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