Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Blog!

I have a new blog. Just because I don't think there can ever be too many blogs about birds or dogs or art!

Here's a link to my new blog: Dogs, Birds, and Art

my maiden post on Dogs, Birds, and Art!

Hope to see you there!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Striated Grassbird

Striated Grassbird

Most birds are specialists. There are birds that prefer beaches or mountains or forests. There are birds that only eat fish or insects or nectar. The same is true of the birds found in the village. There are the garden birds that have adapted to humans and make their homes in our gardens. These birds sip nectar from our flowering plants, peck at the fruit from our fruiting trees, pick at the insects in the yard, and even build nests in our bushes. They will even visit our birdbaths and become tame enough to be fed. There are the water birds that are usually found along the creeks in the village, and occasionally near a pond or even a swimming pool. These birds will focus most of their attention on hunting for food in the creek.

The Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris) is an interesting bird because as its name implies it is usually found in grasslands and rice fields. In the village, the equivalent of the grasslands are the vacant lots. You will not come across a Striated Grassbird in your back yard. Unless of course your back yard is covered in cogon and other wild grasses!

In vacant lots, the Striated Grassbird is an easy bird to see because it is fairly large and usually sits out in the open while calling out loudly. It is around 10 1/2 inches long. Its plumage is rather drab though, similar to a Eurasian Tree Sparrow's or maya's plumage. Its other distinctive features are the dark brown streaks or striations on its creamy white chest and its long tail. It also has streaks on its wings. In Pilipino, it is called turtoriyok or tirturyok. There is another, similar-looking grassbird found in the village. The Tawny Grassbird (Megaluris timoriensis) looks like the Striated Grassbird, except that it has a reddish brown crown and nape and a plain, un-streaked breast. However, it is much less common than the Striated Grassbird. The Tawny Grassbirds in the village were seen at the golf course, in the plantings of wild grasses there.

Vacant lots are not as vacant as they seem! Nor should they be dumping grounds for garbage. A vacant lot can be mini wildlife refuge filled with bird songs and life in the middle of a busy village. The Striated Grassbird is just one of many birds that have found their special niche in the vacant lots of our village.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Top 5 Most Common Birds


     Telling birds apart can be confusing. Many of them look alike. A lot of the ones that are often seen in the village are roughly the same size. They also move around a lot and are difficult to observe. They constantly hop from branch to branch and hide within the foliage of the trees. How can a novice birdwatcher tell them apart?

     One way to sort out the confusion is to just choose the top 5 birds that one is most likely to encounter and familiarize yourself with those birds first. Studying and memorizing the features of 5 birds is certainly much easier and less daunting than studying all 60 species found in the village or 500+ species found in the Philippines.

      Birdwatchers use field marks to identify a bird. These are particular features of the bird that the observer looks for to differentiate one species from another. These are details like color of the legs or presence of rings around the eyes. In the early 19th century, British gentlemen who wanted to study birds went out and shot and skinned them so that they could view them in hand. It was not until binoculars and field guides were created could birds be studied without their being shot.

     The 5 species of birds most likely to be seen in the village are the maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow, the Yellow Vented Bulbul, the Pied Fantail, the Long Tailed Shrike, and the Olive Backed Sunbird.

     The most common backyard resident is the ubiquitous maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). This is the small brown bird with a short black bill that is usually seen in small flocks. It is the bird that usually gets attracted when people set out bird feeders or scatter birdseed or rice on the ground. The field mark to look for is the white patch on its cheek. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow by Tonji Ramos

     The Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) or is bigger than a maya . It is olive-brown with a black forehead, and white chest and belly. The field mark to look for is the white eyebrow and yellow undertail feathers. 
Yellow-vented Bulbul by Tonji Ramos
     The Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) or maria cafra is a black and white bird. Its distinctive features are its long black tail that is edged in white and white eyebrow. It frequently spreads its tail out like a fan, as befits its name. It has white underparts with a black band across its chest.

Pied Fantail by Tonji Ramos
     The Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) or tarat is a handsome bird with a long, slender tail. It has a black head, chunky bill, and white underparts. It is cinnamon colored on its back and the lower sides of its torso. The black, white, and cinnamon colors, plus its long tail give it its distinctive look. 

Long-tailed Shrike by Tonji Ramos
     The Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) is a small bird with an olive green back and yellow underparts. The males have an iridescent metallic blue throat. Its distinctive feature is its long, thin, pointed and downward curving beak.

Olive Backed Sunbird by Sylvia Ramos
     A surprising benefit this technique is that after taking the time to study the 5 most common birds, all the other birds will seem to easily fall into place. It’s like the roadmap for recognizing birds has been planted in your brain and it will become easier to see the distinctive features and field marks of all the different birds in the village.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Colasisi

photo of a Colasisi in the Sierra Madre

          First off, this is NOT an article about a mistress or a kept woman! This is an article about the Colasisi (Loriculus philippensis), a type of bird found in Ayala Alabang. Gilda Cordero Fernando wrote an article in Inquirer last March 22 about life during the American period. She said that back in the 1930’s the Colasisi was a popular house pet. People would keep them in bamboo cages in the yard so they could watch them sing and “dance”. The Colasisi is a brightly colored and lively bird. It has a vivid orange beak, pretty blue feathers around its eyes, brilliant green body and wings, striking orange legs, and just for added punch, a bright red rump. When an American author during that period wrote a primer for Filipino children called “The Happy Culasisi”, the name of the popular pet bird evolved into a euphemism for a kept woman. The term has persisted until the present day. A friend remembers her mother chiding her by saying, “Para kang colasisi, maraming colorete” (You’re like a colasisi, so made-up”)

            The Colasisi is also known as the Philippine Hanging Parrot. Hanging Parrots are a family of parrots that are only found in Asia. They have the unusual habit of roosting upside down like a bat! The Colasisi is a Philippine endemic, meaning it is only found in the Philippines. It is the smallest of the parrots found in the Philippines. It is found all over the Philippines, in forests, cities, and gardens. The colasisi feeds on flowers as well fruit and flower nectar. In the village, they have been seen feeding on a mango tree.

            Sadly, Colasisis are still popular as house pets today. It is still common to see houses in the provinces that have a bamboo cage with a Colasisi hanging outside. Colasisis are easy to trap. One way to trap them is to put a caged Colasisi next to a trap. The call of the caged Colasisi attracts and lures other Colasisis into the trap. Most Colasisis that are for sale were caught this way and not captive-bred as the seller often claims. Gathering birds from the wild to make into house pets is illegal, cruel to the bird and depletes the wild population. Capturing birds from the wild is not quite the same as catching fish from the seas since there are much less birds than fish, the forests and areas where birds can live are much less than the oceans and places where fish can live, and most birds reproduce at a much slower rate than most fish.

             There are three other parrot species that have been found in the village: the Umbrella Cockatoo, which is a big white bird with a crest and yellow under the wing, the Eclectus Parrot which looks green when perched but reveals a bright red, blue and black coloring under the wing when in flight, and the Rose-Ringed Parakeet which is green and has a long tail. All three of these birds are probably pets that have escaped and manage to survive in the village. The Umbrella Cockatoo is a protected species and an Indonesian endemic, the Eclectus Parrot is also from Indonesia, and the Rose-Ringed Parakeet is originally from South Asia. Unfortunately, pet birds like these that have escaped can be harmful to the native bird populations. They compete with them for food and other resources and may end up displacing them. The four parrot species found in the village draw attention to the illegal wildlife trade and how it harms birds in the wild. All residents of our bird sanctuary village should take heed to the long-running campaign of WildAid that says, “When the buying stops, the killing can too”.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Zebra Doves in the Village

photo of a Zebra Dove by Tonji Ramos

     Many people are familiar with the Zebra Dove and even know its local name “bato-bato”. The Zebra Dove or Geopelia striata is a very common bird found all over the village. It has the shape and manner of a domestic pigeon, but is smaller than a domestic pigeon. It has black and white barring or zebra stripes on the side of its neck and upper torso. It has a blue-grey throat and light blue eyes.  Like domestic pigeons, it coos.
     One reason why the Zebra Dove is so familiar to many people is that it is very approachable. It is not easily spooked. Often, instead of flying away when people approach, it merely hops a few feet away. One resident described how she became curious about the Zebra Dove after encountering several of them on the ground while she was out jogging. She was surprised that unlike most other birds, they did not fly away as she approached them. She thought that this was very unbird-like of them!
      Zebra Doves are frequently found on the ground. This is another reason why they are so familiar to people. They’re very easy to see. In the village, you can see them walking on the roads, in open lots, and on the fairways of the golf course. They also like to perch on rooftops, trees and on the overhead wires. 
     Zebra Doves also have a talent for acting. Once, a Zebra Dove fall from a tree in front of my house and hopped on the ground with what appeared to be an injured wing. There was a crow that had just landed in the tree that the Zebra Dove fell from. It looked like the crow had attacked and injured the Zebra Dove.  A car drove up the road.  As I approached the Zebra Dove to move it out of the way of the car, the Zebra Dove flew away to another tree a few houses away! There was no limping or any sign of injury to its wing. The Zebra Dove had been feigning injury to distract the crow. It turned out that the Zebra Dove had a nest in the tree. Unfortunately for the Zebra Dove, its ploy did not work on the crow. The crow ate up the baby Zebra Doves.
     Aside from the Zebra Dove, there are 2 other kinds of dove species found in the village. The Red Turtle-Dove and the Spotted Dove. Both of these doves look similar to the Zebra Dove, but without the zebra-like black and white barring. The Red-Turtle Dove is slightly larger and has a solid black collar on the back of its neck. The Spotted Dove is also much larger than the Zebra Dove and has spots on the side of its neck instead bars.
Here are links to more dove pictures on our website:

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bird Songs in Your Home

Coppersmith Barbet

     Birds have the unique ability to fly. It is a skill shared only with bats, insects, and ancient pterosaurs. Because of this special ability, birds are not limited by geographical boundaries. They, unlike most other animals, can make the whole world their home. They can ascend a mountain in mere minutes. They can summer in Europe and winter in Asia. It is heartening then to discover that of all the possible places in the world, a bird has chosen your particular patch of garden to call home. What are these special birds that are living in your backyard? How can you identify them?

     One way to identify birds is by their call. Some birds are more easily heard than seen. Many birdcalls are difficult to remember because they are also difficult to describe. Birdcalls do not fall within the regular musical scale. They are more like sound effects. However, there are some birds whose calls are very distinctive, memorable, and easy to recognize. It also doesn't hurt that their calls are also very loud and usually repeated several times.
     The Savanna Nightjar is one of the easiest birds to identify by sound since it is the only bird active at night. There may still be Grass Owls in the village, but they have not been seen recently.  The Savanna Nightjar's call sounds like "Tchwieeep! Tchwieeep! Tchwieeep!", but pronounced like a whistle. It is a stocky brown bird with big eyes, a tiny beak, and a broad white patch under the wing.
     The Coppersmith Barbet has a very unique and distinct sound. Unlike most other birds that chirp and tweet, the Copppersmith Barbet’s call sounds like a loud and steady “hoop, hoop, hoop” that is repeated for several minutes. The Copersmith Barbet is a chunky, gaily colored bird. It has a red crown, yellow face and chest, and green back and wings. Despite its bright colors, it is surprisingly good at blending into the leaves of trees.

     The Black-naped Oriole's call sounds like a long whistle. It has many different kinds of calls, but all of them have a whistle-like quality. The Black-naped Oriole is a big yellow and black bird with a reddish beak.

     The Olive-backed Sunbird has a high-pitched, persistent call that sounds like zwiiit-zwiiit! It is a small, olive colored bird with a yellow chest. The males have an iridescent blue throat. They have a long, thin beak that curves downwards.

     The White Collared Kingfisher is the most common of the Philippine kingfishers. It is also unmistakable when seen. It is large and has a blue head and body with a white collar, chest, and belly. It has a large, heavy black beak and black legs. Its call is a loud, harsh squawking-like “waak, waak, wakk”!

    Getting to know the birds and bird sounds around your house can be rewarding. It is something that will add a different layer of color to your day. It's another way to connect with nature in your everyday life, even while living in a village like Ayala Alabang.

To see a picture gallery of Ayala Alabang birds, click here

Monday, July 25, 2011

White-Breasted Waterhen

White-Breasted Waterhen in Candaba, Pampanga

     The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) is a chicken-like, 11-inch long bird usually found near   water. In the village, it can be found in the near the creek of San Juanico park and by the water hazards of the golf course. Its back, crown, and wings are dark, its face and underparts are white, and its flanks and undertail are reddish-brown. In birding terminology, this reddish-brown color is usually described as rufous. It has a yellow bill and yellow legs with long yellow toes. The long toes help the White-breasted Waterhen walk on top of water plants.

    Seeing a White-breasted Waterhen often requires a bit of patience. Most people usually imagine that birdwatching involves a lot of sitting around while patiently waiting for a bird to show up. Not all birdwatching is like that though. Sometimes, birdwatchers have to hike and pursue the birds they want to see. With the White-breasted Waterhen however, patience and quiet waiting work well. When they are relaxed and undisturbed, they can be observed walking in the open, feeding, and even frolicking in the water. The sight or sound of anything alarming however will send them running into the bushes for cover.

    The creeks of the village and water hazards of the golf course attract all kinds of creatures. My husband and I once observed a huge monitor lizard stalking the White-breasted Waterhens in one of the ponds at the golf course. The White-breasted Waterhens were washing and preening themselves by the edge of the water. They were moving further and further out from the bushes, walking from one big half-submerged stone to another. They were unaware of the huge monitor lizard slowly swimming its way toward them, with only the top of its head showing. Then, just as a Lizard vs Waterhen battle seemed imminent, the Waterhens suddenly noticed the monitor lizard and ran for cover!

    One of the great things about birdwatching is that you can be safe and secure inside your very own village and still have an amazing "Nat Geo" moment. You can witness things that will make you think for a minute that you are in an exciting National Geographic wildlife documentary instead of a cozy suburban village
See more photos of the White-Breasted Waterhen in this gallery .
See photos of the Monitor Lizard stalking the Waterhens in this album !