Wednesday 7 August 2013

La Mesa Eco-Park near Manila

The shortest leg of my eastern tour this summer was in the Philippines. It started out as a stopover and became two nights and a full day after some revised planning.

Despite the short time, I was very lucky to have Eduardo Lorenzo put me in touch with Adrian Constantino and a part-day trip to La Mesa Eco Park, Quezon City was arranged. Here Adrian and Trinket Constantino hosted me. Without them I am sure I would have missed most of the very special birds we saw.

yellow vented bulbul

Adrian and Trinket are very accomplished birders. Adrian runs Birding Adventures Philippines see though I was birding with him socially. I can recommend him as guide anytime!

La Mesa Eco-park is NGO run and compact. It makes for very relaxed birding. Three birds are soon obvious through their noise and visually. I think I could have found these trio without help!

They are black naped-oriole, yellow vented bulbul and pied fantail.

The oriole keeps high in the canopy and both the male and female look surprisingly similar to a male European oriole though it does of course have a black nape. I failed to get good photo of this easy-to-see bird.

When Adrian told me the name of the bulbul, I realised why so many people use the name white-spectacled bulbul for the previously named yellow vented bulbul we see in the Middle East. We can't have two different bulbuls with the same name.

Pied fantail

The name of the  pied fantail is interesting too. Pied is old English for two-coloured (usually but not necessarily black and white). I didn't think the fantail was particularly two toned.

Another bird seen in the same general area as the fantail was white eared brown dove (endemic to the Philippines).

Mobile flocks of lowland white eye (also endemic to the Philippines) were there and in plenty of other places in the woods too.

Ashy ground thrush by Trinket Constantino

Where Adrian and Trinket were particularly indispensable was with ground birds. I know these tropical forests have them but they are devilishly difficult to see.

I got a brief view of a red-bellied pitta thanks to Adrian and prolonged views of Ashy ground thrush thanks to them both. Ashy ground thrush is another endemic. It is locally common at La Mesa Eco-Park but that certainly isn't the situation elsewhere in country.

Ashy ground thrush with food by Trinket Constantino

They showed me an old and an in-use nest as well as two of the birds themselves! I am very grateful to Trinket for letting me post three of her pictures of these birds taken that morning.

Ashy ground thrush on nest by Trinket Constantino

Another highlight of the walk in the forested area was a view of a Philippines pygmy woodpecker (yet another endemic to the Philippines). Before this eastern tour, I had never seen any pygmy woodpecker. Now I have seen two: this one and a grey capped pygmy woodpecker in Taiwan.

Philippine pygmy woodpecker

While we were walking along a forest path, a barred rail nonchalantly crossed in front of us. Every single bird I have mentioned so far was a lifer and so also was the barred rail. I didn't get a very good view so it was suggested that we move over to the "spillway".

This was despite a slight reluctance to leave the forest as I had failed to see any tailorbirds which are known to frequent the area.

The spillway is a place where over spill from the local reservoir creates a couple of large ponds and a localised wetland. It is also where barred rail can be seen quite commonly. Yellow vented bulbul kept diving into a fruiting tree before returning with food to area around the cuckoo and sometimes almost surrounding it. I don't think they were mobbing it. Either way, he was unconcerned.

zebra dove

At this time of year, during the rainy season, typically the afternoons are wetter than the mornings. So it turned out. We waited under shelter for the barred rail to arrive. We heard them several times but failed to see them.

The wait however proved highly fortuitous. Straight in front of us was a plaintive cuckoo which provided views for several minutes as the rain seemingly stopped it from moving on.

Plaintive cuckoo

In the fruiting tree that the bulbuls visited was a zebra dove which was yet another lifer.

white breasted waterhen

While the barred rail failed to re-appear, a white breasted waterhen did make a brief appearance. Believe it or not, along with the tree sparrow around the buildings, this was the only other bird which wasn't a lifer for me at La Mesa Eco-Park. 

Long tailed shrike

We retired for lunch after the spillway but Adrian and Trinket held out the prospect of seeing one more special bird which was on the University of the Philippines campus. We went straight to the campus after lunch.

En route we stopped briefly at a field on campus to see and photograph a long tailed shrike (another lifer).

Philippine nightjar

The special bird turned out to be two Philippine nightjar day roosting in a tree. Remarkably that tree was right next to a major university building with hustle and bustle of hundreds of students all day long.

This was a marvellous end to a great session of birding. Many thanks once again to Adrian and Trinket Constantino for everything.


  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the morning as much as we did Rob! I didn't realise how many lifers you had! Thanks too for the link. Hope to have you birding again here in the Philippines!

  2. Trinket, I said I was outside my element! It was a great learning experience for me.

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