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.
This little bird is among the most colorful of the kingfishers found only in the Philippines. At 5.5 inches length, it is also among the smallest.
I got close to this individual at a nature resort in Tiaong, Quezon province, in 2009. The single breast band indicates this is female (the male has two breast bands).
The bird’s habit of perching in one spot for a few minutes allowed me enough time to manually focus with precision. To make it bigger in the 5D2’s frame I had to shoot at a focal length of 1374 mm (Sigma 300 – 800 DG + 2x TC). The bird was in low light, so I slowed down my shutter to 1/6 sec for sufficient exposure and I tried to shoot in between the bird’s head-bobbing movement (see video below).
If I were to choose the most technically challenging shot I ever executed, this is probably the front-runner. The reward of surmounting the difficulties is a 21-MP capture, tack-sharp at the pixel level, that’s printable to really big sizes (24″ x 36″ and beyond).
Indigo-banded Kingfisher (Alcedo cyanopecta , a Philippine endemic, female)
Habitat – Uncommon, restricted to clear fresh water streams up to at least 1500 m.
Special thanks to Carmela B. of Villa Escudero for the support during filming.
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.
This noisy, medium large warbler (7 inches total length) seldom comes out in the open, preferring to sing from the cover of grasses or reeds. Hence, I was very pleased when this individual came out of its usual lair while I was field-testing my days old Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG) way back in 2005.
I particularly like the photogenic cobweb-laden perch and strong eye contact. The background was nicely melted by the thin DOF of such a long focal length shot at a relatively close subject, while the late afternoon light was heavenly sweet.
If I recall correctly, it was the very first keeper of my then new monster lens. The impressive feather detail shows the fine optics of this big glass. 🙂
Clamorous Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus, resident)
Habitat – In tall grass, bamboo thickets in open country, and in reed beds where it sings from cover.
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.
This medium large bird (12 inches total length) is found only in the Philippines. It is shy and more often heard than seen.
Based on my previous observations at Candaba wetlands, it appears to stay in one general territory. So I thought the key in capturing it well is to stake out a known spot where the bird is seen often and wait patiently for an appearance.
And this I did way back in 2005.
I fully retracted the legs of my tripod and mounted my camera low for a more pleasing shooting angle. I waited and puffed on numerous sticks of lung-busters and waited more. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, a couple of these birds started crossing the wetlands trail back and forth. On one such crossings, a downy young even joined the parents!
I got several sharp photos of the family bathed in the late afternoon golden light. This is my favorite of the set because of the bird’s cocky strut.
Plain Bush-Hen (Amaurornis olivaceus, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Drier grasslands and scrub, nests on wetter areas.
Here’s a simple portrait of a Brown Shrike, a common and widespread migrant, showing the delicate feather detail of its back. This one was a male (the female has barring on breast and flank).
It would’ve been more exotic sounding to say that I saw this in a remote location after travelling and hiking many hours, but I actually captured this photo in my garden.
The bird’s habit of perching at a conspicuous spot for extended periods was perfect for a fully manual focusing and exposure technique, a necessary workflow when shooting 1120 mm with AF not workable. The subject was in the shade, while the out-of-focus grasses in the background were illuminated by an overcast sky. With a total length of 7-1/2 inches, the bird is slightly larger than lifesize when viewed with 96 dpi screens. The Sigmonster’s image quality impresses, even with a 1.4x TC!
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus, migrant, male)
Habitat – Common in all habitats at all elevations.
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.