Thursday, December 8, 2011

The microscopic Pygmy Flowerpecker

How I wish I had a 1.4x teleconverter mounted!

I was shooting birds in flight at a mangrove area in San Juan, Batangas, way back in July 2009. Light was low and I needed the brightest aperture I can come out with, so I mounted the bare 500 f4 IS on the 5D MII.

Certainly not my intended subject, this bird flew in and started foraging among the foliage near my position. It was very active in nature, hence I had to shoot right away with whatever gear I have set up, no time to add a TC.

Philippine flowerpeckers are quite very small, with the largest just around four inches in total length. In this lilliputian family, the tiniest is the Pygmy Flowerpecker at circa 3 inches total length.

Despite the deficient focal length used, there’s still enough detail left after massive cropping for a decent-sized web display, or for small prints. As posted here, the bird should appear a bit larger than lifesize on a 96-dpi display.


Pygmy Flowerpecker (Dicaeum pygmaeum, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Forest, edge and second growth.

Shooting Info - Pinagbayanan, San Juan, Batangas, Philippines, July 14, 2009, Canon 5D MII + EF 500 f4 IS, 500 mm, f/4, ISO 800, 1/800 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light, major crop.

And here’s the full frame (resized to 800×533) from which the version above was cropped, showing the extreme detail gathering capability of the 5D MII’s 21 MP sensor.
Uncropped full frame, resized to 800x533.

Friday, October 21, 2011

La Union surfing fun

I've been waiting for the waves to pick up a bit at nearby San Juan beach, La Union, Philippines. On a recent weekend (September 25th), the waves were decently sized enough, and I had fun aiming my birding gear at waveriders.

This surfer looks stoked, enjoying the waves under the early morning sun.

Shooting info - San Juan, La Union, Philippines, September 25, 2011, 1D4 + 500 f4 IS + 1.4x TC, 700 mm., f/7.1, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, manual exposure, 475B/516 support, AWB.

Our indigenious food, in plastic bags

Whenever I find myself in my native La Union province (northern Philippines), the first place I visit is the local market to buy foodstuff that I've relished since childhood.

The vegies are still as fresh as ever, being sold barely a couple of hours after leaving the farm. But alas, everything is now packed in non-biodegradeable plastic bags, which will eventually clog up our waterways.

In this snapshot, one buyer is holding a 5 peso coin (USD 0.11) to pay for the bunch of ampalaya leaves (aka bitter gourd plant, sc. name Momordica charantia). These leaves go well with our native recipe of free-range chicken soup, providing a distinctive flavor that we so treasure.

Incidentally, the bitter gourd fruit/leaves have been discovered to have amazing medicinal properties, particularly for the treatment of diabetes. Concentrated extracts are now commercially sold in tablets as herbal medicine. For us natives of northern Philippines, we eat this plant for the taste..... the medicinal value is just a newly discovered bonus.

Shooting info - Bangar town market, La Union, Philippines, October 16, 2011, 7D + Sigma 10-20, 10 mm, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/60 sec, hand held, available light, uncropped full frame.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The uncommon Flaming Sunbird

Philippine sunbirds are mostly diminutive in size, and the Flaming Sunbird is no exception. At a mere 95 mm (3.75 inches) total length, it is one tiny bird. Even with a 700 mm lens, I needed to get close to decently fill the frame with the subject.

I got the chance to do this at Mt. Makiling in 2007 when a patch of bird-of-paradise plants were abloom at the lower slopes of the enchanted mountain. A wide variety of sunbirds descended on the flowers to sip nectar, and I had a field day shooting the tiny beauties up close .

Endemic to the Philippines, the Flaming Sunbird is found in Luzon, Catanduanes, Guimaras, Panay and Negros islands.


Flaming Sunbird (Aethopyga flagrans, male, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat - uncommon in forest, edge and second growth up to 1350 m.

Shooting info – Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, November 3, 2007, Canon 40D + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, 1/60 sec, f/6.,3 ISO 800, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Portrait of a Lowland White-eye

With a total length of only 102 mm (4 inches) and given its very active nature, this tiny avian dynamo is very tough to capture well.

This intimate portrait I got way back in 2005 at Tiaong, Quezon, was more of a lucky shot, considering the slow shutter speed used. I probably pressed the shutter button just at the moment when the bird was in between motions. The DOF at nearly 700 mm focal length, f/5.6 and close focusing distance was very thin, and I'm glad I managed somehow to focus precisely at the eye area of the active subject.

The Lowland White-eye is common in lowland second growth, scrub and gardens. It ranges in Luzon and Batanes group of islands. It is found mainly in the Philippines.


Lowland White-eye (Zosterops meyeni, a near Philippine endemic)

Habitat - second growth, scrubs and gardens.

Shooting info – Tiaong, Quezon, Philippines, November 27, 2005, Canon 350D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 687 mm, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, 475B/3421 support, some tiny branchlets in the background were removed to improve aesthetics.


This large, bald-headed myna (292 mm total length) is found only in the Philippines and at Bangi Island off Borneo. It is common in forest, edge and clearings, where it perches in open on exposed dead branches. It ranges in most Philippine islands except the Palawan group.

A fruiting balete (local fig tree) at Mt. Makiling was the site of an avian feast way back in 2007. Multiple bird species of various sizes were gorging themeselves on the ripe fruits. Among the feasters was this individual that seemed to almost choke on a 10-mm diameter balete berry.

The Canon 350D's mild shutter slap helped tame camera shake at 1/100 sec shutter speed, which is slowish for the fully zoomed out, non-stabilized Sigmonster (800 mm).


Coleto (Sarcops calvus, a near Philippine endemic)

Habitat - forest, edge and clearings.

Shooting info – Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, January 2, 2007, Canon 350D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 800 mm, 1/100 sec, f/8, ISO 800, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Grass-Owl in flight

I’ve been to Candaba wetlands dozens of times, and I usually stay in the area from dawn until well after sunset. But I’ve gotten near this night hunter in daylight only twice – both cases under the same lighting circumstances and similar time of day.

The late afternoon sun was covered by heavy clouds, making it appear that nightfall was coming in ealier than it should. Perhaps seeing that it was already dusk, the owl came out to hunt, flying low and silently over the grassy areas of the wetlands. Just before the sun disappeared in the western horizon, the clouds thinned somewhat, allowing some light to illuminate the place. This made it possible to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the bird in the air.

This raptor acted like it was curious – it circled around and looked straight at me while I was trying to acquire focus in the low light. The out of focus grasses in the distance provided a pleasing creamy background to the nocturnal bird of prey.

Many of the shots were misfocused, probably because the dim light was straining the AF system or maybe because I was trembling with excitement as I was tracking the subject. Whatever the reason why I missed many frames, I wouldn’t know for sure. But I got at least one photo sharp, and this made me do the “dance of joy” once I confirmed the keeper in the 1D MII’s LCD.


Australasian Grass-Owl (Tyto longimembris, resident)

Habitat – Grasslands and canefields.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, May 27, 2008, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS, f/4, ISO 800, 1/500 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, manual exposure in available light, pushed +2/3 stop in RAW conversion.

A short video of the Australasian Grass-Owl.

Philippine Serpent-Eagle


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.

Shooting Info - Subic rainforest, Bataan, Philippines, June 2, 2005, Canon 20D + EF 400 5.6L + Tamron 1.4x TC, 560 mm, f/10, ISO 400, 1/1000 sec, hand held.

A fine balancing act

In bird photography, like in many other things in life, timing is everything.

A common migratory bird, perching uneventfully atop a bamboo pole by a fishpond, was pushed off-balance by a sudden gust of wind. The Canon 7D’s sensitive shutter button, almost instantaneous AI servo AF and 8 fps burst allowed me to grab an interesting frame from what was an ordinary looking scene moments before.


Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus, migrant, breeding plumage)

Habitat – Bays, tidal flats to ricefields.

Shooting info – Binmaley, Pangasinan, Philippines, April 22, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 400 2.8 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 475B/3421 support, 560 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/2500 sec, manual exposure in available light.

Video of Whiskered Terns in flight.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A feathered Ballerina

These delicate looking birds are very shy in the usual places where I see them, like in nearby Candaba wetlands or at Manila Bay. However, in the fishponds of Sta. Cruz (Zambales), more than 300 km north of Manila, they’re quite approachable.

This capture is among my favorite photos of this migratory bird because of the take-off pose and the catch light. Likewise, the nearer wingtips are acting like a veil that tries unsuccessfully to hide the pretty face of the avian ballerina.

The Canon 1D MIV’s amazing AF and 10-fps frame rate were instrumental in nailing this shot.


Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus, migrant)

Habitat: Wetlands from coastal mudflats to ricefields.

Shooting info – Sta. Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, February 9, 2011, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3, ISO 800, manual exposure in available light, 475B/516 support.

Video of this bird foraging on a dried-up fishpond.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sometimes, size doesn’t matter

In the fast-paced world of raptors, large size doesn’t always translate to might.

I was on a routine visit to the Coastal Lagoon at Manila Bay to check out the water birds when I saw four Ospreys fishing at mid-morning. With the light already too harsh for shooting good photos, I settled on filming the Ospreys as they repeatedly dove into the water to try to grab some fish. Here are some footage of one of the Ospreys dive-fishing.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a Peregrine Falcon appeared and started harassing and chasing the larger raptors! The larger birds’ wingspan is about 1.35 m while that of the smaller bird is circa 0.915 m. The Falcon zeroed in on one of the Ospreys and literally flew circles around the larger bird, not unlike a jetfighter buzzing a heavy bomber. I was awe-struck with the spectacle, but I had enough presence of mind to switch my gear to a flight-shooting mode from filming mode.

One frame from a long burst miraculously got both birds within the DOF, but this was more due to a happy accident than a result of my shooting proficiency.


Osprey (Pandion haliaetus, migrant)

Habitat – Associated with water both along coast and inland.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus, resident/migrant)

Habitat – Wide variety of habitats, from along coasts to high mountains.

Shooting Info - Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, January 4, 2011, Canon 7D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 1/1600 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400, manual exposure, 475B/3421 support.

Little Heron coming at me

I was set up well for shooting birds in flight along the shore of the Coastal Lagoon last year when this Little Heron flew straight towards me. I remained motionless so as not to scare the bird, and apparently this worked – the bird continued with its flight path till it was very close.

I shot several long bursts at the incoming bird, and most of these are in good focus. Head-on flight shots are among the toughest AF job for any camera, and the 1D MIV worked beautifully even with a 1.4x TC on the 500 f4 IS. The critical focus plane was right on the head/shoulder area. At 700 mm, f/6.3 and 50 feet distance, there simply wasn’t enough DOF to keep the tail and feet sharp.


Little Heron (Butorides striatus, resident)

Habitat – Exposed coral reefs, tidal flats, mangroves, fishponds and streams.

Shooting info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, July 6, 2010, Canon 1D4 + 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, /6.3, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support, 15.3 m shooting distance, background is out-of-focus seawater.

Little Egret wingspread

When I get the itch to bird and can’t embark on an out of town sortie, I go to nearby Coastal Lagoon to get my fix.

There, less than an hour drive from where I live, common water birds abound and I try to catch them in action to make the photos a bit more exciting.

This Little Egret obliged me on one such quickie birding.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta, migrant)

Habitat: Coastal marsh and tidal flats to ricefields.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 17, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Manila Bay’s Little Egrets (short video).

Wagging a tail against the current

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.

Shooting Info – Tiaong, Quezon, Philippines, March 25, 2006, Canon 20D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 687 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/100 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, manual exposure in available light, pushed +1 stop in RAW conversion.

Some Grey Wagtail footage.

A worm too long

A common migratory bird, this Greater Sand-Plover had just snagged a long worm at a dried up fishpond in Tagburos, Puerto Princesa, when I snapped the photograph.

I always use AI servo AF for active birds on the ground, treating them similarly as I shoot birds in flight. The fast shutter speed freezes the action, AI servo assures correct placement of focus even when the subject moves, and M mode keeps the exposure of the bird optimized regardless of the changing background which can easily fool the meter.

The worm was too long to be ingested whole. Using its beak and some head jerking, the bird cut the invertebrate into shorter manageable pieces before swallowing. I reckon this bird hit the jackpot for the day as far as a juicy meal was concerned.


Greater Sand-Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii , migrant)

Habitat – Along the coast on exposed mud, sand and coral flats.

Shooting Info – Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, February 11, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, A328/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

A wingspan of nearly six feet

I’m always amazed at the size of the Grey Heron. When I see a flock of these birds in the air, they look like a squadron of small planes flying in formation. These migratory waterbirds have the largest wingspan (1.78 m) of all the feathered subjects I’ve photographed so far.

Among Philippine birds recorded in the past and at present, the only ones with a larger wingspan are the Sarus Crane (2.20 m), Spot-billed Pelican (2.13 m), Great-billed Heron (1.90 m), and our national bird the Philippine Eagle (1.88 m) – all these behemoths I have yet to see afield.


Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea, migrant)

Habitat – Uncommon in wetlands.

Shooting Info – San Juan, Batangas, Philippines, February 12, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 400 2.8 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 475B/3421 support, 560 mm, f/5.6, ISO 250, 1/2000 sec, manual exposure in available light, near full frame.
Footage of a Grey Heron in flight.

Flying without wings

When our feathered friends are scarce, one way to save a trip is to take advantage of the capabilities of one’s bird-in-flight gear and shoot other subjects in motion.

Well, this fledgling can also soar in the air even without wings.

From afar, he looked like he was scarcely 5 feet tall and he must have weighed a bit south of a hundred pounds.

But oh boy, saying this kid can surf is like saying Michael Jordan knows how to play basketball!

Shooting Info - San Juan, La Union, Philippines, February 19, 2011, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, manual exposure, 475B/516 support.

Here are some footage of the young fellow playing with the waves in my native La Union.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The aptly named Elegant Tit

Ranging in most major Philippine islands (except in Palawan and Bohol), this endemic bird is not very difficult to find in forest and edge at various elevations.

But it’s quite small (113 mm total length) and very active, hence a tough customer to photograph well. Likewise, its contrasting plumage presents a daunting exposure challenge.

This bird doesn’t only look elegantly good, its song and call are very pleasing to the ears as well.

After trying for years to get a good capture, I finally got close to this bird at Mt. Data, with sweet late afternoon sunlight as bonus.


Elegant Tit (Parus elegans, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Common from lowland to montane mossy forest.

Shooting Info – Elev. 2195 m ASL, Mt. Data, Mountain Province, Philippines, January 21, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/160 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

A Barred Rail up close

This rail, found in a wide range of habitats in most Philippine islands, is actually quite shy. I managed to get very close to one by using my vehicle as a blind and staking out a watering hole beside a wetlands trail.

My waiting was rewarded when this handsome specimen appeared at sundown. I had to shoot ISO 3200 to be able to increase the shutter speed to 1/250 sec and have a chance of freezing the walking bird.


Barred Rail (Gallirallus torquatus, resident)

Habitat: Edges of wetlands, gardens and drier cogon grasslands.

Shooting info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, December 28, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 3200, manual exposure in available light, bean bag.

Video of a Barred Rail at Candaba wetlands.

Scales instead of feathers

Not all creatures I encounter along the birding trail sport feathers…. some have scales.

I was birding near a stream at enchanted Mt. Makiling when I came across this slithering subject which was nearly two meters long.

My brain was telling me to grab my shooting gear and flee, putting a maximum area of real estate between me and the unidentified snake. However, my photographer’s foolish heart prevailed, forcing me to shoot some frames of the unusual subject.

The snake slid away silently, leaving me scared but unharmed.

Shooting info - Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, December 14, 2006, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, 475B/3421 support.

Night jet meets the supermoon

My birding gear isn’t good only for feathered creatures in flight under bright light. It can also capture metallic objects streaking in the dark night sky.

I was setting up to get some shots of the supermoon over a week ago, but the clouds wouldn’t allow me good seeing. Rather than pack my rig without firing a shot, I waited for planes taking off a nearby airport to get near the moon. The clouds introduced a large glowing halo around the moon, and that served as “rim lighting” to reinforce the jet’s silhouette.

Shooting info - Paranaque City, Philippines, March 21, 2011, Canon 1D MIV +EF 400 2.8 IS, f/2.8, 1/640 sec, ISO 1600, manual exposure, 475B/516 support.

Portrait of the uncommon Mountain Shrike

For over half a decade, I’ve been visiting the Cordillera mountains in Northern Luzon to get a close glimpse of this uncommon, now becoming rarer, endemic shrike. This species ranges at high elevation in Luzon, Mindoro and Mindanao islands.

I had several encounters prior to this capture, but none as close with good detail and pleasant background. I was walking on cloud nine for many days after this birding sortie.


Mountain Shrike (Lanius validirostris, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Uncommon in montane forest (clearings and edge) above 1000 m.

Shooting Info – Elev. 1065 m ASL, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, Philippines, January 22, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 200, 1/640 sec, bean bag, manual exposure in available light, near full frame, 13.5 meters shooting distance.

Rare clips of a Mountain Shrike filmed in the Cordillera mountains.

Blue-headed Fantail

Found nowhere else in the world but in Luzon and some islands in the Visayas, this fantail prefers to stay in the dark understory. There, its colorful plumage is often not seen in full glory because of the dim lighting.

I got lucky to catch this bird in the open, under partial early morning light, while I was birding at a mountain trail in the Cordillera mountains (North Luzon). The bird is not large, measuring just 180 mm in total length from the tip of the long tail to the tip of bill.


Blue-headed Fantail (Rhipidura cyaniceps, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Forest up to 2000 m.

Shooting Info – Elev. 1790 m ASL, Bauko, Mountain Province, Philippines, January 21, 2010, Canon 5D MII +EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/5.6, ISO 640, 1/160 sec, bean bag, manual exposure in available light.

Bee in flight

A pollen-laden bee approaches a tiny flower to amass more nectar. The bee is around 10-15 mm in body length.

Shooting info - Paranaque City, Philippines, June 3, 2007, Canon 20D + EF 100 2.8 macro, f/8, ISO 400, 1/160 sec, hand held, built-in flash, near full frame resized to 800x533.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Cisticola’s dilemma

This tiny bird (110 mm total length) just caught a spider-like insect, but it is confronted with a juicy bug nearby.

Tough choice.

In the end, the bird decided that a bug in beak is worth two in the grass.

The 400 2.8 IS + 2x TC’s minimum focus distance of 3 m allows amazing magnification at 800 mm…. perfect for small birds such as this.


Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis, resident)

Habitat – Ricefields and wetter grassy areas.

Shooting info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, August 11, 2009, Canon 5D MII + EF 400 2.8 L IS + Canon 2x TC II, 800 mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/500 sec, manual exposure in available light, bean bag.

A short footage of a Zitting Cisticola filmed at Candaba wetlands.

Chinese Egret in flight at Manila Bay

This white bird is a rare migrant to the Philippines and easier to see in good numbers at Olango island in Cebu. On some occasions, it also visits Manila Bay to the delight of birdnuts like me. I got fortunate to catch it in flight during a brief birding sortie at the Coastal Lagoon.

This bird breeds in Russia, North/South Korea and China, and winters in some parts of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. It is classified as a vulnerable species, with the worlwide population down to about 3,000 birds according to some estimates.


Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes, migrant

Habitat – Rare in shallow tidal flats and ricefields.

Shooting info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, November 3, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Brown Hawk-Owl

I was pleasantly surprised early one morning in November 2010 when I saw this night hunter perched on one of the trees in our village in urban Paranaque City. What followed were a few days of owl-watching in my front yard, and I was later joined by fellow birdshooters in the party.

The owl was already at its perching spot at daybreak and stayed there till sundown, when it set off to hunt for prey in the darkness.


Brown Hawk-Owl (Ninox scutulata, resident/migrant)

Habitat – Forest, edge, open scrub and early second growth.

Shooting Info - Paranaque City, Philippines, November 5, 2010, Canon 1DMIV + EF 500 f4 IS + EF 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/100 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Spotted Dove in full speed flight

This medium sized dove (total length of 12 inches) ranges in all major Philippine islands. The black collar with white spots at its nape is probably the source of its name. It actually reminds me of a bar code…. maybe these birds scan the collar to recognize one another?

I was shooting water birds at Manila Bay when I noticed this bird flying very fast in a straight trajectory towards my position. I fired a long 10 fps burst, and one frame caught the bird’s wings in a photogenic downstroke pose, showing the overwing patterns and diagnostic spotted collar pretty well.


Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis, resident)

Habitat – Open country and agricultural areas, forages on the ground.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 27, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Brown Shrike

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.

Shooting Info – Paranaque City, Philippines, September 27, 2007, Canon 40D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG) + Sigma 1.4x TC, 1120 mm, f/13, 1/50 sec, ISO 640, manual focus via Live View, manual exposure, 475B/3421 support, remote switch.

Some footage of the Brown Shrike.

Going home aboard a metallic bird

After a brief sortie during my early birding years, I was walking on the tarmac of Bacolod City airport to board my flight to Manila when an amazing display unfolded before my eyes.

The sunset was breathtaking.

I couldn’t resist opening my carry-on bag, bringing out my 300D + kit lens and taking some snapshots of the spectacle.  The couple on the right are my friend William and his wife, who walked ahead of this birdnut. A maintenance guy ran in front of the plane to do some task.

Sometimes, the shooting gear doesn’t matter much. It seems to me any bird, whether metallic or feathered, can look good under such sweet light.

Bacolod City Airport, Philippines, April 26, 2004, Canon 300D + EF-S 18-55, 18 mm, f/13, 1/125 sec, ISO 100, hand held, jpeg capture, near full frame.

Brahminy Kites of Binmaley (Pangasinan)

A business trip to La Union on April 2010 brought me within striking distance of this interesting town of Pangasinan province, where a restaurant built over a fishpond serves the best grilled catfish I’ve tasted so far.

The bigger reason though for my visit wasn’t the tasty catfish, nor the little fat crabs and juicy oysters.

I’ve discovered a few years back that this is one spot where a few Brahminy Kites linger for hours feeding on the contents of the fishponds. Of the 5 or 6 times that I’ve been there, the raptors always showed themselves. I talked to the local folks and they confimed the daily visit by the Kites.

So, in between bites of good food, I shot bursts at the fish-eating raptors in flight.


Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus, resident)

Habitat – Open areas often near water, and also in mountains to 1500 m.

Shooting Info - Binmaley, Pangasinan, Philippines, April 22, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 400 2.8 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 560 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/2500 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light, near full frame.

Plain Bush-Hen strutting in golden light

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.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 18, 2005, Canon 300D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 687 mm, f/8, /1800 sec, ISO 200, jpeg capture, 475B/3421 support.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Philippine Duck in flight

I have many captures of the endemic Philippine Duck in flight, but this one should be my favorite. I just like the way the wings were frozen in the full downstroke position, and the angle of light  was just right to show the iridescence of the speculum *  well.

(* colorful patch on the wing)

That herons and egrets can fly is not too impressive to me – their large wing area and light slender bodies allow them to soar even in the slightest wind. Duck flight is a different matter though. Beneath the streamlined curves of the duck’s body, there are hints of powerful flight muscles that enable this relatively heavy bird to get to the air even with stubby wings.

Quackers fly by sheer muscle power, and when they come in to land on the pond water (belly-flop, actually), they drop almost like a rock  as soon as their wingbeats slow down.

This frame came from the middle of a burst of over half a dozen shots, most in good focus and each shows a different wing position.  The background was out-of-focus pond water with some vegetation. Amazing what modern autofocus technology and fast frame rates can do at birds-in-flight photography.


Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica, a Philippine endemic) 

Habitat – Freshwater marshes, shallow lakes and ricefields.

Shooting Info - Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 3, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, manual exposure in available light.

A breeding Pheasant-tailed Jacana in flight

In some places, jacanas are called the “Jesus bird” because they can walk seemingly on water. In reality however, their overly long toes can spread their weight over a large area and this allows them to walk on floating or emergent vegetation near the water surface. This gives the illusion of walking on water.

When in breeding plumage, the Pheasant-tailed Jacana sports an elongated tail and the nape turns from pale yellow to golden yellow. Such adornment makes this bird an ornately beautiful subject to photograph, particularly when it’s in the air where the long tail, thin feathertips of the wings and very long toes are very visible.

It’s a shy customer though, so it’s not easy to approach and capture well. I’ve been wanting to photograph it in flight each time I visit Candaba wetlands, but luck wasn’t on my side always.

My fortune changed for the better on July 2008. I saw this particular individual making numerous trips between its presumed nesting site in the middle of the pond and an area in the adjoining ricefield. An earth dike ran in between the two places.

As soon as I saw it land in the ricefield, I immediately hid myself on the earth dike and waited in an ambush position along the expected flight path back to the pond. Sure enough, the bird rose above the rice plants after a few minutes and headed my way. My 1D MII had no trouble locking focus on the contrasty target, given a plain sky as background.  I probably filled my RAW buffer to capacity, and this particular shot was my pick because of the good wing position and eye contact.


Pheasant-Tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus, resident, breeding plumage)

Habitat – In wetlands with floating or emergent vegetation.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, July 22, 2009, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/2000 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

A banking Black-crowned Night-Heron

Once considered uncommon as listed in the Kennedy Guide, these Night-Herons have increased their numbers impressively and are now almost everywhere, even in urban areas. The same book lists this species as migrant, but it has been documented that it’s now breeding locally. This is a medium sized waterbird, with a length of 0.56 m and a wingspan of about 1.12 m.

I was tracking this flying bird at Manila Bay’s Coastal Lagoon through my 1D MIV’s viewfinder when it suddenly executed an abrupt banking maneuver. I immediately fired a short burst to catch the flight surfaces in a photogenic full spread.

The camera’s AF and 10 fps frame rate didn’t disappoint.


Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax, resident/migrant)

Habitat – Variety of wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 13, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/6.3, ISO 400, 1/2000 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.
Footage of a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Green on green: Portrait of a young grasshopper

Although this young grasshopper stayed motionless atop a leaf, my hand holding was introducing some camera movement and that was messing with the precise placement of focus for one-shot AF.

I switch to spot AI servo for this shooting condition to mitigate my hand holding movement.  The Canon 7D’s ISO 800 RAW files clean up pretty well while retaining good detail when converted with the latest ACR.

Shooting Info - Paranaque City, Philippines, July 24, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 100 2.8 USM macro, f/7.1, 1/200 sec, ISO 800, hand held, manual exposure in available light, spot AI servo, uncropped full frame.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Collared Kingfisher flips its prey

Amidst the pollution along the coast of Manila Bay, many species of wild birds try to survive. This kingfisher had just caught a small fish and perched on a rock to enjoy its meal. When the bird flipped its prey for easier swallowing, I let go of a long 10 fps burst with my 1D MIV to catch the decisive moment.


Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris, resident)

Habitat – Coastal areas to open country, seldom in forest.

Shooting info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 17, 2009, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

A short video of Collared Kingfishers filmed at Manila Bay.

Smallest RORO craft in the world?

This watercraft ……..random arrangement of wooden planks was inching towards our side of the mighty Cagayan river to fetch our two-car convoy for a birding sortie at Malasi Lake  a few kilometers beyond. This place is over 500 km north of Manila.

Supported by two wooden boats each with its own 4-cylinder diesel engine, the platform of the raft can carry 3 small cars or tricycles. I initially hesitated to risk the crossing, but when I looked at the faces of drivers that crossed before us, it looked like doing so is the most ordinary thing in the world. Well, the prospect of bagging quite a few lifers swayed me to go for it.

Shooting Info - along the banks of Cagayan River, Cabagan, Isabela, Philippines, January 20, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 100-400 IS, 235 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/500 sec, hand held, manual exposure in available light, near full frame.

Whew…. we made it across the river.

My brother Jeff (driving the lead car) and I heave a sigh of relief as our vehicles make it across the Cagayan River, and he was just too happy to drive to terra firma. I couldn’t imagine the nightmare of the raft capsizing and God forbid, losing my Sigmonster, 500 f4 IS and other gear stowed in the vehicle.

Oh…. the things we do for love!

Shooting Info - along the banks of Cagayan River, Cabagan, Isabela, Philippines, January 20, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 100-400 IS, 100 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640 sec, hand held, manual exposure in available light, uncropped full frame.


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