This bird was previously called the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker. As its former common name implies it’s a micro-jackhammer, with a total length of merely 5.5 inches.
It is found only in the Philippines, where it ranges in most major islands except the Palawan group and Masbate. It is often seen creeping up tree trunks and branches in forest, edge, and even in city parks. It has a loud trilling call.
I was birding at Subic rainforest in 2006 when I noticed this individual pecking low at a tree trunk. I inched my way towards the bird, lifting and setting my gear + tripod slowly, and taking some shots at each closer position until I got near enough for frame-filling, eye-level captures. 🙂
Philippine Woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Lowland and montane forest and edge, in understory and canopy.
Here are some footage of the bird, including a clip where it is calling.
This very active bird is just four inches long, but its song is so loud that it is hard to believe this is coming from such a tiny creature.
It is easier heard than seen in trees in a wide range of habitat, including residential areas. It is quite tough to photograph well because of its non-stop movement as it gleans insects from outer branches and leaves of trees, often in low light.
This species is found in most major Philippine islands (except for a few islands in the Visayas).
Golden-bellied Flyeater (Gerygone sulphurea, resident)
Habitat – Open country, second growth, mangroves and even in residential areas.
Very active in the forest canopy or middle story and sporting a contrasting plumage that complicates exposure work, this smallish bird (6-1/4″ total length) is not easy to photograph well in its habitat.
I just got extremely fortunate that this individual perched for several seconds on a well-lit branch at Subic rainforest, allowing me to squeeze off a few frames at low ISO and fairly fast, motion-stopping shutter speed.
This photo was published at page 189 of the Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 13. The publisher, Lynx Edicions, sent me a complimentary copy of the impressive tome, but it got destroyed when we were submerged in typhoon Ondoy’s flood in 2009. At a retail price of $ 314 per copy, I think I wouldn’t be able to afford a replacement book for now. 😦
Stripe-headed Rhabdornis (Rhabdornis mystacalis, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Canopy or middle story of lowland forest, edge and second growth.
A medium small egret (19 inch length), this white bird is very common locally. It stays close to cattle or carabao to catch insects the larger animals disturb.
This bird was foraging at a ricefield being prepared for planting at the Iwahig Penal Colony (Palawan). As it flipped the insect for better swallowing position, I pressed the shutter button for a short burst. One of the frames got the prey in the air between the mandibles.
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis, resident/migrant)
Habitat: Common in pastures, ricefields and marshes.
Whenever two birds start acting hostile to each other, I get excited and immediately set my gear ready to catch some action.
One of these Marsh Sandpipers was foraging at a fishpond when the other flew in to share the bounty. The first bird apparently didn’t welcome the incursion and a feathered fight is on. I let go of a burst until the 20D’s RAW buffer was full. The duel lasted just a few seconds and all I saw in the viewfinder were flashes of bright feathers and splashing water.
It was only when I reviewed the shots on the camera’s LCD that I noticed one of the frames caught the combatants in a peak moment – one bird’s toe was caught in the other’s beak.
These birds are uncommon migrants to our islands. They are of medium size, with a length of circa 9.5 inches.
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis, migrant)
Habitat – Uncommon, in marshes, ricefields, and fishponds in shallow water rarely on exposed mud and coral flats.
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.
Preference to skulk in the dense foliage of the forest understory.
Low light that precludes the use of motion-stopping fast shutter speeds.
Dark plumage contrasting with the bright bill.
All prime ingredients for a classic tough bird shot.
In-habitat wild bird photography in our islands, sans the use of calls and baits (such technique won’t work on this species anyway), is probably among the most difficult in the world. This is a well known fact among local birdnuts. And maybe known as well to many visiting foreign photographers who try (often unsuccessfully) to get good captures of the most number of species in a limited period.
The key to getting decent captures of tough-to-shoot local birds is simply to go out in as many sorties as possible. Sooner or later, a birdnut breaks through the tough technicals imposed by the difficult conditions, and be able to grab a decent shot. It’s simply beating the odds by doing many, many attempts.
Such is my case with this species. I’ve seen it a lot of times in Mt. Makiling and other places, but it was at Subic rainforest in 2005 when I was finally able to get a useable image. The fine feather detail was reasonably sharp even with the slow shutter speed of 1/60 sec. It might not be as aesthetically pleasing as I wish for especially if we go by tame birds or set-up standards, but this image knocked the Red-crested Malkoha many notches down my most wanted list. 🙂
Red-crested Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus superciliosus, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Lowland forest, edge and second growth.
Like what its name implies, the Grey Wagtail continuously wags its rear as it forages along streams or on the ground.
This wagtail was walking against the current of a mini-dam’s spillway in Quezon province in March 2006. The bird’s almost non-stop motion presented a difficult shooting challenge – I needed a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the subject’s movement, but at the same time should be slow enough to blur the current and come out with a more dynamic-looking environment.
I settled for 1/100 sec and timed the shutter press when the bird momentarily paused every few steps. I got one shot sharp after many tries, and I’m glad there was strong eye contact plus a catchlight.
With its throat turning blackish, this individual was molting into breeding plumage. When breeding, a large area of the throat becomes black. The same throat area is white during non-breeding season.
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea, migrant)
Habitat – Streams and forest roads at all elevations.
I’ve spent a small fortune on birding gear, but the most published image I ever snapped was taken with a cheapo rig. Shot in jpeg. Using AI servo at f/8 when the camera was designed to autofocus down to f/5.6 only. Worse, the image was underexposed because I was in Av priority and I didn’t have time to dial in some exposure compensation.
I was standing on a ridge at Subic rainforest when I espied this raptor soaring nearly level with my position. Most of the shots were out of focus, as the ancient AF system of the 20D saddled with a non-reporting 1.4x TC could barely focus on a static subject, much less at a bird in flight. But in one critical frame, when the eagle banked with the distant Zambales mountains as background, the sluggish AF locked on magically and I got a decent shot.
This is one good example of a modest rig at the right place and time being better than a state-of-the-art gear with no photogenic shooting opportunity.
Philippine Serpent-Eagle (Spilornis holospilus, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Forest from lowlands to over 2000 m.