19 March 2009

A 48-hour layover in Los Angeles, March 2009

I spent most of today out on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, after the fog had lifted around noon. Visibility from the Marriott Hotel in Torrance was very limited from sunrise to noon, so I spent the time entering bird-records to the UAE database.
I had rented a car at the local Herz office in the lobby at $ 53 a day incl. insurance, to be returned before 6pm.

I started out with a couple of hours in the South Coast Botanical Garden where my target bird was Allen’s Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin. It turned out to be the first species I saw once I had forked over the $ 7 entrance-fee, and turned out to be the common hummer of today.

Allen's Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin
Allen's Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin

Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus
Common Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus minimus
California Towhee, Pipilo crissalis senicula
Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii
House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis
Great Basin Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis longipes

A really cool lizard, the Great Basin Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis longipes turned out to be very common here, a positive surprise.

After the Botanical Garden I drove to Point Vincente where I had seen California Gnatcatcher in the rain in February with Knut. The fog lingered in hazy patches offshore and it was markedly colder here than in the Botanical Garden. I saw a group of people watching the sea as I walked past the visitors center, and one of them called out “there it is!”.
What she had seen was a 
Grey Whale, Eschrichtius robustus swimming north very close to land. What a surprise! The large mammal showed itself twice more, but very briefly, so it was pure luck that I managed to get a photo of it’s back.

Grey Whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii

After walking along the path a few minutes, I saw and heard a California Gnatcatcher, but it remained elusive and no photo taken. This will probably please Knut, since he got such a great shot last month.

I did however get a photo of what I’m pretty sure is a Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus auduboni.

I stopped for a 45-minute walk at Ocean Trails, where I did not hear or see any California Gnatcatchers, but the weather was pleasant enough and the birds not too shy. I saw a young Sharp-shinned Hawk; markedly smaller than the young AccipiterI photographed in the Botanical Garden.

The male Ring-necked Duck tried to impress the female before they both flew off.

Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola
Ring-necked Duck, Aythya collaris
Common Raven, Corvus corax sinuatus
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus velox
Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis salicamans

As usual; more photos available on Flickr.

South Coast Botanical Garden, 19th March 2009
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 8
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Western Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis calurus) 2
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) 1
Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) 8
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans semiater) 3
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos hesperis) 4
Southwestern Raven (Corvus corax sinuatus) 2
Common Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus minimus) 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula grinnelli) 1
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) 1
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos leucopterus) 3
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris vulgaris) 5
Audubon’s Warbler (Dendroica coronata auduboni) 6
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) 1
California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis senicula) 5
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus frontalis) 4

Palos Verdes Peninsula, 19th March 2009:Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) 2
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) 10
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) 4
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis occidentalis) 100
California Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) 20
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias herodias) 1
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula brewsteri) 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus velox) 1
Western Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis calurus) 2
American Coot (Fulica americana americana) 70
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis wymani) 10
Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) 2
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) 2
Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya saya) 1
Southwestern Raven (Corvus corax sinuatus) 10
Common Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus minimus) 10
California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica) 2
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos leucopterus) 1
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 50
Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata sordida) 1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 5
Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) 1
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) 6
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 1
Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria hesperophilus) 5

13 March 2009

A 48-hour layover in Manila

I spent 48 hours in Manila, and went to Los Banos to visit my old buddy and birder Paul Bourdin who moved there last year.
I took a taxi from my downtown Manila hotel to the University gate where I met Paul at 06:45. I probably paid the taxi-driver too much at 2,500 pesos ($ 50), but he was such a nice guy.
Los Banos is appx 80 km south of Manila, and it took us 90 minutes to get there.
We spent the whole day birding inside the University Campus area, including the slopes of Makiling Volcano, the Los Banos Botanical Garden and the surrounding rice fields. Excellent bird seen!
A full species-list is included below, as well as a great area-description from my good friend Steve James of Abu Dhabi who visited the area in February 2008.

Paul in action
White-browed Shama, Copsychus luzoniensis luzoniensis
Rufous-bellied Eagle, Aquila kienerii formosus
Un-identified lizard
Un-identified butterfly
Un-identified butterfly
Indigo-banded Kingfisher, Alcedo cyanopectus cyanopectus
Un-identified spider with a bee
Brown Shrike, Lanius cristatus lucionensis
Intermediate Egret, Egretta intermedia intermedia
Wood Sandpiper, Tringa glareola
White-breasted Woodswallow, Artamus leucorynchus leucorynchus

More photos available on Flickr.

Los Banos University Campus, March 12th 2009
Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) 1
Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) 1
Intermediate Egret (Egretta intermedia) 10
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 1
Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis coromandus) 30
Philippine Serpent Eagle (Spilornis holospilus) 1
Chinese Goshawk (Accipiter soloensis) 1
Grey-faced Buzzard (Butastur indicus) 1
Rufous-bellied Eagle (Aquila kienerii formosus) 1
Spotted Buttonquail (Turnix ocellatus ocellatus) 2
Barred Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator fasciatus) 1
White-browed Crake (Porzana cinerea) 3
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 30
Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum) 6
Greater Painted-Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis) 4
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida javanicus) 2
Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica indica) 1
Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) 1
White-eared Brown Dove (Phapitreron leucotis leucotis) 5
Philippine Hanging Parrot (Loriculus philippensis philippensis) 8
Red-crested Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus superciliosus superciliosus) 3
Scale-feathered Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus cumingi) 3
Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis viridis) 1
Philippine Hawk-Owl (Ninox philippensis philippensis) 3
Purple Needletail (Hirundapus celebensis) 1
Grey-rumped Swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta marginata) 15
Asian Palm Swift (Cypsiurus balasiensis pallidior) 5
Indigo-banded Kingfisher (Alcedo cyanopectus cyanopectus) 1
White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis gularis) 1
Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris collaris) 1
Blue-tailed Bee-Eater (Merops philippinus) 10
Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala haemacephala) 6
Red-bellied Pitta (Pitta erythrogaster erythrogaster) 1
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus lucionensis) 8
Ashy Minivet (Pericrocotus divaricatus) 30
Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula wattersi) 2
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica gutturalis) 20
Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica javanica) 10
Striated Swallow (Cecropis striolata striolata) 10
Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier goiavier) 6
Philippine Bulbul (Ixos philippinus philippinus) 15
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis tinnabulans) 3
Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus harterti) 3
Dark-necked Tailorbird (Orthotomus castaneiceps chloronotus) 6
Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis) 1
Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris forbesi) 15
Grey-streaked Flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta) 1
White-browed Shama (Copsychus luzoniensis luzoniensis) 3
Stripe-sided Rhabdornis (Rhabdornis mystacalis mystacalis) 8
Grey-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis birgitae) 10
Purple-throated Sunbird (Leptocoma sperata henkei) 1
Bicoloured Flowerpecker (Dicaeum bicolor inexpectatum) 1
Red-keeled Flowerpecker (Dicaeum australe) 10
Buzzing Flowerpecker (Dicaeum hypoleucum obscurum) 3
Balicassiao (Dicrurus balicassius balicassius) 8
White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus leucorynchus) 15
Coleto (Sarcops calvus calvus) 2
Crested Myna (Acridotheres cristatellus) 3
Green-crowned Wagtail (Motacilla flava taivana) 5
Siberian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis simillima) 20
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea cinerea) 2
Paddyfield Pipit (Anthus rufulus lugubris) 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) 100
Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctulata cabanisi) 50
Chestnut Munia (Lonchura atricapilla jagori) 1

Description of the area, by Steve James

Hi Tommy,
Go by taxi to Los Banos from the airport, the airport is well south of Metro Manila, right next to the highway that goes south passed Carmona (on the highway) & Calamba just off the main highway.
Los Banos is very well known & quick to get to. It is about 80kms south of the airport. When you arrive in Los Banos turn right at the main road that goes to the University. Drive for about 5kms until you come to a big archway that signals the University grounds (which are many kilometres in extent). When I was there in February, they wouldn’t let taxis through the arch, but this is not a problem, because just before the arch, there are motorbike riders who will take you to where ever you want to go. They are very cheap.
(Note from Tommy: my taxi was allowed inside for a 10 pesos fee)
Now, if you only have 3 or 4 hours to birdwatch before you return to the airport, do this:
If you arrive in the morning or mid-day take a motorbike ride to the Botanical Gardens (it is about 3.5kms up the hill). You pay a small fee to enter. Walk for 100m past a picnic area, then turn left on the road. Good birding starts here. There is a river on your right, but keep on the road until you go downhill.
There is a little bridge & the road goes steeply uphill again. At this spot, walk back along the stream (the stream is on your left side, the road you have walked down is on your right, but high above you. There are plenty of birds here (even in the middle of the day) but 3 key species: Scaly feathered & Red crested Malkhoas & Indigo banded Kingfisher. All three are pretty easy to get & brilliant birds! If you miss either of the Malkhoas, then retrace your steps back to the bridge on the road. Walk up hill for 30m & take the steep track off to the left of the road. You should get both Malkhoas here. Red keeled & the uncommon Pygmy Flowerpeckers are pretty easy + 3 species of sunbird. I also had 6 Balicassiaio here, Phillipine Falconet & Elegant Tit! One & half hours is plenty of time here, don’t be tempted to walk the whole gardens, because there is a better option!
(Note from Tommy; we did not see the kingfisher here, but Paul sees them regularly)
Now, get a motorbike ride to the sportsfield (they all know it, it is huge). If no motorbike, then get a shared taxi. Place the sportfield on your right, get off the motorbike. Check the perimeter of the sportsfield by looking up the largest trees. You will see lots of birds, but the one to look out for is Lowland White-eye. It is getting really rare these days & is in groups, in bird parties.
Once you have the white-eye, then walk down the main road with the sportsfield on your right. Go straight, you will see a sign saying Dairy Husbandry & you will cross a small river. Just after this, there is a security man in a white booth on the left handside of the road. Say hi to him & tell him you are birding. Then take the first dirt track on your right (it is on the right handside of the main road). This is the famous buttonquail track. It doesn’t look much, but it is bloody good birding. If you arrive there mid day, or mid afternoon, then walk slowly down the track. You will see lots of open country birds, walk into the fields both sides of the road, explore large trees along minor watercourses. Keep on walking down the track, gradually, you will come to an area where there are houses/small farms etc. Check out all the trees here, I found it to be very good indeed. You can walk a long way down this track, but don’t, because if you have that much time go to the next option!
Birds I saw:
Barred Rail; Grey-faced Buzzard; Zebra Dove; Guaibero; Phillipine Coucal; Red crested Malkhoa; Grey rumped Swiflet; Asian Palm Swift; Barn, Pacific & Striated Swallows; Coppersmith Barbet; Phillipine Woodpecker; Stripe sided Rhabdornis; Yellow vented Bulbul; Phillipine Bulbul; Striated & Tawny Grassbirds; Grey spotted Flycatcher; Purple throated Sunbird; Hansome Subird; Olive backed Sunird; Red Keeled Flowerpecker; Brown Shrike; Long tailed Shrike, Eurasian Tree Sparrow; Scaly breasted Munia.
Both species of Buttonquail come out on the track in late afternoon. The Spotted is more common than the Barred. 400m from the main road stop & put up your scope, wait! You are now on the track looking towards the main road. Keep checking the track for both buttonquails crossing + Plain Bush Hen + Barred Rail!
You can do both the Botanical Gardens + the Buttonquail track in 4 hours.
Option 2: if you have longer than four hours & arrive in the morning, then get a motorbike ride to the Trees Lodge. It is in the Forestry Department section about 1.5 kms further up the road than the Botanical Gardens. Get off the motorbike the Lodge is on your right handside. Just to the right handside of the Lodge there is a large bare tree, without any leaves on it at all. There are some woodpecker type holes in the tree & a pair of Phillipine Falconets nest here. They are easy to see.
(Note from Tommy; not present in March 2009)
Walk on the main road, with the Trees Lodge on your right (by the way if you are there at dusk, Phillipine Hawk Owl is easy here). There is a booth, where you pay a small fee to enter the reserve. Birdwatch up the hill, walking slowly & quietly. Birding is great all the way. After 3.7kms there is a track to the Hot Springs (Hot Mud + a little water). Walk down here, carefully, Luzon Bleeding Heart Dove is on the path!!!! One of the great rarities! Lots of other species here as well. Then retrace your tracks back to the main track, keep on walking up hill until you come to a place with huts selling a few items. Walk past here & look out for a left hand track going to an old basketball court. Take a break here & put up your scope, good views of the forest from the clearing. Lots of birdies! Now I walked to the top of the mountain, which is a further six hours walk, as you get higher you get different birds. You won’t have time to do this, walk back down the main track the way you came.
Walk 200m past the Trees Lodge & at the junction get a shared taxi or motorbike back to the entrance (the archway). If you had your Manila taxi waiting for you, then that’s fine. If not, get a motorbike back to the main road (5kms). You can get a taxi back to the airport from here.
I saw the following on this walk:
Emerald, White-eared & Black chinned Fruit Dove; Guiaberraio; Phillipine Hanging Parrot; + both Malkhoas; Phillipine Coucal; Phillipine Drongo Cuckoo; Grey rumped Swiftlet; Pygmy Swiflet; Luzon Hornbill; Phillipine & Greater Flameback Woodpeckers; Spotted Wood Kingfisher (one of the best birds in the world)! Red bellied Pitta; Phillipine Trogon; Petchora Pipit; Phillipine Bulbul is the commonest bird; Black & White Triller; White’s Thrush; Ashy Ground Thrush; White browed Shama; Phillipine Leaf Warbler, Arctic & Lemon throated Leaf Warbler; Grey backed Tailorbird; Blue headed Fantail; Black naped Monarch; Yelow bellied Whistler; Elegant Tit; Sulpur billed Nuthatch; Stripe sided Rhabdornis; Grey throated, Handsome & Mettalic Sunbirds (+ all the commoner ones mention earlier); Red keeled & White bellied Flowerpecker; Yellowish Whiteye; Brown Shrike & Ballacassioao. I saw about 50 species along this track. I have omitted all the high altitude stuff, as you won’t have time to do the trek.
By the way, birding is good down hill from the Trees Lodge towards the Botanical Gardens. 100m past the trees Lodge, walking downhill, there is a Uni building on your right hand side. Go in here & there is a basic canteen for drinks, meals etc. It is very cheap. It often rains here, so be prepared!
Good luck & have a great day’s birding