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 !

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Brown Shrike by Sylvia Ramos

     There are two kinds of shrikes found in the village, the Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) and the Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus). Shrikes are a familiar sight to many villagers. They are known in Pilipino as "tarat". They are bold and striking-looking birds that are often seen perched arrogantly on an exposed branch or perch, as if surveying their own little kingdom. Shrikes are also known as butcher birds (different from butcherbird, another type of bird) because they are expert hunters with an unusual eating habit. Shrikes hunt even when they are full. Then, they save their food to eat later by impaling it on a sharp thorn or the barb of barbed wire. They drive their catch powerfully into the thorn or barbed wire until the tip of the thorn or barb shows through. Shrikes usually prey on insects. But, they are also known to prey on frogs, lizards, rodents, and even other birds!

    Shrikes look like little hawks. They have a powerful, raptor-like, hooked bill and sharp claws for holding down their prey. The Long-tailed Shrike has a black head, grey back bordered in cinnamon, long black tail, white underparts and cinnamon under the tail and at the flanks or the sides of the lower torso. The Brown Shrike looks similar to a Long-tailed Shrike except that it has a grey forehead, greyish-brown head, golden-buff breast and belly, and a shorter tail.

    Long-tailed Shrikes are resident birds and Brown Shrikes are migrants. Being a resident means that Long-tailed Shrikes live and breed in the Philippines the whole year round. They are also found in other countries. Their range extends from Iran to India, China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia to New Guinea. Birds that breed and live exclusively in the Philippines are called Philippine endemics. Being a migrant means that Brown Shrikes breed in northern Asia and winter in the Philippines. It is amazing to think that the Brown Shrikes in the village flew all the way from China to feed in the gardens of Ayala Alabang.
You can see more pictures of the Brown Shrike and Long Tailed Shrike on my website of Philippine birds.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pied Triller

Pied Triller in Ayala Alabang

   There are two kinds of black and white birds that are found in the village. One is the Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica), a very bold bird known for attacking dogs and cats that stray into its territory. The other black and white bird is the inconspicuous Pied Triller (Lalage nigra). The Pied Triller has a very apt name. In birding terminology, Pied means black and white. Triller refers to the musical, quavering "che-che-che-che" call it makes.

    Male and female Pied Trillers can be told apart by their coloring. The males have all white underparts, while the females have grayish white underparts with fine barring. Both males and females have black heads, white eyebrows, black backs, and black and white wings. Like many other birds, the immature birds have similar coloring to the females.

    Pied Trillers are usually found on tree tops, picking off caterpillars from the branches. Aside from caterpillars, they also eat moths and other kinds of insects. They are found all over the village in different kinds of trees.

      Last summer, there was a Pied Triller nesting in a tree along our street. The tree was in front of or neighbor's house. One day, my husband and I approached the nest and were surprised when the usually low-key Pied Triller attacked us! It buzzed us -- flying straight at our heads as if it intended to hit us. It did this several times, swerving away at the last moment and calling out in alarm the whole time. Of course we shouldn't have been too surprised and should have known better than to approach a nesting bird. This is one of the golden rules of birding: do not disturb nesting birds! We quickly moved away from the nest and did not bother the bird again.

    A few days ago, we were sitting outside our front door enjoying the breeze and noticed a Pied Triller perched on the topmost branch of our neighbor's akasya tree. It was just sitting quietly. Perhaps it was also enjoying the unusually cool breeze. We hope that this summer the Pied Triller returns to nest in our street again.
Click on this link to see more pictures of Pied Trillers by Tonji and Sylvia Ramos

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Golden-Bellied Flyeater

Golden-bellied Flyeater by Tonji Ramos

     My daughter and I used to go walking around the village every afternoon. While we were out on our walk one day, we were stopped in our tracks by a very unusual birdcall. The call was a 5-note tune, something like whee-whee-wh-whee-woo, repeated over and over again. It was so loud that we were sure that the bird was very big and very close by. We looked all around, eager to spot this great bird singer. But, we couldn't find it! We kept on hearing the bird calling. Soon it felt like the bird was mocking us. It sounded like it was singing, "you-can-not-seeee-me"! Some weeks later, I was out with some birdwatcher friends and heard the same, familiar call. I asked my friends what bird was making the call. I was expecting them to name some unusual bird. To my surprise, they said it was the Golden-bellied Flyeater.

    The Golden-bellied Flyeater is a very small, unassuming bird. It is only 4 1/2 inches long. From the looks of it, you would not guess that it has such a loud voice. Birds however are especially good at making sounds. They have air sacs all over their body that enable them to breathe very efficiently. Then, they have a very efficient sound box in their throat called a syrinx that can convert almost 100% of the air expelled into sound. The Golden-bellied Flyeater is also a ventriloquist. It can throw its voice so you cannot easily tell where the sound is coming from.

    Another thing that makes the Golden-bellied Flyeater hard to find is that it usually stays in the treetops. Instead of trying to find a tiny bird on top of a tree, it is better to just relax your eyes and try to spot some movement in the leaves. A closer inspection of the moving area with pair of binoculars will often reveal a bird. The Golden-bellied Flyeater is found all over the village.  It is usually found either alone or in pairs. Some good places to see the Golden-bellied Flyeater in the village are along Country CIub Driver, at the parking lot on front of la Salle, and in Narra Park.

You can see more pictures of Golden-bellied Flyeaters in my website

Happy Birding!

Monday, May 30, 2011


     Many villagers are familiar with the graceful shape of the swallow gliding gracefully through the sky, catching insects in mid-flight. There are two kinds of swallows found in the village: the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and the Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica). Both kinds of swallows have glossy blue-black heads and backs, white bellies, and reddish foreheads, throats, and chests. Both also have long, narrow, pointed wings. The two swallows can be told apart by observing their tails. The Barn Swallow has a deeply forked tail. Its outer tail feathers are long and thin. The Barn Swallow also has a glossy blue-black breast band. Sometimes though, this breast band is partially missing or incomplete. The Pacific Swallow has a less deeply forked tail, without the long, thin outer tail feathers. Its belly is also grayish rather than the pale buff or white of the Barn Swallow.  In Pilipino, both kinds of swallows are called layang-layang.

    The Barn Swallow is a world traveler. It is has been called "the most beloved bird in the world". Barn Swallows indeed have many things going in their favor. They are attractively colored, fly gracefully, eat insects, and nest near humans. What's not to love? A few years ago, a pair of Barn Swallows was featured in many websites and passed around in emails. The story was called, "True Love Story of a Bird" and showed one Barn Swallow grieving over the lifeless body of its mate. The Barn Swallow was shown bringing food to it's mate, trying to get it to move, and eventually just looking forlorn, standing on the ground by it's mate. Barn Swallows truly are faithful partners and form monogamous pairs. They breed all over North America, Africa and Eurasia and migrate to South America, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia for winter.

    Pacific Swallows are resident birds. This means that they live and breed in the Philippines the whole year round. Pacific Swallows build cup-shaped nests fastened to eaves of houses, undersides of bridges, and overhangs. Their nests are made mostly of mud, unlike the edible nests of swifts that are made of saliva. Oddly though, there are have been reports of maintenance personnel collecting swallow nests in the village!

      Barn and Pacific Swallows are found in many places all over the village. They are often found together, although the Pacific Swallow is usually found near water. They can be found in groups pursuing insects and catching them in mid-air. This type of feeding is called hawking. Some good areas to see them are in open lots, in the polo field, on the golf course, and the stretch of Country Club Dr. by the golf course.  

photo of a Pacific Swallow by Tonji Ramos
You can see more pictures of Barn Swallows in my website

You can also see more picture of Pacific Swallows in my website
Here's a link to True Love Story of a BIrd
Happy Birding!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Birdwatching Gear

Grey-streaked Flycatcher in the Alabang Country Club
     Do you need any special equipment to go birdwatching in the village? The short answer is: no, you don’t need any equipment at all. You can just go outside and look at the birds with your eyes. Sometimes, you don't even have to go outside at all! You can watch birds from your balcony, your bedroom window, or even from inside your car. However, there are some items that you can use that will make your experience more pleasant and fruitful.

    A pair of binoculars will allow you to appreciate the details of the bird's feathers. Birds come in an amazing variety of colors and patterns. There are birds with bars, spots, and stripes. Even the type of feathers in the bird varies -- from the small downy feathers around the eyes to the large, stiff flight feathers on the wings. Some birds even have bristles! The usual binoculars for birdwatching has a magnification of  8x42. In this example, the first number refers to the amount of magnification and The second number reeds to the amount of light that can enter the lens. There are many articles on the Internet on how to choose a good pair of binoculars. Any type of binoculars, even an inexpensive pair will do for a start.

    A field notebook and pen are useful items to have on hand when you go birdwatching. If you see a bird that you want to be able to identify, you can quickly jot down or even draw the details of the bird while it is still fresh in your mind. Then, later when you get home you can look up the bird online or in a guidebook. If you do this often enough, you will soon have nice personal records of the birds you have seen in the village. Later on, if you decide to join a formal organization like the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (, you can submit your birdwatching records to the club and they will become part of the official database of Philippine birds.

    A field guide is a book used by birdwatchers to identify birds. It shows photos or paintings of the birds, its diagnostic features, and descriptions of typical behavior and calls. There are two field guides of the birds of the Philippines that are still in print. "A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines" by Robert Kennedy and others is the definitive field guide of Philippine birds.  It is considered the "bible" of Philippine birdwatchers. The other book is "A Photographic Guide to Birds of the Philippines" by Tim Fisher and Nigel Hicks. This book covers 215 out of the 600+ Philippine birds. While it is convenient to have a book that can be carried around and referred to while out birdwatching, it is also possible to just get information from the Internet. You can see photographs of the birds found in Ayala Alabang at, under the section called "Birds by Location". You can also read more about birdwatching equipment in the section called “Equipment List”.

You can see more pictures of Grey-streaked Flycatchers on my website 
Tonji also wrote  about our birding gear and photography gear. With pictures!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lowland White Eye

Lowland White Eye by Tonji Ramos

The Lowland White-eye (Zosterops meyeni) is a bird that is more easily heard than seen. Lowland White-eyes are small, yellow birds that fly from treetop to treetop in flocks twittering all the while. Although they make a lot of noise, they can be easy to miss because they are so small and quick. They also usually stay at the tops of tall trees and it takes a lot of neck straining to get a good look at them.

    There is a story about a photographer who was at the American Cemetery late one afternoon taking landscape pictures. He noticed a lot twittering sounds coming from one of the trees. He walked up to the tree to investigate the sounds. As he got near the tree, everything went silent. He went back to his photography. Then the twittering started up again only to fall silent as soon as he approached the tree where the sounds were coming from. This went on several times. The photographer began to get spooked. Then, just as he was about to think that the trees were haunted by invisible beings, a birdwatcher showed up and pointed out the Lowland White-eyes twittering in the treetops!

    Lowland White-eyes are only about 4 inches long. They have yellowish olive green upperparts, white bellies, and yellow forehead, throat, and under tail. Their most distinctive feature is the white ring around the eye that gives the bird its name.  The white ring around its eye distinguishes it from other small birds found in the village.

    Lowland White-eyes can be found in the tall trees along Country Club Drive, in the portion near the golf course. They are also found in Narra Park and the parking lot in front of La Salle where the trees are not so tall.  They eat insects, spiders, nectar, and berries.
Lowland White Eye on an African Tulip Tree

    Happy Birding!

You can see more photos of Lowland White Eyes in my website

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pied Fantail

     The Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) is a bird that has caught the attention of even non-birdwatchers. A lot of villagers have already noticed the antics and animated behavior of the Pied Fantail. This is the bird that attacks cats and dogs as they go into the garden to do their business or just walk down the street. This feisty bird even attacks its own reflection in a car mirror or house window! When it is not defending its territory from perceived threats, it can be seen hopping through the tree branches, holding its long tail spread out just like beautiful black and white fan.

      In birding terminology, the word “pied” means black and white. The Pied Fantail is a black bird with a white eyebrow, white throat and underparts, and black band across its chest. Its long black tail is edged in white. In Pilipino, this bird is known as maria cafra. It is about 7 ½ inches long.  It has a many different metallic, chime-like calls.

Pied Fantail with its tail folded. Photo by Tonji Ramos
     Pied Fantails usually frequent the same areas day in and day out. In the village, they are frequently found on mango trees and also near garbage cans. Pied Fantails are territorial. However, they have their own concept of a territory that does not follow manmade walls or borders. A Pied Fantail can nest in the mango tree of one house and still consider the yard of the neighboring house part of his territory. 

     Pied Fantails are interesting and amusing birds to observe. They are very active and noisy and constantly fan out and display their beautiful tails. They are one of the birds most likely to be nesting in a typical garden in the village.

Two Pied Fantail links:

View the photo essay "Bird Attacks Cat! And More!"

More Pied Fantail pictures from from our backyard and around the village on our website

Friday, April 22, 2011

What's In a Name?

     One of the things I really love about being a birdwatcher is knowing the names of the birds. I love having each bird's exact name lodged somewhere in my brain. And the names! Birds have such wonderfully descriptive names. Sometimes though, it isn't clear exactly what is being described. Like with a name like "Elegant Tit". But a lot of the time the name fits just right and is simple and to the point, like with "Cattle Egret".

Cattle + Egret = Cattle Egret
     Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are commonly associated with cattle. They follow behind cows and carabaos, snatching up the insects that are stirred up by the cattle. This ability to exploit man-made feeding opportunities  has allowed the Cattle Egret to expand their range as people have spread cattle farming throughout the world. They are found in every continent except Antartica.

     Cattle Egrets are around 19" long. When they are not breeding, Cattle Egrets are entirely white. During breeding season, they come into their breeding plumage.  The white on the head, neck and chest are replaced with long golden-buff feathers. They also acquire long plumes on their backs.

     The first time I saw a Cattle Egret was in December 2008. We were in the car on the way to Caylabne when we saw them in the fields by the side of the road. At first, I didn't even want to stop the car to look at them. I thought they were domestic ducks! They looked so tame, walking alongside the cows. That, plus their thick bills and white feathers convinced me they were "just" ducks. I was still a newbie birder at the time, and new to the idea that if you look, you'll find wildlife everywhere.  Even in a field of cattle!

Hello 2011!

Today I decided to start writing in this blog again. Even if I'm having problems getting my articles published in the AAVA News. So, here goes.

      I have been walking the 3 dogs every afternoon. I don't usually bring my binoculars with me, but I do look and listen for birds. The usual birds I see are Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Yellow Vented Bulbuls, Long Tailed Shrikes, Brown Shrikes, Olive-backed Sunbirds, and Pied Fantails. Starting about a week ago though, I've been seeing other birds!

     Last week, I saw a Crow on the street behind my house. This was just the second time I've seen a crow outside the Club. In the past week, I've also seen a Crested Myna, Bee-eater, and 2 Coppersmith Barbets. Then, there was also the strange sighting of a chicken-like bird in one of the empty lots near my block. It was strange since the bird looked like a domestic chicken, yet there was no sign of a chicken coop or cage. And the vacant lot where I saw the "alleged chicken" was very overgrown with weeds and even a mango tree that is leaning on its side with its branches almost touching the ground. It's a very wild looking vacant lot and its back wall is along Daang Hari. So, perhaps my eyes were deceiving me and the chicken is actually a wild bird. Worth further investigation.

      Another area to check out is the vacant lot beside the polo field. There were very loud and unusual sounds coming from some of the trees.  Summer is a busy time for birds. It is breeding season for a lot of them, and they are more active and visible than usual.

Barkley and Momo in the vacant lot beside the Polo field