give out big bags of it to close friends and relatives during the holidays!

I water the worms with water that has been left out to sit for at least 24 hours. This is to make sure that the chlorine in the water evaporates.

This is what it looks like when the horse poop compost is freshly applied.

horse poop compost

And this is what if looks like after 21 days.

Are you a male Pied Harrier?

These are the two Pied Harriers. One of them looks like an immature that is acquiring male adult plumage! In 2018 we were able to watch a Pied Harrier acquire male adult plumage.

We were able to observe him from August 2017 until July 2018. He had a string that was attached to his leg. Maybe someone tried to catch him and he was able to escape. The string made it easy for us to identify him.

These are photos from February 2019 of the possible 2nd male Pied Harrier in our refuge!

two pied harriers

Fabulous Firsts in February!

All these amazing this happened this month!

First photo of a Philippine Duck swimming in one of our ponds!

Philippine Duck swimming in a small pond
Philippine Duck

I’ve taken lots of photos of Philippine Ducks. This one is a first and very special to me because I’ve been dreaming of taking this shot ever since we made our first pond! We know we have Philippine Ducks and we know they use the ponds. We have photos and videos from the wildlife camera of Philippine Ducks swimming in our ponds. I’ve been dreaming of taking my own photograph of one of the ducks while it’s in the water.

In this particular pond, you can stand on the path, peer through the weeds, and check to water for birds. I was so excited when I saw a duck swimming! I tried to move slowly and quietly so I wouldn’t alert the duck or the dogs. Haha, the dogs had no idea that there was a duck close by! I also had to manually focus the camera because of all the weeds.

First time for our Malabulak trees to have lots of flowers!


Malabulak trees in a row Bombax ceiba
The ones with flowers are only 3 meters and 4 meters tall

In 2017 one of our Malabulak trees produced a bud, but the bud didn’t turn into a flower. In 2018 we had a few buds and flowers. This year we have lots of flowers on several trees. These trees attract a lot of birds when they are in flower. We haven’t seen any birds on ours yet, maybe because our trees are not very tall yet.

Malabulak flower

First time to see the flower of the Alibangbang tree!

Here’s the long-awaited flower!



We have lots of Alibangbang trees growing wild in our refuge. They produce seeds and sprout all over the place. Yet I never saw a flower. I wanted to see a flower because this would confirm the ID of the tree. I was assuming that the trees we have are Bauhinia malabrica, the native version of Bauhinia. The Bauhinia that is usually found in urban settings is the imported, non-native version Bauhinia purpurea that has big purple flowers. It is a popular ornamental plant. The native Bauhinia has small, yellow flowers. In 2018 I was able to definitely confirm the ID of the tree. It was a bit anti-climactic though because all I saw were unopened buds.

First time to see a Grey-Faced Buzzard Butastur indicus in the refuge!

Grey faced buzzard in flight
Bird # 101 Grey-Faced Buzzard

We now have 101 species on our refuge bird list! This bird is a migrant. I was standing on the veranda of the cottage when I saw it flying by. I hope that it uses our place as a stopover!

We still have two weeks left in February. I’m looking forward to what the next two weeks bring!