When we were newbie birders in 2008 one of our friends invited us to take pictures of waders and Philippine Ducks in his friend’s fishpond in Batangas. When we were done taking photos of the birds on the water, he asked us if we wanted to see Pink-Necked Green Pigeons. He said they were just nearby, perched on the trees. Of course we said yes. It was our first time to see them. They were so pretty! There were so many of them. The males had orange breasts! I was more excited over seeing them than the dull brown and grey plovers and plain white egrets that we drove there to see in the first place.
Now that we have this place, I get to see Pink-necked Pigeons every morning outside my own door! I am still excited about seeing them, maybe even more excited than when I first saw them in 2008.
There are big aratiles trees behind the round pen that fruit year round. The Pink-necked Green Pigeons love the fruit. They make the aratiles their first stop in the morning.
Then they they check out the lantana shrub that’s growing wild beside the round pen.
Next is group huddle at the madre de cacao trees further behind the round pen. Breakfast is done and they spend some time grooming, preening, and probably just enjoying the sun and breeze.
The madre de cacao look their best at this time of the year. They are full of pink flowers and new yellow leaves. The birds with their green bodies and pinkish-orange breasts make the trees look even better!
Then the birds move on to other parts of our refuge.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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!