It is not easy to fill the frame with this colorful migrant, given its shyness and small size (6 inches total length). This kingfisher is found all over the Philippine islands from late August to June, but it’s not as common as its name implies.
An effective way to get close is to look for fishponds where the kingfisher is used to seeing people around, then stake out near a favorite perching spot. This was what I did at San Juan, Batangas, in 2008. I used the trunk of a coconut tree as cover and hand held the 1D MII + 700 mm from a kneeling position.
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis, migrant)
Habitat – Along coasts, fish ponds and open rivers.
I chanced upon this endemic Philippine Coucal spreading and drying its wings in the open, along a trail at Subic rainforest in 2006. This bird has an average length of 17 inches and it ranges in all major Philippine islands except the Palawan group.
Like other coucals, this one is normally shy. It skulks in dense vegetation, where a clean shot is nearly impossible. This is compounded further by the difficulty of exposing a dark bird in dim light.
I used my vehicle as a blind to get close to this individual.
Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis,a Philippine endemic )
Scientific name – Habitat – Common from grasslands to forest up to 2000 m.
Ranging only in the Philippines, the Guaiabero is a plump parrot with a short tail. It’s about 6.5 inches in length and found in Luzon, Mindanao, Samar and Leyte islands. The Kennedey Guide describes its flight as “very fast bullet like.”
I’ve seen it munching guavas (see video link below) in Tarlac, hence I suspect its name was originally derived from “guayaba” which is Spanish for guava. “Guaiabero” perhaps meant guava-eater. The Philippines was of course under Spanish rule for over three centuries.
This individual was nibbling at buds of a macopa tree in Mt. Makiling way back in 2006.
Guaiabero (Bolbopsittacus lunulatus, Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Forest and forest edge, usually below 1000 m.
A common migratory waterbird, the Grey-tailed Tattler flies low over the water when flushed or when transferring from one feeding spot to another. It’s medium sized, with a total length of 250 mm.
Its neutral plumage moving fast against a background of contrasty water surface is an autofocus nightmare even for the best DSLRs on the planet. Acquiring and tracking a white egret in flight against the busiest and contrastiest background are child’s play in comparison.
One has to pan well and maintain focus lock by keeping the AF bead on the fast flying bird at all times during shooting. Otherwise, the focus can easily jump to the shimmering water surface. I have a very small percentage of sharp shots of this species in the air, specially if it’s flying low and there’s a very short distance separating the bird and the water surface.
This instance was among the few ones when my panning worked decently enough, resulting to a sharp capture.
Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes, migrant)
Habitat – Along coast on exposed mud, sand and coral flats, on rocks, and also ricefields.
So common a bird.
So few decent photos I’ve captured so far (in fact, this maybe my only one).
This fantail, with a 7.5-inch total length, ranges in all major Philippine islands. It is conspicuous and noisy in many places, including urban residential areas and parks. It is easily seen and in many instances can be approached closely. However, its continuous tail fanning and constant movement among branches make it probably among the toughest common birds to photographed well.
This individual was captured inside the campus of the University of the Philippines at Diliman, Quezon City. I hand held my 1D MII + 100-400 IS + 1.4x TC so I could follow the active bird better. I might have only one useable photo of this species, but I’m glad it was under golden, late afternoon light. Even with a 1.4x TC and shot wide open, the optics of my 100-400 IS perform quite well.
At 96 dpi displays, this bird should appear slightly larger than lifesize at this posted resolution.
Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica, resident)
Habitat: Common in parks, residential areas, thickets, early second growth and mangroves.
I was waiting ready with my big birding glass for the supermoon to rise above the urban horizon last March 19th. But the heavens were not cooperating – cloudy skies made it impossible to shoot highly detailed captures of the lunar event.
On the brighter side, such bad seeing also gave the opportunity to get an unusual, perhaps eerie-looking moonshot. 🙂
I got this Cinnamon Bittern as it was flying with a slightly upward trajectory over Candaba’s ricefields in 2009.
The 5D MII’s AF using the center point with surrounding assist works very well for flight shots, even with a 1.4x TC on the 500 f4 IS. The camera actually has the same reach as my old 20D in terms of pixel density. What’s deficient in the 5D MII for BIFs is the slow 3.9 fps frame rate. I was just extremely lucky to get a good wing position in this shot despite the anemic fps.
Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus , resident)
Habitat: Ricefields, marshes and mangroves.
Lighting and shooting angle were pretty bad on this one, but it’s not often that I get the chance to catch extreme action like this – just milliseconds after the Bittern’s bill has speared the gourami fish.
The spearing motion was so quick that 1/800 sec wasn’t fast enough to fully freeze the bird’s head and neck, though quite good enough to stop the wriggling fish and the water droplets.
The clear plastic-like dome at the lower right was actually the frozen splash of the luckier second gourami which jumped and dove back to the safety of the water, while its schoolmate was destined for lunch.
Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis, resident)
Habitat – Freshwater wetlands.
This colorful endemic dove was captured in the foothills of Antipolo mountains in 2009. A birdshooter friend ( Ding C.) informed me that these birds were frequenting a certain fruiting tree beside his house. I immediately convinced Ding to “invite” me to his abode. He did just that and I “accepted” the invitation pronto.
The challenge in capturing decent photos of this species in-habitat is how to find a fruiting tree they feed on. Once the feeding area is known, it becomes a pretty easy job – just go to the spot before sunrise and wait for the doves to come in and feed in the early morning golden light.
Many thanks to Ding for the hospitality, the sumptuous breakfast and the exciting birding tales. Ding’s very nice house is situated at a hillside, surrounded by bird-laden vegetation and trees, and overlooking Metro Manila.
Philippine Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia tenuirostris, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Lowland forest to montane mossy forest.
This male Luzon Hornbill was hopping from branch to branch, feeding on the fruits of a balete tree (local fig tree) at Mt. Makiling in 2007.
I was following it through the Canon 20D’s viewfinder (my camera was in portrait orientation), wishing that it pauses for a moment. My shutter speed was at 1/80 sec because I wanted to use a maximum of ISO 400 for better processability of the RAW files later. But this shutter speed was way too slow for an active subject…. the bird better stop moving otherwise I wouldn’t get a chance. Even bumping the ISO to 800 and opening the aperture to f/5.6 from f/6.3 would only yield 1/200 sec – still slowish to stop subject motion.
The birding gods must have heard my wish.
For a couple of seconds, the hornbill stopped hopping and feeding and briefly stared at me. That was enough window of opportunity to get a shot that I like – with strong eye contact, good detail even with the slow shutter and a “well groomed” branch/foliage surrounding the subject.
Luzon Hornbill (Penelopides manillae, a Philippine endemic, male)
Habitat – Forest and edge up to 1500 m.